WE, THE UNDEAD: The Quest for Vitality in the 21st Century
WE, THE UNDEAD
The Quest for Vitality in the 21st Century
In times when the boundaries between perceived reality and virtuality continue to blur, a pressing question emerges: Where has humanity gone? The threat lies not in the polarization of supposed opposites between analog and digital, but in the way we perceive the world. For in a virtual world, the perception of our own perception is just as real as in the supposed physical world.
In this essay we explore the impact of technology on human life, the challenges of the metamodern world, and the need to develop a new existentialism to overcome the “undeadness.”
A NEW WORLD?
Today, we inhabit a metamodern world that oscillates between modernity and postmodernity, placing humanity in a paradoxical state of existence. We stand on the cusp of an era of the undead.
Silently and stealthily, this “undeadness” has crept into our lives, characterized by a detachment from reality. It is shaped by artificial intelligence, social media, digital isolation, and the pursuit of immortality. Yet it also threatens the loss of our qualia and the technical replication of our bodies and brains. We play with (technological) forces that we may never fully understand or control. For the battle of the 21st century is not a struggle against finitude—our death—and the taming of new technologies, but rather against undeadness.
In this metamodern world, where limitless technological progress awaits, we must learn to find a dynamic equilibrium between the rationality and optimism of modernity and the skepticism and relativity of postmodernity. This requires a willingness to accept the contradictions and complexity of our world and the humility to acknowledge that there might be no “right” way to live or understand our experiences.
Today, we need a high tolerance for ambiguity, not only to bear the contradictions of our time but also to cope with the unknown, I call this Ambuiguity Tolerance+. In this metamodern era, we humans face the challenge of reconciling these seemingly contradictory worldviews—a new existential crisis.
In a world of the undead, where numerous external forces influence us, it is crucial to take our responsibility seriously and become aware that we are the creators of our own reality. For today, it is not about “freedom” but about being imprisoned in our own freedom.
Being trapped in one’s own freedom may seem paradoxical at first glance, but it is a state familiar to many people in the 21st century. The metamodern world offers us a wealth of opportunities and choices, both professionally and personally. Yet, this seemingly boundless freedom can paradoxically imprison us, leading to feelings of overwhelm, uncertainty, and disorientation. This development occurs on several levels:
- Decision paralysis: In a world full of possibilities, making decisions can be difficult. The fear of making the wrong choice or missing out on something better can lead to feeling overwhelmed by the many options life offers, resulting in decision fatigue and inaction.
- Lack of structure and guidance: The freedom to shape our lives according to our own ideas can lead to uncertainty about the path chosen. Without clear structure and guidance, it can be challenging to set goals and determine priorities, leading to a feeling of being trapped in one’s own freedom.
- The pursuit of perfection: In a world that constantly suggests we should be the best version of ourselves, striving for perfection can make us feel constrained in our own freedom. We put pressure on ourselves to be successful and perfect in every way, falling into a trap where we are never satisfied, no matter how much we achieve.
- Comparison with others: Due to the omnipresence of social media, we are constantly exposed to the seemingly perfect lives of others. This constant comparison can lead to feelings of inadequacy and dissatisfaction with our own lives, trapping us in our own freedom as we strive to live up to unrealistic expectations.
To free ourselves from this imprisonment of our own freedom, we need a new existentialism that does not deal with death, but with aliveness.
In the eye of the technological tsunami, a fresh philosophy is taking shape, reminiscent of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It grapples with individual liberty, the essence of authenticity, and the human responsibility for choices and actions in the context of the 21st century and the metamodern era. Personal experiences, individual consciousness, and subjective perceptions take center stage as the thoughts of Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus find renewed relevance.
The revived existentialism does not question the meaning of existence to confront death but to battle inanity – the pseudo-immortality that imprisons us in a world of perpetual change and illusion, stealing our qualia. With our relentless push to control evolution and creation, we risk the final narcissistic injury of mankind by fabricating our own architect. Deus Ex Machina – God from the Machine.
As the 21st century unfolds, theological creationism is evolving into human-instigated creationism – we can create anything.
Now, the challenge is not about facing the ‘Jeneseits’ – afterlife, but confronting this world – our perception of the ‘Diesseits’ here and now, where making sense emerges as the most daunting task in human history.
As we stride toward technological singularity and immortality, the necessity of vita-existentialism crystallizes: to battle the undoing, we must find the courage to untether ourselves from the boundless pursuit of meaning in our lives.
The call to personal responsibility is the linchpin connecting old and new existentialism. However, we are not “condemned to freedom,” as Sartre put it, but must accept responsibility for our lives and choices to attain genuine freedom and autonomy, ultimately embracing the quest for meaning.
Temporarily shedding simulation theories and digitality, the initial steps involve rekindling our connection to life itself and questioning ourselves to regain our bearings in a world teeming with distractions, deceptions, and superficialities.
By accepting this challenge and reaffirming the significance of honesty, co-humanity, and responsibility in our lives, we can liberate ourselves from the haze of obscenity and return to an authentic and truthful existence, deliberately reflecting on our actions.
Accepting the impossibility of perfect control, we can learn to relinquish our grip and unburden ourselves from the yoke of perfection.
Self-discovery and transformation may sound grandiose, but at their core, they concern perception. Aliveness teeters on the brink. Is the state of being undead, so close to death, our worst destiny?
Vita-existentialism calls us to confront undeath by centering authenticity, responsibility, and our fellow human beings in our lives. By internalizing these values and consciously opting for a life dedicated to an unending pursuit of authenticity and balance, we elude immorality and reach a profound experience of human existence.
For to be human is to engage in an infinite quest for progress and dynamic equilibrium; to be human is a dynamic state. As the great ‘philosopher’ Edward Teague once wisely told his son, Captain Jack Sparrow: “It’s not just about living forever, Jackie.” “The trick is to live forever with yourself.”
In an age when artificial intelligence and virtual worlds govern our existence, it is crucial that we return to what truly defines us – our ability to love, learn, and grow together. In doing so, we should conscientiously and ethically employ new technologies to enhance life quality for all while fortifying our connections with others and ourselves.
Only through dynamic engagement – a homeodynamic – can we abandon inanity and embrace a life of possible meaning.
The call to aliveness is an invitation to celebrate our existence in all its richness.