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Identity and The Orders of Simulacra


A few thoughts that need to be captured before they return from whence they came. I’ve been re-reading Baudrillard’s Simulations— thinking about it in light of the possibility of Internet Identity. Online identity is already a concept that’s overloaded; it’s become a blank slate on which entrepreneurs, privacy advocates and open source geeks project their hopes, dreams and ambitions. Binding code to the soul to create a hard link posits a kind strong symbolic order that we’ve seen before in the pre-industrial era.

The simulacrum is never that which conceals truth–it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.

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Baudrillard looks at three orders of appearance and examines them with regard to mutations of the law of value:

  • Counterfeit is the dominant scheme of the “classical” period, from the Renaissance to the industrial revolution
  • Production is the dominant scheme of the industrial era
  • Simulation is the reigning scheme of the current phase that is controlled by code.

In the first period an individual (an identity) is assigned a place of rank, or caste, irrevocably– class mobility is non-existent. Baudrillard calls this strong ‘symbolic order’ a ferocious hierarchy. There is a strong binding between an individual and a set of signs. The binding of identity is assigned by the circumstances of birth; Identity and signs are not arbitrary in this schema.

The industrial era puts an end to the problem of uniqueness, or the importance of the point of origin. Signs and objects are produced on a massive scale (two or n identical objects). The key phrase for me was: “In a series, objects become undefined simulacra one of the other. And so, along with the objects, do the men that produce them.” In the industrial schema, you are what you do. Identity is useful with regard to the role it plays in production– workers are interchangeable parts in the machinery of production.

“Leibniz, that mathematical spirit, saw in the mystic elegance of the binary system that counts only the zero and the one, the very image of creation. The unity of the supreme Being, operating by binary function in nothingness, would have sufficed to bring out of it all the beings.”


In the age of simulation, there is no labor involved in producing copies. In a sense, there is no original digital artifact– it is a copy at its origin. When we look to origin, we look to the code of DNA. Identity is linked to the curration of collections of simulations.

Identity is generally thought to be an inward quality of a person. Through this sketch, we can hold it up and look at it as an external binding of a system of signs, a kind of exoskeleton. And as we look at the mutations in the binding point of identity, we can see that it matches the mutations in the instantiations of value.

Published in culture digital economics identity philosophy politics real time web value zettel