Sunday, February 12, 2017
Path past modernity
For many years, I've observed that we are on the cusp of an age past modernity. The whole world now bound by instant communication and well proselytized by the triumphant West preaching the gospel of self-interest, free market, and liberal democracy is reacting. Pankaj Mishra names what we inhabit now is "The Age of Anger."
In this in-between age, expectations of the "end of history" with a world-wide growing economy, the end of poverty, greater wealth, and unlimited progress have been dashed for most. Yes, there are more individual freedoms, better technologies, and more things to provide comfort, ease, and entertainment. But the cult of modernism has removed people from their families, their towns, their traditional values, their sense of belonging and meaning.
Their old time religions are ridiculed. Their once taken-for-granted beliefs have been trampled. Modernism has led to rationalism, objectivity, nationalism, science, liberal education, critical thinking, continually changing economies with loss of lifelong jobs, polarizing inequities--and lots of resentment. And with resentment comes anger and blame.
The dashed expectations and undermined beliefs is the result of "others." The literati elite, the Muslims, the foreigners, the terrorists are to blame--just as before it was the Jews or Catholics or Negroes or Communists. And just as before, demagogues are arising to promote and exploit that resentment, anger, and blame. But this time the world war they contemplate is not just with the old industrialized nations but also newly westernizing, developing nations.
One path to postmodern times is reaction: a tearing down of all modern persons, institutions, and values, a denial of science and demolition of technology, a reassertion of tribe and borders, an apocalyptic devastation of rules and laws and peoples so a messiah can bring in the new or old world order.
But there is no going back except by total self-destruction.
Another path through the age of anger into a reconciled postmodernism might well be illustrated by the three traditional cardinal virtues: faith, hope, and love.
The path beyond modernism is a faith that transcends beliefs, a hope that dismisses expectations, and a love that surpasses sentimentality.
The three Abrahamic religions taught there is no god but God (Christ, Allah, Yahweh). Many other spiritual traditions dismissed gods entirely. But they made their teachings, institutions, practices, prophets, books, and leaders divine. They idolized their beliefs. And so do the modern cults of wealth, fame, and victory.
Neither the modern arrogance of idolatry, nor the angry reaction of iconoclasm is the path ahead. Each leads to the other.