Many with more developed and complex intellects have taken on the task of defining the zeitgeist of their times. However that deficit has not blocked attempts to climb other steep slopes.
As a counter to the theory that great men/women make history, the “spirit of the times” articulates the view that we are all generated by a period of history, complete with its own art, literature, music, architecture, and technology. As part of that period of history, Hegel posits, we are conditioned to express its spirit, temper, tone and rhythm.
Some would point and have even pointed to examples of writing and artistic expression, following the post-moderns, that focuses on the escape from political tyranny that exploded some decade ago. Others reflect on the dynamic that links, combines, mixes, integrates more than one genre fusing them into one or more of an array of colours, sounds, scents, beats and shapes. Hybrids have dominated the industrial production model for a few decades, and the archetype has been borrowed, stolen, abrogated or even championed in many other fields.
With the new capacities of technology, many scientists in laboratories (too often funded exclusively by specific corporations seeking new products in their insatiable quest for profits) are learning new traits of specific genes thereby transforming the treatment of various diseases. The convenience and obsolescence motifs of the last half of the twentieth century, including the alienated and invisible man in a grey flannel suit, the flower children of Haight Ashbury, and the LSD culture of Timothy Leary, have given way to the instant and ubiquitous communication devices which now connect nearly every person on the planet, and connect all their users to uber vacuums owned and operated by some very large corporations. These corporations now have the capacity to gallop gazillions of bytes of information on every person who uses one of their devices and the governments in which these corporations operate are almost literally emasculated in their power of governance to limit the scope and the penetration of the digital appetite.
In fact, there is growing evidence that corporations through various methods including but not restricted to their political “investments” of cash, practically control the people who have been elected to provide laws for the benefit of the nation (state, province, city, town township) given the level of influence and impact of the corporate behemoths.
Is the zeitgeist of the first two decades of the twenty-first century the almost complete take-over of the geopolitical and the global economic system?
Is the zeitgeist of these two decades more to be found in the rise of religious ideologies of intolerance masquerading as theology, in the worship of idols of interpretation of select holy texts, given the failure of millions of the world’s population to read at a level that can and will challenge the literalism of these zealots?
Is the zeitgeist of our time more to be found in the apathy and ennui of the many millions currently living in what have been traditionally called democracies, given the level of manipulation by those in office and those seeking political office and the large cheque books they have to purchase even more seductive advertising and public relations?
Or, (and we consider this to be more than a mere symptom of the many issues currently stampeding both the battlefields and the headlines,) have we lost our poetic impulse, reducing our lives to literal, evidential, dogmatic and contentious disputes that want immediate resolution, even if that resolution requires a bullet to achieve? We have let loose the dogs of what used to be the agents of compromise, civility, balance and order: the lawyers, accountants and the militarists.
It really does not matter which public issue. These conditions attach to all: the lack of nuance, and of connotative and symbolic comprehension and expression on the issue, regardless of whether the voices come from the ‘pro’ or the ‘con’ side of the debate. All positions are so rigid, so fixed and so resistant to compromise and amendment that there are really only two positions, in most of our public discourse,
Binary has morphed into bi-polar, into either-or, and into what was once considered an intellectual insult, Manicheanism. Adolescence, or perhaps even pre-puberty is our deliberately chosen zeitgeist, our collective “crowd-sourcing” of the lowest common denominator.
We have not only thereby compromised our common goals and the many complimentary roads to achieving those goals. We have also eliminated much of the potential for sharing responsibility for planning, strategy and execution of joint processes, international agreements, collaborations that could and only would begin to confront threats like global warming and climate change, religious fundamentalism and its many and nefarious ramifications of alienation, revenge, conflict and even war with all of its fatalities, the most important one being the truth.
Looking down the telescope backwardly will only provide a minimalist view of both the seriousness of our problems and the narrowest range of options for solutions.
Even the historic forges of complexity and diversity and critical thinking, imagination, unorthodoxy, eccentricity, frontiership, and courage, the universities and especially their liberal arts departments are suffering the kind of atrophy that accompanies altzheimers patients. The churches, too, have permitted themselves to be taken over by the fundamentalists, the literalists and the bigots. The television and movie systems have become dominated by increasingly exaggerated scenes of violence and sexuality. Gone is subtlety, nuance, metaphor, and all of the many other literary devices that require, even demand, a variety of perceptions, interpretations, and a creative and critical examination, as the lifeblood of their continuing existence.
Little wonder that manners have disappeared, literally, from our streets and walkways, where, upon encountering another, you can count on their refusal to adjust to accommodate your path along with their own, on the same sidewalk. Little wonder that a Canadian soldier returns from a tour of duty in Afghanistan complaining about how “Canadian” were his superiors in surrendering the most advantageous encampment right in the centre of the village, where they could observe all potential threats. Politeness gone off the rails!
What he failed to express was the utter failure of both his superiors and their masters to seek and to find other than military methods to confront the Taliban and the Islamic extremists.
We are spending ourselves into a culture that is not life-sustaining, but rather is spiritually, psychologically and emotionally paralyzing and even death-inducing on all levels.
And we are doing it with our eyes wide open.
Our collective security on this planet is much more complicated than the vagaries of success that confront a professional sport coach, where winning is the only thing, and the methods of achieving sports success, as well as the trophy of the championship brings only more fame, status, and money.
Survival of all of the most indigent and most impoverished and most destitute among us is the only goal worthy of our efforts, and that not at a mere existence level but at a level of dignity, respect and collaboration that must be achieved in order to succeed for our grandchildren.