Footnotes on Post-modernism & etc…

Below are some footnotes just drafted for a book I’m working on with the support of the Center for Integral Wisdom.  I wanted to share the exciting ideas unfolding in this book, and what better way to foreshadow a book, than by showing off the footnotes. You gotta figure, if the notes are this good, the main text must be awesome…. And, of course, I’ll just point out how very appropriate it is to publish a blog post on post-modernism consisting entirely of footnotes from an absent text.


13. Transportation and communication technologies have impacted our basic sense of time and space, resulting in the rapid and jarring processes of “time-space compression” that increasingly characterize post-modernity. London is simply not as far away from New York as it used to be. Where it once took a person, commodity, or news headline weeks to get from London to New York, it now happens in hours. Perishable foods are trucked across continents and are easier to obtain than foods grown locally; gadgets for my house are shipped across oceans and are easier and cheaper to buy than gadgets produced in my state. Wars on the other side of the globe are streamed into my living room in high-definition, but I have hundreds channels and could just as easily watch a live soccer match in Dubai. Distant friends and family are closer than ever, as are strangers and celebrities, who are never more than a click away from being with me almost anywhere. The list goes on of the ways in which we are living in a smaller, faster, and more interconnected world than at any time in history. For more on the important idea of “time-space compression” see: Harvey, D. The Condition of Post-modernity. Below we discuss the psychological and emotional impacts of the pseudo-omniscience that results from extreme time-space compression, especially from the instantaneous and relentless coverage of the profit-driven news media.

15. The point here is simply that history has brought us to a place where humanity has become confused about its own identity and purpose. To avoid any misunderstanding, it should be said that humanity has never known its true identity and purpose. This is not something we once knew and have forgotten, or something we lost and must now find. No doubt, certain cultures have previously been convinced of a particular identity and purpose for all humans, and there have been visionaries who’ve offered their stunning guesses at the riddle of our being. The difference now is not ignorance—we’ve always been ignorant—the difference is that now there is wide spread knowledge of our ignorance and an unprecedented groping toward truly new answers; answers that are post-dogmatic, post-disciplinary/academic, post-conventional, and trans-national/ethnic. Don’t misread the recent upwelling of fundamentalist religion as a sign to the contrary. This reactive—and often violent—grasping and entrenchment of tradition is driven precisely by the now inescapable and hegemonic force of alternative stories about the meaning of humanity. The biggest sacrilege—and what looks to fundamentalist cultures like godlessness—is really the “storylessness” of post-modern culture, which stems in part from its (pseudo)-scientific basis; a non-foundationalist, open-ended, “choose your own adventure” worldview that glibly dismisses ancient traditions by citing the latest scientific headline, and then dismisses that headline when a newer study is released.

19. The technological transformations that constitute part of humanity’s response to [global ecological crises] will provide an important and unprecedented opening for work on the transformation of consciousness itself. This theme of “consciousness raising” —of balancing technical and organizational work with work on consciousness itself—is part of the great legacy of the non-reductive Marxists, such as Antonio Gramsci, Paulo Freire, Habermas, and Michael Apple. For them the techno-economic base—the mode of production—enables a variety of super-structural possibilities for cultural and personality development, not just the worst or most destructive forms. Culture is contested, as are our ideas of self; they are not simply imposed upon us by the “system”—although they are set adrift on the waves of technological innovation that roll forth from the global free-market for goods and labor. Many technologies, services, and workplaces don’t need to be as alienating and oppressive as they are today. Computers and other by-products of late-capitalist modes of production can become conduits for fundamentally new forms of economic activity. By first “working with consciousness itself” we can then know how to use the master’s tools to transform the master’s house—working with the master’s tools beyond the master’s mindset. In the tradition of transformative education, of Freire and Apple, the transformation of mindsets and worldviews—vertical development, growing up, in the best sense of the term—is taken as a central element in radical political movements and as prerequisite for deliberative democratic forms of decision-making and sustained economic justice.

75. Habermas wrote his dissertation on Schelling and the problem of free will, and through a friendship with the great Kabalistic scholar, Gershom Scolem, he undertook extend considerations of the Luaianc theological principles of tsim-tsum and tikkun. Again the echoes of Jakob Böhme can be heard in this view of cosmic evolution that has long been the esoteric core of Marxist theories about cultural evolution. Consider the fluency and power of Habermas’s exegesis of Scholem’s exegesis of the great Hasidic Master Isaak Luria: “The question of how evil is possible at all in a world created by God can only be given coherent formulation when we… take it back into the origin of the divine life-process itself. This is what Luria’s original idea of the tsim-tsum achieves. God, who in the beginning is everything, withdraws into himself… through this initial contraction there arises… a nature [or evolution] of God, a knot of willfulness and a sense of I-ness (egoity). The polar tension between this dark ground in God and His radiating love already determines the ideal process of creation and evolution, which occurs in god’s body and thought.[The light of God] which has been poured out and disappeared must be raised up again to its legitimate place or origin. The resurrection of restitution of the original order—the tikkun—would finally have reached its goal with the creation of the second…creation [which] emerges from the inner depths of God and continues in the external history of the world.” From Habermas, J, Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity. p. 143).

83. Post-modernism is a widely debated trend, with much disagreement as to its meaning and significance. One common theme in all that is dubbed “post-modern” is a suspicion of universal truths and a preference for relative truths based on what is local, contextual, different, and “other.” Post-modernism has put play in place of purpose, chance in place of design, and anarchy in place of hierarchy. The French philosopher, Jean-Francois Lyotard, who was one of the fathers (sic) of the movement, defined the post-modern simply as ”incredulity towards meta-narratives.” Needless to say, meta-theory has not been popular in academic contexts dominated (sic) by this kind of thinking. See, Harvey, D. The Condition of Post-Modernity; Jameson, F. Post-modernism: The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. However, there are some signs that post-modernism has exhausted itself, and that a new generation of academics is hungry for meta-theoretical approaches. In part this is due to the incoherence of post-modernist political strategies, which have consistently failed to address global and systemic issues, focusing instead mainly on identity politics of the local (and even intra-personal) varity. Later we will discuss the possibility for a new politics of outrageous love, which embraces the post-modern focus on the different and local, while at the same time seeking to orchestrate local struggles into universal and global movements.

95. To clarify and to stick with our example, economic injustice impacts everyone in the world, but it assumes very different guises depending on who and where you are. Student loan debt that crushes the middle class dreams of millions differs greatly from the grinding poverty of the unemployed in inner-city housing projects. And inner-city housing projects in the US differ greatly from the massive slums in places like Calcutta or Buenos Aires, where millions live without even the most basic forms of sanitation. Yet all stem from the current structures of global capitalism. Likewise, the so-called “1%,” who control the overwhelming majority of wealth on the planet, have their own demons to face, as they stare down the barrel of an unjust system for which they are responsible, and are thus driven by pain and denial into deepening alienation and profound separation from the rest of humanity. The 1% have some very important and unique obligations to fulfill…this must be seen an essential aspect of any solution to the current economic woes. This is why the slogans and sentiments of many in the Occupy movement—“we are the 99%”—can at times exacerbate the problem by reinforcing a sense of separateness and division. They are saying, in effect, that there are those on the new Mount Olympus of money-power, unaccountable and distant, and then there are the rest of us mere mortals, who are at their mercy. Instead, what needs to be made clear is that there are no externalities, that the so-called 1% are inseparably and intimately intertwined with everyone else, that what is happening in a slum in Calcutta or around a kitchen table in East St. Louis is happening to them. This is not some naïve call for empathy or a plea for compassion from the “wolves of Wall Street”— it’s a much more reasonable call for sanity and an invitation to overcome the deadening pain of profound alienation. Again, the future needs a strategy of deepening union and integration, not further separation.

97. What is truly ironic is that a culture seemly obsessed with individualism and self-display has so little room for truly unique forms of self-expression. Despite appearances, post-modern culture denigrates our sense of self and does not allow for the formation of self-consciously unique personalities. This is because we are limited in how we can represent ourselves and others by communication patterns that are overwhelming superficial. The “sound-bites,” Tweets,” and “status updates” that dominate the spaces in which we represent ourselves are antithetical to the kind of reflective and prolonged engagements that foster the recognition of uniqueness in self and other. Post-modern culture is focused on images, surfaces, and montage, as well as the compression of time and space into an ephemeral and a-historical here-and-now. It can represent shallow forms of difference, and often comes to overemphasize these, but it has no way to handle true depth and authentic expressions of uniqueness.