A Changing Society Calls For A Change in Mentality
We've Seen Better Days (and we've seen worse)
“The darkness has always been,The world was born into a blanket of sin, When all the faith's been gone, Still we found a reason to carry on, Through the worry, worry, worry, Caught in an endless maze. Oh when the lights go out, All that I can think about, Is how, we've seen better days...” (Amos Lee's lyrics Better Days)
Modernity's Mutations - Head Shrinking
“....the rule of money, the transformation of culture into a series of fashions, the massification of lifestyles, which goes hand in hand with a growing individualism and exhibitionism, the reduction of history to immediate events and instant news, the important role played by very powerful technologies, many of them uncontrolled, increased life expectancy, the insatiable demand for perpetual good health, the deinstitutionalzation of the family, growing doubts about sexual identity and even human identity.....the avoidance of conflict and the gradual loss of interest in the political, the transformation of the law into a procedural legalism, the making public of private space.....the privatization of the public domain, and so on. All these features should be seen as symptoms of the mutation modernity is undergoing.” (Dufour, 2008, p.15)
Acclimatisation and Transformation
Every civilisation posits an ideal type subject, a subject who is best able to thrive in the conditions of the ages in which he lives. This subject is a being who embodies the values of his society. But society, by it's very nature is something that is in a constant state of flux, forever changing and evolving. To be human is to adapt to our surroundings and the circumstances we find ourselves in as best we can, and so with every major turn that society takes, the effects are felt by it's people, who must learn how best to acclimatise themselves to the ways of the world they see around them. Today, we find ourselves in uncertain times, and uncertain times means uncertain people. Instability is not a state the human condition can survive for long, so we must attempt to change something to help us try to stabilise the current state of affairs, even just within the boundaries of our individual minds. A transformation of mentality must take place.
A Blanket of Darkness
Over the years we have seen the gradual decline in religion as a societal force, and as consumerism swooped in to take control of things (and minds), it seems that ideas of moral value were quick to be put aside in the quest for economic gain. This was all well and fine while the economic systems were booming so much so that it seems they would never crash. In times of stability we all feel safe, comfortable, unwilling to rock the boat of thought and partake in the process of reflection. Ignorance is bliss they say. We all relished in this fantastic distraction from the search for the meaning of life. Why be bogged down trying to please a God we couldn't see, why spend our whole lives searching for the answers that nobody has ever seemed to find, when we can just go out and buy some instant happiness? Okay, we came to find that this happiness of material wealth doesn't last very long or provide us with a deep sense of fulfilment, but who cares....when the feeling wears off we can just go out and renew it with another purchase. We gradually became immersed in this system of constant renewal that somewhere along the way we began to embody it, we forgot that this consumerism was just a distraction; it became a way of life - a way of life that became a trap. But now something painstaking, seemingly tragic, but I believe ultimately inevitable and fantastic has happened. The economic system has started crashing, and over the past few years the truth has slowly began emerging. The truth about the corruption that has been taking place at the top strata of the governing forces of capitalism. Human beings love to feel stable and comfortable, and sometimes a blanket of darkness is the only thing that makes us search for the light.
Dufour - An Intellectual Perspective
In investigation of the change in mentality that is taking place in society I took a look at the work of Dany-Robert Dufour, whose book The Art of Shrinking Heads brings some engaging ideas to the foreground of sociological thought about the transformation that the subject of Modernity is undergoing.
In short, Dufour believes that capitalism is consuming minds, deconstructing the double subject of Modernity, the critical Kantian subject who was characterised by reason and the neurotic Freudian subject who experienced neurosis due to guilt, and desymbolising the world through commodity exchanges.
Dufour believes that the new postmodern subject that is evolving towards a subjective condition defined by a borderline neurotic-psychotic state. This subject is increasingly trapped between a latent despondency, the impossibility of speaking in the first person, the illusion of pre-eminence and the temptation to adopt a false self, a borrowed personality or even the multiple personalities that are made so widely available by the various markets today.
A Reaction to the Inhuman Laws of Capitalism
I agree with Dufour's description of the current state of the human being, be us subjects of 'modernity', 'postmodernity' or 'neoliberalism' - subjects of now. But I refuse to accept that this is a description of the transformation that the subject is undergoing. Dufour in his sometimes exaggerated manner of writing, intelligently describes how we have reacted to the inhuman laws of Capitalism - what is has driven us to become. But to become something is a gradual process, slowly internalising what is around us, whereas to transform is much more of a momentary affair, a change in substance and nature that we cannot undo or go back on.
A Case for Optimism
In my view Dufour is rather pessimistic about the faith of humanity, and I believe that the only thing that keeps us moving forward and not backwards is hope. Nothing can grow productively without optimism. Yes, we must be realistic, we must look around and see things as they are, but in order to actively improve things, we need to believe they can be better. I understand that criticism is necessary in order to reflect and grow, but in my mind criticism is useless and discouraging unless it is constructive. In the past few years we have seen some incredibly inspiring changes take place, and only in taking the time to recognise and appreciate these changes for what they are will we continue the cycle of hopeful transformation that has begun in the collective psyche.
The Need For Virtue and Morality
Virtue and morality may seem out of place in this cutting-edge environment, but when all else has failed, which it has, I believe it is our crucial responsibility to return to basics of true morality and virtue.
Recognition is the key to success, so let us, instead of recognising and debating all the faults of the situation we find ourselves in, begin to recognise the cornerstones of the solution. I believe what we need is a return to the use of what Aristotle termed Practical Wisdom.
Barry Schwartz: Using Our Practical Wisdom
Practical Wisdom is what Aristotle called the combination of moral will and moral skill, moral will to do right by other people, and moral skill to have the ability to do right by other people. Kindness, care and empathy should be essential parts of any work we do, and it cannot be debated that these are the foundations of hope and growth in times of deep despair.
A wise person knows when and how to make an exception to the rule and a wise person knows how to improvise. A wise person knows how to use moral skills to serve others, and not to manipulate others. Wise people are made not born, as wisdom depends on experience. One does not need to be brilliant to be wise, but as we can observe by the chaos that the world has become, without wisdom brilliance just isn't enough.
The current financial crisis has driven us to increased regulation and the putting in place of ever more rules and incentives. But what happens when we turn to rules and incentives is that they may make things better in the short run, but they make things worse in the long run. Moral skill is chipped away by an over reliance on rules that deprives us of the ability to improvise and learn from our improvisations, and moral will is undermined by an incessant appeal to incentives that destroy our desire to do the right thing. What we need is a return to the humanity of practical wisdom. We need to follow our hearts and not just our heads, be guided by our souls and not just our pockets, towards a return to the virtue of morals.
Dufour, D-R. The Art of Shrinking Heads – On the Servitude of the Liberated in the Age of Total Capitalism (translated by David Macey). 2008. U.K: Polity Press.