Mobile Society, Income Inequality, and the Postmodern Condition

In sections four and five of Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, he talks about social bonds. He particularly talks about perspectives with which to view sociological constructs in a technocratic, postmodern society. He says we have either seen society as one whole, organized, cohesive unit, or we have seen society as broken down into separate pieces. Lyotard says:

‘… it is fair to say that in principle there have been, at least over the last half-century, two basic representational models for society: either society forms a functional whole, or it is divided in two’ (11).

He is leading up to make the point that neither of these perspectives are adequate with which to look at society, but that a postmodern perspective is necessary because:

‘… the alternative it [perspective of opposites] attempts to resolve, but only reproduces, is no longer relevant for the societies with which we are concerned and that the solution itself is still caught within a type of oppositional thinking that is out of step with the most vital modes of postmodern knowledge (14).

So for Lyotard, thinking in dichotomies, or opposites, is an outdated frame of thinking. In postmodern society, we view society as ‘a theory of communication … a theory of games (16). Connections for communication, and therefore for knowledge, exist in the space of the universe, moving and colliding with each other. The attraction to the perspective of opposites is losing its ‘attraction,’ and we see that

‘A self does not amount to much, but no self is an island; each exists in a fabric of relations that is now more complex and mobile than ever before’ (15).

We can use this paradigm to view issues that have been developing since before Lyotard’s book was written. Some issues have deepened since then. One issue that gained popularity in the last fifteen to twenty years is whether or not all of this online communication will destroy physical human bonds. The general consensus is that online communication is a compliment to physical human interaction, not a detriment. People are probably still studying this topic, but based on tidbits of information here and there over the years, the conclusion has been made that online communication and physical communication feed into each other. It is still good to disconnect sometimes, but the world moves fast and people have a general desire to keep pace with the world. The best way to do this is to be ‘mobile,’ as Lyotard says.

Because of our mobile society, we never really are here or there. Since we cannot be pinned to a place or destiny, society no longer operates in black and white; society works where it is, as it is. We could probably say we function on ‘as above, so below’ type of level. There really are no more boundaries to communication.

This lack of boundaries, while it may be beneficial in some ways, is most harmful to the general economic good of society. Because there is no more structure to the way language games are played, there is a free-fall of income inequality, which income inequality is spreading at a fast rate. Our society was built upon a foundation of paternity and masculinity, white supremacy, and capitalism. These three concepts, when mixed, provide for the volatile state of our society, because the makeup of the population is no longer supporting the foundational ideologies. Income inequality appears when the newer population searches for a way to replace the ‘old’ system, because the old system was not set up to fail. Even though in today’s society, the founding fathers could be considered racist white men, to them they were doing what they thought they had to do to survive not only for their generation, but for generations to come. So as the minority population becomes the majority population, either we will keep the old system and play the roles created by the founding fathers of our society, or we will create a new system under which minorities will have more advantage than we do under the old system. This is not binary thinking; this is an analysis of the two options society has to continue on the path of development and progression.

The issue of income inequality cannot be resolved, though, without an economic system that is different from capitalism. Capitalism is specifically designed so that the few stay rich on the backs of everybody else. In an income equal society, everybody makes at or around the same amount as everybody else, or else the profits are directed to the welfare of the state, and not allowed to be kept as personal fiscal wealth. What is debatable at the core of this issue is whether or not those with greater productive abilities should be required by society to contribute to those who have lesser strengths and productive abilities. Should we be able to keep what we own, or do we have to help support the state? Under capitalism, we should be able to keep what we own. Even at the expense of the well-being of another citizen of society. But as long as we are all citizens of society, are we not all equal, and equally deserving of care, including a livelihood? Do we not all sign the social contract when we admit we are human beings? Or are some of us extraterrestrials? How about all of the above?

In the context of Lyotard, we are probably all of the above. This is what is new about the postmodern condition; it can no longer be viewed from the perspectives of the founding fathers of our society. We have to continually evolve and progress as our fearless technology takes control of how we live our lives on a daily basis.

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