Antimodern November 2023

People attempting to describe the current period in history use a lot of terms. Modern. Postmodern. And finally, metamodern, which is: “a structure of feeling of oscillating between modern and postmodern”. And yet, the growing dissatisfaction with modernity seems clear. A hundred years ago, a French thinker coined the term antimodern, which means ‘Opposed to modernity or modernization’. I think that we are about to enter a period in which antimodern thinking actually becomes the dominant philosophical framework.

I find the trend towards antimodern thinking interesting. Peter Thiel has talked about how prior to Christian tradition, the world viewed history as circular rather than linear. Christian tradition introduced the notion of linear progress, from the beginning where God created the world and onward through time. This line was eventually extended to include modernity, and the liberal ideals of the Enlightenment. The line continued through modern notions of rights and freedoms. While conservatism and Christianity tend to overlap and be viewed as a pre modern phenomenon, it’s ironic that the linear history introduced by Christianity has been adopted by modern left wing political actors, themselves in many ways anti-Christian in beliefs.

The modern political axis illustrates this antimodern irony quite well. In the US on the democrat side you have self described progressives (literally, to continue the line of history in a progressive direction - a Christian notion) that in many ways are simply acting as a criticism of Christianity. And then you have Republicans, who simultaneously claim to value freedom and yet act often to limit people’s rights. One is using Christian arguments about equality and linear progress to battle a force acting as Christians but who oppose the rights and freedoms that the founding fathers ordained were united under God. So much irony.

It seems like modern politics has evolved into a yin and yang dynamic with two equal and opposite forces acting against each other with increased intensity. Arguably, modern technology like social media has simply been an accelerant to these two forces. Each side seems to forget the original intent of their perspectives. Progressivism originated in the 1960s and 1970s, arguing one side of a largely Christian-in-all-but-name argument that people who are different still deserve love. Jesus would probably have been a progressive democrat given those arguments, even if Old Testament God was a Republican.

While this has been going on, people have had a creeping suspicion about the nature of progress, and whether all the technology we attribute as being essential to our wellbeing is all that beneficial at all. If you told someone in the largely Christian 1950s and 1960s West that technology was responsible for dehumanizing people, they would probably be shocked. But as time has gone on, technology that has been invented in the time since is met with increasing skepticism. Generation Z for example has started to trend both politically and in their adoption of technology in the opposite direction of linear modern history. Effectively the cool kids are rejecting this technology, for their own good. It’s a real rift in the linear history narrative, and it breaks assumptions that underlie both sides of the political spectrum. Social progress and technological progress may both actually be more circular like the East believes than the West realizes.

If progress were more circular, we would want to make like the Pagan traditions that still live on in many parts of the Eastern world today and study human nature. Through meditation, reflection, self discipline and so on, we could seek to both understand and overcome those intrinsic human limitations. People do this now without realizing it, whether by studying ancient Greek and Roman philosophers Stoicism or by doing yoga. Both stoicism and Yoga originate from circular history cultures and have Pagan religious origins. It may be that the Christian notion of linear history is limited to Western politics and not extended into people’s everyday lives. There’s probably a lot to consider if that’s true about how society works.

As our understanding of history proliferates and diffuses among people, our worldviews become more complex and less common between people. The sense I get is that 50 or 100 years ago, there were not a lot of cases of people with completely different truth frameworks happening upon each other as there are on the modern internet. Prehistory, Christian history and modern history are all competing for societal relevance. The evolutionary pressure that the algorithms that determine where people’s attention is directly ends up creating and re-creating old beliefs as new ones as they compete for people’s attention.

It may be that in order to maintain any coherent sense of truth and stability one must quit the algorithm all together. And there’s where my observation about antimodernism comes in. In the time since I quit social media entirely and wrote about it analogizing it to the smoking of our generation, usage among teenagers of video apps has increased by a factor of two. I think that will lead to a common ground among people that in order to solve anything that ails society we have to escape the algorithm and talk about it. Humans are remarkably capable of solving problems, if we’re able to talk about them. If not, all hell breaks loose.