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Living in the future

In Europe, we live in a laboratory petri dish of the future. The problems we face represent the future of the planet, culturally and naturally.


Steve Latham


For instance, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari posited the multiplication of multiplicities; the production of new subjectivities and identities.

These possibilities for existence are expanded by the technical capabilities of advanced capitalism. Such deterritorialisation, disruption, of tradition, is initially experienced by individuals as liberation.

They are set free to explore, and even create, who they are. Post-WW2 this stimulated the formation of distinct youth market niches: subcultures with their own fashion styles.

These constantly shift, as teens express their protean selves, reconceiving consumption as an active, not passive, process; through what Dick Hebdige called  cultural ‘bricolage’.

Now, the trend delves deeper into the psychosphere. Today’s plethora of sexualities and genders constitute an arena of self-creation: freedom to choose and construct a fragile sense of self.

As well as potential, however, there is a danger of disintegration and disorientation, fragmentation and atomisation.

This is causing a freefall into identity-laden psychosis, as friendly to right-wing racism, as to BLM solidarity campaigns.

The consequent ‘detraditionalisation’, what Korean-German philosopher, Chul Byung-Han, calls the ‘loss of ritual’, produces a destabilised concept of self.

The result is redolent of Buddhist ideas of the ‘no-self’: an illusion composed of a series of successive fleeting emotions, with no stable centre.

In the West, however, this becomes a fractured self, at the mercy of larger societal forces: marketplace consumption, and populist ideology.

Nevertheless, because sociologically, not philosophically, driven, and therefore unconscious, it constitutes a response to environmental stimuli, without any stabilising inner resources of tradition.

William Gibson said, the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed. And Europe is at the forefront.

Contrary to the adage, inaccurately attributed by Mark Fisher to J. G. Ballard, that the future happens at the periphery, it actually emerges from the abyss opened up in the metropolitan centre.

The US lags behind, at least in its conservative heartlands; only its coastal fringes approximate European levels of cynicism. But they are catching up.

May other cultures provide alternatives to the meltdown? China’s authoritarian capitalism does appear to be catching up geo-politically.

But, domestically, they are demolishing their own traditions: physically even replacing their small walled urban houses, with large high rise mega-blocks of flats.

Meanwhile, rapacious capitalism is bulldozing the non-market values of Communist and Confucian traditions, which might resist the breakdown.

And, like Europe, the population is not growing: laying down future problems of social care, and the loss of energy and innovation which the young provide economically.

Although the trope of ‘population replacement’ is used as a racist slur, to attack immigrants in Europe, there is a dilemma of depopulation in all aging societies.

Where Europe undermined its cultural preconditions, through private enterprise, however, China seems determined to do so, from the opposite direction: state-sanctioned cultural vandalism.

Islamic countries appear to have more successfully resisted the encroachments of western decadence, the acid solvent of hyper-modernity.

But here too, the jury is out whether this will continue. Their integration into the global economy will exacerbate demands for luxury consumer goods, and the infiltration of hedonism.

Just as European Communism collapsed more through desire for blue jeans, than demands for political liberty, so Islam’s totalising structure may fall through such ‘non-political’ causes.

In Europe, those who work for political change, cultural renewal, or religious transformation, thus participate, through admittedly inopportune conditions, in the greatest experiment of humanity.

This lament over tradition’s loss, does not necessarily entail a conservative stance, though it often does so (e.g. Douglas Murray).

Rather, it applies to both Right and left; in the 1930s, both condemned the decadence of Western Europe.

In catastrophic worldviews, the crisis could only be overcome through the purifying fire of either Fascism or Communism.

As Marx and Engels wrote, capitalism devours all previously existing forms of solidarity, and replaces them with the naked cash nexus.

Left and Right, however, value these mediating structures of civil society differently: with conflicting opinions on, for example, the family, pressure groups, churches, or trade unions.

Nevertheless, the collective weakening of all these groups leaves the culturally deracinated and denuded individual alone before the power of big business and big state.

We need to construct a new sphere of pluralistic conviviality, with many expressions of shared life, to sustain a true independence of thought and feeling.

(Photo: Pixabay)

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