Theory of meaninglessness

Sunday, March 8, 2009

I will be presenting the following ideas on Tuesday.

The concept of the homeless mind, first introduced in 1973, is that due to the technologized and bureaucratized mode of production in the modern world, our very identities have bifurcated as we carry out the roles of technological production. As Berger et al. note, "the individual now becomes capable of experiencing himself in a double way: as a unique individual rich in concrete qualities and as an anonymous functionary." In dealing with a whole host of anonymous roles we are confronted with by bureaucracy, we start to experience different parts of our identity as more or less real than other parts. And to the extent that we experience parts of our identity that are less real, we tend to suffer a crisis of significance, meaninglessness, and anomie (i.e. it becomes very difficult to find meaning while flipping burgers in a fast food chain). Our minds are homeless so long as we suffer the anomie created in large part by the modern modes of technological production.

While this critique of the modern (i.e. industrial revolution to 1950?) modes of production is brilliant, it is only partial. This critique harkens back to many of the great modern philosophers (Marx, Weber, later Durkheim) to express relationship between modes of production and the individual psyche. Nonetheless, while it provides insight into the "crisis of significance," it does not and cannot fully explain it. One of the reasons it cannot is because it largely a critique of the modern structure and we have moved over the last 50 years increasingly into a postmodern, "information age", structure. So, along with this critique of the modern structure, we need a critique of the postmodern.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the western world saw the emergence of a new level of consciousness in a significant portion of the population. In academia, this shift is reflected in the emergence of the postmodern schools of thought in a variety of disciplines. I feel Berger et al. were a part of this emergence and due to that, were able to see clearly the dynamic of the modern structure. For this reason, their critique elucidates so many important truths, none more prominent than that of the homeless mind.

However, when taken in context of developmental studies (spiral dynamics), a more complex view of the homeless mind emerges. In this context, an individual will feel homeless when she is at a developmental level either below or above that of her surrounding culture. The individual below that of her surrounding culture might not feel at home because she is being pulled up to a higher developmental potential by her surrounding culture. Equally, the individual above that of her culture might not feel at home because she is being pulled down to a lower/previous stage of development by her surrounding culture. Someone at a postmodern level of development (green meme) might feel very homeless in very modern culture, which I believe is what inspired Berger et al. to write The Homeless Mind.

Berger et al. were not explaining their own developmental dynamic; instead they were explaining how a premodern individual (someone with a center of gravity in a premodern stage of development) would feel homeless in the face of a surrounding modern techno-bureaucratic structure and culture. Their own developmental dynamic gave them great insight into the pre-modern/modern dialectic because they were both beyond modern (postmodern) and thus could see the modern structure clearly, and because they shared a certain developmental solidarity with the pre-modern level of development as being equally non-modern stages (pre-modern is non-modern just as postmodern is non-modern).

If my hypothesis is correct, that Berger et al. were largely explaining how a pre-modern person feels in the face of the modern world, and if we are now fully living in a postmodern world, we would greatly benefit from understanding how the modern individual feels in the face of the postmodern world. For instance, how does the modern individual feel homeless in the postmodern world. What structural dynamics are in play and how are social relations and identity being negotiated? Also, given the hypothesis that Berger et al. were able to provide such a brilliant account because they were themselves at a postmodern level of development (at least in theory), in order to discover the dynamics of the modern/postmodern homelessness, we would need individuals at a post-postmodern level of development to provide the explanation (in spiral dynamics this level is represented as the first stage of the 2nd tier of development - in Integral theory this is the first Integral stage).

All of these developmental dialectics lead me to wonder how we feel homeless now? For what additional reasons do we currently suffer a "crisis of significance"? How are these reasons likely to evolve given the whole developmental spectrum and developmental dynamics?

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