What is postmodernism? Is it a problem? Prof. Jordan B. Peterson sees postmodernism as an existential threat. Prof. John Vervaeke suggests that the plague of postmodernism has brought a zombie apocalypse upon us.
What is postmodernism? The following is the first in a series of posts explaining postmodernism. It is based on the book, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks, Professor of Philosophy, at Rockford College. His excellent book goes into great detail, exploring postmodernism and its origins.
Truth is Dead
Reason, truth, and knowledge are meaningless, argued French philosopher Michel Foucault. Reason, he claimed, is the ultimate language of madness.
Postmodernism offers no truth or knowledge, said American philosopher Richard Rorty, because there is no truth. Postmodernism cannot claim to be “right” or correspond with reality, he said, because there are no such things. The postmodernist has no obligation to be “right”, agreed American legal scholar Stanley Fish, only to be “interesting”.
Reason, truth, and reality are just power and oppression, wrote French philosopher Francois Lyotard, the same as prisons and prohibitions. Postmodernism is a strategy against reason, power, and oppression.
Reason oppresses women, argued feminist legal critics Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin. Sex between man and woman is a predatory “act of invasion and ownership”, argued Dworkin, “He owns you inside and out”. Pornography is not free speech, MacKinnon and Dworkin agreed, but political oppression.
The West disguises political oppression, claimed Foucault. Oppression is naked only in its prisons, he said, “brutal tyranny”, in the guise of “serene domination of Good over Evil, of order over disorder”.
Postmodernism is Marxist, admitted French postmodernist Jacques Derrida. It is a tool for “radicalization … within the tradition of a certain Marxism in a certain spirit of Marxism,” he said.
Postmodernism is a philosophy that denies being one. Philosophies rest on assumptions:
- Reality. How do we define reality? What is knowledge?
- Human nature. What is it to be human?
- Values. What are our values (ethics)?
Postmodernism rests on philosophical assumptions:
- Reality. We cannot use reason to know objective reality. Reality is subjective (artificial). Society uses language to “construct” reality. Knowledge is meaningless because we lack truth and reality.
- Human nature. Society uses language to construct our group identities (gender, ethnicity, class). Society is conflict. Society’s powerful (oppressors) use force against the weak (oppressed).
- Values. We value fighting against oppressors on behalf of the oppressed.
Postmodern philosophy rejects modern philosophy.
Modernism arose during the Age of Enlightenment (the Age of Reason). It gave birth to liberal government, capitalism, science, technology, and modern medicine.
Before this, Medieval Europe was dominated by the philosophy of faith:
- Reality. We know reality based on tradition, faith, and mysticism.
- Human nature. We are defined by original sin and are subjects of God’s will.
- Values. Individuals are subordinate to divinely ordained political, social, and religious hierarchies. We value altruistic service to others.
Modernism replaced the philosophy of faith, which had been succumbing to Renaissance and Reform thought. Modern philosophy arose:
- Reality. We know objective reality by using reason and perception of nature.
- Human nature. Individuals are a unit of reality. Our minds are sovereign. We have the autonomous capacity to form our own character (free will).
- Values. The individual is the unit of value.
Modernism emphasized reason. John Locke made reason the key to individualism – individual ethics, individual rights, political equality, and justice. Enlightenment thinkers, like Isaac Newton, made reason the key to science. Science produced technology and medicine.
Modernism emphasized individualism. Individualism in politics produced liberal democracy and ultimately led to the demise of slavery. Individualism in economics produced free markets and capitalism.
Modernism’s views grew and dominated: nature, reason, science, individualism, and liberalism. People became more free, lived longer, and suffered less.
Death to Modernism
Postmodernism attacks the philosophical foundations of modern Western society, and all that flows from it. It attacks the foundation of truth, reason, and knowledge. It attacks the edifices of individualism, science, markets, and liberal politics.
Postmodernism seeks to throw down Western society and replace it. The question for postmodernists is how to proceed, now that “The Age of Faith and the Enlightenment seem beyond recovery,” Rorty stated.
Postmodernist philosophy had little influence in philosophy. It has had greater influence in education.
- Literary criticism. Literary texts have no objective meaning. They have subjective meaning to the reader. We can deconstruct them to reveal the author’s biases – racism, misogyny, patriarchy.
- Legal theory. Legal Pragmatists argue against universal theories of law or legal principles are illusory. Critical Legal Theorists reject objective or neutral readings of laws or precedent as fraudulent. The law, they argue, is a weapon of coercion that serves white males.
- Education. The purpose of education is not to develop cognitive reasoning ability. Its purpose is to mold social identities that are sensitive on issues of race, gender, and class; and to overthrow the powerful and the privileged.
Postmodernism attacks Western culture. Some complaints have seeds of truth. Others seem absurd, even comical, but are no laughing matter.
- The US is not based on liberty, equality, and opportunity, but on sexism, racism, and class oppression.
- We should not be judged by the content of our character, but affirmed based on our race or gender.
- The West is not leading the world to freedom, but to oppression and exploitation.
- Science does not work to make us better off. Instead, it is elitist and sexist, and represents rape culture (full of phallic symbols, conquering and penetrating nature). It privileges the speed of light over other speeds.
Postmodernism’s Marxist assault on the modern West has been ongoing for decades. Postmodernism pervades education and the humanities. It claims no reason, no truth, no morality. It is unprincipled, uncompromising, and promotes unthinking hate and division. Postmodernism seeks one thing: totalitarian power.
Postmodernism underlies Prof. Vervaeke’s zombie apocalypse metaphor. Zombie mythology resonates with us, he says, because it expresses a collective unconscious idea that something has gone very wrong. Zombies have lost thought and meaning, identity and community. They wander aimlessly, attacking and destroying meaning. This zombie apocalypse looks quite postmodern.
Postmodernism is also central to Ted Kaczynski’s Unabomber Manifesto. Kaczynski attacked Industrial Society as a threat to man and nature. He more harshly attacked postmodern Leftism. They oppose science and technology only until they gain power, he warned. Then, these become tools for totalitarianism. Otherwise, postmodernism resembles Kaczynski’s strategy for toppling Industrial Society.
How did this come about? Next: Part 2, Objectivity is Dead