First, the prefix post suggests a new era or paradigm. In and of itself, this is not a problem. The challenge is the root: modern.
Effectively, modern means now, the current era, in the same manner as today sits between yesterday and tomorrow. The problem is that we are employing the term postmodern as if it’s tomorrow but today. Of course, except in jest, tomorrow is never simultaneously today. The notion reminds me of the sentiment captured in the quip when asked ‘When will you do this task?’ ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’. When queried the next day, ‘Why have you not yet done this task?’ and the response is ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’, ad infinitum.
Modern derives from the Latin meaning ‘just now‘. People have been labelling themselves as modern since at least 1585 when it meant ‘of or pertaining to present or recent times‘. As early as 1500, it meant ‘now existing‘, so more toward ‘extant‘.
My point is that one might be able to retroactively reference post-X in relationship to X, but to name something duratively as post-X simply makes no sense. Add to this the complication that Latour mentions that we’ve never been modern or the further connotation that privileges the term adopter over others. Namely, whilst the West are modern at time-zero, being the height of modernity, some other contemporaneous other does not qualify. The United States are modern—just not Appalacia and certainly not Bangladesh. In a temporal sense, premodern takes on a similar meaning, e.g. Aztec or Mayan civilisations.
Besides the unfortunate naming, ‘postmodern‘ attempts to envelop many thoughts. As I’ve mentioned before, it is most typically pejoratively.
Whist I attempt to align myself with certain so-called postmodern figures, and I use the term myself because it still has some referential value, I do so with reservations and the understanding that it’s a nonsensical notion from the start. Perhaps, I’ll suggest a new solution tomorrow.
Some art just catches my eye and resonates. Here is an image of a robotic arm. Nothing quite captures the Modern human condition quite so poignantly. This is the plight of Sisyphus but not so pedestrian as Camus’ version. One can’t imagine this one happy. This robot was built intentionally to bleed the hydraulic fluid that is its lifeblood, as it toils to retain that sanguineous fluid. But as with life and humans, the task is futile.
In this shot, we see human spectators watching its eventual demise. Memento Mori. No one gets out alive.
The Instagram copy captures my sentiments pretty well, so I’ll end this here.
As a result of the encounter with this millennial man, the post intends to answer the question: How could I show him that happy feelings are not a good basis for morality? But let’s step back a bit.
In the words of the author, ‘I asked him to define morality, and he said that morality was feeling good, and helping other people to feel good.’ Here’s the first problem: Although a conversation about morality may have occurred between the author and an atheist millennial man, the post is not in fact a reaction to Millennial morality. Rather, it’s of the respondent’s dim characterisation of what morality is (whether for a theist or an atheist). His reply that morality is ‘feeling good, and helping other people to feel good’ sounds more like hedonism and compassion. The author does pick up on the Utilitarian bent of the response but fails to disconnect this response from the question. The result is a strawman response to one person’s hamfisted rendition of morality. The author provides no additional context for the conversation nor whether an attempt to correct the foundational definition.
A quick Google search yields what should by now be a familiar definition of morality: principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour.
Clearly, conflating utility with rightness and wrongness, with goodness and badness, is an obvious dead-end at the start. This said, I could just stop typing. Yet, I’ll continue—at least for a while longer.
At the top of the article is a meme image that reads ‘When I hear someone act like they’re proud of themselves for creating their own moral guidelines and sticking to them’.
Natalie Portman sports an awkward facial expression and a sarcastic clap. Under the image is a line of copy: If you define morality as “whatever I want to do” then you’ll always be “moral”, which is tautological, but a bit of a non-sequitur to the rest, so I’ll leave it alone.
Let’s stop to regard this copy for a few moments but without going too deep. Let’s ignore the loose grammar and the concept of pride. I presume the focus of the author to be on the individually fabricated morals (read: ethical guidelines or rules) and that the fabricator follows through with them.
That this person follows through on their own rules is more impressive than the broken New Year’s resolutions of so many and is a certainly better track record than most people with supposed religious convictions.
First, all morals are fabricated—his morals or your morals. And you can believe that these goods came from God or gods or nature or were just always present awaiting humans to embody them, but that doesn’t change the point.
Let’s presume that at least some of his morals don’t comport with the authors because they are borne out of compassion. Since we’ve already established precedence for cherry-picking, allow me to side-step the hedonistic aspects and instead focus on the compassionate aspects. Would this be offensive to the author? Isn’t, in fact, in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31, the do unto others Golden Rule edict, is a call for compassion—at least sympathy if not empathy?
After a quick jab at abortion (tl; dr: abortion is bad) taking the scenic route to articulate the point that atheists typically don’t think of unborn children as people, apparently without fully grasping the concept of zygotes and gametes. The author then confuses the neutral notion of a probabilistic outcome with accidents, having negative connotations—as if I flip a coin, the result is an accident. Let’s ignore this passive-aggressive hostility and move on. Let’s also forgive the flippant—or at least facile—articulation of biological evolutionary processes as ‘the strong survive while the weak die’. We can let it slide since what is meant by strong in this context is wide open.
The author continues with a claim that ‘you aren’t going to be able to generate a moral standard that includes compassion for weak unborn children on that scenario’. This feels like an unsubstantiated claim. Is this true? Who knows. Some people have compassion for all sorts of things from puppies to pandas without having some belief in rights. Some people like Peter Singer argues that rights should be extended to all species, and all humans should be vegans. I wonder if the author can live up to this moral high watermark. Maybe so. Probably doesn’t mix linen and wool because it’s the right thing to do.
“If the rule is “let’s do what makes us happy”, and the unborn child can’t voice her opinion, then the selfish grown-ups win.” This is our next stop. This is a true statement, so let’s tease it a bit. Animals are slaughtered and eaten, having no voice. Pet’s are kept captive, having no voice. Trees are felled, having no voice. Land is absconded from vegetation and Animalia—even other humans. Stolen from unborn humans for generations to come. Lots of people have no voice.
People are into countries and time and space. What about the converse situation? Where is the responsibility for having the child who gains a voice and doesn’t want this life? Does it matter that two consenting adults choose to have a child, so it’s OK? Doesn’t the world have enough people? What if two consenting adults choose to rob a bank? I know I don’t have to explicitly make the point that once the child is thrown into this world, the voice is told to shut up if it asks to exit or even tries to exit without permission. Unless circumstances arise to snuff out the little bugger as an adult.
Finally, the author is warmed up and decides to focus first on fatherhood. The question posed was whether the interlocutor thought that fatherlessness harmed children, to which the response was no.
Spoiler alert: The author is toting a lot of baggage on this fatherhood trip. Before we even get to the father, the child, or the family, there is a presumption of a Capitalist, income-based, market economy. Father means the adult male at the head of a nuclear family with a mum (or perhaps a mother; mum may be too informal), likely with 2 kids and half a pet. The child is expected to also participate in this constructed economy—the imagined ‘right’ social arrangement. It goes without saying that I feel this is a bum deal and shit arrangement, but I’ll defer to pieces already and yet to be written here. But if fathers are the cause of this ‘Modern’ society, fuck ’em and the horses they rode in on.
She asks him, if a system of sexual rules based on “me feeling good, and other people around me feeling good”, was likely to protect children. Evidently, he was silent, but here you can already determine that she unnecessarily links sex to procreation. And reflecting on a few paragraphs back, how is forcing a child (without asking) to be born and then told to become a wage slave or perish not violent and cruel?
(Self-guidance: Calm down, man. You can get through this.)
So the question is surreptitiously about procreative sex. By extension, if the couple can’t procreate for whatever myriad reasons, it’s OK? Sounds like it? Premenstrual, menopausal, oral, anal, same-sex coupling is all OK in this book. Perhaps, the author is more open-minded than I am given credit for. Not all humans are fertile, sex with plants and animals won’t result in procreation. A lot of folks would call this author kinky or freaky. Not my cup of tea, but I’m not judging. Besides, I’ve read that book—though shalt not judge. I’m gonna play it safe. And they couldn’t print it if it wasn’t true.
Seeking credibility, the author cites Bloomberg, as Centre to Centre-Left organisation as Far-Left. Clearly another red flag. Excuse me, your bias is showing. This piece is likely written for choir preaching, so we’ll take the penalty and move along.
A quick jab at the bête noire of ‘Big Government’ facilitating idle hands and, presumably genitals, to play. The idle rich as Croesus folks are idols to behold. At least I can presume she opposes military spending and armed aggression on the grounds of harm, so we’ve got common ground there. They’re probably an advocate of defunding the police, though by another name. so there’s another common platform. It just goes to show: all you need to do is talk to ameliorate differences. We’re making good headway. Let’s keep up the momentum.
Wait, what? We need to preserve a Western Way? I was shooting for something more Zen. Jesus was a Westerner—being from Bethlehem and all. (That’s in Israel—probably on the Westside.)
No worries. Just a minor setback—a speedbump. It’s just a flesh wound. But we’ve pretty much reached the end. A little banter about some other studies. There’s an impartial citation from the Institute for Family Studies on cohabitation they beg the question and employs circular logic. And another from the non-partisan Heritage Foundation finds that dads who live with their children spend more time with them. How profound. I’d fund that study.
And it’s over. What happened? In the end, all I got out of it is ‘I don’t like it when you make up morals’. You need to adopt the same moral code I’ve adopted.
Where was I? Oh yeah. Fathers. So these people don’t mean generic fathers. They mean fathers who subscribe to their worldview. In their magical realm, these fathers are not abusive to their mothers or children; these fathers are not rip-roaring alcoholics; these fathers are the dads you see on the telly.
Suspiciously absent is the plotline where the fathers are ripped from their families through systematic racism and incarcerated as if they didn’t want to be there for their children. And this isn’t discussing whether it’s an issue of fathers or an issue of money. It isn’t discussing whether someone else might serve as a proxy for this role. Indeed, there is nothing magical about fathers unless you live in a fantasy world.
Aside from the political realm, in my quest to gain more perspective on Anarchism in 2022, I am interested in behavioural aspects of the human condition. It seems to me that political constructs as dynamic systems are inherently unstable. Whilst I am predisposed to Anarchy versus the alternatives to which I’ve been exposed, it too is fraught will deficiencies. The question is which system has the fewest deficiencies at any given time. More on this later.
On my journey, I’ve come across Moral Tribes by Joshua Greene, a book recommended in Behave by Robert Sapolsky—perhaps my favourite non-fiction book of the trailing decade, which is also to say my favourite book over this period. Professor Greene summarises his concepts on YouTube.
Of course, there’s a but. Joshua Greene seems to come from the same mould as Stephen Pinker. Two Pollyanna defenders of the Enlightenment and Humanism. As such, they are Moderns in the pejorative sense. They’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. They both buy into the Classical Western narrative.
What interested me in Greene’s work was the conflict management aspect. I don’t believe in inherent morality, but I do believe in constructed morality, perhaps better known as ethics. I believe that these are self-serving, whereby self represents any entity at some point or limited expanse of time. They never derive from some neutral place without benefiting some at the expense of others.
The axe I have to grid with Greene in Moral Tribes is his belief in facile notions such as loyalty and some sense of definitive goodness and badness. These things, he believes are instinctual. If we can tap into them and manipulate those with broken instincts—or marginalise them—, all will be milk and honey—or wine and roses. Take your pick.
Greene is effectively a utilitarian as descended from Jeremy Betham and John Stuart Mill, and he views pragmatism as a sort of panacea. Although I operate as a pragmatist as a fallback position from my more existential nihilistic core, I don’t feel that his recharacterising utilitarianism as Deep Pragmatism™ is a viable solution. Presuming that one could actually dimensionalise a society in a manner to measure this utility is a fool’s errand at the start. And, as I’ve gathered from other sources, he not only believes that there is a best morality, and he’s found it—because of course he has. In my book this is a red flag—a flaming red flag signalling a rubbish claim. In some circles, they’d straight up call it bollox.
Given this foundation, I am not sure how much more I’ll be able to maintain my interest. But for now, I’m not optimistic that he’s relying on anything more than hoping to convert ises from oughts with his magic Modern wand. I’ll give it as least a few more pages, but I won’t promise not to skim through to the end.
I don’t have a strong grasp of Metamodernism, but at first glance, it doesn’t seem to be a place I wish to reside, and I don’t have the motivation to look deeper. Instead, I’ll rely on proponants and advocates to fill that void. They are already ahead of me on that curve and far more qualified to lead that charge. Moreover, I believe there are at least two paths to follow.
Metamodernism attempts to synthesise Modernism and Postmodernism, but from my perspective, it’s a Modern belief that simply preferences Premodern mysticism over Postmodernism. From what I understand about Metamodernism, all of it’s dimensions can be measured on the planar ternary plot I am architecting. From what I read by Metamodernists is that it is either operates to sublate or is a paradigm shift that transcends these worldviews.
If my characterisation is correct, Metamodernism is captured by the model and simply shifts the dot to the left. If one of the other persectives is correct, it either changes the shape of the plane itself, alters the pathing of the movement of the dot, or creates a need for a Z-axis to capture this Z-dimentional movement. To assess this, I’ll need more information. For now, I will adopt my perspective and see where I end up.
Usign this ternary chart as a reference, if I am the solid red dot at time-1, and adopt some Metamodern world views, my place at time-2 moves in the direction of PreModern, which is to say down and to the left.
To be clear, the direction of this shift is not inevitable. It depends on the initial orientation and the dimension under consideration. If I were lower on the chart (more Modern than PostModern), then the movement would more likely be from right to left horizontally and not angular as depicted. Moreover, even from the starting position shown, the movement might simply go left. What it won’t do is go up or to the right, the area shaded in red on the chart below.
My next step is still to dimentionalise this. Altought I have some canditates already in mind, I suspect this will be an emergant process. Feel free to come along for the ride.
I am working toward fleshing out my Modernity Triangle. Since I want to illustrate placement graphically, I’ve settled on using a ternary plot—at least for now. I’ve borrowed an existing Excel template, which already contained the simple maths and charting. This is really just the tip of the iceberg as creating appropriate dimensions, measures, and weights is the heavy lifting.
I may work on the aesthetics, but this is the underlying framework. I’ve already commenced a scoping conversation in a previous post. In a nutshell, there are three primative movements—the spectra are Premodern to Modern, Modern to Postmodern, and Postmodern to Premodern.
This chart is meant to be discriptive. As the adage goes, there is no correct placement. If you identify as a Modern, you may wish the dots to bias in that direction, but the same is true if you occupy one of the other corners. For those who prefer moderation as a stance—the Middle Path—, you may be tempted to find comfort in a dot occupying the centre. That’s fine. I’m not judging your worldview.
Taking a moment to mention prescription, the best I can offer at this point is that if you feel you should or want to occupy a particular place. Feel free to create a vector from where you are to where you aspire to be. My only caveat at this point is that sometimes it is hard to reverse tack once the genie’s been let out of the bottle. An example might be agriculture. Humans progressed from Hunter-Gatherers to Aggrarians. Some have ‘progressed’ to Industrial and Postindustrial worldviews. However, not all humans have taken these paths. But due to encroachment of Premodern humans by Moderns, the habitat of Premoderns has made hunting and gethering an untenable lifestyle, so in the contemporary world, only Hunter-Horticulturalist remain.
In the accompanying ternary chart, I clumsily place myself where I self-identify, though I could be way off base. As a matter of example, this dot could represent a single dimension as well as some aggregation of dimensions. At the most abstract level, the view should interpret as a person espousing a tendency toward Postmodernism over Modernism fairly far removed from Premodernism. The lower leftmost dot on the Premodern corner could represent a typical pre-Enlightenment peasant as well as a member of some contemporary indigenous tribe such as the Sentinelese.
In the contemporary Western world, I’d imaging that they might be represented by the 2 dots on the second horizontal, fairly Modern, a smidgeon of PostModern, and more PreModern than they’d likely be comfortable to admit.
I was inspired by the Political Compass conceived by Libertarians attempting to differentiate themselves from a strict Left-Right political frame. My intent is to create something similar. I don’t feel that I have four points to work with, so I settled for three. I discuss how Metamodernism fits into this model elsewhere. Here is an how the Political Compass situated the UK parties in the 2019 general election.
I’ve been thinking, but I haven’t had a lot of free time, so I may be fleshing this post out over time.
I participate in several online groups centred around Postmodernism. There are some fellow Postmoderns, and there are some Moderns, some who want to find out what all the hubbub is about, and some detractors. Invariably, the conversation turns to one of definition. This post will not attempt to answer that question. I’ve made that attempt elsewhere and elsewhen.
This post is meant to orient the relationship between premodern, modern, and postmodern. Image A depicts a strict linear chronology. I don’t suspect anyone views this progression where at some point Modern philosophy superseded Premodern and was itself superseded by Postmodern thought. In my own experience, this does not ring as valid, and it doesn’t feel like this will unfold in any future.
Image B is a more plausible chronology, though some might prefer a permutation where Premodern eventually fades away and where Modern fades away at another point. Again, experience doesn’t bear out this scenario.
In fact, this is how I came to conceptualise the relationship as a triangle—rather a radial chart limted to three points. This is represented by image C1, where there is a triangular relationship, with each of the schools of thought represented at the angles. The placement of the labels is arbitrary. That Postmodern is rendered at the top should not suggest that it is elevated or better than the others. Neither is Modern better because it resides on the right side. The triangle doesn’t indicate and time dimension.
Image C2 is merely a representation of C1 with a dot to indicate placement on the plane.
Ostensibly, each angle contains dimensions and measures. I haven’t sussed out fully what these dimensions might be, but a triangle might represent individuals or aggregations of individuals. An individual or a group might place differently at different times.
Regarding the triangular plane, the concept is that an entity may hold belief sets of any or all of these worldviews simultaneously. A bit of self-reflection might place be on the orange dot in C2, though the chart is arbitrary and not to scale. No animals were harmed, and so on.
Moreover, it’s important to distinguish between the system of belief and the pragmatic life of an entity. In my case, I feel that I am intellectually a Postmodern. I have an incredulity toward metanarratives, don’t believe in objective truths, and feel that every system requires context to evaluate. This said, I am quite strategic and analytical. Also, although I’ve been called many times a Stoic and Spock from Star Trek, my emotions and cognitive biases and sense perception deficits still allow me to favour the underdog as a Social Justice Warrior.
It’s been pointed out that many Postmoderns are simultaneously Marxists or otherwise Leftists. Personally, I feel these are simple covariances, that a Conservative has to give more weight to history and teleological arguments, thereby qualifying as a Modern, whereas a Postmodern is more likely to dismiss these are metanarrative-laden. I consider myself a Leftist, but again, this is an emotional rather than intellectual decision. As a Postmodern, intellectually speaking, I believe there is no way to determine whether Anarchosyndicalism is better or worse than Republicanism or Oligarchy, but I know how I feel about these. And without going down some political rabbit hole, it’s plain to see that many people are predictably irrational and vote against their own interests time and again as they believe some narrative where they see themselves in another position where this self-deprecation will pay off in the end. This is embodied in the meme that “socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” This is usually misattributed to John Steinbeck, but the sentiment remains—don’t tax the rich—because I am just a stone-throw away from that—if only I paid less in taxes.
Finally, there are the Premoderns. These people are not only nostalgics, but they retain superstitious beliefs, favour natural remedies, and Ayurvedic treatments. They retain religious beliefs—some even preferring pre-Judeo-Christian paradigms. And yet they may also be scientists and otherwise structured thinkers. It’s harder for me to conjure scenarios where an entity might simultaneously hold Premodern and Postmodern beliefs. Off the cuff, it seems that one might believe in some sort of cultural relativity and at the same time believe in some shamanic healing or Ayahuasca retreat for cleansing or getting in touch with the universe. I wouldn’t presume it’s that unusual for people to hold antithetical and mutually exclusive beliefs. I am not superstitious, but I carry a lucky penny or some such.
My next step in this journey is to dimensionalise the model. I already have got some ideas, many of which have already been captured here, but my familiarity with Premoderns is limited and probably contains a lot of stereotypes and caricatures.
I watched the video, What Makes us Postmodern, and its predecesor, What Makes Us Modern, and I immediately discounted any attempts to synthesise Modernism and Postmodernism in some Hegelian manner, Hegel’s approach being somewhat Modern at the start. One can pair the essential dimensions and perhaps arrive at some moderate position, but, firstly, this is a Modern perspective; secondly, Moderns are not likey to abandon their position.
There may be a resolution, but it seems that it will require a paradigm shift—a different perspective still.
Ancient Greek mythology gives us the story of the Labyrinth. As I am not interested in analysing this from a Jungian perspective, we can safely ignore the Minotaur. The story of the labryrinth is a story for Moderns. It’s a teleological story based on the metanarrative that suggests that one can find order in disorder, if only they have the key.
As the story goes, the labyrinth is an unsolvable puzzle. However, at least one person knows how to solve it, or at least knows how to beat the system. Depending on the source version, Ariadne either assisted Theseus with a thread or jewels.
In a tl;dr version of the story, Theseus is tasked with killing the Minotaur. I’ve recently discussed his ship. Exposition informs us that the Minotaur is mortal, thus killable, but there is no escaping the maze—for reasons. However, Daedalus, the architect of the labyrinth, told Ariadne that there was one way out. If someone were to record their ingress, with say, a thread or jewels, they could then follow these to egress. Definitely not a plot device. Hansel and Gretel took this to heart and marked their ingress with breadcrumbs—or stones, depending upon which version you’re reading.
What Makes this Modern
Though the story of the labyrinth and the Minotaur comes from a pre-modern era, it remains an apt metaphor for modernity.
There is a deliberate underlying structure. In fact, it has been architected by Daedalus. This mirrors the Intelligent Design narrative favoured by Christians.
There is a definitive solution to the puzzle. The story is teleological. If one follows the plan, stays on the path, they will prevail. Go off-script, and perish.
This is a story about structure, about order, about adopting and conforming to the rules. Even though it’s also about gaming the system with cheat codes in more modern parlance. Nowadays, I’d turn off clipping and collision detection, but Ariadne didn’t know these codes. I digress.
This is not a story for Postmoderns because it starts with a design. For moderns, there is a design. It’s either a vestigial god or science. The belief is that everything has structure. Even if that structure is yet unknown to us. If only we had enough time, we could suss it out. Perhaps it’s past time to re-task Shakespeare’s infinite monkeys.
Reconciliation of this teleological belief is intractable. Rather, it can likely only be solved with rhetoric. Moderns love rhetoric, which explains why they have so much faith in Aristotle and classical philosophers, who still provide a foundation to much philosophy of the Moderns. It’s intractable in the same way that converting someone with some religious conviction to no longer have that conviction.
Modernism is about faith. It may have shifted from faith in gods to faith in logic and reason, science and technology, or organisation and progress. Postmodernism points out that whilst these are possible solutions, they are not the only solutions. Moreover, these have unintended consequences and create collateral damage. They also rely on a privileged perspective. Perhaps I’ll create a segment to illustrate this point using the disruption of COVID-19 as a backdrop.
In the end, Modernism relies on teleologies. The end may not be known, but we can divine a vision and lead people in that direction anyway by employing rhetorical devices. Postmodernism knows that any such narrative is fiction. A postmodern may emotionally buy into the narrative, but they never forget that it’s still fiction.
Modernism relies on order and control to maintain that order. This doesn’t mean that all Moderns are top-down authoritarians. But it does mean that they need crowd control and compliance. The United States are probably mostly Moderns. They like to claim they are individualists, but they are more typically either keeping up with the Joneses or competing with them. Most individuality is trivial at best. “I’m an individual because my BMW is purple.” Quite. And Moderns don’t like much non-compliance. They may want change, but if someone expresses this need for change through civil disobedience, the Modern may viscerally agree, but they will also rationalise that the civil disobedients should have used the admittedly broken system. Moderns like what they call progress, but they can only accept change in small doses at a slow pace, so there’s a friction.
Finally, there’s power. I am not going to rehash Nietzsche or Foucault, but this is a schism. Moderns want order and control. Power structures assist this, but then they don’t like the current actors. If only there were better actors. Nietzsche noted that the masters and the herd had different interests and moralities. Moderns know this on one level but think they can remediate this dichotomy. Because of course, they think they can bring order to everything—Second Law of Thermodynamics notwithstanding.
In the end, these schools will likely attempt to coexist. As for me, I’m a nihilist and somewhat of an existentialist. Yet, I am also a pragmatist as I still have to operate within the world I’ve been thrown into, as noted by Heidegger.