Is Our World Modernist Or Postmodernist?

A case study review of some of the political and social changes that has influenced our modern society

With the changing tides in today’s world in relation to the political and economical instabilities and our altering ideologies; do we still believe in the freedom of speech and democracy like our predecessors? Or have we developed a mental mechanism by normalising the problems to adapt to the uncertain times?

Capitalism in the food industry

Our Daily Bread, a film by Nikolaus Geyrhalter, is a minimal and non- judgmental postmodern documentary film which highlights the notion of mass production, capitalism and the industrialised society we live in. It’s a reflection of our society’s values based on everything being produced quickly and efficiently as possible using modern day technology. In the book Black Mass, John Gray states that “Marx perceived that capitalism is an economic system that unsettles every aspect of human life.”

‘Our Daily Bread by Nikolaus Geyrhalter trailer via Youtube

The documentary is quite raw in its portrayal of farm life and factory food production. It’s visuals could overwhelm people upon viewing it. This is due to the fact that we are not used to seeing the reality of what goes on behind ‘closed doors’ in farm industrial production. Rather, we are constantly bombarded with reality TV which further removes us from real life situations. Geyrhalter does not provide a narration that could detract the direction/visual message of the film nor does he offer translations in the conversations we hear. Although, you notice the length of each scene through the long tracking shots he does, giving the viewer time to analyse the situation inside the frame.

It’s intellectually distinctive in its view of moral questions like the phrase ‘you are what you eat’. If we can see the living animal in its treatment and not the end result of a supermarket packaged product, our perceptions of food might well change in what we eat and how. Yet, the traditional way of food production is not like it used to be. We are now faced with a global industry that is based on something called the ‘agribusiness’ – an agriculture that is regulated for commercial purposes. It’s a competitive operation where manufacturers and food producers set up the most efficient, cheapest and employ minimum labour in order to stay on top of the business; all for the capitalists profit.

The industry is solely consumer focused and overseen by supermarket chains, food lobbyists and corporations. Food producers have to comply to and produce large quantities of farm goods that meet the demand for cheaper and good quality food. Because of this, many of our ethics become neglected, in particular the humanity of animals and plants, all of which are important sources to our lives. The energy cost of producing food, i.e. water, fuel, fertiliser and packaging is not considered when pricing the food product, it is a small percentage of what we see in supermarkets to the overhead cost of environmental energy.

Food producers cannot all be placed at fault with the growing problem of mass production, they are merely making a living. However, we as consumers are the ones who demand for cheaper and better quality food.

Capitalists know the negative results of bad and cheap products but choose to ignore this in order to make a profit from the consumer. On the other hand, alternative produced organic food has been around for a long time but neglected in recent years do the expenses of farming them. They are also not assessable for everyone but the minority who can afford the ethically/organic food whose prices remain higher. Ethical and environmentally friendly production costs more because the labour is demanding. But on the upside, the welfare of animals is considered priority, resulting in nutritional quality and providing employment.

Authoritarian and Totalitarian regimes, the Soviet Communist Party and Eugenics

Towards the concluding stages of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR), were two of the worlds biggest ‘superpowers’. Saying this, the US criticised the Soviet Union’s behaviour towards countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Likewise, the Soviet Union felt suppressed by the ever-growing capitalist outlook of the United States.

This situation is very much happening in the present. Back in November 2014, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron compared “bullying by Putin’s Russia to Nazi Germany.” This statement comes after continued tensions between Russia’s military activity in Ukraine, which apparently now has troops and artillery crossing the border. “This is a blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It defies all diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution.”

December 1991 was the year when the whole world watched in shock at the fall of the Soviet Union, breaking into fifteen independent countries. Its disintegration was applauded by the west as a “victory of freedom, a triumph of democracy over totalitarianism, and evidence of the superiority of capitalism over socialism.” The US especially benefited from the fall, resulting the end of the Cold War. The Cold War was primarily based on the relationship between the Soviet Union and United States after the events of World War II.

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Image: International Policy Digest

The Cold War dominated many world affairs over the period of 1947–1991. The Berlin Wall, the First Indochina War – which consisted of China, the Soviet Union and other communists parties against the US, South Vietnam government and anti-communists allies. This war occurred between 1946–1954, whilst the later war known as the Second Indochina War (1955–1975), focused on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (Khmer Rouge) led by people such as Pol Pot.

The growth of weapons of mass destruction was used during those times. A major example is the US using the atomic bomb to destroy the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This came from their refusal to surrender during the final stages of World War II.

From the beginning, Bolsheviks (a Russian communist party), wanted to create a new type of human. Compared to the Nazi regime, they did not do this on racial terms. On the other hand, they used the same ideals science to try and achieve this goal. Because of the nature of the project, scientific knowledge did not reach such ideology. However, the Bolsheviks were ready to use any means in achieving the ‘new human’ no matter how inhuman it was. I first came across the term eugenics when reading the fictional book titled Bible of the Dead by journalist Tom Knox. Eugenics is the study of ‘the science of improving a population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics.’

Bible of the Dead was based on the ancient site of the Plain of Jars in Laos and the cave paintings of France. It focuses on archaeology, politics of the Vietnamese war and neurosurgery. The surgical experiments in the story was done to citizens in Vietnam during the 1970’s to create the ‘new human’ combining monkey and human DNA in order for the new human to have the qualities of an animal. ‘To kill without conscious’.

Nazi Germany believed in racial sciences. They wanted to change the societies traditional values in favour of different social groups, i.e. Jews, Black people, Spanish Basque people and branches of government to compete with each other in a ‘parody of Darwinian natural selection.’

Racial science paved a way for Nazi’s high crime. Their theory that humans can be divided into social hierarchy and permit them not to intermarry people from other cultures is a dystopian way of thinking and an ideal that would never work. However, the collection of DNA samples to be used in research and scientific advancement is still making headlines. Recently, Russia has accused the US for collecting DNA evidence from Russians of various ethnicities to be used in ‘scientific analysis’. “The fact that our citizens’ fluids, organs and tissues are being collected is evidence that the US has not stopped its aggressive military programme.”

Surveillance, Spectacle, and Simulation

CCTV in the UK has grown to unprecedented levels. Every year, millions of pounds is spent on the surveillance industry alone. It’s fast becoming an important part in ‘crime-control policy, social control theory and community consciousness’. When fear of criminals is high, critics of surveillance are seen as being ‘enemies of the public’s interest.’ The efficiency of the CCTV camera in preventing crime is another matter. But one cannot deny that the technology is changing the way in which we view our society in crime prevention, social stability and control.

In the past, religious dogma and public executions influenced societies. Fear was instilled to the people so that they obey the law or suffer the consequences of their actions. In the book Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison by Michel Foucault, he explains in graphic detail, the torture of a man (Robert-François Damiens), convicted of the attempted regicide of King Louis XV. “The flesh will be torn away, poured molten lead, boiling oil, burning resin, wax, sulphur melted together and then his body drawn and quartered by four horses.” Damiens was the last person in France to be executed by being hung, drawn and quartered. It’s really disturbing to read about such gruesome acts and wonder at the barbarity that people thought of doing to each other in the past.

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Portrait of convicted criminal Robert-François Damiens.

Public executions have long been banned. This does not mean that we can get away with crime without being seen or punished. Everything we do is being recorded. Because of this fear, we have developed a mental camera in our minds. We question our actions and guilt. An example of this is when you walk past police officers, you immediately ask yourself “did I do anything wrong’?” Or when you walk in or out of a shop with a paid for item and the security barriers beep when you walk past, you feel guilt because people might think that you stole something when you know you are innocent.

The criminalisation and demonisation of being a black or brown person makes us even more hyperaware to such threats in our privacy and overall being. People are always watching us, waiting for one of us to make the slightest hiccup to enforce false authority.

People like Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks Julian Assange, are known for hacking into highly classified material from the US and British government amongst many others. Snowden has revealed on many occasions that there has been various cases of global surveillance programs and government secrecy from institutions like NSA. He’s been labelled as a whistle blower, hero, traitor and national threat.

Because we live in an age of simulated reality – a kind of brainwashing cycle that is given to us by the media, politicians and people in power; people like Edward Snowden are considered threats because they shake the very core of the bubble that they have placed us in.

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Image: Techno Bezz

News stories of government surveillance have constantly made headlines. A while ago, twitter filed a lawsuit on the US government for requesting the details of Twitter’s users and for it to be published. In the suit filed in the district court of Northern California, Twitter has appealed for “relief from prohibitions on its speech in violation of the first amendment.”

Journalists have complained that the Obama administration has gone to extreme lengths to block them out from getting access to government information. In the report by journalist Leonard Downie, he has spoken about the tactics used by the administration to create transparency “unprecedented use of the Espionage Act in prosecuting media leaks, classifying government documents as secret when no harm could come from their release, increased government surveillance that jeopardizes the safety of news sources, Freedom of Information Act violations, and White House-produced content that can’t substitute for independent, accountability journalism.”

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In the end, with all of the activities going on in our modern society and our way of thinking, we might question if we are really progressing in post-modernity or are we still stuck with past ideologies?

Writer and visual artist // I write about culture and societal issues with a focus on the effects of colonialism, globalisation and capitalism.

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