(2016-09-06) Chapman How Meaning Fell Apart

David Chapman: How meaning fell apart. My suggestions for how may evolve in the near future, and how best to relate to it, are based on an understanding of changes in recent history. I propose a series of modes of relating to meaningness that have developed over the past few decades. Each mode solves particular problems of meaningness caused by the previous mode; but introduces new problems of its own. This page introduces the modes; chapters within this history explain the modes and their implications in detail.

A very brief history of meaningness

The choiceless mode is unaware that alternative meanings are possible

The systematic mode tries to solve this problem by creating unarguable foundations, to restore certainty.

The new solution: The countercultural mode developed in response.

The next solution: The subcultural mode abandoned universalism

Instead, subcultures provided numerous “neotribal” systems of meaning

The problem with that: Subcultures proved unable to provide either the breadth or depth of meaning people need

The attempt to provide coherent meanings without foundations had failed. Meaning disintegrated altogether.

What came next: The atomized mode takes incoherence for granted.

Now what: A new fluid mode may address our current problems of meaningness

Its values are collaboration, creativity, improvisation, intimacy, transience, aesthetics, and spiritual depth through community ritual.

Periods, people, cultures, and categories

which mode seems most natural, and which mode one uses most often, varies from person to person.

It seems that the way one relates to meaningness is learned when one is roughly 15–25 years old; and for most people it is difficult to change after that.

People have different preferences in relating to change.

Nations and cultures, too, vary in the speed at which they adopt new modes of meaningness.

Since none of the modes is fully functional, none constitutes straightforward progress.

I believe the only way out is through.

You may be skeptical of my “modes” as categories; you may find them simplistic, and counterexamples may come to mind.

In fact, after finishing this history, I will demolish it. The whole thing is a lie. There are no modes; we are always “in the fluid mode”

No culture or society was ever actually systematic, for the same reason no one can actually be an eternalist: nebulosity is always obvious. No culture or society can actually be atomized, for the same reason no one can actually be a nihilist: patterns are always obvious.

Reflecting on the changes in my experience of meaningness led to the problem/solution framework I present here. Its details may be original. However, it’s structurally similar to theories of adult psychological development such as that of Robert Kegan, in The Evolving Self, which influenced me heavily in my twenties. Kegan’s framework concerns “meaning-making,” and suggests that each developmental stage solves problems created by the previous one.

Spiral Dynamics extrapolates such theories from psychological to cultural development.


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