State of Crisis
State of Crisis
Modernity in Crisis
The status of knowledge is altered as societies enter what is known as the postindustrial age and cultures enter what is known as the postmodern age.
Jean-François Lyotard 1
The promises withdrawn
Carlo Bordoni Modernity withdrew its promises. Postmodernity underestimated them, even derided them, filling up the gap with glitter, images, colours and sounds; replacing substance with appearance and values with participation.
The first promise to be withdrawn was that Enlightenment idea of security, provided by the prospect of controlling nature. The great certainties of a technology that can prevent and avoid natural catastrophes collapsed in the face of the fact that nature will not be bent, in addition to the occurrence of so-called 'moral catastrophes' caused by man, which are often much more serious than the natural ones, in a sort of competition as to who is more skilled in the field of destruction.
After the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the spirit of modernity had tried to subordinate disasters and their unpredictability to the power of reason, through the work of prevention and on a scientific basis.
'For I showed men how they were the cause of their own unhappiness and, in consequence, how they might avoid it', writes Rousseau to Voltaire in his famous letter on the Lisbon disaster, laying the foundations of a new spirit that desacralizes nature, removing it from divine will and entrusting it to the hands of man. 2 Natural disasters are transformed into moral ones because man becomes responsible for them, having at his disposal all the instruments that science offers him in order to avoid them. It is no longer a question of chance. What happens is never unpredictable: there are always breaches, carelessness, incompetence, omissions, which have not prevented the occurrence.
It is the carelessness of man that makes catastrophes moral and, therefore, avoidable. This promise, a fascinating and liberating vision of a world which emerged from fatalism, obscurantism, and seemed to herald the absolute dominion of man over nature, was bound to fail miserably with the crisis of modernity. This was a promise more betrayed than withdrawn, if almost three centuries later, scientists and expert volcanologists, in the face of the tragic events that disrupt the earth, confess that 'earthquakes cannot be predicted'. It was also a declaration of surrender in the face of nature, a step backwards with respect to Rousseau, and another mortal wound to the idea of progress on which the hope of a better world was based.
But it was not the only promise to be withdrawn. Others have suffered the same fate, or are about to. The idea of progress as a continuous development, linked to an ever wider availability of products and therefore consumerism − an optimistic idea on which much of the teleological assumption of happiness through having, rather than being, is based.
Now even the ultimate promise, painstakingly acquired after centuries of union disputes, political battles and costly conquests, is called into question: the existence of the social guarantor.
This involves all the measures provided for by the State as part of the overall reciprocal agreement with the citizen, to safeguard his health, his right to work, essential services, social security, retirement, old age.
With a sense of helplessness, we witness the piece-by-piece dismantling of the social or welfare systems, but this further example of deconstruction resulting from modernity does not produce widespread alarm. Indignation, despite Stéphane Hessel's exhortation, remains limited, almost a personal problem, surrounded by the general indifference of a community that is increasingly bewildered and confused, worried about survi