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The Loss of Civility

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Society has a problem with politically-motivated violence. At a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, a man with Nazi sympathies drove his car into a crowd of protestors, killing one and injuring many others.

Likewise, the so-called anti-fascists, Antifa (they are, of course, nothing of the sort) has resorted to using violent and intimidatory tactics at numerous protests and rallies.

Needless to say, such occurrences raise serious questions about the consequences of political polarisation and the lack of community sentiment and incivility that it brings.

One of the features of the 2010s has been the increase in political polarisation. As people become more willing to identify themselves by their political ideology, the tendency to view one’s political opponents as extremists have, likewise, increased. Consequentially, it has become easier and easier for people to demonise others because they don’t hold the same political views that they do.

Such polarisation, of course, has been fuelled by a biased and segregated news media system. The online video and podcast revolution, combined with a mainstream media that heavily slants towards the left, has meant that people are often only exposed to those views that match their own. As such, the right has been manipulated into believing that all on the left are social justice warriors, protestors, and radical feminists, whilst those on the left have been manipulated into seeing all on the right as Nazis, race baiters, white supremacists, and alt-righters.

To a large degree, political polarisation has come as a consequence of the loss of a sense of community. People no longer associate with their neighbours, and, as a result, they have come to see each other as potential enemies rather than potential friends. And, under such conditions, it becomes very easy to see another person as evil when their political views do not compliment your own.

The loss of community has occurred for three major reasons. First, the advent of social media, online shopping, video subscription services, and smartphones has meant that people are no longer required to venture out into society and interact with others. It is no longer necessary for a consumer to interact with shop staff, for instance, because they can shop in the solitude of their own living room. Modern technology, for all its benefits, has provided us with a faux sense of sociability. A kind of sociability that allows us to communicate with others but does not require genuine human interaction.

Second, past-times that were once considered neutral have been co-opted to spread politically-charged messages. People can no longer go to a football game, watch a movie, or listen to music without having political ideology preached to them. As a consequence, society lacks the entities that once allowed people to bond with one another despite differences in their political beliefs.

Third, engagement with the community has declined. People are no longer engaged with the community in the same way that their grandparents were. In the past, social clubs, community groups, sports clubs, and religious institutions provided a space where people of diverse beliefs, values, and opinions could come together. As a consequence, such entities promoted a degree of social unity and social cohesion. Today, however, people are becoming more and more willing to self-segregate. They isolate themselves, choosing only to socialise with friends and family.

What all this has amounted to is a loss of civility. It is very easy to justify all manner of bad behaviour when one sees their opponent as a threat to their very existence. Our modern society shuns manners and dismisses common courtesy and is surprised to find self-centredness and vulgarity in its wake.

IT’S TIME FOR A RETURN TO TRADITION

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Modernity is in trouble. From the menace of migrant crime in Europe to the sexual transgressions rife in modern-day Hollywood, the moral argument for modernity is quickly waning. How did things go so wrong? And how do we fix it? Perhaps a return to traditional values and ideals are in order.

The modern world developed over hundreds of years. The post-medieval period has seen the advent of tolerance as a social and political virtue, the rise of the nation-state, the increased role of science and technology in daily life, the development of representative democracy, the creation of property rights, urbanisation, mass literacy, print media, industrialisation, mercantilism, colonisation, the social sciences, modern psychology, emancipation, romanticism, naturalist approaches to art and culture, and the development of existential philosophy.  From the computer to the mobile phone, the motor car to the aeroplane, the marvels of the modern world are all around us.

The modern world has replaced the Aristotelean and faith-based concept of human life that was popular in the Middle Ages with a worldview based on science and reason. Modern intellectualism, therefore, follows the example set forth by Cartesian and Kantian philosophy: mistrusting tradition and finding its roots in science and rationality.

Culturally and intellectually, the 21st century represents the postmodern era. Postmodernism can be difficult to define accurately because the various cultural and social movements that use it as their central philosophy define it for their own purposes. Jean-Franҫois Lyotard (1924 – 1998), who introduced the term in his 1979 book, The Postmodern Condition, defined postmodernism as “incredulity towards metanarratives.” Similarly, Encyclopedia Britannica defines it as a philosophical movement in opposition to the philosophical assumptions and values of modern Western philosophy.

Postmodernism came about as a reaction, indeed a rejection, to modernity. With its roots in the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900), Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976), Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), and Karl Marx (1818 – 1883), the postmodernist rejects the philosophical theory of Foundationalism – the idea that knowledge is built upon a solid foundation – in favour of large-scale scepticism, subjectivism, and relativism.

The postmodernist likes to see himself as Beowulf fighting Grendel. That is, he likes to see himself as the mythical hero fighting the historical-critical monster. Inspired by doctrines of white privilege and toxic masculinity, and driven by an anti-capitalist (except when it comes to their I-phones), anti-racist (provided the person isn’t white), anti-imperialist (but only European imperialism), and anti-transphobic (because gender is a “social construct”) rhetoric, the post-modernist inspired neo-Marxists and social justice warriors have invaded the modern university and college campus.

Modernity and post-modernism have produced a swathe of existential and moral problems that the Western world has, as of yet, proved unable (or perhaps even unwilling) to solve. To begin, the modern world has abolished the central role that God, nature, and tradition has played in providing life with purpose. In spite of all its cruelty, the German sociologist, Max Weber (1864 – 1920) saw the Middle Ages as a highly humanistic period. Everything was considered to have a divine purpose. Even someone as lowly as a Medieval serf, for example, could feel that he had a role in God’s greater scheme. There was a sense of, as Martin Buber (1878 – 1965) puts it, “I-thou.” Modernity swapped “I-thou” for “I-it”. The human will replaced God as the ultimate arbiter of meaning.

This problem has been further exacerbated by the alienation of the human spirit to nature. Science, for all of its positive qualities, has had the effect of rendering nature meaningless. No longer is a thunderclap the voice of an angry God, nor does a cave contain a goblin or a mountain harbour a giant. Science may be an excellent means for understanding facts, but it is not a substitute for wisdom or tradition when it comes to determining human purpose. No longer does the natural world command the sense of reverential majesty that it once did.

The answer to the problems of the modern, and, by extension, post-modern, world is a revitalisation of the traditional beliefs, values, ideas, customs, and practices that have made the Western world great in the first place. We must reject the destructive ideas espoused by the postmodernists and work to revitalise our traditions. It is high time we started taking some pride in the traditions that have made our civilisation so great.