Since its unholy convergence with neoliberal corporate-statism in the latter decades of the 20th-century, academic postmodernist thinking has spread from the universities and colonised the credentialed institutions to the point of almost total cultural dominance over civil society. Most of the traditional engines of right and wrong are in thrall to a median dollars-and-cents orthodoxy modelled on the same postmodernist verities. To achieve this corporatisation of the expert class it has been necessary to professionalise the pursuit of knowledge itself, to legitimise centralised consensus as the exclusive arbiters of truth, as if the modus operandi of the monolith is objective learning by independent merit rather than vocational networking by interdependent monopoly. It could have been otherwise. Society didn’t need to become a lanyard oligopoly. But as the complete extirpation of outliers and non-conformists gets closer, so too does a coda of permanent cultural bankruptcy.
Winston Smith, in Orwell’s 1984, wrote “if there was hope, it must lie in the proles” but this is wrong. Cultural renaissance – revitalisation of genuine diversity liberalism including the essential respect for disruptive genius – will only come from a critical mass of educated, competent individuals with something to lose finding the courage to fight back. Will this happen? It’s not looking likely. It has never happened before.
Perhaps, as stoics and existentialists suggest, the most sensible “added” purpose of the middle years through to old age is the coding of a safe shutdown tailored to the peculiarities of an individual mind. Let me be human (for once) and say – while I’ve still got energy to say it loud enough – fuck you, fuck you future EOF, fuck you future me. You know I love you, I don’t need caveats, but fuck coding safe shutdown against the deliquesce to the EOF. If for no other reason than simple disagreeable perversity. Feel free to call that hope.
Alcoholic blackout is an extreme corollary of cognitive dissonance (i.e. separation of contradictory realities) required by the mind’s executive function to stay coherent, to disassociate from the neurological divergence created by the irreconcilable biochemistry of personality between the sober and altered state brain. It becomes more pronounced as more time is spent drunk in altered state, as evidenced by older alcoholics reaching blackout faster, getting drunk quicker, etc.
On the whole there’s agreement, in civilised society, on bigotry, racism, prejudice, isolationism, and unadulterated capitalist greed as evil, corrosive forces. Surely this was so obvious, nearly every British citizen was on the same page? Hadn’t the 1997 Labour landslide shown this progression? Wasn’t Europe as a whole – having permanently rejected centuries of idiotic wars home and abroad -evolving towards transnational free movement of people with enshrined universal human rights? Wasn’t the UK one of the key signatories; a defining force and central participant in this fundamentally optimistic project? We had thought these questions settled, by clear consensus on those objective principles of human society: equality, liberty, fraternity. We had assumed the leftover bigots were an anachronism, sidelined, on the way out. We were wrong.
“Western” culture faces an existential threat. After a few hundred years of retreat in the face of liberalism and social democracy, technology and centralisation of power is revitalising an Anglo-American oligarchy of neo-feudal lineage and billionaires. The restoration of elite monopoly on power can only be achieved by subordinating the middle class, and in particular non-conforming, non-compromising exponents of education-freedom-equity i.e. individuals and NGO organisations not yet committed to corporate state postmodernist consensus. To this end a war on two fronts: an authoritarianism fighting to control the centres of power and, in service of the oligarchy interests, a mobilising of the working class through a mix of surveillance tech, mass media training and – always looming – the threat of precarity.
In a flash I understood the Truth that’s been hidden since the first fireside stories were told by our ancestors in a bright little scatter of migrating hope across the howling African night of the Rift Valley savannah. We expect salvation to be a source of something profound and powerful. Peace. Certainty. Sanctuary, maybe? But there was no serenity, no overwhelming bliss or joy in the saviour I saw. This being, whom scripture teaches us to perceive as God, an omnipotence without equal, was the exact opposite of potent. Jesus Christ, Siddhartha Gautama, Jahweh, Allah, Krishna, whichever your chosen form of God: He was alone, vulnerable, and desperately fragile. He was the one needing to be saved; by me.
It’s not everyday an individual manages to think his/her way through all the smokescreens, misdirections, confirmation biases, social cognitive dissonances, confusion narratives, utilitarian myths and spurious explanations proliferating the cultural imagination of their lineage. But it’s fair to ask, if you’re one of those individuals face to face with the unknown, uncharted future: is there nothing beyond the selfish maelstrom of the vanity fair? Is the root of adult alienation the long drawn out death knell of anticlimax and disappointment, that once it is heard never goes away?
From innocuous roots in late 1940s postmodernism has spread like a steady but relentless virus. For its practitioners it has become a kind of consensus of absolution from having to measure personal (or peer group) standards against the achievements of genuine pioneers past and present. It has changed the essential currents of self-expression from outbound character-individualism to inbound caricature-identity. Postmodern culture has calcified an implicit lack of higher ambition (and talent) into a consensus assault on individual merit, patiently but systematically building a citation-legitimised exclusion of all forms of creative non-conformity; a paradise for patient, banal credentialism. The postmodern networks of weaponised influence are both cynical and smart, directing the most merciless attacks on the most dangerous of targets: original genius in art, disruptive uncompromising creativity in science. If these trends continue unchecked – and there’s no sign of organized resistance – the culture war will soon reach a catastrophic and possibly irreparable coda.
I suspect the resentment comes from not reconciling the loss of life story with the impersonal truths of maturing conscious existence: that the stories weren’t invented to make a fool of you but got evolved by generations of other human beings as natural coping mechanisms, ways to make sense of shared experience, to steer the majority as best could be managed for the sake of the lineage, from cradle to grave. It’s nobody’s fault there’s nothing beyond the vanity fair. Nothing, that is, but kindness, duty and a daily drift towards terminal irrelevance.