Bullshittism - The Cultural Philosophy of Today
On Culture

Metamodernism: In Search of the Cultural Philosophy of Today

Some call it post-postmodernism, some post-post-postmodernism, others metamodernism, but let’s call it bullsh*ttism.

We’re living in the era teeming with fake Twitter accounts; fake motivational quotes; fake news exciting outrage and indignation on both sides of the aisle and away from it; fake social-media influencers caught eating the things they feverishly profess to disapprove of; and fake, photoshopped celebrity photos pushing young and gullible people into the mostly one-way vortex of depression and self-doubt.

It’s also a time when, ironically, all that supposed to be real is fake, and the fake things turn out to be the most real of all—thus, we are confronted with a menagerie of real Twitter and Facebook bots, with the real legions of no less real Internet trolls, and with the frighteningly real phenomenon of post-truth (a blatant lie would be a more apt name for it but let’s stick, for the sake of appearances, with the deliberately convoluted jargon).

 

“Meantime, the world, caught in that ghastly inverted position, keeps sailing, unmercifully, toward a certain disaster while falling apart and losing on the way all its bolts and screws and parts.”

 

The world seems to be upside down; all the hitherto cherished and universally admired sets of ideals and values have fallen overboard during that spectacular capsizing, and many people feel emotionally at sea, as if they were hanging on by the fingernails of their fingernails, barely managing to stay on the slippery deck. Meantime, the world, caught in that ghastly inverted position, keeps sailing, unmercifully, toward a certain disaster while falling apart and losing on the way all its bolts and screws and parts, like a person raining dandruff all around the house.

Thus, it’s perfectly understandable that a yearning has begun to set in and germinate in us, an increasingly desperate yearning to discern some kind of pattern in this ubiquitous chaos, in this daunting turmoil—any, even if residual, pattern would suffice—anything that might serve as a reliable foundation for some new order, for some future hierarchy of values to follow and observe, or as a mere promise of such a foundation.

And it’s where we start looking for a proper name for it; because if you can name something, if you can put a label on it, you’re a step closer to taming it, to containing it, and to reining it in, as it’s virtually impossible to fight and grapple with something so vague and so inscrutable in its enormity that you’re unable to describe it accurately.

Simultaneously, since the dawn of the 21st century, there has been the widespread craving for a clear demarcation line, for a distinct barrier, that would separate the old ideas and trends of the last, tumultuous, and painful century from the still innocent, newly born one. This idea somewhat intensified and gathered momentum when the new century turned out not to be as pure and guileless as it had initially presented itself to us or as we had foolishly believed it to be.

 

“Since the dawn of the 21st century, there has been the widespread craving for a clear demarcation line, for a distinct barrier, that would separate the old ideas and trends of the last, tumultuous, and painful century from the still innocent, newly born one.”

 

A few years into it, we have been plunged into the armed conflicts and cultural shifts of tectonic proportions the magnitude of which we would have been unable to imagine several years earlier; we were like that elderly character from the movie Shawshank Redemption who having left the penitentiary after decades of incarceration is met by the world brimming with cars roaring down this or that road, emerging from behind every corner, emerging out of nowhere to whiz insolently before his bemused face, even though he has seen a car maybe once before, in the long-gone days of his youth.

And we’re still left without an adequate name for it all.

From all this confusion, there has sprouted an informal contest involving various writers, thinkers, philosophers, and nearly everyone who is capable of putting pen to paper without spilling ink; it’s a murderous race to christen the cultural epoch we’re living in now, and the first prize is going down in the history books as the one who ingeniously captured the prevailing, erratic zeitgeist within a single, succinct, precise, and academic-sounding name, as if it were a butterfly pinned to a piece of cardboard.

After the coming and going of realism, modernism, postmodernism there seems to be a vacancy to fill and the demand for a new cultural philosophy that still awaits christening, like an uncharted island that waits for an explorer to plant a flag in its shore.

As a result, there are, among others, those who propose to call this hectic epoch of ours post-postmodernism, thus indulging in the game of heaping prefixes upon prefixes (by the way, I wonder how many “post-” prefixes are allowed by a word processor before it ventures to display a screen asking whether the writer is of sound mind), and there are others who champion a bit more inspired terms as, for instance, metamodernism.

 

“It’s a murderous race to christen the cultural epoch we’re living in now, and the first prize is going down in the history books as the one who ingeniously captured the prevailing, erratic zeitgeist within a single, succinct, precise, and academic-sounding name.”

 

However, I, on my part, would also like to enter the competition by coining a new and ear-catching term—feel perfectly free to use it anytime you feel inclined to do it—bullsh*ttism.

I do realize that I’m not utterly original here, but I wanted it to be in line with the general trend of ending everything with the ever-fashionable “-ism” suffix—you have to admit that it sounds much more learned and professional this way.

It’s perfect—I don’t intend to be modest here—and it perfectly sums up our major problems and encapsulates the unending stream of ridiculousness, first-rate silliness, and other fatuities flowing before our very eyes and washing us over every single day, like a filthy river we are not particularly enthusiastic about diving in.

Within the cozy confines of bullsh*ttism, there is enough room both for innumerable talking heads as well as bona fide politicians tripping over one another to voice one more asinine remark more ridiculous than the last, for alternative facts more fantastic than whole alternative universes depicted in hefty science-fiction novels, and for a bevy of home-made, self-styled experts and scientists pontificating from the flickering screens of our energy-thirsty devices on the things they know nothing about.

But bullsh*ttism is, at its core, more a natural extension of postmodernism than it is anything else.

Never before in the modern history of mankind, have we witnessed such a flagrant and unmitigated disregard for the truth; facts are being ruthlessly twisted and contorted to fit them into the tight frames of partisan politics, and if anything dares to diverge from the party line and sticks out of it too conspicuously, it’s being squeezed in forcibly or cut off altogether, just like fresh dough that gamely overflows the edges of a mold.

 

“Never before in the modern history of mankind, have we witnessed such a flagrant and unmitigated disregard for the truth.”

 

Currently, we suffer from an influx of semi-reliable and quasi-professional pundits, if not whole media outlets, churning out an unverified story after an unverified story, bending the facts to the point of breaking their bones, doing everything in their power to create an illusion of reality, to pump up an impervious bubble of alternative reality, an unassailable echo chamber, inside of which each listener or reader or viewer will feel safe, comfortable, and at home, unbothered by any dissenting views and different opinions he or she might find disagreeable.

Those so-called informational bubbles, if not private circus tents, perfectly insulated from their real surroundings, orbit in one another’s vicinity, like a myriad of parallel disconnected words, yet without ever coming close to interacting with one another in any other way than when they happen to collide—and when they do, they do it with all their vicious might.

It’s as ingenious as it is terrifying, for, right now, we’re faced with a situation where the thin line between facts and sheer falsehoods is blurred to the point of non-existence, as if it were seen by a myopic man who can’t notice his own finger even if he sticks it in his eye, out of unfocused curiosity.

Today, if a teacher tries to make a rambunctious pupil memorize that two plus two is four, the kid can always disagree violently and say: “Stuff it, paunchy! I’m going to launch my own blog, and I’ll be telling people that two and two are six! And what do you say to that?” That’s not an opinion the pupil is entitled to—giving an opinion is based on remaining in some kind of relationship (no matter how tenuous) with the truth as a reference point; it’s broadcasting shameless untruths in the hope of obfuscating the facts, for one’s personal benefit or for some other gain.

 

“It seems that at the moment there are more points of view than people being able to hold them.”

 

It seems that at the moment there are more points of view than people being able to hold them, and every one of them aspires to be of equal importance with others—it’s every postmodernist’s dream.

It’s relativity incarnate; in such an ideological ecosystem there’s no room for any search for purity or genuineness as the ones like Seth Abramson suggest in their articles touting metamodernism; it’s pure postmodernism sprinkled with a pinch of unadulterated absurd and unintended silliness, and it can be called in no other way but bullsh*ttism.

In today’s reality, integrity has been drastically devalued, honesty is a bankrupt idea, and there is no intellectual equivalent in sight of ever-precious gold to purchase in the times of crisis like this. The world has been dismantled and deconstructed before our own eyes to the point of leaving nothing intact, not a single part or a molecule of it, as if it were a car trapped in the depths of a chop shop.

These are not the times of the fainthearted in the quest for honesty and sincerity; these are the times of warriors: every blog is a veritable war zone; every Twitter feed is a fortified hill, every news outlet is a cobweb-like net of trenches and pillboxes and barbed wire, with all battle stations manned, with the rhetorical guns locked and loaded, with the artillery sounding an ominous overture to mutual destruction; every newspaper is a scarred battlefield with untold decimated units being strewn across its pages; it’s full of corpses both of its enemies and of its allies, their lifeless limbs entwined in a macabre yet still dance; it’s also full of countless and nameless casualties of war, of accidental shrapnel victims, and of those who were hit by stray bullets on account of being drawn into the conflict, into the line of fire, against their will, more often than not, by being simply misunderstood.

It’s also not the right time for proving the importance of being earnest or for trying hard to come across as credulous; it’s the time of biting remarks and cutting ripostes being fed into the comments sections of news websites and shot at an unprecedented pace at the besieged bastions of one’s opponents.

 

“The world has been dismantled and deconstructed before our own eyes to the point of leaving nothing intact, not a single part or a molecule of it, as if it were a car trapped in the depths of a chop shop.”

 

These are the times when cynicism and irony—the essential weapons from the postmodernist arsenal—reign supreme and are appreciated by the front-line troops as the tools indispensable not only to vanquish the enemy, but also to minimize the injuries and losses on one’s side inflicted by those heartless others. Because, deprived of the assistance of postmodernist irony—that epitome of all evil according to metamodernists—we would be left practically defenseless, utterly naked, and vulnerable in the face of the challenges thrown at us by the existing social and political reality, like a drunk stripped of his high-proof protective coating while struggling with the vagaries of fate.

If you now resolve to stop and invest your time in the quixotic pursuit of earnestness under present, unspeakably harsh conditions, you’re liable to end up trampled under the boots of marching troops of either side or ridiculed more then ever in your own life or in the lives of all your ancestors put together.

Everything is impossibly fractured; everything is hopelessly relative; every bit of news is a pastiche of a pastiche; and, above all, every social media platform is the greatest gathering of unreliable narrators in history—with every single one of us playing an invidious role in that digital chorus. Those hoping for a peaceful solution are either socially dead or on the fast track to nothingness with their moribund Twitter accounts hemorrhaging followers at a truly staggering pace.

Even the usually risk-averse companies become militarized camps with barbed wire spiraling truculently on top of their patio walls, and are forced to take sides—not without good reason—for the passive loitering on the sidelines is no longer considered an acceptable option.

 

“These are the times when cynicism and irony—the essential weapons from the postmodernist arsenal—reign supreme and are appreciated by the front-line troops.”

 

Politicians are caricatures of their own selves and of their offices; apart from sowing division and discord in the already polarized countries, and thus fracturing the dangerously threadbare fabric of societies even further, they make fools of themselves on a daily basis to the extent that it becomes disappointingly pointless to try to ridicule them since they’re doing a far better job at that than anyone might hope to do, thus turning comedians into an endangered species.

The world gives the impression of being shattered beyond repair—like a porcelain doll that, succumbing to the sudden suicidal temptation, plunges down the bookcase—and our culture reflects that state of constant disorder bordering on anarchy: we see celebrities taking the risk of making political coming outs only to be cut down by the barrage of fire reaching them from the other camp; musicians compose songs that are meant to become the battle hymns of the warring parties; authors feel compelled to pen increasingly topical and politically engaged books—thus sacrificing their potential for timelessness and willfully forfeiting their obligation to aesthetics and universal themes; media outlets are embattled fortresses proudly displaying the constellations of shell holes gnawed in their facades by the enemy mortars and count their dead in the form of lost subscribers and disgruntled advertisers scurrying away in panic, not knowing where the next shell might fall.

No one bothers to take hostages anymore; the more casualties on the other side, the better.

It’s a world in chronic disarray in which the romantic notions of metamodernism and its misguided idea of “informed naivety” are as out of place as a bawdy joke blurted out during a moving scene in a sentimental film. It’s an atomized world that is barely held together by the tenuous threads of fast internet connections. It’s a world resembling a Pythonesque sketch devoid of a punch line. It’s a world in incessant chaos to which, unfortunately, all of us contribute voluntarily.

One may argue that it’s precisely why we need such concepts as metamodernism, to counter the turbulent tidal waves engulfing and sweeping over our pitifully maltreated cultural landscape, but, on the other—and saber-rattling—hand, lowering your guard at the moment when your foe raises his hand against you must be considered an act of wanton recklessness verging on latent suicidal inclinations.

 

“It’s an atomized world that is barely held together by the tenuous threads of fast internet connections.”

 

If the concept like metamodernism had ever existed, it must have happened, briefly, if at all, before the advent of our present cultural climate, before postmodernism has returned with a vengeance to reclaim its rightful place on the throne, thus reducing metamodernism’s lifespan to that of a vinegar fly.

And if metamodernism is, basically, the assortment of postmodernist techniques mixed with the modernist longing for universal truth, then it’s DOA—it won’t survive a minute in the current, exceptionally hostile cultural environment. If you get rid of postmodernist irony and cynicism, you’re left without any, no matter how brittle or flimsy, shield to protect you, your self-esteem, and your personal system of beliefs against the cacophonous polyphony of harsh opinions: it’s no country for the naive—even if the informed naive.

These are the times we live in; these are the most postmodernist times of all; these are the times of bullsh*ttism.

F. R. Foksal is the founder and editor-in-chief of Pen to Paper. He is a Polish author writing in English, his second language. His short story collection, Hour Between Late Night and Early Morning, is available at Amazon. He believes that writing about literature doesn’t have to be boring and that books still stand a chance in today’s high-definition reality.

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