For the last fifty years, those who have been paying attention have witnessed the death and burial of the dream of the Enlightenment, the final destruction of claims to originary points of certainty, of any universal claims, and of any pretender to a philosophical method. Only the most naïve of naïve realists has any hope to resuscitate positivism of any kind. Tough days for philosophy.
Those who have been paying a different kind of attention may have witnessed the implosion of meaning and the social (to use Baudrillard's words), and the unhinging of signs from signification. The form of advertising has liquidated the possibility of a discourse in which any of the problems of philosophy could be discussed, or could matter. Without a discursive home, well, that seems to about wrap it up for this whole philosophy business.
This would be the case if Baudrillard is right about the impact of "absolute advertising" -- a steering medium masquerading as a communications medium. If I'm reading Baudrillard right, he says that advertising has overtaken language and driven meaning to extinction. To give a simple example, a term in a language has a particular meaning by its differentiation from other terms and its denotative function. Tree can mean "tree" because tree isn't potato or Duane and because the arbitrary marker tree can designate the image/idea of "tree." Advertising language takes those same signs, and decouples them from those images/ideas, puts the denotative function out of play, and applies the unhinged sign anywhere, onto anything. Each term in advertising's sign system is still differentiated from the others, but none of them denotes anything in particular, so the differentiation doesn't make any difference.
Ads rarely use tree, of course. But they use freedom, love, natural, good, and any other word of the lexicon that seems handy. When the ad uses those terms, they do not mean anything in particular. All-natural is precisely meaningless, for instance.
Now, it's important to note that for Baudrillard it is not advertisements that have liquidated meaning and the social, it's the form of advertising, which he further elaborates as a vaguely consensual, vaguely seductive form of language in which signs serve as enticements and lures, bits of exposed skin, moods, etc. The form of advertising is a medium of fascination, ultimately, and that point of fascination is the abyss of meaning and the social.
What matters post-meaning is connection, exchange, feedback loops -- the merest nodal/modular transferral of signs. This form of the exchange of signs is too rapid, too thin, too ephemeral, and too brutal for meaning to be conveyed or understood. I think this characterizes very well the digital media environment of siliconized societies: Twitter, Facebook, Instragram, instant public opinion polling based on market research and demographic targeting, news media, and the constant, continuous, ubiquitous bombardment of data in all forms, everywhere.
The problem is not that any of us are duped by ads, the media, political parties, or any of the rest of it. That doesn't matter. What matters is that these media, taken as a system, operate as steering media to coordinate need and desire geared to production (again, as a system -- not the obviously stupid idea that an ad makes me want to go buy some product, which no one really believes happens), yet they appear to be doing the job of communications media.
In this social situation, I ask myself, more than I ask anyone else, how can anyone take philosophy seriously?
So I wrote a blog post about it. And I posted a link to that on Facebook.
(And yes, I have a response to my own question, but you'll just have to wait.)