The way in which mankind evaluates his being, his nature, his potential – and consequently, his values and his actions – could be compressed into any number of terms, but for reference and simplicity these self-reflective evaluations will be encapsulated here as the Images of Man. I have abridged this definition from the source that will be used as the foundation for the conclusions below. The Changing Images of Man is a 1982 publication procured by The Center for the Study of Social Policy and SRI [Stanford Research Institute] International, which outlines the process by which mankind’s “images” (i.e. conception of his physical self, societal formation, and metaphysical surroundings) change over time, as well as how they can be potentially steered in another direction.
I’ve often found myself, particularly in the last five or six years, fielding questions from older generations in regards to the present day culture and its inability to foster sincere and productive communication. It appears evident that The Changing Images of Man addresses many of the sources behind our cultural phenomenon, and so I will attempt to describe two of these causes to the best of my ability.
Language & Abstraction
Historically, much of mankind’s group cohesion is predicated on a limited dialectic and a common linguistic foundation in an objective truth. We can observe that groups of citizens within the most productive civilizations generally held the same worldview, and were thus able to pursue a common interest with little friction. Yet this common interest often proved far less potent in the aftermath of excessive conquest or invasion. This example is not meant to serve as an argument for cultural relativism, but rather as parallels to a “viral” model in which the spread of the very idea of radical relativism becomes a kind of disassociative to the societal union; that which is highly corrosive to interpersonal trust and accountability.
One of the most critical necessities for language arises from a need to communicate complex metaphysical and philosophical abstractions. Spreading into the West from such institutions as The Frankfurt School, the critical theorist seeks to undermine these abstractions and change their conceptions in order to erode social cohesion. Though I will not describe this much further, many of us can easily observe the effects of the changes in abstraction. For example, complex ideas like gender or race are now so diluted that one almost dare not speak of them for fear of retribution. The point here with regard to The Changing Images of Man is that the confusion over language is almost entirely intentional.
It must be noted that this is not speculative. The Changing Images of Man was written by the Urban and Social Systems Division of Stanford Research Institute and was written with the intention to provide insight into ways in which mankind’s “image” could be influenced to provide outcomes that would be desirable to whichever organization gave funding and inquiry to a study on social engineering.
The field of aesthetics is one which has been debated for millennia, yet more recently, has taken strange and unpredictable turns. The deconstruction of aesthetic beauty naturally follows the deconstruction of linguistic and philosophical concepts, as a sense of nihilism overtakes the artist who has denigrated reality to the point where all is meaningless and nothing is beautiful.
What follows the complete deconstruction and eventual disregard for aesthetics is the antithesis of beauty; art which, by design, is meant to conjure feelings of disgust, shock, and hopelessness in the consumer. Where before, artistic images were meant to illuminate virtue and characterize and beautify truth, now many such images only perpetuate the notion of a relative sense of artistic appreciation.
This is not to say that art is not somewhat subjective, nor is it to say that artists ought not have their own styles and influences. It is to say, however, that on the heels of a disillusion of social trust and the abolishment of objective truth and beauty, we have gone from the stoicism of The School of Athens or the kaleidoscopic magnificence in the roots of Byzantium to the nude feminist vomiting on a canvas or the piles of rusted cans that somehow represents “the hatred of the American dream.”
The function of aesthetics here serves as a literal visual representation of the effects of the corrosion of objective concepts such as truth or beauty. If within man’s image of himself he concedes his beliefs and capitulates to radical relativism, his children and his grandchildren will suffer the consequences of his cowardice.
I sincerely appreciate everyone who took the time to read this. Though this is more of an experimental essay, I will provide the link to The Changing Images of Man below.