Sunday, August 21, 2011

Forgotten Prophets Predicting the Dawning of a New Day

Long Sands Beach, York ME: 8/12/11   Jean Stimmell ©2011

It’s funny. I have written a lot in my blog about how the old ways are not just fraying but on the verge of collapse, spelling the demise not just of the modernist age but, perhaps, the human race. Recently I wrote a long essay analyzing what is wrong with Democrats and Republicans and, indeed, the whole modernist paradigm, while promoting Jeremy Rifkin’s visionary work on a new way forward.

No one seems interested or expressed interest in publishing my essay. I’ll take much of the blame for not writing succinctly and clearly but, beyond that, I think it is another example of our whole society behaving like an addict looking for another fossil fuel fix. Like an ostrich in denial, we are trying to come to terms with diminishing oil reserves by either burying our collective heads in the tar sands of Canada or underground in land being fracked for natural gas.

Needing a break, I looked through some books by two of my heroes. I not only got the relief I was looking for, I got re-energized – and I hope they will do the same for you, too! 

The first book I consulted was Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan where he first presented his thesis, elaborated years later in The Media is the Message, that printing technology (moveable type and the invention of the printing press) was the catalyst to creating major trends – individualism, capitalism, nationalism, and Protestantism – that resulted in the Age of Enlightenment: modernity.

In this book, published in the early 1960’s, thirty years before the internet was the gleam in any geek’s eyes, McLuhan wrote that the print culture would soon collapse to be replaced by “electronic interdependence.”⁠1 In this new age, humankind would move from individualism to a collective society with a tribal base.

McLuhan not  only made this uncanny prediction about a return to tribal society but issued the following warning which, unfortunately, has come to pass, especially after 9/11:
“Instead of tending towards a vast Alexandrian library (the old print culture), the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as in an infantile piece of science fiction. And as our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside. So, unless [we are] aware of this dynamic, we shall at once move into a phase of panic terror, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drum, total interdependence, and super-imposed co-existence.”⁠2 

While The Gutenberg Galaxy foresaw the mess we would find ourselves in, it doesn’t offer a solution – or much hope – as far as I can tell.

The second book I consulted was The Courage to Create by Rollo May, who, also writing in the 1960’s, again predicted the collapse of the modern age: “We are living at a time when one age is dying and the new age is not yet born”

But he offers us a choice: “Shall we, as we feel our foundations shaking, withdraw in anxiety and panic? Frightened by the loss of our familiar mooring places, shall we become paralyzed and cover our inaction with apathy?  Which appears to be exactly what is happening today.

Or will we self-actualize and take responsibility for creating our future: to “ consciously participate, on however small the scale, in the forming of the new society?..

As opposed to today’s  politicians and  commentators, Rollo May exposes not only the incalculable difficulty of the task ahead and the  immense courage it will take to pursue it but the heroic moment it presents to us: an exciting opportunity to access our higher selves to build a new, more humane and sustainable society from the wreckage of the old.
“We are called upon to do something new, to confront a no man’s land, to push into a forest where there are no well-worn paths and from which no one has returned to guide us. This is what the existentialists call the anxiety of nothingness. To live into the future means to leap into the nothingness…to leap into the unknown, and this requires a degree of courage for which there is no immediate precedent and which few people realize.⁠3

2 Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy.University of Toronto Press.P. 32.
3 Rollo May, The Courage to Create. W.W. Norton & Company: New York. 1975. pp. 11-12.
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