Recently, I said something interesting. I said:
“We are no longer in the era where ideas matter.”
In Western history there was a period of time when ideas mattered: the Protestant Reformation (1500’s) to the end of the cold war (about 1990). During this time a person could say something, or develop an idea, and it would have an effect in several different ways:
- Personally. The social breakdown that the Protestant Reformation created caused a condition where one no longer looked at society as the source of everything. One effect of this is a greater emphasis on one as a person. Because of this, ones views had more of an impact on ones self. More than likely, this effect help cause the great emphasis on individualism. In fact, there’s probably no coincidence that the era where ideas mattered (1500’s to about 1990) was also the era of individualism. After about 1990 individualism fell.
- Socially. The social breakdown, caused by the Protestant Reformation, also caused something like a ‘social vacuum’. The belief and authority that was originally there was no longer there. As a result, people were more receptive and open during the time where ideas mattered. People were more willing to listen and more willing to understand. They were also more willing to follow. Because of this, a thought could make a difference and could have wide-sweeping social effects. An idea that had great impact during this time (such as from Darwin or Freud) would hardly make an effect nowadays, if its noticed at all.
Ideas had power, during the time where ideas mattered, because of things like this:
- The ideas were new, novel, and original.
- People were more receptive.
- People would willing to follow.
- The lack of the systems control.
In many ways, these show that there was a breakdown in the systems control during this time. This appears to of been created largely as a result of the Protestant Reformation. This caused a failure in the existing Catholic system which had dominated Europe previously. In many ways, the Protestant Reformation caused a “break” in the systems control, allowing for this great era of creativity and originality. In many ways, the above conditions allowed people, during this time, to have more “opportunity” to be creative and original than people do today. Some of the qualities that promoted creativity and originality, during this time, are these qualities:
- A cultural base. Christian belief and European society gave a good foundation to work on and build upon.
- A lack of restriction. The absence of the system allowed for freedom to do things.
These contributed to an era of great creativity and originality. These two qualities, really, are a big part of creativity and originality. To be lacking in one or both curtails any creativity and originality and hinders its development. The 1500’s to about 1990 was a time where both were quite strong.
This isn’t to say they had complete freedom to be creative and original during this time. There were things that could prevent creativity and originality from developing or even starting. This includes things such as:
- Peoples opposition and inability to accept new things.
- A lack of base or establishment (such as not having an “Academy of natural science”, for example, to organize things).
- A lack of money or institutions that help promote things.
Nowadays, the “freedom of opportunity” has been greatly curtailed. Since about 1990, the control of system have begun to strangle things. A person can’t do things as easily anymore. If you don’t have the right GPA you don’t graduate, if you don’t have the money you can’t do anything, there are so many regulations and laws which prevent a person from doing this or that, people aren’t as receptive anymore, etc. Because of this, we are no longer in the era of creativity or originality anymore. In effect, we are, in many ways, in the same condition that existed before the Protestant Reformation – living within the control of a system. This prevalence of the controlling quality of the system has helped to destroy the era where ideas matter. The system is not conducive to ideas or making them matter.
One thing this reveals is that conditions are what makes ideas “great”. In other words, ideas are not inherently “great”, on their own, nor are they necessarily meaningful or useful. This is the source of my saying:
“Ideas are only as great as the conditions they reside in.”
The ‘myth of the inherent greatness of ideas’ seems to be a product of Christianity which glorified ideas or, rather, belief. Christianity had great cause to glorify belief as it is a religion that was trying to convert everyone. This made it so that Christianity put special emphasis on belief, making it all important and critical. This tendency of glorifying Christian belief would later transfer to the glorification of ideas, giving them an almost god-like quality. In many ways, the power of the idea, which was so prevalent during the era where ideas mattered, is really a remnant of the emphasis on belief in Christian society. In a sense, its a carry over, a remnant of the attitude that Christian belief is all important.
Another element of Christianity is the emphasis on the person, which would lead to individualism. This is a prevalent trait during the era where ideas mattered (as I stated above). Why is the person so important? Because Christianity was trying to convert everyone. This put great emphasis on the “person” having to believe and be converted. Christian belief also emphasized the “saving” of a persons soul. This caused a great emphasis on the person. In this way, Christianity laid the foundation for individualism.
When the Protestant Reformation appeared it would cause a “break” in the power of Christianity. This would cause two changes during the era where ideas mattered:
- Christian belief turns to worship of ideas.
- Christian conversion becomes emphasis on the person (individualism).
In this way, the “idea of the person” would matter during the time where ideas mattered and be greatly emphasized. It would gain great power and influence as a result.
Because these are effects caused after the fall of Christian influence I speak of this as reflecting what I call post-Christianity (see my article “Thoughts on Blind Christianity – some effects of the post-Christian era“). Post-Christianity is when Christian belief fails but many Christian attitudes, values, and ideals continue (because they have existed so long and become “implanted” in the society). Oftentimes, they transform into another form that may not, at first glance, be associated with Christianity (such as belief to ideas, conversion to the emphasis on the person, etc.). In other words, the era where ideas matter is a manifestation of post-Christianity.
Post-Christianity shows that there are phases in “life” of Christianity:
- A small group of people believe in it
- They convert many people
- Christian power grows
- Christian power is at its height
- Christian power has problems
- Christian power breaks down
- Christian belief fails to work
- Post-Christianity – Christian attitudes, values, and beliefs continue in a non-Christian way
- “Post-post-Christianity” – Christianity and post-Christianity no longer have power
This shows that there is a phase that follows post-Christianity, where the values of post-Christianity no longer have power: “post-post-Christianity”. The era beginning after 1990 seems to be a “post-post-Christian” era”. As a result of this, many Christian-based beliefs, values, attitudes, and ideals no longer have meaning. Since the idea and person are part of post-Christianity they, too, have lost their value. In short, the values that made the era where ideas mattered important are no longer there after about 1990.
We can also view it another way, as a historical progression:
- Christianity (pre-1500’s) – Belief is all important. There is great control of a system based in Christianity. “Christian power at its height”.
- The Protestant Reformation – A “break” in belief. The control of the system, based in Christianity falls. A social breakdown begins. There is a social vacuum. There becomes more emphasis on the person (individualism) as a result. “Christian power has problems” and “Christian power breaks down”.
- The era where ideas matter (1500’s to about 1990) – The worship of belief turns into worship of ideas. There is emphasis on the person. There is minimal control of system. This causes an increase in creativity and originality. “Christian belief fails to work” and “Post-Christianity”.
- About 1990 – The system regains strength. The person ceases to be important. Ideas cease to be important. Creativity and originality falls. “Post-post-Christianity”.
Since we are no longer in the era where ideas matter we find that there is an absence of “great” ideas. They say that there has been an unprecedented discovery and increase of knowledge recently but, with all this, can you say that there has been any “great” ideas recently? How can we have all this discovery and increase in knowledge and not have any “great” ideas? Its because, in actuality, ideas aren’t as important anymore . . . but people still try to make them seem important. I have always felt that people, nowadays especially, tend to think as if we were 50 or more years ago. In actuality, though, we live in the shadow of the era where ideas mattered . . . we are not in it. But many people still have a tendency to assume that we are still in those conditions nowadays. My own personal experience shows things such as:
- People aren’t really needed any more. The individual isn’t that important anymore.
- Ideas aren’t needed. Nowadays, ideas are a dime a dozen. If anything, there are too many thoughts and ideas. There’s so many, in fact, that it has become a blur. Perhaps we could say that we are in the “the era of the idea-blur”?
- Nobody really cares all that much.
Some people will try to replicate the “successes” that took place during the era where ideas matter (such as glorifying education and knowing things). Most find, of course, that nothing happens and abandon the attempt after a while. There are some people, though, who stubbornly maintain that ideas still mean something.
“Ideas”, it seems to me, are becoming more of a personal private affair. That is to say, it only matters to the person individually. They have no all-pervasive “great” quality or power (such as the glorifying of the individual in individualism). They are just views an individual person takes privately for private reasons. They also have no social power and influence. In other words, an idea seldom, if ever, has a great impact. The “idea of the person” has little power, as a general rule. What has power, nowadays, is the system. What the system does is what matters, not the person or their ideas. The only ideas that matter are when they support the system. This condition is part of what I call ‘systemism’, which is the prevalence of some form of an ultra-organized system upon the population (see my article “Thoughts on the ‘System’ and ‘Systemism’“). This system may or may not entail things like religion or government. It refers to ANY form of ultra-organized system and is often made up of many different elements (government, law, technology, morality, religion, ideals, accepted knowledge, etc). This means that what the system does and produces is what will matter. This is the era we are now in.
Copyright by Mike Michelsen