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The dilemma of hypermodernity (Part Five)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted September 12, 2016

An earlier, academic version of this essay has appeared in This World: Religion and Public Life (Culture and Consumption) no. 31 (2000) (New Brunswick, USA and London, UK: Transaction Publishers), pp. 29-45. This is the 16th anniversary of the appearance of the academic version of the essay – which had also appeared in various, different, non-academic iterations in the 1990s, including in Polish translation. The essay had also appeared in three parts on its 15th anniversary, in Quarterly Review (UK).

And there is much to criticize today. The "last men" now in charge (so well described by Nietzsche), who preside over this imploding kingdom, are such a feckless oligarchy -- they rail against vigilantism, but are unable to maintain safe streets; they claim they are opposed to violence, but supersaturate society with slasher-flicks, shock-horror movies, thrash-metal, and so forth, particularly aimed at the young. They embrace the omni-directional cruelty of the contemporary inner-city (essentially Hobbes' "war of each against all"), rather than the strictly channelled, arguably necessary evil of organized warfare between recognized states and nations, and of political conflict between meaningful and humanly recognizable groupings.

These oligarchs are clearly incapable of giving genuine leadership and direction to the society they are parasitical upon. They cannot even use the justification of being a successful elite, of assuring unity and cohesion for their society -- or even a minimum of safety for their citizens. They can evangelize the East to their way of thinking; exploit the South of the planet economically (and invade it militarily, too); dislocate and destroy traditional societies; and rape the environment with relish, at home and abroad, but they lack utterly the creative political energy to form something lasting and worthwhile, which can be passed on to the common history of humanity. It must be understood that the big cities of North America today -- completely divorced from the countryside -- are really the centres or "capitals" of an emerging, transnational global culture which some term "PlanetTeen" -- a borderless, planet-wide socioeconomic system, dominated by North American pop-culture, consumerism, and all-pervasive technological saturation.

Apart from the ever-present (and multifarious) possibilities for self-destruction, there seem to basically exist, it could be argued, only two real main choices before humanity. Modern Western liberal technological society is already slipping into a post-Western, hyper-technological, hyper-liberal, hyper-capitalist, homogenized, and polymorphous social construct -- and will doubtless be able to mold all the societies, peoples, and tribes of the world into that same pattern, sooner or later. This is coterminous with the dystopic scenarios of the futurists and litterateurs, in somewhat differing variants. It can be said to represent the triumph of technology over humanity, of the machine over human culture, of oligarchy over community, of soul-less capital over human decency. This alternative can simply be termed hypermodernity.

On the other hand, a variety of figures and thinkers, rebelling against and transcending the stultifying categories of present-day politics, have begun the search for a cluster of alternatives centred on the possible breaking of technology's strangle-hold on humanity. This positive alternative could be termed as postmodernity, with the understanding that it represents something fundamentally different from hypermodernity. (In the literature of the topic, postmodernity is generally equated with what was called hypermodernity above -- but it is necessary to be better able to see and give a concrete name to the better and worse alternatives arising from our current predicament.) The so-called "postmodern" society would seek to combine that sense of spirit, community, and closeness to nature which existed in virtually all premodern societies, with a sensible measure of the material benefits and comforts gained through the technology of the modern world.

Intimations of such a society are today prefigured in the West itself by the so-called "New Physics", whose transcending of the Western subject/object distinction suggests a re-union of humanity and nature; by the thought of Joseph Campbell and C. G. Jung, who have called for a "re-enchantment" of human relations; by the millenarian fervours soon to emerge; by the New Age movement of "new spirituality"; by certain types of feminism which stress a return to the natural world; and, most importantly, by the emergence of ecological and environmental issues as a serious concern. The reassertion of the necessity of limits on our exploitation of physical nature -- now accepted, at least in theory, by almost everyone on the planet -- is truly a moral breakthrough. But one also hopes that the further development of ecology will extend this sense of boundaries to the awareness of natural limitations on "social engineering" and frenzied consumption, which are all-too-pervasive characteristics of modern societies.

All these emerging tendencies seem to be working towards building a different kind of society than the one based on rationalism, technology, and purely materialist science which has been dominant in the West for about two hundred years.

The new society, by contrast, would be one where technology, and the excess of rationalism and materialism, would be kept strictly in check, within a paradigm of Nature which would unite Humanity, the World, and the Cosmos. The source of our strength would be a renewed emphasis on the deepest roots of our unconscious; our openness to human feeling; the evocation of our distinctive, historically-rooted ways of being, to reduce our boundless material craving for acquiring and having superfluous commodities; and the desire for closeness and re-union with Nature arising from the upsurge of our true eros.

It is possible that only this higher, positive synthesis could offer a real way out of the current mega-dilemmas, which might well destroy the sense of humanity within us, and quite possibly the physical existence of the human species. André Malraux has said that "the Twenty-First Century will be spiritual -- or it will not be."

It is only by maintaining some degree of reflection concerning technology and the way the world is going (even as we are all forced to participate in it, to a greater or lesser extent) that anything recognizably human can be salvaged from the wreck that seems increasingly inevitable, if current trends and directions continue unopposed.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

 

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