The arrival of modernity has occurred at different times, in different places.
Before postmodernity arrived, as Burke (2005) has noted, modernity held the stage.
Charles Taylor, in Malaise of modernity (1992), provides an accessible overview of the cultural origins of modernity. Theodore Rabb, in The last days of the Renaissance and the path to modernity (2006) also provides a good overview of the steps that led to modernity.
With regard to the consequences of instrumental reason, the term Charles Taylor favours, Rachel Carson has spoken with eloquence of some of the consequences that follow from blind adherance to this aspect of modernity. Those particular consequences haven’t changed.
How to be modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and beyond
Pankaj Mishra’s Temptations of the West: How to be modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet and beyond, first edition (2006), describes the arrival of modernity in South Asia.
The book begins with Mishra’s early education as a writer in Benares (p.20):
“The small unnoticed tregedies of thwarted hopes and ideals Flaubert wrote of in Sentimental Education were all around us. And this awareness, which was also mine but which I tried to evade through, ironically, the kind of obsessive reading that led me to the novel in the first place, had been Rajesh’s private key to the book. Thus, where I saw only the reflection of a personal neurosis — the character of Frédéric in particular embodying my sense of inadequacy, my harsh self-image — he had discovered the social and psychological environment that was similar to the one he lived in.”
I began to read work by Pankaj Mishra after reading an online excerpt from his recent book, From the ruins of empire: The revolt against the West and the remaking of Asia (2012).
The latter book was reviewed in the New York Times on September 21, 2012.
What can we learn from history?
Discussions about modernity bring to mind the question: What can we learn from history?
This is a topic that Harald Welzer discusses in Climate wars (2012, pp. 22):
“Commemorations of the Holocaust are always associated with the idea that we can learn from history, that historians can provide the knowledge required to ensure that what happened then ‘never happens again.’ But why should it ‘never happen again’, when the evidence shows that human beings – even those of unquestionable intelligence and with a liberal education – are able to find meaning in the most anti-humanist theories, definitions, conclusions and actions, and to integrate these into their familiar conceptions of the world?
He adds (p. 23): “It is a modernist superstition that allows us to keep shrinking from the idea that, when people see others as a problem, they also think that killing them is a possible solution. This often has less to do with aggressiveness than with purposive thinking. According to Hans Albert, the production of weapons has ‘in many cases been more useful than the production of tools’ for problem-solving. So, where does that leave us with ‘learning from history’?”
He has further commented (p. 27 of Climate Wars) that social and cultural theory has been characterized by what he describes as ‘immateriality.’
He notes it would be helpful for theory to find a way back “from the world of discourse and systems to the strategies through which social beings try to control their fate. The fact is that a considerable part of the world’s population will face increasing difficulties in the future, as desertification, soil erosion and salination, oceanic acidification, river contamination, aggradation [filling and raising the level of (the bed of a stream) by deposition of sediment: The Free Dictionary] and overfishing limit their survival chances.”