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New Modernism

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“A workplace with countless rows of desks.” by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

When we cast off the chains of the modern period and leapt gloriously into the frontier of postmodernism, with its uninhibited freedoms and ambiguities surrounding meaning and purpose, we undoubtedly felt as though we’d escaped an oppressive global regime and reached the height of social and individual liberty. But for years now the thrill has been waning, and we’re beginning to hear the whispered question: Is postmodernism dead? And we ought to be asking what is changing, because surely something is dying. We’ve come to the realization that the freedoms we thought we gained through our release from the morally rigid societal expectations of the modern period have been stripped from us once again, this time by the inexorable engine of capitalism. And so here we stand, at the precipice of a new epoch of human understanding, and wonder how to define our time.

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It’s not clear how we let this happen. It’s not clear why so many of us work forty, fifty, or more hours a week at jobs we don’t particularly like just to make rentiers extravagantly wealthy while we struggle to pay off the mountains of debt the establishment academic bureaucracy has thrust upon us. It’s not clear why society did not revolt when, after the 2008 financial crisis, taxpayer monies were used to shore up grossly negligent financial institutions while individual homeowners were left devastated and neglected. It’s not clear why it’s seems acceptable for huge swathes of the population to take a Xanax with their morning $7 cup of coffee from Starbucks and an Ambien with their four glasses of wine each evening. It’s not clear why Big Academia caters increasingly to the wealthy with ever-pricier tuition costs while sitting on half a trillion dollars in endowments. It’s not clear why we’ve forfeited our valuable leisure time to mega-corporate interests and allowed the violent ravaging of our minds by the taint of endless advertisements.

One thing, however, is quite clear. We certainly aren’t as free as we’d like to think we should be.

As so, circling back to the question of the vitality of the postmodern period — does it live? Do the ideals of liberty and freedom for all to experiment and the notions of a prosperous future for those who pursue their passions still thrive? I do not believe they do. I think postmodernism died — that it had been dying for some time and then went out after its final death rattle of the Great Recession. I believe we’ve regressed to a New Modernism wherein the fate of most individuals is governed by our new monarchs, the behemoths birthed by capitalism. During the modern period we were beholden to the church and royal decrees; in postmodernity we were beholden to ideas of merit and just deserts and the rewarding of productive toil. Now, we need re-assess what we’re beholden to in this New Modernity.

We certainly are ruled with an iron fist. The punishment comes swiftly and vigorously to those who don’t comply with the requirements of the fifty-hour work week, with any hopes of real leisure reserved for retirement, when our minds have been dulled and our bodies broken by decades of unsatisfying work at the behest of insatiable desire for more capitalist profits. The great irony is that much of the population seems to think we have a model society, that this is how it’s supposed to be. Our collective blindness can be due only to the ability of our New Modern overlords to keep our minds cluttered with useless information through a barrage of low-quality information media. We struggle along, bored at work daily at the jobs we don’t care about and surfing the AI-curated-dopamine-train that we call social media.

Superficially, New Modernism exhibits elements of the modern and postmodern periods such that they could both be said to be relevant still today. We assume that the availability of information at our fingertips makes us all enlightenment thinkers and the ability to express ourselves to the world while we’re taking a dump between shifts at our bullshit job makes us postmodern free-thinking virtuosos.

Alas, New Modernism needs us to think it resembles the nobler elements of the modern and postmodern periods. In reality, the economic forces that dominate New Modernism reduce the working lives of most adults to wage slavery in the name of furthering corporate interests. And indeed, the fear of consequences is tangible as the our anthropomorphized corporate rules — via the farce of corporate personhood — have the ability to drop the hammer of unemployment at a moments notice if a worker speaks up in defense of his right to earn a living wage while still having time to pursue ideas that intrigue him.

Postmodernism is dead. Modernism is dead. The lofty notions developed during these brilliant periods in human evolution dangle in front of us to keep us driving forward, unaware of the deterioration of stability of society around us. The spectres of these bygone epochs live on and shape our worldviews such that it doesn’t seem perverse for whole populations to be ruled over by isolated centers of power now represented by bloated capitalist enterprises. The pursuit of material possessions allows us a sense of progress even though we’re stepping up an escalator that’s carrying us down faster than we’re climbing. Technological advancement placates us with a sense of wonder as we stare mindlessly into our television screens for an hour before bed each night rather than challenging ourselves to think or create something meaningful in the spirit of the pioneers of modernism and postmodernism.

And so we toil. Until we wake from our collective delusion that is New Modernism, we toil on. Our government is being enveloped by corporate interests before our very eyes, and soon it may be too late for anything short of mass protests and potentially armed revolution to make a change. Modernism is dead. Postmodernism is dead. Long live New Modernism. All hail New Modernism.

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