Tag: modern society

Charles Taylor’s Modern Social Imaginaries: Getting Western Thought Wrong

By Alexander Robak | United States

In Charles Taylor’s 2003 magnum opus work, Modern Social Imaginaries, he retells the story of the basis of political and philosophical thought in the western world. Charles Taylor uses dozens of examples from across the globe to support his theses and further the description of what he refers to as a “Social Imaginary.” However, in this masterful piece of political literature, there exists one flaw with his theses. The author uses specific examples to come to the conclusion that the basic points of the western social imaginary are based on mutual aid, cooperation, and the exchange of both services and goods to secure a prosperous living situation for all within the society. However, I disagree with him on this point.

It is evident that the basis of western society is, and always has been, individualism and the goal of attaining success, whatever that may be, for the individual. There exists sufficient evidence to prove that altruism is not a founding principle of our social imaginary; rather, it is individualism that has gotten us to where we are today in terms of economic, social, and governmental based spheres of our collective social imaginary. While there are some points in this book that I do personally disagree with, this book does serve as a comprehensive retelling of our current social imaginary, from the perspective of a collectivist.

The basis of this book serves as a stepping stone for the author to describe our current form of thought. There exists three spheres of our society, each one of which serves specific purposes to our collective social imaginary, and fosters specific sentiment within those who contribute to the imaginary at large. The author then goes on to show us how as the economic, social, and governmental spheres work in conjunction with another They create an imaginary that works as a collective. In saying this, he means that our society works together to achieve mutual benefit rather than self-benefit.

For example, he describes the economic sphere as being not a zero-sum game, rather with a fair and regulated economic exchange system, we can achieve, and have achieved a state in which economic exchange exists to benefit both parties, rather than just one.  However, I disagree with the author on this point. Since our economic sphere in the west is currently based on capitalistic practices, has always been based on these practices, and always will be, I believe that it makes more sense for society to be driven by the individualist mindset, rather than a collectivist form of thought due to the fact that the individual will always put his needs before the needs of the others which exist in society. This is evident in the fact that it has always been a personal search for success that drives innovation in Capitalist societies. The vast majority of individuals are not simply motivated by an opportunity to help other people. Rather, humans are animals that look out for one’s self and one’s self only.

However, I digress. This is only one of a few points in this book that I disagree with. There is one point in this book that the author attempts to draw connections between spirituality and communitarianism through virtue signaling of biblical and religious texts. In doing this, he attempts to discredit individualism as being falsely tied to spirituality.  However, I do not believe that religious or spiritual ties to either collectivism or individualism are entirely relevant, even within the social sphere. This is due to the fact that due to variance in modern spiritual and religious viewpoints, either collectivism or individualism can be linked to spirituality, depending on interpretation.

In one part of the book, Charles Taylor talked about how western modernities aid us in learning about other social imaginaries beyond our own. The reasoning behind this is due to other states dependence on the west in both the governmental and economic spheres of the social imaginary. Therefore, due to western hegemony across the globe in these spheres, the social sphere of other cultures is changing to fit a western social imaginary as well. This is simply the consequence of maintaining a global hegemony both economically and politically. This also helps us to learn about the social imaginaries of other cultures and how they continue to shift and adapt to our own overbearing imaginaries.

In the fourth chapter of the book, Charles Taylor begins to talk about a phenomenon called the great disembedding, in which in the social sphere, people become progressively more disenchanted with ancient social imaginaries as a new modernity sets in. This is an agreeable point made by the author, as our social imaginaries are always shifting in order to adapt to changes within the economic and governmental spheres of our society. All things considered, Charles Taylor did, in fact, make some reasonable assessments regarding the progress of our social imaginary and the impacts surrounding it in all three spheres of our society.

I do believe that Charles Taylor was incorrect in his thesis that our western social imaginary is based both politically and philosophically on principles of mutual aid, cooperation, and zero-sum games that are meant to secure prosperous living conditions for all within the society. However, some of the tangents that he focuses on in later chapters regarding the disembedding of individuals from the social imaginary, as well as the hegemony of these modernities are in fact quite agreeable in nature. In conclusion, this book was masterfully composed of riveting ideas about our modern social imaginaries.


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The Ever-Changing Meaning of Patriotism

By Willie Johnson | USA

If a nation is defined by the patriotism of its citizens, the United States is in dire straits. Today’s political climate has changed the very definition of patriotism, giving the term new meaning as time progresses and modern controversies stack up. Anti-authority sentiment and fierce dedication to home soil take hold in the Revolutionary Era, but today, criticism of the government and respect for military service has come to dominate American ideas about patriotism. Current attitudes are, for the most part, a healthy byproduct of patriotism, but pride for one’s country should spring from the early idea of love and enthusiasm for home.

The classic idea of patriotism first came about at the birth of America itself, but the kind of blind loyalty in many forms that it advocated remained a constant aspect of American culture until very recently. Religion has always played an important part, too, with many Americans holding their dedication to God above all earthly leaders while still maintaining respect for the government. While pride for home and country is the physical focus of patriotism, God is the spiritual focus. Worldly problems pale in comparison to unquestioning acceptance of religion, so it is clear why so many patriots cling to it tightly. The blind dedication also manifests itself in those who choose to cling to their principles unto death as a way of supporting their nation. In this case, being a patriot is living by the beliefs and values that America was founded on, allowing it to dictate the way life itself is lived. Although this is only one definition of the word, it has been influential on American culture by shaping the morals of generations of Americans. None of this is to say that patriotism should mean unconditional allegiance to authority, however, as dissidents are patriots under the classic definition too. While the founding fathers stuck close to their faith and principles, it is obvious that they were all dissidents of the highest order—they went against the authority of the British Empire, after all. There will always be some form of malevolent authority to oppose, and if done correctly, such action ultimately benefits the nation. Being patriotic has been characterized by these traits for most of American history, but unique new issues have changed and even called many of these beliefs into question.

Modern Patriotism has distinguished itself by adapting to current issues such as race relations, political divides, and military affairs. Today, being patriotic is primarily about the military and veterans in the eyes of many Americans; because service in the armed forces is widely considered as one of the greatest sacrifices to the country a person can make, it is held up by many as the paramount of patriotism. To those who define patriotism by military service, disrespecting the United States is disrespecting its veterans—an issue that has recently come to a head in the wake of the controversy surrounding the act of kneeling for the national anthem. For some, however, a patriot is someone who actively goes against their government to stand up for the personal freedoms of citizens. Although such behavior can be a good thing, extreme anti-government activity often does more harm to the nation than good. In this instance, patriotism has been skewed to fit the anarchist leanings of certain individuals who claim to support it. Even worse is the purely superficial view of patriotism that many Americans hold; the “patriotism gap” that seems to exist between our two major political parties is, for the most part, simply a contest of showiness. Being a patriot should not be about who waves the bigger flag, but rather who is willing to uphold the values of the nation. Million-dollar jet flyovers at football games and other examples of extravagance are good for hyping up a crowd, but should not be the embodiment of patriotism. Modern times may have cheapened the meaning of that it is to be a patriot, but in all examples, certain values shine through that gives hope for the future.

While the modern focus on superficial values like military service or contempt for government divides the nation, its original, unfettered form remains to hold all Americans together. For me, patriotism means dedication to values (whether they be religious or moral) and a healthy lust for liberty, free from the flaws of destructiveness and vanity. Attitudes are bound to be changed by crucial events and the passage of time, but the past does not have to be forgotten.

The Danger of the Modern View of Death

By Willie Johnson | USA

Today, the average lifespan in the United States is 79 years. Fifty years ago, it was 70. One hundred years ago, it wasn’t even 40. These stark differences can be attributed to a variety of factors such as disease, deaths in childbirth, and other dangers that have lessened over time, but the effects of a longer average lifespan go beyond just population numbers; The way society views aging and death has fundamentally changed.

It’s worth noting, however, that these generalizations usually only apply to the western worldparticularly the United States. Cultural differences around the world have made views on the subject unique from one country or region to the next, so specifying the ones being discussed is an important part of building an argument and avoiding sloppy writing. Knowing that it’s the modern, innovative components of American society that are responsible for lengthening lifespans helps in understanding the changes that are taking place.

Most people are familiar with the widespread system of senior homes and care facilities that have allowed the elderly to live out the final end of their lives in comfort without being a burden to their families. Although this is a generally positive thing, it has allowed people to view the decay of their loved ones intimately, something that rarely occurred in the days when most died not long past their prime. This has created an increased fear of aging, as we have found ways to extend lifespan without being able to delay the natural breakdown of our bodies. More than ever before, there is an emphasis on cosmetic improvement that ranges from harmless skin cream to dangerous plastic surgery procedures.

Celebrities are at the center of this issue; A half-century ago, for example, the average movie star either stopped making appearances after a certain point or died before old age altogether. They are as revered as much as ever today, but when people see their idols grow old and unattractive as they never did before, they come to hold such change in a negative light. The effects of popular culture on society cannot be overstated, and in this scenario, it has helped to shift associations with old age from wisdom and respect to death and decay.

Advances in medicine and technology, as stated before, have improved health and lengthened lifespan, but they have also bred fear. The more we are able to hold death at bay, the more we fear it. If our incredibly advanced life-saving techniquesthe product of thousands of years of innovationcan’t stop a friend or loved one from dying, it’s truly a power to contend with. Death has always been a part of existence, but rather than accepting it, we’ve come to rail against it as a society.

In times when Americans had a more close relationship with death (such as Colonial Times, the Civil War, etc), we accepted it with open arms as a gateway to the afterlife. Less fear and anxiety about death allows one to live a happier life. We’ve become less religious and more cynical, but the nihilistic view of dying that so many have adopted isn’t helping society in the least; If the prospects of aging and death prevents your enjoyment of life, you’re looking at them the wrong way.