Sunday, February 10, 2008

Once upon a time there was this backlash against rationality

We’ll call it the Romantic movement, ‘cause everyone else does. Interestingly, for a person interested in the evolution of human thought, I’ve never given much thought to how much of an impact this 1800s movement had on my childhood and worldview.

The movement's memes moved from gloomy English poets, American transcendentalists, German composures, and the intellectuals of the Germanic world, down through the lost generation, angst-ridden writers of the intra-war period, early 20th century reformers, members of the non-communist far left, beatniks, and found its mass expression in hippies. These ideas settled on my generation in the medium of popular culture. During my early years, we had a hit a period of synthesis, and a compromise version of Romanticisms’ emphasis on individuality, wonder, whimsy, and emotion had infused popular culture. As we moved into the 1990s, the process continued, with the Romantics' rejection of the intellect and science softening into a view of these as part of humanity’s heroic struggle to understand the universe.

I can not remember how many TV show episodes and movies there were that ended with the moral that a person must see the world with both their heart and mind—that emotion and intellect together were important means of apprehending truth.

Even as early as the 60s, this fusion was under way in pop culture, with flinty-eyed Cold War warrior types in space celebrating human irrationality and spontaneity along with the mystery of exploration and the learning that technology makes possible.

This compromise even manifested in a Stallone movie of all places, with the Demolition Man himself standing in a utopian Los Angeles of the future, telling the uptight police that they needed to get a little dirtier, and that the rebels of the LA underworld that they needed to clean up some.

I do miss that age of graceful combination. The really good media products of the time, shows like Star Trek and Northern Exposure; comic strips like Bloom County were good at exploring both human intuition and reason. These works expressed a broad-based appreciation of art, philosophy, science, and firsthand personal experience.

No comments: