A Postmodern Age

.. t is the idea that areas of existence and culture can be separated from, that is abstracted out of, other areas of existence and culture. In addition, we tend to form social groups that are largely based on abstractions (corporations, nations, economic classes, religious preferences, race (which is really an abstract rather than a physical or biological category or relationship), sexual preferences, etc.). As a result, membership in social groups tends to be unstable and transitory as one can easily move between social groups. This, again, creates a high sense of anxiety and tension; this anxiety results, on the one hand, in attempts within these abstract groups to define and redefine themselves as real, that is, “not abstract,” as well as attempting to limit the possible number of social groups; that is, to “manage the alternatives.” In distinction to Modernity, traditional cultures tended to experience the world as whole and integrated; separate areas of existence and culture are seen as integrally related to other areas of existence and culture.

I n addition, social groups are based on real, biological kinship ties, so that social relations tend to be stable and permanent. Finally, we see ourselves as having lost tradition; that is, that our behavior patterns, our rituals, etc., are all new and innovative, that we are not repeating the past. But in fact, the experience of Modernity is, in fact, to live in traditional ways and to repeat tradition in unrecognizable or changed forms. Modern cultures still perform traditional rituals, such as sports; yet to a degree, the origin and prior meanings of these rituals have passed out of the culture. Modern cultures still repeat ways of thinking in the past; in fact, the bulk of modern culture is based on traditional ways of thinking repeated relatively unchanged; yet often modern cultures tend to view these ways of thinking as innovations. Even though our modern social groups may be based on abstract categories, the structure and content of these social groups repeat the structure and content of previous kinship groups, in other words, we tend to base our abstract social groups on principles derived from reality; we do not, however, experience these social groups as reality. So, in sum, the idea that Modernity is discontinuous with the past, is an illusion.

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This illusion creates Modernity itself. What has changed is social connectivity; we have disconnected most of the practices and ideas from our collective memory of an activitys origins and meaning. This now leads us through our previous history to the concepts, reasoning, and experiences of Post-Modern thought. The Post-Modern Condition: The cultural traits of a Post-Modern society can be characterized simply as an information-based society. It is a society which believes that Modernity has failed, bringing with it the persistence of inequality; that progress may not, bring a “better” life, that science and technology create as many problems as it solves, that reality is not scientific and objective, but creates a socially constructed condition for which cultural debates intensify and can lead to violence and reactionary movements, and that social and public institutions are in constant change; thus, requiring and even demanding more stability.

The benefits of Modernity or of Post-Modern structures can be questionable; many individuals of this new electronic age do not completely embrace consumerism, and in some cases are critical of technology, but nevertheless embrace its potential. There can be no doubt that the historical circumstances of the late twentieth century are very different from those of earlier periods. What the transformations of contemporary social life has been, however, and the relative significance of these changes with respect to one another is a matter that can be highly varied, and I dont presume to know everything about Post-Modern thought or philosophy, because it can take on many aspects, and I/we could be entirely fooling ourselves if we try to express it. Post-Modernity does seem to represent some kind of a break with the past, in fact Post-Modernity may simply be an extension of Modernity. However, Post-Modernity in this age seems to be characterized by new societal forms, and relationships between the cultural, economic, political and social realms, and a return to traditional values. There is a new kind of enmeshing of the cultural, economic and political spheres in Post-Modernity, combining the Modernist with Marxian ideals creating together our Post-Modern Age.

Transformation: There has been a transformation of the content and forms of contemporary culture and even in our notions of”culture” (for example, high versus low or popular culture) including dramatic changes in the nature of the media and in the content and forms of presentation of media images (the “television generation,” the “electronic age,” the”information age,” the “voyeuristic society,” etc.); an increased awareness of the plurality of national, ethnic and linguistic viewpoints with the internationalizing of communications and global interaction, etc.; a radical shift from colonialist to post-colonialist perspectives on modernization, and questions of “Third World” and community development which produces problems of coping with the plurality of perspectives on the world without any credible source; the loss of relative autonomy of the cultural sphere (as distinct from the economic and political spheres) with the recognition that culture and communications are an industry and that they are politicized, not “objective”, “neutral” or necessarily critical. Similarly, there have been massive changes in the nature, content and form of economic structures and interrelationships, for example through the shifts which have made a large proportion of the world’s production “information” rather than the production of “goods and services”; global unification controlling the means of production and a complementary diffusion, fragmentation and privatization (individualization) of consumption; new conflicts over development, modernization and exploitation versus the necessity of the ecology movement, conservation and the preservation of natural diversity; and so forth. Conclusion: The break away from 19th-century values and traditions is often classified as Modernism and carries the connotations of transgression, rebellion, and a loss of soul and humanity. However, the last twenty or so years have seen a change in this attitude toward focusing upon a series of unresolvable philosophical and social debates, such as race, gender and class. Rather than challenging and destroying cultural definitions, as does Modernism, Post-Modernism resists the very idea of boundaries.

It regards distinctions as undesirable and even impossible, so that an almost Utopian or Marxist world, free from all constraints, becomes possible. It must be realized though, that Post-Modernism has many interpretations and that no single definition is adequate. Different disciplines have participated in the Post-Modernist movement in varying ways, for example, in architecture traditional limits have become indistinguishable, so that what is commonly on the outside of a building is placed within, and vice versa. In commercial terms Post-Modernism may be seen as part of the growth of consumer capitalism into multinational and technological identities. Its all-embracing nature thus makes Post-Modernism as relevant to the common folk of society as to the great thinkers and intellectuals.

Post-Modernism it would seem is the reason for the emergence of interdisciplinary and cultural studies in universities. Post-Modernism, then, is a mode of consciousness (and not, it should be emphasized, a historical period) that is highly suspicious of the belief in shared speech, shared values, and shared perceptions that some would like to believe form our culture but which in fact may be no more than empty, if necessary, fictions. I believe we should be committed to salvaging what we can of the ideals of Enlightenment and Modernity. We need to stay open to all valid claims of reasoning, knowledge, spirit, tradition, and humanity; for we are not, and cannot be, all knowing in this life. To be focused so completely upon Post-Modernism or Modernity, suggests that we can somehow define a group, any group, in the sense of its cultural essence; which is not in truth completely possible or even wise. Are we in a Post-Modern Age? I would say yes as a defined theory or word, but in the reality of man and life, the answer is No. Man is continually changing and adapting and for ever continuing to progress in spirit, technology, and social/cultural adaptation.

Whatever age we are presently in, we are modern compared to the one before, each age lives its own Modernity; each era obligated to find its own balance between Nature and Technology, Tradition and Progress; a continuous cycle until the end of man.