Modernism and postmodernism are buzz words bandied about by people trying to describe what has happened and what is happening within our culture. Few people know what they mean by either term, but at a visceral level, many recognize that massive shifts have happened, and ground has shifted under our feet.
For me, modernism ranged from the middle of the nineteenth century till the sixties. Born out of the freedom granted by scientific explorations, every opinion held, every position or belief lived by, and every rule or law should have their basis in rational thought, and be provable. Class, race, and power were all challenged. Human thought was released from the constraints imposed by superstition, religious beliefs, gross ignorance and the assumptions of centuries. We came to believe informed decisions would, therefore, be made based on reason. The natural goodness of people would prevail and there would evolve a new world order of rational interdependence. Such organizations as the United Nations represent that dream. Theories about how to bring up children, liberalization of politics and social mores followed.
The dark side of modernism has been that the old notions of mankind born out of centuries of experience were jettisoned. Evil was not part of modern thought and could be excused on various grounds. Not only could individuals make mistakes but whole groups of people could with the best intentions turn out to be thoroughly wrong. Over and above this capacity to err, there has been demonstrated time and again the presence and operation of evil within our world. The modernist years of the last century were the most bloody and violent of any century ever, and yet we continued to ignore what our experience should have taught us about the nature of human kind. The concept of evil just did not fit with the rational assumptions of the modernist mind.
As its name suggests postmodernism has grown out of modernism and is the consequence of modernism.
Here are a few of the notions behind the word: Every individual has a right to their own truth. One person’s view is as good as the next person’s. Everyone has access to enormous amounts of information and can interpret it as they wish. Ethical behavior is the responsibility of the individual and is his or her way of self-expression, so long as there is no harm to anyone else in the immediate vicinity. Emotions define the person and justify actions
The dark side of post modernism has been the following: Destruction of our sense of commonwealth, the individual’s sense of responsibility for the whole or rest of society; Tragic regression to pre-modernist thought, most widely seen in reactionary fundamentalist ideologies; gross ignorance of large sections of our population; the demise of a shared notion of truth; dumbing down of values and standards to meaningless levels.
The latter may be a result of our good intentions as we have struggled to integrate new peoples into a multi-cultural society.
The absence of an agreed standard of truth has meant that information can be manipulated. The rise of the spin-doctor as a most important political figure speaks oceans about this change. In politics everything is spun, actuality is denied, actions excused on the grounds that there are other ways of looking at everything. Thus the lie has become the mode of repression by our political talking heads.
Ideology has replaced thinking creatively and we are required to join camps and resist those who do not agree with us.
Recovering from postmodernism is our challenge. As individuals, we need to belong with others and have their well-being be our concern. We need to believe there is something called truth and have a thirst for learning. Together we need to search for truth, sharing our views and listening with respect to the questions and thoughts of others. The most profound departure from postmodernism may be when we learn to be at peace in the face of mystery, without the need to explain or integrate the mystery into our previously held opinions and ideology. This may, therefore, mean we finally center ourselves on the experience of our spiritual well-being so that our ravaged souls can be healed. Thereby we might know peace.
Maybe the next era will be that of faith, (not to be confused with belief).