Myth and the 'Now' Part Twenty Three: An Ironic Culture
I’ve written in many earlier blog articles about the fact that we are living through an Ironic phase of human civilisation. In brief, this means that almost the entire culture is built around undermining convention, breaking down traditional relationships, and focusing on the inner world of thought and emotion rather than any outer, ‘harder’ realities.
Paradoxically, humanity's perception of 'reality' - as in external space and matter - becomes correspondingly 'empty' and without meaning.
Irony - in literature the genre which depends for its effects upon subverting the established patterns of the usual Epic story - has its social equivalent in terms of a societal consensus in which the targets of the subversion are the moral codes of any individual, group or society. As a literary genre, its effect is to create chilling emotional impacts upon readers or audiences; in society, this can be extended into various cultural forms until it acts to sabotage, threaten, weaken, compromise, diminish or reduce anything designed to uplift, restore or heal things. The trouble is that we have grown so used to Irony that it has become part of the way we think: it has become ‘normal’ to tear down traditional patterns and replace them only with what is subjectively ‘real’ to the individual, arguing that all earlier conventions and traditions were just subjectivity under different names.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of Irony when it becomes the foundation of a civilisation is that it tends to try to reduce any and all relationships to commercial ones. Thus education, for example, is perceived more as the training of individuals for places in a commercial workforce rather than the liberalisation of human beings; jobs are compartmented into salaried functions rather than being seen more holistically as life careers; the worth of things is judged by what they can fetch in the marketplace - and the marketplace itself becomes a kind of ‘holy temple’, the laws of which must not be transgressed against. A new kind of blasphemy arises - the blasphemy of seeking interactions with fellow human beings not based on commerce. Even marriage starts to take the form of a legal contract rather than a spiritual bond. Any attempt to live outside this material box is interpreted as a ‘con trick’, as it becomes inconceivable to many that such non-commercial relationships can exist.
Our Ironic producer/consumer society tries to package its members as either one or the other, depending on context. And we are encouraged to consume far more than we are to produce - it is perceived as a generality that need must be increased at all times to create the vacuum necessary to spark the engine of the economy into action.
The black hole of need could be equated to the dark pole of the bipolar mythical binary system that we have been examining.
The world of business is set up on these premises. Indeed, businesses all over the world are tremendously anxious to find and attach themselves to an ever-growing and ever hungrier body of consumers so that they will 'survive' commercially. Right now, for example, a distinction is still made between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ in business terms - websites and the internet versus shops and foot traffic. This will dissolve over the next few months and years as commercial enterprises come to see that, from the consumer’s perspective, online and offline options are part of a spectrum of possibilities. The consumer doesn’t care whether he/she gets his/her thingy ‘in a shop’ or ‘from a website’ as long as it is exactly what they want and they get it fast.
The 'winners' in this purely commercial battle for more and more consumption will be those who can isolate exactly what the consumer wants and then provide it as instantly as possible.
All of this produces a society in which interaction is reduced to finger-twitch clicking and as close as possible to instantaneous delivery.
Humanity feeding on itself.
You can research this for yourself fairly easily.
Because each and every giant company has invested millions into their internet landing pages, the first pages you hit when you’re contacting them. Whatever they are pushing at the visitor on that very first page reveals intimately what their greatest fears are. When you look at this, it's clear that retailers both small and large are terrified.
What is their biggest fear?
It breaks down into two parts.
1. They are petrified that they are not connecting or engaging with increasingly sophisticated prospects and customers.
2. And, on top of that, they are horrified by the idea that others are connecting and engaging faster and better than they are.
In the arms race for greater and greater commercial consumption that is part of our Ironic culture, the battle is not only to connect and engage, but to attract and lastingly acquire.
What we call a 'company' - and what we have become largely blind to, because we are immersed in the Irony all around us - is more often than not like a black hole craving our attention and desiring to pull us into its orbit.
But even the cold, materialistic retail world is slowly coming to see, if only superficially, that to be the market leader in today’s online and offline Cold War, you need not only to establish an initial relationship with a ‘prospect’, you need to also grow that relationship in a meaningful way, a way that keeps that individual, living human being connected in a vibrant, organic and expansive way with a business, whatever that may be.
A commercial enterprise is caught in its own paradox. To move forward, it needs its coldly categorised ‘customers’ to have individual, freer and broader relationships with it. It needs them to ‘fall in love’ with it on some level. Then, as they grow, it must grow with them.
It needs to have its own solar system of customers, each one joyously content to be in orbit around it, each one progressing closer and closer to the light.
In other words, the only way forward for an Ironic culture is to return to the organic patterns of original Myth.
In that way, perhaps the modes that began with Myth and seemed to end with Irony curve around into a circle after all.