Monday, July 20, 2015

Why Adorno and Horkheimer got it partly wrong

I believe that Adorno and Horkheimer only got part of the correct explanation for why the Modernity Project so abruptly started dying in 1945, supposedly the moment of its greatest triumph.

Not because they were Central European Jews - it was right for them to intellectually fixate on the Nazis' industrial mass murdering of an entire people - because at the time no one else really was.

Their failure lay, I believe, in being old.

Old, at least relative to school age children.

For Adorno and Horkheimer was only in their forties when they were writing and revising their Dialectic of the Enlightenment, the first book to recognize the death of modernity.

In the 1950s (and for centuries earlier) early and middle adulthood was a relatively healthy time - violent deaths from accidents, wars and suicides aside.

It was actually in early childhood that lay the huge number of deaths from infectious disease that so skewed the entire life expectancy statistics downward.

At my schools, I knew kids whose older siblings had died from polio and kids who went away and never came back , because of 'leukemia'.

And in my family alone, we had already had scarlet fever and rheumatic fever together with measles and chicken pox.

I could tell by the response of our elderly neighbours they were very frightening diseases -at least when they were young mothers.

My mother, a former medical lab tech, rushed to reassure me that, thanks to penicillium fungus and other microbes, these diseases were far less fearsome 'Since the War'.

From all the late night war movies I had watched with my parents since the age of six, I hadn't seen much evidence that the second world war had brought anything but tragic deaths and tears.

That the war had also brought us child's life saving antibiotics made a terrible big impression on this particular small child.

Perhaps if Adorno and Horkheimer had been young mothers (or even today's young fathers) while they were writing their masterwork, they might have seen that badness of Auschwitz alone couldn't kill the delusion of endlessly upward human Progress. in the minds of most humanity.

Because before we can dismiss a bad idea, we need a good idea to replace it.

Antibiotics, coming as they did from the despised fungus and microbes in the constantly overlooked soil right beneath our feet, was just that symbol of a hope-filled alternative way of looking at our fellow humans and the world.

Because the adults, like Adorno and Horkheimer, didn't really see this, everything had to wait until we 1950s kids got older.

The "Penicillium Kids"

When we did, in the mid and late 1960s, it was us postwar "Penicillium Kids" who started the postmodern recognition of rights for all types of people and beings that had been as traditionally overlooked as the soil microbes had once been ...

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