Friday, November 21, 2008

Fight the Plight of Blight: The Postmodern World

Postmodernism is a difficult term to define. It means different things to different people and different disciplines. The word has applications in many areas, including: philosophy, critical theory, art, architecture, literature, music, theater, film, and culture in general. It is generally regarded as arising in reaction to Modernism. The term is also used with reference to late 20th and early 21st century geopolitical trends such as globalization, consumerism, and the counter-Enlightenment/anti-science movement, as well as reactionary critiques on rationalism and universalism.

Postmodernism, in terms of its artistic application, denotes no clear, central hierarchy or organizing principle. It conceives of the world and all its constituent elements as being comprised of extreme complexity, evidencing contradiction and ambiguity, all without any apparent foundation or purpose for existing in such states.

The term, Postmodernism, was first used in connection with architecture and soon thereafter found itself applied to music, as well. In architecture, Postmodernism reared its, quite literally, ugly head through a predominance of steel and glass, stark, geometric lines and dearth of ornamentation. In other words, Postmodernism subtracted individuality and aesthetic beauty from the landscape’s human revision.

In music, melodic beauty and integrity of harmonic structure were sacrificed to dissonance and atonality, both exemplary of community’s dissociation into competitive antagonism and antipathy.

Postmodernism’s broad effects find expression through the disintegration of the consensus-as-unifying-force into a divisive revision of everything that existed before. Proponents claim Postmodernism is a celebration of liberation from antiquated notions and structures of the past. However, the utter devaluation of the individual, together with rejection of the ideals of the Enlightenment and scientific progress, actually belie the intent behind the doublespeak of its proponents. Unlike the goals and values of the Enlightenment – that is, to lift humanity out of a morass of ignorance, subjugation and despair, and to broaden knowledge, re-forging it into a tool for universal emancipation – the real aim of Postmodernism is: divide and conquer by offering empty promises which are shaped to appear as the foundation for liberation.

Now, I do not wish to provide the reader with the impression that change has no value and that Modernism must be preserved intact on into the future at all costs. Certainly, there are elements of elitism and rigidity that should be discarded, and we can always find better ways of doing things as well as better things to do. Nonetheless, I would not sacrifice beauty and harmony, structure and form, integration and unity, or a conscious regard for natural splendor to effect a haphazard change which only seeks to enslave the entire world, converting humanity into a bland, unthinking homogeneous mass of automatons who will remain content to find purpose by mindlessly performing work in return for the rewards of consumerism, economic globalization, fascination with celebrity and the inhuman and inhumane excesses endemic to competition and waste.

There are approximately 6.6 billion people on the planet. As a collective, humanity allows a mere few thousand to both manage and manipulate the world’s governmental and legal systems along with the emerging global economy. In this manner, we cede control over our available choices and allow the palate of the super-wealthy to color our well being. Now, even the planet’s future as an ecosystem rests in the hands of these few thousand people.

Machiavellian politicians shape events, and the discussion of issues arising due to events, in a manner most conducive to consolidating and broadening their power. Corporations vie for increased profits, generally with little or no regard for the ramifications arising from either their methods or the effects their products will exert upon the welfare of individuals. They evince the same lack of regard toward the integrity of the societies and cultures impacted in addition to the quality of our environment and viability of our planetary ecosystem. The interests of corporations and the super-wealthy buy favors from politicians with funds that form the sinews of ever-growing and ever-flexing muscles of power, exercised according to whims that perpetuate industrial might and executive privilege.

Individuals feel powerless against the relentless tide of position and wealth as it erodes an inviting beach, the broad prosperity which life seemed to offer in youth's flush. The democratic republic, once conceived, devolves into an oligarchy controlled by the wealthy for its own interests at the expense of everyone else.

This teeming ant farm called humanity feels duty bound to follow the social order instituted by captains of industry, generals and politicians. We correctly accept the responsibility to assure our children are fed and our families housed. Needlessly, we seek to assure our social status continues to increase through owning the latest model of every product available.

Debt, accumulated from pursuing our misdirected consumerism, binds us to the socioeconomic order with only retirement looming as a redemptive reward. By allowing ourselves to be seduced by things, extravagances, appearance, status and position, we undermine our own basic security, repress our personal freedom and willingly become serfs in this new age and new world order – corporate feudalism.

No one dares rock the boat due to the uncertainty over whether they will drown in the backlash from the certain response the powerful are likely to wield. All social models on television and in other media, in concert with the inescapable bombardment of advertising's brainwashing, condition us to believe this world would be exactly what each of us wants if only we individuals each earned enough money to fulfill our individual fantasy of the consumerist dream. This insinuation extrudes upon us while simultaneously inferring that we fail to achieve that dream only through our own fault, due to our inadequacies and/or failures.

No one need accept the current modality as inevitable. While no single person has the power to change the world, collectively, the almost 7 billion of us can create a more equitable and compassionate future. We can demand that all wars cease, that governments stop holding secrets from us, that excessive wealth may not vest in individuals and corporations, that tens of millions shall not starve and live homeless, that people can feel free and safe from the intrusion of wanton, surreptitious government surveillance, and that no one need sacrifice health care due to a lack of coverage and funds. We are not required to live our lives nailed to crosses of duty, guilt, responsibility, remorse, desire and envy. We need not prostrate ourselves before the gods of advertising, net worth, celebrity, ostentation, physical appearance, peer pressure and might.

A more meaningful existence grows as fruit on the tree of life. Another reality is available in which we relinquish our pledge of allegiance to the nosferatu which reveals itself in the seven deadly sins as they are expressed through television, advertising, pop culture and the mass media induced cults of celebrity worship and consumerism. These channels for the expression of the self-destruction cultural and individual narcissism exert – through greed, desire, ostentation and insouciant luxury – find sustenance in the blood flowing from the veins which pump life into each individual’s every waking effort to win a game rigged against them. This other existence shines forth through the rays of a new dawn of love expressed through understanding, respect, acceptance, justice, hope and peace. This world glimmers like a rainbow, spreading out over fields of opportunity where everyone will find their needs fulfilled, unburdened by superfluous desires.

You have the power, collectively, to change reality as soon as you choose to exercise it. All generations, as they come of age, have an absolute right, indeed a duty, to confront the powers wielding influence at that time. No previous society is entitled to burden a new generation with debt, pollution, hostility or war. That is a fundamental right that is basic and endemic to all individuals and every free society. Freedom does not exist unless every person has the ability to live their life the way they choose, without having to inherit the mess made by previous generations and pay their overdue bills.

Let me offer some examples. It is a form of slavery to saddle future generations with the debt we accumulate today. New generations are never afforded the opportunity to co-determine with governments to what degree or for which programs debt may be incurred, resulting in a system perpetuating taxation without representation. The demanding and perpetually enslaving tax system which funds governments, mainly by spending hugely inflated sums to corporations who contribute to politicians’ campaigns and who lobby those same politicians, results from debt accumulation. The young have a moral, political, economic and self-interest imperative to raise the argument that they cannot be required to pay for the decisions made by others, only those others owe the debt, so only they may be required to repay it.

The same arguments can be made regarding wars and other hostilities between nations. The youth, as they come of age in any nation, really have no personal beef with anyone anywhere. If a bunch of old men want to fight about who gets the oil, let them fight it out. However, it is slavery for those old men to require the youth of their nation to wage war for them. The waste of lives is a tragedy. Soldiers witnessing the horrible and indescribable violence inherent in war doom future generations to suffer from PTSD inflicted first upon many of those soldiers, who cannot help themselves, but who often, later, bring the horror of war home by battering their families (physically, emotionally or verbally), insuring calamity into the future. Only when each generation assumes responsibility for the kind of world they leave to succeeding generations will expediency be seen in living in balance with nature, pollution free, in a world without conflict, without poverty, and where everyone is seen as special, unique, vital and valued.

Only the youth have the energy, the idealism, and the moral authority to rise up against any Establishment in place and hold their predecessors accountable. The process of holding previous generations accountable for the world they bequeath to later generations must be seen as more than a right and as a moral imperative in order to educate humanity regarding proper stewardship of the planet. Husband the planet’s resources, don’t consume them voraciously. Preserve the natural ecosystems which exist in each broad region to preserve genetic diversity.

Yes, you must rise, every one of you, and demand the world that you want. Don’t submit to the scattered crumbs left for you to collect. The only requirement is that you rise with one voice and demand change the same way Eastern Europe demanded to be free of Soviet control and the same way citizens of India demanded the British cede “home rule.” This change can only be accomplished with love, a non-violently expressed firm resolve and persistent, unwavering conviction.

A revolution of the people, asserting the primacy of individual rights, demanding fair and equitable treatment of all people, requiring governments to follow the wishes of the people in all decisions, honoring the basic rights of all humanity, and never breeding enmity, rancor, jealousy or bigotry between individuals, classes or other groups will break down the walls of this soon to pass era of privilege and authority. It must if humanity is to survive!

This revolution can see its seeds sprouting in the massing of migrant settlers for the right to remain in lands not native to them. Power cannot cage and imprison people behind imaginary lines drawn in the dirt of the earth. The poor, the hungry, the infirm and the oppressed have always carved hopeful paths to new homes out of the sere streets of despair. Nothing can stop that great human tide.

However, I implore one and all, every living and thinking mind on this planet, to please remember, any new order built on the corpses of oppressors only yields the rise of new oppressors. This has been the constant lesson of history, even taught to us by Fielding Mellish and Miles Monroe.

If we wish to erect a new world order based on love, kindness, equality, equability and understanding, we must each find the spirit of Quasimodo within our hearts and save, not ourselves, but others, out of pure altruistic love. Non-violence offers the only avenue.

Every moment offers an opportunity for self-expression. Every instant is pregnant with love. Everyone we meet can bring us joy as well as teach us something of value. Competing with others is divisive and prevents humanity from reaching its full potential. Only by working together, all of us as one interdependent world community, through love and cooperation, will we find meaning, value and purpose.


Although not strictly adoptive of the nihilistic perspective, Postmodernism certainly borrows and modifies the denial point of view into a contrarian perspective underpinning the narcissistic sense of grand entitlement to, and place in, the universe.

Tony Cliff calls Postmodernism, "The theory of rejecting all theories." Al Gore characterizes Postmodernism as being, "the combination of narcissism and nihilism…" Meanwhile, David Harvey wrote in his book, “The Condition of Postmodernity”, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989, that, "Postmodernism swims, even wallows, in the fragmentary and chaotic currents of change as if that is all there is." Noam Chomsky suggested that Postmodernism is meaningless since it adds nothing to analytical or empirical thought.

Fielding Mellish was the name of Woody Allen's character in his movie, "Bananas."

Miles Monroe was the name of Woody Allen's character in his movie, "Sleeper."

I am referring to the Quasimodo who was Charles Laughton’s character in the movie, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

1 comment:

fleuve-souterrain said...

A very well-thought out piece, Don. I agree the problems are myriad and we need to act in haste... and the earth is our only hope.