Saturday, 12 December 2009

Changing Times & the Spirit of the Age

Over the passed few weeks changing times and spirits of ages have occurred again and again in my literary consumption: changing times from Bob Dylan in 1964 and the spirit of the age from a pamphlet published in 1825. I won't go into any historical analysis, because it doesn't particuarly interest me. What interests me is how these terms apply to our temporal environment.

I can't help wondering, when listening to the The Times They Are A-changin', if the times now really are changing. Of course, there are constant changes: science and technology are advancing faster than ever before in our history and, if you care about preserving a human-friendly environment on the planet, such advancement is essential. This is probably the greatest change my generation has experienced and many seem to think the most pivotal ever to human progress. Each succeeding generation is more capable than the last to view things in the long term, and ignorance is no longer accepted as an excuse for the effect we have on our present, cosy, environment. If you care about human progress or entertain a short or long term humanatarianism, you must also care about maintaining the current climate, for we certainly need a suitable environment to thrive and evolve in. The actions of the individual, then, have become more important than ever. For this reason, it seems absurd to me that people, as individuals, have never been so afraid of accepting responsibility for themselves and effecting their environment. To return to technological progression, one of the most sweeping changes we are living through is the ever increasing influence of online social networks, I use Facebook as my template for this as it is the only one I subscribe to. To me Facebook embodies the true Spirit of the Age. In the mildest possible terms, it is one that repulses me: one of contentment and, consequently, apathy. To choose so guardedly what information is communicated to others through a medium, one without any actual physical presence within space, puts immense strain on verbal language and does the body the most grave injustice.

Undoubtedly, language is the greatest and most distinguishing achievement of humanity, but to retain its value and meaning, it must be supported by the physical; by the body. However effective language may be, our only means of truly effecting our environment are through the body. Without the body, we are impotent, and to assume that we can truly communicate the slightest aspect of our charisma (for those of us that have it) through words on a screen, is to accept this impotence. For those who wish to maintain an environment they can thrive and procreate in, the body is essential. Perhaps humanity's defining characteristic is that we have the ability to live almost entirely within the abstractions of our own consciousness. We must still, though, interact with our environment and those others in it: eating; fucking; talking; fighting. To interact without sensual stimulation is not social interaction. When we talk to someone face to face, we absorb the vision of them: their sound; their smell; their taste; their texture. A part from an extremely arbitrary visual stimulation, Facebook allows none of these sensations, so can be nothing but an anti-social network for we are supplied only with what superficial knowledge others choose to disclose.

Not only, then, is the spirit of the age one of apathy, but it is one manifest through people terrified of their own bodies and the bodies of others. Even if we did care, we would be unwilling to affect our environment and change our times through anything other than words saturated to bursting point with connotations. Facebook is a forum of meaningless labels and hollow gestures. How depressing, at least to me, that it should be the defining feature of my generation.

However, this depression has advantages that lead me to a realisation that fully compensates. Placed by coincidence at a point in time that gives me some sway, however miniscule, over the future of humanity, I find that humanity is not actually something I wish to perpetuate. Why should I care if this generation of apathetic pussies lives to spawn yet another generation of apathetic pussies who then do the same again? I would much rather work against it. I take great comfort in balance, and what could then be more comforting than the planet redressing the balance itself disturbed by humanity? Though we might render our environemt unable to support us or any other form of life, there will always be an environment. Up until now, the graph of humanity has shown more or less constant progress. To sustain this progress is, I think, beyond this generation, and in this lies the major change of our time. We move from the age of construction to the age of destruction. Economic globalisation has thrived since the beginnings of the Roman Empire, but what value will currency retain once it can no longer buy drinkable water, and how will we possibly maintain even the slightest unity under these circumstances. The comfort is this: this generation may well witness the most significant and exciting event in human history - the end of human history. If I don't live to see it, I sure hope my kids do.

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