My post of yesterday sparked an exchange with a friend on several points, not least the issue of how our worldview has been shaped by "Modernism" and "Post-modernism." A book I have been rereading, written by the former Bishop of Durham, the Rt. Rev. N. T. Wright, put our current state of society into perspective in this way.
Modernism, he says, is gone, replaced by the Post-Modernist deconstruction of the autonomous 'self' so highly prized since the 18th Century "enlightenment." This has meant that all the narratives we once took for granted, as 'settled science' if you like, have been shown to be nothing but someone else's propaganda, questionable theories of social engineering or r more complex than the "Modern" narrative allowed. The problem is that "Post-Modernism" has not introduced any "certainties" to replace them, rather it as brought what the Bishop calls a 'smorgasbord' of ideas, counter-cultures and greater uncertainties which we are 'free' to pick and choose as we like. It is not surprising, therefore, that we find ourselves pulled this way and that as one political ideology replaces another pulling us in every direction but forward. In part this also explains the polarisation we see in every debate, from social care to climate 'science.'
As the friend I was discussing some of this with yesterday put it -
As we've discussed, prior to 1968, you got thrashed at school and wore a collar and tie as an undergrad, after 1968, neither applied, the world seemed to have gone from B&W to colour, but we were young then, looking back, it seems we (actually, I'm an important 5/6 years younger) broke something that had been holding together the entire social fabric of "modern" Britain.
This accords with the point the Bishop is making in his book. In tearing down the "Modernist" narratives, we've perhaps, stripped out the "glue" that held our society together. Now it may well be that some of that "glue" needed stripping out and replacing, but here we run into the problem with all "revolutionary change." It generally destroys the good bits alongside the bad and it takes years, if not several generations, to restore, replace or repair them. In the meantime, of course, society is pulled from one ideological pole to another, each lurch alienating some, benefitting a few, but often doing far more damage than good.
"Modernity" could be defined as a promotion of arrogant self-assurance, the firm belief we held the reins, we controlled everything from economics, through political direction, scientific innovation and productivity to social order. Post-Modernity has torn that apart, introducing a jaundiced and cynical questioning of every position, every narrative and every motive. If anything it has replaced the "communal" concept of the "individual supremacy" with a the concept of the "supreme individual." That has led to the excesses we see in almost every sphere of human activity - the "me first, second, third and any left over, me again" attitude among many.
The Bishop makes the point that the mistake (and he's talking about Christianity) was to adopt the Modernist narrative in everything, laying the foundations for greed, arrogance and excess and justifying it through the Modernist narratives, which included things like Eugenics and the ideas of racial superiority. Those have been replaced, in Post-Modernism, by concepts of "universal rights" and "multi-culturalism" and "unisex," both of which have transformed into something other than what they proclaim themselves to be. The problem is that we have not yet found a "narrative" which draws people back together and gives them a shared vision and ambition.
In large part that is why nationalism is once again driving people apart, drawing tribal lines in the sand and seeking to draw together those who seek the security of "narrative certainty" in something, while excuding those who don't share the "vision." I'm not at all sure what this will ultimately produce, though I am pretty sure it won't be the Utopia its supporters think.
Unfortunately it will continue, doing immeasurable damage to our society and everything connected to it, until someone is able to restore a narrative we can all share. I think it will be a very long time coming ...