When I awoke, I was comforted to realize that the jeremiad was just a dream, but then it dawned on me that my dream was a compilation of the actual news stories that I have seen and heard over the last forty years. As I began to reflect on the social changes that had occurred, I realized that a cultural revolution had occurred and that I had witnessed an unprecedented transformation of Western civilization.
As a young man, I had been fascinated with politics and even aspired to a career in public office. To further that goal I attended law school, engaged in government service for a time, and then returned to my hometown to practice law and begin a political career. After a couple of years of groundwork, I jumped into the political arena and was elected to the office of prosecuting attorney. As the new “county solicitor,” I was responsible for prosecuting people who were charged with serious criminal violations. However, my ideas regarding a traditional political career began to take second place to the extraordinary changes that were taking place around me.
The court system was rewriting the law regarding the rights of defendants in criminal cases; the civil rights movement was rewriting the law regarding the rights of racial minorities; the women’s movement was rewriting the law regarding gender; traditional ideas regarding home and family were being abandoned in favor of free love, cohabitation, and children born out of wedlock; and there were increasing confrontations with religious orthodoxy. Instead of continuing my political career, I left office before the end of my elected term and began trying to understand the social revolution that was sweeping through Western civilization.
Having studied political science and philosophy in college, I began a self-study project that eventually dominated my life and destroyed my interest in the practice of law. Rather like Richard Dreyfus’s movie character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the only thing I was interested in was my “project.” Over the next few years, the self-study consumed most of my time and energy as I read and reread everything from Aristotle to Zen. I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for, but as I continued my search, I came to realize that Western civilization was and is engaged in a massive transition from modernity to whatever is going to come next. Indeed, I now believe that the so-called global village is caught up in an ongoing paradigm shift comparable to Europe’s transition from medieval times to the modern era. Unable to find writers that I agreed with, I began to write and to keep a journal.
From the beginning, the various issues seemed to focus on the idea of being “modern,” especially what was and is happening to modernity and what is going to come after modernity. Part of the problem, of course, is the naming process, itself. If there is no name for a new thing that is happening, then the old way has a decisive advantage. Indeed, the naming process can inhibit people from thinking outside the box, just as parents can preclude their children from coloring outside the lines. The term “modern,” for example, is based upon the Latin word modo that means “just now,” and it places a premium on time, especially, the most recent developments in the time continuum. Ideas that are new and experimental enjoy an avant-garde status that is reminiscent of aristocratic privileges in former times. For nearly a thousand years, “modern” discourse has assumed that time is the proper “frame of reference” for understanding our world and that the latest developments are the highest and best.
However, the truth is that our desire to “be modern” is actually a form of linguistic imperialism that has conquered verbal space to such an extent that the totality of Western civilization is now perceived in terms of premodern ideas, modern ideas, and postmodern or ultra-modern ideas.
“Postmodern” writers have tried to distance themselves from the modern era, but no matter how much they analyze or criticize modern ideas, they can’t escape the avant-garde mentality. The “just now” model functions like an invisible spider on a giant web continually spinning out more and more time. Of course the “new” ideas around the edges of the web are the most important, so both the modern and postmodern bugs are caught up in modernity’s ever-expanding web. So where do we go from here? Stay tuned…