Jean-François Lyotard defined postmodernism as the incredulity of metanarratives. In other words, the once grand unifying narratives that brought people together has been shattered, an entropic rotting away. The grand narratives such as Christianity or Nationalism or Communism, these metanarratives that defined order and provided identity to the people are no more. Postmodernism is the shattered of overarching metanarrative into individualized micro narratives that are loosely held together through a consensual reality. In the US one could say consumerist materialist culture, social media, and vague democratic ideals are what loosely hold together the pluralist micro narratives. One person a Baptist, the next a vegan Wiccan, the other an atheist anarchist, the list goes on. Identities are a dime of dozen, micro narratives are a dime a dozen, though it can be argued with this immense quantity comes a total lack of quality and content. Indeed there may be many trees, but the roots are shallow and undeveloped.
For decades we have celebrated this, the shattering of an authoritarian metanarrative which allows individual liberty and personal interpretations of reality. As a person who has lived a fairly libertine lifestyle, at least intellectually, the ‘death of God’ has benefitted me greatly due to the liberty it as granted me. It is the ebb and flow. Speaking as analogy, the laws of thermodynamics tells us that there is conservation, erosion, absolute zero, and so forth. Heraclitus said that change is constant, that strife is justice, that all things come forth through conflict and war. It is futile to lament the past and nostaligically wish for a return to a supposed ‘golden era’. Time is indeed cyclical, and while we are currently experiencing extreme points of entropy, of fragmented interpretations, we must pause and ask the importance of identity. We have ‘philosophized with a hammer’, and there is more to be done, but in the midst of entropy we must acknowledge that we are lacking identity. Despite our celebration of chaotic dissolution, there is a lacking core or identity that we are consciously or unconsciously craving to restore.
It is not new that humans often desire to be apart of something bigger. Whether it be community, tradition, religion, a social cause, the list goes on. To some degree this need is satisfied in present day, but largely our current existence consists of atomized and isolated living. Paycheck to paycheck, political circuses, job to job, buzzing social media, people simply exist in this fragmented constant. Zygmunt Bauman has referred to the present as the ‘Liquid Age’. Roots are few and far between, intrinsic identity gives way to nomadic living. Rarely is this consciously and openly acknowledged. The detriment is seen moreso indirectly, or sublimated, but the need for identity persists. How and in what ways this need is satisfied is quite a realm of postmodern madness. Identity is lost and like madmen with amnesia we desperately claw to replace it.
The most blatant rise of identity crisis is found in identity politics. It both simultaneously dethroned class politics and provided a group identity to those without. Originally this was pragmatic concerning civil rights and so forth, yet now we have entered rabid identity madness. Identity has become a commodity, both in the political and consumerist realm. Are you gay? A woman? Transgender? Black? Afro Carribbean? Disabled? Asexual? Identity has become a commodity, a mere product to be traded in social media and used in political ploys. It has become little more than a freshman shopping for the right sorority of fraternity. This isn’t truly identity though. These are labels that come with preset positions that are deemed righteous by the trend. A label is not an identity, despite it being treated as one. An identity goes deeper and more intimate than a socio-economic label that places one snuggly into the political circus and media demographic. Identity politics are labels that pass themselves off as identity, when in actuality they are only social-political tools, for better or worse. Unless one digs much deeper, these ‘identities’ or ‘identity commodity’ remain only skin deep. Not much more than a name tag to show the world which tidy demographic contains you.
In 2002 through today, in France there has been a movement dubbed the Identitarian movement. It consists of European youth of far right influence whom demand a return and recognition of their own European heritage. This is crucial in the face of mass immigration and neoliberal monoculturalism that aims to strip European nations of heritage, rendering it tabula rasa, a blank slate lacking identity altogether. While I am personally not an advocate or involved in this “Generation Identity”, it is again clear evidence of the current identity crisis in our postmodern reality. Whether it be social progressives or the far right reactionist, both unconsciously express this desire for rooted heritage and identity. One may go as far as to say there is a desire for transcendent identity, to serve a greater good, to be apart of something honorable, to be apart of a narrative far grander and vaster than oneself. Even the diehard individualist could desire this, for it is a false dichotomy to divorce individualism from identification with a higher order or higher narrative.
In the 20th century, and even before that, there was intimiate identification with Nationalism or an abstract ‘military honor’. Whether it be the reign of Napoleon, the Nationalism of Mussolini and the Iron Guard of Romania, or American patriotism in the face of Nazi threat. In similar fashion, the rise of Communism meant devotion to ‘The Party’. Even presently in China, it is ‘The Party’ of which is the supposed fill in for metanarrative authority. Without a doubt these authoritarian metanarratives, Nationalist or not, have paved way to wicked acts and horrific cruelty. This must be acknowledged, but at the same time we must also acknowledge the power and perhaps requirement that humans have to identify with a transcendent identity or transcendent metanarrative. I am not saying these are the answers, rather these were attempts at remedying the identity crisis, the existential crisis of the people.
The two largest religions, Christianity and Islam, have provided an authoritative metanarrative for the past two thousand or so years. It is filled the need to be rooted, to be apart of a transcendent identity, to be apart of Tradition in the primordial transcendent sense of the term, as well as tradition in the regional custom and cultural sense. It goes without saying the influence of Christianity has severely eroded. Personally I am not a Christian in the least, but one must acknowledge its function and role as providing transcendent identity and providing a grand metanarrative to the masses for ages now. The other religious authoritative metanarrative is Islam, and while much can be debated about it, one must admit it has maintained its zealous vibrancy and thickly woven together solidity as an authoritative metanarrative. In fact it can be argued that it is an immediate threat to the West, in that the West has undergone entropy and fragmentation, resulting in materialism and consumerism, Islam has maintained at least its exoteric solidity. It could be seen as a legitimate vulnerability that the West is suffering from a spiritual-existential crisis, and Islam looms ever closer, deported little by little into European nations. That is not to place Islam on a pedestal, there are those whom would be quick to say Islam may enforce its exoteric practices in full, but is completely void of what transcendent esoteric content once existed. Vigorously reinforced laws and rituals without esoteric content is only bones without the flesh and life. I mention the state of Christianity and Islam for the sake of showing once again a need for identification with the transcendent, a metaphysical identity of self, an identity that has roots and meaning, not simply superficial labels and passing trends.
The content of a metaphysical identity is the sense of belonging that is intimate and powerful. It is not yet another social cause or the platitudinal ‘making the world a better place’, such sentiments are completely empty and passing fads. One could imagine a people that live close to the land, on a mountain, with customs that have been passed down through generations, and their own pagan mythology and folk ritual they keep close to their heart. One could imagine serving in the military, pride in ones nation, serving to the best of ones ability and believing in the power of the State actor; protecting its people and having only the wellbeing of the people at heart. One could imagine a craft passed down through generations, hands on physical labor that shapes and forms something beautiful, tips and methods that mold the tangible into something useful and long lasting, the crafting itself is an intimate soulful process, an emblazoned ritual that delivers goods and services to the community. Identity in the transcendent is vertical, both rooted downward and ascending upwards. It satisfies the soul as wine satisfies the tongue. It ends the restlessness of the nomad. It gives a hint of what an afterlife may be.
What then does that leave us? What happens when we attempt to go past postmodernism? A post-postmodernism if you will. What will emerge from the entropy, from the absolute zero, from the fragments and micronarratives? Will there be an emerging overarching metanarrative born anew from technological advancements and social global developments? That is what I am interested in. I am unsure if we can even prophesize what will emerge. People as a collective and at the individual require metaphysical identity, and in time the roots that form a metaphysical identity will return. There is no going back. There is only synthesis and an emergence from what is occuring now. Technological advancement, resurgence of nationalism, the spread of populism, the cry for uncensored speech, there will inevitably be a rise of an authoritative metanarrative that encompasses and synthesize all of this and more.