The Core program at Colgate University requires all students to enroll in Legacies of the Ancient World, a Scientific Perspectives class, Communities and Identities class, and Challenges of Modernity. At the beginning of the semester, family members and friends from other universities asked me what the class Challenges of Modernity was about; I honestly had no clue, I mean I was only taking the class because I have too. I assumed the class would have something to do with living in the twenty-first century, the most modern era. Except we started the semester reading about Du Bois, so this is clearly not a class about the twenty-first century. Du Bois, in The Souls of Black Folk, wrote about the struggles of modernization after the slavery was abolished in America in 1933 or the Challenges of Modernity – wink, wink.
Next we read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ memoir Between the World and Me. The memoir was written as a letter to his teenage son; it was published in 2015 (the twenty-first century). I believe the importance of reading this text immediately after Du Bois is to highlight black Americans’ continual fight for equality in today’s society. The third major piece we studied was Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925. The text focused on the stigma placed upon people with mental illness. Woolf herself struggled with mental illness similarly to the character in the book Septimus Smith. Similar to the struggle within the African American community to achieve equality, though society is advancing the stigma about mental remains largely the same; I talk about this in my post “It’s OK Not To Be OK.”After talking about Mrs. Dalloway and mental, the course transitioned to Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents where Freud explores why civilization leads to unhappiness.
Karl Marx in the “Communist Manifesto” critiques civilization and capitalism. Marx wanted to implement communism instead of capitalism to create equality amongst all citizens. Capitalism allows for veiled slavery distant from the consumer to produce the cheapest product. Kevin Bales does an interview with NPR about modern slavery; I wrote more about this in my blog post “Modern Day Slavery.” We read numerous other texts about the challenges of civilization and advancement. The course Challenges of Modernity is not about living in the modern era or twenty-first century, but the obstacles we face in the process of advancement. Even though some of the obstacles have not been fully resolved, studying these texts have given me a new outlook on the future. Though progress is not easy, it is possible.