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The dilemma of hypermodernity (Part Eight)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted October 3, 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 emerging choice for humanity between postmodernity and hypermodernity had been discussed by the author. He will continue to assess the chances of resistance to hypermodernity, as well as further develop some of his arguments.

A figurative trip around the world will now be taken, in order to get an inkling of its state today. It is probably in the peripheries, rather than in the North American node of the world-system, that serious hope for change lies.

The Soviet countersystem has now disintegrated because puritanical Marxism, with its basket-case economy and coercive violence, was no match for the scintillating allure of Western consumerism and technology, and for the promise of personal freedom (which has nevertheless turned out to be very double-edged -- for example, in such phenomena as the rise of the Mafiya). Despite everything, there probably remains today more of a basic decency to the average Eastern lifestyle.

Serious reading, high-culture and genuine popular culture, exist to a greater extent in Russia -- and all the other national communities of the erstwhile Soviet Union and former Eastern bloc -- than in most of urban North America. The intellectual or artist or religious person is both more highly valued, and closer to the roots of his or her society. Unfortunately, all this is under increasing attack today -- as young people in vast numbers leave school (in which they are often being offered the closest thing to a serious classical education in the world today) to try and make a fast buck; lyceum girls say in surveys that their favourite chosen profession for the future would be "hard-currency prostitute"; and American neocon think-tankers suggest on CNN that long-time career military officers could open shoe-shine stands, as that would be more productive than their current occupation of marching around on parade grounds.

What most of the people of the former Eastern bloc societies are probably hoping for are a series of genuine national re-births, without Western interference, and without catastrophic, market-imposed pauperization. After all, the collapse of the Eastern bloc -- from the perspective of the transnational corporations -- could sardonically be termed the largest leveraged buyout in human history.

In his highly-perceptive essay in the March 1992 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, "Jihad vs. McWorld", Professor Benjamin J. Barber noted that the commodity and media system of "McWorld" actually intensifies the negative aspects of nationalist and religious impulses, precisely because they are under such enormous threat from it. Thus, ugly situations such as the excesses of the Iranian Islamic Revolution; the brutal Iran-Iraq war; the Iraqi plunder of the Kuwaitis; the slaughter in Rwanda; or the situation in ex-Yugoslavia, readily arise. However, the salve for such situations is NOT more globalization. In premodern times, ethnic and religious minorities could often endure for centuries -- or even millennia -- under hostile dominant cultures. It was the modern period that ushered in ethnic and religious slaughters on a truly mass scale, as well as the fading of the diversity of all rooted peoples in the face of global homogenization.

In his interview with The New York Review of Books (November 21, 1991), the 82-year old academic éminence grise Isaiah Berlin, said by some to be "the wisest man in the world" came out in favour of a tempered nationalism as the proper response to both hyper-tribalism and homogenization. He extolled an eighteenth-century philosopher of non-aggressive nationalism, one whose ideals he believes in -- a German, Johann Herder, who "virtually invented the idea of belonging." (Herder, incidentally, was very sympathetic to the Slavic nations -- and so his thought was ridiculed by the Nazi regime.) Isaiah Berlin says:

"Herder believed that just as people need to eat and drink, to have security and freedom of movement, so too they need to belong to a group. Deprived of this, they felt cut off, diminished, unhappy. To be human meant to be able to feel at home somewhere, with your own kind. Herder's idea of the nation was deeply non-aggressive. All he wanted was cultural self-determination. He believed in a variety of national cultures, all of which could, in his view peacefully co-exist."

This is similar to what Professor Paul Edward Gottfried, at the conclusion of his book on the German political theorist Carl Schmitt and his ideas, has called the "pluriverse" of distinctive peoples and nationalities, each with a meaningful, cherished history and vital existence. This "pluriverse" of human diversity is menaced by the univocal "universe", by what the preeminent Canadian philosopher George Parkin Grant has called "the universal, homogenous, world-state", or what ecologists might call "the monoculture".

In his Acceptance Speech for the Nobel Prize, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had said:

"The disappearance of nations would impoverish us no less than if all peoples were made alike, with one character, one face. Nations are the wealth of mankind; they are its generalized personalities: the smallest of them has its own particular colours and embodies a particular facet of God's design."

In his work, Beginning With My Streets (translated by Madeline G. Levine), Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish poet, philosopher, and Nobel Laureate has written that we live in a time when the person is "...deracinated, and thus deprived of collective memory...Where there is no memory, both time and space are a wasteland." Polish literature is said to offer "better antidotes against today's despair" than the current literatures of Western Europe, for "whoever descends from this literature receives signifying time as a gift", and "does not sink into apathy."

To be continued.

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

 

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