Cultural codes and complexity

Cultural codes

Most people in the West have probably heard about modernity and postmodernity. Modernity means, among other things, individual rights, equal rights for men and women, a scientific world view, democracy, and a number of other cultural and societal phenomena that first evolved in the West from the Enlightenment onwards.

Postmodernity refers to a critical stance towards modernity and its “accomplishments”–the quotation-mark attitude is very postmodern: nothing has ultimate meaning but all is context dependent and is individual personal perception. There are no value hierarchies and no shared truths, and all that we experience are cultural constructs that must be deconstructed. (So there is some value hierarchy: taking things at face value = bad, deconstructing = good.)

Both modernity and postmodernity are called cultural codes. Cultural codes are not culture specific but are a set of patterns that can describe many different cultures: French culture can be modern or postmodern, American culture can be modern or postmodern but they are still distinctively French and American.

Metamodernity is a cultural code. So are premodernity and indigenous culture.

Indigenous, premodern, modern, and postmodern cultural codes are well-described in cultural theory. Through history, these codes have been our response to the challenges posed by increasingly big and complex societies. Cultural codes are what allow us to organize peacefully as more people need to function together.

Metamodernity is new, few have ever heard about it, and there is no one definition about which there is consensus.

Nordic Bildung’s first book is Metamodernity – Meaning and Hope in a Complex World:

How we understand metamodernity

In their book The Nordic Secret – A European story of beauty and freedom (Fri Tanke Förlag, Stockholm, 2017), Lene Rachel Andersen and Tomas Björkman define metamodernity as the integration of indigenous, premodern, modern, and postmodern codes into one much more complex cultural code:

The complexity of meta-modernity thus matches the complexity of globalization and the technological development that allows financial markets to collapse around the globe simultaneously while we sit, each in our corner of the world, and watch the same cat videos on YouTube while longing for national identity. Meta-modernity allows us to enjoy all aspects of the previous stages whenever appropriate:

  • The codes of indigenous culture are what we share in our immediate family, in intimate relationships and among close friends: meals, personal conversations, spiritual development, births, deaths, deep emotional connections, and intimacy. We also enjoy indigenous codes in tribal settings such as sporting events where facial paint, collective chanting and performance of rituals allow us to connect with our ball-playing warriors. All of this is good.
  • The codes of pre-modern/traditional culture are what allow us a language for the big existential questions in life and they provide us with poetry, beauty, paths to collective transcendence, and rituals for name giving, funerals, and marriage. They help us to belong to imagined communities and they allow us to create social cohesion and narratives that hold societies together. All of this is good.
  • The codes of modernity allow us to have science, technology, medicine, rule of law, individual rights, democracy, and personal freedom. All of this is good.
  • The codes of post-modernity allow us to analyze and deconstruct all of the narratives, power structures and social constructs above and to keep an ironic distance, and this is fantastic, it just happens to be impossible to build a society on deconstruction and irony, and therefore post-modernity is only a phase-transition. Albeit a crucial one.
  • The codes of meta-modernity enjoy all of the above in their due time and place.

The Nordic Secret, p. 399

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