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The Relevance of Kierkegaard's Present Age in Modern World

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In The Present Age by 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard characterizes the late modern age as an age of reflection without passion and also contrasts the modern age with the age of revolution. Kierkegaard wrote The Present Age in 1846, however, his notion of reflection is still relevant and applicable to our present age. Some of the points Kierkegaard made that are still relatable today are: how passionless reflection has led to a population in state of inaction, how we had become fixated with worthless abstractions such as money and how we crave short lived enthusiasm.

First, Kierkegaard claims to be living in an age of reflection without passion, which leads to indecisiveness and passivity. “Everyone is experienced in indecisiveness and evasions and waits for someone to come along who wills something”. This can be seen very clear in our present age with the rise of the media, allowing individuals to feel like they are a part of the “public.” Rather than having to actually stand-up when there is a humanitarian crisis, or put their physical and individual bodies on the line. People are able to “reflect” by liking a post on instagram that brings social awareness to a problematic or unfair situation, by wearing safety pins on their clothes to show they stand with a given opinion or by using hashtags to show the cause they are reflecting about. This kind of “performative allyship” lets individuals to be in a continued state of inactiveness, rather than becoming active and fight for what they stand for. Our present age is living in a social environment that is dominated by the Internet and media, the expectation of publicity and becoming an inactive ally has implied itself into nearly all of our actions. We are living in an age of advertisement; where nothing happens, but there is instant publicity about it.

Secondly, Kierkegaard mentions “ultimately the object of desire is money, but it is in fact token money, an abstraction.” Kierkegaard assesses this as natural and problematic, as we become more inclined to worthless “abstractions” like money. This can be seen very clear in todays` generation obsession with money. As I walked through the halls of Florida International University, while overhearing conversations of which majors made more money and recommendations to change majors to obtain the desired amount of “token money.” The majority of students pick their majors depending of the income that the career will bring, instead of studying a career they are passionate about. As a side effect, we will become slaves of the system and lose our sense of individuality to become like any other graduate with a passionless job.

Lastly, Kierkegaard presents us with this idea of “short-lived enthusiasm”; he writes “The present age is essentially a sensible, reflecting age, devoid of passion, flaring up in superficial, short-lived enthusiasm and prudentially relaxing in indolence.” Kierkegaard talks about something that will bring us temporary happiness. This can be reflected in our present age`s hook-up culture, drug and social media addiction. We do not look for happiness within ourselves but for external factors. These external factors do not fulfill us because they are not long-term. They leave us eager for more, for example: how young people put their lives in danger just to obtain more likes on social media. We are in a constant state of looking for “short-lived enthusiasm” and validation from others and the “public.”

To conclude, the irony of The Present Age, is Kierkegaard was talking about his perception of his own time. However, the characterization of a passionless world, of a generation obsessed with money and of lives lived with short-enthusiasm still resonate today. We are the generation that would rather “like” a post on Facebook than go out and register to vote. We are the age that sees school as an investment and craves instant gratification. We have become “third party observes” and the best thing to do is “to do nothing at all.”

Bibliography

  • Kierkegaard, Soren. “The Present Age.” The essential Kierkegaard. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 

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