Here are some thoughts I had:
THE “VICTORIAN” ERA
I tend to view that we are still in the “Victorian” era. Perhaps the term “Victorian” isn’t the best word but I continue to use it as it makes it clear that this era is a continuation of the former era (the 1800’s and 1900’s). I suppose a person could call it the “modern” era, if one wished, as its also true but, in this article, I will continue to call it the “Victorian” era. I also don’t like the term “modern” as it seems too “generic” and has too many other connotations.
I would say that there are, so far, two phases in the “Victorian” era:
- The classical or royal phase of Victorianism – about 1820 to about the 1970’s. During this time the image of royalty and nobility were dominant themes. There is much emphasis on manners, social hierarchy, and such. It was also very much dominated by British culture and society.
- The mass or mob phase of Victorianism – about 1970’s to today. During this time mass society is a dominant theme. As a result, there is great emphasis on mass communication, commercialism, etc. It is dominated by the U.S. but this seems to be waning in the early 2010’s.
Keep in mind that these are just phases of a larger era. What defines and unifies these two phases, and creates the “Victorian” era, could be described as a particular point of view and belief system, the creation of a specific idea . . .
The “Victorian” idea: “modernism”
The “Victorian” idea could also be called “modernism”. One of the reasons why I like to use the term “Victorian” is because of this association between “Victorian” and “modernism”. Since “modernism” is still active, and it was created during the “Victorian” era, we are really still in the same era as the Victorians of the 1800’s, but just in a different phase of it. As a result, I tend to view that the “Victorian” era will end when “modernism” ends. In some sense, they are too intimately bound to be separated.
There are three phases in the progression of “modernism” so far:
- 1800’s – the idea of “modernism” is created and defined
- 1900’s – “modernism” is realized
- 2000’s – “modernism” dominates and controls
The “Victorian” era, then, is really the creation and realizing of the idea of “modernism” and is, accordingly, intimately bound with it.
Most people tend to emphasize the prevalence of machines or scientific ideas as the trait of a “modernism”. There is some truth to this but I tend to look at it from a greater distance. To me, the “modernism” point of view is just a new version of an older idea. In short, “modernism” is really based in an old idea but stated in a different way. This old idea is really Christianity which dominated Europe for centuries and made a great impact on European thinking. Being based in Christianity shows that “modernism” isn’t as modern or as new as it sounds or professes to be.
One could say that “modernism” is, in actuality, the creation of a new Christian world, but without the religion, and in the cast of Greek ideas that developed during the period of time known as the Enlightment in Europe (in particular, the 1700’s) as well as the social and political problems that were prevalent during that time. Many of these problems, interestingly, are caused by overpopulation. Is it any wonder that, as “modernism” developed, it would cater to and focus on the the masses or mob of people? Isn’t it any wonder that this would define the later phase of the “Victorian” era? In my opinion, that’s no coincidence.
So we see that “modernism” is based in four main things:
- Christianity – this laid the foundation and set the tone
- Science and logic – from Greek philosophy
- Democracy – from Greek political thinking
- The social and political effects of overpopulation in the 1700’s – this gave it a reality and purpose
One thing that this points out is the fact that “modernism”, though it was created and realized in the “Victorian” era, actually reflects the social and political conditions of the era that preceded it (the 1700’s) and is, in actuality, an attempt to solve those problems. In this way, one could probably say that “modernism” is really a form of thinking that primarily reflects 1700’s reality. Because of this, “modernism” tends to take points of view that were common then and apply them to current situations. I often call this tendency “forcing the interpretation”. Some examples include:
- That people are oppressed by governments, etc.
- That we are all struggling for freedom.
- That life is miserable.
- That everything is solved by intellectual thought and science.
- That the solution to problems is something new or some form of reform (reflecting the success of the new scientific thinking over older Christian thinking).
Since these are not constant and all pervasive conditions, and tend to be automatic assumptions of “modernism”, it shows that “modernism” tends to assume certain conditions and realities that are often not existing. This is why I jokingly say that “modernism is stuck in the 1700’s” which is said in irony as “modernism” tends to professes that it is up-to-date or modern. Actually, its not as up-to-date as it seems. In actuality, “modernism” has this tendency to actually be somewhat detached from current existing conditions oftentimes. As a result, it tends to an idealism over real-world reality. That is to say, there is a lot of “pie in the sky” thinking with “modernism”. Oftentimes, what it considers up-to-date, or modern, is the latest thing that IT created, not the real-world reality. This point of view I’ve seen with some of the so-called Millennials. They think they are “more modern” over, say, the older generation because they have the latest apps! But all they are doing is catering to the latest gizmo’s and gadgets that “modernism” has created. This reflects the idea that “a person is up-to-date, or modern, only if they cater to what the modern world has created”. But we must remember that there is a whole world beyond what “modernism” has created . . . and this is conspicuously absent! As a result of this mentality, “modernism” as if creates a point of view where it is a “world unto itself” detached and removed from real-world reality. Its because of this detached mentality that I’ve often said that we need to move out of the “modernism” way of thinking and a new “up-to-date” and real-world direction that isn’t so rooted in past conditions and realities and “pie in the sky” thinking.
Being that the “Victorian idea” of “modernism” is really a continuation of Christianity it displays similar traits to Christianity, such as:
- The belief in a specific “doctrine” that must be adhered to (the doctrine of science, democracy, etc.)
- A sense of self-righteous cause.
- The idea that it will save humanity.
- A tendency to fanaticism.
- A missionary attitude, they the world must be converted to “modernism” and it will be saved by it.
All these would be seen in the “Victorian” idea of “modernism”. They would give it its cause, its direction, and its impetus. I tend to think that the underlying “Christian cause” is what actually motivates “modernism”, in actuality. One reason for this is the fact that Christianity has been such a powerful influence in Europe for so long. In many ways, there isn’t any power in anything new . . . its unproven . . . and so the new “modernism” needed the authority and power of existing and firm Christian ideals to rest on. Without the authority of the “Christian cause’ I think “modernism” would of been powerless.
THE “VICTORIAN APPREHENSION”
Interestingly, the conditions of the “Victorian” era have created a unique form of apprehension, which can turn into a fear. Because of this, “modernism” tends to be associated with an apprehension and it permeates much of its history. This apprehension is often referred to in roundabout, and simplistic, ways such as the “fear of change” or “fear of the new” but I think there is a little bit more to it than what those simple explanations state. It seems, to me, that this apprehension has origin in things such as:
- Its a post war society. Victorian society was right after the Napoleonic Wars and had all the tension, turmoil, and anguish that follows post war societies.
- The coming of many new inventions, conditions, and realities. The new steam engines, locomotives, chemicals, etc. that appeared caused an apprehension.
- Things were happening too fast. Many people didn’t have time to get used to or adapt to things.
- An uncertainty about what will happen. With all the new things that were appearing no one knew what to expect . . . good? . . . bad? . . . who knows?
- The Christian idea of sin which caused a doubt about ourselves and what we’re doing. The Christian idea that humanity is evil-natured did not make all the new things that were being created necessarily look good.
This apprehension, I think, has had great impact on the “Victorian” era far more than it may, at first, seem. Much of this apprehension, though, was not overtly stated or felt. In this way, it as if cast a shadow over this era.
As time went on, various things would greatly aggravate this apprehension and even turn it into fear. This is particularly so with the realization of the many negative sides that “modernism” created such as:
- The increasingly deadly and efficient weapons of war.
- The more efficient controlling means of governments, organizations, and society.
- The damage to culture and belief.
- The damage to the environment.
- The changes to society.
- The fall of a sense of the individual.
But, for many people, this apprehension as if “hangs over them like a dark cloud” and never goes away, regardless of what happens. In other words, apprehension is a trait of the “Victorian” era and hangs over it like a dark cloud. This is as much true today as in the 1800’s.
THE “POST IDEALISTIC-CAUSE WAR” SOCIETY
It seems, to me, that a significant aspect of the “Victorian” era is that it is a “post idealistic-cause war” society. I mean that it follows the French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars. Though these are two different events they are intimately bound and are part of a greater complex of events. In the end, they had dramatic effect on Europe in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. They as if sucked Europe into it and set a tone for the “Victorian” era and the development of “modernism”. In fact, I think I would go on to say that they had a large hand in the creation of the “Victorian” era and may, perhaps, be largely responsible for its eventual form, direction, as well as the creation of “modernism”. There are a number of reasons for this:
- The themes that the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars created were extensive and on many different levels
- Many of its ideals were very much based in the ideas of the Enlightment, such as science and democracy
- It became associated with a high cause (freedom, progress, nationalism, etc.) which is why I call it an “idealistic-cause” war
- It was somewhat traumatic and horrifying
- It was highly publicized because of better mass communication
These made the issues around the French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars a more European affair and exposed certain themes (such as those of the Enlightment) to more of the European population. It also made the social and political problems of Europe more “real”, so to speak, and the threat of war “at ones door”, so to speak, for many people. These threats as if hung over the early-mid part of the 1800’s, in particular and influenced much of the thinking at that time.
Interestingly, it seems to me that we are seeing similar conditions between the post French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars and the 2010’s. This suggests, then, that we are in a similar “post idealistic-cause war” society situation. I am speaking of the WWII/Cold War/War on Terror wars which, in a way, is like a long complex with each war being a phase. Like the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars they were also associated with high idealistic cause (that is, they weren’t just wars that came and went). They are largely an American complex, reflecting wars the U.S. was involved with. It is this complex which probably started the second mass or mob phase of Victorianism as I’ve described above. After the War on Terror ended it seemed, at least to me, that there was a big “lull” or “absence” in the society. I knew what this meant . . . the “great cause” was gone. This “great cause” actually ended in the early 1990’s, when the cold war ended, but the War on Terror as if revived it for a time. When it ended it was gone. This has left something like a big absence in American society, in my opinion. The U.S., it seems to me, is struggling with it. For example, it seems to me that it figures prominently in the last Presidential election of 2016. It motivated Trump’s slogan, “Make America great again” and it has motivated much of the endless and ridiculous nonsense, hysteria, and accusations from the media and the general population of this country about this election. Its very important to point out that the large part of the nonsense originates from the media and people . . . that’s significant. It shows that the country, as a whole, is struggling with this absence and loss of the “great cause”.
Some of the conditions that are seen in both the French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars and WWII/Cold War/ War on Terror wars include:
- A post war trauma condition. The country is as if “shocked” by the war, both socially and economically.
- A war-based idealistic cause. This can get to the point of a religion. This is not surprising as, in both cases, this idealism is actually rooted in Christian belief. I wouldn’t be surprised if these war-based ideals are a “descendant” of the Crusades and its crusading war spirit.
- An improvement in some economic classes, usually the middle class.
- The arrival of new things, inventions, organization, and such.
- An uncertainty about the future.
- An absence or breakdown of defined and accepted beliefs in the society. This often appears as an absence or breakdown in traditional, cultural, or religious beliefs. This absence, it seems, is often replaced by the war-based idealistic cause. This gives the idealistic cause even more power and influence in the society. It also creates a “great absence” when the idealistic cause is lost after the wars. This is probably why the U.S. is suffering so much when the “great cause” vanished.
- The prevalence of mass communication. This starts off with printed things like newspapers, magazines, and such and now has progressed to electronic forms, such as radio, TV, internet, and social media.
- A strong sense of self-consciousness as well as a world-consciousness . People become more aware of themselves and the world as separate entities. This becomes more marked and distinguished.
In effect, these are some of the traits of the “post idealistic-cause war” society.
Unlike the French Revolution/Napoleonic War situation we are not seeing anything new being created after the WWII/Cold War/War on Terror wars but, rather, an intensification of the “newest modernism”, so to speak. In a way, its causing us to dig deeper into “modernism”. In that way, we could say that the French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars created the “Victorian” era and “modernism” but the WWII/Cold War/War on Terror wars are intensifying them or, to probably be more precise, they are further enslaving us in “modernism”.
Because they seem to involve similar conditions it appears that both situations have caused unique and similar reactions in people. This is because I tend to believe that the “post idealistic-cause war” society is unique and does not display common traits seen in most post-war societies. I tend to think it is primarily because of these qualities:
- The high idealistic cause
- Mass communication
These make the wars more “accessible” to more of the population thereby giving it a more extensive and influential role. The high idealistic cause makes them believe and mass communication makes it known. As a result, it hits deeper in the society, and on a different level, than does normally happen. Because of this, it displays different reactions than in a normal post-war society. Interestingly, it appears that it has caused different reactions in the male and female, reflecting their different characters . . .
The male reaction
The male reaction seems primarily one of disorientation. This tends to cause a number of tendencies such as:
- They blindly follow.
- There is a feeling of contempt.
- A sense of indifference.
- A tendency to apathy.
- A lack of belief.
- A lack of unity.
Some of the things that seem to cause these include:
- The cause is gone and this leaves a big absence in the male. That is to say, without the cause its as if there is nothing left . . . life afterwords is empty. If there happens to be any continuing of the cause it becomes passive. That is to say, it becomes an “idea” and not something “real” . . . it loses its “oomph”.
- Its almost as if the male has been “spent” by the “post idealistic-cause war” and needs to take a rest. I sometimes think that this is similar to some forms of battle trauma in a way, at least for some males. This seems to suggest that even though the male is not in the war he feels as if he is in it and, accordingly, suffers from its effects, so to speak. We could speak of this, perhaps, as a ‘bystander battle trauma’. If one looks at the after effects of two recent wars – the Vietnam War and the War on Terror – one can see that in each case many males became sort of stagnant or apathetic in the years following the war. Both of these were highly publicized making many males feel a part of it, just by watching the news. In other words, mass communication often leads to a ‘bystander battle trauma’, one is traumatized by knowing about it and being made to feel involved as a result! In other words, the more the war is publicized the more ‘bystander battle trauma’ there is and the more toll it takes on a person. When it ends one is somewhat “exhausted” by it all.
- There is a stress caused by the war, because of its tensions, worries, etc. This often goes by unnoticed in most males, and remains in the back of their mind. It can come out, sometimes, in displays of anger or contempt or being upset with the government, for example.
- It seems that the bigger the sense of high cause the worst the problems appear when the war is over. As the saying goes, “the higher they are the harder they fall”. This seems to show that there is a relationship between high cause and problems . . . the higher the cause the worst the problems.
One of the things these show is that males generally tend to be affected by war, even though they are not in it. Knowing that a war is taking place often creates a sense of a cause, a unity, a belonging, and a purpose in the male population. During times a war there is often a sense of “banding together” with the males. Because of this, many things can get done during wartime as happened, for example, during the Cold War. When the war is over, and the “great cause” is gone, the males lose that “banding together” sense, become disoriented, and often as if wander around aimlessly in life. This seems to of happened after the French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars and the WWII/Cold War/War on terror wars . . . males seemed somewhat disoriented afterwords. Each seems to have different effects though:
French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars. After the war there was a disorientation in the males. Also, a great contempt for society and the government was common. But many males put an effort to find some sort of an orientation afterwords.
WWII/Cold War/War on Terror. The idealistic cause was very strong. It was exaggerated by the more efficient mass communication that appeared during that time. This has caused more disorientation in the males once the wars ended. In addition, males are doing little, if any, effort to regain an orientation. The male has as if “come to a stop”.
The female reaction
The female reaction is primarily one of “quiet fear”. This is something many of them don’t even recognize consciously but yet influences much of their behavior. Some of the reactions include:
- They become a slave to social ideals. They as if wrap themselves up in social ideals, as if it were a warm blanket. It protects them.
- They use law, politics, and such as if it were a weapon.
- They use law, politics, and such as a shield.
- They try to become like men.
- They develop a victim mentality.
- They view the world as threatening them in some way.
- They become accusatory.
- They become oversensitive and overreactive.
Its as if the female is defending and protecting themselves from the fear associated with war. This fear seems to as if eat away at many females. In short, females feel frightened and helpless as a result of the war.
Typically, the females tend to neither care about the cause or purpose of the war, though they may say otherwise. It seems that the higher and grander the cause the more frightened and helpless they seem to feel. As a result of all this, the general character of the female has become one of a frightened and helpless person since the Napoleonic Wars, or so it seems to me. The later conditions of the “Victorian” era, including the wars, social problems, etc., would only intensify it. As a result of this fear, much of the female life often has these qualities in it:
- Defending themselves against the fear (such as saying that everything violates their rights).
- An attempt at attacking the fear (such as claiming that society is trying to oppress them).
- Neurotic tendencies as a result of helplessness or inability to resolve the fear (such as conjuring up abuse when there is none).
Much of this is primarily caused by an awareness of war caused by mass communication even though they are unaffected. Unlike the male they have no interest in the cause and are not directly involved nor see themselves as directly involved. As a result, their primary involvement, and source of fear, is because of mass communication.
THE PROBLEM OF MASS COMMUNICATION
Mass communication became widespread during the 1800’s and has only grown since. In this way, one could call the “Victorian” era the “news era” if one wants. But, as we’ve seen above, both the male and female reactions show influence of mass communication and how it plays a big role in their reaction to war. But the effects of mass communication also extends to other things as well, such as social problems, murders, controversies, gossip, and other things one hears in the news. In short, with mass communication one is, in a sense, “exposed” to the problems happening in the world even though you only see it or read it. Once “exposed” one reacts somewhat similar to if one is actually there, even if its only in the back of ones mind. In this way, mass communication makes it so that the worlds problems becomes our problems, even though they don’t even affect us.
In a way, it shows that mass communication has a far greater impact than it may seem. It doesn’t just “inform”. As I said above, one reacts to what one is “exposed” to. As a result, it can cause things like:
- Mental issues
Whats most important is that these problems come from knowing, not experiencing! This means that many problems do not, in actuality, exist . . . they only exist in peoples minds based on the dictates of what the mass communication dishes out. I think its safe to say that many problems during the “Victorian” era are probably a result of mass communication and don’t really exist. Perhaps we could call these “phantom problems”? I think this is far more prevalent than it seems. In fact, I think most problems don’t exist, nor are they as bad as they seem, making the “Victorian” era the “era of phantom problems”, all because of the prevalence of mass communication.
Females, especially, seem to be affected by mass communication. In fact, I often have said that “mass communication is destroying the female”. Basically, mass communication has created a sense of “vulnerability” in females, of being “exposed” to the problems of the world. The more the females cater to mass communication the more the females feel “exposed” and suffer problems as a result. With the growth of mass communication, nowadays, this has only intensified.
This feeling of being “exposed” has caused many females to feel things such as:
- Over reactive
Some of the things these cause are:
- A horrible “victim mentality”.
- A poor view of themselves and what a female is.
- A slavish attitude.
- A loss of “personhood”.
- A tendency to “take on other peoples problems as if its their own”.
- A tendency to create problems that don’t exist.
These seem to be common traits with the “Victorian” era female.
Ironically, mass communication as if pulls females into it . . . they are attracted to it (just look at females and their cell phones!). In this way, the effect of mass communication on females is that it attracts them and undermines them.
THE CONFLICT OF IDEAS
The effect of the “Victorian” idea, and “modernism”, would be to cause a great variety of conditions, realities, and situations. One effect of this is a conflict of ideas. It would create a world of opposing ideas, ideals, and points of view that plague the era. Some common types of ideas include:
- Those that are for “modernism”.
- Those that are against “modernism”.
- Those with alternate views.
- Those that blindly follow along.
- Those that don’t know what to think.
- Those that are frustrated by it all.
- Those that rebel against it all.
These create many different points of view and perspectives during this era. In some respects, its caused something like an “idea war”, a continual fighting about which idea is right. This, of course, has never been solved. In this way, ideas have taken on a quality of an enigma in the “Victorian” era. Basically, any idea is right only if its said in the midst of other people who believe in the same thing. This has caused “groups” in the society where people tend to congregate with people who have similar ideas. As long as they stay in their “group” their ideas are right and they see no conflict or dispute. I think that if people truly mingled with everyone else there would be more conflicts between people.
Because of all these points of view no one, it seems, is really to fully and adequately describe “modernism” and its effects. It all depends on where you stand and what point of view you take. One person would say this, another would say that. This would cause conflicts of points of view about “modernism”, such as the “optimism versus pessimism” dispute. Because of this, how the “Victorian” era, and “modernism”, is interpreted depends on the point of view of the person making it.
The conflict of ideas would cause an instability and uncertainty of its own. Perhaps, in many ways, this instability and uncertainty would eat away at the era. There becomes an inability to resolve the conflict of opposing ideas. Because of stuff like this, the conflict of ideas has sort of undermined ideas over time devaluing their meaning, worth, and authority.
Not only that, the “Victorian” era would slowly undermine itself with its own ideas. The era began with defined beliefs, ideals, and morals and would slowly end in a more nihilistic condition, a belief in nothing, and too many ideas and points of views. All this because of the conflicts of ideas and the effects of “modernism”.
MY FEELINGS . . .
My feelings toward the “Victorian” era, and the effects of “modernism”, is that there is both good and bad in it. It is neither a tragedy nor a utopia. Despite all of its good, it has done extensive damage and caused great tragedies, some of the worst in history. This fact must be acknowledged. It makes me apprehensive about it all. This causes me to question everything “modern”, regardless of its appearing good or not. In short, I’m not convinced that “modernism” is a solution nor do I believe that it should be viewed as the way of the future. In other words, I don’t see a utopia in “modernism” or the “Victorian” era, even though it has done some good, nor do I see it as an answer. It seems, to me, that we need a new direction.
Copyright by Mike Michelsen