Ernest Becker’s view of the “modern” parallels the impression that any long-lived alien would have had after watching the transformation of the Ubaid village culture after the adoption of speech-alone talk. An apparently holistic society became supercharged through fragmentation.
For the Ubaids, the fragmentation was practical. Potters separated from House-makers. Reed collectors separated from Reed boat makers. Wool spinners separated from Weavers. Priests separated from Shamans. Each separation created a new job title.
7600 years later, for the moderns, the fragmentation was abstract. Money fragmented from value. Fact separated from theory. Science fragmented from Philosophy. Social Science separated from whatever-was-left-of-Philosophy. Electricity fragmented from Matter. Nuclear force separated from Electro-Magnetism. Television separated from Radio. Hair-stylists separated from Barbers. Each fragment yielded a new profession.
Becker asked: How to analyze this issue of fragmentation in terms of science and reason?
He started by considering individual and society. In fragmentation, each fragment has its own set of shared values (which I would call a “language”) that exists independently of the individual. The individual may belong to one fragment and not to another. One fragment “speaks her language” and the other does not. The latter is experienced as “alienation” by “impersonal social institutions”.
Within one’s own fragment, the individual is faced with pressures to conform. The person faces a reduction in choices and freedom. So the person suffers a second alienation in “conforming”.
Becker’s conclusion: We have lost the unifying vision that once controlled the impersonal structures of institutions.
A shorter version: We have lost perspective.
But what we have really lost is the security – really, the joy – of “belonging to who we belonged to” and “not knowing any different”. This was the way of life among our hand-speech talking Paleolithic and Early Neolithic ancestors.