The Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries was a major ‘paradigm shift’. It defined the ‘Age of Reason’ which was implemented as modernity. Now humanity understood the logic of cause and effect. No longer was some capricious divinity responsible for earthquakes and lightening, for disease and catastrophe. There was a reason for everything. Medical and engineering science made huge progress, built concrete infrastructure, developed effective medicines. Human life was no longer so ‘nasty, brutish, and short’. Nature was at least partially tamed and harnessed, and no longer so ‘red in tooth and claw’.
Now postmodernity is creeping upon us. We are wandering into it blindfold. What characterises postmodernity? It contrasts significantly to modernity in a number of important ways.
- In modernity, logic is supreme. Postmodernity objects to this hegemony of logic and replaces it with power.
- Rationality is core to modernity. The feel factor displaces rationality in postmodernity
- In modernity, a person’s function is valued. In postmodernity, people value status.
- In modernity, content is important. In postmodernity, image is thought more important than content.
The shift along these dimensions is not total, but it is discernible. Media publishers are far less concerned with the content they are offered, than they are with the name recognition of the author. The logical and therefore inevitable result of this is that content suffers and declines. Name recognition becomes dominant in political and commercial life too. To the extent that status and power displace function and logic in decisions and work, outcomes will lose value.
The media thrives on image, an image fed by status and power, and not only by content. The media itself then has huge power. Even governments defer to it. So the content of any political proposal matters less than what the media is likely to think of it.
Celebrity is another characteristic of postmodernity. It derives from image. Celebrities are usually people with huge amounts of money and glittering lifestyles. The success of the Facebook phenomenon is that it offers to make celebrities of us all.
Do we like what postmodernity is bringing us, and do we have any choice? In resurrecting power and status against logic, postmodernity is taking us back to feudalism. We have been there before. If we believe that logic is ultimate, is objective in nature, then postmodernity will fail to usurp it. And if image is not supported by content, it too will fail. Modernity brought intellectual and moral insight. We need to preserve both.