Colonizing the New Psychic World
However, "neglected" might not be the most accurate adjective. How about "abused." Or maybe "deconstructed." Or "tragic." Or "imperialistic." Neglect is far too passive a term. At best, the glorious story of our triumph has been abandoned. At the other end is frank condemnation. That's what you call academic diversity!
Note also the equation of "west" and "modernity" in the title. One could equally say: How Modernity Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of the West.
Another irony about the left is that they want their modernity -- at least parts of it -- but don't want to know about or have anything to do with the specific conditions that brought it about.
But there is a parallel stupidity on the "right" -- or whatever you want to call these folks -- in which they appropriately cherish the conditions that brought modernity about, while rejecting much of its dynamism and content (and not just the bad stuff). It is a battle of stupidities with which the Raccoon wants nothing to do, and up with which he will not put.
This cultural heteroparadox is discussed in an unintentionally related book called The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture. To extend the equation above, to say "west" is to say "modernity," which is to say prosperity and abundance. And you would think that to say the latter would be to say Happy Happy Joy Joy. But the majority of people do not say, let alone feel, this. Or so it seems.
So, what went -- and is going -- wrong? It is a genuine conundrum, because the majority of people in the modern west are living lives that were the literal dreams of past generations.
In fact, if not for those restless dreamers, the dream would never have come to pass. But the fulfillment of the dream hasn't made people happy. However, I disagree with the notion that the dream is actually a nightmare that makes people unhappy (i.e., "alienation," "false consciousness," and all those other diseases of the tenured).
Rather, the enslackened conditions of modernity simply allow people the time and space to indulge their misery, their conflict, their envy, their emptiness, whatever. For most of history, this was quite literally impossible, since it was a struggle just to obtain food to live another day. To the extent that neurosis existed, it was a luxury of the affluent 1% or less.
Because western history entered a quite novel space after World War II, people living through it have been unable to see it -- the fish being the last to know about water. Perhaps it will be more obvious to future generations, but it's really not that hard to see with your activated Coonvision.
As Lindsey writes, "In the years after World War II, America crossed a great historical threshold. In all prior civilizations and social orders, the vast bulk of humanity had been preoccupied with responding to basic material needs.... Concern with physical survival and security was now banished to the periphery of social life."
This "liberation from material necessity marks a fundamental change in the human condition, one that leaves no aspect of social existence unaffected."
In my opinion, this is the One Big Thing that ties together a diverse range of cultural, spiritual, political, and artistic phenomena, both good and bad. The fact is, we are in "uncharted territory," and every modern movement, from scientism to fundamentalism, is an attempt to deal with it.
When we say "uncharted territory," what do we mean? We mean first and foremost that a space has opened up as a result of freedom from necessity, and that mankind simply isn't accustomed to this space. As a result, all sorts of mischief and mayhem ensue from trying to fill the space with ideology, paranoia, acting out, sex, drugs, rock & roll, video games, vulgar politics, whatever.
Most people now have the opportunity to ask questions such as: who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? What is the meaning of existence? Such questions are pointless when mere survival cannot be taken for granted, and one must toil all day just to subsist.
This space began opening up with the industrial revolution, but it didn't reach a critical mass until the mid 20th century. Consider: from the reign of Augustus to 1500 or so, "world output per head was essentially unchanged." To the extent that economic growth occurred, it was canceled out by increased population.
And although conditions were dramatically improving by the 19th century, you will be forgiven for failing to notice. "A typical farmhouse in early 19th century America was a cold and dark affair," providing "basic shelter from the elements" but little more. There was an intimate relationship between work and food: if you shirked the former, you missed out on the latter.
But don't despair. It was all over soon. "From 1800 to 1900, life expectancy for males registered almost no gain, inching upward from 45.5 to 46.3." Medical care? In 1900, just a little over a hundred years ago, Americans "spent nearly twice as much on funerals as on medicine." If Obama were around then, he's be campaigning for socialized mortuaries to bend down the cost-curve of death: Embalmacare.
By 1890, only 24% of American homes had running water. Who are you? Who are you? Easy. You're that guy or gal who lugs 9,000 gallons of water to the house, year in, year out. Now, stop asking stupid questions and get to it, so you can think about more important things such as gathering the wood.
Here is an example of a reality that people seemingly fail to appreciate: the first commercial radio broadcast was in 1920. Less than a century later, here we are instantaneously communicating with each other all over the world. It's difficult to even say this without sounding painfully clichéd, but there is something quite cosmically revolutionary beneath the cliché. I hope.
More telling stats: in 1900, "2 percent of Americans took vacations." In 1890, 3.5% of 17 year-olds were high school graduates. By 1950 that number was up to 57.4%.
The upshot is that the sorts of existential questions that were pointless in the past now confront everyone. And I'm not sure that big-box religion has fully kept up with the challenge of dealing with this new space and with these urgent questions. (There are also religious movements that do gear themselves to the new mentality, e.g., the New Age, but they go badly off the rails.)
It's not the content that has to change, but I think one must be able to address people where they're coming from. Whether we like it or not, dogmatic and predigested answers will not satisfy, at least at first. Rather, I think such a person needs to... how to put it... experientially understand the truth of dogma within his own psychic space, and see how these time-tested answers comport to the deepest questions within. Or something like that. It's difficult to say without sounding painfully clichéd, at least this morning for some reason.
However, on a good day, it is one of the things we try to do here at One Cosmos. You know, teach an old dogma with some new tricks.