The current secular age of Modernity is characterized by a continuous redefining of the social imaginaries and moral horizons, by a kind of Great Disembedding (Taylor, 2007), which is calling into debate the very concept of identity. It’s a phase of change that has seemingly set itself up as the age of the triumph of the plurality of linguistic games – which develop around social action – more than the age of the global and homogeneous (Lyotard vs Habermas). Modern and contemporary thought, therefore, seem to arise precisely from the knowledge of this crisis, from the given fact that there is no longer any indisputable knowledge, nor predominant cultures, absolute values, or indisputable truths, only knowledge that is probabilistically and statistically reliable, relative values, and complex explanations. In other words, one can see that knowledge is not only the result of a complex process of inter-subjective acquisition, but it’s also the far from predictable outcome of a course that doesn’t so much develop via logical deduction or the simple and linear accumulation of information, rather through the use of (casual or systemic) trial and error capable of advancing thought and research. Fundamentally, we are dealing with a crisis of western rationality and the forms of life it produces, a crisis that coincides with an autopoietic moment of self-production and self-transformation. The first consequence of the intrinsic dynamism that this crisis has caused has been a process of unequal development – globalization – which manifested itself in new forms of interdependence on a global scale which reflexive knowledge is making (self-)evident. In our opinion, this globalization has never shown itself to be a break (postmodernity) from the so-called first modernity. On the contrary, it has constantly contained all the contradictions typical of Modernity, extending them onto a global scale and radicalising their effects. The global knowledge economy continues to carry within itself two driving forces which were already present in Modernity, and which openly face each other dialectically – on the one hand, economic and technological interdependence (and inter-connection), and on the other, social, political and cultural fragmentation. Underlying these dynamics is the well-known awareness of the crisis of thought that’s no longer able to supply models of problems and acceptable solutions (Kuhn,1962).
Communication has always been decisive to the development of social systems and the improvement of communication flows from the top to the bottom of human societies has always represented progress, or at the very least a moment of passage towards new forms of social relationships and new models of mediation between interests and conflicts. Typical examples of this include the birth of democratic systems, diplomacy in international relations, and bureaucracy in relations between the citizen and State. In the current climate of change – which, by the way, is characterized by a profound crisis that is (evidently) not solely economic in nature – communication and social knowledge could practically contribute to a process of rapprochement between the power system and civil society, defining a new symmetry in social relations and therefore provoking an inevitable reconfiguration and repositioning of the public sphere, a sphere I call the “weak link”. In practical terms, this would translate to a strengthening of (local and global) public opinion, which would become increasingly critical and informed and, for this reason, a more active participant in and recipient of the choices made by politics. This could be radical modernity’s added value after the great illusion of postmodernism. From this point of view, the interconnected economy offers the new knowledge ecosystem extraordinary opportunities to democratise knowledge and those cultural processes capable of permanently breaking up the old industrial model with its consolidated orders, hierarchies, control logics and closure to change. Thus, knowledge, an immaterial resource of strategic importance for the change currently in progress, is increasingly starting to be seen and perceived as a ‘common good’ capable of restoring more balanced and symmetrical social and power relations. In this same line of discourse, it’s vitally important to avoid the historic error of measuring inequality solely in terms of economic indicators. Access to knowledge, information, and education; the possibility of having your identity and rights to citizenship recognised; equality of opportunity; the freedom to manifest your thoughts and to realise yourself; the development of an open society – these are all fundamental indicators as much as per capita income or GDP. Politics need to act in such a way that the social media and networks become technologies of cooperation not control, and to open up to the experimentation of new forms of democratic participation and to the power of the mobile many and smart mobs (Rheingold, 2002).
The logic of the self-regulated free market has had an important impact but the social-cultural element continues to be of absolute strategic importance in the interpretation of economic phenomena and processes. In this sense, we can’t ignore the way that the global society has been fashioned by the values of individualism – an individualism that is sometimes exasperated even by postmodern rhetoric – and by the myth of productivity without workers. In our opinion, a mythology of the Individual has almost been created, an individual who’s autonomous and free of every tie, and who seemingly doesn’t have to respond to anything or anyone for his actions – a far cry from the reference to the well-known distinction between the ethics of intention and the ethics of responsibility. We have gone well beyond any juridical and/or cultural ties. What counts is money and consumption, and the only (micro-) power citizens have lies in their being consumers. Such factors, together with the void of meaning left by the crisis of ideologies, have caused various consequences, including a kind of general moral surrender which serves to fuel the society of irresponsibility (Dominici, 2010), a society bereft of any ethic of sacrifice. The mythology of the sovereign individual, who has rights but no duties, has caused damage that it’s difficult to calculate/value in that it touches on respect of the Common good and the ‘res publica’, as well as the way norms, values, behavioural models etc are perceived and observed. This mythology, or put better, narrative, has produced, amongst other effects, a negative deregulation and de-responsibilization of social actors at every level. The space that this weakening of ties has created has favoured the increasingly massive and decisive involvement of the media – specifically the Internet and social media – in the formation of individual and collective identity and in the recognition and practical definition of social issues to bring to the attention of the political sphere. This further proliferation of formation centres and, more generally, of arenas in which thought takes shape and the praxis is planned, is proceeding hand in hand with the communicative crisis that is affecting the institutions and the traditional actors in the formative process, actors who remain suspended between an excess of information and a fear of disconnection (Zuckerman,2013).
The hegemony of instrumental rationality and the (self-regulated) market economy has resulted in the triumph of a logic of dominion that extends to all walks of social life. This process has also weakened the ties that transform individual choices into collective projects and actions. In terms of social cohabitation, a strongly individualistic global society has been generated which loads much more responsibility onto the shoulders of each social actor. The exponential growth of the power of finance has had extremely negative consequences on the world economy, and, above all, on people’s lives. The formation process of a virtual space through which economic and information flows pass at very high speeds, has done nothing more than deprive politics and the power systems of control over their own body, thus further distancing them from civil society and single social actors. And to believe that technology (in particular, the networks) can solve any problem, including the rapprochement of politics with the citizenry, could prove to be yet another fatal error. This is because the political and social praxis, even if it’s finding new virtual arenas for the construction and organisation of consensus and/or opinions, needs to undergo the crucial passage from theoretical elaboration to practical action which must affect the political decision-maker. And to do this requires informed, critically-aware flesh-and-blood social actors who are active and knowledgeable recipients within their networks of social cooperation.
The society of individuals, freed from the ties of tradition and, in a certain sense, at the mercy of the increased potential of instrumental rationality, has to face the exponential growth of the productive forces that have made the modernization process reflexive, that’s to say a subject and problem of itself. The advantage is undoubtedly linked to the fact that such risks can no longer be ignored – as in the past – by the public sphere and public opinion. And it’s in precisely this framework that we can place John Tomlinson’s analysis of globalization (1999), which should primarily be interpreted as a ‘cultural phenomenon’ made up of a network of experiences which has, by means of mechanisms of spatial-temporal disaggregation, profoundly changed the perception of the physical places where we come up against the Other, extending onto a global scale the effects of the local choices we make. Culture takes the form of a transnational resource. Globalization constitutes the empirical condition of the modern world, a condition that’s associated with the concept of complex connectivity, meant here as a process of «constant intensification of the networks of interconnection and interdependence that characterise modern social life» (Tomlinson, 1999). It’s a process that can be interpreted as not only the triumph of western subjectivist and instrumental rationality but also as the triumph of an all-inclusive and all-encompassing ideology which envelopes, absorbs, and shapes all spheres of the praxis and real life. And criticism of globalization (Bauman, 1998, 1999; Beck,1994-97; Habermas, 1998; Stiglitz, 2002), a producer of a disruptive individualism (Touraine A., 2004), is, in reality, a criticism of the global capitalist system, which is guilty of breaking the old alliance between capitalism and democracy and concentrating solely on economic and technological development without considering the social implications and consequences for individuals. The world-economy is progressively weakening the mechanisms and devices typical of democratic governments causing profound repercussions on the structures and hierarchies of the global production system, as well as, and above all, on the general architecture of peoples’, more specifically, worker’s rights and tutelage. Thus we can see the passage from a work society to a risk society, with the definitive emergence of a political economy of insecurity (Beck, 1986,1999,2007).
P.S. If you’re interested, my fifth book (I’m translating it in English)
– PEER REVIEWED BOOK http://bit.ly/1psrL48
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