Jimmy Winokur
Ideas and Quotations

On Modernity
and Related Matters

 

Website Home

 


 

On Other Ideas:    
On Creativity
 On Love
 
this page> On Modernity and Related Matters
On Learning, Teaching and Law
 On Jews: Israel, Anti-Semitism

Mind, Emotions, Human Nature

Spirit
___

 

Poetry
Song Lyrics

Website Index

 

Jean Shepherd
 on "Creeping Meatballism"

  •  
  •  

    It is modernity which has caused everyday life to degenerate into "the everyday."
    Michel Trebitsch, quoted in Wired 5.06 @ 109 (1997).
     

     

    [O]f one thing I am sure: the enormous potentialities for diversity in nature's bounty and [people's] 
    capacity to differentiate their experience can become valued by the individual himself, so that he will 
    not be tempted and coerced into adjustment or, failing adjustment, into anomie. The idea that 
    [people] are created free and equal is both true and misleading: people are created different; 
    they lose their social freedom and their individual autonomy in seeking to become like each other.

    David Riesman, The Lonely Crowd 307 (abr. ed. 1961)



     

     

    [T]he chief problem of people in the middle decade of the twentieth century is emptiness 
    […’a state closely allied to apathy…’]….  The human being cannot live in a condition of emptiness  
    for very long: if he is not growing toward something, he does not merely stagnate; the pent up 
    potentialities turn into morbidity and despair, and eventually into destructive activities…..  The 
    feeling of emptiness…generally comes from people’s feeling that they are powerless to do anything 
    effective about their lives or the world they live in.
    Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself (1953)
     
    top


    [In the Modern Age of advanced technology, people have a contradictory sense of being] powerless 
    in the face of the juggernaut of impersonal power that surrounds and molds us .... It is not surprising 
    that the listener [to these promises of the Modern Age] is confused at times whether he is the anointed 
    one, the recipient of all the blessings from these genii -- or just the dumb fall-guy?  And of course he is 
    both. …..In all of these promises of great power and freedom, a passive role is expected of the citizen 
    who is the recipient. Not only in the medium of advertising, but in matters of education, health, 
    and drugs, things are done to and for us by the new inventions; our role, however subtly put, is to 
    accept the blessing, and be thankful.

    Rollo May, Love and Will  (1969)     

       

     


     

    Today, the physicists who participate in watching the most formidable and dangerous weapon of all time... cannot desist from warning and warning again: we cannot and should not slacken in our efforts to make the nations of the world and especially their governments aware of the unspeakable disaster they are certain to provoke unless they change their attitude towards each other and towards the task of shaping the future. We helped in creating this new weapon in order to prevent the enemies of mankind from achieving it ahead of us. Which, given the mentality of the Nazis, would have meant inconceivable destruction, and the enslavement of the rest of the world...

    Albert Einstein
    voice Click here for a 97 K .mp3 file.


    I have become rather like King Midas, except that everything turns not into gold but into a circus."

    Albert Einstein

     

    The rise of the formal concert hall in the nineteenth century gradually put an end to concert improvisation.  
    The Industrial Age brought with it an excessive emphasis on specialization and professionalism in all 
    fields of living.  Most specialization and professionalism in all fields of living.  Most musicians confined 
    themselves to the note-for-note playing of scores written by a handful of composers who somehow had 
    access to the mysterious and godlike creative process.  Composition and performance became progressively 
    split from each other, to the detriment of both.  Popular and classical forms also became ever more split 
    from each other, again to the detriment of both.  The new and the old lost their continuity.  We entered a 
    period in which concert goers came to believe that the only good composer was a dead composer. 

    Steven Nachmanovitch, Free Play: Improvisation in Art and Life  (1990)


     

     

    No technological achievements can mitigate the disappointment of modern man, his loneliness, his feeling of inferiority,
    and his fear of war, revolution and terror. Not only has our generation lost faith in Providence but also in man himself,
    in his institutions and often in those who are nearest to him.

    Isaac Bashevis Singer
     

     

      It is difficult to evaluate the trade-off between our society's bountiful wealth and freedom, and the 
    corresponding attenuation of bonds between the individual and the context which provided personal 
    identity in earlier times….[A] more satisfying balance is possible between our present wealth and 
    relative liberty from external control and our forebears' comforting sense of rootedness in a context 
    where each person's unique identity was specifically manifest to the community. Such a balance 
    requires moderation in applying the fundamentally sound capitalist and individualist principles upon 
    which the transformation from feudal to modern society was based.

    Traditional liberalism has supported this transformation to modernity with its conception of the individual newly free from traditional social restraints, as in control of his or her own property, and as able to transfer any part of it on whatever terms he or she chooses.  Economic wealth and personal freedom were promoted by a generic exaltation of each individual's subjective will, exercised to exploit an ever-widening catalogue of entitlements.  But in thus honoring equally the will of each individual . Traditionalism has tended, ironically,  to abstract personhood and to conceive of persons as fungible. This parallels the progressive commodifcation  and abstraction of property as external objects upon which individual will operates. These processes of  abstraction -- separating people from things and rendering both increasingly fungible in modern thinking -- are abetted by
    technological sophistication in measurement, and by the concomitant influence of  non-normative, quantitative, and scientific analysis .

    The same transformation which has so atomized the various components of modern society, and thereby placed at our fingertips a cornucopia of material affluence, has also brought a new dilemma of personal identity…. Against this backdrop, personal identity requires not only connection of the individual to the world outside, but also a sense that one can shape one's own life by one's own unique values, rather than merely conform to the values of others.

    James L. Winokur, 
    The Mixed Blessings of Promissory Servitudes:
    Toward Optimizing Economic Utility, Individual Liberty, and Personal Identity
    ,
    1989 Wisconsin Law Review 1, 69-71.
     

    top
     

         
     

    JLW Comment on the following:
    Almost a quarter-century  before publishing the excerpt above as a college senior, I wrote about  what turns out to have been a battle in academia over what my Mixed Blessings piece decried:  the abstraction so characteristic of modernity, as "abetted by technological sophistication in measurement, and by the concomitant influence of non-normative, quantitative, and scientific analysis". First, before quoting that college paper, here is  a current definition and comment on the crucial term "fungibility":

    Fungibility is the quality of interchangeability.  Two items are fungible if fully interchangeable.  A good example is a dollar bill.  On the other hand,  an LP vs. on a CD vs. an MP3 file each containing the same music are much less  fungible.   Disadvantages  of too readily treating subjects of analysis - especially human beings -- as  fungible -were concerning me at an early stage.  Reality is so often distorted or concealed by analysis -- surveys, polls, etc. -- consisting solely of numbers!  Mere quantification may work for reelection campaigns, but it does not explain political and social truth or insight.  The very term "social sciencereflects the misguided aspirations of academics studying social and political life, attempting  to compete with the supposedly 'more prestigious' hard sciences.  But these subjects -- social and political life -- are not hard science.  That recognition should not demean the study.  It would, instead, make the study more accurate and more useful.

         
     

    With these comments in mind, here is the excerpt from my honors paper in Political Science, 1965, as a college senior:

         In recent years, …controversy among political scientists…[has boiled down to] a two sided conflict between traditionalists -- who seek to continue the descriptive or intuitive studies that have characterized the discipline  -- and the "wave of the future" or behaviorists -- who express dissatisfaction with the intuitive and therefore subjective descriptions of the traditionalists. Influenced by the increased emphasis on "pure fact" as "truth,"  the rapidly rising status of the natural sciences, and the scientific systematization of other "social sciences," 
    the behaviorists have sought a change within political science to "scientific" methods of investigation [relying heavily on statistical analysis of empirical data] similar t o those used in the natural sciences….

    [A]nalysis of the descriptive and behaviorist methods leads to the unhappy conclusion that neither method really measures up…. For while the behaviorist method provides…well ordered, verifiable information, it is unable to deal wit h leadership behavior or to report adequately the intangible moods and emotions of  politics…. [T]he inadequacies … are largely the results of narrow conceptions of political inquiry, especially on the part of the behaviorists. Thousands of pages have been written about political science arguing whether and how "pure truth" could be uncovered.  [These] discussions have made the dangerous error of confining their thinking to absolutes, attaching little value to approaching truth compared with great value for achieving it…. Scientific methods of investigation are excellent and valid ends…, but only as far as they take us….   "Behaviorist" study is not always the most useful approach…. Until political scientists realize this,  and construct their systems of knowledge to include findings by thoughtful intuitive scholars in areas unripe for scientific study, the structure of political knowledge will be woefully incomplete.

    James L. Winokur, Political Science Honors Seminar Mid-Year Paper, Fall. 1965

         


    You know that! ... People are fungible.

    Donald Rumsfeld,
    Secretary of Defense
    Weekly Pentagon Press Conference on the Iraq War, April 2004


     

       
     

     

     

     

    Google founders founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin,, speaking in 2004:

    “[Google]  will be included in people’s brains,” said Page. “When you think about something and don’t really know much about it, you will automatically get information.”

    “That’s true,” said Brin. “Ultimately I view Google as a way to augment your brain with the knowledge of the world. Right now you go into your computer and type a phrase, but you can imagine that it could be easier in the future, that you can have just devices you talk into, or you can have computers that pay attention to what’s going on around them….”

    …Page said, “Eventually you’ll have the implant, where if you think about a fact, it will just tell you the answer.”

    Quoted in Stephen Levy, In The Plex:
    How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives

    Reviewed by James Gleick:
    How Google Dominates Us,
    NY Review of Books,
    August 18, 2011

     

     

    top

    In the American metaphysic, reality is always material reality,
    hard, resistant, unformed, impenetrable, and unpleasant.

    Lionel Trilling

     

    Modern and Postmodern
    Post-modernity was never meant to be a new age but, rather, was a twilight period of modernity -- a time to sit in judgment about the many shortfalls of the modern era....  The post-modernists asked how the world came to be locked into a death chant [comprised of, e.g., the Holocaust, Nagasaki, Hiroshima, the Gulag, Maoist reeducation camps].  .... How did the human race come ...to the point of making work the very definition of a person's existence?  When and why did materialism become a substitute for idealism and consumption metamorphose from a negative to a positive term?

    The post-modernists looked to modernity itself as the culprit.... The European Enlightenment, with its vision of unlimited material progress, came in for particular rebuke, as did market capitalism, state socialism, and nation-state ideology.... The very ideas of objective reality, irreversible linear progress, and human perfectibility were too rigidly conceived....

    The new generation of scholars was leery of overarching grand narratives and single minded utopian visions that attempted to create a unified vision of human behavior.  Modern thought became dismissive of any other points of view....  It was the stifling nature of these grand visions and utopian ideas about how people were expected to behave and act in the world    that the 60s generation had rebelled against.... The post-modernists ...argued that there is no one single perspective but, rather, as many perspectives of the world as there are individual stories to tell...a potpourri of cultural experiments, each of value.

    Post-modern thought didn't make significant inroads into what we call middle America.  It has always been more influential in Europe.  Over half of all Americans are devoutly religious -- more than any other industrialized people -- and they just don't buy the idea of a relativist world. ...  More secular Americans, while not wedded to an overarching religious frame of reference, are generally committed to another all-encompassing vision -- the Enlightenment idea of history as the steady and irreversible advance of material progress....

    Political analysts divide America into two cultural camps, the reds and the blues, ...the former reflecting  ...conservative religious values while the latter are far more liberal and cosmopolitan.  What the pollsters miss is that a majority of Americans, red and  blue, ascribe to an American way of life t5hat is steeped in modernist ideology.  Even the blues, with greater tolerance for other perspectives, are inclined to believe there is an overarching purpose to the human journey and a right way to live in the world. 

    Europeans...have been more eager to critique the basic assumptions of modernity.... Their willingness has much to do with the devastation wrought by two world wars and the specter of a continent lying in near ruins in 1945 as a result of blind adherence to utopian visions and ideologies.  .... European intellectuals, understandably, led the charge against the modernity project.  They were anxious to make sure that the old dogmas would never again take them down the road to destruction.

    Jeremy Rifkin, The European Dream, 4-6 (2004)

     

     

     

     

     


    Our present economic, social and international arrangements
    are based, in large measure, upon organized lovelessness.

    Aldous Huxley (1948)
     

     

     

    Fears of image-making and jeremiads against inauthenticity rest on the faulty assumption
    that images are distinct from reality….These aren’t shadows cast upon a cavern wall,
    but the stuff of political reality itself

    David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image, suggesting that the distinction between the “real” Nixon or Kennedy vs. the “image” of each is not nearly so neat and clean as we had come to think, in these years when political image- making has progressively become more overt. 
    Quoted in Louis Menand,
    Masters of the Matrix: Kennedy, Nixon and the Culture of the Image, The New Yorker (2004).  
     

    And Menand agrees: 

    A manufactured event is somehow true and not true.  John Kerry on the motorcycle, George Bush on the flight deck: the knowledge that these perfectly real things are also "images" whose "reality" should be regarded with skepticism is part of their content.  Everyone knows "it's just an image."  But what, exactly, does that mean?
     


     

     

         

    Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

    I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat 
    of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
    I have a dream today.

    I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.  

    I have a dream
    that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be 
    revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

    …     So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! 
    But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

    When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

    Martin Luther King, Jr. , " I Have A Dream"
    .
    ..on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial
    to the historic March on Washington D.C.,
    August 28, 1963.

    Please see related materials on Ideas - Jewish: Anti-Semitism

     

       

    Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight.  I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis, TN, in support of  striking sanitation workers  -- on April 3, 1968 — the day before he was assassinated.          

     

       

    It was an epic vision  that's both ethnic and all-inclusive . 
    It's that it's Negroid without being exclusive. 
    That's the thing about him that's so remarkable.     
    And with Duke Ellington, it was always, "Hey!  Come on in!" 
    There was a kind of welcoming quality that you associate
    with the highest form of civilization, I would suggest. 

    See, because civilization, in a certain sense,
    can be reduced to the word "Welcome". 

    Stanley Crouch,
    in Ken Burns' JAZZ,
    Episode 4:
    "The True Welcome" (1929-1935)

     

       

                     

     

           

    In mid-century America, the class that inspired the Beats was nonexistent.  There was only the great middle class, and somewhere off to the side, the rich, still benignly known as "high society," as if wealth were an expression of membership rather than property....  Not until the sixties would middle-class America identify "the poor" as a category, and it would still be another decade before they concurred on the existence of a working class distinct from themselves.  But in the fifties the notion of class was itself politically suspect, a leftover from a discredited vocabulary of left dissent.  The "lower" class, denied a name or image, lived on in the middle class male mind as a repressed self, primitive, dissatisfied and potentially disruptive.   The Beats...were an unwanted reminder of the invisible class outside and the repressed masculine self within.  If they had been political in a conventional sense, ...they would have been less, not more, subversive in an America that knew how to label, file and dismiss its "pinkos" and Communists.  

    Barbara Ehrenreich, The Hearts of Men (1983)

           
       

         

     

       
             

    In all large corporations, there is a pervasive fear that someone, somewhere is having fun with a computer on company time. Networks help alleviate that fear.

    John Dvorak
     

    If you are on the cutting edge, you are holding the knife the wrong way.

    Anonymous (?), per Donald Simanek, Professor Emeritus
     

    A conservative is one who admires radicals centuries after they're dead.

    Leo Rosten (1908-1997)

     

     

    "Chiclet Music” in the iPod Marketplace.

    It’s great that a new song now costs exactly the same as a pack of gum and lasts exactly amount of time before it loses its flavor and you have to spend another buck. The era which finally ended whenever, yesterday – you know, that era when we portended rock was the scourge of conformity and consumerism, instead of its anointed handmaid – that era was really irritating to me.  I think it’s really good for the honesty of rock and roll and good for the country in general that we can finally see Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop for what they really were:  as manufacturers of wintergreen Chiclets.

    Having been nominated for a Grammy, I have been given the opportunity to participate in the pop-music mainstream, and manufacture Chiclets, and help try to persuade fourteen-year-olds that the look and feel of Apple Computer products in an indication of Apple Computer’s commitment to making the world a better place…And Apple Computer must be way more committed to  a better world because iPods are so much cooler looking than other MP3 players, which is way they’re so much more expensive and incompatible with other companies’ software, because – well, it’s a little unclear why, in a better world, the very coolest products have to bring the very most obscene profits to a tiny number of residents of the better world.  This may be the case where you have to step back and take the long view and see that getting your own iPod is itself the very thing that makes the world a better place.

    ....I think the iPod is the true face of Republican politics, and I’m in favor of the music industry really getting out front on this one, and becoming more active politically, and standing up proud and saying it out loud:

    We in the Chiclet-manufacturing business are nor about social justice, we’re not about accurate or objectively verifiable information, we’re not about meaningful labor, we’re not about a coherent set of national ideals, we’re not about wisdom.  We’re about choosing what WE want to listen to and ignoring everything else. We’re about ridiculing people who have the bad manners not to want to be like us.  We’re about giving ourselves a mindless feel-good treat every five minutes.  We’re about the relentless enforcement and exploitation of out intellectual property rights.  We’re about persuading ten-year-old children to spend twenty-five dollars on a cool little silicone iPod case that costs a licensed Apple Computer subsidiary thirty-nine cents to manufacture...  Me, me, me, buy buy buy, party party party. Sit in your own little world, rocking with your eyes closed.

    If you made a fortune selling Chiclets, you might as well go ahead and sell overpriced iPods, too, and get even richer, and then use your money and your status to get entrée to the White House and try to do some actual  hands-on good in Africa.  Like: be a man, suck it up, admit you like being part of the ruling class….

     

    Chiclet Music” in the iPod Marketplace.
    a rant by “Richard Katz,” fictional former lead singer of The Traumatics,
    from
    Jonathan Franzen, Freedom (2010)

     

    top