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Sunday, April 21, 2024

A new order

There is a profound sense of anticipation, fear even, at the new structure of our world order. This order exhibits a strange, unusual behavior because it has no behavior at all. We have entered a new era of postmodernisma narrative defined by its absence of a grand ideal, devoid of an overarching meta-theme. In this construct, our truths are provisional, our comprehension transitory.

The questions that must be asked are how did postmodernism come to be, and what are its future repercussions?

In his book Bobos in Paradise, David Brooks attempts to examine the factors behind this phenomenon. He writes about how certain subsections rebelled, disheartened by the model of the organization manthe personification of a capitalist servant, with its ordered, structured, modulated life. For this subsection, the capitalist lifestyle was disturbingly idle and unsettlingly monotonous.

Thus, they resolved to embrace humanity’s perceived natural desires. They celebrated human independence by abandoning formality for originality. They became reactionaries, hippies, anti-establishment, anti-status quo. Their key descriptor wasorganic.

Over time, rather than polarizing into two disparate, distinct entities, these two seeming antagonisms merged. These contradictions assimilated into a form that is more indistinguishable, more protean. Their melding shaped popular culture; it now dictates us to be simultaneously creative and organized, hot and cool, traditionalist and avant-garde. We must be the confluence of both traits.

What is at stake? In a sentence, it is life as we know it. We risk entering a world of complete uncertainty.

In daily life, we’re dispersed everywhere. At once we study assiduously, listen to music, chat on AIM. With these acts, we deprive our work the attention they demand, paying only a cursory view. We also get interspersed in a diversity of involvements. In a state of constant bombardments, we become entranced. We’re decoupled from permanence or stability. We’re uncertain.

In academia, we learn the classics and alternative inquiries, de-centered from any form of single monolithic thought. Here, we try to internalize a multiplicity of collective knowledge. But in turn, we often pass superficial glances at the main canons of thought, acknowledging their existence without fully understanding themin the process, bypassing associated contexts, subtleties, nuance. We learn everything without truly learning something.

In the media, we hear the echo of a thousand dissenting noises, never really discovering a sole, authoritative voice. Commentary by Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Katie Couric proliferates but none predominates. These are dissents that fit nowhere, testament to their dissonant nature. Consequently, there are no truly defining personalities of our generation who speak to our conceptions of what is possible and what is probable.

Until Obama came around and triumphed with a promise for unification, politicians sliced and diced the electorate, classifying some into soccer moms and others as security moms. They targeted voters only because it was possible. For them, the electorate had no special clarity, only discord.

Commodities and capital exacerbate this situation. Companies identify niche needs, then accommodate those needs through product designGears of War 2, Prius, Safe Food. Marketing and advertising departments seek to convey advertisements that are personal, special, unique. Individual identity displaces the collective. And these identities move in random directions.

Where do all these changes leave us? Our dissimilarities emphasized, we become increasingly detached and different from the person next to us. In a wide-ranging world, we narrow down. We grow, not to a commonality, but to a collection of infinite ideals. Postmodernism lays directions. But we’re complicit in enabling it.

This conception is at once both frightening and assuring. It offers us options while taking away others. Our task, then, is to find a clear one.

ZACH HAN thinks a multiplicity of random thoughts can meet at one point. To prove it, e-mail him at zklhan@ucdavis.edu.


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