It’s 2015, readers, and what better way to start off the year that’s just beginning than by railing on an idea that need to end? Yup, we’re talking Postmodernism here.
Not too long ago, I wrote an article giving an overview of Postmodernism, and it nearly killed me. Yours truly tries to make a point of not including my own judgments in these posts and just let folks draw their own conclusions, but this one- gah. Took every ounce of my (limited) restraint not to rip it to pieces and cackle victoriously as I squat over the grave of Jacques Derrida and…
…well I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I?
It’s a philosophy that arose out of literary criticism (and the dashed hopes of 1960s Parisian revolutionaries), essentially calling into question… well, everything. A number of folks, academic Jacques Derrida in particular, took to arguing that we really can’t comprehend anything as a species. What I call “strong” is only “strong” in comparison to something that’s “weak”, and what those two things might be differ from example to example, from person to person, culture to culture, and time period to time period. As a result, we really don’t have a unified way of saying what’s good and bad, what’s right and wrong, what’s true and false- it’s all relative. You put meaning into anything, and if you’re miserable, chances are it’s because you’re trying to live by someone else’s (usually society’s) standards. You gotta question everything and free yourself from the “constructs” that society or various groups would like to impose on you. Don’t let yourself be labeled. Do what feels right to you.
And there’s actually something to be said for all that. Don’t get me wrong, we’re gonna be mercilessly skewering the worldview in a second, but giving credit where credit is due, there is absolutely a benefit to making us rethink everything. Art, architecture, literature, media, information, politics, relationships- skepticism is good, heck, it’s essential. We should question everything- we just can’t do so forever.
Here’s the problem:
I. It Get’s Stupidly Politically Correct
If all of life is just what you make of it, then where does that leave us collectively? The conclusion that gets drawn seems to be that we need to all be tolerant and accepting of each other, living and letting live, each to his own, etc., etc.
While that might sound noble, valuing each and every definition and identification swiftly means descending into a viciously politically correct society. Just look at this post from Tumblr, resulting from a member- and I kid you not- defining their gender as “mayonnaise”.
While I could (and will) debate the ethics of all this, just in terms of practicality, it turns into a nightmare. Imagine some kid gets brought into the hospital- he (yes “he“, come at me ****ers) has, written on his driver’s license under sex “Enby” (“NB”, “Non-Binary Gender”). Now of course, those patriarchal, traditionalist doctors are going to insist that this person be stuck in one of two categories, but who are they to define him?
Now that might sound like an extreme example, but this trend has attempted to creep into every aspect of society. Just check out this clip below:
Dawkins might (and by “might” I mean “is”) an insufferably pompous ass, but danged if he don’t stick it to ’em on this point. The simple and hard fact of the matter is that you do have a right to an opinion, but that doesn’t make your opinion right. The ever-prophetic Isaac Asimov saw this one coming a mile away.
Now a postmodernist might retort “well, so what? Can we really and truly know something for certain?”
Ah, but we don’t have to- which brings us to our second point.
II. It’s Philosophically Unsound
The basis of Postmodernism is that there is no “inherent” meaning or value to something- it all gets ascribed different meanings by different people. We really don’t know anything- heck, this could all be a computer simulation or a dream of some kind. How can we possibly know something?
Via negationis- through denial.
Sometimes called “negative” or “apophatic theology”, this is essentially a process of figuring out something unknowable (traditionally, God) out by eliminating what it isn’t. For example, let’s say we have a box in the middle of the room.
Let’s say we can’t open it, so we have no possible way of knowing what’s inside. The postmodernist might argue that this shows the limits of our knowledge as human beings and the answer to the question is entirely up to you.
Now that’s not wrong, I can’t know what’s inside the box, but I can get an idea. If the box is one cubic foot in dimension, it’s probably not an elephant. If it’s made of cardboard, and it’s dry, there’s probably not a liquid inside. If it’s not moving, there’s probably not a live animal inside- at least, not a very large one. Now that’s not without limits, but there’s still reasonable assumptions that can be made- both about the box and reality in general.
But there’s more:
III. It’s Ethically Reprehensible
Actress Milana Vayntrub (you might know her from AT&T commercials or some College Humor sketches) once was a guest on a podcast Evan and I listen to. During the podcast, she articulated that her life philosophy was “whatever gives you the least fear”- the two hosts murmuring in agreement. What surprised me was that this was an advice podcast, the better half of which was dedicated to the two hosts ripping of folks for their horrible thoughts, actions, and decisions.
“DANNY”‘S QUESTION: My GF started being really clingy and annoying after her dad died in a car accident, so I broke up with her. But now she’s telling everyone that I’m a dick. How do I stop these annoying rumours from spreading?
JAKE: Oh man, your life’s really hard.
AMIR: Yeah, because, oh, now look there’s rumours that are annoying and like how do you even deal with that?
JAKE: Yeah, do you talk to your living father about it maybe?
AMIR: The way to stop these annoying rumours from spreading is to stop being an awful person. Just from your email you’re probably the worst person I’ve never met.
[Pulled from Fame Day: If I Were You]
Clearly this dude is a horrible person, but if he were to “do what gave him the least fear” he’d take the path of least resistance. Heck, doing what gives people “the least fear” is probably the primary cause behind most of history’s greatest atrocities. “I mean, gee, I could question why all these Jews and Roma are getting taken away on trains, but that might take effort or sacrifice or make me sad.”
And speaking of being unspeakably spoiled…
IV. It Only Works In The 1st World
There’s a cruel joke that sometimes gets passed around about postmodernists: How do you argue with a postmodernist? Set him on fire and then tell him not to let societal constructions like “heat” and “searing pain” define his reality.
A mean joke, but an effective one, pointing out the harsh, undeniable state of reality- as Hamlet tells us “…I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”, i.e., “changing my perspective doesn’t change the facts.” And that’s the reason you don’t see Postmodernism thriving in the 3rd world, or even among the poor and working class of Western countries. The only way that this philosophy can survive if it encounters the most minimal degree of pain and suffering.
The moment real pain is dealt with, the postmodernist is forced to realize that constructs and perceptions have ****-all to do it.
And to quote Hamlet again, there’s the rub. The very things that make postmodernism so vile and corrosive are the things that make it fleeting.
V. It’s On It’s Last Legs
In spite of the the “end-of-history” heyday that the fall of the Iron Curtain supposedly brought about, this empty and effete ideology may have been dealt a mortal blow by the great recession, plunging the philosophy’s 1st-world harbor into undeniable chaos. Coupled with the Ebola outbreak, continued attacks by terror groups, and seemingly one disaster after another, blaming “social constructs” no longer seems to be a viable option for most folks. Heck, even the internet can probably be thanked here, giving us the opportunity to thicken our skins and realize that no, not all opinions are equally true.
It’s time for reconstruction people (because deconstructionism is a postmoderni- ah, forget it. Watch the clip below- dude’s more eloquent then I’ll ever be…).