(Globalization and Alienation)
by Andreani Eliophotou
As published in In Focus Vol. 11, No. 4, December 2014
A citizen is one who “resides in a city,” one who settles permanently in one place and develops various links to the environment — both natural and human, animate and inanimate — so that he comes to experience it as familiar. These links (language – religion – race – historical adventure – tradition – customs and mores) form his existential identity and make him, at the same time, a member of a collective intellectual ark, which has been called culture. When, as a logical and social being, man settled permanently in cities, he became a citizen and created civilization, that is to say a set of values and achievements (material, intellectual, ethical) that expressed the collective life of a particular human group. Therefore, the existential identity not only flows into the cultural but is also formed by it. In this spirit, the ancients completed their names with the name of their city (e.g. Herodotus of Halicarnassus, Thucydides the Athenian) as a declaration of their birthplace and cultural origins.
The Hellenic was the first European civilization to attain universality first by conquering the East with Macedonian weapons and then the West through the Roman legions. The Christian Promise left its indelible mark on Europe and became the inexhaustible source of its artistic creation. After the Middle Ages, Christian Europe experienced a cultural renaissance and became a universal cultural model, being at the centre of humanity’s historical adventures: military, political, social, economic. After moving through the Enlightenment, through rationalism and scientism, it arrived at post-industrialization and the death of ideology in our times, while Western civilization flows into technology. After the ferocity of two world wars, Europe transcended the borders of the nation state, which had been the cause of many conflicts and, under the pressure of the current necessities, arrived at the unification of several states into the European Union.
Ultimately, what we considered cultural universality has been transformed into globalization with planetary superpower as the forerunner and model, based purely on economics, since contemporary technological civilization is materialistic, financially driven, and dominated by mechanization. Universality is something quite different since it requires faith and the realization of common intellectual-spiritual values, as had been the case first in antiquity in the Hellenic culture and later in the European.
Today, the European citizen is considered privileged. Being able to move easily and quickly across the planet, he is also a world citizen who enjoys an abundance of goods and conveniences, while his rights are protected. He is not happy, however; especially in large cities, he feels enveloped by a climate of stagnation, corruption, and a lack of standards. Oswald Spengler spoke about the decline of the West even before the World War II. From his perspective, the domination of technology guarantees the decline since “the technological civilization is the irrefutable fate of the spiritual civilization.”1 Indeed, he has been vindicated as a herald of coming ills, since nowadays the European citizen has conquered space, traveling rapidly and without formalities around the continent and planet, while experiencing an unprecedented alienation.
Let us briefly interpret this phenomenon, albeit according to our worldview and life stance: Man’s nature forces him to move within intense contradictions and conflicts — and in this lies the tragedy of the human condition — in line with the world order and harmony of which he is part. Therefore, in keeping with his nature and with the world around him, man ought to live “in admission of his nature” and remain at the centre, the measure which necessitates balancing the inconsistencies that govern him — body and spirit, logic and emotion, freedom and necessity — and “to think as a man” by recognizing and accepting his finite existence. Only thus can he acquire wisdom, the highest virtue, human wisdom, without which any other specialized knowledge “seems craftiness not wisdom.” “Yet, to the technologically civilized man, the tragic sense of the world and of history succumbs to the mechanized intellect.”2 The excessive rationalism of Western man has led him to one-sidedness — a state that has been characterized as one-dimensional — and to extremes. He has embraced matter and elevated it to the supreme power; he has deified science and released forces beyond his control. He has fallen prey to his instincts for eudemonism, greed and atrocious insatiability, enslaving himself to profit, which in turn has transformed the world into an endless bazaar (globalization) for the alienated consumer, the alienated tourist or businessman who zips around the globe, the unhappy and homeless drifter, who is incapable of exorcising the void which threatens to consume him.
As an intermediary between man and his works, the machine has alienated the man-creator from his creations, from the joy and the fulfillment of the act of creation. The death of God has deprived him of the metaphysical dimension and of a way out, without which man remains without validation and life meaning, chaotic and suspended. Yet, at the same time, he has replaced values and killed off the established ideals: the wise man, the hero, the saint. And since only spiritual values are capable of creating strong bonds between people and only the sense of a common destiny evokes compassion and mercy towards our fellow human beings, Western man has distanced himself from his fellow men and from nature, which he regards as an enemy and a rival, not as a co-steward of his needs. He steals nature’s energy and wastes it “without consideration or shame,” blind to the enormous ecological cost, ravenous only for profit and power. One more consequence of the technological progress, which deems that “nature is not shared by all, but that it is a function of the current culture.”3
Alienation — the disconnection of contemporary man from God, nature, and his fellow man — has demystified history and tradition, thereby alienating the European citizen from his own historical dimension, from himself, from his existential identity. Therefore, alone and off-centre from the median position that his nature requires (all in good measure), he moves with demonic speed around the world, globalizing it, conquering space and annihilating it — transforming the world into to a small village — searching for his lost self by chasing his lost time. Moreover, he seeks a way out through infinite exaggerations, becoming a superhuman, super-powerful, a superstar, and resorting to hallucinogens, vices and orgies.
A contemporary philosopher characteristically notes: “Our own technological craftiness leaves us at the mercy of the meta-physical nature, which ensues not from a metaphysical order, but as an incalculable infinity, which moves beyond our every conception and design, gaping around us and within us as an unsuspected immeasurable chasm — with the threat of nuclear destruction and ecological devastation, with the metaphysical void that completes itself with traffic congestion, with the vertigo and the pollutants that suffocate us, with the frenzy of perpetual motion that leads nowhere. Having hurled himself into a ceaseless mobility, man has lost his existential centre and feels his presence perforated by absence.”
In conclusion, the undisciplined modern civilized European — amoral and irresponsible, beyond good and evil — feels that he has exhausted his spiritual capital, his traditional historicity, and finds himself on the verge of a meta-history, which will manifest perhaps the self-destructive works of meta-humans.
We believe that in no other context have the timeless words of the Gospel been more accurately confirmed: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his soul, or for what shall man barter with his soul?”
Translated by Irena Joannides
1. Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, Volume 1. “The destiny-idea and the causality principle,” p. 231.
2. Οswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, Volume 1. “The Symbolism Of The World-Picture And The Problem Of Space” p. 243.
3. Costas P. Michaelides, Poetry – Language – Critical Consciousness (Essays), “From the perspective of the end,” p. 187