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The dilemma of hypermodernity (Part Ten)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted October 17, 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).

The future -- if there is indeed a future -- will result from the convergence of various trends which from the current standpoint might seem contradictory, yet which ultimately have some points in common. The most hopeful development today is probably ecology. It would be even more positive, however, if the rather abstract allegiances of the ecological movement could be reinterpreted on the level of a specific community or communities. The "postmodern" idea of the future clearly calls for a strict sense of limits on consumption, limits on economic growth, and limits on the now-untrammelled exploitation of the planet. However, it would seem that the ecological argument for sacrifices in consumption could much more easily and meaningfully be made if it meant sacrifices for something more local, tangible, and particular than an abstract ecological principle. Here is where the argument for this land, this countryside, this country, must come in. The combined position of communitarian ecology offers the careful shepherding of resources and custodianship of nature for the sake of a particular community which is to derive its sustenance from these resources for the ongoing millennia. This also implies that either all communities on the planet will be following such policies, or that the particular community must be capable of decisively repelling possible incursions from such communities that are refusing to participate in this model.

Presumably, ecologically-minded communities and societies will form themselves into various alliances that would be able not only to repel incursions, but, more importantly, to bring about the triumph of communitarian-ecological principles across the entire planet. What we are talking about could be characterized as the return of "the steady-state society" (or at least one of very measured and slow economic growth), which might also be called a "hydraulic-ecological" society. What in the 21st century will become the increasingly precious resources of clean running water; real food with minimal chemicals and carcinogens; energy-supplies, especially petroleum and coal; high-tech medical care; green space in which one can breathe and relax; and large personal dwelling-places (not to mention the current profligacies of mad consumption) will presumably be subject to some kind of very real -- though not, in the final analysis, necessarily all that onerous -- rationing. The grotesque excesses of "car-culture", for example, will have to be significantly and meaningfully curtailed -- which is not to say that there will be a return to the horse-and-buggy. Realistically-speaking, such an ecological program cannot be based on wholesale de-urbanization or ruralization, but rather on a saner and more ecological management of the situation as it currently is.

A central premise of the critique of late modernity is that late capitalism is not in fact a truly rational system of allocation of resources. The facts are that enormous amounts of energy are superfluously wasted in the creation of advertising to inflame appetites for largely unnecessary products, obsolescence is "planned-in" to keep consumption at a high rate, etc. For example, it has been estimated that the actual cumulative speed of commuting to and from work by car, in the very largest urban centres, is slower than that of walking by foot, because of the state of terminal gridlock. The personal and psychological rewards that will compensate for the decrease in consumption, for the decrease in quantity, is to be the increase in the quality of life, the emergence of time for pause and reflection in many people's lives, as well as the sense of participation in and belonging to a genuine, friendlier, and safer community.

The other path for humanity, of hypermodernity, which the planet today unfortunately seems to be moving on with a startling degree of unidirectional intensity, implies an increasingly dystopic future for humanity. As the once-Western-derived technology increasingly encroaches upon the world, our ultimate fate is most likely one of these alternatives: the possible extinction of human beings through some massive ecological or bio-engineering disasters; the possible extinction of the human spirit, and then presumably of physical humanity (if that proverbial "unlimited energy source" is actually found, and technology is able to "solve" all of our problems, but without our ability to set any limits on it); or what could be called the "Brazilification" (this term first prominently used in Douglas Coupland's Generation X) of the West, as well as of the planet as a whole: extreme contrasts of wealth and poverty; attenuation of the public-political realm and endemic crime, violence, and corruption everywhere; burgeoning overpopulation; and ongoing environmental degradation.

To conclude: the future, though uncertain, can still be won. The painfully minimal resources available to the critics of late modernity today must be marshalled in such a fashion as to create maximum impact -- to bend flexibly, where possible; to use the opposing forces' strength against them, where possible; but also to be able to possibly deliver, at some point, a very telling blow. These writings, based on extensive reading, study, and discussion, have attempted, with forthright honesty and intellectual integrity, and to the best of the author's abilities, to begin the enormous work now needed in the direction of fashioning a line of attack which should hold the greatest chance of success, in this very unequal, but absolutely critical fight for the future of a humanity living in accord with Nature -- or else facing extreme spiritual and physical degradation, or outright extinction. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

 

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