Enlightenments Wake: Politics and Culture at the Close of the Modern Age
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Sort order. A brilliant exposition of the limitations of Enlightenment ideas about social, economic, and political life. Gray is the best articulator that I've read of the fact that "free markets" and "democracy" are much worse than useless when applied to societies whose institutions and identities just aint like that. Jul 13, Rhys rated it liked it. Gray's critique of Enlightenment ideologies and endorsement of a more pragmatic 'pluralism' is more timely today than when the book was first written twenty years ago.
Better, he says, to accept differences in values between communities defined as sharing a culture and work to find political compromises that enhance peace. Ironically, 'peace' becomes Gray's E Gray's critique of Enlightenment ideologies and endorsement of a more pragmatic 'pluralism' is more timely today than when the book was first written twenty years ago. I do agree, however, that it "is difficult to envisage any path through the nihilism of contemporary Western culture which does not begin by clearing away the humanist conception of humankind's privileged place among other forms of life on the earth.
Such a clearing is a necessary prelude to practices in which human beings seek to find harmony with the earth, rather than to master it, and devise technologies which assist them in this practice, instead of expressing their will to power" p.
Very interesting take on what our current times represent. Specially how the Enlightenment project has set up its own demise. This has occurred, among other causes, due to the inability of rationality to deal with value pluralism. The main example is then focused on the US and on how there liberalism, one of the many outcomes of the enlightenment, has become a secular religion, with its dogma set on market institutions.
He identifies the neoliberal project as the greatest contemporary threat to human well-being. He does not equivocate. Yet over time it may come to rival it in the suffering that it inflicts.
Email required. Password required. Create an account Forgot your password? The reason Gray worried about this problem was simple.
Increasingly artificial economic growth was masking a rising political risk in the West. Human need was being treated, by neo-liberal ideologues and their acolytes in government, finance, and industry, as senseless unless it satisfied the illusion of constant economic growth.
The ideology ruthlessly and unreflectively deployed market institutions as instruments, ignoring the centrifugal effect the stampede would have on the very social fabric it was supposed to be serving. When the music stopped, and market institutions failed as they inevitably do, the wreckage of social and political life would pose, among a litany of consequences ignored or downplayed by market ideologues, an increasing risk to domestic civil peace.
In the decade since these risks have only grown and begun to erupt. Its most visible expressions are in Trumpism in the US, Brexit in the UK, and the rise of the far-right and growing socio-political unrest in much of Europe and many other parts of the world.
Enlightenment's Wake: Politics and Culture at the Close of the Modern Age by John N. Gray
Australia enjoys heavily diluted versions of these trends for now, but a stationary economy and a catalogue of external threats to it portend for permanently anxious times. These expressions, moreover, are symptoms of precisely what Gray had warned of in that neo-liberal market fundamentalism had rendered both progressive and conservative projects, for which a renewable cultural life based in historical and institutional memory is the essential matrices, moribund as viable socio-political projects — leaving the polities of the West, with increasingly ephemeral and stationary economies, vulnerable to every type of disfunction imagined and unimagined.
Gray identified the primary political agenda for reasoned public discourse in Western countries as the discovery and negotiation of a new regime of sufficiency in resource distribution, one which would reflect the extant circumstance of the quest for full employment without, and with rapidly dropping levels of, full-time employment. The high levels of mobility and low levels of security and certainty, which became the new normal for working people, had centrifugal effects on the social fabric, as could have been, and was, predicted.
But this discovery and negotiation through reasoned public discourse did not materialize. In its place, a combination of denial, distraction, equivocation, and scapegoating has subsumed political life in most of the polities in which an honest reckoning is most needed. A new regime, however, of sufficiency in societal resource distribution is nonetheless being negotiated.
Not in public and not through reasoned discourse, but through stealth, divergence, and in many cases, involving outright theft. The cover for this new regime emerged in an unexpected place. The accelerating pace of technological change, enabled and driven by unfettered market forces calibrated to maximize output at any and all cost, produced a by-product unanticipated by its chief engineers which soon found a novel and increasingly pivotal utility.
The by-product is the way in which the destruction of historical and institutional memory by technological churn for its own sake resulted, not in the rejection of market fundamentalism by the polities of the West, but in their ever-increasing dependence on it for the sustainment of divergence and delay. Polities have found that contrary to much of what would still pass for political theory in most universities, no overthrow of ruling elites has come with the melioristic theft of generational wealth which has accompanied the stagnation of economic activity and now, with market failures rising, heavy losses and declining living standards among working people in Western countries.
Can the Digital Fix What the Digital Breaks?
Instead, the thinnest veneer of public relations, managed via the harlequinade of political disfunction, has sufficed to keep the civil peace while a new regime of resource allocation is rolled out. The novel component of this divergence strategy is located at the human-computer interface — now primarily the mobile digital device and its attention harvesting platforms.
The digital age converged with the failure of market institutions in the West at an opportune time for stakeholders in the status quo.