Applying a Postmodern context

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Current events continue to reveal what our culture is up against as the age of Postmodernism continues to unfold and expand. This vision is so clear to me that I see things that others don’t, and while I’m sure some people view that statement as arrogance gone to seed, it would be foolish of me to deny reality. The problem most folks have with this is a lack of context with which to view ongoing events.

Premodernism: I believe, therefore I understand.
Disruption: The printing press.
Modernism: I think and reason, therefore I understand.
Disruption: The internet.
Postmodernism: I participate, therefore I understand.

The single, most important difference between Modernism and Postmodernism is that the former is hierarchical while the latter is horizontal. This produces an inherent conflict, and while these conflicts can be obvious, they don’t mean anything other than just news items unless and until they are put into the context of a significant cultural shift.

For example, here’s a cute story about 9-year old reporter Hilde Kate Lysiak breaking a murder story ahead of the local press. Ha-ha. Funny, huh? No, this is heavy-duty stuff in light of the culture change. Miss Lysiak has her own printing press – a.k.a. website – and considers herself a journalist. Here’s the way the Washington Post put it.

As the editor and publisher of the Orange Street News, in her hometown of Selinsgrove, Pa., about 50 miles north of Harrisburg, Lysiak is a dedicated multi-media journalist who loves going after crime stories. Her father is an author and former New York Daily News reporter who took Hilde to his newsroom and to stories he covered around New York and hooked her on the rush of chasing news.

“I just like letting people know all the information,” Hilde said Monday. It’s also what she sees as her career, no matter what stupid adults might say about the future of journalism. “It’s just what I really want to do. And crime is definitely my favorite.” She said she learned of the murder story because “I got a good tip from a source and I was able to confirm it.” Well, that’s how it works.

When community members squawked on Facebook that a 9-year old has no business reporting on such, Miss Lysiak went ballistic: “If you want me to stop covering news, then you get off your computers and do something about the news. There, is that cute enough for you?”

Meanwhile, across the sea, two people described as “freelance multimedia journalists” produced a video about Israel bulldozing Bedouin homes and a school in the occupied territories, presumably to one day build Israeli settlements on the land.

And of course, the big story worldwide this weekend was the release of what are being called “the Panama Papers” from an unknown whistleblower. Wired reported that the cache of documents leaked was enormous:

”In total, the leak contains: 4.8 million emails, three million database entries, two million PDFs, one million images and 320,000 text documents. The dataset is bigger than any from Wikileaks, or the Edward Snowden disclosures.”

So the whistleblower – presumably someone with access to the knowledge of the “business” dealings of the Panamanian law firm that was the source of the documents – was able to transfer these files to investigative reporters around the world via the same network that makes participation in the distribution of knowledge files possible in the first place. This has nowhere to go but up, and if you’re involved in some hierarchical dealings that you’d rather not your underlings know about, I’d be pretty damned nervous about what’s going on in this “Age of Participation.”

Technology may be providing the means, but it’s the culture’s rebellion against hierarchies that is providing the heat for the Postmodern awakening. The press, in the form of a 9-year old neighborhood reporter, freelance multimedia journalists in the Middle East, or whistleblowers distributing confidential business documents, is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of disruptions to modern western culture. Every complex organization will be impacted, because the view from the top is no longer private, and as I wrote long ago, every day that an average person uses the internet, they become more and more disruptive. This principle shows no sign of slowing down, as long as the Web remains open. Efforts to close it – through government or privatization – are already beginning to appear, for example, with net neutrality threats.

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear. Those who have eyes to see, let them see.

Another postmodern signpost – banks

Here we go again.

A new Citi Global Perspectives & Solutions (GPS) report on how financial technology is disrupting banks provides another look for us into our rapidly ascending postmodern future. According to the report, mobile distribution will be the main channel of interaction between customers and the bank, which will mean a dramatically reduced need for bank branches. This will lead to the loss of 1.8 million employees between now and 2015, down a whopping 40-50% from its peak in 2007.

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An article in Business Insider referencing the report compares it to earlier projections:

That’s in line with former Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins’ recent prediction that pressure from the tech industry “will compel banks to significantly automate their business” and “that the number of branches and people may decline by as much as 50% over the next years.”

The CITI report suggests that as more and more transactions move to mobile, there will be a “rebalancing of staff from transaction-based roles to advisory-based roles,” but I don’t believe such jobs will pay as much. As such, I’m not certain this “rebalancing” will make much difference for those out of work.

This is downside of the Great Horizontal, when it’s viewed from a strictly modernist, top-down perspective. These bank executives know that reduced expenses mean increased profits, so their concern about employees is disingenuous, at best. They will be surprised when faced with the granular investment opportunities that will occur along the bottom of their top-down paradigm, and then the real postmodern disruption of the banking institution will begin. A modernist culture requires banks, but I’m not convinced they will be at all relevant as the twenty-first century moves along.

One thing is absolutely certain: making a living will be completely redefined, and the time to start thinking about that is today.

Remember the name: Emad Abu Shamsiya

The mainstream press won’t do this, so I will and proudly.

Regular readers know that I am a supporter of Palestinian rights and a staunch anti-Zionist. I have Palestinian family that lives in Amman, so my view is outside the mainstream. Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, and therein is the problem, for supporters of Israel must believe they are one in the same. They are not, and the events that take place in the region daily are badly – and deliberately – distorted by influential groups who are manipulating truth for their own gain. This is especially true in the United States, where we send staggering resources in support of an Israeli government that is badly out of control. It’s the duty of certain American evangelical Christians to look the other way, because they believe Zionism is Biblical prophecy fulfilled. With such a belief in place, it’s necessary to deny any narrative that disputes this, no matter how logical, reasonable, or validated it may be. So deeply held is this belief that their ears are utterly shut to all but the Israeli narrative.

The irony of this is that Zionism – which was born of a response to the Holocaust – has produced in Israel a clone of the Warsaw Ghetto from which the Jews fled in the first place. This ghetto is where Israel “allows” Palestinians to live in the occupied territories, a euphemism for land the Israelis possess illegally. Israel wants all of that land for itself, and American Christians support it, because God promised them everything from the sea to the Jordan River. Of course, this promise was tied to righteousness, which is nowhere to be found in the current State of Israel. But I digress.

The shooter, Elor Azraya

The shooter, Elor Azraya

I’m a reader of Mondoweiss, a publication that reports about the Middle East from a perspective that asks hard questions about the Zionist narrative. Well-intentioned Americans may think of the daily events in these territories as reflecting on our own “wild west,” but the law in the west never sanctioned extrajudicial executions of outlaws by lawmen. This is why a disturbing video by Emad Abu Shamsiya last Thursday of such an execution in the streets of the Hebron ghetto has raised such alarm. The photo to the right is Elor Azraya, a young Israeli soldier who executed a wounded, immobile, unarmed, and incapacitated Palestinian named Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif. According to the Israelis, the victim and an accomplice had stabbed another Israeli soldier.

The shooter, Azraya, claims he thought the victim might have had a bomb and shot him when the semi-conscious man moved. This documented event is causing turmoil not only in the occupied territories but on the streets elsewhere, for we have seen this kind of atrocity coming for months. Azraya’s real crime was getting caught on video, but even his lawyer says it was justified, that Azraya “acted in accordance with the rules of engagement as suggested by his superiors.” Mondoweiss reported recently that “the practice of Israeli medics abandoning triage protocol is increasingly prevalent and has support among medical professionals and some in the government.” The abandonment of internationally recognized triage protocols means death for the Palestinians, and death outside judicial oversight.

I’ve seen the video a dozen times. Here, I’ve isolated frames of the video, so that you can see for yourself what happened. This is murder in the streets, in a ghetto created by Israelis to support its expansionism.

The Palestinian is on the ground (arrow), just beyond an ambulance that is moving slowly. Azraya is circled. He’s speaking with another soldier who some suggest is a superior. Watch what happens, and note the two soldiers closest to the Palestinians. They are talking on the phone and are 3-4 feet away, and yet they do not suspect any sort of threat.

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This is the frame in which the gunshot rings out and the man on the ground’s head explodes. After the ambulance passes, we see streams of blood flowing from the man’s head. It’s hard to watch and not be affected.

Mondoweiss interviewed the man who shot the video a few months ago as part of an ongoing series of reports about life in the Hebron ghetto. He has been threatened many times, and especially since the release of the above video last week. The latest insult today comes from two Israeli Hebron settlers who suggest that the shoe cobbler who shot the video was acting in concert with the two dead Palestinian attackers in the hopes of capturing on video exactly what he did. They call it “naive” to think otherwise:

Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bentzi Gopstein, far-right settlers and followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, have filed a complaint with Israeli police against Emad Abu Shamsiya, the Palestinian videographer who captured the execution of an incapacitated Palestinian suspect in Hebron.

In their letter to the police, they claim that Abu Shamsiya’s presence during the killing is no coincidence, but was coordinated with the alleged attack in order to capture damning video.

Remember the name Emad Abu Shamsiya – the shoemaker. He will be in the news again.

And so the story advances, with only one side being told in the West. The Israelis have charged the shooter with murder, but there is no evidence whatsoever that he will be held accountable, despite the public pronouncement of Israeli leaders. This is simply political chest-beating, while the real story takes place in the streets, where shoot-to-kill is the order. Such is the dehumanization of Zionism’s opponents.

And if you can get quiet enough, you’ll hear the voices of the brave Jews from the ghetto of Warsaw crying out in shame, “How could you?”

The Tiny Homes Disruption

From time-to-time, I come across little signposts pointing to the disruptive nature of our horizontal culture. Here’s one that requires a certain vision that’s not commonly shared. It’s an article from fastcoexist.com, a niche vertical information site from the folks at Fast Company.

tinyhomesThis is a fascinating look into the tiny home movement and the work of Auburn University engineering students. The idea is to build a house that costs less than $20,000 in order to sustain somebody living below the poverty level. If you’re a student of the movement, however, you know that people are looking at tiny homes in many places and in many ways. It’s an idea percolating from the bottom of culture, because, well, it costs so much money to own a “regular” home.

What these folks at Auburn are doing, however, is exploring (and changing) the problem of a housing industry that doesn’t fit the requirements of this new model. In addition to designing and building these tiny homes, a second objective is to do so in such a way that supports the workers who will build the homes. This is why they’re designing homes outside a pre-fabrication model. Apparently, that would be too culturally disruptive, which is the very real danger to the broader culture in the destruction of its institutions.

What they’re learning, however, is the depth of reinvention necessary in the new era. Rusty Smith is associate director of Rural Studio, the undergraduate program handling the work. According to Smith, they’ve had to study and work with zoning laws and banks in order to craft new approaches for each. These have been incorporated into guidelines that Rural Studio is publishing along with actual instructions for building the homes.

“The most daunting problems aren’t brick and mortar problems,” Smith told Fastcoexist, “they’re these network and system problems that are threaded together and all intersect in the build environment. We’re able to attack all these problems simultaneously—when we see a lever over here and wiggle it, we can very clearly see the implication it has on other systems down the road.”

And this is exactly the problem with infrastructures designed to support the top-down culture of a fading industrial age. Silos that are connected at the top each have their place in an elaborate – and highly inefficient – system in which each is rewarded for its disconnection with the people actually doing the paying. The Auburn University group is trying to overcome this, but it will likely only see limited success. There’s just too much at stake for the housing industry to up and revolutionize itself, and yet here we find evidence of its inevitability in a culture where the bottom is able to cut across everything to overcome the inherent bias of modernity.

Postmodernism isn’t just some weird philosophical theory; it’s a new age in Western civilization, and we – that’s you and me – really need to be paying attention.

Sadly, it’s not the kind of news beat that sells.

The futility of the darkened glass

darklyOne of my favorite thoughts from the Bible is that we “see through a glass darkly” in our human experiences. Now, you can find all sorts of meanings about this depending on which version of theology you embrace, what church you attend, or whose commentary you choose to read, but to me, it identifies the absurdity of trying to control one’s life.

In order to have control, one must know at least the immediate future, so as to avoid tripping along the path from here to there. However, this simple teaching – that we’re unable to see ourselves or our lives as life sees us – reveals the vanity of our efforts. What we want is some cosmic flashlight that will cut through the darkness and light the way, but that is the textbook chasing of one’s tail.

We’re happy to trust God and His promises, as long as He lets us in on the plan. We beg for guidance when, as Brennan Manning used to say, what we really need is trust. “Give us a roadmap,” we plead, “so that we can plan accordingly.” We have control over so very little in life, but it’s never enough. We don’t want to get whacked downstream, so we hope for knowledge of when to duck. This path is fraught with problems and danger, yet we pursue it until the very end.

The result, as Blaise Pascal wrote, is that we never really live. The best we can do is hope to live, and so, like a butterfly we chase across life’s flower beds, happiness eludes us. It’s only available in the here and now anyway, but we’re all worried about what’s next. This is the life trap that addicts know so well, but it is by no means limited only to those who suffer this terrible affliction. I thank God for the knowledge gained through recovery that I am a spiritual being on a human journey, not the other way around. This has opened the door to the study and practice of being a better human than trying to be more spiritual, for in this reality, there is nothing I can do as a human to “be” more spiritual. The quest of recovery is not to quit the object or event to which we are addicted but rather to learn how to live without it. It begins and ends with learning to “live life on life’s terms” and not our own. Most people don’t know that the author of our AA literature, Bill Wilson, added a fourth line to the serenity prayer, “Thy will, not mine, be done.” “Thy” has always meant “Life” with a capital L, which is another term I use for God.

This constant staring at the darkened glass is a human insecurity born of our insistent demand for our own perfection. We’re on a quest to be spotless, even though we know it’s an unachievable goal. We need be perfect, because we can’t stand the way we feel about ourselves or our lot in life, and if we can’t actually BE better, we can at least LOOK better. We live a life of “what ifs,” and we just know that it would somehow be better, if we could just perform at a higher level. We gauge our internal feelings by what we see in others, unaware that they, too, are just as imperfect as we are.

These are the challenges of what C.S. Lewis wrote about when he compared humans to amphibians, able to exist in two differing realms simultaneously. We humans tend to think in linear terms and live within our senses, which is why we feel comfortable with an anthropomorphized God sitting on a metaphorical throne. But we also live in the spiritual dimension, where this “dark glass” doesn’t exist, because there is no yesterday or tomorrow in the spiritual realm. The spirit exists in an eternal here and now. Time and distance are created dimensions, linear concepts that trap us in a world we can’t control, and yet we insist we must. The pursuit of happiness is, after all, a self-evident human right, right?

Like much of life, however, this is a paradox, for happiness depends on what’s happening, whereas the state of being happy, joyous, and free is one that doesn’t depend on external circumstances whatsoever. This is the place of human contentment, a safe zone to which we can retreat 24/7 to find rest and safety. Notice how David prays for this in Psalms 43:

O send out Thy light and Thy truth
And let them lead me.
Let them bring me unto Thy holy hill and to Thy tabernacle.
Then will I go unto the alter of God,
Unto God, my exceeding joy.
Yea, with harp will I praise Thee, O God, my God.
Why art thou cast down, O my soul?
Why art thou disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
Who is the health of my countenance and my God.

This isn’t some great mystery. It’s David retreating to his place of safety, away from the things that trouble his soul, and into the arms of God’s perfect grace and peace. The concept is so simple that it confounds the very human souls for which it is intended and why David felt it necessary to remind himself through this Psalm.

And I hope that by sharing this today, I’ve reminded you, too. The darkened glass can never satisfy.

The Long View

Elegantly quoting scripture in a blog post for Christianity Today, Blogger/Theologian Ed Stetzer has written a nice piece about the need for us to take “the long view” in our lives. In other words, keep our eyes fixed on the prize of an afterlife in heaven. He writes of “delayed gratification” and notes, “Our perspective on the future impacts our decisions in the present.”

Yes it does, Ed, but it can also be a deceptive and sinister trap.

canaanIt’s interesting that I would read this article today, for I was just considering the lyrics of nearly all of the bluegrass gospel songs that I listen to daily. I LOVE this music, and yet the overriding theme is the afterlife that Mr. Stetzer has written about. The general theme is this:

All my suffering and broken dreams won’t matter on the day the Lord takes me “home.” Here’s the chorus of My Eyes Shall Be On Canaan’s Land:

I’m traveling to the land of Canaan.
I know that He will take my hand.
When storms of life shall rock my vessel,
My eyes shall be on Canaan’s land.

This is the message of the gospel, the hope to which Christians cling that includes the ideas that “the last shall be first” and that rich people will have a very difficult time entering into that land of Canaan. Sadly, however, another interpretation could be “if I keep my nose clean, do what I’m told, and don’t make waves, I’ll be rewarded in the end.” And all this despite the corrupt nature of those in charge, who live the good life in the here and now and have their “good lives” supported by the labor and suffering of those who do so willingly in order to get to those shores of Canaan.

I know that I’m often pigeonholed as a cynic by those who don’t know me (and probably by some who do), but I just can’t help pointing out the convenience of this stance for those who run everything. And what is/was colonialism if not the bastardization of this spiritual concept in the natural world? “Let’s enslave everybody and teach them that their lot in life doesn’t matter as long as they’re going to heaven.” Right.

Back to Ed Stetzer’s article:

By contrast, the spirit of this age encourages you to take the short view. The Ashley Madison hack last year opened the world’s eyes to a website for people seeking to cheat on their spouse. They told visitors, “Life is short; have an affair.” The implication is “the long view doesn’t matter.”

But that’s the exact opposite of the perspective we see in the Scriptures. Instead the Bible says that life is eternal; therefore, live your brief time on this earth in light of the eternal realities. It’s about taking the long view.

It’s not that I disagree with his conclusions, but I do have problems with those who assume this or any other issue is a matter of black and white, all or nothing. If the quest for heaven is the goal of the “long view,” then it must follow that any other view is evil. This is preposterous, and yet that’s what were confronted with in the world of absolutes. Is it not possible – even preferable – to do both? Can we not live in the moment in taking the long view? These are the kinds of questions, I realize, that don’t sell a lot of tapes, but they’re the kind that must be addressed in the Great Horizontal.

Mark my words. The institution of religion will one day bow its knee to the people, for just like every other creation of humankind, religion began in service to others but has evolved to serving (mostly) itself.