Freedom In The Post-Modern Age

Waterloo Station
The Post-Modern Condition

The terms pre-modern, modern and post-modern, are constructs solely of Western thinking in relation to the observation of history coupled with that of economic development.  In many ways, and typical of philosophical speculation, these terms are contemporary in nature and projected backward creating a perception of history defined around the Industrial Revolution which occurred in England between 1750 and 1850.  Every thing before this date falls into the definition of ‘pre-modern’ and for a time after this date – ‘modernity’ holds sway.  Following World War II, and the subsequent development of the technological age, the ‘post-modern’ era is believed to have been entered by advanced economic countries.  The definition of what exactly is meant by the terms ‘pre-modern’ and ‘modern’ varies from one academic discipline to the another, but all tend to agree that the current age is post-modern in nature.  This is to say that certain wealthy countries have created a distinct psychological and physical environment that has significantly changed the way the human mind perceives and creates reality.  It is defined by a presence of freedom that is not based upon the individual owning of wealth, or upon class privilege.  It is present, but not usually perceived by all within a society, due mainly to inherent inequalities with regard to education and employment.  This freedom, although theoretically equal for all to perceive, does not wipe away social inequalities, as these inequalities are the product of a system that is artificially created by the human mind which deliberately and inherently maintains these unjust imbalances exactly in the pursuance of individual power and class privilege.  Inequality within society is the product of the human will, whereas post-modern freedom manifests independent of the will, even though it is as much a psychological, as it is a physical phenomenon.  Post-modern freedom appears as if out of nowhere, whereas the structures of conventional society are very much the product of a contrived human behaviour pattern that is perpetuated in cycles.  Ironically, post-modern freedom has its origins in gross economic development, but it manifests independent of the means of its creation.  This observation has dramatic implications for a spiritual development that may be defined as being free of religious influence, but nevertheless provides a very real sense of ‘wholeness’ to the individual.              

Post-modern freedom is essentially an economically created freedom that is unbounded by the institutions of state, country, and international structure.  As a freedom it is not imposed by a body of law-makers from above within a political organisational, but rather appears to spontaneously manifest from below within a society.  The post-modern condition, once it is attained, continuously sprouts new, original and thoroughly unpredictable freedoms that in their very nature can not be regulated or controlled by the usual organs of state censorship, or influenced by any parliamentary procedure.  Post-modern freedom exists outside of the usual social and political constructs that have guided humanity’s cultural development for thousands of years.  In this respect this kind of new freedom is not new at all, but its apparently sudden and dramatic appearance upon the international scene is proving to be one of the biggest challenges to contemporary governments for a very long time.  This freedom is spreading forever outward from below and represents both a physical and psychological ‘space’ within which these new areas of unbounded creativity arise.  Post-modern freedom can not be adequately defined – as such a definition would render the post-modern process obsolete, effectively destroying the new freedom and reducing it to its modernistic predecessor.  Furthermore, the continuous and spontaneous manifestation that is also expanding beyond the realm of immediate understanding, actively prevents the human mind from performing its usual lazy habit of mediocre intellectualism, and demands that as the new freedom expands outwards, the human mind, that is to say the human consciousness, should expand with it.  Physically, these new freedoms generally have no state developed law forbidding their appearance, procedure, or application.  This is human conscious expansion on a remarkable level that is not induced by any mind-altering drug, or achieved through the practice of any apparent religious path.  Post-modern freedom manifests for all beings, equally, here and now.

The nature of post-modern freedom, although equally applicable to all, does not necessarily mean that it is immediately perceivable to all those who exist within its condition.  Its condition is the product, generally speaking, of advanced economic development, although on occasion such philosophies as Buddhism have been interpreted as being of a ‘post-modern’ nature.  Obviously ancient India was not in the advanced economic state that western Europe is in today, but the Buddha’s philosophy marks a stark break with the traditions of his time, and represents a clear manifestation of one particular aspect of the post-modern condition, namely that of dismissing the long narratives of history that had previously dominated Indian philosophical and spiritual thought.  West Europe, the United States of America and to a lesser extent the emerging central and eastern European states, are the product of hundred of years of economic development that has created nothing less than a revolution in the material structure of outward society that has seen the remarkable establishment of science and medicine over that of the theology of monotheistic religion.  This state of industrialisation and technological development, regardless of its inherent inequalities has nevertheless created an extensive collective wealth that has raised the level of physical and psychological existence.  Indeed, the initial period of this development is viewed as modernistic, and represents a time of radical extension of logic into all realms of human endeavour, added and abetted by the pursuit of monetary profit.  Modern logic, through its ingenuity, easily dominated the peoples of the world as it spread throughout the globe, as their societies, existing as they did in their pre-modern forms, were unable to cope with the encountering of this new human development in organisation.  Traditional modes of behaviour, coupled with the use of traditional weaponry, were unable to defend the pre-modern human groupings from the sheer combative forces of modernity at the point of first contact.  Organised logic, with its inherent over-view of events, gave an advantage that superseded the local mindset that defined pre-modern society.  Pre-modern societies were predictable in the eyes of the new modernistic thinkers and organisers.  The limited logic of the pre-modern human groupings was not able to predict or understand the scope of modernistic thinking.  Local logic was, of course, capable of many interesting and essential developments (developments referred to as ‘traditional thinking’ today), but these developments remained both psychologically and physically of a very limited nature.  If a human grouping could be beaten in open warfare, then the modernistic approach could rule with an unquestioned authority.  Indeed, this perception became justifying premise behind western European imperialism.

Even with cultures such as those of China and Japan, which saw pre-modern organisation developed to a very high degree of physical and psychological sophistication, the encountering with the West, particularly in the case of China, was ultimately disastrous.  Japan responded to the corrosive presence of European military and business interests by ‘banning’ all contact with the West, at a time when the West was unable to militarily respond effectively.  In China, it was a different story.  Even Japan behaved like an imperialist power when it participated in the European invasion and occupation of commercially profitable areas of China’s coastline and interior.  The pre-modern stasis of cultural equilibrium that had produced startling technological innovation in China suffered a terrible blow from the speed and efficiency of European, industrialised technology.  It is interesting to note that many later Western technological innovations were actually created at a far earlier date within the cultural milieu of pre-modern China, and that the mind-set permeating Chinese self-awareness was actually one of organisational and spiritual superiority.  Chinese traditional culture was very much viewed as the accomplishment of perfected organisation upon the earth that could respond to any eventuality through its wise appreciation of the natural flow of events.  Natural events that can be understood, of course, can be predicted and controlled.  For thousands of years this appeared to be the case, until China encountered the modernistic West.  The reason that the traditional Chinese response to external threats did not succeed against Western imperialist forces is due not to the superiority of the West, but is rather the consequence of China being ruled by a foreign power – the Manchu Qing – for over two hundred years, that instigated an imperialist system that outwardly mimicked the old Chinese order, but which at the same time actually pursued a policy of undermining and eradicating the spark of Chinese genius that had inspired thousands of years of Chinese cultural innovation.  In reality the old Chinese order had already collapsed in 1644 – the official year of the establishing of the Qing Dynasty, and when the Western forces finally clashed with those of the Qing, the Qing forces were no match, and due to their inherent weakness created by Qing policy, even appeared ludicrous and uncanny.  It is an interesting speculation to consider what might have been the case had the West encountered a fully functioning Chinese imperial system that was at the top of its game and ruthlessly efficient.  The chances are that being far away from home, and working from a finite set of resources, the Western forces would have been thoroughly defeated and the cultural integrity of China left intact.  In developed pre-modern cultures such as China and Japan, it is questionable whether modernistic culture, with its over-arching logical organisation, should be considered naturally superior – indeed there is much evidence to suggest the contrary.

The post-modern condition of existence and being that is in a state of continuous becoming and in this sense may be interpreted as inherently unstable.  This instability, however, is not destructive in the manner that is often thought of as being obvious.  Post-modern instability is the condition’s greatest strength.  It is not to be interpreted through the filter of ‘modernistic’ understanding, but rather represents a continuous state of creativity that is unbounded by conventional social and political constructs.  In the modernistic sense the term instability represents the state of atrophy that sets in when a society or political construct is on the brink of collapse.  It is the condition of collapse whereby familiar structures are both observed and experienced as beginning to lose their coherency, predictability and function.  Modernistic instability is nothing less than the prelude to social and political chaos.  Post-modern instability may be viewed as being defined as the exact opposite.  It is a state of high creativity that exists due to the ending of the old certainties associated with modernistic thinking.  Post-modern instability, whilst appearing unstable is in fact nothing of the kind.  It is true that its outward appearance seems to be ‘indefinable’, but it is this indefinability that gives the post-modern condition its greatest strength of presence.  From the psychology associated with modernistic thinking, the post-modern condition is often mistakenly associated with the state of chaos as no observable stability in social conditions appears to be present.   In the modernistic environment choices are limited to supporting the prevalent social order, or rebelling against it, in the post-modern condition this kind of limited thinking is no longer relevant to humanity.  The socio-economic conditions of the post-modern state create an inner and outer environment where the either/or dichotomy no longer has relevance.  The post-modern condition is ‘free’ in every direction and can not be harnessed by the constructs of conventional society.  These constructs were developed to support and control a completely different set of psychological and physical conditions and as such are unprepared for post-modernism and unable to effectively respond to it.  Modernity is out of date and no longer has any relevance to humanity in reality, despite the fact that post-modern development is currently asymmetric around the world and is limited to geographical zones that have historically experienced dramatic economic development.  The other areas of the world, therefore, can still be interpreted as pre-modern and modern as a consequence, but due to the post-modern condition having been achieved by a human grouping in the world, it is inevitable that its influence will spread and that eventually the entire globe will be affected by its presence. 

Post-modern freedom manifests in many ways.  This manifestation to date has proven not to be predictable.  Modernistic scientific methodology has been unable to define, or observe exactly what the post-modern condition actually is.  Of course this has led to some people denying the presence of the condition at all, although there is much to be said for the comparison of the thinking associated with quantum theory, with that of the philosophy associated with the post-modern condition.  In a sense ‘nothing is certain’ in either approach and this statement serves as the hinge that the respective interpretations of reality move around.  Nation states and national governments are the product of modernistic thinking and as such do not possess the psychological and physical constructs to come to terms with a post-modern presence that renders obsolete the very philosophical underpinnings of their existence.  In many ways the modernistic state experiences the post-modern condition very much as the pre-modern societies experienced the modernistic imperialist forces.  When modernity encountered pre-modernity, it was simply a competition of the use of resources.  By and large, as the modernistic forces used resources with a greater efficiency, the pre-modern societies were over-whelmed, dominated and eventually converted to modernistic living.  The post-modern condition does not need to openly conflict with modernity.  Indeed it is modernity that has given birth to it.  Post-modernity does not physically conflict in a social environment, on the contrary it completely dismisses and does not accept in any way the strictures and conventions of modernistic expression.  The post-modern condition dissolves the certainty of modernity as it appears and thus sweeps away the foundational apparatus that once supported modernism in its unquestioned superiority.  The post-modern condition causes the modernistic state to fall back in upon itself in a way that enables a continuous multifaceted generation of freedoms in all directions to be produced.  Continuously new ideas are formed beyond the boundaries of current conventionality, which often lead to complementary developments within the physical environment, such as new technologies that harness this creativity and freedom.  More than this, however, the requirement to think in certain and specific orientations is no longer present.  This frees the mind from the requirement to either think or not think.  Nothing has to be accepted from the past as being existentially valid or of any kind of relevance.  History and the pooled knowledge of humanity become means of explaining how the current destination has been arrived at, but is collectively unable to explain the destination itself, just as a map only leads the way, but can not elaborate upon the complexities of the desired objective.          

An individual is born into a society that ascribes psychological and physical patterns of identification.  This identification is premised upon a perceived history of that society, and is refined through the political, religious, historical and cultural organs of that society.  The society itself has a pre-conceived social scale that is defined by the amount of wealth the parents possess, as wealth buys influence and access to prestigious education institutions and political positions of influence.  Lack of wealth equates to a lack of choice in this regard, and condemns the child to a life of mediocrity at best, or suffering and poverty at worst.  Influence is denied to an individual who does not have familial access to monetary resources and the opportunities the possession of such resources entails.  This serves the requirement of the Capitalist society as masses of individuals are condemned to a life of drudgery and hardship by their humble beginnings.  The masses of individuals become workers for the system which perpetuates itself mercilessly in the continuous search for profit.  This accumulation of wealth over many hundreds of years has transformed European society out of its pre-modern situation and into the condition of modernity – a state that has seen tremendous social and psychological development.  This situation of continuous and relentless exploitation of the vast majority of the individuals within a society has created a transformative effect that has permanently altered the way life is lived and intellectually analysed and understood.  In many ways the mass exploitation of the workers has been transcended through the arrival of the post-modern condition.  This is not to say that exploitation has ceased – it definitely has not – but rather that the nature of the exploitation itself has changed.  Individuals are still institutionally oppressed within the Capitalist system but what has changed is the amount and extent of freedom available to the individual occupying the social role of exploited worker, a freedom that was unknown to the working class that existed within the state of modernity.  The working environment of the lineal factory dictated by the hands of the clock has by and large given way to an amorphous working environment where the individual defines and chooses to a certain extent the working conditions that are to be used to create the product at hand.  This is true despite a political environment in the UK (since 1979) that has seen the ‘management’ given untold power over the workers.  This political shift to the right has coincided with the emergence and establishment of the post-modern condition which has rendered by its presence, the irrelevancy of such notions of the political ‘left’, or ‘right’.  The workers have become freed through the fruits of their collective labour over many hundreds of years but the problem at the moment is one of perception, as not every one is able to clearly see this new condition.  Capitalism has transformed itself from within and it is only a matter of time before its outer structures collapse completely and are replaced with a new kind of social and political interaction.  In the meantime, the psychologically and physically freed worker must exist in an environment that is ambiguous and contradictory.  The oppressive social structures of employer-employee still appear to exist, but are now occupied by a worker who is inherently ‘freed’ from the role he inhabits, as he inhabits it.  The worker is freed from being a ‘worker’, even when the function of labour is being pursued.  Whereas Karl Marx envisioned a transformed Capitalist society into that of a Communist society via the agency of physical revolution, what has actually happened is that a new equality has entered the social and psychological space inhabited by each individual which renders the old certainties obsolete, and frees the individual from the tyranny of the past.  It is ‘equal’ in all directions because it has no modernistic boundaries to hold it in check.  Post-modern freedom is not dependent upon the forces of history despite the fact that it has been created by those very same forces.  The post-modern condition has transcended the very social conditions that have created it.  All identity in this state becomes purely a contingent, a temporary demarcation of meaning that serves to briefly define one set of circumstances over another.  As soon as a definition is achieved it is rendered useless in the post-modern condition, as the premises such a definition is based upon become like shifting sands under foot – there is no where that the modernistic mind can get an anchorage to deploy its old certainties. 

From a spiritual perspective the post-modern condition is very interesting.  Of course, it does not rely upon a theistic entity and can not be considered religious in any conventional sense, and yet it does present a freedom of mind that although not achieved in the same manner as that advocated by the ancient Greek and Indian philosophers, nevertheless certainly approaches the ideal of the accomplishment of a freedom based upon an expansive and thoroughly understood consciousness.  The point of the post-modern condition is that all definitions based upon previous knowledge, regardless of the reliability of that knowledge, are rendered obsolete and out of date.  This is not to say that the accumulated knowledge of humanity is no longer valid, far from it, but rather that the nature of how that knowledge is perceived, understood and developed has to be radically re-thought.  The post-modern condition is not a negation of human knowledge, it is a stage of furtherance of the human capacity to ‘perceive’ clearly exactly what is occurring in any frame of reference from a point of view that is continuously refreshing itself through the auspices of the contingent situation that is no longer kept in place by artificial restrictions that are typical of modernistic thought structures and their corresponding outer functionality in the physical world.  A certain type of ‘certainty’ is lost, and is replaced by an enhanced understanding that does not require the straight-jacket of modernistic interpretation to justify its presence.  This is the ‘freeing’ aspect of the post-modern condition that deconstructs as it creates in equal measure.  Whatever is created from now on must take into account the fact that all is contingent and subject to instant deconstruction – regardless of the ingenuity or stupidity behind the development.  The essence of the post-modern state is an exact and balanced fusion between construction and deconstruction, not because these two words represent separate and distinct modes of being, but rather because the post-modern state is both these aspects at the same time and can not be arbitrarily separated into either definition.  All is creative and destructive at the same instant, with neither attribute holding the upper hand over the other because as soon as one aspect appears to be dominating it turns immediately into its opposite.  Therefore ‘struggle’ to break free of the post-modern condition, and presumably return to the predictable security of modernistic thinking becomes an impossibility.  Fighting against this perfect balance only serves to create energy that is used to maintain its inherent structure.  The post-modern condition cannot be returned to any previous state of being, as any attempt to do so only feeds the non-structure of post-modernity and is directed into the post-modern process itself.  The giving-up of unnecessary models of certainty that are one-sided in their structure, is the way to understand and accommodate the post-modern condition fully as both a psychological and physical manifestation of being.  The problem at the current time is that human society is still in the process of transition between the modern and the post-modern state of being, and as a consequence, old models of relevancy and behaviour are clashing with the new condition that does not require the presence of the mechanistic certainty associated with modernistic thought.  Freedom in this sense is not necessarily freedom from any one particular ensnarement, or set of hindrances, but is rather the realisation that reality is not dependent upon a dichotomy that decides choice through an either-or format, that operates through a materially defined agenda.  Freedom in the post-modern condition is not freedom from any one thing – instead it is a recalibration of reality as it is perceived and experienced as it resolves all contraries into an all-encompassing understanding that stands mid-point at the centre of creation and destruction, always self-cleansing, renewing and free from the negativity associated with the arbitrary one sidedness of modernistic organisation.

Although in itself the post-modern condition is not generally associated with religion or spiritually, nevertheless it is true that if ‘spirituality’ is defined as the ‘transcending’, or ‘transitioning’ away from the requirement to experience life bound to a deterministic inner and outer dichotomy, then the post-modern condition certainly appears to contain qualities that might be explained as being ‘spiritual’ in nature, whilst maintaining its distance from organised religion.  Whereas organised religions have created more or less mutually exclusive paths purportedly granting certain followers freedom from worldly bondage, the post-modern condition does not require a distinctive path or set of disciplinary instructions to be realised.  It is forever present, forming the basis of all experience, dismissing continuously any structures of knowledge that appear to enslave the individual mind and body.  It is imminent and existential, it is becoming into being, and already present.  Although dynamically present, and due to the fading continuation of modernistic structures, its presence is not fully realised by all who live within its precinct.  Living within the freeing paradigm of the post-modern condition does not necessarily guarantee the perception of its presence.  For many, the post-modern condition is the inner response to outer circumstance, dulled by familiarity.  Freedom often becomes boredom, creativity becomes pointless destruction, stability becomes terrifying, freedom becomes hindering and contentment the basis for hatred.  Human psychology is often dominated by out-moded, modernistic thought patterns that create inner turmoil and emotional suffering.  This is the obsession with the concept of a feeling individual that senses an outer material world as separate to itself.  This perceived separation is the basis for human suffering in all its forms.  In pre-modern societies human beings experienced their respective social systems as being part of a functioning, organic totality.  The arrival of modernity ripped this sense of completeness apart, creating societies that although being materially enriched, nevertheless separated every one and every thing into a commodity of relative worth, thus reducing the value of human existence to that of monetary accumulation.  The post-modern condition moves from the division of modernity into a state of ‘completeness’ that has no definitional boundaries.  This sense of completeness is very close, if not identical to the mystical states of union or attained states of mind that purport to be both peaceful and wise.   The problem with pre-modern and modernistic notions of religiosity is that the ultimate states that are described in the oral traditions or written in texts, is that such states have become tainted by the particular religious paths that have led individuals to the objective.  In short the spiritual objective has become so entwined with the path that leads a practitioner to its achievement, that the two distinct aspects become indistinguishable.  This confusion of the mundane with the supramundane renders pre-modern and modernistic notions of religion redundant, and explains why in virtually all the religions of the world, very few practitioners are acknowledged as ever reaching the prescribed spiritual goal.  The obvious outward show of following the path of rules and regulations associated with conventional religion has replaced the actual ability to realise the highest state of being as suggested within each religion, simultaneously placing the emphasis upon the inherent ‘differences’ contained within each path, over that of the potentially ‘similar’ experiences of the highest developmental state itself.  The agency of human ignorance seizes upon the apparent differences that define each of the worldly religions, and as there is no longer the reality of realising the highest spiritual states, often it is the case that anger and hatred become the motivating force for religious practice – such is the psychological cultural baggage that has followed humanity from pre-modernity state, through to modernity and into the post-modern condition.

For a religious or spiritual path to be effective, it must propel the aspirant from the mundane to the supramundane level of being, and in the process render the propelling apparatus (i.e. the religious or spiritual path) completely obsolete and irrelevant for those who have already benefitted from its teaching.  The post-modern condition is both mundane and supramundane all at once, accommodating all those whose minds abides within the pre-modern and modern states, whilst simultaneously presenting the boundless post-modern condition for all to equally access at the point of contact.  Like the religious lore that guides the spiritual aspirant, the post-modern condition is made known through a certain kind of education which may be acquired either formally (through the educational establishment), or informally through the art of self-study.  Such post-modern innovation such as that of the internet has rendered the apparent difference between the two methods of knowledge acquisition ever more difficult to discern.  The point is that once the reality of the presence of the post modern condition is realised, there can be no back-sliding into any previous states of psychological awareness.  Once the post-modern condition is attained, such knowledge supersedes all other modes of perceptual analysis.  Until complete perception, however, human beings are able to inhabit more than one state of perceiving at the same time, a condition of transition that can be highly confusing and destructive on the physical and psychological planes.  Of course, the depth of awareness of the post-modern condition can be deep or shallow.  It is not perceived merely as an idea passing across the mind’s eye, but is rather an instantaneous realisation of space both within and without the mind that is so powerful that the boundaries of modernistic habit of thought analysis are completely and permanently struck aside and the mind is created anew into a reality that is all-embracing of its existential reality.  The post-modern condition does not allow for modernistic notions of analysis, extending even to that of how individuals perceive their own personality.  The personality as it is perceived is a cultural construct, and therefore ‘relative’ concept that presents itself to the mind’s eye as if it were separately ‘real’ and its existence beyond question.  The post-modern condition exposes the notion of personality for what it is – purely arbitrary.  Humanity is no longer limited to being trapped inside a culturally conditioned notion of ‘self’, a notion that contains within its programming all the pain and suffering associated with physical existence.  The post-modern condition is the fulfilment of all religious, spiritual and philosophical endeavours, and may be interpreted as an ecstatic realisation of the state of reality that whilst containing all the conditions of enlightenment, nevertheless does not lose touch with the reality of material existence.  The ordinary world experienced through the senses is fully integrated with the human mind that perceives senses and no difference can be found.  Such a freeing state of experience unlocks the potential of the human mind to think beyond its culturally programmed boundaries and to manifest a wisdom that is both unique and extraordinary.

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