There is a vocabulary to the emotions of human relationships and feelings. Furthermore, it is one that a conceivable machine can not yet know, despite the ability for us to discern them with language. It is a discourse born from our wonderful inaccuracies, our assumptions, the politics of our ignorance. At the root of all human expression, especially the emotional kind, is a fragile faith in our fellow humans. We exist with the belief that we'll try not to hurt each other, that we'll each obey the rules of the non-game. I often compare it to driving: when you're behind the wheel of a car in an urban area, your mind is unconsciously establishing a basis of trust with all those around you, whether they're other drivers, or bicyclists, or pedestrians. And it's not a game, despite the existence of rules and norms. This is a peculiar 20th-century phenomenon, but it is entirely human. It is only seemly to me that this basis of trust in driving typically occurs in the mid-teen years, along the same time a child is learning to be in relationships beyond the schoolyard friendship.
In the 21st century, this basis of trust in human capability and expression has extended far beyond the road, and has permeated throughout our culture as a foundational social construct. The old social foundations were group-centric: from family to community (geospatial/neighborhood) to nation/state. Sure, friends were in there, but they were more of a periphery item, not foundational but gleefully supplemental. I'd argue that this was to its advantage, as being suplemental rather than essential affords it a more nebulous and unrestrained quality. Friendship granted social wealth, so no matter how financially poorly-off you were, or how far you were from home, you had friends to ease your trouble (but not necessarily solve your problems). On the opposite end, in this old system, marriage was a cornerstone of society rather than just an act of love or free healthcare. We are seeing the dying days of this pseudo-sentimentality now. (I should say, the institution of marriage is pseudo-sentimental to those under 30, while it has an unconsciously weighted and inherent splendor to everyone else. Except those Generation X kids, who only view it with disdain.)
We are seeing in contemporary America the new formalization of friendship supplant the fading insitutions of marriage and family. Thanks to the misguided polarization of neoliberalism, we are largely seeing a systemic self-destruction of institutionalism in itself. Thanks to the equally misguided polarization of neoconservatism, we are also seeing the staunchly ineffective last stand of the old gods. We find the youth of America caught squarely in the middle, commodified to the point that our mere attention spans dictate the death-throes of markets, with monetarily tectonic reactions made at lightspeed thanks to convoluted financial systems reacting to our decisions before we've even made them. We have codified our friendships, our social circles, our locations, our interests, our habits, our hobbies, our wishes, our thoughts, our opinions, our purchases, et cetera ad naseum. We are drowning in information, though its effects are purely intellectual and moral.
No one can stop this, however. It is an inevitability, as it has always been, that we are doomed to move gradually toward whatever. The societal forces at work, which have the power to tilt whole cultural ecosystems, have no interest in working radically one way or another. The world's ruling suffix-isms work as long cons. The most potentially "beneficial" of haughty intellectual ideas unfortunately divorce themselves of such subtle novelty. In doing so, they prove both their worth and define their own irrelevance. There is no "Heidegger existential agenda" the way there is an "Obama socialist agenda" or a "Palin neoconservative agenda" or even a "Bill Nye scientific agenda". (I would argue that Bill Nye successfully "tricked" a lot of kids into loving science, the same way Sesame Street and Fred Rogers tricked kids into loving life before reality could snatch it away, and we should all thank them for trying so hard.) Anyway, time and history has shown the forces of social change to be gradual. Thanks to computing and the internet, that pace seems to be accelerating, even if by a mere half-step. When the billionaire club starts accepting kids in their 20s, it should be obvious that something is broken, but may not need repair quite yet.
Our American Constitution was designed so that any kind of wide reform, at least governmentally, should take place slowly. That's why there's no way for us to just MAKE GAY MARRIAGE LEGAL RIGHT NOW or ABOLISH ABORTION TODAY. It just doesn't happen that way, and it shouldn't. However, the growing concern here is how the institution of governance is being separated from the dissolution of the idea of the necessity of the institution. Obama ran -- and is still running -- on a campaign of "the system is broken, and it has to be fixed" when many are interpreting that as "the system is broken, and it must be replaced, or gotten rid of entirely". Conservativism is correct in saying that a return to the ways of the Consitution are necessary, but they are wrong to believe that saying so makes them "correct" about anything else. Liberalism is correct in that everyone deserves equality, but they are wrong to believe that it can happen in any way besides slow, apologetic change, or that it is worth the cost of individual freedom. Our system is young, but it's based on the Enlightenment ideas of human balance and the divine justice of the good, which (surprisingly) leaves a lot of room for flexibility. The last thing our country should want to do is limit that intellectual and moral wiggle-room of interpretation. It was the hope of our founding fathers that at least two of the three realms of our government should hold this truth self-evident, that our interpretation of events may be more important than the facts. Currently, I think only our judicial system takes that task seriously, perhaps because it's the most reminiscent of the old Enlightenment ways. (The Supreme Court is too cool to even allow an audio recording of its proceedings, not to mention the old school style of 30-minute antagonistically argumentative debate!)
Regardless, we are seeing a similar problem of ridigity in our culture and our economics. The contradictory part of this dilemma is that there is no edifying document for our culture, no real social contract that we can call our own. The French have Rousseau, we have Bruce Springsteen. To our benefit, this makes us extremely culturally diverse and versatile, and affords us the ability to easily grasp new forms. Our collective culture is very hard to pin down, despite our efforts to do so. Unfortunately, the proliferation of the indefinable has resulted in the dissolving of Fine Art because of its critical reliance on high and low forms, unless there is a group of strong social/artistic pioneers willing to make personal judgements that the rest of society can accept (or, as I said, are "tricked" into accepting) which has not existed since Andy Warhol. While we are making our culture itself more rigidly conceptualized, we are clamping down on in its potential stratification: we would rather have one gross mess of a culture rather than a dense meta-layering of cultural ideas.
But! As I said, the systems of our sociality are returning us to a kind of formalization. Strangely, we have gone from the nebulous social construction of the institution (whether the institution is government or mass media or education or fine art) to the extremely rigidly defined and corporate-controlled system of computerization. Probably because we've been tricked into doing so. Follow my thought: neoliberalism, in all its zeal, wants us to believe that the all-encompassing nature of the internet will grant us a new form of democracy. That's always been a banner phrase for its widespread adoption. But to really accomplish that, one would have to think of it far more literally than it has been manifested in our society. Liberalism, if it alone were followed, would have America abolish the republic of our government (elected officials representing the interests of geopolitical groups) in favor of strict democracy (everyone has an equal say in government) with flavors of socialism mixed in (so that we are each protected equally as parts of a whole). The internet is a potentially perfect vehicle for this. Imagine if we dissolved the Senate and the House of Representatives and instead the US Government started a website, america.gov, in which we can all go and vote on everything and anything. We could not only vote on laws, but propose, amend, and repeal laws, comment on our governance collectively and openly, and build a more perfect union of informed citizens. (Let's pretend for the sake of argument that every household in America has a computer and an internet connection... which is something we are currently funding, strangely enough.)
That would be true liberal democracy in the 21st century. But instead, what has the internet given us? Remember: the internet, as a platform/system/whatever, is entirely built on the freedom of information. Anybody can make anything and the only thing that really "dictates" anything is what we allow through our collective use. The internet as we commonly use it through a web browser is only like that because we've all decided to use it that way. The World Wide Web (what you see in your browser) is only one facet of what the internet actually is. In many ways, the internet itself is a truly free and open system, but for data. (We trust data -- we don't trust humans.) With this in mind, what has the internet given us? Best example: Facebook. A site anyone can use for free that we can fill with whatever Facebook allows us to fill it with... which is pretty neat, since we can fill it with plenty of types of stuff, but only as long as those things "live" on the Facebook platform... while we willingly give up our ownership (freedom) of whatever we put on Facebook just because we put it on Facebook, and that's a part of the terms of its free use. By the way, they're collecting information on everything you click, every little thing you "fill" Facebook with, and they track that all around the internet, without telling you, and are making billions of dollars while doing it, and not sharing any of that money with you, despite the content being generated by you and your friends. Because that's a part of the terms of its free use. That's the most popular thing on the internet: Facebook. A system built on freedom, and the best thing we can collectively agree on so far is Facebook, that which distorts freedom for its own profit. Fitting, I think.
This exemplifies the contradictory nature of American governance and culture. We, as a society, are constantly being given just enough rope to either do something interesting, or we could hang ourselves with it. Capitalism has proven that it's excellent at making the "hang yourself" option look really cool, not to mention everybody's doing it, so why not hang yourself? I think we are doing to ourselves the same thing, socially. When given the choice: be individual, or be commodity, why not hang yourself? It's what all the cool kids are doing. Part of me believes that this has always been the case -- but what has changed? Now it's tracked, it's databased, it's solidified in the annals of our communication, for everyone to see forever. Should this concern us, as youth of the "first world"? (Isn't it strange to be in the first world? Isn't it strange to be afforded that strangeness?)
Are these the toils of the modern idealization? This is part one of a larger idea...