Only Connect!

A conventional narrative of the evolution of civilization suggests that society has gone from a highly collective, as it were, centripetal society to a less collective, centrifugal one: “the centre cannot hold,” etc, etc. — hence narratives of modernity as individualizing, increasingly multicultural, relativist.

Atomization

For example, in Liquid Modernity (Wiki) Zygmunt Bauman elevates “individualization” to the defining principle of modernity, describing it this way:

“individualization” consists of transforming human “identity” from a “given” into a “task” and charging the actors with the responsibility for performing that task and for the [32] consequences (also the side-effects) of their performance. In other words, it consists in the establishment of a de jure autonomy (whether or not the de facto autonomy has been established as well). [. . .] Needing to become what one is is the feature of modern living — and of this living alone. Modernity replaces the heteronomic determination of social standing [via “estates,” i.e., “locations of inherited belonging”] with compulsive and obligatory self-determination [via “classes,” i.e., “targets of manufactured membership,” in the first wave of modernity or roles in the second wave]. (my emphasis; 31-32)

This principle is a symptom of a larger historical movement of de- and reterritorialization, of uprooting and transplanting:

Early modernity “disembedded” in order to “re-embed.” While the disembedding was the socially sanctioned fate, the re-embedding was a task put before the individuals. (32)

Bauman remains skeptical about his re- or the trans-: in “second” or “reflexive modernity,”

no “beds” are furnished for “re-embedding,” and such beds as might be postulated and pursued . . . often vanish before the work of “re-embedding” is complete. There are rather “musical chairs” of various sizes and styles as well as of changing numbers and positions, which prompt men and women to be constantly on the move and promise . . . no satisfaction of “arriving,” of reaching the [35] final destination, where one can disarm, relax and stop worrying. (33-34)

Nomadism — ethnicity, tribalism, and other loose or minimal collectivities — becomes the norm in modernity. Or, to switch the metaphor from solids to liquids, we moderns are taught to value liquidity: solvency, fluidity, rhythm — the dissolution of (old) bonds and the permeation of barriers.

To extrapolate (and to put a little pressure on the metaphor), a liquid tends to seek its level: it is “democratic.” But it can be pressurized: a steady state — like a ideal loose collectivity — tends to be transient (if that’s not a contradiction in terms).

But what if civilization were evolving in reverse? What if the drive to individualisation, etc, in modernity were just a reaction to the increasingly collective and centralized nature of society? The principal force in modernity would be connectivity — and thus collectivity.

Fusion

Marx and Engels called it interdependence:

In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence in every direction. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. (The Communist Manifestosec. 1)

Leaving aside the not-so-implicit colonialism of this assertion of a connective commons, perhaps we moderns, then, would be better to value entanglement: networks, evolution and involution, threads — the forging of (new) bonds and the enfolding of layers. If entanglement is the sine qua non of interdependence, whether it is seen to emerge from independence (like the “mastery” of the old West — or the newly mega-rich) or dependence (like the slavery of its Others — or those other than the mega-rich), we cannot ignore it, so we might as well embrace it.

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