How To Deal With The Chaos of Paradigm Shifts | Dr. Gregg Henriques
Postmodernism, Technology, and the Morality of the Future
ABOUT DR HENRIQUES
Today on BEST MEDICINE is our first repeat guest - Dr. Gregg Henriques.
Dr. Henriques is a professor of psychology from James Madison University. In the short time I've known him, his work has changed my professional life.
As my conversation evolves with Dr Henriques I find myself wanting it to continue more and more, so I'm certain we'll do another episode soon.
METAMODERNISM: A BRIEF PRIMER
Many of you have undoubtedly heard of post-modernism. To understand the developments in our society it's absolutely essential to understand post-modernism. Here's a brief history.
We could start anywhere, as far back as the Ancient Greeks, but we'll start at the Enlightenment, a period many of you are surely familiar with.
Modern Science and the political notion of human rights were born in the Enlightenment.
The notion of King's having "divine right" to rule was questioned, and so constitutional republics like the United States were born.
The ideas presented by the Catholic Church were not easily backed up under the scrutiny of the scientific method, and so the "Death of God" occurred (as Nietzsche would put it).
Modernism is the moment of stepping out of a society governed by God and Kings and into a society governed by civics and science-minded citizens.
Citizens would receive education from the state in the most important subjects, and then vote to improve their society in a fair legal/political process based on what they learned.
They'd operate in a capitalist market as rational actors, thus ensuring money and resources flowed to the most productive market actors.
Only we all kind of acknowledge that's all untrue.
In losing God and Kings, moral relativism and nihilism began to spread in society.
God and King was replaced with Civic Nationalism.
When Civic Nationalism spun out of control in World War 1, it morphed again into the dominant ideologies of the 20th and 21st century - neoliberalism, fascism and communism.
All 3 of these systems claim to be some kind of "for the people" but "the people" is not often defined in a way everyone would agree to (to put it lightly).
Science brought us tremendous advances, but it also brought us to the brink of destruction in the cold war thanks to Nuclear weaponry.
Citizens were educated under a Prussian model, a model designed to turn people NOT into rational citizens and renaissance men, but into obedient soldiers, consumers and factory workers.
People don't act rationally in the market, and even when they do, Markets often reflect activity that's not true economic development (for example, much of what Wall Street does is pure speculation and gambling.)
We don't vote rationally either.
Many feel they've been left out of the political process and have resorted to rioting.
Our news media lies more than our politicians, and our politicians all lie to us knowing we'll vote for them anyways. (And even if we don't vote for them, perhaps it matters not).
There's a school of thought that predicted the fall of the modernist view. It's Post-modernism.
Post-modernisms specialized in using language and power-structure analysis to find how systems of power would conceal their flaws, inequities and weaknesses through propaganda and absolute control of the narrative.
Postmodernists accurately predicted the fall of the neo-liberal west because they analyzed the flaws in the design of our institutions and the integrity of the social classes who command them.
However, the post-modernists have some flaws of their own. Their ideology does not create much of anything, it only deconstructs that which already is. And in reducing everything to a narrative or power struggle sincerity is lost.
Post-modernism is supposed to be a critique of Modernism, but instead it's continued to kick Modernism while it's down.
A prediction of system errors has turned into an advocacy for systemic collapse.
Enter the Meta-modernists.
Metamodernists are those who seek to genuinely preserve the effective and true parts of modernism, fix the systemic flaws that can be fixed, and create new cultural norms from a mindset of generativity.
At least, that's how they pitch themselves.
The story of the last 50 years of intellectual activity is the story of post-modernism gaining control of the institutions it critiques.
If these institutions survive long enough while occupied by their antagonists, then perhaps we'll have a chance to see if the metamodernists are truly the innovators they claim to be.
But this leads us to the real problem.
THE BIGGER PROBLEM: PARADIGM SHIFTS BREAK HEGEMONY
It is widely believed by historians that the Romans and Greeks may have basked in the glory of Industrial-Age machinery if not for their practice of slavery.
It goes like this: by continuing to hold slaves, there was never an economic incentive to invent new technology, even if it had been designed or discovered.
And it makes sense. Automation of jobs in our modern world will only happen if it's more affordable for corporations to buy the robots than it is for them to employ humans.
However, slavery is a morally unacceptable institution.
In the Modernist west, slavery was abolished, first in England, then in the United States.
In the United States the sentiment to "abolish slavery" was as much about bankrupting the secessionist south as it was a moral advancement.
Obviously today it's a purely moral sentiment, (and thank God for that).
This moral development forced an evolution of technologies. The work that slaves used to do in the fields was soon automated by new farming equipment.
The moral of the story is that technological/economic advances and moral advances create a feedback loop with each other. New inventions speed up our economy and alter the way we think and interact with each other.
It just so happened that modernism created one of the most powerful Techno-Moral feedback loops in human history, jetting us through Industrialism and into the Nuclear Age, while laying the groundwork for the Internet Age.
But post-modernism has become the dominant mode of moral thought despite the tremendous amount of technological advancement.
Technology allows for developments in morality - but they're not always in developments in the same direction (after all, the Atomic bombings of Japan were seen as the moral route to ending the war in the public eye in the 1940s when a mere decade later the thought of anyone pressing "the red button" was the single greatest moral fear on Planet Earth).
We are now at a point where post-modernism (the moral paradigm) is deconstructing the modernist institutions that lead to technological advancement.
I pose the question: might this reverse the feedback loop?
Might we begin to stop innovating at a time when we begin to deconstruct our society, all under the guise of morality?
If this is correct time may flow backwards and we may go back towards a dark age while still possessing insanely powerful technology.
Though Dr. Henriques posits another possible future - that technology simply continues to accelerate past our ability to keep pace morally or intellectually.
The topic is insanely deep (several books wouldn't begin to cover the depth of this topic, so I won't try to dig any deeper here today). That said, this certainly creates an opening for the meta-modernists to fix a rather large problem.
The central question seems to be: Can we find a way to develop morally as fast as develop technologically? And can we do that in a way that creates solutions to critiques, rather than utilizing critique as a weapon on the system itself?