Post Modernism, Anti-Culturalism and Contemporary Culture

X.P. Mao

In this paper, I propose to argue that contemporary culture is really anti culture; it is against all norms and standards of culture by any stretch of the imagination. Further, I wish to maintain that post-modernism either as a philosophy or an attitude towards life is as old as Gautam the Buddha.

Though it is not possible to offer an exact definition of post-modernism yet a minimal description of it can be given. Post-modernism stands for rejection of all grand and absolute theories of reality, truth, life, values and etc. On the other hand, it lays emphasis on context, relativism and alternative view points. Seen in this light, Mahavir Vardhawan and Gautam the Buddha could really be treated as the fore runner of post-modernism. Buddha preferred to remain silent on absolute metaphysical questions. He preferred to propagate his views not in Sanskrit but in Prakrit. Thus both of them preferred to talk of the problems of the marginalized groups. Even the subsequent Buddhist philosophers and logicians debunked the so called theories advocating essences and universals. For Dignaga, essences and universals are just figments of imagination.

Ludwig Wittgenstein in the 20th century too dislodged the essentialist theories of meaning and universal. Instead he talked of context. This is most unfortunate that while discussing post-modernism doctrines scholars both in the West and East have failed to take note of Mahavir Buddha and Wittgenstein. This is due, probably to prevalence of the Euro-centric view that all great and important theories, be it scientific or philosophical, have originated in the West only. Time has come for scholars to see through it and make an objective assessment of the situation. In a nutshell, I wish to maintain and reiterate that post-modernism is not really a doctrine of the modern times and it has not originated in the West; its home is ancient India.

With this background let us review contemporary culture to begin with the term ‘post-modernism’ is vague and ambiguous. Though its literal meaning is that which comes after modernism yet from the context this is clear that it stands for a view of truth and reality which is as old as Gautam the Buddha. The protagonists of post-modernism appear to suggest that though modernism arose as a protest against ancient and medieval philosophy of life yet modernism could not deliver the goods and this is how post-modernism took over. Some scholars too have started using the new fangled, Jargan like post, post modernism which too is devoid of meaning and significance. I wish to suggest that post-modernism is not a time specific concept; this is a theme specific one. But most of the scholars seem to be using post-modernism as a time-specific concept.

Further an impression is gaining ground among scholars that post-modernism is but also an improvement on existing culture. But I wish to argue that post-modernism has not achieved anything at all in these directions. My reasons for saying so are as follows:

i) Sincere understanding of others is an important element of post-modernism. That is to say it asks us to understand other people, other societies and other cultures and act accordingly. But today in the contemporary period this is almost absent. As a matter of fact, a totalitarian attitude is gaining ground in this respect and this is symptomatic of anti-culture. To spell it: post-modernism as a theory/philosophy is being talked about in certain section of the academic world but in actual and concrete situation this is not being used and followed. That is to say there is a big and wide gap between theory and practice and it is widening day by day.

ii) Materially and militarily rich and affluent societies like the USA are doing everything to subdue, oppress and exploit other societies. The nefarious and naked aggression of Iraq by the USA is a clear-cut instance of this type of mentality. This is almost shocking and surprising that not a single country including India raised voice of protest against this naked aggression. In nut shell, neither the academic philosophers nor the politicians and statesmen who believe and propagate peaceful co-existence and panch sheel condemned the USA’s act. When the Iraq question was raised in Indian Parliament politicians belonging to various political parties indulged in mutual mud-slinging. Parliamentarians belonging to Congress party accused the members of the Communist party that the latter during the hey days of soviet regime did not object to its attack on some of the East European Countries. On the other hand, the spokesperson of the then NDA Government \vas forthright and honest and said that national interest overweighs against all types of internationalism. This situation clearly proves that it is easier to develop and spell out a social theory but very rarely the theory is put into practice.

iii) This is a fact that there has been explosion in knowledge; science and technology has developed like anything. Knowledge in other branches of learn ing is growing day by day so much so that countries like India and others are talking in teons of knowledge commission and knowledge societies but what is lacking is compassion. To use Buddhist tenninology highest knowledge tvlahapranja must lead to greatest compassion Mahakaruna). But as a matter of fact, today in the contemporary world the so called knowledge is being used as an instrument of exploitation, oppression, discrimination and deprivation. Seen in this light, post-modernism as a philosophy has not take any significant contribution to solve concrete problems of human society.

Further, the so called opulence of knowledge in contemporary society has destroyed the very basis of community life. Knowledge in due course of time has been commodified. It is being treated as a salable commodity in the market place. Knowledge in the ancient days was treated not as an object but as a gift and the gift has to be given to the worthy ones. Hegel one of the greatest philosophers clearly perceived the importance of family in the social set up and accordingly agreed that destruction of family is likely to lead to collapse of society as a whole.

In the history of human civilization community living grew and developed centering round family life. But in the contemporary period, community living has almost been destroyed. It is being replaced by nuclear family or atomized individual life. It is the family and community that sustain man and helps him grow. But gradual onslaught of science and technology and impersonal philosophy of life flowing from various social and political factors have literally damaged the very fabric of social living. As a result, alienation has emerged as an overriding phenomenon. Destruction of community life instead has given rise to all powerful anonymous state and this has enslaved man instead of liberating him. In other words, the so called knowledge has turned out to be an instrument of bondage.

v) Lack of effective interpersonal communication in contemporary period has done damage to mankind. The entire scenario is infested with suspicion, treachery, mutual hatred and disbelief. I wish to maintain that love, sympathy and fellow feeling are the sine qua non of communication and these are deplorably lacking in the contemporary period. Seen in this light, the contemporary culture can really be characterised as anti-culture. Love and sympathy are the bed rock of human communication. To understand somebody is not just to get the literal meaning of what one says but to comprehend and appreciate it. An atmosphere of hatred and antagonism destroys all types of communication and understanding. Communities are small and face to face societies. Organization of communities into bigger states where people do not know each other has created and posed great problems before mankind. Smaller the society, greater is the effectiveness and intensity of communication.

In the contemporary period for whatever reasons, the emphasis is on greater state and bigger territory As a result and in due course of time the smaller groups get crushed to pieces and it becomes increasingly difficult for the small groups to be heard by its counter part the larger group. Throughout the world the voice of the smaller groups for its autonomy, independence and sovereignty is just ignored and overlooked in the name of territorial integrity. It is sometimes agrued by the larger groups that the fate of the smaller groups is so very much intertwined with that of the bigger groups that the latter will be eliminated in due course of time if they fall apart from the bigger groups. This is how movements by the small groups are termed as anti-national and anti development.

Time has now come for man to rectify his mistakes and learn from the past. If post-modernism is accepted as a philosophy of life then the intellectuals advocating it must come forward to support the movement by the smaller groups for autonomy, independence and even for sovereignty. This has not yet happened in the world. To use Rousseaus’s Words ‘Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains’. Society has corrupted man. Therefore to restore original freedom and liberty of man is to allow him to live in his own community. Post-modernism as a philosophy has not done anything significant except reiterating the ancient truth that others need be respected. To conclude, as a tool of philosophical analysis, post-modernism has yet to develop its own method of analysis. As a value system it has destabilised the traditional value system and yet to develop a system of its own.
(The writer is Lecturer at the Department of Philosophy at NEHU, Shillong)