The phenomenon of mass civilization
Today, human civilization faces grave threats not only from the callous ways of organized crimes or dangerous ideologies, most especially terrorism, but even from the latent repression perpetrated by the modern state. For the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur, the state is the face of both justice and oppression.
Our problems today, according to Leovino Garcia, can be traced to the phenomenon of mass civilization. State machinations by the elite and other vested interests mean that human experience is subsequently reduced to mere functions. In such a technical world, human relations have become fragmentary. When the individual is exploited by means of totalitarian schemas, the person is reduced to a mindless conformist. The individual who does not have the knowledge, the person who is dumb or imbecile, is cast away as unproductive.
The phenomenon of mass civilization points to the diminution of the human being into a mere number. For this reason, individuals have been reduced to nameless faces or faceless names. Indeed, a human being has become just a mere part of one big whole—human society’s industrial megamachine—but he or she is not an indispensable component of it.
First, mass civilization means that persons have become integrated into the monster that is consumer capitalism. People move into urban centers in search for a job. For this reason, individuals who cannot become part of the industrial machine may be restricted from moving into the urban culture. This, in turn, comes to be the “massification” of people, including the young generation. The displacement of the young in terms of values can be considered forgetfulness, according to Garcia, of our “memory of humanity.”
Secondly, mass civilization is actually the reality of human society being reduced to the movement of markets and the products introduced by these markets. Globalization is just another name for the way advanced societies have tried to successfully rule and dominate the international marketplace.
Thirdly, the cultural level shows how modern social media mediate human relations, both negatively and in the positive sense. Whereas television in the past served as the anchorage of cultural assimilation, including the brainwashing of people, the Internet today defines for us what mass society is all about—Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Social is positive in terms of the way it has connected people, but the lack of mature reflection on the part of many leaves so much to be desired in terms of the quality of such type of human interaction.
What is at issue here, according to Renante Pilapil, is the confrontation between the “mass” and the “human person.” The human person is nowhere in the virtual interface between two people. Real lives become absent. As such, mass civilization has diminished the true value of the interpersonal dimension. Indeed, any desire for power ultimately can be attached to absurdity. What our present civilization lacks is not autonomy but authentic human values because self-achievement has become some form of egocentricity at the expense of others.
Human progress deems that people are mature and are able to plan, decide and act reasonably. A mass civilization cannot be expected to possess the capacity to understand technicalities, govern using value-based principles, or manage the socioeconomic sphere with competence. For this reason, the reduction of society into a mass may catapult the state into a dubious entity that is ready to devour the lives of innocent civilians. Without true democracy, people will be deprived of their unfettered choices and, as such, they become manipulated.
In a society where the masses do not have control of political power, the state becomes a diabolical apparatus of violence, a tool for the rich and powerful that allows them to encroach into a huge part of people’s lives, thereby violating their basic human rights. Rationality regresses into the pretentious reasoning of the strong and the influential. As a result, what is considered legal authority is nothing but despotic rule. For example, elections are a farce because the masses can easily succumb to the machinations of political operators.
Mass society can easily fall prey to statistics, surveys and propaganda. Expert technical knowledge simply doubles as another form of exploitation insofar as it reduces everything to the pragmatic. In the civic realm, ideologies act as masks for the latent desire of some to control the lives of people. Mass societies are herded like a mindless group. Ideologies can be deceptive. They project a sweet plethora of expectations but deep within are ill motives of suppressing human freedom. In a mass society, public discussion is useless because the people’s participation is constrained. Things become mere formalities as the marginalized actually remain voiceless and, thus, powerless.
Christopher Ryan Maboloc is assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He has a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden.