I use the word ‘modernity’ a lot, anyone who’s listened to me for even a short while will know this. I’m self-aware enough to know that I use in a fairly loose and often callous way, taking it as a signifier for everything I don’t really like about the way things are. I would argue, as quite a few have (such as Greer, Zerzan, Orlov, Yarvin) from their respective standpoints, that we all, deep-down, understand that this really isn’t even close to a good way of being. Something feels off at the very kernel of our being, as if we’ve moved away from a mode of being which is holistically healthy towards a means of being which is productively unhealthy. Of course, I dislike subsuming the idea of health into the realm of the universal as it ends up doing far more harm than good (as Foucault made clear). So, what I’d like to try do is outlined many of the problems modernity ‘creates’ or ‘births’ and tackle what exactly it is that’s wrong with them and how they’ve altered our perception of the world. One of the most important underlying arguments here is that I don’t think you can detach the way in which you perceive the socius, with the way in which you actually are. Both influence each other, meaning that if one submits to a phenomenal or sociological system of control, they are, by proxy, ontologically submitting themselves to a far graver fate with respect to their very being.
In true continental fashion, this first part is titled ‘The Problem of Definitions’. Now, for those of you that don’t know, this is arguably what makes ‘continental philosophy’ stand out. It refused (well, Kant refused) to begin from definitions. Descartes states ‘I think therefore I am’, and Hume states that one can be skeptical, Kant points out that both these thinkers are beginning their investigations of the world from a standpoint which is of the world, one that’s already been formed. If you begin from a definition, you’re already entering a confused and constrained argument. This is why Kant’s ‘Copernican revolution’ is so important, because he begins from the very conditions of experience as opposed to the experience itself.
Am I going to try and outline all the conditions of modernity in this essay? No, I think they’ll arise organically within the following parts, making them far easier to follow, because we can actually assess where and when we take our drastic turns of being. To be cantankerous however, I’m actually going to note the definition, see where that takes us, and then work backwards and see what we find…
Modernity: the quality or condition of being modern. – “an aura of technological modernity”
As you can see, this definition is extremely unhelpful. I would once again refer back to my Free Floating Power essay and note that signification of this sentence is reliant on what we collectively understand as being ‘modern’, and within this definition is where I come unstuck. If you research what it is to be ‘modern’, or what it is to historically be within the ‘modern’ period, the breadth of historical, cultural and sociological experience is so far reaching that the term ‘modern’ becomes largely meaningless. Some would state that modernity roughly begins in the 1500s and runs through to the present day, others might say the same but argue that modernity is split into noticeably different eras (Early: 1500-1789, Classical 1789-1900 and Late 1900-1989) and some would argue that modernity is a virtual offshoot of the Enlightenment which influences our current behavior. Whatever way I define modernity will never really cut it, because each definition has its own personal take on what modernity is, inclusive of its own personal conclusions. If you’re wondering where I historically think modernity began, I believe somewhere in the 1600s, when the Roman Numeral for 0 became commonly used in Europe (I may get to this much later).
We can already see however that attempting to articulate modernity from these preconceived definitions wont really lead us anywhere, what lead to and what’s underlying what we now consider to be modernity is such a cluttered assemblage of parts that vectoring from the definition alone ignores the fuel for modernity’s fire. This is why I believe that targeting specific controlling facets of modernity (as we contemporarily experience it) and working backwards to their root, stripping and cutting away what baggage we can in the process, will lead to a far more rewarding definition.
If, at current, I was to take a shot at defining modernity I would argue that it’s a gargantuan socio-cultural psychological operation which has no original helmsman (no one conceived it, it grew organically), an operation which is reliant on an understanding of socio-economic & techonomic production which equates cultural and familial virtue with productive capacity and output; the symptoms of such a state of being include, but are not limited to: Understanding happiness, contentment and fulfilment in relation to production, reducing familial and interpersonal relationships to metrics of status and social-value, adhering to controlled and suffocating conceptualizations of structure, food, survival, worth and education, perpetual and compounding self-policing in relation to the latest trend, immanentization of the self into a hypocritical and fragmented system of market-value, the reduction of authenticity and phenomena to trinkets, brands and objects, the compression of spirituality, religion and belief into an aesthetic of socio-cultural proof, a predominantly techonomic perspective of nature, terminal hostility towards death and suffering, the outsourcing of subjective health/mental concerns/problems onto striated institutions and bodies via a credentialist mentality and finally, a subsumption of one’s very being into the framework of production, status, popularity, market-value, libidino-value and normality.
These are some of the symptoms I seek to look into and work backwards from as a means to investigate what it is I consider to be ‘modernity’.
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