Postmodernism (?) and the civic soul.

Every specialisation adopts expressions it calls its own, and then gives those expressions a special meaning, which no-one else can understand. (When you go to your Doctor and he boldly diagnoses you with Gastroenteritis remember that’s just old fashioned tummy ache.) It’s like when you were a kid and you and your mate had a special language, you were part of a gang and it felt good to exclude others. It made you feel special. Unfortunately such actions cause more harm than good.

‘Post-modernism’ is a term bandied about by academics and contemporary philosophers. It is a hugely irritating term because its intent seems to be to obscure and add vagueness to any discussion. No-one can agree on what it precisely means but it is a historical term (maybe) describing a period of history. Some argue that modernity ended in the mid 1950s and every thing since has been in the period of post-modernity and others argue this didn’t happen until the 1980s, so its all a bit confusing. When discussing culture and art post-modernity has a whole different meaning but we won’t go there, save to say that when someone says ‘that’s post-modern’ they 1. don’t really have anything to say 2. are being ironic or 3. want to sound like they know what they are talking about.

So what does post-modernism have to do with civic society and social contribution? Well for a start we won’t call it post-modernism, we’ll call it the modern era. And what has happened can be summed up as the loss of certainty. With the rise of relativism and the general decline of religion, faith in almost everything has taken a massive blow during the modern era (1950+). This includes faith in the social and unfortunately the developing lack lustre attitude towards government in general seems to have infected our attitude towards the civic society.

The ‘civic society’ is not a term one hears much, save for on late news shows, or specialised radio programmes. The point is it was once an integral part of being a person: to believe in civic duty and in contributing to a social core, not an individualistic one. The last great expression of the civil society was the Second world war, and the home front. That sense of right over wrong, on such a fundamental scale, will not be felt again. As such no nation will ever be as willing to submerge itself in ‘total war’ again, not willingly anyway. And that isn’t a bad thing. People are more apt to consider the causes of conflict more than they once were. Yet at the same time communal spirit has taken the harshest of blows and there seems to be a general trend towards the self. There have always been those which seek to dominate the other, but often the other were a group united: now they are a group in conflict with themselves and even more vulnerable than before. In general civic contribution now stands apart from our every day lives. Few of us take part in activities that are communal in nature and we treat the voluntary as something exceptional, not conventional. And although there are many communal groups they are all fractured and they all vie for limited resources. The decline of the trade union movement is an expression of this. When the ‘civic society’ is mentioned in the modern era treat it with some cynicism for while it has never existed in an absolute sense (there have been many failures) it is now a hi-jacked expression and one which is part of a sophisticated form of impression management.

One thought on “Postmodernism (?) and the civic soul.

  1. I think it is no accident that “civic society” has gone the way of the Dodo.

    The disunity, the individual isolationism of this phase of the modern era, has been and is being fostered by the ruling class.

    A society divided by self-interest and distracted by conflict over manufactured “wedge issues” is far easier to control and manipulate.

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