What does Postmodern mean for Brighton?

I mentioned in a previous blog that Brighton is a postmodern city. I have been asked what I meant by the concept. I might even go as far as to say that Brighton is possibly the capital of postmodern cities in the UK.

There is not always total agreement about what the concept postmodern means. From my reading of contemporary French philosophy,  the concept postmodern seems to include a rejection of the past and preoccupation with the present. A postmodern society has lost interest in the influential narratives of the past century, especially political and religious narratives. Socialism, democracy, religions, especially Christianity, nation state, culture and nature belong to the modern world. A postmodern society ignores, distrusts or rejects any kind of ideology or solidarity behind a grand idea, a theory, an “ism” of any kind.

In the postmodern world, people, especially the young, avoid party politics and non-party politics. History is of little or no consequence, nor the welfare of the next generation. The family is held at a distance – the phone call and the occasional visit. Values include perpetual health and private space. Short mobile phone text messages become a major form of communication, magazines replace literature, computer graphics becomes a major art form. Money for pleasure, success in the bedroom, rejection of the wisdom of the elders and dismissal of anything transcendent feature in the postmodern world.

The shift from modernity to postmodernity is obviously not black and white. Features of the postmodern were already in modernity and modernity is still going in the postmodern but the postmodern expands rapidly year by year. Witness Brighton in the past decade.

The postmodern subject finds himself or herself not really happy. Despite having fun with others, the subject cannot see himself or herself as he or she really desires to be. There is a virtue in letting go of the painful major narratives that have haunted modernity but there is still the dissatisfied  narrative of the postmodern self.

For the postmodern subject, what matters relates to oneself. Postmodern subject thinks primarily in terms of self-interest. Organic food is bought because it is better for me. To the credit of dharma friends and others, some grow their own vegetables on allotments while others shop for organic food to protect the earth from pesticides and chemicals, as well as eat well. The postmodern attends a session with a yoga teacher, psychotherapist, masseur or weekly meditation class because it makes her or him feel better for a while about themselves.  The postmodern world has marginalised the narratives of these precious traditions  and replaced them with the desire for personal satisfaction and autonomy while pursuing attention from others in various ways. As elsewhere, these desires seem common  among numerous Brighton’s tenants – based on listening to numerous personal narratives on my twice a year visits or more to teach in Brighton in the past 12 years. Superficially, dharma contains elements of the modern and postmodern. Going deeper, dharma is free from both.

Brighton, a truly international area,  is a city hugging a stony beach with countless numbers of individuals worldwide perhaps living isolated lives while seeking friendships or a deep relationship. She or he may be looking for   someone better for their lives. Why does the grass seem greener on the other side of the fence? There is no depth of lasting happiness, nor deep contentment in all this. Fortunately, there are exceptions all over the city. There are caring and trustworthy people, inside and outside of the dharma world,  who would not risk causing another worry or suffering through their actions. They live with integrity and in a very caring way in their commitments. Such people are very dedicated in their personal and working lives.

There is an insensitivity in the modern/postmodern way of life since it ignores the culture of wisdom and replaces it with the self in the foreground of interest. Listening to our feelings has often become the postmodern language of the self indifferent to another.  If somebody says to you, I’m listening to my feelings, it may mean he or she ignores the feelings of somebody else who is close. The Buddha wisely gave much emphasis to respect for the feelings of another.  Listening to my feelings has replaced purity of heart  – a profound value that is neither modern nor postmodern.

The modern world and the postmodern world seem very unfulfilling.

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