There can be seen today, in late modern society, a furtive obsession with sex in all its forms and manifestations. This is likely to be, among many people, an attempt to psychologically counteract the fact that, almost everywhere in late-modern society, death (abortion), sterility (the collapse of large and stable families), violence (burgeoning crime rates), and horror (in the media) reign. Late-modern societies have, indeed, in many ways embraced “the culture of death.”
Most prominently, there is massive abortion, which claims over 100,000 victims a year in Canada. There is the dying off of large numbers of old people – usually in miserable settings – who have often failed to have the children to replace themselves – or in some cases, have been callously abandoned by their children.
There is the burgeoning nihilism of young people, expressed, for example, in the obsession with hideous music, and with gory horror fiction, films, and electronic games, as well as with some of the darker role-playing games.
There is the apparently willing embrace of assisted suicide, of the so-called “right-to-die.” There is the explosion of rates of cancer and other diseases among older persons because of various chemical poisons in the food, water, ground, and air. Indeed, it could be argued that what was once called Western civilization is today committing suicide in many ways.
Today, there are also many “displacement syndromes” in public discourse, where serious consideration of most of the above matters is largely proscribed. These displacement syndromes include, for example, the viewing of tobacco products, guns in private hands, fast food, and soft drinks as inherently and unquestionably evil – and as targets for massive government intervention and class-action lawsuits. The displacement syndrome is at its most acute when people express such overbearing concern about the purely physical health of individuals (especially children), while paying virtually no attention to the cultural and spiritual aspects of what might constitute a “healthier” social setting and society. Ironically, physical health itself has been undermined (especially in the United States) by the increasing division between an overweight, spectator public, and a handful of “beautiful people” and sport stars. (Another obvious point is that overeating often arises from deep personal and social frustrations – and many persons’ sense of inadequacy is reinforced by media advertising, programs, and films that push the most excessive consumerism and celebrity-worship.)
It could also be argued that, in most cases, the more men imbibe readily available erotic imagery, the less they have of real sex, and still less of prospects of actually getting married and real intimacy. It makes more sense to examine the deep-seated social and cultural reasons why people are, for example, over-eating or looking at “porn” than to blame the fast food companies or internet sites for catering to those needs.
The fact is that there are many critical concerns about the future and direction of current-day societies that have been driven from “approved” public discourse. Without a clear, nuanced discernment in the main public discourse of “the culture of death” which threatens our society today, all of these fears tend to gnaw on many persons in an almost subconscious, “subterranean” way.
In some cases, as well, people – even when somewhat aware of certain disturbing facts – are permeated by an unwillingness to admit to themselves the painful truth in regard to the dystopic implications of such silenced social questions. So there is great unhappiness and frustration not only among those relatively few persons who are fully conscious of the great dangers before us – and who are mostly prevented from expressing them in “approved” public and academic discourse – but also among a huge number of more ordinary people, who sense that something is very wrong today, but are unable to fully articulate to themselves what the essence of the crisis may be.
The collapse of “friendly relations” between the sexes in the wake of the numerous social and sexual revolutions of the 1960s also means that surprisingly many people are simply unable to find a spouse, which is deeply frustrating in itself. And many quite superficially successful marriages often end in divorce, which to some people can be very crushing, both to the spouses and any children in such a marriage.
There are also numerous socially unacknowledged traumas in regard to abortion – obviously for women and to some extent for men (who today are simply permitted zero input into the matter), as well as for children in families deprived of possible siblings.
In the current-day context, the consolations of traditional Christianity, with its nuanced blend of reason, faith, authority, and ritual, and its sense of religious community, can be seen as offering a stabilizing, steadying focus for both the intellectual critics of late modernity, and for the broader population, which often seems to yearn for authentic spiritual meaning. Serious philosophical critics of late modernity bereft of religious consolation and the sense of religious community are, unfortunately, too likely to move along the baneful trajectory of figures like Nietzsche and Heidegger. It could be argued that the “culture wars” being fought today will tend to define the shape of society for decades, centuries, and possibly millennia into the future.Mark Wegierski is a Toronto researcher whose writings have appeared in American Outlook Today, Catholic Insight, Telos and The World and I.