It is modernity which has caused everyday life to degenerate into "the
Michel Trebitsch, quoted in Wired 5.06 @ 109 (1997).
[O]f one thing I am sure: the enormous potentialities for diversity in
nature's bounty and [people's]
capacity to differentiate their experience can become valued by the individual himself, so that he will
not be tempted and coerced into adjustment or, failing adjustment, into anomie. The idea that
[people] are created free and equal is both true and misleading: people are created different;
they lose their social freedom and their individual autonomy in seeking to become like each other.
David Riesman, The Lonely Crowd 307 (abr. ed. 1961)
[T]he chief problem of people in the middle decade of the twentieth century is emptiness […’a state closely allied to apathy…’]…. The human being cannot live in a condition of emptiness for very long: if he is not growing toward something, he does not merely stagnate; the pent up potentialities turn into morbidity and despair, and eventually into destructive activities….. The feeling of emptiness…generally comes from people’s feeling that they are powerless to do anything effective about their lives or the world they live in.
Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself (1953)
[In the Modern Age of advanced technology, people have a contradictory sense of being] powerless
in the face of the juggernaut of impersonal power that surrounds and molds us .... It is not surprising
that the listener [to these promises of the Modern Age] is confused at times whether he is the anointed
one, the recipient of all the blessings from these genii -- or just the dumb fall-guy? And of course he is
both. …..In all of these promises of great power and freedom, a passive role is expected of the citizen
who is the recipient. Not only in the medium of advertising, but in matters of education, health,
and drugs, things are done to and for us by the new inventions; our role, however subtly put, is to
accept the blessing, and be thankful.
Rollo May, Love and Will (1969)
Today, the physicists who participate in watching the most formidable and dangerous weapon of all time... cannot desist from warning and warning again: we cannot and should not slacken in our efforts to make the nations of the world and especially their governments aware of the unspeakable disaster they are certain to provoke unless they change their attitude towards each other and towards the task of shaping the future. We helped in creating this new weapon in order to prevent the enemies of mankind from achieving it ahead of us. Which, given the mentality of the Nazis, would have meant inconceivable destruction, and the enslavement of the rest of the world...
Click here for a 97 K .mp3 file.
The rise of the formal
concert hall in the nineteenth century gradually put an end to concert
The Industrial Age brought with it an excessive emphasis on specialization and professionalism in all
fields of living. Most specialization and professionalism in all fields of living. Most musicians confined
themselves to the note-for-note playing of scores written by a handful of composers who somehow had
access to the mysterious and godlike creative process. Composition and performance became progressively
split from each other, to the detriment of both. Popular and classical forms also became ever more split
from each other, again to the detriment of both. The new and the old lost their continuity. We entered a
period in which concert goers came to believe that the only good composer was a dead composer.
Steven Nachmanovitch, Free Play: Improvisation in Art and Life (1990)
No technological achievements can mitigate the disappointment of modern man,
his loneliness, his feeling of inferiority,
and his fear of war, revolution and terror. Not only has our generation lost faith in Providence but also in man himself,
in his institutions and often in those who are nearest to him.
Isaac Bashevis Singer
Our present economic, social and international arrangements are based, in large measure, upon organized lovelessness.
Aldous Huxley (1948)
It is difficult to evaluate the trade-off between our society's bountiful
wealth and freedom, and the
corresponding attenuation of bonds between the individual and the context which provided personal
identity in earlier times….[A] more satisfying balance is possible between our present wealth and
relative liberty from external control and our forebears' comforting sense of rootedness in a context
where each person's unique identity was specifically manifest to the community. Such a balance
requires moderation in applying the fundamentally sound capitalist and individualist principles upon
which the transformation from feudal to modern society was based.
Traditional liberalism has supported this transformation to modernity with
its conception of the individual
newly free from traditional social restraints, as in control of his or her own property, and as able to transfer
any part of it on whatever terms he or she chooses. Economic wealth and personal freedom were promoted
by a generic exaltation of each individual's subjective will, exercised to exploit an ever-widening catalogue of
entitlements. But in thus honoring equally the will of each individual . Traditionalism has tended, ironically,
to abstract personhood and to conceive of persons as fungible. This parallels the progressive commodifcation
and abstraction of property as external objects upon which individual will operates. These processes of abstraction
-- separating people from things and rendering both increasingly fungible in modern thinking -- are abetted by
technological sophistication in measurement, and by the concomitant influence of non-normative, quantitative,
and scientific analysis .
The same transformation which has so atomized the various components of
modern society, and thereby
placed at our fingertips a cornucopia of material affluence, has also brought a new dilemma of personal
identity…. Against this backdrop, personal identity requires not only connection of the individual to the
world outside, but also a sense that one can shape one's own life by one's own unique values, rather than
merely conform to the values of others.
James L. Winokur,
The Mixed Blessings of Promissory Servitudes:
Toward Optimizing Economic Utility, Individual Liberty, and Personal Identity,
1989 Wisconsin Law Review 1, 69-71.
JLW Comment on the following:
Almost a quarter-century before publishing the excerpt above as a college senior, I wrote about what turns out to have been a battle in academia over what my Mixed Blessings piece decried: the abstraction so characteristic of modernity, as "abetted by technological sophistication in measurement, and by the concomitant influence of non-normative, quantitative, and scientific analysis". First, before quoting that college paper, here is a current definition and comment on the crucial term "fungibility":
Fungibility is the quality of interchangeability. Two items are fungible if fully interchangeable. A good example is a dollar bill. On the other hand, an LP vs. on a CD vs. an MP3 file each containing the same music are much less fungible. Disadvantages of too readily treating subjects of analysis - especially human beings -- as fungible -were concerning me at an early stage. Reality is so often distorted or concealed by analysis -- surveys, polls, etc. -- consisting solely of numbers! Mere quantification may work for reelection campaigns, but it does not explain political and social truth or insight. The very term "social science" reflects the misguided aspirations of academics studying social and political life, attempting to compete with the supposedly 'more prestigious' hard sciences. But these subjects -- social and political life -- are not hard science. That recognition should not demean the study. It would, instead, make the study more accurate and more useful.
With these comments in mind, here is the excerpt from my honors paper in Political Science, 1965, as a college senior:
In recent years, …controversy among political scientists…[has boiled down to] a two sided conflict between traditionalists -- who seek to continue the descriptive or intuitive studies that have characterized the discipline -- and the "wave of the future" or behaviorists -- who express dissatisfaction with the intuitive and therefore subjective descriptions of the traditionalists. Influenced by the increased emphasis on "pure fact" as "truth," the rapidly rising status of the natural sciences, and the scientific systematization of other "social sciences,"
the behaviorists have sought a change within political science to "scientific" methods of investigation [relying heavily on statistical analysis of empirical data] similar t o those used in the natural sciences….
[A]nalysis of the descriptive and behaviorist methods leads to the unhappy conclusion that neither method really measures up…. For while the behaviorist method provides…well ordered, verifiable information, it is unable to deal wit h leadership behavior or to report adequately the intangible moods and emotions of politics…. [T]he inadequacies … are largely the results of narrow conceptions of political inquiry, especially on the part of the behaviorists. Thousands of pages have been written about political science arguing whether and how "pure truth" could be uncovered. [These] discussions have made the dangerous error of confining their thinking to absolutes, attaching little value to approaching truth compared with great value for achieving it…. Scientific methods of investigation are excellent and valid ends…, but only as far as they take us…. "Behaviorist" study is not always the most useful approach…. Until political scientists realize this, and construct their systems of knowledge to include findings by thoughtful intuitive scholars in areas unripe for scientific study, the structure of political knowledge will be woefully incomplete.
James L. Winokur, Political Science Honors Seminar Mid-Year Paper, Fall. 1965
You know that! ... People are fungible.
Weekly Pentagon Press Conference on the Iraq War, April 2004
In the American
metaphysic, reality is always material reality, hard, resistant, unformed,
impenetrable, and unpleasant.
Fears of image-making and jeremiads against inauthenticity rest on the faulty assumption
that images are distinct from reality….These aren’t shadows cast upon a cavern wall,
but the stuff of political reality itself
Shadow: The History of an Image,
suggesting that the distinction
“real” Nixon or Kennedy vs. the “image” of each is not nearly so neat and clean as we had come to think,
in these years when political image- making has progressively become more overt.
Quoted in Louis Menand, Masters of the Matrix: Kennedy, Nixon and the Culture of the Image, The New Yorker (2004).
And Menand agrees:
A manufactured event is somehow true and not true. John Kerry on the motorcycle, George Bush on the flight deck: the knowledge that these perfectly real things are also "images" whose "reality" should be regarded with skepticism is part of their content. Everyone knows "it's just an image." But what, exactly, does that mean?
not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in
spite of the difficulties and
frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a
dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its
creed: "We hold these
truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia
the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of
brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat
of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my
four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the
content of their character. I have a dream today.
I have a
dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently
dripping with the words
of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will
be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough
places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be
revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South.
With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will
be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this
faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up
for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring
from the mighty
mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring
from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout
Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From
every mountainside, let freedom ring.
let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from
every state and
every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men,
Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the
old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
Martin Luther King, Jr. , "
I Have A Dream"
...on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial to the historic March on
in Washington D.C., August 28, 1963.
Please see related materials on anti-Semitism, page 2
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead.
But it doesn't
matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody,
I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now.
I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've
looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want
you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy,
tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen
the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
Memphis, TN, in support of striking sanitation
workers -- on April 3, 1968 — the day before he was assassinated.
It was an epic vision that's both ethnic and all-inclusive . It's that it's Negroid without being exclusive. That's the thing about him that's so remarkable. And with Duke Ellington, it was always, "Hey! Come on in!" There was a kind of welcoming quality that you associate with the highest form of civilization, I would suggest.
See, because civilization, in a certain sense, can be reduced to the word "Welcome".
in Ken Burns' JAZZ, Episode 4: "The True Welcome" (1929-1935)
In mid-century America, the class that inspired the Beats was nonexistent. There was only the great middle class, and somewhere off to the side, the rich, still benignly known as "high society," as if wealth were an expression of membership rather than property.... Not until the sixties would middle-class America identify "the poor" as a category, and it would still be another decade before they concurred on the existence of a working class distinct from themselves. But in the fifties the notion of class was itself politically suspect, a leftover from a discredited vocabulary of left dissent. The "lower" class, denied a name or image, lived on in the middle class male mind as a repressed self, primitive, dissatisfied and potentially disruptive. The Beats...were an unwanted reminder of the invisible class outside and the repressed masculine self within. If they had been political in a conventional sense, ...they would have been less, not more, subversive in an America that knew how to label, file and dismiss its "pinkos" and Communists.
The Hearts of Men (1983)
Modern and Postmodern
The post-modernists looked to modernity itself as the culprit.... The European Enlightenment, with its vision of unlimited material progress, came in for particular rebuke, as did market capitalism, state socialism, and nation-state ideology.... The very ideas of objective reality, irreversible linear progress, and human perfectibility were too rigidly conceived....
The new generation of scholars was leery of overarching grand narratives and single minded utopian visions that attempted to create a unified vision of human behavior. Modern thought became dismissive of any other points of view.... It was the stifling nature of these grand visions and utopian ideas about how people were expected to behave and act in the world that the 60s generation had rebelled against.... The post-modernists ...argued that there is no one single perspective but, rather, as many perspectives of the world as there are individual stories to tell...a potpourri of cultural experiments, each of value.
Post-modern thought didn't make significant inroads into what we call middle America. It has always been more influential in Europe. Over half of all Americans are devoutly religious -- more than any other industrialized people -- and they just don't buy the idea of a relativist world. ... More secular Americans, while not wedded to an overarching religious frame of reference, are generally committed to another all-encompassing vision -- the Enlightenment idea of history as the steady and irreversible advance of material progress....
Political analysts divide America into two cultural camps, the reds and the blues, ...the former reflecting ...conservative religious values while the latter are far more liberal and cosmopolitan. What the pollsters miss is that a majority of Americans, red and blue, ascribe to an American way of life t5hat is steeped in modernist ideology. Even the blues, with greater tolerance for other perspectives, are inclined to believe there is an overarching purpose to the human journey and a right way to live in the world.
Europeans...have been more eager to critique the basic assumptions of modernity.... Their willingness has much to do with the devastation wrought by two world wars and the specter of a continent lying in near ruins in 1945 as a result of blind adherence to utopian visions and ideologies. .... European intellectuals, understandably, led the charge against the modernity project. They were anxious to make sure that the old dogmas would never again take them down the road to destruction.
Jeremy Rifkin, The European Dream, 4-6 (2004)
Postmodernism is like other
French inventions (the dirigible, the croissant, the Eiffel Tower):
A clever feat of engineering consisting mostly of air.
William F. Buckley
essence of postmodernism is..., in effect,
that the world is not perceived, it is only interpreted.
Different interpretations are equally valid ways of making sense of the world,
and thus no interpretation is intrinsically better than another.
Science is not a privileged conception of the world
but merely one among many equivalent interpretations of the world;
science does not offer “truth” but simply its own favorite prejudice;
science is not a set of universal facts
but merely an arbitrary imposition of its own power drives.
And in all cases, science is no more grounded in reality than is any other interpretation,
so that, epistemologically speaking, there is little difference between
science and poetry, logic and literature, history and mythology, fact and fiction.
Since independent facts do not exist (only interpretations do),
it follows, according to this account,
that science is always driven by some sort of power or ideology:
science itself is sexist, racist, ethnocentric, imperialistic,
brutally imposing its analytic and divisive interpretations on an unwilling and innocent world.
And it has no more warrant, no more final validity, than any other poetic interpretation.
The Marriage of Sense and Soul:
Integrating Science and Religion, pp. 22-23 (1997)
In all large corporations, there is a pervasive fear that someone, somewhere is having fun with a computer on company time. Networks help alleviate that fear.
If you are on the cutting edge, you are holding the knife the wrong way.
Anonymous (?), per Donald Simanek, Professor Emeritus
A conservative is one who admires radicals centuries after they're dead.
Leo Rosten (1908-1997)