Occupy Wall Street and Post-Modernism

The Occupy Wall Street movement displays a spirit symptomatic of, as well as quite counter cultural to, the Post-Modern outlook. To understand its roots, we must look back to the development of Post-Modernism itself.

What we call the modern age emerged in the 18th century Enlightenment. This was an age of rationalism, and produced the scientific mind. Its materialist worldview taught us how to measure things. Belief hinged on what could be proven by the paradigm of science. Science assumed – and this became the arrogance of the modern mind – that it knew more than anybody else ever had. It did not yet realize that this new knowing was only in one small area, and in its new found excitement it quickly neglected several other areas. Analysis of parts became more important than the synthesis of the whole.

But we were dazzled by our new abilities to know, and this bedazzlement has lasted for 3 centuries. The modern mind is enthralled at its ability to make things happen, to rearrange genes and chromosomes and atoms, and being able to predict outcomes feels like an almost godly power – and it is. It led us to a philosophy of progress, as opposed to what had been a more cyclical worldview.

In this more Asian worldview of harmony, death and life, along with everything else, need only be kept in balance. But the modern worldview believed that things would only get better and better. This worldview took many surrogate forms, but in general is what we know as the modern world. It formed all of us deeply, especially in the West. It told us that education, reason and science would make the world a better place. It told us that we would overcome all major diseases by the turn of the century.

But then the Holocaust happened in the very country that was perhaps the most educated, logical and reason-loving in the world at that time. For Europeans the collapse into postmodern thinking began at that point: “If we can be this wrong, maybe nothing is right. All our major institutions failed us.” As it turned out, we have not overcome all major diseases. We now have a lot of new diseases and the attempt to overcome the old diseases have produced resistant strains that we are battling to stay one step ahead of.

So we have begun to speak not of modernism but of postmodernism – a critique of modernism’s false optimism and trust in progress. We’re in the postmodern period now, at least in the West and in those countries influenced by the West. We now see that reading reality simply through the paradigm of science, reason and technological advancement has not served us well. It has not served the soul well; it has not served the heart or the psyche well. It has not served community well. There must be something more than the physical, because mere physics has left us powerful and effective, but also ravaged in the most important areas of our humanity. The inner world of meaning has not been fed.

The soul, the psyche, human relationships seem at this point to be destabilizing almost at an exponential rate. Our society is producing very many unhappy and unhealthy people. The spread of violence everywhere in society is frightening. It is a deconstructed worldview where to have a positive vision of life is almost considered naïve in most intellectual circles. Such people are not taken seriously and are considered fools.

If we cannot trust in what we thought was logic and reason, if science is not able to create a totally predictable universe, then maybe there are no patterns. Suddenly we live in a very scary world where no intelligence appears to be in charge, where there is no beginning, middle or end. What is left is merely the private ego with its own attempts at episodic meaning and control. It is starved for meaning, grasping at anything and everything.

It is at the heart of the big corporations who feel no moral constraints are necessary and indeed are unjustifiable, for there is no foundation on which to build them in a world devoid of meaning.

The seed that is germinating in the Occupy Wall Street movement is a product of this distrust and disillusionment, but it is also something much deeper. It is a search for what it means to be human. A search for a seed of hope – a seed that was thought to have been obliterated when the modern worldview took centre stage. A seed that was never, in fact, crushed, but rather lay dormant waiting for the right moment to spring to life again. It carries a hope that is incomprehensible to postmodernism, and appears powerless and only a temporary glitch in the program. But the hope is authentic and has deeper roots than those that sprung to life in the Enlightenment. This explains how students at the University of California did not respond with violence when pepper sprayed during their Occupy protest. Only hope in what it means to be human can hold to non-violence in the face of such inappropriate violence. A hope that challenges the moral bankruptcy of the postmodern worldview held by those in ‘authority.’

Because of the depth of these roots, a depth that goes to the very heart of what it means to be human, we immediately recognise in this incident how corrupt the prevailing worldview has become. It is only a seed, so far. The Postmodern worldview still dominates and is such that the authorities, bankers and captains of industries cannot believe such positivism can last in the face of the terrible disillusionment that is postmodernism. There is something of great significance going on – no less than a battle for the human soul.


About Passionist JPIC Australia

I am a priest with the Passionist Congregation and a part of our Australian Province which includes Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam. I have been ordained since December of 1992. I was born in the Philippines, though am from Spanish decent. I came to Australia in 1972 with my family when I was 11 years old, and we settled in Brisbane. That is where I did the rest of my growing up. On completing high school, I went to Queensland University where I studied for 4 years, completing a B.Sc. with a major in Microbiology. The following year I decided to enter into the Passionist Congregation to study for the priesthood. I trained for 9 years, and have been a priest for 25 years. In my time as a priest I have been Director of the Passionist Family Group Movement in Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland; conducted over 400 Parish Missions all around Australia and New Zealand, but particularly in Victoria and Western Australia; worked in adult faith education, Sacramental preparation for children and parents; Hospital chaplaincy; High school chaplaincy, in-services and retreats. In the year 200 I became engaged in developing young adult retreat teams and training them to carry on our high school retreat programs. I am also chair of our Province’s committee for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC). I am also a member of ACRATH (Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans).
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