Friday, October 26, 2012
La Condition Postmoderne or Late modernity
There seems to be an agreement that there is a change of historical era. The concept of the postmodern condition (for example Lyotard) implies that a new era has already started. The term late modernity (for example Giddens) does not say this, but the word "late" implies that modernitty is now in a late phase, which would seem to imply, that it is sooner or later to be replaced by something else.
The assumed new era, which has started according to postmodern philosophers like Lyotard says that there is now a fragmentation in time and space. Every point in time and space is seen as a point, a singularity not related to and caused by other things and not a sign of a deepper content. The division between a sign and what it signifies, sign (signifiant) and content (signifié) disappears, or rather the continuos content in a work of art and in a human utterance or indeed in a human being does not longer exist.
All this sounds very radical and new, but as I see it, when it concerns art etc is just a continuation of the modern. Postmodern architecture just looks like a continuation of the modern. In poetry it often looks like symbolism.
But on the human and the political level there really is something new.
Disinterest in the political and ideological. Collapse of the Grand narratives or explanations, like religions or political –isms, as the postmodernists correctly say. Culture has built ever more complex thought systems and rules for behaviour and thought. These are during the time “after modernity” being torn away.
But as I see it, what follows is not something abstract or really revolutionary different grom what has been seen before in world history, like the one postulated in the theory a technological singularity. This postulates that when computers exceed the human brain something radically different will happen. But human nature asserts itself again. All the cultural complexities are gradually stripped off. This is also why the technological singularity will not happen. Technology will never match human nature whatever the information handling capacity might be. The basic human Wille zur macht and other basic human instincts will continue. Now unchecked by political ideals and thoughts, about which nobody cares anymore.
Power hungry men will more and more dominate instead of political ideas.
Rome went through a similar transition between the Gracchus brothers (around 130 BC) and Marius and Sulla (around 80 BC). Today we do not know the details in this development. We do not know how postmodern this was, but it is clear, that the truly political and social conflicts and fights were dominant in the third and second century BC. and gradually ended in the first. The fights were more and more simply between dominant persons and just for money and for power per se.
Old China is another parallel. In the first Chinese modernity, The Warring States Period, we have 100 schools of thought. These are in the end narrowed down to just the two of practical use for the fighting and indeed winning statesmen: Confucianism and Legalism. Idealist schools like Moism disappear.
Today we can in detail watch and maybe counteract the same development in our own civilization.
Why is it happening?
- Fate would Spengler say.
- Causes would Toynbee say. What causes could here be in play?
1. Political and cultural fatigue. Loosening interest. All thoughts are thought. Alle Gedanken tausendmal gedacht. Spengler might agree but see this as destiny, because each civilization in his view has a limited number of possible thoughts. When all these are thought, nothing new will follow.
2. Long experience of questioning everything leaves indifference. Every new thought has for a couple of centuries been attacked from all sides. So now we don’t really trust anything. We know that everythig can be questioned, so we stop believing something old or new before we have started.
Every belief quickly becomes provincial. Left is only indifference or a return to premodern beliefs like Islam or other religions.
3. The impact of market mechanisms.
The Postmodern culture has no continuous beliefs and its members are fragmented even more by shifting messages from the commercials. The market mechanisms have invaded the soul.
Shopoholic. Shop products and attitudes and personality traits.
It is not true that all the Grand narratives or explanations have died. Economic liberalism, the belief in the holy market mechanisms not only survives, but thrives and dominate all thought and action in and between the states.
But the belief in other Grand explanations has disappeared in our parts of the world. Instead we believe in rapidly shifting fashions dictating material goods. Every half year another type of product is launched by American and Chinese and other producers, and the comercials learn us to crave for them. These needs take possession of our souls. Here the churches and Marx agree and they are right. We shop products and traits in the same way. We become changing signs witout content.
This political indifferance is one of the greatest dangers to democracy.
And pluralism? Well, as postmodernism witin culture and fashion is an extreme fragmentation, it is pluralism, but a superficial pluralism. Everything changes constantly. But it changes too often to matter. Nothing sinks into the souls. What matters pluralism, if nobody really cares about the myriad of ever-changing phenomena?
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
The European Union has just received the Nobel Peace Prize. What does this signify?
In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the world as a whole sees what looks like a repetition of the last 2 centuries of the pre-Christian era in the Mediteranean world. This has been pointed out by many before, but needs to be known in broader circles. Only by seeing the parallels we can hope to avoid doing the same mistakes.
China during the period of the Warring States (around 475 – 221 BC) is another frightening parallel. But even though the inter-state fights of this period has very many parallels with our time, the Greco-roman world has the advantage as comparison to our time, that the intra-state political systems look more like ours than do the internal conditions within the Chinese states before the unification in 221 BC, at least according to our knowledge.
The parallels between on the one side Western Europe and the USA and on the other The Hellenistic World and Rome are too obvious to be overlooked. Like Rome the USA nowadays are dominating the rest of the known world more and more. The means of Rome were quite direct military and crude even towards civilized nations. In 146 BC Cartago and Corinth were simply destroyed and the inhabitants killed or sold as slaves. Foreign rulers were driven through the streets of Rome, mocked by the mob and then maybe even strangled.
Often the conquerors were private military leaders like Scipio, Marius or Pompejus. These persons could alter the destiny of whole nations, change borders or dissolve kingdoms and indeed lead kings in humiliating triumphs.
Today similar conditions exist. But even though history repeats itself, history never repeats itself in exactly the same way. The USA in most cases only use crude military means in the Third World. And leaders are not drawn through the streets of Washington or New York. The mob today is only occasionally on the street, but rather at the end point of a TV transmission or in the nodes in The World Wide Web, nodes from where the mob members can interact bidirectionally with each other and with the victims of mob persecution. Of course also the written tabloid press is a part of this. Two thousand years ago the street mob was led by politicians and demagogues, also on the street. Today the mob rulers are politicians using the media and the net and the medias themselves like TV stations and press publishers and by self styled mob leaders on the net. Like the so called trolls.
Third World countries like Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq were simply invaded and heir leaders often drawn to court and judged or like Saddam Hussein even executed. The mob howling and cheering through the media and the internet.
Strauss-Kahn from the rich world suffered the same treatment until he was saved by an untrustworthy victim.
But most often the American dominance towards the rich world is of a media, cultural and economic political nature. Europe or more precisely the EU is mocked in the American media both for bureaucracy, inflexible rigid policies, state control, taxes and social welfare of a "socialist style".
The more real control corresponding to the roman legions today is the American economic dominance coupled with some de facto dictatorial control. To the last count things like the American use of the Swift Network to control economic transactions in Europe, the overflying of European countries with prisoners, often arrested illegally on non American ground on pure suspicion of terrorism.
The Rating Agencies are mocking European states. Degrading them at will. Often it seems almost for fun. Like when Rumors were spread that France would be rated down, something which caused massive speculations and was then demented!
Today these agencies play a role corresponding to the role of private roman military leaders. They hold the destiny of whole nations in their hand. Countries like Greece, Italy and Spain are graded down to nothing by these private institutions. Richer nations are gradually rated down as well. For every down-grading the economic problems just get worse because of bigger problems getting loans and because of greater interest rates for the loans. Not very helpful. The downgraded countries are losing autonomy and if not put under administration from the EU, they are controlled by the markets.
These countries are understandably hurt in their pride and protest. But in vain. The agencies just laugh it seems. The EU talks about a European rating agency. But such an agency created by the EU would most likely also be regarded as a joke in the USA. Probably it would itself get the note” junk status”.
Because of all this the Nobel Committee has awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU. The USA and the markets only look at and counts economics and things which for a superficial look can be made fun of or portrayed as “socialist”.
Rightly the Nobel Committee points to other values. Peace creation and maintenance through cooperation between and union of nations is of an immensely greater value than petty market speculations striving only for profit.
ABOUT THIS BLOG
Polybios (Greek Πολυβιος) (about 203- 120 BC) was a Greek historian describing Rome and its rise, but also warning against tendencies leading to the degeneration of the republic into the anarchy of its last century.
The aim of this blog is to warn against tendencies in the present global developments, tendencies within power balance, politics, culture, the media and other areas. These tendencies will undermine political stability and pluralism in the broadest sense, nationally and internationally. There will be use of historical parallels, especially on the large scale from an assumption of parallel development of the high cultures or civilizations. This view is inspired by authors like Spengler and Toynbee. Such views are old and in this blog I do not intend to add much to their theories. Rather I will try to apply the ideas to understand the present.
For Spengler the development of every civilization is bound and predictable, for Toynbee not. I agree with Toynbee, but only under certain circumstances. Only if we learn and deliberately act to influence development can we avoid the destiny of the former civilizations. This destiny is a continuance of national and international conflicts, degenerating politics and a pluralism, which continues but comes under threat. These developments will continue for about 100 years or less, and then end with the uniting of the world under one (or perhaps two) cesarean dictators. This means peace, but also the death of this pluralism and of course of democracy.
It is these developments, we must act to counter.
It should be noted that history does not repeat itself in details. On a large scale the civilizations till now have gone through the same overall developments of the same durations, but of course at a different time for every single civilization. One can cautiously set up a time frame by putting a time displacement for each civilization, a number saying how many years before our own, this civilization went through the same stages as we do. The Greco-roman civilization is about 2100 years before us. The first Chinese civilization about 2300 years before us, old Egypt about 3600 years, the Arab or oriental culture about 1000 years etc. So the Greek and Romans were at our stage around 100 BC, the Chinese around 300 BC and again around 1200 AD, the Arabs around 1000 AD.
But the details in the development of these civilizations differ very much. It is as if the concept civilization as such is like the psychological concept of a prototype (Rosch). It is a sort of mean of the 13 or so single civilizations. These can be as individual as single species of birds are individual examples of the prototype bird. Ostriches and sparrows are both birds, but look very different. The same is the case for civilizations.
As said, I do not think that a repetition of the fate of earlier civilizations is unavoidable. One might think that globalization and information technology could result in an entirely new era after the era of the rising and falling civilizations, which has lasted about 5500 years (as assumed by for example the theory of the technological singularity). But a look at the present developments and the comparison with for example the Romans inspires pessimism. The world seems to be sliding without reflection and consciousness toward the same end as in the 12 cases before us. Just on a crazily higher technological level.