Monday, October 29, 2018

The Great Disenchantment

I have given much thought, in my life, to a certain intellectual history that characterizes the stages from the early modern age until now in terms of increasing rationality and the dis-enchantment of the world. This story seemed wrong to me – wrong on the level of ordinary life, at least, and probably wrong on the level of intellectual life within the epoch of capitalism – or more broadly, the epoch of industrial production. Just as the money-nexus did not replace the gift economy, but rather relies upon it, so, too, did the collapse of the belief in an enchanted realm, a realm in which the rules of causality are bent to the charisma of certain figures, happen only partially, with the forms of it still in use as a support for the administered world, the world of parity products and neo-liberalism. Read a fairy tale and watch a police series on Netflix and you will see causality bend in both cases, adhering in both cases to our greater belief in charisma than in contingency. Cause and effect, deduction and inference, obey rules that were discovered at least in part long before the Great Disenchantment of the world happened, but they go against elements of the human grain as it has adapted to thousands of years of agricultural community to be repressed too absolutely as we bid goodbye to peasant cultures. What is culturally dominant is a compromise. This is not to say nothing has happened since 1499 – it would be sheer blindness to insert “universal human behavior” directly into history like it was some lego piece in a toy construction. Rather, there is a surprising elasticity in collective belief systems, which allow parallel and bifurcating systems to flourish and remain at once as distant from each other as the hot tip and the rabbit’s foot.  This is why I liked and disagreed with Doug Sikkema’s article for the New Atlantis, “Disenchantment, Actually: Modern disenchantment may be a myth, but it is still the water in which we swim.” It is a review of The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences by Williams College religion professor Jason Ā. Josephson-Storm.  More here

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