But the blindness of superiority continues in spite of all and upholds the belief that the vast regions everywhere on our planet should develop and mature to the level of present day Western systems, which in theory are the best and in practice the most attractive. There is this belief that all those other worlds are only being temporarily prevented (by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own barbarity and incomprehension) from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and from adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in this direction.
Human beings suffer. The suffering of the human being is unique amongst all creatures on the Earth, for it is only the human being who poses the decisive question: ‘Why am I here?’ That is to say, unlike any other animal, the human being seeks a purpose, a meaning, a goal to their existence. In an attempt to answer this question, humans have developed elaborate systems in the form of art, religion, morality, and philosophy. In so doing, man has found a means of making life endurable.
Modernity is all-encompassing and therefore frustratingly hard to define and write succinctly about. The philosopher Marshall Berman said that it was ‘an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world – and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything that we have, everything we know’. Shmuel Eisenstadt called the history of modernity a ‘story of continual constitution and reconstitution of a multiplicity of cultural programs’. Zygmunt Bauman suggests that ‘post-modernity’ stems from the realisation that that the long effort to accelerate the speed of movement has presently reached its ‘natural limit’. I like to think that this last one implies that the history of modernity corresponds to the development of ever-quicker modes of transportation. Maybe a convenient point to say that modernity started is the invention in 1804 of the first working steam locomotive. Gross simplification, I know.