It was eerily silent at Oxford Circus last night. It had been on Sunday night too. I waited in front of the Tube exit for my father while a constant stream of empty buses rolled past, flicking up wakes in the gutters. The pavements were deserted. Then I suddenly had the irrational sensation that London was concealing itself in preparation for some imminent event and only I remained unwarned.
Fukuyama famously announced the Death of History a couple of years after my birth (I don't believe the two were connected). The Death of History? The end of all history? His basis for this statement was a worldview he had extrapolated from Hegelian thinking. Hegel basically saw the spirit of any epoch (zeitgeist) as being defined by the struggle between two principal opposing entities. The neutralisation of this great struggle signals the end of the age.
The first epoch is supposedly the human struggle for mutual acknowledgement; to be recognised and recognisable to ourselves and by each other. Perhaps less opaquely, the late 19th century might be seen as the struggle between worker and master - the resolution of which signalled the end of the Industrial Revolution. The mid to late 20th century might be seen as the struggle between Communism and Capitalism.
Fukuyama's argument is that when the USSR packed up it ended the Communist/Capitalist struggle, allowing for global free-market Capitalism. The idea of the opposing entities is that they are fundamental. Capitalism is a fundamental organisation of society, as is Communism. The vacuum of the struggle, the absence of a dialectic, apparently signals the end of all history, since no major struggle replaced it.
Fukuyama's basic problem was that he was considering the 'spirit of the times' from a strictly economic standpoint. I find his dramatism about the end of history pretty absurd. Although it is true that the collapse of the USSR did signal the end of the Communism/Capitalism struggle – and Capitalism, having no opposition to keep it in check, ran out of control. The '07 crash (which we are apparently climbing out of) signalled the actual end of this mighty struggle. Which is part of my argument for why we are only now at the beginning of a new decade, new century and a new millennium, people.
To define the new age, to find the spirit of the times, in Hegelian terms is a lot easier than it sounds. It only requires the defining of the two opposing entities. Some people would say that the principal struggle of our times is technology versus nature. I'm not going to get into it too much (perhaps in another post) but this is a false division. If you look at the root of technology - tekne - it means simply 'to assemble'. Technology is an assemblage. Nature, however, is also an assemblage. That is, nature is technological. When we talk about nature and technology as opposites we are really talking about the differences in the manner of assembly. Nature assembles itself, while human assembly is always mediated. Our technology has to be assembled by our own hands.
The nature versus technology struggle can be excluded. For me, the strongest alternative is the struggle between the real and the digital. This is for several reasons - firstly, it would seem to be a logical historical progression: we have moved from the manual revolution (industrial) to the digital revolution. But a digital revolution cannot be without purpose, it has to have something to revolt against. And that subject is the real.
More to come on the subject...