Sunday, November 7, 2010

Twenty-first Century Romanticism: The Basic Principles

     In previous essays I offered some simple contrasts between Apollonian and Dionysian ethos's, and between their subsets of rationalism and romanticism.  Now it is time to delve into the core principles and characteristics of contemporary twenty first century Romanticism. Obviously, in the future, this era will partly be defined by what precedes and follows it.  All I can do on this website is demonstrate how the era of Modernism was, and its remnants still are, different in kind from what is emerging as a new pattern of ideas and behaviors.

     The basic principles are:

     Dionysian cognitive framework:
  • Spontaneity, passion, intuition, rebellion, and love of excess 
  • Rawness, we want to see, smell, touch, and taste the real thing, not an abstraction.  But we will also settle for the virtual thing. 
  • Holistic ideas; nature/culture is one system

     Romanticism is High Context (HC) culture: 
  • Social issues, relationships, and gatherings are more important than intellectual pursuits; (Intellectuals and intelligence are not revered as they were during Modernism; “the life of the mind is a waste of time”).
  • Wisdom is more important than theory; Science and the Humanities are secondary players that help embellish and celebrate life; the pure search for Truth is asocial but tolerated within certain bounds.
  • Collecting and storing vast amounts of information about people and their relations, habits, and likes/dislikes is necessary.  This is done at all levels (small intimate groups maintain constant contact; corporations monitor their staff, competitors, and partners; governments track large numbers of people); individualism and privacy are being redefined
  • It is personal.  In The Godfather series (1972) when someone was to be killed they would offer the consolation “its business, not personal.”  When I first heard that as a young teen I cringed but most adults didn’t even flinch.  In Sleepless in Seattle (1993) that line was used but the important reply was “It’s personal to me.”
  • HC culture is also high contact culture; calling, texting, tweeting, and emailing your significant other, your friends, and your extended family many times a day is allowed in most situations, even at most workplaces.  The Text of these messages is often inane because what people are doing is sustaining the Context of their lives.  The guy who’s walking into a building and is on the phone saying “I’m walking into the building; be there in a minute” is sending the message I am close to you, socially and emotionally.  It is phatic language. Focus on the Context not the Text to understand the behavior.
  • The matrix Organization; you are placed somewhere and have vertical, horizontal and nonlinear relations.  Example:  "Ms. Betty Fxoxox has been associated with the program from its very beginning. Recognizing that open systems and conformance to standard architectures are critical to a program like CIS, she has worked hard to ensure these requirements were identified early. She is matrixed to the IPT from CECOM's Software Management Directorate".  (AQ101:  fundamentals of systems Acquisition management, Lesson 5.) 
  • Technology is being used to maintain, sustain, expedite, and proliferate the needs of HC culture, and for gathering and storing vast amounts of information; relational databases, mobile communication devices, and web sites keep it all going. Identity theft is an unfortunate outcome.  

     Romanticism and Pop Culture:
  • Our movie and cable industries are dominated by fantasy:  witches, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, mummies, zombies, etc. (They replaced all the popular westerns and mysteries).  They are metaphors about human behavior.
  • All you Need Is Love, The Beatles, 1967.  This song hit the square headed affection supressed Modernists square in the face.  And so, after decades of suppressing displays of affection in public, by the late 1970s, people were openly affectionate everywhere and at any time.  Today, few people remember that saying hello and good bye at the airport used to be a subdued quick awkward moment. Now, it can be that or a social circus and no one cares.

     Key Metaphors in contemporary American Culture
  • Situational Awareness; it’s HC so be aware of everything around you and all the non verbal stuff; on the nonlinear battlefield, Total Situational Awareness is the playbook.   We are all situated in life (unless you are having a communication problem which means you are desituated--out of touch, lost, confused)
  • Empathy; you must care about everyone
  • Engaged; not in the sense of getting married, but being out there in high contact with people
  • Integrated; my team’s policies and procedures are integrated with all the policies and procedures from other groups in this organization (whew)
  • Relationships (your doctor, dentist, lawyer, etc., now wants a “relationship” with you
  • Community; strongly defined us/them groups; you have to decide who’s in and who’s out
  • The matrix organization (we are more than a top down society; it’s diagonal, zigzag, and sideways too)
  • Sustainability; we have to sustain the environment; and now that the go-go years of greed is ending, we have to sustain our business for the long haul instead of maximizing short term shareholder return
  • Embedded, everywhere. In culture, in nature, journalists in the Army, videos in your web posts, viruses in your emails.  People and things are parts of wholes, and parts can attach to other wholes.  Again focus on the fractal aspect of Context.

     The Embodied Cognition Movement [1]:
  • 98 percent of human thought is unconscious
  • Human thinking entails emotion (there is no separation)
  • Most human thought is metaphorical with very little literalness
  • The human body is the basis and grounding for thinking; the brain’s primary function is self regulation and self monitoring-awareness; the brain and the neurological system is a full body system; yes, wiggling your toes can affect thoughts
  • Rational Man, as defined by Modernist social scientists, especially economists, is wrong.  People sometimes employ logic and formulas to make decisions but more often than not they employ other cognitive frames to make decisions, and these are often embedded in situational and impulsive frames.
  • Enlightenment-Modernist Thought that disembodies the mind from brain and body, and thoughts from emotion, is wrong; there is no scientific basis for it. Descartes was wrong.
  • American conservatives and neoliberals still hold to the Rationalism of a fading era.  They are traditionalists being pushed to the sidelines, to be called “Old Lights” because their ideas don’t shine as brightly as they once did. They won’t go quietly because they still claim the status of Status Quo.
  • The en-cultured brain/body see here

     The Behavioral Economics Movement [2]
  • Human psychology drives the economy
  • People’s economic activity is influenced by confidence (or the lack of it), fairness, corruption and bad faith, money illusion, and stories told about people, businesses, and the economy
  • Monetarists have been discredited by the current economic crisis (see here [irony intended], here, and here).  The Keynesians will be next (do we really have to watch this ship go down? An early look at this is here and here)

     Romantic Science and Humanities
  • Nonlinear analysis is done by itself or jointly with linear analysis to seek both Text and Context
  • Fractal analysis
  • Situational Analysis
  • Cyclical analysis

     These principles cover quite a bit of ground.  Where it all takes us I have no idea at this time.  But, since I am an experimental researcher, I guess I’ll have answers when I get there.  Everything in its own time.


1.  The primary sources in this area are Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error:  Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Penguin Books, originally 1994 but reprinted in soft cover with new Preface 2005; and his Looking for Spinosa:  Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain, Harcourt, Inc, 2003; and, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh:  The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought, Basic Books, 1999.  The rationalism of American conservatives and neoliberals is described in George Lakoff, The Political Mind, Penguin Books, paperback edition 2009.Mark Johnson, The Meaning of the Body,Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2007

2.  Start with George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller, Animal Spirits:  How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why it Matters for Global Capitalism, Princeton University Press, paperback edition, 2010, and read their references; and, read the references at

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