Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Welcome to the New Medieval Era

The late Neil Postman, in his 1999 book, Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century, stood with us at the threshold of a new millennium and advised us what ideas and institutions that arose during the age of the Enlightenment we might want to consider taking with us into the 21st century. Not a decade later, we find ourselves approaching not a new Enlightenment, but a new medieval era.


Consider the following propositions:

  • Democracy, based on the free and uninhibited flow of information, liberty of thought, and freedom of speech, is quietly being replaced by “Mediacracy,” a system whereby an elite group of people either control the media, or control enough wealth to make the media an instrument to achieve their goals. Like kings, princes, and their counselors, Presidents come and Presidents go, as do Senators, Congressional Representatives, and Governors; but the ruling Mediacracy of corporations and their stockholders remains. Without enough wealth to buy a stout bullhorn, anyone of the peasantry who clings to the notion of “freedom of speech” is just mouthing empty rhetoric.

  • Information is the province of the elite, not the masses. In the middle ages, only the elite were educated to be leaders; only aristocrats and nobility were taught the classics of philosophy – Plato’s “Republic,” Aristotle’s “Poetics,” “Politics,” “Ethics,” and “de Anima,” the works of Augustine, Boethius, and Aquinas. The (narrow but constantly squeezed) “middle class” of bureaucrats and administrators were taught to read and write, but only in order to do their jobs – genuine critical thought was neither required not desired. The peasantry was entirely illiterate. What they don’t know, the elite mused, won’t hurt us.

  • Warfare is rampant and irrational. Medieval wars were fought over expansion of “turf,” over control of resources, or over religious differences. There were no wars fought, like the American Revolution, like the US Civil War, like World War II, on the basis of transcendent ideas, like “liberty,” “justice,” “equality,” or “popular sovereignty.”

  • One pledged one’s allegiance to no particular flag, constitution, or transcendent value, but to whoever kept you alive. In an age of constant fear and existential uncertainty, security was valued far beyond transcendent principles, because there were none. Torture and public executions were the norm (see medieval woodcut of waterboarding, above), and widely supported by the people. Who cares about the essential liberty of the human person when you fear for your life?

  • Armies belonged not to nations, but to aristocracies. There were no constitutions that demanded civilian control that was ultimately answerable to THE PEOPLE. No soldiers held allegiance to a nation or idea; all instead swore fealty to their overlord. That is to say, they were essentially “independent contractors.”

  • The nobility led lives of profligacy and hedonism, but made sure they were crowned and anointed by the Church. They thwarted true spirituality at every turn for the benefit of military and political advantage and, to be fair, the Church played along with the game in order to keep the protection of the sovereign.

  • Science floundered. The world was flat.

We seem, in the last seven years, to have built a bridge to neither the 21st nor the 18th centuries, but to the twelfth.

1 comment:

Renegade Eye said...

Your post is half true, except there is opposition on many levels to going backwards.