Since the Industrial Revolution (not to mention the French and American revolutions) changed everything, ushering in the "modern" world, writers have been warning us that some ot the "progress" may not be in the best interests of progress. The tradition of warnings being ignored by the society that first hears them goes back at least to the prophet Jeremiah (VIIth and VIth centuries BCE), and probably further.
This selective bibliography contains a sampling of philosophy and other thought, mostly in English, that points out potential problems in they way society has been forging ahead into the uncharted territory of modern, and post-modern life. In general, I have not included warnings about threats of invasion or destruction by hostile nations; nor the rantings of some conservatives whose warnings are that we must return to the values and practices of yesteryear, since most of those are really code for "We white people want to have control of everything again, just like we used to."
(Conservative warnings often can be characterised as warnings against progress, as in the following:
I thank God there are no free schools nor printing and I hope we shall not have these [for a?] hundred years; for learning has brought disobedience, and heresy, and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them, and libels against the best government. God keep us from both. [p.239]
So, the rantings mentioned here are the modern-day Jeremiahs, usually true visionaries, who see behaviour, or trends that will lead to behaviour, that is either unnoticed or ignored by the larger society. These are the writers and thinkers that we should have listened to, but didn't because things were moving too fast, or their warnings seemed absurd at the time, or the people warning us were being marginalised and therefore not taken seriously, or - and this is the core of the issue - the power elite had too much capital invested in what was wrong to admit that different paths might be better in the long run. The classic example of this mentality, this power struggle, is the current (2010s) debate between the global-warming environmentalists and the industrialists who want to increase their wealth by endangering the world's climate in the face of growing consensus that the consequences will be dire.
Poetry, as any form of true art, is a perfect wrapper for prophecy and warning.
Children of the future age
Reading this indignant page,
Know that in a former time
Love! sweet Love! was thought a crime.
More recently, in World War I an eloquent and unlikely soldier-poet described his task, mere months before he gave his life at age 25.
This book is not about heroes.
English Poetry is not yet fit to speak of them.
Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything
about glory, honour, might,
majesty, dominion, or power, except war.
Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.
My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity.
Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory.
They may be to the next.
All a poet can do today is warn.
That is why true Poets must be truthful. [p.vii]
The World War coincided - some say caused - an enormous change in society that began brewing in the Revolutions of the XVIIIth century, as noted above. Many accomplished (and generally upper-class) people noticed this sea-change, and many viewed it as the loss of our very civilisation. Theirs was not the defensively-motivated despair of loss of possessions or power; it was a constructive warning of the debasement of culture itself as the massive middle class gained their foothold, the 'piece of the pie' that they felt they automatically deserved (as opposed to having to work, to struggle for it).
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) sat astride both the turn of the XXth century and the fin-de-siecle transition the new century thrust upon the world. Leonard Bernstein, in No.5 of his 1973 Harvard Lectures (available on DVD), describes the last of Mahler's (full) symphonies, the Ninth, as a "farewell to life", especially the Adagio (fourth movement). When written in 1908, three years before the composer's death, there was an almost palpable feeling among intellectuals and "sensitive people like Mahler" that human life/culture as it had come to be known was dying, breaking apart, due to "the rise of the bourgeouis class" and other forces. [The quotes represent Bernstein's words.] The symphony paints that bleak picture.
What kinds of people are these modern prophets? It will come as no surprise that they are almost always not considered 'normal', sometimes by an appreciative society (audience), and sometimes hostile. They are sometimes quirky, sometimes borderline insane (or completely so), but in every case, their 'muse' is different from the inspiration the rest of us find.
[William] Burroughs was a gifted mind; I mean, he was such a distinctive head. . . . I think [other, younger writers of the Beat movement] found in him a commentary on American sociology, which is what he is: a sociologist, in a way. It's what Naked Lunch is. I mean, it predicted AIDS, it predicted liposuction, crack, and not necessarily in metaphorical terms. He says, you know, the people were smoking a drug that turns suburbia into madmen; women in Beverly Hills are standing in line, waiting to have fat sucked out of them; there's a homosexual disease that insinuates itself into the heterosexual community that creates world panic. This is all in the '50s. He's speaking about a world to come, but no-one's paying attention. That kind of mind - being that he was also a counterculturist, if I can use that cliché - made him sort of the perfect fulcrum for young writers like [Allen] Ginsberg and [Jack] Kerouac . . .
For those who want it succinct, you can't get any better (or more honest) than this:
I don't try to describe the future. I try to prevent it.
Democracy is grounded upon so childish a complex of fallacies that they must be protected by a rigid system of taboos, else even halfwits would argue it to pieces. Its first concern must thus be to penalize the free play of ideas. [p.301]
The typical American of to-day has lost all the love of liberty that his forefathers had, and all their disgust of emotion, and pride in self-reliance. He is led no longer by Davy Crocketts; he is led by cheer leaders, press agents, word-mongers, uplifters. [p.60]
Since the earliest days the church as an organization has thrown itself violently against every effort to liberate the body and mind of man. . . . It was, for centuries, an apologist for slavery, as it was apologist for the divine right of kings. [p.260]
Perhaps the most revolting character that the United States has ever produced was the Christian business man. [entry #375]
[Orwell's original preface, titled "The Freedom of the Press",
was not published in original edition, and went undiscovered until 1971;
it was then published in the Times Literary Supplement of September 1972,
and in the Penguin (2000) edition of Animal Farm.]
Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark,
without the need for any official ban. At any given moment
there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all
right-thinking people will accept without question. . . . Anyone
who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with
surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost
never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or
in the highbrow periodicals . . . If liberty means anything at all it
means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. [Preface, p.2]
Perhaps the most sinister (and effective) device in 1984 is the 'memory hole', a "small chute leading to a large incinerator used for censorship" The term is used today (2010s) to describe "any mechanism for the alteration or disappearance of inconvenient or embarrassing documents, photographs, transcripts, or other records, such as from a website or other archive, particularly as part of an attempt to give the impression that something never happened." [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memory_hole ] This is also known as "revisionist history" in more recent times, especially in scholarly circles.
[from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allen_Ginsberg ]:
[Ginsberg] vigorously opposed militarism, materialism and sexual repression.
Ginsberg is best known for his epic poem "Howl", in which he
celebrated his fellow "angel-headed hipsters" and harshly
denounced what he saw as the destructive forces of capitalism and conformity
in the United States. . . . The poem . . . opens:
[see also the film Howl (2010) and the "Special Features" included on
the DVD, with many references to the influence of Ginsberg and other "Beat"
writers on the temporary revolution of the 1960s against impersonalization,
commercialism, conformity and the like after World War II.
Besides the striking animated images interpreting the poem as it is
read by James Franco, who portrays Ginsberg in the film, a re-enactment
of the 1957 obscenity trial against Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City
Lights Books, publisher of the poem is presented in a script taken
verbatim from the trial transcripts.
The release of the film in the second decade of the XXIst century,
characterised as it is by crushing pressures to conformity through
instant worldwide media, is remarkable.]
starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix . . .
[see also the film Howl (2010) and the "Special Features" included on the DVD, with many references to the influence of Ginsberg and other "Beat" writers on the temporary revolution of the 1960s against impersonalization, commercialism, conformity and the like after World War II. Besides the striking animated images interpreting the poem as it is read by James Franco, who portrays Ginsberg in the film, a re-enactment of the 1957 obscenity trial against Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights Books, publisher of the poem is presented in a script taken verbatim from the trial transcripts. The release of the film in the second decade of the XXIst century, characterised as it is by crushing pressures to conformity through instant worldwide media, is remarkable.]
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
[from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-Dimensional_Man]: The author offers a wide-ranging critique of both contemporary capitalism and the Communist society of the Soviet Union, documenting the parallel rise of new forms of social repression in both these societies, as well as the decline of revolutionary potential in the West. He argues that "advanced industrial society" created false needs, which integrated individuals into the existing system of production and consumption via mass media, advertising, industrial management, and contemporary modes of thought.
Atwood "chillingly projects a repressive new social order" in which religious fundamentalists take over the government and seek "to repair the damages wrought by a society 'dying of too much choice'." Women and racial minorities, of course, are toast. [quotes from Gardner's review]
[subtitle]: The Mapplethorpe affair reveals a linkage of quirky conservative impulses in art, economics and politics.
[subtitle]: 1990 was the year that 'free expression' ran head-on into 'moral concern.' But the conflict may only be beginning.
[subtitle]: Repent! The hour of the meddlers is at hand! And they are putting other Americans' views, behavior and even jobs at increasing risk.
[subtitle]: Twin malformations are cropping up in the American character: a nasty intolerance and a desire to blame everyone else for everything.
The American family today consists most likely of a work-crazed mom trying to raise shopping-mall brats in a world gone consumption mad. [p.127]
Americans don't want privacy. They want attention! They'll put a camera in their shower and show it on the Internet! To get on television, they'll marry strangers and eat a cow's rectum, and ice dance with Todd Bridges. They're trying to get on a show called 'Big Brother'. We are a nation of exhibitionists from 'me' to shining 'me'. And what we really fear isn't that someone's listening; it's that no one's listening. This whole country is one big desperate cry for somebody to listen to 'listen to me, photograph me, Google me, read my blog!' 'Read my diary; read my memoir. It's not interesting enough? I'll make shit up!' [transcript stored at http://mailman.fsr.com/pipermail/vision2020/2006-February/026040.html]
. . . manipulation of the organized habits of the masses is an important element in democratic society. . . . [p.4, 2017 edition]
Many parents describe themselves as . . . 'being swamped' by the pressures of advertising.
[Commercialism] spills into formerly taboo regions of our society, including the planned seduction of childhood from parental authority . . . [p.xiii]
Literary commercialism is lowering the intellectual standard to accomodate the purse and to meet a frivolous demand for amusement instead of for improvement. [p.195:19-31]
Kraus contributed acerbic critical essays to Viennese publications and turned down an offer to join the prestigious Viennese daily, Neue Freie Presse . . . He continued to publish polemics against the intellectuals, literati, financiers, politicians, poets, and journalists he deemed responsible for the moral bankruptcy of Europe. His avowed object was no less than the preservation of civilization, which he saw imperiled by the cozy relationship between the Austrian press and intellectuals. Kraus was a consummate rhetorician who equated morality with purity of language. ('Word and substance - that is the only connection I have striven for in my life.') He assailed the deliberate corruption of language by special interests and railed against what might be termed the artistic-journalistic complex of the time. . . . His attitude isolated him from all but a few close friends. . . . Erich Heller appraised him thus: 'The satiric radicalism of Karl Kraus is only a defense mechanism of a man ardently in love with the beauty and joy of living. [pp.197-198]
[quoting Karl Kraus]: I and my public understand each other very well: it does not hear what I say, and I do not say what it wants to hear.
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. . . . We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. [p.4, 2017 edition]
The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment. The very mechanism which ties the individual to his society has changed, and social control is anchored in the new needs which it has produced. [p.11, 1991 edition]
Balzac, with his prodigious understanding of human motives, scorns conventional values, defies fashionable opinion, as Beethoven did, and should inspire us to defy all those forces that threaten to impair our humanity: lies, tanks, tear-gas, ideologies, opinion polls, mechanisation, planners, computers - the whole lot. [p.320]
These are sad times, Miss Blake. All that is mysterious, all that is magic has been leeched away. People who do not see the magic in themselves seek it in someone else. They are so desperate for mystery, for something to believe in, they are willing to accept without question even the most outrageous propositions. . . . For the honor of being treated like sheep, for the distinction of being treated like gullible children they are willing to sacrifice. They would give it all for a scent of magic. . . . There is no Delos. There never was. . . . The masquerade is ended. To the followers of Delos I can only offer the sincere apologies of Leonard Randall, and one slightly-used piece of wisdom: Do not seek enlightenment in the vain and self-indulgent proclamations of those who insist you must pay for your own soul. Do not seek it in this box [television], or in the opinions of others. Seek it in the quiet turning of your own considered conscience.
The homes of yesteryear were adult-centered. Today we have the child-centered home.
[quoted in Diana West. The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization. New York: St Martin's Griffin, 2007, p.33]
Perhaps the most damaging, pernicious form of eros masquerades as a close loving family. The kind which - as the slogan goes - stays together! The whole function of the family should be to prepare the child to stand alone after puberty and go his own independent way to do whatever he has in him to do. The aim of a family is certainly not to stay together. Each of us must become a full individual in his own right and not limit or hobble others. But eros is endlessly possessive. [pp.103-104; italics original]
[from the dust jacket]: A book about parents who are making the child a new status symbol and parenthood a competitive sport
The trap is man's armored character [Wilhelm Reich concept] and there's only one way out of it. It's not drugs and its not religion and it's not politics. It's going back to the old apple tree and trying to do better than Adam and Eve did. It's trying to raise our kids to be more loving (most of the people who try won't understand how and will produce spoiled brats)." [p.118]
[p.287]: The impersonal. child-rearing practices which have long been
the mode in the United States, with the early severance of the
mother-child tie, and the separation of mothers and children by the
interposition of bottles, blankets, clothes, carriages, cribs, and
other physical objects, will produce individuals who are able to lead
lonely, isolated lives in the crowded urban world with its materialistic
values and its addiction to things.
. . . The contemporary American family constitutes only too often an
institution for the systematic production of mental illness in each
of its members, as a consequence of its concentration on making each
of them a "success." Which means that the individual
is gradually converted into a mechanism with a built-in design for
achievement in accordance with the prevailing requirements, entailing
the suppression of emotion, the denial of love and friendship, the
ability to trade with whatever serves him for a conscience, while
conveying an unvarying appearance of rectitude. . . . [p.288] The
cultural goal is to make a "he-man" of the male, and a
successful manipulator of her world of the female.
. . . The contemporary American family constitutes only too often an institution for the systematic production of mental illness in each of its members, as a consequence of its concentration on making each of them a "success." Which means that the individual is gradually converted into a mechanism with a built-in design for achievement in accordance with the prevailing requirements, entailing the suppression of emotion, the denial of love and friendship, the ability to trade with whatever serves him for a conscience, while conveying an unvarying appearance of rectitude. . . . [p.288] The cultural goal is to make a "he-man" of the male, and a successful manipulator of her world of the female.
[from New York Review of Books, 11 September 2012 (online)]: For Goodman, the unhappiness of young people was a concentrated form of the unhappiness of American society as a whole, run by corporations that provide employment (if and when they do) but not the kind of meaningful work that engages body and soul. Goodman saw the young as the first casualties of a humanly repressive social and economic system and, as such, the front line of potential resistance.
[a curious reference from the dust jacket blurb]: A refreshingly new and unusual approach to love, marriage and homosexuality . . .
[Pat] McCormick [former olympic athlete] issued a plea that researchers look into the problems that arise when children are channeled into high-intensity athletic training.
In sexual education as in other education, one should also not forget that we are bringing children up not to be children, but to be adults. [p.175]
The new education, in sum, is new because it consists of having students use the concepts most appropriate to the world in which we all must live. All of these concepts constitute the dynamics of the questing-questioning, meaning-making process that can be called 'learning how to learn'. This comprises a posture of stability from which to deal fruitfully with change. The purpose is to help all students develop built-in, shock-proof crap detectors as basic equipment in their survival kits. [p.218]
Glasgow: In the late '50s you indicted the Establishment and
the university system. . . . Where do you stand now?
Goodman: When you get an over-centralized society devoting itself to rather useless goods, empty power, statism and big corporations . . . you have to resort to small-scale, independent acts, including civil disobedience, rather than attempting to live up to social expectations that become ruinous. . . . This is very difficult to do when science and the big world are operating against you. . . . Survival is epsecially a youth problem because kids are deprived and powerless. As the world gets more ossified, there is no place for them. They are alienated, with little or no sense of the world. The only way you can learn to make sense is by being in the world. [p.62]
Glasgow: How do you foresee the '70s?
Goodman: There are going to be an awful lot of painful breakdowns - in the schools and in the streets. Because they don't have much of a world or any structure of quiet to learn anything in, the young will get stupider and stupider, until it gets to crisis proportions. Now I am for disorder. I think our world is too highly structured, we are overcentralized, people are entirely too uptight about disorder in the streets. When things fall apart they often fall into their natural wholes which are much smaller. . . . The stubborn opposition of the Establishment prevents things from falling into their natural wholes. . . . The powers-that-be should pull in their horns - simplify as much as possible, condone as much as possible, try not to enforce impossible law and order and so forth. People are not violent by nature. They are violent because they are pent-up and because they are frustrated or bored. [p.92]
The individual trapped in the struggle for prestige, recognition and appearances, is a helpless victim of his own wishful thinking. . . . Only when we transcend such a habit of mind can we hope to go beyond this trap and discover our own essential nature. [p.15; italics original]
[commenting on the young people he sees in Washington Square Park, on a Sunday afternoon, smoking pot and (presumably) planning the sexual revolution based on the temporary de-armoring they feel when using drugs] We can't achieve freedom through drugs because there's a law of diminishing returns in their use and because a whole society can't walk around stoned out of its skull all the time no matter what the kids say. The Cotton Mathers of this country who hate pleasure are just biding their time waiting to pounce. . . . When the antipleasure crowd strikes, there'll be no more pot and no more LSD and a lot less fucking and we'll be right back where armored people belong -- in the miserable trap we created for ourselves out of our own fear of love and nature. [pp.117-118]
If the person doesn't listen to the demands of his own spiritual and heart life, and insists on a certain program, you're going to have a schizophrenic crack-up. The person has put himself off-center. He has aligned himself with a programmatic life, and it's not the one the body's interested in at all. The world is full of people who have stopped listening to themselves. In my own life I've had many opportunities to commit myself to a system, and to go with it, and to obey its requirements. My life has been that of a maverick. I would not submit.
[from worldcat.org]: This polemic against modern society was written 27 years after the 1932 publication of Brave New World. Huxley addresses the prophecies he made in that work, believing the far-fetched fantasies of his nightmare future to be turning too swiftly into reality.
subtitle: George Orwell's 1984 - with its dark predictions of the future - was wrong. He missed the date by ten years.
I had a strange thought the other day that I
feel as though I'm probably a member of the last
generation to truly enjoy freedom of thought,
in the sense that you can't help feeling that
within 20 years, someone will have invented a
machine to read your mind. There's absolutely
no reason why that should not be the case
[given] the degree and the rate at which
technology advances. Whereas I know that
my thoughts are my own, at the moment, but
I cannot believe that many more decades will
go by when that will be the case. And I think
that's a horrible thought, I think it's
a frightening, frightening thought.
I haven't a clue what Amnesty can do about it
(nervous laugh), absolutely nothing, I suspect.
But it just puts you in mind of how fragile
and important a thing freedom is, and that
sometimes (actually?, I should think?),
you know, you have to take a stand against
what is deemed to be progress in order to
re-establish, you know, human dignity and
I haven't a clue what Amnesty can do about it (nervous laugh), absolutely nothing, I suspect. But it just puts you in mind of how fragile and important a thing freedom is, and that sometimes (actually?, I should think?), you know, you have to take a stand against what is deemed to be progress in order to re-establish, you know, human dignity and human freedoms.
This paper, presented at a conference sponsored and orgranised by the Program for the Study of Women and Men in Society, Division of Humanities, College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, University of Southern California, identifies the intersecting problems of the second-class status of women and the alienation of adolescent boys, proposing solutions centered around anti-sexist education provided by adult male role models. Some strains of feminism were leading to perceptions that men's sexism was the source of women's inequality. While partially true, of course, this view tended to ignore those men who rejected sexism and was beginning to impact the socialisation of boys, leading to what has more recently been called the "boy problem" - an educational and social focus on the betterment of girls and a decline in attention to the developmental needs of boys. (See, for example, Thymos: Journal of Boyhood Studies (launched in 2007) [Men's Studies Press], and its contiuation Boyhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal (beginning Spring 2015) [Berghahn Books] in which there are many articles regarding the 'boy problem' and similar issues.)
Among the issues outlined in this paper are the problems of 'engineered' research - studies designed and selected to support a political agenda - being used to fuel moral panic; previous research being ignored or distorted to support new social priorities (aka 'revisionist history'); and the practice of politics superceding, indeed suppressing, social-scientific inquiry in areas which society assumes the 'truth' is already known and accepted. The Child Abuse Industry (CAI) is identified as a self-perpetuating entity that encourages fear and misinformation as it purports to deal with a genuinely serious social problem.