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, February 19, 2012

Calling all Chronomancers

 Image Source: TV Tropes.

Millennial Aporia - the collapse and evolution of values - may reflect an antagonistic attitude toward time, an attitude we must resolve. In a blog post earlier this month, Tara Mohr quoted the late Irish priest and poet, John O’Donahue, who said: “One of the biggest problems of modern life is that time has become the enemy.” Mohr argued that there is something extremely disturbing about our war with time.  To exist in conflict with time, she says, is to be in conflict with ourselves.  Since time shapes human consciousness, Mohr believes we should revise our current view of the passage of time.

That is a tall order, when we're surrounded by computer-generated, air-brushed images of twenty-something beauty that even twenty-somethings can barely emulate.  Medical innovations also make that shiny image both more and less real.  It's big, big business: the anti-ageing industry is worth $88 billion in America.  As the Boomers age, analysts foresee the industry exploding: the global anti-ageing industry is projected to reach $291.9 billion by 2015.  In late 2010, Harvard scientists had begun to reverse ageing in mice.

Video Source: PBS via Youtube.

Couldn't these billions be better spent elsewhere, considering we are still in the middle of the worst recession since the 1930s? The economy stagnates; infrastructure crumbles; people lose their jobs; families lose their homes; recovery wavers. Members of a younger generation went to war, and many of the rest of their cohort have been stagnating behind the non-retiring block in the labour force (if they're lucky). It's slowly improving, but everyone below 60 now looks forward to an advanced retirement age, probably of 80. All this to pay for impending old age security and health care crises. In spite of all this, anti-ageing vanity still has deep pockets.

It all goes back to the mentality that declared war on time and swore not to 'trust anyone over 30.'  That motto was once a 1960s' call for rebellion and even social revolution. It quickly became a marketing cornerstone that targeted the youth demographic for over forty years. Of course, the search for the Fountain of Youth, the Elixir of Life, is an old, old story ('Immortality Seeker' is one of the oldest tropes there is). But since the 1960s, it has become a mass marketed obsession. Popular culture has declared war on natural ageing and the passage of time.

Considering the current climate, it takes real courage for Generation Jones celebrity Brooke Shields, now aged 46, to turn up occasionally in public without makeup. She does not appear to consider it to be a non-computer-altered moment of failure, ugliness and trauma, which is how media outlets and a lot of the public might treat it. We're so conditioned to accept only Shields's polished, anti-aged image that when we are presented with simple, unadorned reality, her age looks accentuated and unnatural.

Brooke Shields in 2011, without makeup.

There is nothing wrong with keeping up appearances and prolonging health and life. But ageing has become an industrialized medical commodity. Boomers' motives for managing it are skewed. Old age is increasingly defined as a sickness that needs a cure and is combated with cosmetic treatments and plastic surgery.

At the same time, there is no widespread mass culture of reverence for our elders. Where are the MSM debates on the current generations still living who are older than the Boomers?  When was the last time we read scores of articles expressing deep concern over the worries of elderly now in their seventies, eighties and nineties? There is no consistent public spotlight on their living memories of, and wisdom regarding, the Great Depression, the Second World War, the Cold War, the 1980s and the Information Age. As the Boomers age into their sixties, these elders' voices are ignored, and the story of ageing tends more toward the clamour for endlessly prolonging youth: 60 is the new 30.

What happened to facing ageing and death - whether physically, metaphysically or philosophically - with dignity? It's curious to see the Boomers' fixation on youth dragged out over 40 to 50 years, because one of their bravest moments as a generation occurred when a significant portion of them confronted the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  Since 1981, the virus has killed over 25 million people. The first wave of the pandemic peaked in developed countries in the 1980s and 1990s, although its effects in Africa were and are far, far worse.  Now, HIV infection rates are climbing again worldwide.  But the only reason they slowed at all was because of leading Boomers, who initiated fund-raising for medical research and launched safe sex campaigns. I can't think of a more poignant acceptance of mortality than the Queen song, Who Wants to Live Forever? The pop ballad (listen here) was performed by Boomer superstar Freddie Mercury, who died at the age of 45 in 1991.  Even so, the scourge was mainly confined to the gay community, and according to the latest research, the lessons were lost.  With rampant use of drugs like Viagra and Cialis, Boomers have become in the past decade the demographic group with fastest growing STDs, including HIV, more so even than 20-24 year olds.

This war on time, especially the antagonistic attitude toward ageing and the past, sparks psychological distress.  A culture of presentism contradicts this claim, asserting that in fact an undue attachment to the past actually constitutes and encourages mental illness.  This is an extraordinary contention.  The huge changes of the past twenty years, when the Tech Boom changed everything, have demanded adjustments from everyone.  As the past recedes and becomes ever more alien and difficult to reconcile with present realities, we should cherish memory and history.

Another blogger, Les Floyd, who sometimes writes about battles with depression, sees time as a source of psychological conflict.  He claims that he has been cured of his depression by living totally in the present moment.  He remarks that he has found the weight of the past, and demands of the future, to be unreal sources of mental agony:
Except in the perception of the mind, there is no past or future – only the present moment. It can be a difficult concept to grasp, since, as humans, we’ve been conditioned to regard time as three distinctive, separate phases: past, present and future. The power of present awareness – of living in the moment – is unleashed when we leave the mental realms of past and future and experience true life, which is always right now, in the present.

Our ego – that part of our thinking which causes all our emotional pain - is essentially a malfunctioning of the mind. The egoic mind has an addiction to past and future, but it’s a phantom entity that doesn’t actually exist, beyond being a pattern of electricity buzzing in our brains.

If you fully engage yourself in the present moment, the ego ceases to be. All emotional pain stops. All your fears fall away. All your hurtful memories vanish.
Can the war with time really be resolved through an emphasis on presentism? Floyd is saying that reality's only seat is the Now, and that is a solid base on which to build peace of mind and a healed consciousness. While this is a well-known coping strategy, Floyd is also standing in conflict with time.  It is profoundly wrong to say that the past is a sort of evil phatasmagoria - a kind of distressing hallucination - which no longer has any bearing on reality.

A message on the walls at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

The past used to be held up as a signpost for lessons learned, not just traumatic memories.  We have all heard George Santayana's comment from The Life of Reason (1905-1906): "Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes." The past used to be considered a source of traditions and values, of memories and rituals that provided stability.  It was the foundation of viable reality, not a toxic source of unreality.

Similarly, the future used to be a wellspring of hope and possibility.  In Gone With the Wind (1939), the total collapse of the world of the not-so-nice protagonist is still redeemed by her constant hope: "Tomorrow is another day!"  That idea of hope in the future was replaced, post-Philip K. Dick and William Gibson, with what the makers of the film version of Aeon Flux called the "Blade Runner burning garbage can" vision of the future.  It's all cyberpunk androids, social engineering and nuclear devastation, unlike (cough) now.  The Aeon Flux movie tried to expand on Peter Chung's universe while creating a non-noir future.  It was a miserable failure, because the most popular vision of the future is one that spells apocalyptic disaster.

In some traditions, neither past nor future was held up as an unreal spectre that dogged our central consciousness.  The experience of time was believed to be seamlessly interconnected and those links were respected; only imbalances that overemphasized one aspect of time became a source of trouble.  A Chinese proverb runs: "If you want to know your past, look at your present conditions.  If you want to know your future, look at your actions today."  It is all one continuum. We have never had so many opportunities to gain access to the sources of the past, or to dream of the future. Millennial chronomancers need to find that continuum and recapture the balance between yesterday, today and tomorrow.

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  1. Very good post. As an aging model and beauty pageant contestant and newly single middle-ager, I am the target of this sort of insecurity. It is a fact that men are visual creatures--excessively so, and the burden is on us to stay young. I had a friend once say, "with men looking at Victoria Secret and Playboy, how can my body compete?" I stopped and thought about it a moment and told her, "you know, it's simply because these magazines show women's flesh. Men like flesh. They are happy to see any woman naked. They are hardly picky about it. We women are looking at the shape of the bodies and not the fact that they are simply naked and so therefore pleasing to look at." And so it is with aging. We are looking at the wrinkles and the creases and shadows and not seeing a whole face and every nuance of emotion it has come to represent so easily. Over our lifetimes, we refine the use of every muscle in our faces so that it is extremely easy to see pain, hurt, joy and pride in an older face. Once it's botox'd, we can hear someone yelling, but we cannot see their anger. Just watch the Kardashians some time. I have earned my face with every life event. When someone sees it they say, "that is my friend" and not "look at that crease!"

  2. Thanks for your comment AF! I think the issue is that marketing schemes focus overwhelmingly on the youth demographic up to, say, 35. After that, marketing loses focus; although I suspect that as the Boomers retire we'll see a glut in advertising, movies, and TV aimed at an older demographic. Right now, though, it would seem that while there are high profile stars and advertising which target people in the 35-50 group, or 50-65, or 65-75, or 80+, there is not the same coherent spotlight that you see for 10-35 year olds. Thus there is huge resistance to ageing as a natural process which may remove some blossoms of youth, but gives other benefits in return. I suppose that the Internet may be a medium that is a demographic equalizer because it enables the creation of thousands of niche communities, whether they are organized according to age or not. Beyond that, I would like to see many more institutions and advertising that bring age groups together, or at least ignore that horizontal stratification. Most serious is the general trend that ignores people who are 70 and older. I think that efforts to hear them and reincorporate their views and interests into the mainstream culture would be important and beneficial.