How strange it is that even as science moves humans away from the centre around which everything revolves, modern society pushes itself in the opposite direction.
For some 1400 years, it was an accepted fact that the earth was at the centre of the universe and all celestial bodies, including the sun and the fixed stars, revolved around it. Ptolemy’s idea of a well-ordered universe, the earth at its centre, surrounded by the sun and planets – that made sense. But when Copernicus came along in 1543 and placed the sun at the centre, with the earth and the other planets moving around it, he did more than just describe how the universe is physically; he brought about a complete shift in man’s philosophical conception of the universe and his place within it.
With the advance of science, changes in the focus of philosophical thought and particularly the radical idea of evolution, humans seemed to have become reconciled with their place within nature. Or should have.
Why, then, are we the me, me, me generation, where all is geared towards the individual, where self-aggrandizing is the aim in life within common perception? After all, isn’t it the be-all and end-all of vast numbers of youth to emulate the stars of movies and sport, the celebrities of seemingly super-human attributes?
It would be nice – and is much in fashion - to blame it all on capitalism, which has in its inner core the ideology of individual achievement. But communism hasn’t shown us anything different. We need only look at the self-serving elite in the now-defunct Soviet Union, with their dachas and special privileges to understand that not everyone was meant to be equal, or the supposedly egalitarian N. Korea, whose late Dear Leader enjoyed a lavish life style with fine wines and food while his subjects were starving.
We can’t, surely, blame the media for their massive and obsessive coverage of the famous and the beautiful. The media cover what people want to see and read about. And with the world ever more exposable and open, ever more people prefer to be like the celebrities they see within a widening and self perpetuating circle of sameness.
Is there any reason – can anything be blamed – for this obsession with the self, even while science is showing humans’ place in nature, almost irrelevant in the scheme of a universe that is ungraspably large?
Instant gratification is the name of the game nowadays, even with – perhaps, especially with – those who are not hooked on TV reality shows and the lives of celebrities.
NOW is the new alchemy of life. During a period when instant gratification is shown as the aim of life and posited as “what it’s all about”, the idea that eternity can be achieved effortlessly is much more attractive than the lifelong dedication that has to be invested within traditional (Western) religions, their codes and strictures.
New Age concentrates on living, and living is NOW. There is no past, there is no future, all is in the NOW. Achievable with the minimum of effort – unless meditation is considered effort, which it is not supposed to be – NOW is the undefined theme of New Age wisdom as part of happiness, contentment, well-being and satisfaction that lead to the cycle of eternity.
New Age strikes a chord. Sometimes it uses pop versions of Eastern faiths, as does American spiritual teacher Baba Ram Dass (born Richard Alpert), who has been bringing Buddhism to the masses, helped by his 1971 bestseller Remember, Be Here Now. It’s all about “positive thinking”, advocated by Eckhart Tolle, plus New Thought ideas such as “The Secret”, which claims that the mind is so powerful that one can achieve anything.
NOW is the name of the game and the game is ME. It is what *I* can do NOW. It is *I* who will achieve what I want.
It is perhaps no wonder that New Age came along when it did. While science brings progress, and cosmology does its bit to show how insignificant we are in the universe, human enlightened nature insists that it is WE who count and that NOW is when it counts.
As a philosophy of life, NOW is convenient and comfortable. It allows one to be free of responsibility not only for the past, but for actions that could affect the future. And since NOW can only apply to what *I* do and feel, it sums up perfectly an age in which it is not important what *I* can do for the world, but what that world can do for *me*.
Strange, though, even if predictable, that at a time when science has done so much to add to our understanding of the world, it is the ME generation that holds sway and attracts ever more adherents. Science and enlightenment have parted company.
I don’t really see why we should link science moving humans away from the centre around which everything revolves, to the way humans see their place in the universe. Man has always seen the rest of the world through his own eyes, and will continue to do so, no matter what happens. I would even go as far as to say that this is cognitively programmed within him. Even if we discover that there are countless planets supporting so-called intelligent life, man will continue to view each day through his very limited concept of reality. And I don’t think this is so radically different today, from what it has ever been. Isn’t this the purpose of the nuclear family? Hero worship has been going on since the beginning of time. Aren’t the major religions based on this? The adoration of celebrities is no more today than it was at the time of silent films. Actually, youth trying to copy someone else, somewhat contradicts your contention that it is all about “me”. The New Age is seeking for answers, just as man has sought for answers since the time of the early Greek philosophers and even well before that – only the approach is different.
I agree with you that we are the centre of our individual worlds. My blog entry was a tirade against the result of what has become an obsesson: the fluff of instant gratification and all the junk that comes from it. The obsession and worship of celebrities and the ubiquitous reality shows are all part of “me” and “now”. When NOW is all there is and the past and future don’t count, the results are there for us all to see.
The ubiquitousness of reality shows seems to be symptomatic of our society, where fluff is what matters and where the words of celebrities, on any subject, are taken as more important than those of others.
Our society is obsessed with NOW and instant gratification. New Age is emblematic of the quick answers that can supposedly be found. It is enough to want something – and want it NOW – for it to happen. The fact that it doesn’t happen is even more frustrationg when we are constantly being asked to emulate celebrities to whom it does happen.
All this results in an anti-intellectual movement, where feelings are more valid than thought, and intuition is more valued than rationality and where the “heart” is more important than the mind.
My point about science was that we should supposedly learn from it. We should have advanced with it. The change from Ptolemy to Copernicus was not only physical reality, but a philsophical and psychological one. We – humanity – should see that we are no longer the centre of the universe. It is not a matter of the subjective “me”, which obviously is the centre of personal activity, but of the centrality of humanity within the scheme of a universal whole.
Interesting stuff. The ME ME generation however began in the Greco-Roman world where even gods were brought down to earth. The ME ME generation reawoke in the 15th century after a deep thousand year sleep. It’s a far from modern phenomenon.
Thanks for that, Frank. As with David, you mention that the me, me, me generation is not a modern phenomenon. You are right, of course, but we need to be cautious when comparing to what happened in the past. So while true that man has been placing himself in the centre, I maintain that humans have never before deemed not only that everything taking place does so for them as individuals, but that what is important – essential – is that it must happen NOW. The interesting thing is that we are witnessing this when science is giving explanations for nature that were inexplicable in the past. Just as amazing is that while science supposedly makes religion less relevant, there are just as many religious people in the world and that religious adherents are becoming more extreme in their belief.
NOW = present: Hey Ron, I thought you’re a one-way FUTURE guy; you didn’t believe in the present?
BS low – raitoanlity high! Really good answer!