All my adult life I’ve waited to see what kind of philosophical paradigm will eventually and completely replace postmodernism, as paradigms are always bound to shift when intellectual fashions change arbitrarily with culture. But postmodernism, despite all its obvious flaws (see the Sokal Affair) has seemed to be a bit of an uber paradigm, the kind of thing that won’t go without substantial kicking and screaming. Besides, when you have a paradigm that attacks elite structures solely for the virtue that they are such and even goes to the extent of attacking its own elite structures, its becomes a meta-paradigm, and creates habits of mind in all of us that will be hard to break.
Postmodernism has completely ensconced itself in popular culture to the extent that most postmodernists don’t actually know that they’re postmodernists. Every hipster who likes indie rock or shops at thrift or used clothing stores is a postmodernist. Any spectator who chooses to root for the underdog team for no other reason than they’re the underdog is a postmodernist. The naive view of the welfare system and social safety nets are that they are inherently postmodernist. The cynical, postmodern view of these postmodern government institutions is that while pretending to support the most vulnerable among us, they continue to drive the power structures that keep the 1% where they are, all the time (the government’s disability program is a prime example of this).
The Occupy Movement was a clarion call to all popular postmodernists: let’s see what we can do with a political movement with no leadership, and thus no elite structures that should necessarily need to be destroyed. As result, no one had a personal stake in keeping the Movement going (egolessness is all fine and dandy unless the only way to truly make something happen is for a group of recognized and committed individuals to pour their hearts and souls into a movement 24-7, thereby attaching their reputations to it), and the Movement fizzled out the same way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.
Guess what? This means that postmodernism is finally dead. When the popular permutation of a movement starts to disappear, it’s officially time for a new thing.
So, what is this new thing? Animal, vegetable, or mineral? Beautiful or terrible?
I was hoping it would take the form of an awesome, cross -cultural and -species evolution of consciousness in the way that Daniel Pinchbeck was describing in (2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl), despite having no precedent in the entire human story and no further evidence that we would become enlightened beyond what a race of praying mantis-like aliens told him when he was on iboga root. (The same alien insects that he hallucinated also told him he was Quetzalcoatl.)
But of course not. Instead we have a rash of mass shootings, Cyprus threatening to bring the E.U. back into bankruptcy, North Korea threatening nuclear war, douchebags in Iran trying to also make nukes, and widespread ecological collapse in the oceans, the arctic, the boreal regions, not to mention practically every square inch of the planet that humans inhabit. You can’t even breathe the air in Beijing anymore and still have the same life expectancy of someone not from that city.
Greed and avarice rule the world, and all the indigo children and lightworkers who are supposedly part of this evolution of consciousness are working for the bad guys. In fact, everyone who works for a non-profit, the government, the military, in education, and in healthcare is only inadvertently contributing to a system designed to keep the 1% exactly where they are forever. Rationalize your life of blood and service and your duty to God and country however you may want to, but all you dish up will go to the same table as that which everyone else dishes up: the grand banquet from which the 1% will pick the choicest morsels, all the time.
Everyone is going to Hell, because no matter what you thought you did to make the world a better place, you still didn’t do the right thing. You failed to rage against the violence of the technoindustrial complex and scare your increasingly creepy government into no longer being creepy by taking to the streets, turning cars over, and lighting them on fire. This is the conversation you’ll have with St. Peter at the pearly gates right before he pushes the button to the trap door hiding under the fog at your feet. You knew it was wrong, but you just went on participating. You had kids or a dog to feed, a mother to outlive, bills to pay, or whatever. It was still wrong.
Everything you’ve ever done has served the same purpose. If you taught other people’s children for a living, you helped them gain the skills to earn service jobs to help meet the needs of the 1%. If you work for Doctors Without Borders, you go around the world beautifying people and improving their health so they can be productive companymen for the corporations owned by the 1%. If you fight terrorists, ultimately you are helping to secure the all-important stability and predictability that the 1% need to stay part of the 1%. If you are Mother Teresa, you are keeping poor people alive with handouts so they can work…for the 1%.
This is the current conventional postmodern wisdom, and here’s how it will erode:
Nothing you do matters. The harder you try the more you delude yourself. There’s no point in striving anymore because nothing you do has any real meaning beyond what you artificially ascribe to it to keep you getting up every morning. Now, because you live in a world where all heroes are antiheroes, right is wrong, up is down, and your government is coming to kill you one day with drones…you are officially a nihilist, one who lives in a world absent of moral facts. There is no humanity, because forces are conspiring against you right now and your diet consists almost entirely of souls, even if you are vegan.
And so when there was no justice in this life, Socrates drank the hemlock. This is the moment that all human culture is leading up to. The existentialists were right, as there is no more important question in 2013 that whether to take your own life. Several Australian aborigine groups have already beat us to it by choosing not to make children ever again, sensing that their time on Earth was coming to a close anyway and helping the prophecy fulfill itself.
But I would take it up a notch on Camus here and say that part of the most important question in 2013 is whether to kill yourself. The other part has to do with joining organized crime, a bank hedge fund management team, the world of politics, becoming an entertainer, or some other equivalent of dropping out morally.
Wait a second. Many of the moral dropouts I mentioned above actually comprise the 1%! Holy shit! Maybe there’s a connection between being fantastically wealthy and ethically bankrupt. Oh wait, there is: an increasingly well-documented one.
And so as goes Mexico, so does the U.S., where good people increasingly want to work to become bricklayers and grocers, because to truly get ahead in either country now requires leaving a trail of bodies behind. And the bricklayers and grocers they become are hardly poised to cause the revolution that this current state of grotesquely uneven income distribution requires if there ever is going to be justice in this life again.
And so now I have to bring this runaway train of an editorial to a close. But when you meet someone with a B.A. from Berkeley who chooses homelessness, at least you’ll understand. And if you meet someone who realizes that the only way they’ll ever retire is to adopt an odious attitude towards making money above everything else, you’ll likewise get it. Moreover, you will understand why this jungle law makes people blow their own brains out because they’re afraid of continuing to hurt others, to the tune of two Sandy Hooks a day in America. You’ll probably also understand why someone chooses to become an oil pick, or make drugs for a pharmaceutical company to seriously overcharge for the benefits of dying patients everywhere, or work for a cartel. It may just be because they realized that no matter who they chose to work for, heads would end up in coolers on the side of the road anyway.
Unfortunately, nihilism, the opposite of widespread human enlightenment, appears to be the zeitgeist of the 21st century. It’s the only place that all this well-earned and well-placed cynicism will go. In any case, expect an increasing number of people to no longer go on living (a veritable rip tide of suicide), and an increasing number of people who reject everything, including humanity. You might find a lot more folks who are completely feckless because they know everything they try to do to get ahead will be in vain, and that no good deed will ultimately go unpunished. These seemingly daft or self-defeating reactions may just be the most sane possible responses to our times.
All I know is that if I hear one more personal struggle from a golden-hearted, morally intact individual that their boss tried to fire them because they declined the boss’s request for that individual to do illegal things, going to work to become a sicario for the Zetas will sound saner and saner every day. If you’re going to go on living, you might as well take the side of the vampires who are winning. Your wife and family definitely won’t mind, after all, because they will be flush with cash.