From The Jolly Contrarian
Jump to navigation Jump to search
It’s good this Communism lark, isn’t it?

The JC looks deep into the well. Or abyss.

Click ᐅ to expand:
Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Requests? Insults? We’d love to 📧 hear from you.
Sign up for our newsletter.

/ˈmɒdənɪzm/ (n.)

A 20th-century cultural movement encompassing design, art, literature, architecture, town planning and ultimately government that sought to break entirely from the western cultural tradition, instead creating something new, rational, abstract, utopian and independent of the historical contingencies and narratives which got homo sapiens to the twentieth century, but which the thinkers of the early 20th century concluded were mistaken: principally, religion, religious morality and the social structures that depend on it.

Modernism was the urge to wipe the slate clean. Its premise was — is, alas —that the legacy narrative — angels, devils, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords etc — was so broken, so profoundly disproved that it was best to just ditch it wholesale and start the process fresh, from the ground up.

Reject everything, and build your taxonomy from the ground: a base of pure deterministic logic. Awesome.

Now, a French fellow by the name of René Descartes tried this once before. He wound up right back where he started, with God.

Undeterred, the Modernists would go the whole hog, rejecting even that Big Idea, and all the little ones that had evolved in the folds of its ecosystem. Well, most of them, anyway: the imperative for there to be a Big Idea; a solitary organising principle — the very founding assumption of theism — stayed. There must instead be a new, non-goddish, utopian, rationalist Big Idea.

But what?

Well, in the early twentieth century they came up with two: one in Italy and Germany, one in Russia.

Modernism’s heyday was 1914-1945 — you don’t need to be a history buff to clock those two dates — and its track record over the last century was — well, a bit underwhelming: one machine age, two hot world wars, a cold one, two political ideologies that murdered a hundred million people between them, and if that wasn’t enough, an enormous, decade-long recession as well.

So you would like to think that Modernism has had its day — but no.

After the Second World War there was a period of high-modernism — outside the Communist states, not so murderous, but repressive all the same — and even when that waned in the 1980s, the promise of the information revolution ushered in a new wave of bureaucratic modernism. Perhaps our computational machines weren’t powerful enough! Perhaps now we can solve all the worlds problem’s with data. And so it has transpired: over the last thirty years there has been an information revolution, a (re)birth of digital modernism.

In Web 1.0 you could buy books online.

In Web 2.0 you could complain about the books you bought online.

In Web 2.1 you could like it when other people complained about the books they bought online.

In Web 2.2: LinkedIn’s chatbots do it all for you, and wish you a “happy work-i-versary!”.

In web 3.0, the entire human condition is solved and encoded in a smart contract on the blockchain.

Could things be any more desolate?

Welcome to 2021: every gormless teenager on the planet carries enough processing power to land a rocket on the moon, and yet here we still are.

Modernism is profoundly reductionist, determinist, rationalist, assumes the world is therefore a static place which even the hardest problems can be solved — that machines can be built that can divine the answers to questions our (gormless) mortal minds cannot handle, and in that sense is in equal parts utopian, delusional and lazy: it believes that difficult stuff can all be solved without upsetting the dynamics of the system, and once solved we will all live happily ever after.

See also