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Emptiness of Modernity

To compensate for its emptiness, the West lapses variously into ironic and self-congratulatory sophistication or into simple-minded heroic nationalism and fundamentalism; into sheer materialism or New Age mysticism; into designer drugs or virtual reality. These are not, of course, mutually exclusive. A universal subjectivism levels everything as entertainment of one sort or another. It is understandable to feel empty and “alienated” in such circumstances—or rather to avoid feeling altogether. For, numbness and depression are the inevitable outcomes of retreat from a deep relationship with experience and reality, whether the realities of our natural being or the political and social realities of the world. We live as prisoners in our man-made realm. This creates a vicious cycle, in which drugs and intensity are sought to compensate the inherent meaninglessness and triviality of consumer life and the stress of urban living, but which only succeed in further dulling the mind and entrenching escapism. The malaise derives at once from over-subjectivism and from the excessive outward focus that leaves modern Man with a deficient sense of being. The emptiness infects the very objects that are supposed in the materialistic society to be the source of all satisfaction. Cheap industrial “goods” lack the interior life of handmade things, so that the modern environment is a constant reminder of the vapidity of consumer values. We seek in luxuries and conveniences compensation for the loss of nature and vitality, and for the essential poverty of the Ideal manifest in urban landscapes. The general retreat into subjectivism at the core of consumerism is a failure of imagination and nerve, with deep roots in the Western mentality. In such retreat one can choose only among options designed by someone else. In our cool, postmodern detachment, we are often rightly suspicious of idealists, of high morals, of axes to grind, and of utopian visions. But moral disengagement forfeits the power to work original good. What characterizes the emerging global culture is just this loss of local initiative: consumer society has emasculated itself by trading self-reliance for convenience and imagined security. And what characterizes the emerging anti-globalist movement is a search to recover this local autonomy, to forge alternative visions to the self-serving schemes of ruling elites. The perennial dilemma facing the meek—domination by the aggressive—is a moral dilemma as well as political. For, those who rise to power unfairly must do so with the unwitting help of those they rule, who are vulnerable to manipulation through their own cupidity, passivity, and lack of imagination.

RELATED TAGS: [modern/cultural solipsism, alienation, willful ignorance, addiction to intensity/experience, moral (dis)engagement/, anti-globalist(ism) movement, globalist monoculture, selective technology, loss of diversity, localism]

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