“While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.”—
“During the early Middle Ages the northern forests of Europe were still vast, stretching across the continent like domes of darkness and the indifference of time. Interspersed throughout them were smaller or larger settlements lost in the shadows of antiquity’s decline. With respect to the medieval social order that was reorganizing itself on the basis of new feudal and religious institutions, the forests were foris, “outside.” In them lived the outcasts, the mad, the lovers, brigands, hermits, saints, lepers, the maquis, fugitives, misfits, the persecuted, the wild men. Where else could they go? Outside of the law and human society one was in the forest.”—Forests: The Shadow of Civilization, Robert Pogue Harrison (via outdarethenight)
About modernity in general—about what it is that has made us moderns no longer stuff for the social—I doubt there is anything new to say. The topic, like the thing itself, is exhausted: not over (never over), just tired to death. All that needs restating here—and Baldwin Spencer’s great photos of the longest continuing human culture are the proper accompaniment—is that the arrival of societies oriented toward the future, as opposed to a past of origins, heroisms, established ways, is a fact of history not nature, happening in one place and time, with complex, contingent causes. Personal religion (that strange mutation) and double-entry book-keeping being two of them. And by modernity is meant very much more than a set of techniques or a pattern of residence and consumption: the word intends an ethos, a habitus, a way of being a human subject. I go back to the sketch I gave in a previous book:
‘Modernity’ means contingency. It points to a social order which has turned from the worship of ancestors and past authorities to the pursuit of a projected future—of goods, pleasures, freedoms, forms of control over nature, new worlds of information. The process was accompanied by a terrible emptying and sanitizing of the imagination. For without the anchorage of tradition, without the imagined and vivid intricacies of kinship, without the past living on (most often monstrously) in the detail of everyday life, meaning became a scarce social commodity—if by ‘meaning’ we have in mind agreed-on and instituted forms of value and understanding, orders implicit in things, stories and images in which a culture is able to crystallize its sense of the struggle with the realm of necessity and the realities of pain and death. The phrase Max Weber borrowed from Schiller, ‘the disenchantment of the world’—gloomy yet in my view exultant, with its promise of a disabused dwelling in the world as it is—still sums up this side of modernity best …
‘Secularization’ is a nice technical word for this blankness. It means specialization and abstraction, as part of the texture of ordinary doings; social life driven by a calculus of large-scale statistical chances, with everyone accepting or resenting a high level of risk; time and space turned into variables in that same calculus, both of them saturated by ‘information’ and played with endlessly, monotonously, on nets and screens; the de-skilling of everyday life (deference to experts and technicians in more and more of the microstructure of the self); available, invasive, haunting expertise; the chronic revision of everything in the light of ‘studies’.
This does no more than block in the outlines: descriptively, there would be many things to add. But from the present point of view only two motifs need developing. First, that the essence of modernity, from the scripture-reading spice-merchant to the Harvard iPod banker sweating in the gym, is a new kind of isolate obedient ‘individual’ with technical support to match. The printed book, the spiritual exercise, coffee and Le Figaro, Time Out, Twitter, tobacco (or its renunciation), the heaven of infinite apps. Second, that all this apparatus is a kind or extension of clockwork. Individuality is held together by a fiction of full existence to come. Time Out is always just round the corner. And while the deepest function of this new chronology is to do work on what used to be called ‘subject positions’—keeping the citizen-subject in a state of perpetual anticipation (and thus accepting the pittance of subjectivity actually on offer)—it is at the level of politics that the Great Look Forward is most a given.
”—T. J. Clark, For A Left With No Future (via jacobwren)
“The most loathsome materialism is not the kind people usually think of, but the sort that attempts to let dead ideas pass for living realities, diverting into sterile myths the stubborn and lucid attention we give to what we have within us that must forever die.”—Albert Camus, Lyrical and Critical Essays (via saloandseverine)
“There must be no barriers to freedom of inquiry … There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors. Our political life is also predicated on openness. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it and that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. And we know that as long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress.”—J. Robert Oppenheimer, quoted in “J. Robert Oppenheimer” by L. Barnett, in Life, Vol. 7, No. 9, International Edition (24 October 1949)
“There are things that are not spoken about in polite society. Very quickly in most conversations you’ll reach a moment where someone goes, ‘Oh, that’s a bit heavy,’ or ‘Eew, disgusting.’ And literature is a place where that stuff goes; where people whisper to each other across books, the writer to the reader. I think that stops you feeling lonely – in the deeper sense, lonely.”— Alain de Botton (via fuckyeahalaindebotton)
While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the layoffs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things; through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organising or attending motivational seminars, updating their facebook profiles or downloading TV box-sets.
The answer clearly isn’t economic: it’s moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the ‘60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.