Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Hollywood feeds the 21st Century Enlightenment

(This essay was originally published at the now defunct Disinfo.com)

The 21st Century Enlightenment is simple. In much the same way as the Enlightenment of the late middle ages, when the printing press was invented, (amongst a multitude of other "modernations") technology has once again brought us into a new paradigm of existence. In this so called "network intelligence" we become an amalgam intellect. In the old Enlightenment we shared books. In the new enlightenment we share each other, in real time. If this is not hyperreality, it doesn't exist.

However, this revolutionary sharing of the global experience is merely the "how" of its existence. It is causally self-referential. I think the topic of interest on the matter should be directed at our actions. Our actions make the changes that take place in the world. It is true that the internet can organize revolution quicker than the printing press, but we are not revolting because such technologies exist. We revolt because there is cause for revolt. This realization is the second part of the 21st century enlightenment. (This too we share with many aspects of the original Enlightenment.)

Just like in ye olde Enlightenment we have politicians telling us one thing and another, sides to choose, ideologies to ponder and artists commenting on the times. In ye olde Enlightenment we had books, plays and paintings. Today we can add moving pictures and Hollywood is rife with social commentary. As part of my writing workload I am a film reviewer for my local newspaper, so I see all these films, whether I want to or not.

See any film about a dystopian future and you are seeing the left over fears from the end of the 20th century extrapolated into a plausible totalitarian outcome. The real world hasn't ended, the apocalypse remains nigh. All these films feature a corrupt and misguided government and a peoples revolution. These films are aimed at teenagers and are carefully crafted vehicles of effective social engineering. They even introduce the idea of world shaping to very young kids now, with animated movies about Plato's cave, the downfalls of societies, perfect psychologies inside, perfect philosophies outside. This engineering via art is not a new phenomenon, but it is currently rampant in entertainment. As a reflection of society, art's commentary is a wish for change. In the 21st Century Enlightenment such wishes come through loud and clear, instantly.

Like the french Revolution had JJ Rousseau and his Social Contract, we have a new standard by which we measure that which we consider fair and just. We can know no better than Rousseau as to our correctness in our times and places, but we both agree that something stinks about the state of affairs we find ourselves inhabiting. It seems too, that in our new enlightenment as in the old, the problems come down to the machinations of (perceived) money and (perceived) power. However, now, unlike then, we don't imagine such noble futures for merely France, or any other nation, but we dream globally. Furthermore, in the old enlightenment such imaginings we're left to the educated, some would say, elite of our societies, the Rousseaus of the world. Whereas now, anyone with a computer can become a philosopher.

What these new age philosophers are discovering, uncovering and beginning to act upon is a key correlation of the 21st century enlightenment: The gap between the elite advantage and the rest of us is not dissimilar to the gap between the "western world" and the rest of the globe. It's not just the rich that are the problem, because, on a global scale, Canada is rich. I am rich. We are all guilty in our affluence. We owe our wealth to inappropriate institutional realities, systemic dichotomous beliefs and misguided intentions.

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