Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Turning Point

Where are we going again? One of Inge Morath's rediscovered 1955 Parisian ball photos. (Thanks to -T.) Image Source: Time via The Inge Morath Foundation / Magnum Photos.

Although I've criticized the Baby Boomers' iconoclastic destruction of social values and institutions (here and here), it's time to give them some due in that regard.  Their influence has been compounded by the parallel effect of the Tech Revolution, which has rendered past perspectives and morals obsolete.  However, the ensuing Millennial aporia - a confusion or lack of values - may not be entirely bad. One thing the Boomers initially successfully attacked, not without some justification, was the external labeling imposed by social behaviour and cultural expectations that stifled people and held them back. The only problem is they replaced the old labels with new ones and they also questioned people's capacity to devise alternatives.

We are at the turning point. People without external reference points or viable directions coming to them from society can have trouble orienting themselves.  What is expected from society when the outside prompts and social signposts are gone? What can one do, when everything, especially on the Internet, is a tabula rasa? What do the faithful do when organized religions seem to have lost capacity for building communities with motives grounded in genuine spirituality? What do the politically-minded do when political faiths furnish nothing but empty 18th and 19th century slogans unsuited to current conditions? Will they really take refuge in self-righteous blindnesses, vicious polarities, and internecine mutual accusations between Left and Right? The decline of externally imposed orders and cultural traditions is fracturing personal egos like so many billion eggshells.

On this blog, I've written posts (here, here and here) that indicate that economic troubles intensify aporia.  People experience heart-breaking levels of stress as they face the upheavals of the global economy. The middle classes are dying or evolving. Going bankrupt, losing everything, losing a house (or never having the chance to own one), losing faith in the system, losing faith in the American dream (if you're American) - or being absorbed into a grand global culture (no matter where you're from) - all of this is deeply unnerving.

In social, spiritual and material vacuums, conflicts grow. Yesterday, I posted pieces on the intenstification of weapons research and the implementation of psychological testing on military personnel, which is being conducted with a view toward civilian applications. Ignoring the signs on the horizons won't help. Those reports made me think of a passage in Daniel Deronda: "There comes a terrible moment to many souls when the great movements of the world, the larger destinies of mankind, which have lain aloof in newspapers and other neglected reading, enter like an earthquake into their own lives--where the slow urgency of growing generations turns into the tread of an invading army or the dire clash of civil war, and gray fathers know nothing to seek for but the corpses of their blooming sons, and girls forgot all vanity to make lint and bandages which may serve for the shattered limbs of their betrothed husbands." One day, the chaos that grew in the obscure distance is on your doorstep.

The obliteration of externally imposed values leaves one real option.  As we turn the bend toward the unimaginable and accelerating future, and the institutions that once defined authority and stability in our societies remain only as gin palace exteriors, there is a time lag that allows for individual and collective introspection.  There is a need to find new values internally.

It's funny that the Boomers would then undermine the spiritual quest for inner strength.  They are so often assumed to be narcissistic; yet one associated Boomer stereotype was that they were consequently interested in exploring the soul, the ego, the psyche, the spirit and the mind by any means necessary to get to higher truths. Having rebelled against external social values and expectations, they initially turned in the 1960s and 1970s to finding answers in the Self, mainly by following several eastern philosophies and religions.

But in retrospect, Boomers then oddly led some of the biggest attacks on the integrity of the Self.   By the 1980s and 1990s, they started to see the Self as a further part of the problem, not part of the solution.  In this period, their intellectual wing shared a Postmodern consensus that the Self could be completely deconstructed, leaving a hopeless vacuum of absurd meaninglessness.  The idea came out of the fields of linguistics, philosophy and semiotics (the study of signs): we cannot trust our inner impulses and thoughts, because they too are shaped by external labeling processes that are filled with automatic power games and hierarchies. (For one of my posts on semioticians, go here.) They argued that there can be no society without language, and language is filled with authoritarian subtexts because it imposes socially-derived, flawed, incomplete, and tyrannical meanings on everything.  Meanwhile, in pop culture Boomers - and Gen Xers, who unquestioningly followed in their footsteps - lionized characters defined by social and personal alienation: the criminal, the marginalized, the murderous, the insane. With the altruistic aim of granting voices to the voiceless, they filled their ever-more-flawed heroes with internal self-doubt.

Right at the moment when we must rely on subjective judgment to build new collective values, the universal message coming out of the last forty years of high and low culture is that we can no longer trust each other or ourselves. Nonetheless, the Boomers' attack on social values, from without and within, is nearly done. It's been a rough ride. But in a way, they accomplished what was necessary. They opened a vacuum, and there is an opportunity now to build new directions and values.  That doesn't have to be all bad. Renewed introspection - a quest for inner strength - may free us from the world's grim and loveless realities.

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  1. Tob, ToB, ToB, for someone who included in the title of a previous post "generational labels are false", - http://historiesofthingstocome.blogspot.com/2011/11/99-per-cent-generation-catalano-and-why.html#more - you certainly seem to have a lot of vitriol to spread on that Boomer generation! Let me guess, one of your long time used-toB's was a (gasp) Boomer, am I right? (no flies on old Auntie Dia... as of yet) (Besides, I'm sure your field is riddled with spurned lovers who needed to settle scores... take the much maligned Mongolian hordes for instance. Were they really all that bad, or did Ludmilla the horse-woman merely piss on some male historian's parade?) ;-)

    Okay, all kidding aside, I'm sort of in the "Jones" half of this generational equation... and, too busy contemplating my navel (out here in "edge world") to give half a shit, but isn't generational stereotyping similar to racial profiling? Convenient fodder for Nazi atrocities, product marketeers and the FBI, but does it really make us any wiser?

    BTW, I think you've made some valid points in this post about a "turning point' - and thanks for the reference to Ms. Elliot's novel, and the reference to Inge Morath, whom I hadn't previously heard of...

    (But, oh, yeah, about those flies; damned-well sure they don't compartmentalize - dead meat is dead meat!)

  2. Thanks for your comment Dia. Regarding your question re. my personal life, you are quite wrong.

    Regarding generational stereotyping, yes collective stereotyping is dangerous and I have often argued that, both on and off this blog. It is a slippery slope and can become akin to what the Nazis did. But at the same time generational labels have been used with great frequency and authority, mainly under Boomers' initiatives, since the 60s. Therefore, it's difficult to discuss generational matters or trends without either using the labels everyone knows, or inventing new labels. This post was not an attack on the Boomers, so much as a description of what they did. My follow up post for tomorrow continues this topic wrt a Boomer you in fact referred to recently on PMB.

  3. Sorry for the misunderstanding... I really was joking. I guess it's just hard for me to wrap my head around your passion regarding the issue.

    Boomers may have generated a lot of "generation gap" BS in the 60's - my guess is that they're eating their own words today - but, placing the blame for contemporary ills on previous generations has been with us for a much longer time. Like, probably from the very first second generation.

    Okay, you're not attacking Boomers... just "describing" what "they" did. I guess my question really is, who are "they"? Do you honestly believe that an entire generation of people have the exact same attitudes, values, life-styles, desires, backgrounds, education, tastes, beliefs, experience, effect on society, etc.? And by what measure are these mythological humans judged - political trends, marketing statistics, media hype?

    No offense, but, sorry, I don't get it, and I don't buy it.

  4. The main point to this post concerns a vacuum in spiritual life and social values. Where that vacuum came from, who is responsible and how, and why - all of this is of course debatable.

    I've pointed to several causes on this blog, not just generational conflicts. And as I have said in other posts, if I indulge in generational stereotypes it is partly to illustrate just how pernicious and false they are. Again, the post for Nov. 21 continues this theme, and puts aside the entire generational question to focus on the main question - the loss of values, with reference to a Boomer thinker.

  5. Yes, I do see your point. And really, I am no champion of the Boomers, or any generation for that matter. I guess I was just in a prickly state of mind that got hung up on the inflammatory bits.

    That being said, I think the vacuum you're referring to is very real... and ultimately we have no choice but to deal with it on a personal, individualistic level... that is, outside of "political trends, marketing statistics, media hype".

    Unfortunately, I think we're addicted to "information" now... and as we're all seemingly caught in this shrieking, cacophonous web, it's far too easy to miss the promptings of that muted inner voice.

    BTW, featuring Graham Hancock in your following post was a masterstroke! ;-)