Jonah Goldberg notes postmodernism on the left Posted by: Billy Hollis
on Tuesday, August 05, 2008
I've noted many times here in comments at QandO that you can understand the actions and motivations of today's left much better if you look at how the left is infused with postmodernist thinking, and shuns traditional Enlightenment thinking.
The main difference is in what the core concept of "truth" really means. Post-modernists do not embrace the same concept of truth that Enlightenment thinkers do.
A good example was in this thread, which featured a video of Harry Reid taking a rhetorical position that is obvious nonsense to an Enlightenment thinker. As I said in the comments there:
If you strapped a lie detector to Harry Reid during this exchange, I’m convinced it would show that he thought he was telling the literal truth. There’s no deception in his mind in redefining "voluntary" to mean whatever he needs it to mean, as long as his ultimate objectives are moral in his mind.
I really do think that understanding today's left requires looking at them in light of postmodernism. However, I think that's a minority position among those in the center and right. Enlightenment-based thinkers, which includes conservatives, libertarians, and most moderates, generally just assume that everyone has the same basic concept of truth and logic. That leads to some of their confusion when they try to understand the actions and words of leftists.
There is, however, a third possibility. Obama is a postmodernist.
An explosive fad in the 1980s, postmodernism was and is an enormous intellectual hustle in which left-wing intellectuals take crowbars and pick axes to anything having to do with the civilizational Mount Rushmore of Dead White European Males.
"PoMos" hold that there is no such thing as capital-T "Truth." There are only lower-case "truths." Our traditional understandings of right and wrong, true and false, are really just ways for those Pernicious Pale Patriarchs to keep the Coalition of the Oppressed in their place. In the PoMo's telling, reality is "socially constructed."
Jonah then makes a pretty good case that Obama's thinking is firmly grounded in postmodernism. For those of us who wonder why the Obama campaign seems to have no substance to is, Jonah explains that post-modern influence is probably one the most important reasons why:
The Obama campaign has a postmodern feel to it because more than anything else, it seems to be about itself.
I'm sure that sentence sounds silly to some of you, but if you've (critically) studied postmodernism, it won't sound silly at all.
Of course, there are other reasons for Obama's substance-free campaign. I think some of his political strategists think that, since all the underlying metrics point towards a Democratic win this year, the safest strategy is to not say much of anything.
But I think Jonah has an important point. We need to keep it in mind as various obscure writings by Obama come to light and possibly show us new contradictions in his thinking. We need to understand that part of the reason Obama constantly redefines things to suit himself is that in light of his postmodernist influence, just like Harry Reid in the video, Obama doesn't think such behavior is the least bit dishonest.
Again, I don’t intend to actively comment since I’m quite busy, but you really don’t understand post-modernism. The post-modernist argument is essentially that using enlightenment ideas and methods, the enlightenment ideals are inherently contradictory and have no central meaning. They, in essence, destroy enlightenment ideology by taking enlightenment arguments seriously. In that they have done a service: they show that reason itself does not give us truth because reason is a tool, and lacks a center. Thus all can be rationalized. It is not that there is no truth, only that reason and rational thought, when taken seriously, can be used to support multiple truth claims, with no clear way to distinguish them. While I respect the way that post-modernists have shown how enlightenment thought is limited, the reason post-modernism never caught on outside of literary criticism is that it tended to simply see that as the end of the story, and worked only to try to show the perspective of those without power (those outside the hegemonic discourse — poor, third world, discriminated against, etc. — to tell their story).
Pragmatists and many others who accept that enlightenment thought is flawed argue that this only shows that there isn’t an ’answer key’ that reason provides (this was clear with the French revolution, actually), and thus one looks to culture and tradition (conservatives) or to newer values (liberals) to give some sense of meaning or core center/grounding assumptions to our values. Thus no political ideology or set of values can be proven right — in that the post-modernists were correct — but we can choose to hold a set of values for pragmatic reasons, or because people simply choose to do so.
Again, sorry to butt in, but I think ’postmodernism’ is a term thrown around a lot by people with a caricatured understanding of what it is. It’s also really not en vogue right now, though the critique on enlightenment thought that it provides is generally accepted.
Again, I don’t intend to actively comment since I’m quite busy, but you really don’t understand post-modernism. Only we leftists with godlike powers of political science can really grasp it. I don’t care how much you study it, if you continue to believe in the same principles as other dense righties, then you’ve proven by the very principles of post-modernism itself that you can’t possibly understand it.
The post-modernist argument is essentially that using enlightenment ideas and methods, the enlightenment ideals are inherently contradictory and have no central meaning. And the fact that enlightenment thinking is used to build my TV set, the car I drive, and the computer on which I type this is completely beside the point. You see, enlightenment ideals only apply in the disciples you grunt engineers embrace. They don’t apply at all in the higher minded studies, such as political science.
Post-modernist principles, in essence, destroy enlightenment ideology by taking enlightenment arguments seriously. Now, that may sound like nonsense if you don’t understand post-modernism, but I promise you it’s true. Enlightenment ideology is just destroyed. I decree it. So get over it, righties, because we in academia have just jerked the carpet right out from under you by proving in a way that you can’t possibly understand that you’re always wrong.
In that they have done a service: they show that reason itself does not give us truth because reason is a tool, and lacks a center. Thus all can be rationalized. Certainly I can rationalize anything because I’ve had years of training in this stuff, to hone my godlike powers of political science.
It is not that there is no truth, only that reason and rational thought, when taken seriously, can be used to support multiple truth claims, with no clear way to distinguish them. And that whole "scientific method" stuff is just complete nonsense, except of course if it’s being used to create bigger and better flat-screen televisions, which I would just love to have and really ought to have since I’m so much smarter than you dense righties with your enlightenment thinking that I’ve proven beyond the shadow of a doubt is totally bogus.
While I respect the way that post-modernists have shown how enlightenment thought is limited, the reason post-modernism never caught on outside of literary criticism and the entire social science and humanities academia is that it tended to simply see that as the end of the story, and worked only to try to show the perspective of those without power (those outside the hegemonic discourse — poor, third world, discriminated against, etc. — to tell their story).
Pragmatists and many others who accept that enlightenment thought is flawed argue that this only shows that there isn’t an ’answer key’ that reason provides. That allows us to pretend we are not post-modernists when we really are.
(this "whole enlightenment thought was bogus" thing was clear with the French revolution, actually. Yes, those uneducated French peasants showed that educated Enlightenment thought could be completely invalidated by mobs, and today’s left has learned that lesson well.)
Thus one looks to culture and tradition (conservatives) or to newer values (liberals) to give some sense of meaning or core center/grounding assumptions to our values. Of course, the conservative stuff only contributes things like engineers that produce big-screen televisions, and they’re worthless in the social sphere because they’re dense enough to believe in principles like honor and honesty. We wise pragmatic leftists have moved beyond such primitive concepts.
Thus we understand no political ideology or set of values can be proven right — in that the post-modernists were correct — but we can choose to hold a set of values for pragmatic reasons, or because people simply choose to do so. And that means I can simply ignore any evidence you ever bring to bear against my arguments.
That means Hollis is right about one thing. Because I am firmly grounded in post-modernist principles and their pragmatic successors, I always think I am being completely honest in every argument I make. I am clean and good and my intentions are the best, and you dense righties just don’t see that, and you insult my honesty and my intelligence, when if you would just accept that your enlightment thinking is totally bogus, you would recognize my worth and accept the guidance of we wise leftists on social matters. You can get more details over at my blog, which I don’t come over here to do link whoring for, no sir, even though I know I do put a link to a blog post every time I comment, it’s just because I feel sorry that I’m really, really busy, too busy to keep coming here and educating you poor enlightenment thinkers. Though somehow I do have time to write posts over there with word counts so long I broke the Wordpress software a few times.
Again, sorry to butt in, but I think ’postmodernism’ is a term thrown around a lot by people with a caricatured understanding of what it is. It’s also really not en vogue right now, though the critique on enlightenment thought that it provides is generally accepted by all of we wise leftists, so you dense righties just need to get with the program.
Given that a whole host of items to Obama history are missing or unavailable, the entire of narrative of Obama’s life is written by .. you guessed it .. Obama himself. What makes matters worse is that the 4th estate is asleep at the wheel, so this narrative goes unchallenged.
Given this sort of scrutiny, a shaggy dog could be elected to any office in the land.
OK, Billy, be willfully ignorant if you want. My job is try to prevent people from going down your sad path. (Though I suspect it’s less willful ignorance than simply that you didn’t understand my post — e-mail me if you want help educating yourself) Ciao! http://scotterb.wordpress.com
It’s almost gratifying, Scott, to see that you’ve adopted my longtime descriptor of you as "willfully ignorant" in your response to Hollis. It demonstrates that you can take the truth about you and project it onto others, just like any good psychological basket case.
You, of course, retired the gold medal in willful ignorance quite some time ago.
Reason, by the way, is empirically grounded in truth, and it is human failing that drives it elsewhere. Postmodernism is unsuprisingly a prime example of that failing.
I’ll take the luxury of quoting myself about postmodernism:
"Postmodernism, briefly, pretends to eviscerate reality and then stuff its carcass with narrative, at least until the pretense fails and reality reappears to collect on the loan, inclusive of the vig, it has made to abstracted sensibility. Any narrative will do as stuffing — hence, “multiculturalism” — but those narratives that entail gender and race, matched to certain academic tastes, are currently the featured narratives most popular for stuffing the carcass. (Our apologies to the metaphor police.)
"And we should point out that we are not referring here to narratives of objective reality, which always have a subjective element to them, but rather to subjective narratives that deny objective reality and pretend to take its place. This is a long step beyond the classic prescriptive to “do your own thing” over and against standards and principles. This kind of narrative is an over-and-against-objective-reality-itself narrative. It’s a “who are you gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes” narrative."
And your "job," Scott, is to miseducate students while they are still too young and inexperienced to understand what a blithering fool you are. But are you sure that they aren’t just laughing at you?
I also blogged Goldberg’s article yesterday (didn’t see the post here by Hollis until today—Wednesday), with this note at the end of the post:
"We also think of Foucault’s and Derrida’s (et al.) deconstructionism as the deathworks of postmodernism. And one cannot forget that diabolical re-narration of Christianity — the “black theology” of James Cone — which underlies Obama’s “former” church. (The “I did that yesterday, it doesn’t count today” formerness of that church for Obama will remind Billy Beck of our old punching bag the postmodern posthuman mosquito from Maine.)"
It is not that there is no truth, only that reason and rational thought, when taken seriously, can be used to support multiple truth claims, with no clear way to distinguish them.
The clear way to distinguish them would be called facts or evidence, which rational thinkers pursue until they arrive at a conclusion. Every second that passes by in the space station without a catastrophic failure proves that yes, you can derive a single and concise truth from reason and rational thought.
The mind-set described may predate postmodernism. Didn’t one of the founding spiritual father’s of the 20th Century Left—I think it may have been Nachaeyev (sp?)—say "that there is no truth but revolutionary truth." And I’ve read that this, essentially, was also the motto of Saul Alinsky, whom I believe had an influence on both Hillary and Obama. (I mean the real Obama, not the phony-baloney pseudo-centrist Obama being re-packaged in the race for the White House.)
I think a bumper sticker encapsulated the problem pretty accurately: "If you want to steal my gun, why should I trust you?" I would just expand it to: "If you want to pick my pocket, why would I trust you?"
OK, Billy, be willfully ignorant if you want....e-mail me if you want help educating yourself...
Let me recover from gales of laugher at that one. The ignorant, blithering jacka$$ graciously offering to help me understand things he himself is hopelessly muddled about.
As if someone who has constructed his entire life and career to avoid confronting reality has any basis to be lecturing the rest of us on how to confront reality. That’s in the same category as sex manuals written by celibate priests.
Absolutely. PoMo is an offshoot of Marxism that set up its own academic lemonade stand. But it also reverberates out of Neitzsche and Heidegger. You can clearly trace it back to the French Revolution, to which Marxism is the heir, and in Western philosophy to probably a bunch of places but certainly to nominalism, which is the idea that when something is named (conceptualized) and called out by that name that the thing itself is not called out. Hume promoted that with his hard scepticism, and it has worked its way right on through various schools down through the various Marxist filters into Foucault and Derrida, two of the biggest a**holes ever.
Boris Erb is a good example of the free-floating, blathering, nincompoops who absorb the whole thing like a sponge and squeeze it back out on the cue of any number of keywords.
I would characterize Obama’s campaign as more like the Seinfeld show. Much ado about nothing much.
I think that’s pretty accurate, except that Seinfeld was funny. Obama and his campaign are humorless (although they appear to know that and it looks like they’ve hired some joke writers—still not funny).
But I like the idea: Obama’s is a campaign about nothing.
Maybe he should pick Jerry Seinfeld as his running mate.
How can you have ’values’ when everything is relative.
Thus no political ideology or set of values can be proven right — in that the post-modernists were correct — but we can choose to hold a set of values for pragmatic reasons, or because people simply choose to do so.
Right, so, it was OKAY for the AZTECS to cut out people’s hearts. I get it.
It was okay for the Romans to have gladiatorial combat in the arena, slavery is quite all right don’t you know, and murder, lying, and child abuse are all okay, you just have to understand the value systems that appreciate their usefulness and truthiness.
Now we neolithic conservatives can view all these things as demonstrably WRONG, as a clearly a set of bad values. Obviously we do this for pragmatic reasons, after all, stopping murder, child abuse, slavery, those are all about keeping our hegemony over the poor and third world underprivileged countries.
I guess we think this way simply because we choose to do so, not because of any essential truths in the universe. I might add though, as a puzzler for me claiming we are WRONG in our thinking enforces a false value system on us, but that’s okay, I understand that, because we’re wrong in such a way that will threaten postmodernist thought, not wrong in a way that’s just wrong without causing damage to a non-valued value system.
When you do choose to come back, you certainly pick brilliant topics to defend.
...therefore this statement of yours can’t be proven right either and therefore it’s worthless to discuss.
Grimshaw, that’s a good statement of the core contradiction of postmodernism. It’s the logical equivalent of the "proof by contradiction" technique that is a much-used tool in mathematics. First we assume that post-modernism is true, and that leads immediately to a contradiction of it’s central assertion.
Where muddled social scientists like Scott get confused is failing to have the tools, such as a mathematical background, to understand that these areas have been covered before, and far better, by brilliant men who had coherent symbolism to express their thoughts.
For example, Riemann and Lobachevsky among others clarified for us that even using pure logic different axioms can lead to different conclusions. This was in connection with their investigation of the parallel postulate of Euclidean geometry. And it’s firmly in line with Enlightenment thinking. It tells us that if there are different conclusions from different parties, one of the main things to check is the assumptions from each, which are often hidden.
Later, Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem showed that axiomatic systems have limitations. That is, there are things that are undecidable within any system of logic, and that cannot be categorized as "true" or "false". The largest category known of such items are those that have some aspect of self-reference.
These types of results, and their philosophical equivalents, tell us the limits of pure reason. But they do not invalidate the use of reason in a vast array of fields for which the conclusions can be tested against reality. That is mainly where the postmodernists fall down. Having misunderstood the brilliant work of people such as Godel, they assert blanket claims that are easily refuted. That refutation is not affected by their turgid counterclaims, in which sheer bulk and constant redefinition of terms is used in a rhetorical fashion to try and bolster their claims. After composing such, they lean back with a self-satisfied grin and feel smugly superior to the great unwashed who just "don’t get it" and prefer to test their conclusions against reality instead of just assuming that "multiple truths exist". (If this description of turgid, self-contradictory argument rings a bell, that was intentional.)
Scott, your fatal flaw in your argument is the assumption that we don’t know all that stuff.
In fact, we do (or at least I do), and the "misunderstood" postmodernism term that gets tossed around so often is in fact the next, and inevitable, step along that logic. You’ve described the foundation, but the so-called "misunderstanding" is in fact a true understanding about the house built on it.
If you dare for one moment consider the possibility that we might in fact know something, my answer to the profound ignorance that Postmodernism espouses is "Bayesian belief nets". It turns out that mathematics gave us a way to deal with not quite being 100% certain a long time ago. Ironically, this answer predates postmodernism, but it’s not terribly surprising that philosophers didn’t notice, since it does involve actual mathematics.
Oh, and I should have mentioned the best work for exploring the limits of reason within an Enlightenment framework of which I am aware: Godel, Escher, and Bach. (Twenty years old and still selling well. It’s that good.)
By a margin of 76% to 11% respondents in Pew’s weekly News Interest Index survey named Obama over McCain as the candidate they have heard the most about in recent days. But the same poll also shows that the Democratic candidate’s media dominance may not be working in his favor. Close to half (48%) of Pew’s interviewees went on to say that they have been hearing too much about Obama lately.
I’ve been warning about this since the last election cycle when the House race in my district, which was fairly close, caused the Democrat challenger to pour on the TV and radio ads until it been sickening. She eventually lost (for the second time). I hope she doesn’t run again this year because I’m still sick to death of her.
Yes Virginia, there is a limit to what money can do for you in an election.
Are you guys going to imply you might be as smart as Scott? You’re treading on thin ice. Very few people can be as smart as Scott. By virtue of his smartness he understands truthy goodness and rightness and has long studied this sort of stuff, whereas the rest of you, being what you are and all, have probably spent all your knuckle dragging lives clubbing animals and using your travois (assuming you’re even THAT advanced) to drag them back to your caves to skin and eat. You couldn’t possibly be as wise or worldly as Scott.
He’s got a degree you know, probably several in fact.
I don’t get where you guys think you can argue on the same plain as he does.
I mean, his writing just, it just exudes truthy goodness. It HAS to be so.
My reading of philosophy started with Plato and ended with Marx years ago. It seems to me that what I see of postmodernism is merely the next step along from Marx’s own theories. He rejected the bases for societal structure, including religion as a doctrine of fundamental and obective truth. In the opening lines of the Communist Manifesto, he reframed all of history and current events with the simplistic and distorting theme that all events should be analyzed in terms of the oppressor and the oppressed, - in short, a world of demons and perpetual victims that seems at the center of modern political discourse from the left. Indeed, inherent in that proposition is a rejection of Western values, history and norms and, in its stead, an embrace of militant secularism, moral relativism and multiculturalism. When I look at postmodernism, I don’t feel like I am seeing anything new. Am I way off base in that assessment?
I see the main difference as this: Marx did not doubt Enlightenment concepts about truth. He just had different axioms. The labor theory of value is an example.
Eventually, the conclusions of Marxist thought came up against reality and lost. Therefore, Marxist thought was proven to be fatally flawed. You can argue about exactly why that is; I personally put it down to his axioms that were in conflict with reality.
Postmodernism does not even accept the reasoning process of the Enlightenment and does not have the same concept of truth. That puts it in a different category than Marxist thought.
However, many who were enamoured of Marxism eventually had to face the fact that reality demonstrated convincingly that Marxism was wrong. Rather than countenance Lockeian alternatives, which they had long ago decided to reject, they looked for an alternative philosophy that would allow them to continue to believe in some of their Marxist principles, such as class warfare. Postmodernism was easily adapted to that purpose, because it’s so fuzzy it can be adapted to a wide variety of logic-defying positions.
That stew of discredited Marxism and trendy postmodernism got us the politically correct nonsense that we are contending with today. Because it was fashionable in academia, who are always looking for ways to see themselves as superior to those grubby materialists who actually build society, it wormed its way into our educational foundations.
So you’re right that there is overlap, both in concepts and in the people who adhere to both Marxism and postmodernism (though perhaps at different times in their lives). But postmodernism does add new concepts, albeit patently ridiculous ones, and it has had a comparable amount of success to Marxism in infiltrating its philosophical conclusions in a simplified form into the popular consciousness. (Examples: "hate speech" laws, campus speech codes)
I would like to also butt in and point out the fact that political postmodernity isn’t exactly confined to the American left. To remain successful, to keep getting elected, most politicians must re-invent themselves. Call it coincidence, but why is John McCain the Republican nominee this year? Did he play by the rules, the way he didn’t (“agents of intolerance”) in 2000? Why does he all of a sudden identify as a Baptist, when for his entire political career he had been a self-identified Episcopalian?
This may be nit-picking, but it just shows how every one of these career politicians cultivate their own public image, even when it looks like they don’t. What is the point of a book like Character Is Destiny: Inspiring Stories Every Young Person Should Know and Every Adult Should Remember? I haven’t read this book, but it seems to be a set of short tales about famous people throughout history who show strong “character.” The premise would seem to be that McCain has the same strong character as the individuals presented in the book. Again, I haven’t read it, but does he tell the complete truth about someone like Gandhi, who said regarding Jews in Nazi Germany: “If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now.” Gandhi was wrong, of course, but we don’t hear about it all that much. I wonder who his p.r. guy is?
And this isn’t a dig on McCain in particular, they all do it. All modern politics is a façade, show business, and therefore postmodern. If you want to argue that the entire system is flawed, I think you have a much better case.
GW, another point worth pondering: since postmodernism rejects the very tenets of Enlightenment thinking, it is impossible to disprove postmodernism to someone who has bought into it. They simply construct themselves another "truth" that denies the validity of what they consider "your truth".
By contrast, Marxism made certain predictions about historical necessity and such, and when those predictions were shown to be wrong, Marxism was thereby shown to be wrong. Though some who still crave power over others still attempt to re-animate the dead corpse of Marxism, anyone with a brain and a connection with reality understands that it has been proven invalid by its own predictions.
Post-modernism has no such weakness. It makes no predictions and has nothing of consequence to say about how it could be tested against reality. To postmodernist, reality itself is a slippery, subjective concept, and there is no privileged view that can use reality to disprove postmodernism.
This is quite convenient. It allows postmodernists (and their pragmatic successors) to say anything they like and blithely ignore any criticism of it. In their mind, they "get it" and we don’t. They don’t have to accept any criticism we bring to bear because our criticism is based on what they view as a flawed premise, namely Enlightenment thinking.
Now, most postmodernists therefore don’t care to discuss issues with Enlightenment thinkers, just as most Christians are not interested in defending their faith to, say, a fundmentalist Muslim. Occasionally, you find one whose psychology demands attention, because they are desperately attempting to build something to make up for the fact that they have no inherent self-worth. Such an individual will endlessly discuss matters with people he knows he can never in a million years convince, constantly pontificating from a position of smug condescension, because that allows him to have a group to look down upon. We have such a commenter here, though thankfully he doesn’t bother us nearly as much as he used to, possibly because he reached the point that his idiocy was so transparent that you could barely tell the difference between him and a parody of him.
I would like to also butt in and point out the fact that political postmodernity isn’t exactly confined to the American left.
That’s true insofar as politicians of all stripes have implicitly accepted certain postmodern concepts such as political correctness. But I’m not sure how much of that is genuine acceptance of the concepts vs. pragmatic behavior to avoid being characterized as Neanderthal by the mainstream media, a large slice of whom definitely do accept postmodernist thought.
As mainstream media influence ebbs, I’m wondering just how much latent demand exists for a candidate that calls bull$#!+ on the entire edifice of political correctness.
Nearly six-in-ten conservative Republicans believe that living things have always existed in their present form, while just 11% say that evolution occurred through natural processes. Among liberal Democrats, by contrast, only 29% hold the creationist position, while a plurality (44%) accepts the natural selection theory of evolution.
June 20, 2008 Republicans, Democrats Differ on CreationismRepublicans much more likely than Democrats to believe humans created as-is 10,000 years ago
USA Evolution Religion and Social Trends Americas Northern America
by Frank Newport
PRINCETON, NJ — There is a significant political divide in beliefs about the origin of human beings, with 60% of Republicans saying humans were created in their present form by God 10,000 years ago, a belief shared by only 40% of independents and 38% of Democrats.
mk, I explicitly noted in this thread that I don’t include creationists as Enlightenment thinkers. They are indeed the main exceptions on the right. I probably should have noted the same disclaimer here.
I would agree with Scott, but I’m not sure that the paradigm he uses for the heuristics of the hegemony is apt. Saying that, FrnakJ has a wonderful, scholarly article about this, wherein he explains post-modernism. It’s actually the stage after "formal operational thought", it’s called "post-operational-thought" and describes how people with a sufficiently high educational status could explain away things like facts and trees.
It’s very enlightening and should be read as a companion article to Scott Erb’s initial offering.
Granted, creationists are drifting in the same anti-Enlightenment boat as the postmodernists. So is it a conflict of interest when Enlightened politicians court the un-Enlightened?
I’m afraid it is an unfortunate by-product of the free market that (i assume) most readers of this blog endorse. Whatever group can most effectively seduce the consciousness of the majority wins, regardless of rational truth. How else do you explain something like the anti-vaccination zealots who claim, without scientific evidence, that immunization causes autism?
Self-help culture is certainly a negative symptom of postmodernity. Meanwhile, Oprah sits back and lights cigars with $100 bills.
Enlightenment-based thinkers, which includes conservatives, libertarians, and most moderates, generally just assume that everyone has the same basic concept of truth and logic.
What are you trying to tell us MK? Of course your postmodern thinkers don’t assume the average person thinks like they do. Who would? I mean seriously
And as for your digs on creationism, go read the whole survey, not just the parts you like.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted July 7-17 among 2,000 adults, also finds deep religious and political differences over questions relating to evolution and the origins of life. Overall, about half the public (48%) says that humans and other living things have evolved over time, while 42% say that living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.
42% of the general population, that’s everybody, regardless of their political or religious persuasion bubby. You’re a suicide bomber, you bring your own explosives to kill yourself with.
PoMo is, at the end of the day, not simply an attack on reason, nor simply a critique of reason.
In PoMo’s deconstructive deathworks the individual personal identity is itself annihilated, and the ego is dissected as a concatenation of societal power relationships (the bearings out of Marxism are direct), so this is something more fundamental than the quandaries of mathematics, as well.
PoMo is most essentially an attack on meaning (hello, "gay marriage" advocates). Without meaning there can’t be any truth, or any logic, for that matter, because in the end logic in the real world (which is where we want to be, right?) is a matter of proportionality and the relations of things, one to the other, as they are.
As far as "creationism" goes, if you mean "Creation Science," where the world began sometime after the end of the last ice age, that’s Biblical literalism, and shouldn’t be confused with a belief in God as creator of all things in nature (which is quite reasonable, by the way), including the very intelligibility of those things, which we know through reason, which tells us that the world is older than six thousand years, or whatever the claim is. (Although I did point out here a ways back that the Biblical literalists win on the First Day, with plenty of time left over, if the current dominant theory of the Big Bang — Cosmic Inflation — holds.)
As an attack on meaning, PoMo is also an attack on the natural moral law, which is a system of universals discoverable by reason. (That’s why the legal positivism of Oliver Wendell Holmes et al. segues so nicely into Critical Legal Theory which has such convenient overlap with "disciplines" like Feminism and Queer Studies.)
As for the Englightenment, PoMo has larger ambitions than taking that down. It’s political object is the liquidation of the West.
It smacks of hyperbole to say that Po-mo’s “political agenda” (as if such a thing existed or was ever viable) is the “liquidation of the West.” I believe that there are some knee-jerk cultural Euro-phobes out there, and some of them do flourish within academia. To insinuate that these individuals have any significant political power outside of the ivory tower borders on the absurd.
Since I assume we are still talking about the presidential campaign, we must talk about the candidate’s use of the media. National elections are not decided on the issues, so save your idealism. McCain and Obama must create a connection with voters using the tools of pop-culture, because this is the only culture we understand. It’s all very sad that no one reads books anymore, I’ll grant you that. McCain has to degrade himself by appearing at the Sturgis motorcycle rally, ignorant to what the “beauty contest” he’s entered his wife into really entails. John Kerry was another victim of pop-culture ignorance in 2004 with his bungling of the names of the two most popular players on the Boston Red Sox. Are these make-or-break moments for candidates? Probably not, but constant public mis-fires like these aren’t good for any candidacy.
This is the world we’ve chosen (or the world that has chosen us). Do we go back in time to a world of pipe-smoking, brandy-sipping, and parlor discussions about politics and culture? Who has time for that? There are too many distractions these days, and candidates have to fight these distractions (and/or create more powerful ones) in order to get your attention. Much like the market, po-mo has no political agenda. It consumes indiscriminately and moves on to the next flavor of the month.
It smacks of hyperbole to say that Po-mo’s “political agenda” (as if such a thing existed or was ever viable) is the “liquidation of the West.”
It’s not the least bit hyperbolic. The liquidation of the West is precisely the political agenda of PoMo. It’s goal is to annihilate Western values and the Western identity and when that’s gone what you have left over is, what, exactly?
And this has long since left acanemia and made its way into the base of the Democratic Party.
No he’s not. That magazine, and the people who write for it, has/have lost its/their mind(s). Especially Pat Buchanan, who is now fully immersed in "what if" history with his latest book. He also thinks that the Western problem with Islam began in 1948, for instance. That’s the principal foundation of his objection to neocons, who he views as Jewish hijackers of conservatism because they support Israel. Well, the neocons got to the game a little late because evangelicals supported Zionism from way back, starting in the 19th century.
Arguments about the Western tradition are natural to the West. Paleocons have lost the conservative argument to neocons about the nature of conservatism, and are bitter about it, but it’s not as if all of the paleocon vision is gone. Much of it is accepted by neocons.
PoMo is entirely something else than an argument about the Western tradition. PoMo begins with a dismissal of the Western tradition, whose only real purpose is to carry guilt for the oppression of the world. Sound familiar? If I had to bet, I’d bet that a good historiagraphical investigation would find the KGB somewhere in the PoMo woodpile. We know that their cousins the National Social*sts are in there (Heidegger, for one).
If you were looking for the Nazi in the po-mo ranks, I would have to nominate Paul de Man, not Heidegger. Just because Heidegger, Nietzsche and Marx were influential to continental philosophy of the late 20th century doesn’t mean they would have approved of Derrida.
However, you seem to have lost the argument in there somewhere. Now you are resting on assertions (“It’s goal is to annihilate Western values and the Western identity”) and ad hominem attacks (po-mos are KGB, Nazis). I’ve already agreed with you that some of these misguided individuals reject Western values, science, and truth. My point was that there is no “12-point program to destroy Western civilization” endorsed by po-mo jihad organizations. Which by the way, Western values are damn near global values at this point. Even authoritarian China has embraced free enterprise. You won! Give yourself a pat on the back.
Just out of curiosity, where does the Western tradition start with you?
"Thus all can be rationalized. It is not that there is no truth, only that reason and rational thought, when taken seriously, can be used to support multiple truth claims, with no clear way to distinguish them."
Also known as sophistry. What is old is new again, there is nothing new under the sun, plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose, etc. Masturbation, intellectual and otherwise, has been popular for millenia. (As the old ad went, "ask the man that owns one")
Yes, Paul de Man is a better choice than Heidegger to illustrate the Nazi branch of the lineage. (Heidegger, in my opinion, makes a real contribution to philosophy, but his embrace of Nazism was also much greater than his defenders admitted when he was still alive.)
The Western Tradition begins both in Greece (Toynbee has the West as affiliated with Hellenic (Greco-Roman) civilization) and in ancient Israel as the source of the Biblical tradition. So the tradition is Hellenic-Hebraic. That merges in the later Roman era after Constantine, and when Hellenic civilization finally collapses, the West rises, slowly, with the Church at its center along with the Greek and Roman military tradition. The Classical tradition is reincorporated (remember that it was that tradition that collapsed in the disintegration of Roman society) as the centuries pass, with Aquinas a key figure in the 11th century because of his formal reconciliation of faith and reason (by adopting the Aristotelean method).
Now, if PoMo is attacking reason, meaning, objectivity, individual personal identity, faith, and the narrative of Western history itself, not to mention the meaning of gender and race, while elevating every other culture to or above the level of Western cultures, what exactly would you call that?
(Also, it’s certainly true that the KGB was all over American universities. To suggest that it had a hand in the promotion of PoMo as another weapon in the demoralization of American society is hardly an ad hominem directed at PoMo, which was an academic kitchen fire that could and should have been doused easily enough with some common sense but has instead taken over — having moved into the administrative side of universities as multiculturalism, diversity, political correctness, sustainability — taking many forms. (The claim by Erb that it was something popular in the 1980s shows again what a blithering idiot he is.))
I suppose I just don’t get the antagonism toward academia to the extent that you typically hear it from conservatives. I read lit at the University of Washington (Seattle being one of the capital cities of American left-ism) and there was no shortage of Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Locke, Augustine and Aquinas. Perhaps the interpretations given by the professors there may not have been to your liking, but at least they were presented, giving the students with skeptical minds room to disagree with the instructor if they so chose. I suspect also that it is in fact the teaching of Foucault, Deleuze, Baudrillard and others alongside the older DWM’s that infuriates a lot of people.
As for the administrative aspect, I couldn’t comment effectively. I am generally against multiculturalism and political correctness because I find them to be clumsy and ineffective at achieving their stated goals. Diversity seems like just another word for multiculturalism. I’m not sure what you mean by sustainability. It’s a problem in this regard: hearing a word like that, who wants to come out AGAINST sustainability?
Under the ruse of ending harassment, a number of universities have established speech codes. Bowdoin College has banned jokes and stories "experienced by others as harassing." Brown University has banned "verbal behavior" that "produces feelings of impotence, anger or disenfranchisement" whether "unintentional or intentional." University of Connecticut has outlawed "inappropriately directed laughter." Colby College has banned any speech that could lead to a loss of self-esteem. "Suggestive looks" are banned at Bryn Mawr College and "unwelcomed flirtations" at Haverford College. Fortunately for students, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has waged a successful war against such speech codes.
I’m quite naturally pleased that they continue to teach the great Western philosophers at your university. And I note with some surprise that the American Episcopal Church continues to hang the Cross in the front of their churches.
College seniors know astoundingly little about America’s history, political thought, market economy and international relations.
The overall average score for the approximately 7,000 seniors who took the American civic literacy exam was 54.2%, an “F.” That is consistent with the overall average of 53.2% posted by seniors last year. Not one college surveyed can boast that its seniors scored, on average, even a “C” in American civic knowledge.
Harvard seniors scored highest, but their overall average was 69.6%, a “D+.” That is almost identical to the 69.7% earned by Harvard seniors last year. Yale and Princeton seniors averaged only 65.9% and 61.9%, respectively. At 18 colleges, the average senior scored less than 50%.
This did not happen by accident, nor is it merely a by-product. It’s an intentional erasure. In the local school district near me the goal is to make everyone in the community, not just students in the schools, which would be bad enough "citizens of the world." Heard that anywhere recently? Another goal is to prepare students to live in a "social democracy." Now that’s just a gas, isn’t it?
I know that I risk stepping into a minefield here, but aren’t we already “citizens of the world” whether we like it or not? What in blazes are we in Iraq for if this isn’t the case? Who made the shirt you are wearing? I agree, hippie schoolteachers often suck and their feel-good projects irritate, but come on. You can blame the educational system for the lack of primary knowledge and that’s all well and good. The reality is simply that most Americans don’t require that knowledge in order to function well in the marketplace. Skills and knowledge are often learned while on the job, or are acquired at specialized trade schools.
And “what sorts of ideas are leading the cultural parade in the West”? I assume this is a dig at pop culture. I don’t see how this is some liberal conspiracy. Doesn’t the market just serve up the garbage that people want? I’d like a 5-star restaurant on every corner in lieu of a Taco Bell, too.
I’m not sure what that crack about the Episcopal Church is about either. Strangely enough, I grew up attending said church (perhaps not strange to you). Is this some kind of true-vs.-false Christianity thing? Why does that s**t always remind me of the Taliban? I don’t doubt that you actually believe in what you profess, but part of me thinks that you get off on just slamming ideas and institutions that you consider liberal, leftist, soft, hippie-ish, whatever. That’s fine, I understand you don’t have to like everybody. I’ll just go back to drinking Diet Coke, eating KFC and watching Inside Edition, I guess.
I know that I risk stepping into a minefield here, but aren’t we already “citizens of the world” whether we like it or not?
Ah, no. What world sovereignty do you look to to enforce laws and protect your rights? "Citizen of the world" is an abstraction.
What in blazes are we in Iraq for if this isn’t the case?
That’s a non-sequitur, but the answer is first and foremost for national security.
Who made the shirt you are wearing?
Who made George Washington’s Madeira? In other words, who cares. Just because some factory in Taiwan or Indonesia makes shirts that Americans wear that doesn’t make Americans Taiwanese citizens, anymore than it makes Taiwanese shirt makers American citizens. So, "citizen of the world" is happytalk for "don’t think of yourself as an American anymore, because, like, man, it’s just not cool."
You’re right, we’re not world “citizens.” My PoMo reflex got the better of me.
Sorry to open up another can of worms, but can you please explain to me how the coalition presence in Iraq is working to protect our national security? I’m sure you are tired of explaining it to public-schooled ignoramuses like me, but please indulge me.
I still think post-modernism is often being caricatured. The right seems to think of it as a kind of ’there is no truth nihilism,’ while post-modernists see themselves as true libertarians, freeing people not only from political control, but also the need to conform to culture, tradition, and other imposed social norms. To me the benefit of post modernism is it shows the inherent limits of the enlightenment. Those limits are what give rise to things like hyper consumerism and the selling of the President. However, as an academic fad, it’s pretty much on the outs. http://scotterb.wordpress.com/2008/07/21/carnival-consumerism/
I also see Goldberg’s argument about liberal fascism to contain some excellent points, though I see problems pervasive in our culture, both left and right.
PS (and I really don’t plan on becoming a regular commentator again): When I teach I spend time on Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, Montesquieu, and the ideas behind our culture. One cannot understand other cultures if one doesn’t understand ones’ own history and heritage. One can’t critique or understand the West without an understanding of Christian traditions, the history of the Church, the development of western thought, and its impact and limitations. Also, I tend to find that post-modernists (again, there aren’t that many true post modernists out there) are usually themselves well versed in western history and philosophy. On my blog I have a series on "Islam and the West" where over time I try to compare the two worlds and their histories. I’m only in the early stages — I’ve dealt with Augustine, Paul Plotinus, Muhammad and Jesus, but haven’t gotten to Aquinas yet. http://scotterb.wordpress.com
Sorry to open up another can of worms, but can you please explain to me how the coalition presence in Iraq is working to protect our national security?
The "coalition presence" in Iraq is the result of the removal of Saddam Hussein, whose regime was one of the most dangerous in the world, and who had a special animus for the United States. The continuation of that presence is bringing a reasonably modern civil society into in existence in the middle of the Arab Middle East, which otherwise does not have one. That’s a step toward bringing stability to the most strategically unstable region in the world.
There are too many positive ramifications to that to list.
post-modernists see themselves as true libertarians, freeing people not only from political control, but also the need to conform to culture, tradition, and other imposed social norms.
Oh, is that how post-modernists "see themselves."
Isn’t it funny, then, how their new freedom so remarkably resembles that of a totalitarian society. What a coincidence that with all those old constraints of ordered liberty and the natural law unbuckled they can wrap themselves in the "new freedom" of gender and race consciousness, and victimhood of course, and force their oppressors to pay, even as they shed those nasty old bulwarks of freedom, like private property, self-reliance, free speech and, worst of all, a common sense of reality. Thank goodness they’ve realized that there is no objective reality to constrain them because, after all, that’s just another "social construct."
It’s certainly no coincidence that Michel Foucoult ebraced the "liberties" of the Iranian revolution, the S&M bars of San Francisco, and died of AIDS, because, after all, he was a "true libertarian."
I believe we’ve come to some common ground here. I agree that “bringing stability to the most strategically unstable region in the world” is the primary objective of the Iraq excursion. I don’t think that it is too much of a leap in logic to infer that this makes us virtual “world citizens” in a humanitarian sense. The fate of the U.S. is clearly tied up with events in the Middle East.
Where we part ways is in our respective definitions of national security. Iraq was (and now Iran is) more of a threat to its immediate neighbors, which happen to be our economic allies (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel). For me, this does not constitute a direct threat to the national security of the United States. It is certainly a threat to our economic well-being, and that is important. To conflate national security with economic stability is a category mistake.
Also, if the current objective is containment of a potentially nuke-enhanced Iran, I would accept that. We’ve thrown our lot in with our allies in the region; so be it. Still, at best the threat to our own national security is indirect.
Why does this discussion have to go into the gutter now? Why the homophobia? Why would you deny that Foucault found liberty in the S&M bar?
Yes, I know, facts = gutter. We must stop them. Perhaps a law against it will protect liberty. And Foucault found the same liberty in getting a good beating that he found in the Iranian revolution. He was consistent.
Here, in the United States, you are free. So free, you can die of AIDS if you so choose.
Get busy, then.
Or try the ordered liberty found in the natural moral law, discoverable by reason, from which Foucault exempted himself.
I agree that “bringing stability to the most strategically unstable region in the world” is the primary objective of the Iraq excursion. I don’t think that it is too much of a leap in logic to infer that this makes us virtual “world citizens” in a humanitarian sense.
Sure, in about the same way that watching the Olympics makes you a "virtual" athlete.
Or the way our alliance with the Soviets in WWII made us "virtual" Communists, or our victory over Japan made us "virtual" Japanese.
That’s the thing about war, especially. If you engage in it, you might "virtually" become something that you are not.
So, you must take that "virtual" citizenship of the world over to Saudi Arabia, for instance, and practice all that freedom there that you have in the United States.
“’try the ordered liberty found in the natural moral law, discoverable by reason’
I certainly would, if I were inclined to join the clergy. Seems I’m not, after all."
One doesn’t have to be a member of the clergy, or even a practitioner of said moral rules, to recognize their rationality:
I remember reading in one of his biographies about Foucault railing against the existence of AIDS in the "world we created," which goes to the point that McPhillips is making. (and, yes, I know that McP is not in favor of the orientation otherwise)
What’s "homophobic" about expecting gay males to avoid AIDS by being monogamous?
Isn’t it "homophobic" to make the opposite assumption, namely that to truly be a gay male is to endorse no RATIONAL limits on the expression of one’s sexuality?
Ernest B: You make some good points here regarding rationality and plain old common sense. I suppose my confusion stems from the definition of freedom laid out here. If, say, we lived in a completely libertarian, free market society with no traces of nanny-statism, where everyone paid for their own health care, etc., what is the harm in allowing grown-ups to make bad decisions? I don’t see how this is in any way a deviation from Enlightenment values. Perhaps it was due to my PoMo liberal education, but I was under the assumption that much of the Enlightenment sought to largely free us from institutions of social control, such as the church. What were Paine and Jefferson on about, really? I suppose their ideas of freedom aren’t that popular with contemporary conservatism.
I feel like you make my point anyway, regarding the disconnect between the words and actions of individuals, when you allude to Clinton’s monogamy stance. It is true that one can recognize the rationality of monogamy while ignoring that same rationality in everyday practice. This is where the PoMo thing is appealing to people, because really, who wants to hang out with somebody who is rational 100% of the time? I know that there is a difference between condoning irrational acts and performing those same acts spontaneously. No one thinks drinking and driving is a good idea, but how many otherwise rational individuals have done this? Those that make it a habit risk their health and well-being. The same argument applies to monogamy vs. AIDS, or however that false dichotomy was presented.
Anyway, thanks for the constructive criticism. Points well taken.
“...I would suggest to you that there are more important things in life than being satisfied that the CPU’s are running on time”
I agree with you whole-heartedly sir, I apologize if I wasn’t clear enough in my position. From a business standpoint, however, I would argue that not much else is important. Your boss could care less whether you are well-versed in Cartesian dualism. What have you done for him lately? Did you close the deal?
Actually, I think that the Enlightenment figures wanted to distinguish between moral rules and institutional structures. Arrogant modernists like Carl F. Becker in THE HEAVENLY CITY OF THE 18TH CENTURY PHILOSOPHERS infamously deride them for that.
Reifying "the Enlightenment" as an abstraction separate from the individual thinkers that inhabited the era is foolish, anyway. It is what the Objectivists call "social metaphysics," something that they are guilty of regarding that time period: