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A Postmodern Age

A Post-Modern Age? A Post-Modern Age? Introduction: Post-Modernism can be described as a particular style of thought. It is a concept that correlates the emergence of new features and types of social life and economic order in a culture; often called modernization, post-industrial, consumer, media, or multinational capitalistic societies. In Modernity, we have the sense or idea that the present is discontinuous with the past, that through a process of social, technological, and cultural change (either through improvement, that is, progress, or through decline) life in the present is fundamentally different from life in the past. This sense or idea as a world view contrasts with what is commonly known as Tradition, which is simply the sense that the present is continuous with the past, that the present in some way repeats the forms, behavior, and events of the past. I would propose that traditional ways of life have been replaced with uncontrollable change and unmanageable alternatives, but that these changes and alternatives eventually create something that may result in the society that traditionalists actually seek after; the balance between Nature and Technology.

Modernity itself is merely the sense that the present is a transitional point, not focused on a clear goal in the future but simply changing through forces outside our control. I will first describe how “Modernity” came about, and then to indicate some of the features for which “Post-Modernity” is meant to be a reaction, response or addition to modernization. Beginnings of Modernity: First, I aim to give a broad historical picture against which we may understand the rise of Modernity as an idea related to science and society or as a framework for a view of rationality. We know that we experience change as either progress or transition, that is, we view our historical situation and our lives presently as deriving meaning and value in some unrealized future. The shift from Renaissance humanism to Modern rationalism can be understood in terms of four shifts: (1) from an oral culture in which the theory and practice of rhetoric played a central role to a written culture in which formal logic played a central role in establishing the credentials of an argument; (2) from a practical concern – with understanding and acting on particular cases to a more theoretical concern with the development of universal principles; (3) from a concern with the local – in all its stable diversity, to the general – understood in terms of abstract multi nationalisms; and (4) from the timely – a concern with making practical decisions in the transitory situations which demand wise and prudent responses, to the timeless – a concern with understanding and explaining the enduring, perhaps eternal, nature of things. There are several societal factors that have indicated and resulted in the rise of Modernity.

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The origin of Modernity may have its roots in several periods: the year 1436, with Gutenberg’s adoption of moveable type; or in 1520, and Luther’s rebellion against Church authority; or 1648, and the end of the Thirty Years’ War; while even still, it could have begun during the American or French Revolutions of 1776 or 1789; or even the rise of “Modernism” in fine arts and literature. How we ourselves are to feel about the prospects of Modernity depends on what we see as the heart and core of the “modern,” and what key events in our eyes gave rise to the “modern” world. Societal Responses to Modernity: During the period of the 1500’s thru the 1900’s the framework and presuppositions about Nature and Humanity were being progressively challenged and overturned by many scientific advances, until not one, or very little of their elements were accepted by reasonably educated people. European society was becoming known as traditional, hierarchical, corporate, and privileged. These features had characterized Europe and much of the rest of the world during these few centuries.

Virtually every society on the globe by the opening of the eighteenth century could be characterized by social dependencys and discrepancies between wealth and poverty. All of these societies also confronted the problems of scarce food supplies. After a time during the same period, important changes began to occur in the societies of the world from Asia to Europe. A population explosion due to an improved food supply created pressures on the existing traditional and newly modernizing social structures. Commerce, banking, and agriculture improved greatly and a more stable and certain money supply were established; however, only Europe at the time was becoming highly industrialized. Eighteenth-century Japan stood, of course, in marked contrast to both Europe and China.

Tokugawa rule had achieved remarkable stability, but Japan had chosen not to enter the world-trading network, except as a depot for Dutch and Chinese goods. The population grew less rapidly than that of Europe or China, and the general economy seemed to have grown slowly. Like the situation in many European cities, guilds controlled manufacture. In all these respects, Japan in the eighteenth century sought to spurn innovation and preserve stable tradition. Throughout the eighteenth century, Africa continued to supply slave labor to both North and South America. The slave trade drew Africa deeply into the transatlantic economy.

Latin America remained at least in theory the monopolized preserve of Spain and Portugal; however, that monopoly could not survive the expansion of the British economy and the determination of Britain to enter the Latin American market. At the same time, British forces established control in mid-eighteenth-century India that would last almost two centuries. Seen in this world context, European society stood on the brink of a new era in which the social, economic, and political relationships of past centuries would be destroyed. The commercial spirit and the values of the marketplace clashed with the traditional values and practices of peasants and guilds. That commercial spirit proved to be a major vehicle of social change; by the early nineteenth century it led increasingly to a conception of human beings as individuals rather than as members of communities.

The expansion of the European population further stimulated change and challenge to tradition, hierarchy, and communities. A larger population meant that new ways had to be devised to solve old problems. The social hierarchy had to accommodate itself to more people. Corporate groups, such as the guilds, had to confront an expanded labor force. New wealth meant that birth would eventually cease to determine social relationships, except in regard to the social roles assigned to the two sexes.

Finally, the conflicting political ambitions of the monarchies, the nobilities, and the middle class generated innovation. The monarchies wanted to make their nations rich enough to wage war. The nobilities wished to reassert their privileges. The middle class, in all of its diversity, was growing wealthier from trade, commerce, and the practice of the professions. Its members wanted a social prestige and influence equal to their wealth.

All of these factors meant that the society of the late eighteenth century stood at the close of one era of European history and at the opening of another. However, as these social and economic changes became connected to the world economy, the transformation of Europe led to the transformation of much of the non-European world. For the first time in the history of the world, major changes in one region left virtually no corner of the globe politically or economically untouched. By the close of the eighteenth century a movement toward world interconnectedness and interdependence that had no real precedent in terms of depth and extent had begun, and it has not yet ended. Expressions on Modernity: We as humans tend to experience modernity as a plethora of alternatives, either in regard to a lifestyle or historical possibilities; future directed behavior (as opposed to tradition) tends to accelerate the proliferation of alternatives.

Traditional cultures may see themselves as repeating a finite number of alternatives in the present; in modern cultures, the future opens up a vast field of historical and lifestyle choices. This proliferation of alternatives can be a source of great anxiety and often results in cultural attempts to restrict alternatives in the face of this anxiety (for example, China and its strict imperialistic control over its varied populations). Let’s keep in mind that it is not the alternatives themselves which create this anxiety, it is the sense that the proliferation of alternatives has or will become unmanageable. For most of humanity, Modernity has created a world view in us that is primarily abstract; that is, we experience the world as composed of fragmented, and separable units. Abstraction is a difficult word to define; for our purposes, i …


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