Achim Prei | A Glimpse of the Future
In all areas of society, the past few decades have been marked by a continuous disintegration of collectives. These leads us to presume that this disintegration will continue, because right now there is no reason, no motive in sight that might suffice to reconstruct lost communities.
Logically, this development will in the long run lead to an individualistic social condition—and even the meaning of the term “society” becomes problematic. Already today, stable political majorities are no longer possible even on a national level, and nobody can claim to be a member of a material, social, or cultural majority.
That is the result of automation, the demassification of labor, in short the deindustrialization of the economy, on the basis of which the demassification, de-collectivization, and individualization of society are taking place. This is a monumental, drastic change in general life relations with epochal dimensions, with which not only the twentieth century sense of progress perishes—that is, modernism—but beyond that the modern age itself.
The last five centuries of the modern age exhibited a continuous, increasing collectivization, from the preliminary forms of absolutism in the sixteenth century culminating in communism and the totalitarian societies of the twentieth century. After the Second World War, this development was unprecedentedly reversed for the first time. Societies that consist solely of minorities can no longer formulate developmental goals, and disintegrate in the long run.
In place of large national, international, and global communities, numerous smaller societies develop, where once again majorities can be formed. A precursor for the coming individualistic society can be found in the Middle Ages and its particularistic structures. The European political sphere at that time was splintered into countless ethnic groups, urban and rural societies with completely different constitutions, social and professional estates and guilds, religious communities, and so on.
Accordingly, this meant that medieval history was strongly characterized and determined by individuals, and this basic individualistic character underwent a continuous increase from the beginning of the Middle Ages up through the Renaissance. This era thus stood in sharp contrast to the Roman antiquity that preceded it. The latter exhibited a decidedly collective constitution and homogenous structures, and had an internationally uniform culture, which founded its role as a model for the modern age.
The current epochal change, then, has its methodical precursor in the transition from antiquity to the Middle Ages, a countermodel in the change from Middle Ages to modernity. We know from history that the future individualistic society will be neither hell nor paradise, but something practicable. Nevertheless, we have to think the change of life conditions as monumental and fundamental, and the currently circulating prognoses are in this view too apprehensive, too small-minded, and too associated with the possibility of reconstructing collectives. In the field of culture, for example, still existent value relations are being turned into their opposite. In the collective societies of the modern age, culture pursued an integrationist agenda because it provided the blueprints for the Tower of Babel—when the confusion of tongues is completed it will disintegrate.
With ongoing individualization and particularization, the task of integration and uniformization will become obsolete; instead, an increasing desire for difference will dominate cultural productions. From this, we can conclude a return to a craft-based art, because only the reification of human labor can create originality and create difference, whereas all machine products are always the same.
The most important preconditions for future artistic success will be the staging of an outstanding individual skill to which idea, form, material, and technique will be subordinate. Communication with an abstract social public will thus be increasingly abandoned in favor of individual address. In economic development, too, the significance of human labor will return, because the individualization of society will provoke an individualization of needs that cannot be satisfied with large series, but only by individual and made-to-measure individual productions. Here, too, the individual skill of the producer will be the decisive precondition for economic success.
Beyond this, it can be predicted that as far as content is concerned, art will primarily engage with moral questions. This development is moving towards a privatization of justice, which so far has been purely a matter of the state. All societies that because of their individualism make do with a small and comparatively weak state have moral problems and tend towards moralizing art; proof for this can be seen in medieval culture, Dutch art, or the products of the American film industry.
// Octocer 2006