The Postmodern Return To Mysticism

While the criticism of certain aspects of Western society is justified - such as its racism and prejudice against minorities - this hardly justifies the total rejection of rational liberal capitalism and its substitution by an irrational and naïve moralism.

1986 1
1986 1
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The cultural change that we are currently experiencing in the West reflects a deliberate and major move away from the rational and secular perception of reality that originated in Europe, following the development of science in the 15th century. It is seemingly a reversion to the spiritual and idealistic interpretation of reality that came to prevail in the West following the rise of the Christian religion in the second century A.D.

The change is characterised by an almost complete rejection of Western secular culture by large portions of an idealistic youth and the intelligentsia. Contributing to this change is the ruling elite’s apparent abandonment of its leadership role and its docile compliance with the unrealistic moral claims now being made. As we know, the justification given for the move by those driving it is the moral claim that the existing power structures in the West are grossly immoral, abusive, and exploitative, serving the interests of the white, Eurocentric portion of the population. This is perceived to be at the cost of all the other minority groups in society, and so must be overthrown, so that society may be brought to a state of moral righteousness.

The impulse driving its serious adherents is idealistic. They reject the liberal belief that human nature is imperfect and that this fact should be borne in mind when any form of government is considered. Rather, they hold an implicit, and essentially spiritual, belief that the ‘defects’ in human nature can be eliminated through education and moral guidance, and humanity brought to a state of moral perfection where everybody lives in complete harmony – as they supposedly did before the advent of capitalism corrupted society. They further believe that the only way that humanity can be raised to this highly desirable state is through the creation of a socially ‘just’ and egalitarian social order, under the guidance of their anointed moral elite.

We have here in a supposedly secular movement the classic pattern for all religious ideologies: the identification of a supposedly major moral problem in the world (the abuse and exploitation of minorities), the cause of it (neoliberal capitalism), joined with the proposed ideological solution to the problem (socialism). In the case of Christian ideology, the comparable sequence is: the problem – the inherent sinfulness of humanity; the cause – the Fall in the Garden; the solution – the redemption offered by God through His agent, the Church.

The rejection of the currently rational culture by a spoiled and idealistic youth is of relatively little significance. Its apparent abandonment by the ruling elite and the intelligentsia, however, in favour of a poorly defined, sentimental, and quasi-religious idealism is far more serious. This suggests the possibility that we are witnessing the stirrings of a major social sea-change that Western society is currently undergoing, and not just the clamour of youthful idealism.

For the first time in human history, as a consequence of the rapid growth in technology that enabled its existence, the major portion of the earth’s population has become not only ‘redundant,’ but is perceived as constituting a threat to the survival of humanity. Where previously the masses were essential – both for humanity’s reproductive survival and for their utility in providing humanity’s material needs (i.e. for their labour) – science and technology are in the process of replacing them in both regards. The great majority of human beings are now not only biologically redundant, but are also no longer welcome. The threat to humanity’s survival entailed in the Global Warming programme is linked directly to a perception and fear of ‘overpopulation.’

While our human nature was basically formed by the circumstances in which humanity lived as hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years, the Industrial Revolution radically altered those circumstances. As life subsequently grew easier and safer, social values and even morality started to change. For example, physical strength became largely irrelevant, and the male capacity for aggression, a factor that had played a necessary and positive role in human survival previously, came to be regarded as a negative quality.

Subsequently, technological development opened the employment market to women, facilitating their independence, and so diminishing the social role of marriage and the family unit. A higher material standard of living, together with birth control, reduced the Western birth rate, reinforcing this tendency. The circumstances in which humanity evolved its fundamental social nature are rapidly disappearing, at an ever-increasing pace. As this happens, it is not only our environment that changes, but also our social values, as we attempt to adapt to the changes.

The 400-year-old liberal capitalist civilisation that has nurtured and carried Western humanity from feudalism to the technocratic society that presumably lies ahead of us, is seemingly coming to an end. Diversity – the multiplicity of languages, cultures, and belief systems that characterised the era – is fading, gradually being replaced by a global commonality. This has happened under the pressures of population, urbanisation, the gradual dissolution of familial and tribal relationships, technological development, and the accumulated loss of diverse parochial cultural values. Nationalism remains the last political bastion of social diversity.

While the criticism of certain aspects of Western society is justified – such as its racism and prejudice against minorities – this hardly justifies the total rejection of rational liberal capitalism and its substitution by an irrational and naïve moralism.

In this regard, the apparent and docile abdication of the ruling elite in the face of a widespread, quasi-religious revival, is potentially a serious threat to the continuation of the rational and humanistic government that the West has briefly enjoyed. Or, alternatively, perhaps we should look at the situation from a slightly different viewpoint. Rather than causing the ruling elite to abdicate responsibility, are the radical changes taking place in regard to fundamental social circumstances causing it to revert to a quasi-religious social philosophy, akin to those spiritual and idealistic systems with which it previously governed humanity, before the advent of liberal capitalism?

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  1. Ian Campbell-Gillies Reply

    Thanks for a useful summation.

    I’m not sure if you posed overpopulation as a support of the postmodern agenda? It is certainly a threat to general survival of the species

    The pressure on liberal capitalism is nevertheless still on, regardless of the facile nature of postmodern mysticism. One cannot argue with the profound benefits of capitalism, but it’s excesses are equally obvious. If the world is to retain the benefits of this extraordinary evolution of hunter/gathering strategies, then capitalism must rapidly solve issues of logical global concern; resource sharing as a fundamental policy, and a humanitarian consciousness with regard to resource extraction.

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