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..:: Post Modernism ::..

By

Alan Schneider

                                                                                                                         

              Although authorities differ on the criteria they apply to distinguish the advent of the Post-Modern cultural era, and hence the onset of the phenomenon, it can generally be placed at or near the late 1970s to early 1980s – essentially coinciding with the first presidency of Ronald Reagan in the United States. Reagan began his first term in office with a demonstration of the kind of discriminatory political agenda that typified both of his terms – the suppression of the federal air traffic controllers strike by terminating all of those individuals and replacing them with an entirely new staff of significantly lower-paid newcomers. This was the reality of “Reaganomics” in action – a callous disregard for human rights coupled with the conveniently amoral exploitation of the public, all justified by a murky “supply-side” economic rational, itself questionably supported by unsubstantiated monetarist theory. And this was also the very fitting introduction to the beginning of the Post-Modern socio-economic era, and the adjoining phenomenon of the replacement of the reality of general economic prosperity (at least in the Western world) with the illusion of that prosperity, accompanied by real socio-economic decline, diminishing expectations, and lifestyle fragmentation, particularly affecting the then-robust middleclass strata of the period. In the guise of championing the middleclass value system, Reagan functionally dismembered it, and transferred the resources of the thus assaulted American middleclass to his real constituents – the wealthy and ultra-wealthy upper classes.  

            Socio-economic decline, diminishing expectations, and lifestyle fragmentation typify the Post-Modern condition as much as any group of conditions can. Reagan recognized the challenge posed by a truly independent and empowered middle class segment of American society to the hegemony of the wealthy culture he epitomized through his own personal affluence. And he also appreciated the desirability of the broad middle class resource base – for acquisition by the wealthy – and implicitly dedicated his presidency to the achievement of just that goal. The result was the establishment of a bimodal social structure of a tiny minority of extreme haves, a vast ocean of grotesquely underprivileged have-nots, and the permanently incapacitated, credit-crippled, and all-but-undermined middleclass culture seen today. It is noteworthy that Post-Modernism only peripherally affects the upper classes – they remain financially shielded from its circumstances as the donors of resources through credit and loans to the other remaining strata of the world mega culture, which directly bear the full brunt of the decline in all three of the key areas noted at the beginning of this paragraph.  

            The primacy of the profit motive in human affairs cannot be denied – people will take as much as they can gain access to in a given circumstance, particularly in the absence of any enlightened philosophy functioning to the contrary. And people also may not distinguish the relative levels of positivity or negativity involved in acquisition – we seem to have a tendency to consume drugs, alcohol, food, and sex with as much (or more) abandon as property, investments, and education.  It should be noted here, for the sake of fair portrayal, that the wealthy are probably simply more fortunate as consumers, enjoying privileged circumstances that enable them to consume more efficiently under conditions that any of us would probably replicate, given the opportunity.  The cause of the Post-Modern decline is seen in inherent human spiritual fallibility, not any specific cultural process in evidence now, or at any other time in history. Let us undertake a detailed examination of the collective spiritual Karma that has enabled this regrettable condition to become manifest.  

            In the scheme of Hindu cosmology, there are four ages, or cycles, of human involvement in the cosmos, referred to as Yugas. The first great age is Krita Yuga, the age of paradise on Earth. In this age, the Logos appears as His most valid form as a Yogi and Saint. The following age of Treta Yuga is somewhat more fallen in character, as the veils of Maya (worldly illusion and involvement) become more pronounced. In this age, the Logos is reduced to the form of a Pujari, a maintainer and practitioner of holy rituals and observances. In the third age of Dvapara Yuga, the Holy Form is present only implicitly as the Fire of Doomsday – remembered only as a forecast of an eventual Presence at the end of time, but still present in human consciousness.  

            We are currently living in the fourth, and presumably final, age of humanity – Kali Yuga. In this age, the Divine Presence is represented only in idealized form as the Buddha Mind – something only perceptible in deep meditation, largely unattainable to the masses of human beings, and perhaps even unheard of, as the material illusion of Maya completely overcomes human consciousness, both individually and collectively. To human beings living in Kali Yuga, the impressions of the senses and the body are reality, and the only reality. Under those circumstances, the influence of Kali as the destroyer of ego perception becomes synonymous with the fear of absolute death as the ultimate end of life and experience, and humanity lives in constant apprehension of this end. Only an ongoing sequence of fundamentally addictive life experiences is sufficient to distract attention away from the impending doom that advances toward us daily with each tick of the clock. This is life in the spiritual void, a terrible, suffocating condition when it is finally seen for what it is in terms of its impact on our consciousness. Life in Kali Yuga is Hell itself. 

            Under the influence of Kali Yuga, and the supreme materialistic intoxication of the period – one driven forward by the human ego – the eventual collapse of any and every otherwise stable social system into the Post-Modern expression is probably inevitable. To the Post-Modern mind, loving other people and using objects is the ultimate absurdity – why risk love on something as inherently unstable as a human relationship when objects appear to be so much more predictable, consistent, and reliable as sources of personal gratification? We generally do not consider the subtle truth that objects are not capable of returning our love in any sense other than the momentary distraction of our awareness, as, again, we become addicted to any process that will assist our avoidance of contacting our ego’s fear of its end. If Reagan had not appeared as a human signifier to usher in this period, then someone else most certainly would have – he was merely an interchangeable expression of the persistent ego mania that was momentarily challenged by the cultural Renaissance of the sixties and seventies, but not significantly altered in scope or intent. The demon was never really exorcized, because we were the demon ourselves, and could not see this through our material eyes. 

            The Yugas are, of course, allegories of the levels of consciousness that affect the human condition at all times – not just during the periods they pertain to in the Hindu Vedic Scriptures. We have simply become captivated by machines as the ultimate objects since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, and by science as the ultimate theology, the “God” who gave us those machines. This captivation may be the ultimate manifestation of Kali Yuga. The other Yugas are nonetheless still very present today, even the paradise of Krita Yuga, where we can see and love God standing right before us in the embodiment of the Yogi, as a living Saintly consciousness, but the material condition, as augmented by the Machine Age, blocks our ability to perceive and live in their states of consciousness. Perhaps Kali herself is a mechanism of perception, one rendered inevitable and necessary by the ego’s infatuation with itself and its toys! One is struck by the First Commandment of Christianity – “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all of thy Heart, all of thy Mind, and all of thy Spirit” – the love of God is seen here as the utmost requirement of spiritual life, transcending all others, and this is love for not merely another limited human entity, but a supernatural Being existing in the personification of the purified Soul – concepts as far removed from material objects as is conceivable.  This is the expression of love that can carry us beyond Kali, and through the darkness of Kali Yuga as well!

            Something inherently present in the matrix of the human mind called the Machine Age, Kali Yuga, and finally Post-Modernism, into manifestation. What is this process that seems to eternally drive us forth to invent more and more mechanisms that we then become hypnotized by and addicted to? What is this great discontent present in the flesh, which grants us no rest?  

            If we begin by examining the first “machines” used by human beings – possibly, for example, the wheel and the bow – some clues to the nature of this psychological force can be found.  What do the wheel and bow have in common? They both intrinsically depersonalize the experience of living through making that experience more convenient. The wheel made the transportation of large, heavy loads possible without dragging, but dragging a load was a much more personal (if difficult) experiential process. The bow made the act of killing an animal or enemy at a distance possible, rendering the need for face-to-face, hand-to-hand contact less critical, but these original aspects of hunting and combat were also of the utmost personal character. Even throwing a rock as a missal, or swinging a club, was still significantly more contractual than firing an arrow at a distant target. It would seem that our first experiences as sentient organisms must have been oppressively personal in the extreme – life was continually “in our faces” as we struggled for survival at every turn with the odds heavily weighted against us. Under these conditions, tool use accomplished two very important things: it gave us clear survival advantages, and, possibly even more importantly, it reduced the negative psychological impact of daily life on the individual by interposing an object between the person and  personal experience as a buffer. To sum things up – sentient self-awareness emerged into a living condition of pure, shear sensory agony, and tool use medicated that condition. If one is in enough pain, any relief is a blessing, and consistent relief is even more so.  

            However, the issue at the absolute foundation of this discussion is yet to be explored. If Karma is the driving force behind the actions in the world, including physical and spiritual evolution, why did sentience and its inevitable partner, suffering, appear in the first place? Why did the mammalian brain evolve to the size and complexity required to experience self and others? Why not simply plateau at some stage of development prior to the emergence of full sentience? And if Karma is an expression of the Divine Will, why then did that Will create the universe, and place humanity in it as the full perceivers of experience? 

            Even considering all of the Yugas, the human organism and human awareness are clearly still in their infancy when viewed from the perspective of the cosmic time scale. We have barely just begun to exist and perceive, and this at what remains the most primitive of levels. I must suggest here that our evolution –  the  evolution of conscious awareness – has just begun. At our current stage, we are still semi-intelligent, rationating animals, and our version of sentience is just present enough to sustain the most primitive type of self-awareness – that of limited perception in linear time. We still have a long, long way to go on the evolutionary path to the Divine level that most of us cannot even imagine, let alone experience. But this is nonetheless a beginning – the race of humanity has been created out of the pre-conscious darkness of lumbering biological tissue.  

            We cannot, in most cases, see into the future and know, thereby, what will come to pass as the evolution of consciousness hopefully continues. From the perspective of our old nemesis, the ego, the future is like the past – nonexistent.  Only the moment of sensory experience is “real” as it boils forth in the eternal dance of creation and destruction – the Dance of Shiva in Hinduism. A few of us have learned to probe beyond the ego and extend our consciousness into other, tantalizing realms of perception, and this activity may well indicate the future path of consciousness evolution, but it is almost certainly too soon to tell what the outcome of extended psychic experience will be – again, we are so new and young and vulnerable.  I personally suspect that the Ages – the  Yugas – have been inverted in their sequence by the Sages in some curious quirk of perception, and that Kali Yuga is the first age of humanity, not the last, and that Krita Yuga represents our eventual destiny as spiritual beings walking the path of conscious perception. There may come a time when all of the apparent agonies of the flesh are seen by our descendents as the transitory ripples of spiritual evolution along the way to God Realization and Cosmic Consciousness. Let us have hope in this as our eventual destiny while we struggle along today through Kali Yuga and the Post-Modern condition!

                                          - With Love, Alan -

                                  (CR2008, Alan Schneider)

 

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