World War I and the adversarial mentality.
It’s the eternal argument. When you are fighting a repulsive foe, the ends justify any means and serve as rationale for any selfishness.
Dax’s struggle is not to change the war or to save lives. That’s impossible. The war has won. The struggle is simply to remain a human being, to maintain some contact with goodness in circumstances that are inhumane.
Disillusionment was the classic challenge for the generation that fought and watched that war. Before 1914, there was an assumed faith in progress, a general trust in the institutions and certainties of Western civilization. People, especially in the educated classes, approached life with a gentlemanly, sporting spirit.
As Paul Fussell pointed out in “The Great War and Modern Memory,” the upper classes used genteel words in place of plain ones: slumber for sleep, the heavens for the sky, conquer for win, legion for army.
The war blew away that gentility, those ideals and that faith in progress. Ernest Hemingway captured the rising irony and cynicism in “A Farewell to Arms.” His hero is embarrassed “by the words sacred, glorious and sacrifice and the expression, in vain.” He had seen nothing sacred in the war, nothing glorious, just meaningless slaughter.
.. European culture suffered a massive disillusion during the conflict — no God, no beauty, no coherence, no meaning, just the cruel ironic joke of life. Cynicism breeds a kind of nihilism, a disbelief in all values, an assumption that others’ motives are bad.
Fussell wrote that the war spread an adversarial mentality. The men in the trenches were obsessed with the enemy — those anonymous creatures across no man’s land who rained down death. “Prolonged trench warfare, whether enacted or remembered, fosters paranoid melodrama,” he wrote.
The “versus habit” construes reality as us versus them — a mentality that spread through British society. It was the officers versus the men, and, when they got home, the students at university versus the dons.
George Orwell wrote that he recognized the Great War mentality lingering even in the 1930s in his own left-wing circles — the same desire to sniff out those who departed from party orthodoxy, the same retelling of mostly false atrocity stories, the same war hysteria. As Christopher Isherwood put it, all the young people who were ashamed of never having fought in the war brought warlike simplicities to political life.
.. Some of the disillusioned drop out of public life, since it’s all meaningless. But others want to burn it all down because it’s all rotten. Moderation is taken for cowardice. Aggression is regarded as courage. No conciliatory word is permitted when a fighting word will do.
Today we face no horrors equal to the Great War, but there is the same loss of faith in progress, the reality of endless political trench warfare, the paranoid melodrama, the specter that we are all being dehumanized amid the fight.
“I was very clear when I was in charge of the campaign, Michael was not somebody who we wanted at the campaign,” Lewandowski said. “He would go out and make statements that we had to walk back afterwards because he would say things which were factually untrue. I warned everybody at the organization that Michael was going to become a problem.”
Core postmodern concepts like the hyperreal and simulacra are more relevant and true than they have ever been.
Furthermore, the article claims that postmodern is characterized by an ironic self awareness, and never has this idea been more prominent in culture. In recent years I have noticed that TV commercials have become more and more self-aware. Take for example a recent commercial by what I believe was Verizon. It says something like “More coverage, more data.” and then another actor comes into screen saying “and more people saying more.” If this isn’t ironic self awareness, I’m not sure what is.
Those are postmodern concepts about culture. But the postmodern metaphysical and epistemological nihilism are, as another commenter said, basically bedrock in terms of philosophy.
.. The core of postmodernism is that we have exhausted modernity — and indeed there are no trends that are “new under the sun anymore”, not just because everything has been done before (which is almost true), but because society doesn’t care about following this or that form en masse anymore and then proceeding to another (e.g. how baroque turned romantic, turned 12-tone, etc. or similarly in any other sphere).
Instead, everything is fragmented, and everybody (artist or not) can do whatever they please and have an audience/followers. There is no canon and no single “normative” culture the way it was 80 or 100 or 150 years ago.
Plus, nothing is able to baffle anyone anymore — in the way that each generation before could shock some part of the established culture (up to perhaps punk, but probably not even that, and not even 50s rock n’ roll — it only shocked the most conservative parts of society, and had no problem being marketed, sold, and dominating the airwaves in record time).
Postmodernism is also about having access to all the cultural production and modes of the past, and the internet and co made that even more so. Artists, politicians, marketeers, etc can borrow from any period, and repackage and resell everything, combine it, etc.
All of these things are what are described as the “postmodern condition” by the now dead French theorists of the postmodernism.
And none of those things is going away.
Even a total return to modernism or classicism across all artists for example, would still be postmodern — because before post-modernism art didn’t regress to previous periods, it invented new modes.
.. Nothing is fragmented, because everything has been reduced to transactionalism.
You can do whatever you like, as long as you’re trying to make money (or sometimes more abstract social credit) by selling it/you as hard as possible to your customers.
And there are only potential customers now – not audiences in the old scene-with-common-values sense.
Postmodernism, such as it is, is now a marketing gimmick, occasionally used to add some spicy irony to make sales efforts more successful.
The real horror is that this applies everywhere – not just in commerce, but in the arts, the sciences, academia, and especially in politics.