Note: a revised and revamped version of this article was published in February 2019, which can be accessed here.
You turn on the TV or scroll through your Twitter timeline and see people discussing a viral video, recent political development, or editorial in a major newspaper. Everywhere you look, someone has a hot take to give, and heated debates undoubtedly follow.
Your uncle has a severe heart attack. Your family anxiously rushes him to the hospital, but thanks to advances in medicine, he lives. In the bed next to his, you notice a 90-year-old woman watching Jeopardy. She has no visitors with her, and she stares blankly at the TV screen without moving or speaking.
Although many of us have been in such situations, we often do not realize that the situations above are products of modernity. Modernity (sometimes split into sub-eras known as early modernity, postmodernity, etc.) is an era in human history unlike any other. Not just a period, modernity is also an ideology (modernism), a worldview, and a set of material conditions. It does not exclusively affect politics, but permeates every domain of human behavior and organization, often in subtle or unconscious ways.
Despite the extraordinary progress made in expanding access to education, a few aspects of informed public discourse remain deficient. Firstly, assumptions underlying our ethical and political debates often go unstated. Rarely, in the midst of discussion on current events, do we pause to ask: what moral framework is being used here? Which values are being applied and given precedence over others? Who is making these decisions, and on what basis? What is the role of government and institutions in all this, versus the role of the individual?
Our society is different from the way it was in most of human history. Because of concerted appeals to individualism, much of humanity is atomized, rather than community or family based. But we seldom ask, is this necessarily a good thing? How did this happen? Are there any alternatives out there, and what are their potential merits and drawbacks when compared to individualism?
A common way of approaching these ethical and political issues is to scrutinize Tradition. We see it all the time: “Islam, a religion of centuries past, is wrong about such-and-such topic.” Indeed, because we were all born in modernity, molded by it, and thus are products of it, such a declaration can be powerful and often persuasive.
Nevertheless, we must sometimes pause to analyze the lens of modernity that we too often use to examine the world. To dissent from modernity is not necessarily to disagree with what the majority of modern people are saying, or to give a specific answer to the above questions. Rather, it is to start asking such questions in the first place. At this blog, we like asking those questions, and a whole lot more. We hope you subscribe, share, leave feedback, and most importantly, give thought to the issues raised. Bismillah.
About the author: Yousuf is a developer with an educational background in computer science. His interests include science, technology, religion, politics, and more. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Photo credit: ebt47563 on Flickr.