I was spoon-fed porn today. And rambunctious pandemonium. I did not want to see Britney Spears shaking her ass in my face, but it was meant to be. Apparently, if you ever find yourself being forced to have irritating noises scrape the brittle surface of your eardrums, chances are, you’re hearing “Scream and Shout” by will.i.am and Spears. Such was my experience today. I did not enjoy the sights and sounds. Given the apparent popularity of “the noise” (err, song), it made me wonder what “music” was to human beings these days. Am I the only one who honestly cannot bring myself to calling such filth “music”? Is there anybody out there who would agree? (As for those who disagree, please, spare me your noisy whining. My eardrums can bear only so much…) I felt sad for all of the morons listening to that shit. I needed to turn on Ludovico Einaudi to reset my tympanic membrane. I found myself swearing as I thought about all the money spent (and made) on producing junk. Is this all we’re going to be fed from here on out? Will all of our Beethovens and Mozarts become obsolete?
I imagine a dystopian society in which Spears is my music professor and will.i.am is my professor of African-American Studies. God, it would be mind-numbing. With such “talent” behind the podium, one would expect 10 mg of Ritalin just to stay awake past the initial introductions…
If this continues, I imagine a society where math will be taught by a nude instructor singing “Scream and Shout” while rubbing her vulva. I imagine a society where the biology professor has students looking at nothing but naked (and gorgeous) cadavers. Along with long selections made from the textbook—specifically from the “reproductive system” section. I imagine a society in which the students are forced to read Fifty Shades of Grey for English Literature class—afterwards, they’d be shown the movie, as if atrocities such as reading the so-called book were not enough. I imagine a society in which our psychology departments merely talk about Freud and sex. In between brief mentions of Skinner and Erikson, one would see “human interaction” take place while watching an orgy on screen. I imagine such a society because it’s, unfortunately, not so hard to imagine. In fact, we’re almost there now. It doesn’t take a sexologist to see that.
In such moments, I call to mind one of America’s long forgotten sociologists: Pitirim A. Sorokin. In his monumental book, The Crisis of Our Age (1941), he prophetically set forth, in great detail, our culture’s problems and our society’s future. He critically submitted our society to examination and found our problem: obsession with materialism and, hence, all things sensual. Being a social cycle theorist, he argued that societies run through three distinct phases: Idealistic, Ideational, and Sensate.
The Idealistic age is full of the super-sensory; namely, God. It is an age in which principles and Kantian categorical imperatives are obeyed not because they are sensory and exist in reality but because they are above-the-senses (i.e., super-sensory) and come from God. The art of this age tries to point one back to Heaven, to God. The literature tells tales of Gods and how we should imitate them. The parables of Jesus would be fair representatives of this age.
The Ideational age is a step away from the Idealistic. In this age, a society begins diluting its super-sensory, abstract, and principle-based approaches with sensory things. We get an age in which the great works of art and literature reflect half-man and half-God. “Its heroes are partly gods and other transcendental creatures; partly the empirical man, but in his noblest aspects only.”
Finally, the Sensate age is an age in which nothing but the sensory matters; we are flesh and bones, nothing more. Here, one’s ultimate concern is that which is empirically verifiable, being human through and through. There are no moral principles to be obeyed (that’s all too abstract). All that exists is the here and the now; the neuron and the orgasm. Man is God and God is man. (In fact, God is dead.) In such an age, art becomes thoroughly grounded in the senses. If it moves your feelings and stimulates your senses; you’re probably looking at it right now. “Sensate art lives and moves entirely in the empirical world of the senses. Empirical landscapes, empirical man, empirical events and adventures, empirical portraiture—such are its topics.” He further relates that “[I]t is marked by voluptuous nudity, and concupiscence…it must amuse and entertain…” It has no other value except itself—it is art for art’s sake. It’s only goal is to bring some kind of stimulation, whether it is merely sensual or sexual. (One thinks of all the women watching Fifty Shades of Grey merely for the sake of a potential orgasm in a public theater. It’s only a matter of time before 3D glasses will be swapped out with disposable dildos.) “To retain its charm, it has to make lavish use of pomp and circumstance, colossality, stunning technique, and other means of external adornment…[t]he more it develops, the more pronounced become these characteristics.” There is nothing in this form of sensate art in which one ever really reaches some kind of attainable goal—in fact, there is no goal (or telos, if you will) there. All one finds is some kind of stimulus—a stimulus strong enough to get you high but weak enough to have you coming back for more, more, and more. You don’t ever leave the theater. You stay until your senses have become so desensitized, you no longer feel anything. The only “goal” one can think of is the colossal act itself. Andy Warhol wrote regarding this problem—where the artist becomes reduced not to his artwork, but to his or her fame (read: colossality).“Eventually, no matter who the artist was and no matter what school he belonged to, the entertainment society made his fame his achievement and not his achievement his fame.” In other words, you become famous not because your work is good, but simply because your work is colossal. And once you colossalize something, dang, it becomes inherently and colossally good. You popularize things to make them colossal; you make things colossal so you can popularize them. Nobody bothers to care about whether that thing is any good, really. They can talk about Kim Kardashian’s boobs for all they care…
Sorokin didn’t need to enter a modern theater to see what it would all come to—he was a part of a different age with a different mind. He lived in the abstract. He was able to imagine and conceive things we no longer can. We need some kind of stimulus just to get our neurons moving. He saw how it all would end. He knew your grandma would find her way to the theater to watch Sex and the City in 3D. He knew that if you could not reinvent pussy, you might as well make it bigger. Put it on a 30-inch screen. Hell, that’s not enough. Let’s throw it on a 72-inch High Definition screen. Shoot, something is still missing. Damn, how about I throw that on a BluRay disc, with an 80-inch Ultra High Definition screen? That will do.
Then it’s still not enough. Why not make it 3D? Why not make it virtual? Why not add something that stimulates more than just the photoreceptor cells in your retina? We need, as Sorokin remarked, to make this shit colossal! But even colossal becomes an epic failure. We still lose.
Sorokin predicted where it all would head almost a century ago. There’s no need for you to put on your 3D glasses, he’ll blow your socks off without them:
“[F]irst, the function of giving enjoyment and pleasure leads any sensate art at its decadent stage to degrade one of its own socio-cultural values to a mere means of sexual enjoyment on the level of ‘wine, women and song.’ Second, in its endeavour to portray reality as it appears to our senses, it becomes the art of progressively thinner and more illusory surfaces instead of reflecting the essence of sensory phenomena. Thus it is destined to become ever more superficial, puerile, empty and misleading. Third, in its quest for sensory and sensational ‘hits,’ for stimulation and excitement as the necessary conditions for sensory enjoyment, it is increasingly and fatally deflected from positive to negative phenomena—from ordinary types and events to those which are pathological, from the fresh air of normal socio-cultural reality to the social sewers, until it becomes a museum of pathology and of negative aspects of sensory reality. Fourth, its charming diversity impels it to seek ever-greater variety, until all harmony, unity and balance are submerged in an ocean of incoherence and chaos. Fifth, this diversity, together with the effort to give pleasure, and to stimulate, leads to an increasing complication of technical means; and this, in turn, tends to make of these instrumentalities an end in themselves—one which is pursued to the detriment of the inner value and quality of the fine arts. Sixth, sensate art, as we have seen, is the art of professional artists creating for the public. Such specialization, while in itself a distinct advantage, results, in the later phases of sensate culture, in the separation of artists from the community—a factor from which both parties suffer, as well as the fine arts themselves.”
Sorokin essentially told your great-aunt what you would be witnessing today in 2015. What we now have can be rightly called a “museum of pathology.” Why is it pathological? Most of us living today should easily know. We have become obsessed with not “normal” sex, but with abnormal sex. Instead of pornography, we now request pathological pornography—rape scenes, violence, chains, etc. Instead of watching regular human beings on screen, we now need ever-increasing doses of violence, zombies, vampires, etc., etc. If modern American culture is not a museum of pathology then I don’t know what is.
Why did Sorokin think this not only would take place but, in fact, had to take place? He gives his reasons:
“In order to be a successful market commodity, sensate art has to impress, to produce a sensation. At its earlier stages its normal personages, normal, positive events, and normal, well-rounded style possess the fascination of novelty. But as time goes on, its topics, through constant repetition, grow familiar and trite. They lose their power to excite, to stimulate, to thrill. Hence the tendency of such an art to seek the exotic, the unusual, the sensational. Together with the ever-shifting fads of the market, this leads at its later stages to an excessively artificial selection of themes and patterns. Instead of the typical and the significant, it chooses such abnormal or trivial topics as criminals, insane persons, paupers, ‘cave men’ or ‘glamour girls.’”
And here one has it: our sensate culture has finally come full circle (almost?). We are running out of criminals, zombies, vampires, insane persons, etc., to talk about. And some of us are getting tired. Really tired. We’ve enjoyed our share of watching series after series talking about a rapist, murder, thief, thug, and gangster. We’ve covered every angle of prostitution, sex slavery, stalkers, and so-called glamour girls. We’ve literally seen it all. After all of what we’ve seen becomes annoying and mundane, we change the channel. But this time there’s nothing left that stimulates. In a world of nothing but senses, we lose even our senses. It is no wonder that a long-forgotten writer, upon visiting a conservative Jewish family in Israel, remarked that “sex was palpable in the master bedroom.” She made that comment because she was in the home of a rabbi who believed in the sanctity of marriage and the reality of desensitization; his wife was covered in clothing from head to toe. The only time anyone got a chance to see her skin was her husband. And even then, that was special.
There is something, however, that is fantastically amusing about our idiotic culture. The so-called “freedom” in art has actually been detrimental to art. Look at porn, for example. It’s a joke. To make matters worse, our artwork so-called is not even art. It’s a crock of crap. For example, as Hedges points out hilariously (and somewhat sadly), in 1917 at the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York, an artist by the name of Marcel Duchamp submitted his “art” signed with “R. Mutt” to a committee of “five hundred selected British art world professionals” which was voted “most influential artwork of the twentieth century.” What did he submit? An “art” piece titled Fountain. What was it? A urinal. (That was not a misprint.) Sorokin was right: this kind of culture can only produce the stupid, idiotic, and pathological. A urinal succinctly depicts our present culture: something to be flushed and quickly forgotten. If only a urinal was not chosen as representative of the twentieth century, maybe then I would hold tongue-in-cheek.
Now that we have criminalized modesty, decriminalized nudity, we’ve had a chance to allow ourselves the fleeting pleasure of seeing everything. But like the author of Ecclesiastes, we, too, have realized that all is vanity. Not all things that are good come in overabundance. Some good things come in small and well-planned packages. Maybe our lust after sex is merely the reflection of a good gone wild.
For those of you who don’t get Sorokin, maybe it’s because you haven’t done the research he had done. For he carefully analyzed roughly 100,000 pieces of art and literature before writing his comments. Paragraphs such as the following fill his pages:
“My statistical studies show that from 1600 to 1920, among the leading musical works, the number of satirico-comical and prosaic genre compositions increased from 24 in the seventeenth century to 106 in the nineteenth, whereas the number of the heroic compositions decreased from 123 to 63.”
In particular, he notes how, as the sensate age progresses, it gets caught up in satire and comedy (hence satire’s increase). This increase in satirical literature has an inverse relationship with heroic literature (where the hero is Jesus, St. Francis, Buddha, etc.). One sees an increase in the pathologically satirical and a decrease in the theologically heroic.
As the sensate age continues to progress, it begins accentuating what I have touched upon earlier: colossality. It begins making all things bigger. But herein lies the rub: in its lust after bigger, it fails to realize that bigger never satisfies. If one can have one, why not two? If two, why not three? If three, why not ad infinitum?
“Hence the disease of colossality, typical of the decadent sensate phase of Graeco-Roman and present-day art. We construct the tallest buildings, and boast that they are the best precisely because they are the biggest. We maintain huge choruses and orchestras—the bigger the better. A book sold en masse is regarded as a masterpiece; a play enjoying the longest run is accepted as the best. Our motion pictures are conceived on a vast scale and endowed with sumptuous trimmings and accessories.”
Quantitative approaches to life will never end: you can always take infinity and add one. But, moreover, the fallacy which our society has committed en masse is the Fallacy of False Equivalence. We have made the word best equivalent to big. So long as something is big, it must be, by necessity, best. But “colossality inevitably leads to qualitative deterioration.” The more we emphasize quantity, the more we forget about quality; the more we focus on quantitative orgasms, the less we recognize the reality of quality sex. We’ve become so focused on numbers, an author can hardly sleep, checking to see if his book reached the Best-Sellers List. No longer is he checking to see if his book is morally superb or whether it’ll make others better people. All that matters is how many copies he’s sold. But then he realizes the vanity if the book ever takes off. “After a few brief weeks our best-sellers sink into permanent oblivion.”
And for all the scientists out there who love empiricism, there is one looming problem for you too: this love for the sensual in a sensate culture, while initially helping science, can actually ruin science. Why? Because science cannot be anything but a puppet to the sensate culture. Science becomes nothing more than a mouthpiece for pleasure and pain. “There are no virtues in a virtue-less world,” a good petitio principii. All you have are nuclear weapons, robotic dildos, pain medications, and antidepressants. “Our universities and colleges produce few, if any, authentic geniuses.” Why should they? For “[a]nyone can pile mass upon mass, quantity upon quantity; but only a genius can achieve (often with the maximum economy of means) a masterpiece.” As Chris Hedges points out, mysteriously unaware of Sorokin’s work, “[T]his system is perfectly designed to reproduce itself. Universities, by demanding that professors attain doctorates, almost always written on narrow and obscure specializations approved by faculty committees, replenish their ranks with the timid and the mediocre.” And here we have it: the commitment not to “authentic genius” but to inauthentic, subserviant-to-the-established-elite, pedantic, highly-technical, coma-inducing, footnote-inspired, scholastic jargon. We produce scholars, not geniuses. There’s a world of difference. We produce those who can only reduplicate somebody else’s thoughts. We produce so-called “geniuses” who can only recite what somebody long-dead had written. We are a society obsessed with sexual and scholastic reproduction. Every once in a while a mistake happens and we get something decent. We get a Noam Chomsky. With all the money spent on attempting to make this a society of geniuses, you’d think common sense would be ever-present at the White House. You’d think our elected officials would be the “cream of the crop.” But I’m “afraid it ain’t so,” my friend. Apparently, common sense suffered a stroke decades ago…
The picture Sorokin painted in the 1940s was a gloomy one. Back then it was a picture, now it has become reality. It is alive and well, so to speak. What he once merely put to paper, has now become what most of us see and feel on a day-to-day basis. We live in a post-Sorokin world. However, in spite of the accuracy of Sorokin’s predictions, Sorokin did also predict something rather much more optimistic: the rebellion against such a culture. Matter of fact, such a rebellion has already started. One can see it clearly in parts of the Muslim world—a world which rejects the West’s love of the sensate. It will not come as a surprise to any future writers if the world they live in is increasingly, and largely, Muslim. The problem with a sensate culture is that it fails to deliver. It fails to bring home the goods it promises. Initially, we all bought into the lie that maybe a black-and-white television was enough. But it was not so. We wanted more. Then we added other accessories. Now we’re waiting for the next big thing. In anticipation we fail to ponder a single and most profound thought: To what ends colossality? What are we all really looking for out there on the silver screen? And if more is equalling less, which we now know it is, why do we still pursue more? If more pornography never cured erectile dysfunction, why are we still feeding ourselves to such over-sized portions of it? If our love for big is worthwhile, at which point is big enough? If ever?
I now return to my initial observations. (Sure, Sorokin continues talking, on and on, about our culture’s issues. For that, one could read the book.) My problem with modern society is that it has become everything Sorokin said it would. And we have become all the worse for it. We’re not any closer to satisfaction than when we first started. I’d be willing to bet that the only one enjoying sex right now is that rabbi in Israel. As for you and your spouse, you can go back to watching Sex and the City and reading Fifty Shades of Grey to the mind-scarring beats of you-know-who…
Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev
 Pitirim A. Sorokin, The Crisis of Our Age (Oxford: OneWorld Publications Ltd., 1992), 29.
 Ibid., 28.
 Ibid., 29.
 Quoted in Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class (New York: Nation Books, 2010), 114.
 Sorokin, Crisis of Our Age, 47.
 Ibid., 52.
 Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class, 118.
 Sorokin, Crisis of Our Age, 54.
 Ibid., 58. Italics original.
 Ibid., 59.
 I probably should not have said “mysteriously.” In fact, there’s nothing mysterious about Hedges’ unfamiliarity with Sorokin’s work: Sorokin is a thorn in the side of modern society, a pariah. He has been relegated to the dustbin of useless existence because he deals with things none of us dare confront. He says nothing that contributes to untethered capitalism, corporate America, consumer culture, narcism, etc. Those who confront the elite are largely marginalized, ignored, or rechristened. Take a look at Einstein. Post-modernists have claimed his theories as their own. In fact, he wanted nothing to do with relativistic interpretations of his absolute theories. That is, post-modernists simply rechristened Einstein, accentuated “relativity” in “general theory of relativity,” and have made him one of their so-called allies. Something Kurt Gödel and Einstein vomited over. Einstein was rechristened in order to be accepted and brought to fame; Sorokin was ignored. Same difference.
 Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class, 115.