The blinding light of modernity
Freedom - enslaved by the imperatives of Originality, Renewal and Visibility
In the earlier debates on freedom, dating from the Enlightenment, the focus was on the political aspects of the notion. As the modern western society has evolved, the notion has increasingly been focused on moral and behavioral freedom – where the idea of releasing the “individual's potential” and exploring the limits of “the self”, and the limits of “moral boundaries”, have had the center stage. This evolution has been greatly pushed ahead by modern media’s extreme appetite for exposing the private life of known persons. When the stock of known persons (“celebrities”) gets used up by the media’s frenetic use of them, the media have been seen to generate methods of producing their own celebrities (out of complete non-entities) through “reality-shows” and the like – for subsequent immediate consumption in celebrity-journalism.
Modern media demand that people should do something remarkable, in order to have something “new” to report. By “remarkable” or “new” is meant something that has not been said before, done before, or shown before. People who want exposure in the media, for whatever reason, have to play by the rules of journalists. Since very few people are truly original, most of the celebrity seekers seek attention through some sort of “shock-effect”. The easiest way to get attention from the modern media is by crossing moral boundaries, which normally is obtained by sex or violence – or both in combination. This evolution is particularly notable in Hollywood’s film production, which for lack of imagination keeps adding doses of sex and violence as a compensation.
Substance, truth or genuine human character is not important in the modern logic of media. Journalists will invent the necessary stories they need, to make the points they wish to make. Whether the story has any relation to truth, is immaterial. Ethical considerations are not part of the editorial criteria modern media are run by. The only criterion is whether a story will sell. Following this logic, persons seeking the attention of the media will develop their own stories about a subject or about themselves, and sell that to interested media. And media will develop the stories with their own logic of fiction, linking up with the truth only when they fear the public is becoming aware of the extent to which they produce fiction.
This fiction will generally have little relation to reality, in the way it is perceived by those who know the subject matter from the inside – since media will choose their way to tell the story from an entirely different angle (or logic) than the search of the truth.
This setting - where people frenetically crave for media’s attention (some people believe that they only exist in proportion with the exposure that media gives them), combined with the media’s frantic search for “news”, has produced a civilization where originality, visibility and change have become the mantras of modern life. Never mind if the originality is totally superficial, the visibility is based on a masquerade, and the change is made for the sake of change (with no other purpose than creating illusions).
Progress - a linear idea faced with the non-linearity of reality
The notion of progress in western civilization is a linear concept placed together with time (as time goes, progress takes place in a steady way), with no defined limits. Limits of demographic and environmental nature are increasingly debated, but very little in terms of substantive action has so far been taken as a consequence of this debate, except - notably - in the area of technology. This notion of linearity is opposed to the oriental notion of circular development over time, like a wheel that turns around and around. The western idea of progress places technological innovation at the center of the engine of progress. This is the single most important driver of transformation of global civilization. New technology introduces new paradigms for how society is organized and how production takes place. Such changes of paradigm have come about with increasing frequency since the industrial revolution came about at the end of the eighteenth century.
These changes of paradigm have driven growth in the developed economies. Interrupted by shocks, reactions and cyclical deviations, this growth has navigated between linear and exponential patterns. However, the growth has generated demographic and environmental processes that undermine the linear vision of development. This growth has taken place in parallel with a situation in parts of the world where political organization and legitimacy has been so deficient that development has been virtually impossible, in particular due to corruption and gross mismanagement. The nature of corruption is such that any surplus that is produced by an economic initiative, is siphoned off by those in power, and sent overseas to tax havens – where it produces no feed-back effect for the country where the production took place.
What remains as the major element of modernity in the context of progress, is its association with technological innovation. This is a cultural phenomenon which is easily observed in daily life. Being modern means staying on top of the steady stream of technological innovations, both in terms of the mastery of high tech objects in the work place and in private life and in terms of being an integral part of the most recent communication fads on the internet. Counter cultures aiming at a quiet life free from the time pressure of instant, continuous availability and communication fads do exist, but they are not very noticeable in magnitude.
Rationality - logic cornered by mysticism
Modern emphasis has long been on rationality, starting with the era of Enlightenment and gradually enhanced by the movement towards secularity that it started. Scientific attitudes to all phenomena have been the order of the day. Rationality has gradually pushed feelings and senses into the darker, more mystic rooms of society. These darker rooms have become more crowded over time, as an increasing number of people have felt alienated by the eviction of all mystery and poetry from their daily lives. Different types of mysticism have found a fertile breeding ground, even if the culture of the great majority has been solidly secular and based on the rationality of scientific progress.
Alongside with a very advanced scientific environment, the USA (for instance) has a strong movement of so-called “creationists” (even among politicians capable of reaching the White House) who do not allow themselves to be disturbed by scientific facts. For many people, belief is more important than rationality.