From Modernity to After-Modernity (33)

Book 3. Divination

1. the future emerges in a given context

1.1. The quasi-Worldview of Modernity

Modernity is not a worldview in the real meaning of the term. It is a quasi-worldview. A worldview relates to a holistic narrative that all citizens can share as their own understanding about what reality is all about. In other words the ideas generated by Modernity, and the facts those ideas derive, are not weaving a holistic narrative about human existential reality. As a matter of fact nor Modernity, nor science which is its active method of inquiry, are offering a narrative about what reality is all about... In this sense we come to understand why Modernity can’t answer the existential questions that pop up in peoples’ minds and why peoples’ minds are thus filing with anxiety that isolates them in the disturbing feeling of not really belonging to their societies. 

The fact of the matter is that the sharing of the characteristics of Modernity can’t cure the existential anxiety that afflicts most people in advanced Modern societies. These societies have reached the stage of Late-Modernity which is the stage of life preceding death. This in turn explains why, to find relief from the anxiety resulting from the feeling of not belonging to something bigger than themselves, people flock to older worldviews like religions or whatever sects are active in their local environment. The failure of Modernity to quieten peoples’ anxiety creates the context by excellence, or one could say the fertile ground, for hyper-individualism to flourish and for societies to atomize which, as explained earlier, signifies that such societies are on their way out.

By the characteristics of Modernity I mean that this quasi-worldview is founded on the acceptance of the reason at work within capital by long distance merchants that after some 5 centuries of practice gave rise to the following factors that we have to consider being societally determinant in the sense that they have literally driven our societies to heir present condition:
  • philosophic rationalism,
  • science,
  • capitalism,
  • hyper-individualism.
Taken together these factors form the 4 core traits of Modernity.

So Modernity1 is not a pure worldview and in the absence of a shared holistic narrative its 4 determinant traits substantiate the values that are shaping the contours of what I call the quasi-worldview of Modernity.

This quasi-worldview acts as the ideology of capital holders and their power institutions. It is drilled in peoples’ minds through the daily propaganda, peddled by the media, that manipulate peoples’ thinking and doing. The target of those who pay for that propaganda is to force people to adopt the 4 core traits of the quasi-worldview of Modernity as the substance of their own ideas and behaviors. And the power of propaganda is so strong that it convinces people that what it peddles is the only game in town. As Thatcher famously said “There Is No Alternative”. TINA, Tatcher's  slogan, has taken over Late-Modernity. And TINA, by translating into an ensemble of societal behaviors and ideas fixates these 4 core ideological traits in the minds of all citizens as being the ultimate truth about the working of reality in the context of Late-Modernity.

Let’s note here that the French thinkers who gave us Postmodernism were among the first to fall in this TINA trap. Jean-Francois Lyotard’s diagnostic that the traditional societal narratives had vanished was a correct diagnostic but his subsequent leap into the belief that such narratives henceforth should altogether be avoided was putting intellectual meat on the skeletal ideological system of capital holders. Bruno Latour was thinking along the same lines as me when he asked “Has knowledge-slash-power been co-opted of late by the National Security Agency?”2. But I’ll come back on this in 1.6.4. Postmodernism

1.1.1. The order of Modernity

The 4 core traits of Modernity, – philosophic rationalism – science – capitalism – hyper-individualism, have fostered a given rational” ordering of human activities:
  • Modernity emerged as a product of the reasoning and of the system of values of capital holders and long distance merchants who very soon learned about the primacy of the reason at work within their invested capital.
  • The concerns of capital holders and long distance merchants then gradually imposed a set of characteristics to their societies that took the following forms: the capture of the human mind.

Starting with Early Modernity or the phase of merchant capitalism the reason at work within capital captured the minds of long distance merchants and capital holders. And their success, over the centuries, slowly gained the adherence of ever larger segments of European societies to the reason at work within capital.

But this reason is a finality that is external to human life and as such it has no consideration for any matter pertaining to human life or the principle of life in general. This means that in the internal logic of the reason at work within capital whatever” generates money is now being considered as a legitimate source of activity. This includes:
  • any activities that poison or kill the principle of life,
  • any activities that destroy the context, or the habitat of life,
  • any activities that cause suffering to humanity and/or other species.
The finality, of the internal logic of the reason at work within capital, is indeed limited to the preservation of the capital base and its eventual increase through the accumulation of surpluses. This finality has no concern for anything else than these 2 objectives. Being external to life it has no concern for life and this explains how it can act in such a pathogenic way for life.

The capture of human minds by that finality takes place indirectly by positing the signs of richness it procures, to those who put it in application, as being the ultimate truth in life. The luxury such richness permits to acquire is exposed to the eye of all citizens as proof of its existential and societal truth. And that truth appears irresistible to the minds that already had been opened up to individualism by Christianity. Let’s remember that the narrative of Christianity rendered each and every individual responsible in the eyes of God. This suddenly transformed the self of the individual in his ego which necessarily resulted in the expansion of ego-ism to all.

The story of the election of Donald Trump is an appropriate contemporary illustration of the working of these mechanisms and their irresistible power to sublimate the minds. expansion of the reason of capital

The capture during Early-Modernity of the long distance merchants’ minds, by the internal logic of the reason at work within capital, imposed the reason of capital to long distance commerce. This won the merchants vast richnesses that they invested partly in mansions and palaces which for centuries stoked flames of envy in the minds of all Europeans. Over the centuries that envy eventually contaminated even the minds of the intellectuals who thus conceived of a systematization of the reason at work within capital to all aspects of life which eventually took the form of philosophic rationalism.

In human affairs nothing ever falls from the sky. There is always a chain of causality, within the context of human affairs, that leads to the emergence of new phenomena and new ideas. This is what happened with European intellectuals between the 13th and 18th centuries. The substantiation, of the successes of long distance merchants and capital holders into mansions and other luxuries, was indeed impossible to ignore in societies that had freed the genie of greed from its bottle.

The desire of all to gain access to the kind of richness exposed by the long distance merchants was certainly a determinant element but there was definitely more at play. The financial success of the long distance merchants and capital holders gained them gradually an increasing clout over the political decision making process.

The phase of merchant of commercial capitalism, between the 13th and 18th centuries, ensured the redistribution of the cards of political power from the aristocracy and the clergy to the bourgeoisie and laid the groundwork for the application of the principles of democracy in the 19th century. It goes without saying that the infighting taking place during this redistribution of the political power irreversibly consecrated the rationality contained in the reason at work within capital as the societal truth. And the intellectuals had no doubt as to which estate to side with.

Viewed in this light the rise of rationalism out of the context of the reason at work within capital is an indisputable fact. But the societal truth that this fact succeeded to impose should not be understood as being an existential truth as capital holders are cheaply peddling in their ideology of neo-liberalism. It was indeed the concern of long distance merchants and capital holders to adapt their societies to their needs that imposed the reason of capital as a societal truth that later expanded to rationalism. The question that arises here is the following. Is an observed fact synonymous with truth? Rationalism posited that observable facts went counter to the veracity of religious texts. Society visibly agreed with the proposition and the debate was closed in favor of rationalism. But in Late- Modernity we are drawn back to that same question and the answer is not clear-cut any longer.

Are facts all the truth there is? Let’s come back to the matter that started our questioning. Is the reason at work within capital a human truth? Well it is incontestable that the application of the reason at work within capital resulted in the world’ most extraordinary economic boom ever and peoples’ living standards increased to an all time high. But does this prove that  the reason of capital is the truth? Well not exactly. What it proves is that when the reason of capital is put in charge of commercial exchanges the total economic activity increases dramatically. So from the perspective of a national economy and from the perspective of the individuals who gain consumers’ might it is all a net positive that seems to prove that the reason of capital is the truth. But what about this other truth that there are numerous side-effects to the application of the reason of capital?

It is true that the reason of capital has been most successive at growing economies and satisfying customers. But it is also true that this came at the price of:
  • an uncontrollable population explosion
  • an uncontrollable rise in the use of finite natural resources
  • the destabilization of the existing balance in the world’s climates
  • the rise of hyper-individualism and the atomization of societies and so on and on...
What is also true is that all these crises taken individually have the capacity to annihilate life on earth.But in truth all these individual crises are converging and the results of their convergence is unleashing a worldwide uncontrollable chaos that, scientists in diverse fields consider, could wipe out all life on earth…

The initial question was Is the reason at work within capital a human truth?”. The answer is an incontrovertible yes from the perspective of short term economic considerations but it is a definitive no from the perspective of the principle of life on earth and more particularly from the perspective of the perpetuation of the human species. So what we start to discover is that facts do not represent the whole truth. There is indeed another dimension than directly observable facts and it is that many facts are not directly observable… which brings us back to the traditional notion of knowledge that had a systemic view of reality.

Systemic reality impose us to recognize that the perpetuation of the species is of a superior order of importance than the considerations of capital holders and even than the considerations of individual consumers. The reality of life has to be viewed as a universal principle that to emerge and further thrive is in total dependence of its planetary context. In other words the human species, for example, is depending on a band of sustainability that is very narrow indeed. Temperature wise the band tolerates variations of temperatures within a maximum band of plus or minus 5 to 10 degree C at the most. But temperature is only one parameter. There are many other like the chemical composition of the atmosphere, the presence of water, etc…

In light of this the truth appears something that is a lot more complicated than what capital holders might want to recognize. For the sake of opening our minds let’s imagine for a moment that, to avoid the pathogenic effect of the reason at work within capital, societies eliminated the considerations of merchants and capital holders and replaced these with the considerations of their populations at large. Would the picture not be vastly different? Now try to imagine what would be the case if traditional men of knowledge were still in charge of the formation of societal knowledge. Do you believe that they would let a tiny minority of individuals desecrate the balance of life on earth? No way. They would re-impose an existential truth or a truth that maximizes the perpetuation of the species. This first means that they would concentrate on pragmatism and avoid ideology. They would indeed submit to the systemic reality of the universe and more particularly they would focus on surfing on the waves of nature. a finality that is external to life.

The finality of the reason at work within capital and the finality of rationalism are necessarily antagonistic with the systemic reality of the universe that sustains the principle of life. The systemic reality of the universe sets limits to what is possible and what is not possible for the principle life, at the individual and societal levels, while the finality of the reason at work within capital imposes total freedom for itself in the minds of its executioners. This I think is, in essence, the existential contradiction of Modernity that sets it on a path of life destruction concluding with the reassertion of the systemic reality of the universe that is going to cleanse the mess humanity created so industriously.

The capture of the human mind by greed, desire and envy, erases the systemic reality of the universe from human consciousness. As a result a finality that is external to life easily occults in peoples’ minds its direct responsibility for damaging the principle of life which inflicts so much suffering to the self, to living species to mother earth, and to the universe.

The fact of the matter is that, during the last 2 centuries, human unbridled activities have unleashed the devastation of the habitat of all living species which has set the earth on a path of extremely fast mass extinction. Human overpopulation is not only depleting the earth’s limited resources it is also poisoning the oceans and the land and decapitating the forests that act as the earth’s lungs. In danger of suffocation mother earth has freed its systems to eliminate the human pathological bacteria. We are presently 1 minute from midnight in the adventure of life on earth. Will humanity recover its sanity before midnight? I’m definitely not so sure about tthat.

Under tribal societies the human species was conscious about the necessity to keep human activities within the bounds of systemic reality. Things changed following the agricultural revolution and the emergence of power societies but it is the freeing by Modernity of the genie of greed and the pushing of its ideology of individualism that imposed the reason at work within capital and philosophic rationalism as the societal order of Modernity whose finality was nothing more than the reproduction of the invested capital base and its increase through profits. Is humanity going to let such a materialistic finality, that is external to life, destroy life? Unfortunately this could very well be the  case... Incompatibility of the reason of capital and of rationalism with the principle of life.

Having been captured by the finalities of the reason of capital and of rationalism human minds have largely forgotten about all the elements that are foundational to life and by extension to the working of the universe. If humanity wants to survive as a species it has to come to terms with the fact that the reason at work within capital and rationalism are fundamentally incompatible with the principle of life. And so it needs urgently to gain a sense of its responsibility towards the survival of the human species and towards the perpetuation of life on earth. Unfortunately this is not the field of scientists; this is the field of the traditional men of knowledge who lost their societal role a few centuries ago… Will it now be necessary for the systems set up by Modernity to collapse in order to assist at a come-back of the men of knowledge in their role at knowledge formation? I definitely think so. Science abdicates its responsibilities toward life

Human concerns, in Late-Modernity, have grown so far out of the bounds of the finality of life and of the working of the universe that scientists now come to accept the idea of a technological singularity. This implies that they willingly accept to lose the understanding and the control of what finality will soon be pursued by their productions in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and in Artificial Life (AL or robotics).

Something like this is epochal and it seriously baffles me that scientists are let free to pursue on such a mad path without any serious resistance. The fact is that, over the tens of thousands of years preceding civilization, humanity was conscious about its obligation and responsibility to leave a livable world for the generations to come. But over the last centuries Modernity ignored this responsibility. And now some scientists are giving up in total impunity on this human sacred responsibility towards life and the working of the universe. Worse still these scientists are left free to create the demise of their own species and eventually a lot more than their own species.

What is going on here?

The capture of the human mind by the 4 core traits of Modernity imposes a “rational” ordering concluding that human weaknesses better give way to the űber-rationality3 of intelligent machines. The thing here from humanity’s perspective is that this űber-rationality could very well conclude that human life itself is a non-rational impediment to its own order… and so an űber-rationality could very well complete what human knowledge would have inferred was a task that the principle of life itself should have undertaken. In other words technological madness is perhaps the instrument that nature counts on to cleanse a young impetuous and hubristic species from the realm of life. But perhaps such a thinking only indicates the relativity of human knowledge versus the absolute knowledge of the universe and its principle of life. human ignorance of the principle of prudence.

The ignorance of the systemic complexity of the universe, and its foundationality to the principle of life, is the reason for humanity’s very casual attitude towards:
  • its own habitat or more broadly to its context
  • the destructiveness of its own actions
  • the technological singularity
and so by ignoring the principle of prudence humanity has in fact accepted to live with non-tested innovation... but it suddenly appears that this is the root cause for humanity's erring on the path toward its own extinction…

The fact of the matter is that until very recently humanity lived in respect of this principle of prudence. The fact also is that, according to our best observation, all other living species live equally in respect of it. Modernity and our rationalist hubris have detached us completely from the reality of the universe and its principle of life and this has rendered us ignorant of our participation as infinitely small particles in its setting that is made of systemic complexity.


1 See Book 1. Chapters The religious worldview, – Modernity, – Early-Modernity, – High-Modernity.

2 Bruno Latour. http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/89-CRITICAL-INQUIRY-GB.pdf. Free pdf on Bruno Latour’s website.

3 Űber: depending on the context this German word means “over”, “above”, “across” or “super”, “hyper”. When using the composite “űber-rationality” I mean something as “hyper-rationality” or a rationality that eliminates everything else even if it might be participating in the explanation of what is being observed...

No comments:

Post a Comment