What happened?

A recent study shows that pop songs are in a downward emotional trend, consisting of more emotionally negatively valenced and fewer positively valenced lyrics. Similarly, two films that address that modern society is rotten from within: The Joker (rampant inequality and lack of social security) and Parasite (capitalism induces greed and leeching off others). At FreedomLab, we are interested in grasping our Zeitgeist. Coming from the German philosopher Hegel, the term refers to the general spirit of our time, which manifests itself in cultural patterns and structures of social recognition. In accordance with Hegel’s philosophy, we believe that this expresses itself in pre-theoretical utterances, such as religious imagination and the arts; in pop songs and Oscar-winning movies, for instance, but also in horror, videogames, and dominant narratives.

What does this mean?

There is fierce debate on what could be called “the state of the world”. On the one hand, there is a deep belief in the developed world that things are changing for the worse: rising inequality, ecological degradation, an authoritarian China that will end Western hegemony, digital technologies that cannot live up to their promises and are turning the world into a sort of eternal “panopticon”, or culture wars that are ripping apart the socio-moral infrastructure of societies. On the other hand, many popular books have been published in recent yearsthat stress that things are not as bad as they look, e.g. Harari’s Homo Deus (e.g. man is on the brink of eradicating hunger, disease and war and gaining immortality and superhuman abilities), Pinker’s Enlightenment Now (showing the major progression of human wellbeing in recent decades), and Rosling’s Factfulness(presenting ten reasons why the world is in a better state than we think).

What’s next?

Hegel learned that we only come to grasp or “philosophically understand” something when it has become history: when reality has turned it into something fixed and has moved on. As such, we should stay attuned tonew “structures of feeling” that emerge, as material progress does not reduce our “sentiment of crisis”. Indeed, in our times of uncertainty, we should pay attention to signs that show intrinsic development instead of extrinsic material progress. This often comes from speculative and experimental arts as well as pop culture. In his book Nordic Ideology, Hanzi Freinacht writes that metamodernism overcomes both the naivety of modernist rationalism and nihilism of skeptic postmodernism and stresses that the inner spiritual development is essential for solving and managing society’s problems. As such, the arts could come to play a much more important role in navigating the future and finding new alternative narratives at the return of history.