14. Postmodern Anti-culture: Undoing the Bonds of Culture and Society
by Culture and Anti Culture
(For context start with Post 1)
Postmodern–what is it? It is a state of human culture which is amorphous but absolutely real. Only a small fraction of humanity is for now fully caught up in it, yet it is spreading irresistibly to every corner of the earth. At its core are technologies that dramatically alter the organ of consciousness-the human central nervous system, the vehicle of soul life: of thoughts, emotions and the springs of action. It is a cognitive, emotional and behavioral mutation unprecedented in the development of humanity. And like the “Matrix” it is everywhere and nowhere, all around us but so broken up, so atomized that it is difficult to perceive. And it is involuntary–every one exposed to it, not subject to choice, is caught up in the postmodern.
It is impossible here to review all the stages of the evolution of human culture which have preceded ours. It must suffice to compare the postmodern to the modern world.
The modern world begins with the radical disruption of the preceding order, with the French Revolution and the titanic mobilization of human ingenuity and power machines (steam at first) we know as the Industrial Revolution. Its demise can be conveniently, though a bit arbitrarily, timed to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It is illuminating to compare our early but exponentially exploding postmodern period with the modern–both exemplified by taking technology much too far, abusing and submitting to it, but in strikingly different ways.
The French Revolution
Fall of the Berlin Wall
The modern world retained some awareness of the historical development of human societies, though more and more vaguely. It felt a distinctness from the past, an emergence from an inferior state of society into a scientific, rational-technical and skeptical culture, with traditional forms losing their force and substance. A strong ever-growing materialism and contempt for superstition were its intellectual hallmarks (as well as a sense of moral superiority). By contrast, the postmodern person par excellence is the suburb dweller of the American west coast and of the sprawls of the southwestern desert cities. Here there are no roots in the past; the population is a-historical, adrift in time, in an ever extended present that is likely to be unprecedented in the long career of the human species. The growing postmodern atmosphere in such regions is of a rapidly progressive submergence in technology, whose growth is taken to be an almost religious certainty, something happening independent of human choice. Compared with the modern sense of upward material and moral progression (like the growth of a child into adulthood), postmodern technical expansion is experienced as an inevitable, infinite spreading out, an intensification not of sequential time, but of a perpetual “now” (more like the growth of a fungus).
The modern era was characterized by the emergence of a strong sense of being an individual, a person less and less subordinated to a group – a nation, a tribe, a family. The demand for universal human rights and the idea of freedom came to prominence. The stamp of the postmodern is a banal hedonism, expressed in a thralldom to a trained-in belief in the world of endless new software and electronic gadgetry. The ideal of social and soul development has been displaced by a hypnotic ongoing integration into a world of machines.
The modern was the age of the intellectual, spinning abstract thoughts, theories and ideologies.
The postmodern intellect is a shadow: shallow, all surface, utterly lacking the element of depth.
The displacement and uprooting of the modern era, the cutting away of the deep roots of social bonds, infected people with the sting of disenchantment and alienation. The postmodern is profoundly lacking in self-awareness as it is gradually absorbed into an anti-world of semblance, of the screen world.
The modern world was heavily industrial, generating an urban laboring proletariat with intense self awareness and the possibility of strong solidarity. Ours is the world of the transnational wage slave and the reduction of the most infected among us into virtual, unreal beings , “Apps.”
The modern saw the emergence of highly calculated mass propaganda and advertising, the postmodern a permeative, ever-present and often hidden advertising which grows exponentially. Even “propaganda” has been absorbed into the more subtle and dismal world of mass promotion.
Nationalism and group-egoism exploded at the height of the modern world as an ironic counter-force to growing individualism. Now we have the person potentially at home anywhere (nowhere) as long as they are umbilically bonded to a screen and a keyboard. The State as such is being liquidated into a corporate hybrid dominated by rootless financial elites for whom chiefs of state (living gods under fascism, theocracy and communism) are mere errand-boys.
Science, hard-won knowledge of nature was modern; integrated technology and engineered ignorance for the masses is postmodern.
Modern art freed itself from the tyranny of representation and saw the emergence of the avant-garde. Postmodern art is computer-generated anti-art and anything novel and icon-smashing is co-opted as a marketable product.
Modern life saw an unprecedented explosion of atheism and introspection, of the existential struggle for a basis for inner life, of philosophical rumination. Indifference to fundamental questions is postmodern: it is anti-philosophical, anti-existential.
The modern era saw the growth of abstract money power and its deployment as industrial capital. Postmodern money is completely outside human comprehension and is fictitious credit-money unrelated to basic human, social and industrial capital–think $600 trillion in derivatives.
Finally, the modern era saw the degradation of the natural world, perceived on a local or regional basis. The barely addressed dilemma of the postmodern world is ecological collapse on a planetary scale, fundamentally related to the technical regulation and degradation of the human soul, now bereft of any genuine moral-aesthetic relation to the natural world.
Immersion in the postmodern sea of anti-culture is comparable to being a fish in the ocean. As has been said before, whoever discovered water was not a fish. To become aware of anti-culture, you must step out of it, see it from a mental distance. This, to begin with, is very, very hard. It is also the first step towards freedom from the destructive immersion forced on us from above. This is an attempt, as Kafka said, to apply an ax to the frozen sea within us.
Modern woman Gertrude Stein by Picasso
Modern man Beethoven
Postmodern man? Over ten trillion sold.
“Contemporary humanity is in the midst of many crises. At the heart of them all is the crisis in the inner life of the human being. We are writing for the consciously distressed.”