Wikipedia Predicted In 1918


Being what is not while not being what is– is steeped in travail. Neurosis, anomie, existential angst, alienation…all have been mentioned as possible outcomes, but perhaps the most interesting outcome was pointed out by Simmel in the early part of the 20th century when he basically said that we humans are fordoomed to overcome our boundaries creating an overgrowth of culture impossible to assimilate or master “thus the misery.” As a result we moderns not only live in a culture that demands more time than we can give “just to keep up,” we also live in a culture that as Giddens (1991) says, has “institutionalized the principle of radical doubt and insists that all knowledge takes the form of hypotheses: claims which may very well be true, but which are in principle always open to revision and may have at some point to be abandoned.”

Simmel (1918) Used The Concepts Of Neither/Nor And Ambivalence As Heuristic Tools

The Inability To “Keep Up” May Also Be Seen As, In A Society That Demands More And More Of A Person’s Time For Mere Information Processing, The Cause Of An Ambivalence-Inducing Cultural Pathos

Simmel’s sociological interests moved him to study a wide range of subject matter. He studied historical life from the standpoint of sociological forms. He studied the problematic philosophical borders, which surround sociology in general, and, in a more applied sense, he studied the day-to-day expressions of what he called pure societal forms.

Simmel fit his theoretical orientation to the study of these subjects, both in their selection and in terms of analysis, and was able to use the concepts of neither/nor and ambivalence as heuristic tools for the analysis of these subjects. In the sociology of sexuality, for example, Simmel explored the eroticism of flirtation. In flirting behavior there is an offer and then a withdrawal. The illusion of a promise is first made and then broken. Within the context of a maybe yes, maybe no, the promise remains unfulfilled.

In a like manner, Simmel explored the sociology of conversation, and, relations of inferiority and superiority. In both of these areas Simmel noted the interplay of dependencies, the significant influence of inferior on superior and the reverse, and, in terms of the sociability of conversation, the necessity of two-wayness. When talk becomes talk for its own sake, as opposed to goal-directed inquiries, conversation shifts back and forth, without purpose, rule, or direction, linking one association to another. This is called talk for the sake of talking.

The study of fashion, for Simmel, was also open to a two-way description that could easily be constructed in terms of ambivalence. “Fashion, any form”, according to Thom (1983: 192), “speaks to a fundamental ambivalence: the need to be different and outstanding and unique on the one hand; the need to belong, to imitate, to be equal or to fuse on the other.” Being fashionable, as a sociological form, succeeds at the expense of its own destruction. The more people partake in fashion, the more fashionable the fashion becomes; the more fashionable the fashion becomes, the less distinctive and fashionable become the people who partake in the fashion.

Simmel investigated metropolitan life forms and, in the process, discovered the phenomenon of the overgrowth of objective culture–”the sum total of all the results of man’s form-giving creativity” (Thom, 1983 : 194). For Simmel, the human being, as boundary and overcoming boundaries, is fordoomed to create an overgrowth of culture. He recognized that ever increasing amounts of cultural information could have an overwhelming, negative affect on the individual. According to Thom (1983: 196), Simmel points out that in the excessive growth of cultural objects we discover “the obvious limitations on our capacity to assimilate, master, use, and gain information about cultural objects…it cannot be said that they [cultural objects] are completely meaningless. Thus the misery.” This inability to assimilate the multifarious aspects of culturally meaningful information is, for Thom, seen to be the cause of anomie. The inability to “keep up” or “go on” may also be seen as, in a society that demands more and more of a person’s time for mere information processing, the cause of what Weigert (1991) calls “an ambivalence-inducing cultural pathos”.

At the turn of the century, when Simmel pursued his sociological investigations, there occurred a proliferation of cultural forms. Modernity, in the 1990’s, in addition to compounding the availability of meaningful information that cannot be processed by any one person, creates, also, the anxiety that follows from not knowing how to judge the significance of the available meaningful information. Modernity, as Giddens (1991: 3) describes, “institutionalizes the principle of radical doubt and insists that all knowledge takes the form of hypotheses: claims which may very well be true, but which are in principle always open to revision and may have at some point to be abandoned.” In the 1990s the ambivalence-inducing informational onslaught continues unabated. What Simmel first described as an overgrowth of objective culture, has now become, for modern and post-modern thinkers alike, a very serious subject.

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2 Responses to “Wikipedia Predicted In 1918”

  1. TheCraig Says:

    Nice! I always wanted to write in my site something like that. Can I take part of your post to my blog?

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