Under the post-modern onslaught, all boundaries and distinctions
rapidly fall. Some of the losses associated with the collapse of traditional
distinctions have been trivial, but others have been earthshaking, and there
seems to be no way to distinguish between the two in a post-modern context.
People no longer know where the lines fall.
Some sociologists believe we are now moving into a new and very
different type of society. The social change, that began to accelerate 300
years ago, has continued at such a pace that the theories and assumptions we
had about modern society no longer explain the society we find around us.
The main characteristic of postmodernism seems to be a loss of
faith in the ideas of the Enlightenment. It is argued by postmodernists that
people have become disillusioned with the idea that we can use science and
rational thought to make the world a better place. People have become
disillusioned with the idea of progress. There is greater understanding of
negative effects of so-called ‘progress^, such as pollution, environmental damage
and damage to human populations.
We are also seeing the disappearance of old certainties. In the past
gender roles, ethnic differences, social class differences were all clear cut
and people generally conformed to societal expectations. Today the old
distinctions are blurring and people choose who they want to be, and how they
want to behave.
Postmodernists also argue that other characteristics of modern societies
- The big production
companies making vast quantities of the same product are
becoming more diversified and there has been a growth of small companies
producing goods for very specialized markets.
- New social movements
are connecting people across traditional class and ethnic boundaries;
movements such as gay rights, environmentalism, feminism, and new
- The significance of nation
states is in decline. Today many multi-national companies
are larger and have more power than most countries, and within countries
more provision is being privatized and less is provided by the state.
- Employees are less likely to have long-term careers and jobs for
is more uncertain and there has been a big increase in part-time,
temporary and agency employment.
Despite all this evidence, the concept of a
postmodern society is a very controversial one. Many sociologists accept that
society is changing a great deal but do not accept the term postmodern. Some
sociologists, including Anthony
Giddens, prefer to describe society as in a stage of ‘late-modernity^.
Modernism always celebrated the new and
considered ideas from the past to be ‘old-fashioned^. Postmodernism borrows
from the past and combines a wide range of styles together - a ‘pick and mix^
approach. A good example of a postmodern building is a shopping centre called
the Trafford Centre, in Manchester. This looks like St Paul"s Cathedral from
the front, a Norman castle from the back, inside one section is the deck of an
ocean liner, and in another is a Victorian palm house.
Distinctions between the cultures of the
different social classes have been blurred, for example by the use of opera as
a theme tune for the football world cup. The process of globalisation has also
meant the blurring of traditional cultural boundaries. Today Coca-Cola can be
found in the remotest regions of the world.
Contemporary, or postmodern, society is
characterized by a newfound ability to control the world of nature and worlds
of illusion. It immerses people in a virtual environment of images and
simulations, and encourages the acting out of desires, including desires that
once seemed off-limits to action and experience. Ultimately, it seeks to turn
reality into a simulation and make simulations seem real, so humanity will have
the ability to control and create its surroundings at will.
How does postmodern society use this newfound
power? It certainly has used it to enormous good. But it has also used it to
create an emerging worldwide culture in which images, simulations, story lines,
performances and rhetoric are employed to manipulate the public and sell it
products, phony candidates and false ideas. Thus postmodern society turns
out to be a realm of illusion in more than one sense.
Stephen Connor says that the "concept of
postmodernism cannot be said to have crystallized until about the mid-1970"s…”.
Modernity had received some strong criticism, and it was becoming more and more
tenable to assert that the postmodern had come to stay, but it took some time
before scholarship really jumped on the bandwagon. At this point it is
important to distinguish between postmodern and postmodernism. Postmodern
refers to a period of time, whereas postmodernism refers to a distinct
ideology. As Veith points out, "If the modern era is over, we are
all postmodern, even though we reject the tenets of postmodernism.
So exactly what is postmodernism? The situation
is profoundly complex and ambiguous. But basically speaking, postmodernism is anti-foundationalism,
or anti-worldview. It denies the existence of any universal truth or
standards. Jean-Francois Lyotard, perhaps the most influential writer in
postmodern thought, defines postmodernism as "incredulity towards
metannarratives." For all intents and purposes, a metanarrative is
a worldview: a network of elementary assumptions. . . in terms of which every
aspect of our experience and knowledge is interrelated and interpreted.
Metanarratives are, according to postmodernist scholar Patricia Waugh,
"Large-scale theoretical interpretations purportedly of universal
application." The postmodernist"s, it would seem, would tolerate having a
coherent worldview so long as it is kept from being asserted as universal in
its application. This is not the case though. The goal, so to speak, of
postmodernism is to not only reject metanarratives, but also the belief in
coherence. Not only is any worldview which sees itself as foundational for all
others oppressive, belief that one may even have a coherent worldview is
rejected as well. Nevertheless, there are many worldviews around today, and the
postmodernist finds it to be his responsibility to critique, or
"deconstruct" as they call it, such worldviews and "flatten them
out," so to speak, so that no one particular approach or belief is more
"true" than any other. What constitutes truth, then, is relative to
the individual or community holding the belief.
As we have seen, for the postmodern thinker,
there are no absolute truths or foundations to work from. Properly speaking,
then, postmodernism is not a worldview per se; it does not attempt to construct
a model or paradigm that orders reality; reality alludes attempts at conformity
for the postmodernist, and so he deconstructs all attempts at creating
such absolute foundations. Modernity and Christianity debated as to which view
was true; postmodernism attacks both Christianity and modernity because they
claim to be "true." Christianity affirms certain necessary beliefs
that must be assumed in order to make sense out of the world (e.g., that the
triune God exists, that he is both transcendent and immanent, that the Bible is
his Word). Postmodernism rejects the idea that reality makes sense in any
absolute fashion, and reduces any construction to personal or cultural bias.
Truth is a social construct, pragmatically justified, so as to make it one of
many culturally conditioned approaches to the world. Postmodernism, then, is
not so much an orthodoxy (a positive belief system or worldview), as it
is an orthopraxy (a series of methods for analysis).
In continuing to remove
the possibility of any ultimate knowledge, postmodernism confuses the
traditional distinction between the subject of knowledge (the knower) and the
object of knowledge (the thing being known). Man does not sit back and
passively receive knowledge about the world; rather, man"s interpretation is,
ultimately, the way the world actually is, as it is revealed to him, or
to a culture. This confusion of subject and object has earned postmodernism the
labels of nihilism and relativism. Logic, science, history, and morality are
not universal and absolute; they are the constructs of our own experience and
interpretations of that experience.
Why do the postmodernists draw these conclusions?
As we saw above the idea that reality was orderly and that man was simply a
passive observer was called into question. Kant"s "Copernican
Revolution" in philosophy argued that the mind "brings something to
the objects it experiences . . . The mind imposes its way of knowing upon its
objects.” It is the object that conforms to the mind, not the mind to the
object. It would seem then that reality is what we perceive it to be. Charles
If in knowing an object the human mind virtually
creates knowledge, the question has been raised then, What is the external
world when it is not being perceived? Kant replied that we cannot know a
thing-in-itself (ding an sich). The world, as it exists apart from our
experience, is unknowable.
As such reality, as it really is, is unknowable.
The "thing in itself," cannot be known. The only thing that can be
known is our personal experience and our interpretation of that experience.
Since each person"s experience is all that can be known, it cannot be concluded
that man can know anything in any absolute sense. All one has is his own
finite, limited experience. Logic, science, history, and ethics are human
disciplines that must, and do, reflect human insufficiency and subjectivity.
Another reason the postmodernists draw these
conclusions comes from the fact that the existentialists, with their rejection of
rationalism and empiricism, focused philosophy on the human experience,
especially as it is communicated through language. Language is the way man
expresses these experiences of the world, therefore to understand the world, as
best we can, we must look to what is said about reality. But subjectivism is
all we can have since the best we can do is experience and interpret what
others have experienced and interpreted reality to be, and so the spiral
continues downward. Thus, for the postmodernists, any assertion of absolute
knowledge is seriously questioned and ultimately rejected. Therefore history is
seen as a series of metaphors rather than an account of events as they actually
happened. After all, the one recording the events was writing and recording the
events as he saw them. Someone else may have seen it differently had
they been there. In issues of morality no one particular view is seen as
foundational. Rather, each culture"s, and ultimately each individual"s, view on
ethics is just as valid as the next. This view is the basis for the assumptions
of "Multiculturalism," and the "Political Correctness"
movement in today"s society. Rather than affirming any one morality as
absolute, every person"s moral persuasion is to be respected no matter what it
is, and language must be revised so as to not favor any one outlook and thus
Irving Kristol, a fellow at the American
Enterprize Institute, describes the current time as "a shaking of the
foundations of the modern world."
Allen says: A massive intellectual revolution is
taking place that is perhaps as great as that which marked off the modern world
from the Middle Ages . . . The principles forged during the Enlightenment …
which formed the foundations of the modernmentality, are crumbling.
The collapse of Enlightenment Humanism is
imminent, and the attacks on it are from all angles. From religious
conservatives to scientific liberals, the desire to overhaul the
presuppositions of modernity is a shared goal, although the motives differ
greatly. Christians welcome the opportunity for credible public discourse
concerning their faith, and many scientists are eager to see a shift in
scientific outlook that will account for the anomalies that modern science has
avoided. These are exciting times, times when the church should be alert.
In a postmodern world Christianity is
intellectually relevant. With the demise of the absoluteness of human reason
and science, the super-natural, that which is not empirical, is once again open
to consideration. The marketplace of ideas is wide open, and opportunities
abound. It is important that the church understand these important times in
which it finds itself. But in addition to opening the door once again to the
Christian faith, postmodernism, with its critical apparatus, has a few lessons
for the church to learn.
What is interesting is that postmodernism strikes
at the very same thing God did: language. Without language, logic and science
are meaningless; they have no application. As we have seen, its each man for
himself in his own private world. The arrogant, pseudo-unity that man had
claimed to find was now just one of the many ways of looking at things. Logic
and science were now relative to cultural interpretation. Like the people at
the Tower of Babel, modern man has been fragmented and scattered. There is no
center of discourse any longer.
In this light perhaps the most significant
contribution of postmodernism is that it reminds us of our finitude. It reminds
us that God is creator and we are his creation. It tells us that he must be the
beginning of all of our thinking, that apart from him we could know nothing.
For our personal life, postmodernism shows us the
futility of autonomy. It forces those of us who know Christ back to the basics
of depending on Christ for everything, whether it is salvation or standards.
That in him we have meaning and purpose for our lives; he is the vine, we are
the branches, and apart from him we can do nothing.
To sum it up, postmodernism need not be seen as a
mortal enemy. In many ways it drives us back to complete and total dependence
on God. It reminds us that he is the foundation for every area of life, whether
it is logic or law. It shows us that there exist no neutral, impartial domains
that we can lean on in addition to him. Postmodernism points out that we all
have presuppositions, and that no one is unbiased. We all bring our assumptions
to our experience; each fact about the world is theory-laden. The question then
becomes, "Which presuppositions are true?" The answer is clear: the
Christian worldview is true. It alone is the only escape from subjective
nihilism, for it alone provides the necessary foundations to make the facts
intelligible. This being the case, the Christian is able to glean what is good
from postmodernism, and reject the extremes.
identity is fundamentally dependent on the mediation of the others. The self
appears to be dependent on the other in its being. It is through intercourse
with others that one finds one^s self. I am, says Hegel, a being in myself, but
only by myself through another. The individual perceives himself, in an
inseparable way, in relation to the others and in relations to himself, but
without the intervention of the others he would not be able to perceive
Apart from being
dependent on the intervention of the others in producing his own understanding
of himself, the individual is dependent on creating a positive image of himself
in order to endure himself and his surroundings. First and foremost, the
positive image of self-esteem should be brought about by and in the individual
himself, but it is dependent on the others^ gaze. Self-esteem is created
through action and negotiation with others, by committing oneself, by playing a
role for the others and for oneself. In other words, built in to the identity
as a process is a striving for self-esteem, and this self-esteem is shaped by
doing. Thus, identity is not only a matter of evoking an image of oneself. One
seeks other people^s respect and confidence. In order to become something in
one^s own eyes one must feel appreciated by others for what one is and what one
does. It is not only a matter of just being there, but of being of importance,
of making a difference.
As a result of these ingredients - technology,
human ingenuity and our own needs and desires - we have created a society in
which much of the culture and politics, as well as the economy, is geared
toward mass producing, and consuming, simulations. It is a society in which
many simulations are intended to be mistaken for the real thing. But it is also
a society in which simulations that were never meant to be misleading often end
up being mistaken for what they resemble, by accident, thus making simulation
confusion, like pollution and traffic jams, another unintended, and toxic,
byproduct of technology.
Fortunately, as simulations extend their reach,
we are developing new survival skills that help us to unmask illusions.
In societies where modern conditions of
production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles.
Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.
The images detached from
every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life
can no longer be reestablished. Reality considered partially unfolds, in its
own general unity, as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation.
The specialization of images of the world is completed in the world of the
autonomous image, where the liar has lied to himself. The spectacle in general,
as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the
The spectacle presents
itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as instrument
of unification. As a part of society it is specifically the sector which
concentrates all gazing and all consciousness. Due to the very fact that this
sector is separate, it is the common ground of the deceived gaze and of
false consciousness, and the unification it achieves is nothing but an official
language of generalized separation.
The spectacle is not a
collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.
The spectacle cannot be
understood as an abuse of the world of vision, as a product of the techniques
of mass dissemination of images. It is, rather, a Weltanschauung which
has become actual, materially translated. It is a world vision which has become
The spectacle grasped in
its totality is both the result and the project of the existing mode of
production. It is not a supplement to the real world, an additional decoration.
It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society. In all its specific
forms, as information or propaganda, as advertisement or direct entertainment
consumption, the spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life. It
is the omnipresent affirmation of the choice already made in production
and its corollary consumption. The spectacle"s form and content are identically
the total justification of the existing system"s conditions and goals. The spectacle
is also the permanent presence of this justification, since it occupies
the main part of the time lived outside of modern production.
Separation is itself part
of the unity of the world, of the global social praxis split up into reality
and image. The social practice which the autonomous spectacle confronts is also
the real totality which contains the spectacle. But the split within this
totality mutilates it to the point of making the spectacle appear as its goal.
The language of the spectacle consists of signs of the ruling
production, which at the same time are the ultimate goal of this production.
One cannot abstractly
contrast the spectacle to actual social activity: such a division is itself
divided. The spectacle which inverts the real is in fact produced. Lived
reality is materially invaded by the contemplation of the spectacle while
simultaneously absorbing the spectacular order, giving it positive
cohesiveness. Objective reality is present on both sides. Every notion fixed
this way has no other basis than its passage into the opposite: reality rises
up within the spectacle, and the spectacle is real. This reciprocal alienation
is the essence and the support of the existing society.
The concept of spectacle
unifies and explains a great diversity of apparent phenomena. The diversity and
the contrasts are appearances of a socially organized appearance, the general
truth of which must itself be recognized. Considered in its own terms, the
spectacle is affirmation of appearance and affirmation of all human
life, namely social life, as mere appearance. But the critique which reaches
the truth of the spectacle exposes it as the visible negation of life,
as a negation of life which has become visible.
To describe the spectacle,
its formation, its functions and the forces which tend to dissolve it, one must
artificially distinguish certain inseparable elements. When analyzing
the spectacle one speaks, to some extent, the language of the spectacular
itself in the sense that one moves through the methodological terrain of the
very society which expresses itself in the spectacle. But the spectacle is
nothing other than the sense of the total practice of a social-economic
formation, its use of time. It is the historical movement in which we
The spectacle presents
itself as something enormously positive, indisputable and inaccessible. It says
nothing more than "that which appears is good, that which is good appears.
The attitude which it demands in principle is passive acceptance which in fact
it already obtained by its manner of appearing without reply, by its monopoly
The basically tautological
character of the spectacle flows from the simple fact that its means are
simultaneously its ends. It is the sun which never sets over the empire of
modern passivity. It covers the entire surface of the world and bathes
endlessly in its own glory.
The society which rests on
modern industry is not accidentally or superficially spectacular, it is
fundamentally spectaclist. In the spectacle, which is the image of the
ruling economy, the goal is nothing, development everything. The spectacle aims
at nothing other than itself.
As the indispensable
decoration of the objects produced today, as the general exposé of the
rationality of the system, as the advanced economic sector which directly
shapes a growing multitude of image-objects, the spectacle is the main
production of present-day society.
The spectacle subjugates
living men to itself to the extent that the economy has totally subjugated them.
It is no more than the economy developing for itself. It is the true reflection
of the production of things, and the false objectification of the producers.
The first phase of the
domination of the economy over social life brought into the definition of all
human realization the obvious degradation of being into having.
The present phase of total occupation of social life by the accumulated results
of the economy leads to a generalized sliding of having into appearing,
from which all actual "having" must draw its immediate prestige and
its ultimate function. At the same time all individual reality has become
social reality directly dependent on social power and shaped by it. It is
allowed to appear only to the extent that it is not.
Where the real world
changes into simple images, the simple images become real beings and effective
motivations of hypnotic behavior. The spectacle, as a tendency to make one
see the world by means of various specialized mediations (it can no longer
be grasped directly), naturally finds vision to be the privileged human sense
which the sense of touch was for other epochs; the most abstract, the most
mystifiable sense corresponds to the generalized abstraction of present-day
society. But the spectacle is not identifiable with mere gazing, even combined
with hearing. It is that which escapes the activity of men, that which escapes
reconsideration and correction by their work. It is the opposite of dialogue.
Wherever there is independent representation, the spectacle reconstitutes
The spectacle inherits all
the weaknesses of the Western philosophical project which undertook to
comprehend activity in terms of the categories of seeing; furthermore,
it is based on the incessant spread of the precise technical rationality which
grew out of this thought. The spectacle does not realize philosophy, it
philosophizes reality. The concrete life of everyone has been degraded into a speculative
Philosophy, the power of
separate thought and the thought of separate power, could never by itself
supersede theology. The spectacle is the material reconstruction of the
religious illusion. Spectacular technology has not dispelled the religious
clouds where men had placed their own powers detached from themselves; it has
only tied them to an earthly base. The most earthly life thus becomes opaque
and unbreathable. It no longer projects into the sky but shelters within itself
its absolute denial, its fallacious paradise. The spectacle is the technical
realization of the exile of human powers into a beyond; it is separation
perfected within the interior of man.
To the extent that
necessity is socially dreamed, the dream becomes necessary. The spectacle is
the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing
more than its desire to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of sleep.
The fact that the
practical power of modern society detached itself and built an independent
empire in the spectacle can be explained only by the fact that this practical
power continued to lack cohesion and remained in contradiction with itself.
The oldest social
specialization, the specialization of power, is at the root of the spectacle.
The spectacle is thus a specialized activity which speaks for all the others.
It is the diplomatic representation of hierarchic society to itself, where all
other expression is banned. Here the most modern is also the most archaic.
The spectacle is the
existing order"s uninterrupted discourse about itself, its laudatory monologue.
It is the self-portrait of power in the epoch of its totalitarian management of
the conditions of existence. The fetishistic, purely objective appearance of
spectacular relations conceals the fact that they are relations among men and
classes: a second nature with its fatal laws seems to dominate our environment.
But the spectacle is not the necessary product of technical development seen as
a natural development. The society of the spectacle is on the contrary
the form which chooses its own technical content. If the spectacle, taken in
the limited sense of "mass media" which are its most glaring
superficial manifestation, seems to invade society as mere equipment, this
equipment is in no way neutral but is the very means suited to its total
self-movement. If the social needs of the epoch in which such techniques are
developed can only be satisfied through their mediation, if the administration
of this society and all contact among men can no longer take place except
through the intermediary of this power of instantaneous communication, it is
because this "communication" is essentially unilateral. The
concentration of "communication" is thus an accumulation, in the
hands of the existing system s administration, of the means which allow it to
carry on this particular administration. The generalized cleavage of the
spectacle is inseparable from the modern State, namely from the general
form of cleavage within society, the product of the division of social labor
and the organ of class domination.
Separation is the alpha and omega of the spectacle. The institutionalization
of the social division of labor, the formation of classes, had given rise to a
first sacred contemplation, the mythical order with which every power shrouds
itself from the beginning. The sacred has justified the cosmic and ontological
order which corresponded to the interests of the masters; it has explained and
embellished that which society could not do. Thus all separate power has
been spectacular, but the adherence of all to an immobile image only signified
the common acceptance of an imaginary prolongation of the poverty of real
social activity, still largely felt as a unitary condition. The modern
spectacle, on the contrary, expresses what society can do, but in this
expression the permitted is absolutely opposed to the possible.
The spectacle is the preservation of unconsciousness within the practical
change of the conditions of existence. It is its own product, and it has made
its own rules: it is a pseudo-sacred entity. It shows what it is:
separate power developing in itself, in the growth of productivity by means of
the incessant refinement of the division of labor into a parcellization of
gestures which are then dominated by the independent movement of machines; and
working for an ever-expanding market. All community and all critical sense are
dissolved during this movement in which the forces that could grow by
separating are not yet reunited.
With the generalized
separation of the worker and his products, every unitary view of accomplished
activity and all direct personal communication among producers are lost.
Accompanying the progress of accumulation of separate products and the
concentration of the productive process, unity and communication become the
exclusive attribute of the system"s management. The success of the economic
system of separation is the proletarianization of the world.
Due to the success of
separate production as production of the separate, the fundamental experience
which in primitive societies is attached to a central task is in the process of
being displaced, at the crest of the system"s development. by non-work, by
inactivity. But this inactivity is in no way liberated from productive
activity: it depends on productive activity and is an uneasy and admiring
submission to the necessities and results of production; it is itself a product
of its rationality. There can be no freedom outside of activity, and in the
context of the spectacle all activity is negated. just as real activity has
been captured in its entirety for the global construction of this result. Thus
the present "liberation from labor," the increase of leisure, is in
no way a liberation within labor, nor a liberation from the world shaped by
this labor. None of the activity lost in labor can be regained in the submission
to its result.
The economic system
founded on isolation is a circular production of isolation. The
technology is based on isolation, and the technical process isolates in turn.
From the automobile to television, all the goods selected by the
spectacular system are also its weapons for a constant reinforcement of the
conditions of isolation of "lonely crowds." The spectacle constantly
rediscovers its own assumptions more concretely.
The spectacle originates
in the loss of the unity of the world, and the gigantic expansion of the modern
spectacle expresses the totality of this loss: the abstraction of all specific
labor and the general abstraction of the entirety of production are perfectly
rendered in the spectacle, whose mode of being concrete is precisely abstraction.
In the spectacle, one part of the world represents itself to the world
and is superior to it. The spectacle is nothing more than the common language
of this separation. What binds the spectators together is no more than an
irreversible relation at the very center which maintains their isolation. The
spectacle reunites the separate, but reunites it as separate.
The alienation of the
spectator to the profit of the contemplated object (which is the result of his
own unconscious activity) is expressed in the following way: the more he
contemplates the less he lives; the more he accepts recognizing himself in the
dominant images of need, the less he understands his own existence and his own
desires. The externality of the spectacle in relation to the active man appears
in the fact that his own gestures are no longer his but those of another who
represents them to him. This is why the spectator feels at home nowhere,
because the spectacle is everywhere.
The worker does not
produce himself; he produces an independent power. The success of this
production, its abundance, returns to the producer as an abundance of
dispossession. All the time and space of his world become foreign to
him with the accumulation of his alienated products. The spectacle is the map
of this new world, a map which exactly covers its territory. The very powers
which escaped us show themselves to us in all their force.
The spectacle within
society corresponds to a concrete manufacture of alienation. Economic expansion
is mainly the expansion of this specific industrial production. What grows with
the economy in motion for itself can only be the very alienation which was at
Separated from his product, man himself produces all the details of
his world with ever increasing power, and thus finds himself ever more
separated from his world. The more his life is now his product, the more lie is
separated from his life.
The spectacle is capital to such a degree of accumulation
that it becomes an image.