By fall, I don’t mean autumn except perhaps metaphorically speaking. The accompanying image illustrates a progression from the pre-Enlightenment reformation and the factors leading to the Modern Condition and increases in schizophrenia in people, societies, and enterprises.
This image is essentially composited from a later chapter in Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary. In it, he outlines a path that commences at the Reformation that led to Lutheranism and Protestantism and further to Calvinism (not separately depicted). Max Weber argued that Capitalism is inextricably linked to Calvinism and the workmanship ideal tradition.
McGilchrists argument is founded on the notion that Catholocism is a communally oriented belief system whilst Protestantism is focused on the individual and salvation through personal work. The essence of capitalism is the same.
Of course, history isn’t strictly linear. In fact, there are more elements than one could realistically account for, so we rely on a reduction. In concert with the Reformation but on a slight delay is the so-called Age of Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, which led not only to faith in science but then to the pathology of Scientism.
This Protestant-Scientismic nexus brought us to Capitalism and into the Industrial Revolution, where humans were devivified or devitalised, trading their souls to be pawns to earn a few shekels to survive. Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution led to Marxism, through Marx’s critique of Capitalism, but Marxism has the same fatal flaw as Capitalism inasmuch as it doesn’t view people as humans. It does afford them a slightly higher function as workers, but this still leaves humanity as a second-tier aspect and even historicity is elevated above as a sort of meta-trend or undercurrent.
From there, we transition to Modernity, which yields the modern condition and schizophrenics in one fell swoop. This is no coincidence.
Although I end this journey at Modernism, McGilchrist is also leery of the effects of post-modernism as well as philosophy itself as overly reductionist in its attempts to categorise and systematise, valuing signs and symbols over lived experience. His main complaint with postmodernism is that it moves from the objective perspective of Modernity to the subjective perspective, and so there remains no base foundation, which is the shared experience. I’m not sure I agree with his critique, but I’m not going to contemplate it here and now.
In the end, this journey and illustration are gross simplifications, but I still feel it provides valuable perspective. The challenge is that one can’t readily put the genie back into the bottle, and the question is where do we go from here, if not Modernism or Postmodernism. I shouldn’t even mention Metamodernism because that seems like an unlikely synthesis, as well-intentioned as it might be. McGilchrist gives examples of reversals in the trend toward left-hemisphere bias, notably the Romantic period, but that too was reversed, recommencing the current trajectory. My feeling is that if we continue down this dark path, we’ll reach a point of no return.
It seems to be that it’s growing at an increasing rate, like a snowball careening down a slope. It not only drives the left-dominant types further left because an analytical person would reinforce the belief that if only s/he and the world were more analytical things would be so much better—even in a world where net happiness is trending downward—, but it also forces this worldview on other cultures, effectively destroying them and assimilating them into the dark side, if I can borrow a Star Wars reference.
I wasn’t planning to share this story—at least not now. In another forum, I responded to a statement, and I was admonished by Professor Stephen Hicks, author of the book of dubious scholarship, Explaining Postmodernism.
I responded to this query:
If you’re a single mother and have a son I’d suggest putting him in a sport or martial arts to add some masculine energy to his life. It’s not a replacement for the actual father but it can help instil structure and discipline into the core of his being.
— Julian Arsenio
“Perhaps this world needs less discipline and structure, not more,” was my response, to which Hicks replied.
The quotation is not about “the world.” It is about boys without fathers. Evaluate the quotation in its context.
— Stephen Hicks
“Disciplined boys create a disciplined world. Not a world I’d prefer to create or live in. We need more right-hemisphere people. Instead, we are being overwhelmed by left hemisphere types, leading to Capitalism and the denouement of humanity as it encroaches like cancer, devouring or corrupting all it touches.
“In the end, it is about the world, which from a left hemisphere perspective is a sum of its parts. Right-hemisphere thinkers know otherwise,” was my reply. He responded,
You seem to have difficulty focusing. From a quotation about fatherless boys you free associate to [sic] weird psychology and global apocalptic [sic] pessimism. Pointless.
— Stephen Hicks
“I’ll suggest that the opposite is true, and perhaps you need to focus less and appreciate the Gestalt. This was not free association. Rather, it is a logical connexion between the disposition of the people in the world and lived reality.
“Clearly, you are a left-hemisphere structured thinker. The world is literally littered with this cohort.
“I suggest broadening your worldview so as not to lose the woods for the trees. I recommend Dr Iain McGilchrist as an apt guide. Perhaps reading The Master and His Emissary and/or The Matter with Things would give you another perspective. #JustSaying”
His final repartee is,
And still, rather than addressing the issue of fatherless boys, you go off on tangents, this time psychologizing about people you’ve zero first-hand knowledge of.
— Stephen Hicks
Feel free to interpret this as you will. For me, his attempt to limit discussion to some notion he had in his head and his failure to see the woods for the trees, as I write, suggests that he is a left-brain thinker. Having watched some of his videos, whether lectures or interviews, this was already evident to me. This exchange is just another proof point.
I considered offering the perspective of Bruno Bettleheim’s importance of unstructured play, but as is evidenced above, he is not open to dialogue. His preference appears to be a monologue. This is the left hemisphere in action. This is an example of how insidious this convergent thinking is, and it makes me worry about what’s ahead in a world of people demanding more structure and discipline. Foucault’s Discipline and Surveillance comes to the forefront.
Most people have heard the term schizophrenia. It’s a mental health pathology wherein people interpret reality abnormally. To oversimplify to make a point, in a ‘normal’ brain, the left and right hemispheres operate together to regulate bodily functions and to interpret the world we live in. In brief, schizophrenia is a condition where the left cerebral hemisphere overly dominates the right. Some might be led to believe that schizophrenics interpret reality irrationally, but the opposite is true. Schizophrenics are hyperrational to a fault.
Schizophrenia has been on the rise this past half century or so, but this might just be a symptom of Modernity, as cultures are also experiencing a leftward shift—a shift toward hyperrationality. Cultures have swung like a pendulum from left-hemisphere-dominance to right dominance and back through the ages, but we may be seeing an uncorrected swing further and further to the left, led by science, followed by commerce and politics, dangerously close to the territory of schizophrenia, if not already occupying this territory. Allow me to briefly summarise how the hemisphere function to help the reader understand what it means to be too far left or right.
Cerebral Bilateral Hemispheres
Most people experience the world—what some otherwise known as reality—with both cerebral hemispheres, and each hemisphere has a function. In a nutshell, the right hemisphere experiences reality holistically, which is to say that it views the world through a Gestalt lens. The right hemisphere is open and divergent. It is creative—generative. It knows no categories or subdivisions. All is one and connected. I like to refer to this as Zen. Many people can relate to this Zen notion. The right hemisphere is a creative and empathetic centre that only knows the world as it is presented—without words or naming. Intuition lives here. It distinguishes differences in the world in a manner similar to that of a preverbal child who can tell mum from a bowl of porridge without knowing the word for either. Children are right hemisphere creatures. As we mature toward adulthood, the function of the left hemisphere increases to offset the dominance of the right.
The left hemisphere is the sphere of intellect. Its function is to categorise, to create symbols—words, names, labels, icons, and so on. It doesn’t know how to create, intuit, or empathise. In fact, it doesn’t even experience the world as presented; it relies on re-presentation. To borrow from a computer analogy, when it experiences something in the world, it caches a symbol. Where the right hemisphere experiences a tree and just appreciates its ‘treeness’, and it doesn’t know that it’s a tree by name. It’s just another thing in the world. The left hemisphere, on the other hand, notices these things with ‘treeness’ and categorises them as trees—or des arbres, árboles, Bäume, 木, درختان , पेड़, or whatever. And it reduces the tree to an icon, so it can file it away for later retrieval to compare with other tree-like inputs.
The left hemisphere is where difference, the sense of self, and ego come from. Where the right hemisphere is open and divergent, the left hemisphere is closed and convergent. It is particularly egotistical, stubborn, and always thinks it’s right if I can anthropomorphise analogically. The left hemisphere knows no nuance, and it doesn’t recognise connotation, metaphor, allegory, or allusion. Everything is literal.
The left hemisphere can use similes and understand that a man is like a tiger, but it takes the right hemisphere to know that a man is a tiger, has metaphorically embodied the tiger and assumed its form, say in the manner of indigenous Americans. Poetically, there is a difference between being a tiger and being like a tiger. The left will have none of this. The response to hearing ‘he was a tiger’ would either result in ‘no he isn’t, he’s a human’ or ‘someone must be talking about a male tiger’. The nuance would be lost.
At the risk of further digression, this is why a poem can’t be dissected for meaning—this despite so many valiant attempts by high school teachers and undergraduate professors. Dissecting a living poem is like dissecting a living animal. You might learn something, but at the risk of devitalisation—you’ve killed the subject. It’s like having to explain a joke. If you have to explain it, it didn’t work. You can’t explain a work of art or a piece of music. The best you can do is to describe it. Although we’re likely familiar with the adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words”, a thousand words is not enough to do more than summarise a picture. This sentiment is captured by Oscar Wilde when he wrote, “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” Education is a left-brain function, that can be stuffed like a sausage, but no amount of education can make someone feel a work of art, music, or poetry. This can only be experienced and is apart from language.
A Tree is not a Tree
As already noted, schizophrenics are hyperrational. They are devoid of the empathy and intuition afforded by the right hemisphere. So, they fail to connect the parts to a constructed whole. They presume that a whole is constructed of parts. This is the mistake of Dr Frankenstein, that he could construct a man from parts, but all he could manage is to construct a monster.
In the experienced world, there are only whole objects as experienced by the right hemisphere. As humans, we break them down for easier storage and retrieval, but this is like lossy compression if I can risk losing some in technical lingo.
But a tree is not built from parts. It’s just a tree. We can articulate that a tree has a trunk and roots and branches and leaves and seeds and blooms, but it’s just a tree. The rest we impose on it with artificially constructed symbol language. This is what post-modern painter Rene Magritte was communicating with the “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” inscription in his work The Treachery of Images—This is not a pipe. He was not being cute or edgy or trying to be clever. He was making the point that the symbol is not the object.
In the manner that the image is not the pipe, it’s been said that to document a system is to make an inferior copy. The documented system is less optimal. This may feel counterintuitive. In fact, you may even argue that a documented system allows subsequent process participants to plug into the system to allow it to continue to operate into perpetuity. Whilst this is true, it comes at a cost. I’ll leave this here for you to ponder. The right hemisphere understands the difference. The document is not the process.
Getting Down to Business
If you’ve been following along, you may have already noticed that the left hemisphere looks and sounds a lot like the business world. Everything is systematised, structured, and ordered. We have all sorts of symbols and jargon, processes, and procedures. Everything is literal. There is no room for metaphor. There is no room for empathy. HR instructs that there be empathy, but they might as well instruct everyone to speak Basque or Hopi. In fact, it’s worse because at least Basque and Hopi can be learnt.
Sadly, this leftward shift isn’t limited to the world of commerce. It’s affected science, politics, and entire cultures. It’s caused these entities to abandon all that isn’t rational as irrational. But empathy and intuition are irrational. Science says if you can’t measure it and reproduce it, it’s not worth noting, but science is not the arbiter of the non-scientific realm. Business takes a similar position.
Politics of the Left (Hemisphere)
And politics creates categories: left and right, red and blue, black and white, men and women, gay and straight, and this and that. All of this is all left-hemisphere debate.
Categories and names are exclusive provinces of the left hemisphere. If you are hung up on an ideology, whether Democracy, Republicanism, Marxism, or Anarchism, you’re stuck in your left hemisphere. If you defend your positions with logic and words, you’re stuck in your left hemisphere. If you can’t imagine an alternative, you are really stuck in the left. I’ll stop here.
Science and Scientism
How did we get here and come to this? Science was receptive to right hemisphere influence up until about the 1970s. That’s where Scientism began to take hold. Scientism is when faith in science becomes a religion. I feel that many scientists today are less likely to hold a belief in Scientism as a religious belief. Paradoxically, I think this is more apt to be a faith held by non-scientists. Unfortunately, this faith is exploited by politics as exemplified by the recent trust in science campaign perpetrated by politicians, which is to say non-scientists with their own agenda, whether they practised Scientism or not.
The problem is that the left hemisphere has an outsized ego. It thinks it’s always right. In practice, it’s right about half the time. Because of its reliance on stored data and a ‘belief’ that it doesn’t need to fresh its data until it’s effectively overwhelmed and acquiesced. It fails to give enough weight to the experienced world, so that it shifts belief further and further left, which is to say further from reality as it is.
It trusts the symbol of the tree more than the tree itself. We may all be familiar with stories of cars driving down train tracks and off cliffs because the SAT-NAV user put more faith in their device than the world outside. This is the risk companies face as well, choosing to believe that the documented process is superior to the system in and of itself.
Getting on About?
You may be wondering what inspired me to write this and where I get my information. My realisation started in chapter 9 of The Matter with Things and was reinforced by this video interview by its author, Iain McGilchrist.
Actually, it started even before this with The Corporation, a Canadian documentary and companion book released in 2003. One of the points of The Corporation is to articulate the parallels between corporate behaviour relative to the definition of psychopathy as presented in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, henceforth DSM. Per Wikipedia, the DSM ‘is a publication by the American Psychiatric Association for the classification of mental disorders using a common language and standard criteria and is the main book for the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders in the United States and is considered one of the “Bibles” of psychiatry’. Essentially, corporations ticked all the boxes.
Methodologically, this assertion is a bit weak, but it is at least sometimes entirely valid despite provoking an emotional trigger reaction. Nonetheless, this established corporations as pathological entities. But that is not my focus here. It simply tilled the soil for me to be more receptive to this topic. This topic is less about the legal fiction that is a corporation and more about the people embodied in it. From the height of the C-suite to the workaday staff, floor workers, warehouse workers, and the mailroom. Do they still have mailrooms? I digress.
I can’t claim to know what it is to be schizophrenic or schizoaffective, but I’ve known enough people who have these diagnoses. My brother was one of those. Although I use these and other labels, I am not a fan of labels, generally, especially psychological labels, specifically this label. Autism is another nonsensical label. Both fall into the realm of medical syndromes, which for the uninitiated is the equivalent of your kitchen junk drawer. It’s equivalent to the other choice when all others fail. I don’t want to go off on a tangent from the start, so I’ll leave it that these categories are overly broad and reflect intellectual laziness. There is no single schizophrenia or autism. There are many, but the distinction is lost in the category. The push to create an autism spectrum for DSM obscures the problem, but it helps for insurance purposes. As the saying goes, follow the money and you can gain clues to the driving force behind why this happened. I suppose you can also label me a conspiracy theorist. If I learned one thing in my undergrad Sociology classes, it’s to eschew labels.
Given the length of this segment, I am not going to summarise it here, save to say that this leftward shift in business and culture doesn’t have a good outlook. We are not only being replaced by machines, but we are also forced into becoming machines, and we aren’t even questioning it. All we need to do is to become more analytic, right?
What I suggest is to watch the six-minute video of Dr Iain McGilchrist discussing this topic, and if you really want a deep dive, read The Matter with Things, an almost three-thousand-page tome, to fill in the details.
Here’s a music analogy to help to express why the whole is more important than the sum of the parts. If I want to learn to play a new piece, I will listen to the piece first. Depending on the length and genre, I may have to listen many times. In some cases, once or twice is enough, but let’s say this is at least somewhat complex and not some repetitive three-chord pop song. I’ll probably break the song into pieces or movements—verse, chorus, bridge, and whatever—, and then, I’ll learn each note and each pattern of notes, perhaps as musical phrases. Once I figure out the verse, I might either learn how the next verse differs or move on to the chorus and defer that verse-to-verse step. I’ll rinse and repeat until I’ve got through each of the sections. If I’ve had the luxury of hearing the piece, I’m at an advantage as far as tone, timbre, and dynamics are concerned; otherwise, I’d better hope these are all documented and that I interpret them in the manner they were intended. If the audience is familiar with a tune, they’ll notice the difference.
When I am practising, I need to get the mechanics down pat. All of what I’ve described thus far is left-hemisphere fare. It’s translating the symbolic representation of notes—like letters and words in writing—into an utterance. In this case, it’s a musical utterance. But once I am ready to perform the piece, it needs to be performed through the right hemisphere or it will feel mechanical and stilted.
I used to earn my living as an audio recording engineer and producer. Most of the time I was working with unknown artists recording demo records and trying to get a record deal. For the uninitiated, that usually translated into not having a large recording budget. Occasionally, we want, say string parts—violins, viola, cello, or whatever—but we couldn’t afford union players. We’d hire music students from USC or UCLA. These players would be more than willing to play for cheap in exchange for something to add to their portfolios or experience chops.
Somebody would transcribe the musical notation, and we’d give it to the string player. Of course, it could be a keyboard or wind or reed part, but I’ll stick to strings. Part of music is the vibe. This is something that can’t be captured in symbols. Revisiting Scientism and the left-hemisphere analogy, vibes can’t be real because they can’t be notated.
Almost invariably, if we got someone with Classical training, they could not get the vibe. The music was right in front of them. We’d play it for them on piano, maybe on a synthesiser, but they couldn’t get it—even if they were playing along to a reference track just trying to double the synth part. They would hit every note for the specified duration and dynamic, but it might have as well been the equivalence of a player piano or music box. We could have played it on a synthesiser, but we might be seeking the nuance a real instrument would bring.
We never had the luxury of auditioning players or recording several players and grabbing the best parts. That’s for the bigger-budget artists who go through a half-dozen or more performers to get just the right one. When we got lucky, it was usually because we got someone from the jazz program. These cats seem to have a natural feel for vibe inaccessible to the classical performers.
In business, the classical performer is good enough, but for art, it wasn’t. Business might appreciate the difference if it happens to get it, but it won’t seek it, and it won’t pay for it. A pet peeve of mine is a quip in business I heard often—don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. This is obviously a left-hemisphere sentiment based on Voltaire’s statement. Besides, even from a left hemisphere perspective, reciting, “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least strive for good enough because I noticed that mark was missed often enough, too.
Creativity is chapter nine of Iain McGilchrist’s The Matter with Things. It also marks the end of part one of three in this two-volume set.
The main thrust is to provide a lot of cases of schizophrenia to elaborate on how the deficits impact perception—and of course, attention and judgment.
This chapter starts off by noting that mental illnesses are not a matter of the brain being broken like a machine. McGilchrist doesn’t much like the analogies to machines or computers, to begin with. Instead, they affect how their world is experienced. They attend to different things, which creates a different perception because we perceive what we attend to.
It is effectively a left-hemisphere challenge, but he is careful to say that we don’t have enough evidence to call it a right-hemisphere deficit. His rationale is that it could be one of these three leading scenarios:
The right hemisphere has deficits.
The left hemisphere is not performing its function to work with the right hemisphere, which is otherwise intact.
The frontal lobe which is supposed to moderate the hemispheres is not performing its function.
Schizophrenia and autism are distinct conditions, but there are some overlaps. He clarifies that schizophrenia and autism are too broad of categories (a situation made worse in the case of autism by the creation of the autism spectrum). There are types of schizophrenias and autisms that would otherwise be unrelated except for psychology’s kitchen junk drawer approach to categorisation, I suppose, following the lead of syndromes in the medical profession. I digress.
These conditions exemplify what it’s like to experience the world with an overreliance on the left hemisphere. A point he wants to make is that he feels society at large is shifting in this direction to the detriment of all concerned, that the world of business, science, politics, and bureaucracy more generally is migrating to a hyper-rational position at the expense of experiential reality.
He praises Louis Sass’s 1992 book Madness and Modernism as “one of the most fascinating, and compelling, books I have ever read”, primarily because it notes the relationship between schizophrenia and Modernism and a modern world that is experiencing an increase in the phenomena of schizophrenia.
McGilchrist goes into detail about how right hemisphere deficits affect perception in schizophrenic patients. I won’t share that level of detail here. Effectively, they miss the forest for the woods and make contextual miscues, lacking in empathy and intuition. Missing this context, they jump to conclusions—invalid conclusions. He goes on to explain this from the perspective of brain construction and physiology whilst extending the conversation to include the autism spectrum, noting a general overlap between these diagnoses.
He invokes the work of Eugène Minkowski—reflecting on the foundational work of Henri Bergson—, which resonated with me, wherein Minkowski tries to simplify and characterise the hemisphere as the left representing intellect and the right being intuition. This feels about right. He shares a list of terms generally representing qualities in schizophrenics that detail what is atrophied in the intuition of the right hemisphere and what is hypertrophied (or exaggerated) in the left hemisphere. I’ll not share this list here, but I like it. He promises to elaborate on this in chapter 22.
Essentially what’s missing is a sense of coherence with experience leading to a detachment from reality as we normally experience it—and a loss of vitality and a sense of self. These people live as outsiders looking in rather than simply feeling a part of the whole. Man becomes a machine built of parts and separate to nature. Everything becomes literal. There is no room for connotation in a denotative world. But this world is disconnected from the presented reality, instead relying on a re-presented version. The world loses depth and becomes a two-dimensional caricature.
My summary of this chapter left many details unsaid, probably more so than the preceding chapters, so a lot of context and nuance is missing. My biggest takeaway is really the scary connexion between schizophrenia and Modernity. It is far from comforting. Add to this the positive feedback loop otherwise known as a vicious cycle as societies more and more adopt a left hemisphere perspective, that of a schizophrenic, and it becomes scarier still. To make matters worse, this is not metaphorical. It’s analogical. I’m not sure how to reverse this tide.
This wraps up the chapter on schizophrenia, autism and the rest. As I mentioned at the start, this also marks the end of part one of the book. The next chapter is “What is Truth?” This will allow the reader to delve more deeply into various aspects of truth, from science to reason to intuition and imagination. This second part of the books takes us to the end of the first volume, traversing us through chapters ten to nineteen.
What are your thoughts on mental illnesses like schizophrenia and autism, especially around how they may shed light on neurotypical persons and the relationship between these and modern society?
A short podcast on the reason Postmodernism is rubbish.
Postmodernism is rubbish. It makes no sense, and here’s why.
The term ‘modern’ is analogous to the term ‘now’. It is a time reference that privileges the moment. With time, we have a structure of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Now fits into a structure of before, now, and later.
Conversely, where ‘modern’ means now, postmodern would mean ‘later’, it makes no sense to label an ongoing pursuit postmodern, anymore than tomorrow can run contemporaneously with today.
Just labelling something as modern is pretentious enough. It’s similar to labels such as New Wave or New Age. It’s just trying to privilege a movement by branding it new.
So, if Modern was the new kid on the block, how might postmodern operate.
Another problem with the term postmodern is that most people considered postmodern, did not consider themselves to be postmodern. In fact, many vehemently disagreed.
A reason for this disagreement, is that the term is not owned by the purported Postmoderns. Rather, it’s a disparaging slur by so-called and improperly named Moderns.
Apart from the nomenclature challenge, postmodern is a reaction to the promise of modernity, but the reactions differ by discipline. Postmodern art and architecture are different to postmodern literature, which is different to postmodern philosophy.
And since postmodernism is rather a disparaging catchall, those with ideas not conformant to mainstream doctrine get tossed into the bin. This means that any number of feminists and post-colonialists are thrown onto the postmodernist pyre.
Here’s some food for thought. I argue that postmodernism cannot have a privileged perspective, because it claims that there is no such perspective available. If a feminist or a post-colonialist is saying anything, they are pointing out, that one needs to look through their lens too. By and large, they are not claiming that it is the lens of lenses.
In essence, if the modern lens is red, they might recommend viewing the same events through a blue lens or from a different angle. Walk a mile in another’s shoes. This shift in perspective can make all the difference.
The difference between a modern and the bolloxed-up postmodern is that the Modern thinks either that they have the only lens, or in any case, they have the right one. Moderns tend to be absolutists and universalists, so subjectivists and relativists rather rub them the wrong way.
The final thing I’d like to say about postmodernism is the notion of Deconstruction as made famous by one Jacques Derrida and misunderstood and misapplied by millions since. I’ll spare you the instruction, but I like to capture the sentiment of the way it is misunderstood by suggesting my own term, Disintegration. Perhaps, I’ll share more on Disintegrationism™ in future. Meantime, it’s just the process of breaking systems down to their core elements to inspect the working parts. Disintegrationism notes that these pieces can be re-integrated into new systems, but it makes no claim that one is better than another because that can only be determined by purpose. Another thing Moderns tend to ‘know’, is what the purpose is. Conditionally, if I know what the purpose is, I can claim to know, by extension, what the best system is.
Abraham Maslow gave us the law of the instrument, popularly conveyed as the aphorism, if you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Moderns are hammers and insist that every solution can be solved as if it were a nail. Only, everything is not a nail. The postmodern reminds us that hammers don’t make the best knives or screwdrivers or spanners.
What are your thoughts on postmoderns and postmodernism? What about moderns? Is there a term you feel might better capture the essence of these two schools?
The discussion became heated, and the two decided to submit the issue to arbitration, so they approached the lion.
As they approached the lion on his throne, the donkey started screaming: ′′Your Highness, isn’t it true that the grass is blue?”
The lion replied: “If you believe it is true, the grass is blue.”
The donkey rushed forward and continued: ′′The tiger disagrees with me, contradicts me and annoys me. Please punish him.”
The king then declared: ′′The tiger will be punished with 3 days of silence.”
The donkey jumped with joy and went on his way, content and repeating ′′The grass is blue, the grass is blue…”
The tiger asked the lion, “Your Majesty, why have you punished me, after all, the grass is green?”
The lion replied, ′′You’ve known and seen the grass is green.”
The tiger asked, ′′So why do you punish me?”
The lion replied, “That has nothing to do with the question of whether the grass is blue or green. The punishment is because it is degrading for a brave, intelligent creature like you to waste time arguing with an ass, and on top of that, you came and bothered me with that question just to validate something you already knew was true!”
Moral of the Story: The biggest waste of time is arguing with the fool and fanatic who doesn’t care about truth or reality, but only the victory of his beliefs and illusions. Never waste time on discussions that make no sense. There are people who, for all the evidence presented to them, do not have the ability to understand. Others are blinded by ego, hatred and resentment, and the only thing that they want is to be right even if they aren’t.
When emotions run high, intellect goes low.
This story is circulating on LinkedIn and has made the social media circuits. As you can judge from the attendant ‘moral of the story’ that this has been interpreted by an absolutist. This is a telltale sign of a Modern versus a so-called Postmodern who will allow for a different translation.
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.