In this post, I share important conclusions I have drawn after reading the book Explaining Postmodernism, written by Stephen Hicks. Short review of it will be given in my 2017 Book Review.
If you desire to understand left-wing politics, go and learn what this means: “for a postmodernist, language is a weapon.”
After the rise of modernism, the group of philosophies championed by the Enlightenment thinkers, European society adopted several fundaments for the centuries to come. These fundaments we now take as obvious: trust in the power of human intellect, faith in the objective knowledge, and solid grounding of justice and social order in the individual – his freedom as well as duties. Postmodernism is, to put it simply, a rejection of this stream of thought, and it “becomes an activist strategy against the coalition of reason and power.” Here I will focus on the conclusions, although it is only by reading the entire book that one can understand how they are explained by history of the movement.
Essentials of postmodernism
Most importantly, postmodernism is a radically left-wing political project (neomarxism). But as every worldview, it has a certain philosophical outlook.
Arguably, the essential presumption of postmodernism is that there is no reality independent from our minds – for there is no way of truly knowing the nature of things (Kant’s thing-in-itself) without reflecting our biases to some degree – and so reason cannot be the means of acquiring objective knowledge. Hence the emphasis on subjectivity, conventions and social constructions. Thus in metaphysics, postmodernism is anti-realist and constructionist. In political theory, it is collectivist, opposing the modernist thinkers. Identity politics (because perception of the world is inherently subjective and there is little common experiential ground between groups) and social justice must replace individual accountability. A major part of postmodernism is literary criticism which involves the concept of deconstruction: objective meaning of the text cannot be known, and the text itself is shaped by the author’s subjectivity: his race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, etc. As a consequence, interpretation consists merely of revealing the author’s class interests and biases as well as the culture in which he or she lived (deconstruction).
Knowledge is an expression of power
If objective knowledge does not exist, then what is it? According to Foucault, knowledge is but an expression of power; politics must be played on behalf of the disempowered, hence against knowledge; an educated reader can himself come up with endless examples of this madness.
Postmodernism is paradoxical
Postmodernism denies objective truth, so it must deny that it is itself true. It denies that language is meaningful, so a postmodernist uses language… ironically (for Polish readers – I am reminded of Hipsters). Or rather, he uses language in pursuit of his political goals.
Language is a weapon
A crucial part of the postmodernist project we need to be aware of is deconstruction of language. Language, for the most part of human history, has been a naturally-evolving system, based on logic, designed to communicate with other people effectively for common benefit. This is not so for a postmodernist. Since perception of reality is inherently subjective, when a person chooses a particular vocabulary, he forces his worldview upon others in some way; moreover, there is no way of arriving at shared knowledge (which is power) but through the use of language; both observations lead to the conclusion that language is a tool of power. Whoever controls language, controls the people. Thus language is a weapon and instead of being created via natural processes it must be imposed – by the postmodernists, of course. If it doesn’t sound familiar, familiarize yourself with the leftist debating strategies, note the ultrafast increase in the usage of vague, empty or incoherent neomarxist words such as inequality, redistribution, diversity, oppression and privilege, and find out how the concept of gender identity originated (hint: it was not the scientists!).
Ok, I will actually answer the last question. Gender studies is a discipline that emerged as a result of introduction of a new category of thought, called “gender identity” by feminist theorists in the 1970s. If this process had been directed from the world to the mind, it would have a chance of being scientific and experts as such would exist. But the process was directed from the mind to the world, in accordance with the principle that the mind shapes and redefines the reality (Kant). Gender theorists are experts only within the world of fiction they themselves create. The current goal of gender studies is activist and involves forced substitution of the new, artificial categories of thought for the old ones.
History of postmodernism
I was going to write an overview of the history of the movement, which takes roughly half of the book, but the entire review already became too long. Instead I will just note that the author gives a very convincing argument that the two main collectivist ideologies (Nazism and Communism) are almost identical in their pedigree and very similar in their cores. They are both rooted in postmodern stream of thought.
Postmodernism and The Left
According to the author, postmodernism became intrinsically linked to Marxism as the postmodern stream of thought gave the necessary tools to respond to the crisis the latter faced. And after all, anti-Enlightenment sentiment has always been on the collectivist side (Rousseau, Kant, Fichte, Hegel).
„Deconstruction never had meaning or interest, at least in my eyes, than as a radicalization, that is to say, also within the tradition of a certain Marxism, in a certain spirit of Marxism.” – Jacques Derrida
Contrary to what Marx had predicted, in 20th century the proletariat seemed better off and was not inclined to a revolt; meanwhile the crimes and poverty in communist countries became apparent. Marxists, of course, decided to cling to their ideas, only alter them slightly. Since capitalism was more successful in creating wealth, let us say that wealth is bad. It destroys the planet and puts people in an implicit slavery of consumption. Let us say (Rousseau), that a natural man, that is, a savage, is more noble than the civilized man. This is because civilized society represses the instincts, and that is wrong (Freud). Since irrational instincts such as violence are natural and good, they should be employed to destroy the capitalist society (Black Panthers, Baader-Meinhof, and other terrorist organizations; also the films The Wave and Fight Club). Finally, since capitalism succeeded at rising the standard of living for everyone, let us move the goalpost and say that it is not absolute, but relative poverty (inequality) that counts.
- It is nearly impossible to argue on a rational level (that is, in the modernist spirit) with a postmodernist.
- A postmodernist doesn’t care about logical contradictions. For example, he claims that all values are subjective, but sexism and racism are really evil – but these contradictions have been pointed out to him numerous times and he is well aware of them.
- For a postmodernist, language is merely a weapon. So he will just resort to whatever tactic seems most effective and accuse you of Nazism, racism, sexism, transphobia, etc; he will use repeated strawman against you, resort to ad hominem or simply stop an event from happening. You get the idea.
- For a postmodernist, the phrase “facts don’t care about your feelings” is empty. Although he won’t admit it, he doesn’t believe there are facts; there are only interpretations, and if your interpretation is the interpretation of a white cis-man, you are very unfortunate. If this interpretation hurts someone’s feelings… well, you get the idea.
- Feelings are very important – feelings were stressed instead of rationality when German thinkers tried to defeat the Enlightenment.
- The modernist system of law is rigorously written and judges an action based on the objective characteristics of that action. The postmodern proposals would emphasize subjective elements, such as feelings of the purported victim. [That’s terrible, since the speaker has no control over the feelings of the listener; the speaker should never be held accountable for them.]
- Identity politics. All perception is subjective and biased, while language is not sufficient to reach agreement. “You don’t know how it is like to be black.”
- Relativisation of literature: since a text has no objective meaning and interpretation is relative, no text can be better than other, and in the university curriculum the same amount of space must be given to everyone. Deconstruction also serves the role of relativizing the modernist arguments, lest some student will become convinced by John Locke and disagree with their anti-modern teacher.
- Relativisation of fine arts: “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Art, instead of being beautiful, became a commentary on culture, and a deconstruction tactic. The thing most often deconstructed is art itself. This is an explanation of the ridiculous state of abstract art.
- Postmodern fields, such as gender studies, most of women’s studies, literary criticism and modern art do not constitute fields of knowledge. They are not oriented towards education, but towards indoctrination and construction of concepts. They have no “experts”, only activists. They have no scientific method. There is no rational reason to trust these fields.
- For postmodernists, traditional values are tools of power (white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity). They need to be destroyed not by reason, but using the weapon of language. For example, they can introduce new pronouns, employ ad hominem, and use emotionally-loaded words. They can use legislation (like the Canadian Bill C-16 or a similar bill from August 2017, California) to enforce the new language. Recall that this language has not evolved naturally, but was created by postmodern theorists.
- Postmodernists oppose science, if it speaks against their agenda (otherwise not). For example, in reference to the James Damore’s case, C. Prescod-Weinstein in a fairly popular article entitled Stop Equating “Science” With Truth wrote “science’s greatest myth is that it doesn’t encode bias and is always self-correcting.” (emphasis mine).