What Does It Mean to Be Human in the Age of Late Modernity?

We live in an age of rapid changes, where updating has become a lifestyle. Things that today seem certain are gone tomorrow, things that we cannot imagine at the current moment will be there soon. Nevertheless, human life is characterized by continued attempts to make sense of our existence. The more complicated society becomes, the more questions we seem to have, and the harder it becomes to answer these questions. We have dis-embedded ourselves from traditional ways of life only to be re-embedded by industrial society and subsequently risk society. The ways we study and conceptualize the world are inseparable part of the ways we understand it, asking if new approaches can enrich our sense of reality. Every day, I ask myself what it means to be human in the era of modernity, specialization, commercialization, and corporatization.

Today’s society’s way of interacting – through social media such as Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat, etc – is different from our traditional and cultural way of interacting. We blog every second, every minute, and every hour of everyday about our private lives, our public lives, and our dream lives. Through blogging and creating internet as a diary, we have undermined our sense of what is true and what is false. Andrew Keen, in his text The Cult of the Amateur, nailed it when he said, that for these “generation Y Utopians, every posting is just another person’s version of the truth; every fiction is just another person’s version of the facts.” Moreover, our cultural standards and moral values are at stake along with our traditional institutions that have helped to foster and create our new, our music, our literature our television shows, and our movies are under assault as well. Newspapers and news-magazines, one of the most reliable sources of information about the world we live in, are flailing thanks to the proliferation of free blogs and websites. The real question is what happens when old media and traditional lifestyle faces extinction? Andrew Keen replies very profusely, “The monkeys take over. Say goodbye to today’s experts and cultural gatekeepers – our reporters, news anchors, editors, music companies, and Hollywood studios. In today’s cult of the amateur, the monkeys are running the show. With their infinite typewriters, they are authoring the future. And we may not like how it reads.”

In ancient times humanity had a basic understanding of the fact that our lives take place wholly in the earthly realm. However, in modern Western civilization, the myth of the ‘Promised Land’ expresses itself most influentially in secularized, abstract ideas of automatic redemption and deliverance. The most prominent examples are technology, economy, and the market. A re-contextualized concept of technology, economy, and the market might lead us to realize that the principle menacing trends in the world today are not resolvable by technology. The poor need land which they can grow their own subsistence food, a source of potable water, latrines, unpolluted air to breathe, basic health care, basic education, and friendly neighbours with whom they can exchange seeds and have a social and recreational life. They need freedom and self-governance. Therefore, all of these solutions are based on well-known low-level technologies. None require “innovation.”

Furthermore, the economy (the “market”) is a concept which derives from the rectification of the social activity of exchange. It represents an abstraction of the complex web of commercial intercourse – an intercourse which is, of course, embedded in the fabric of social life. It now also becomes a determinant of the human fate. The promise is that, if heeded, it dictates will lead us to a materialistic millennium. A de-reification of the concept of “the free-market” might lead us to search for a system of material goods distribution which would engender the participation of all, not less than half the world’s population. As we see other ways of distributing goods, we might realize that capitalism is intolerant of all other systems, always needing to expand, always needing to win the competition, always needing people to buy commodities, even at the cost of life, both human or environmental.

In conclusion, in order to enter a new society, we necessarily have to be disembodied from the old ways of living. Nevertheless, the side effects that accompany this process may come to dominate the era even more than its initially admired qualities. Therefore, when we are talking about liberty, open systems and individualism, we necessarily have to think of the conditions of constant change, insecurity, and loneliness. The process of alienation is, however, needed to establish the necessary conditions for entering the risk society. Nevertheless, one may ask what it means to be human in this society. In answering this question, we may find it valuable to use Bauman’s poetic imagination, “we have become travelers, walking on roads of unknown direction and duration, being constantly aware that our camps are vulnerable because there are no walls to stop intruders.” Furthermore, who says that the road is not going to collapse together? And what about our roots? Love, attachment, and security? As Sir Horace Mann put it, “this world is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel.”

Source by Hanin Ahsan Abbas

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