Kellogg Institute

Has Modernity Expired?

Howard Switzer
5 min readMay 19, 2023

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Jeremy Lent, Author of The Patterning Instinct and The Web of Meaning, recently writes that modernity has expired, and asks, what comes next? Wait, are we no longer modern?

Modernity means “a modern way of thinking” so it seems because thinking would change with the times so would modernity. Some thoughts, beliefs however, may not change so readily with the times. So, if the notion of modernity began in the 17th century can it still be considered modern? What was the ‘modern’ thinking at the time?

While the 15th and 16th century Renaissance period in European history is considered the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity characterized by an effort to revive and surpass ideas and achievements of classical antiquity it’s not true. The advancements such as forming universities, developing mathematics and other abstract sciences, the development of hydropower etc. occurred in what scholars call the “High Renaissance”, or “The First Modernization,” 1040–1290, a period of tremendous prosperity, well before the so-called era of “modernity.”

This was a period when farm ownership and agriculture production took off and with the average calory intake of 3500–4000 per day the people grew taller than the average European is today. The population of Europe doubled during this time. It was the period when all the great cathedrals were built, 1000 cathedrals and over 300,000 churches, by the people without financing help from the church or government due to the monetary system provided for the people at the time. Women enjoyed expanded rights, and position in society. This was the period when a female deity was worshipped by the people, often represented by the Black Madonna, a depiction of the Virgin Mary with dark skin, found in Catholic Churches all over Europe.

The monetary unit used for trade between nations was gold, but the people were issued different money for their day-to-day economic exchanges. These essentially demurrage monetary systems provided for the people during this period created unprecedented prosperity and due to the dynamics of Net Present Value, people began thinking long term. This is why the Great Cathedrals were built to seat 3 times the population of the villages building them. They were built to attract future pilgrims for the economic benefit of the community, and it is still working today.

This period ended with what can be described as a violent reassertion of patriarchy and the wildly successful monetary systems were abolished plunging Europe into a deep depression with people living in such squalor that the Black Death took hold killing half of Europe’s population. The so-called Renaissance that followed saw around 40,000 to 60,000 killed, mostly burned at the stake, 80% of them women, due to suspicion that they were practicing witchcraft. However, there was no concept of demonic witchcraft during the fourteenth century, only later did a unified concept combine the ideas of “noxious magic, a pact with the Devil and an assembly of witches for Satanic worship,” into one category of crime.

There was no “witchcraft.” It was men and women holding on to ancient indigenous ways, natural herbal medicines and ritual healing methods that offended the wealthy patriarchal priesthood who saw it as a threat to their positions of authority and so sought to eliminate such knowledge and practices by charging them with witchcraft. Kind of like imprisoning Julian Assange for journalism but charging him with espionage. Torture, murders, the taking of one’s children away were all employed toward this end.

Modernity is a self-definition by a society about its own technological innovation, governance, and socioeconomics being better, more modern than others, especially its predecessors. To support the illusion, of course, the negative aspects are not to be mentioned. It was this modern assault on traditional wisdom and practice that caused the split between humankind and the natural world.

The split between mind and body at odds with the natural world and other people is driving us toward catastrophe and like the success of the High Middle-ages, was also accomplished with a monetary system, this one based on usury, which emerged as capitalism, (capital = money) + (ism = system) = money system. It is the monetary system we use today much to our own detriment.

These two examples, and there are more, show the psychological effects monetary systems can have depending on their design. Research has shown the negative psychological influences of our institutionalized usury, that is, our debt-based, for-profit monetary system to be alienation/loneliness, non-cooperative hyper-individualism, and unethical and criminal behaviors. These characteristics are setting the stage for a violent mass formation psychosis potentially world-around which we would be wise to do all we can to avoid.

Reed Kinney, author of IDEOLOGY OF DECENTRALIZED CIVILIZATION AND EGALITARIAN COMMUNITY wrote that “the type of culture and the behaviors of the people are determined by their civilization’s economic exchange system.” As the great monetary expert, Bernard Lietaer said, “Since the dawn of times, monetary systems have been shaping the flows of human activity in every realm of endeavor; food production, education, health, business etc., by determining how we value, apply, and exchange our creativity, and the fruits of our labor. It is for this reason the most influential of all human-made systems.”

By changing the monetary system from a private for-profit system issuing money as debt to a system where money is issued publicly as a permanently circulating asset, like the Greenbacks, whose first use is to be spent, lent, or given into the productive economy for the general welfare of society. This would empower Congress to fulfill its Constitutional mandate as articulated in the first sentence of the preamble. This would soon transition the economics of greed into the economics of care due to the reversal of the psychological effects. Money is the governing factor, which is why it must be public.

The 300+ year old privately controlled system we have must change but it is firmly entrenched having made the world dependent on it, and because money is power the power to create it is violently defended. The natural world can be violent too in a myriad of ways and as with any animal whose life is being threatened, can respond to that threat violently.

We speak of doom and gloom so often because that is the direction we are being dragged, not the direction we want to go. So, we need to get to the steering wheel of this bus, and the brake, because who ever is at the wheel now must be blind and crazy. Money is the governing factor, and it is also the “leverage point” in the system, the point where a small change can change the entire system. What comes next is up to us.

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Howard Switzer

Howard Switzer is an ecological architect and monetary reformer in rural Tennessee.