Departures Podcast featuring Olivier Roy, author of “The Crisis of Culture: Identity Politics and the Empire of Norms”

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The tremendous velocity with which modernity and technology has encroached on our social lives is underappreciated, shaping our understanding not only of critical events but also ourselves, as the world is flattened. A teenager in France or Brazil may see violent footage of the Ukraine war fed to them on TikTok, only to be replaced a moment later with dancing, music, and comedy, whatever they want – to the point that nothing matters, there is a lack of reaction, and there are no clear system of signals of do’s and don’ts, and our society becomes untethered from collective community and public live.

These are some of the questions that the renowned French intellectual Olivier Roy wrestles with in his fascinating new book, “The Crisis of Culture: Identity Politics and the Empire of Norms.”

In this interview with Robert Amsterdam, Dr. Roy discusses how in modern culture people no longer seek meaning, no longer seek explanation, and how there is no longer any desire to think in terms of values. The perceived correlation of two disparate events or traits is simply accepted with interrogation, the very concept of meaning is missing, and this presents a psychological crisis, Roy argues. 

In the absence of a shared culture, identity gets whittled down to a handful of traits, and everything becomes an explicit code of how to speak and how to act. And this becomes the driving engine of the politics of culture, polarization, and, in some cases, political extremism.