Saturday, December 31, 2011

I am not a Post-Modern (an essay written in real time on Twitter)

I've never liked the term #PostModern - not because of the styles & Ideologies it is attached to, but because I question the premise. 
#PostModern is founded on the premise that there was a fundamental change made durring the post War Years: a "paradigm shift." 
Thomas Kuhn defined a paradigm shift a fundamental break in understanding between to regimes of understanding - in science.
Late 70s theorist like Jean-François Lyotard & Rosalind Krauss began using the term paradigm shift to describe cultural changes.
Since then, Paradigms have bifurcated historical periods at an exponential rate. Shifts became devalued - obviously meaningless.
Even periodizing modernity, as Early (1500-1800), & Late (1950-?) presumes we are towards the end of modernity,feels premature.
Fredric Jameson periodizes modernity since the late 1800s into fifty year cycles according to technological means of production.
Jameson's 1st boom/bust cycle ends with the 'European Spring' (1848) and is marked by the spread of handcrafted steam engines.
Jameson's 2nd cycle of modernization, marked by the spread of machined steam engines, ends in the 1890s.
Jameson's next boom/bust cycle ends with WWII, and is marked by the spread of electric and combustion engines.
Jameson's final period is the third marked by the spread of machined electronic and nuclear systems. (see Hal Foster, RotR)
Jameson's periodizing presumes a late phase of modernization, & makes no allowance for less material /cultural/ factors.
There are 3 cultural periods that are profound & rise to the level of true paradigm shifts: Prehistoric, Premodern, & Modern.
These 3 paradigms are marked by changes in the human immune system - changes that have to do with population density & wealth.
The most common challenge to spare populations of Prehistoric peoples was/is parasites.
The denser settlements of Premodern life made infectious desease the greatest burden on human immune systems. 
Chronic deseases, like heart disease and cancer, are the major cause of death in modern societies.
These 'epidemiological transition' are truly profound and are accompanied by very different systems of authority. 
We are deeply embedded within a modern moment - Late modernity is a long way off.
The majority of nomadic Prehistoric bands probably toped out at 150 individuals - groups this size require no hierarchy.
Larger Premodern societies of kin groups would have had stable hierarchies - what Francis Fukuyama calls the Tyranny of Cousins.
Later, tribal bonds extended kin group bonds, requiring formalized property & systems of justice.
These orders Prehistoric & Premodern political orders are categorically different from one another - they are true paradigmes.
Likewise, modern State formation, which began in Europe in the late 18th century is a radical break with the past. 
The Shift between the premodern & modern can also be marked by the Columbian Exchange (1492): biologically reunited the globe.
The Columbus Exchange also marks the beging of the spread of the dense urban life pioneered by Europeans.
I can imagine all sorts of ways to further divide the cultures of the Prehistoric, Premodern & Modern - true paradigm shifts. 
The cultural changes of the Cold War - Consumerism, Civil Rights, Feminism, etc - were profound, but not paradigm shifts.
The cultural changes of the Early Modern - the scientific method, the State, secularism, democracy - were just as profound.
Late Modern, High Modern, and most of all #PostModern, are all obviously premature - the last 40 years have made us More Modern, not less.
In 1978 cities, the State, democracy, science - all modern institutions appeared to be failing. All trends appeared negative.
Thanks to trend spotters like Gordon E. Moore, Kevin Kelly, Steven Pinker, Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, we can see a rise.
That is not to say we don't face problems as profound as the moderns who came before us.
It is only to say that we are moderns, and we are up to the challenge. Happy New Year.

No comments:

Post a Comment