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Friday, November 18, 2011

Apathy the Postmodern Condition .

Why do people value nonsense, waste, and stupidity? When did life become a joke? This is the question I am attemption to answer, and in order to do that, some history is necessary.

In the nineteenth century, European philosophers, now called modernists, saw the industrial revolution, the power of their mighty nations, and the progress that these nations have achieved and created a story about the future. The communists told of a nation in which everyone gets along and there is no government and no property.

Universality of these grand narratives drove these nations to attempt to 'spread civilization' which increased local development of some of these Western nations' colonies. This universalism and rapid progress from the industrial revolution led to a manifest destiny over the world. This can be seen in Nazism, Soviet communism, and Japanese Imperialism.

Modernism and its belief in Utopia derives a morality from those in power. In Western terms, morality was a reflection of white heterosexual adult males. Theologically speaking, it is the white man that was made in God's (aka perfection's) image. Women and all other races are less in God's image, and early justifications for heirarchy stem from this morality.
While there was a lot of debate about the nature of morality during this period, the ideas came from this theological humanism and Enlightment ideas of autonomous individuals.

The next generation faced the world wars and the contradictions it posed to stories of progress and greater peace. The devastation of lives many people feel like humanity had failed. For instance, many Japanese hated surrender and living under a flag that was not their freedom (the occupation of the US). They blamed society for cowardice for not dying for their ideals. The philosophy that grew out of this disillusionment were absurdism and existentialism which in part tried to understand humanity in an indifferent world, a world without a guiding narrative or god leading humanity to its bright deserve future.

Though only a bit later, the postmodernists came, and existentialism became known as the shortest lived philosophical periods. Postmodernists were not merely skeptical but pessimistic about the power of modernists narratives like that of communism. They saw Stalinism, sexism, racism, and colonialism and argued that Utopia is impossible and that these narratives only make things worse. The common critique of Communism is that it does not take in account for human nature, which is summarized by John Acton's famous quote: "power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

While postmodernism displaced the narratives, morality, and ideals of modernism, this philosophy slowly fed into culture. The rise of a new age of satire and parody, both of which seek to deconstruct all ideals. Around the nineties, the truely postmodern culture arose around entertaining nonsense. Because the need for a narrative was thrown out, nonsense became acceptable. This is most obvious in internet culture, especially in regards of internet memes and 4chan.

The attraction of this nonsense is all in the affect, which is a technical term for a subjective response. For instance, a girl running to school with a piee of toast in her mouth. This is in the last episode of the Japanese anime Neon Genesis Evagelion (literally, the Gospel of the New Genesis) and is sometimes refered to as the beginning of the turn to nonsense. The idea is that this is completely non-deconstructable. In other words, one cannot critize what it is saying about humanity if it says nothing. (An earlier example that is more global is Dada in art.)

This leads to a culture that values something that in the past would seem to be without value or actually gross. While postmodernism has rejected the evil of modernism, it has left the world without a future to tell itself. Though there are still politicians who claim things that fall under the modernist tradition, the old ideals compete in contemporary consumerism with the ever enticing nonsense. The deepest questions is what kind of people are we now, when we breadth nonsense everyday. Will we not ourselves become nonsense?
The manifestation of the postmodern Zeitgeist is not simple or the same in each place. The important thing is that it will be hard to create a new spirit with hope for progress. I am a Nietzschean in that I believe a great person is required to create new values. This position is dangerous, for value creators can easily become dictators. I suggest a wise person, a philosopher president of sorts to lead society on a nuanced path. The values created from knowing what is worth dying for, what is worth fighting for, and what is worth protecting

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