Descriptive Postmodernism

I can’t count the number of times I’ve defended Postmodernism (PoMo) from attack, so I am publishing this, so I can link to it. Perhaps I am not defending PoMo, but my flavour of it, but I’ve read a lot of work published by the usual suspects—some who eschew being lumped into a poorly defined category—or at least a nebulous category.

Before I get too far, I also want to remind the reader to take care to separate the philosophy from the person. One popular attack is the conflating of identity politics and social justice advocacy as PoMo phenomena. In fact, I consider myself to be PoMO—to be defined here in a moment—and a social justice warrior (SJW), this despite contesting the very notion of identity to begin with.

By definition, a summary is a reduction of some thing, but one needs to be careful not not arrive at reductio ad absurdum. Where appropriate, one may also wish to differentiate postmodernism with postructuralism. So as not to create a definition partir de rien, I’ll reference other accessible versions. A critic may disagree with these definitions, but they will serve as the foundation of my position and vantage.

Wikipedia gives us this definition (their reference links retained):

Postmodernism is generally defined by an attitude of scepticismirony, or rejection toward what it describes as the grand narratives and ideologies associated with modernism, often criticizing Enlightenment rationality and focusing on the role of ideology in maintaining political or economic power. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives us this

That postmodernism is indefinable is a truism. However, it can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/postmodernism/

Notice the commonalities. PoMo is a descriptive, critical activity. It’s descriptive. As language and grammar can be approached descriptively of prescriptively, so can philosophy. Some ‘schools’ do both. PoMo is exclusively descriptive. PoMo was born as a reaction to Modernism, especially the unstated foundations labelled by Lyotard as metanarratives—the grand narratives and underlying ideologies of prevailing beliefs that were uncritically taken for granted, many of which that were formed or catalysed in the Age of Enlightenment.

Jean-François Lyotard defined philosophical postmodernism in The Postmodern Condition, writing “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards meta narratives….”[4] where what he means by metanarrative is something like a unified, complete, universal, and epistemically certain story about everything that is. Postmodernists reject metanarratives because they reject the concept of truth that metanarratives presuppose. Postmodernist philosophers in general argue that truth is always contingent on historical and social context rather than being absolute and universal and that truth is always partial and “at issue” rather than being complete and certain.[3]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodern_philosophy

My defence is that PoMo cannot be for social justice or engage in identity, as it has no positive position on these. It functions to critically deconstruct. People unfamiliar with PoMo concepts often misunderstand this notion of deconstruction. All to often, I see people criticise Derrida for his brand of Deconstruction, but that only illustrates the fact that they never read or simply misunderstand what Derrida means by Deconstruction. Perhaps, I’ll elaborate on that in future.

My point is that PoMo is corrosive—like lye. It eats away at ideologies, dissolves them. It is not meant to construct anything. So where does this constructive expectation come from? It derives primarily from two places.

Modernism

Most people casting dispersion are modernists. They need to construct things. To be fair, this perspective has been an evolutionary advantage, but some people can’t allow a bunch of Lego pieces to remain unconstructed. This is fine, but you need another tool to perform this task. It’s not PoMo.

Ad Hominem

The other challenge is the inability to distinguish between the person and the idea. Michel Foucault was very vocal in the political realm and actively promoted Marxism, but, firstly, Foucault was not a self-professed PoMo—and for several reasons, one could come to accord with his assessment; secondly, in his deconstruction of history, he discovered a foundational component—this activity being squarely PoMo—, but he reconstructed historical narratives employing the lens of power. This rebuilding is not PoMo activity.

Parting Shot

Besides—or in addition to—ignorance, some people have an agenda, and they play ad hominem games, so if they can vilify a person and associate that person to an ideology, it can have the tendency of poisoning the well. Uncritical people won’t even notice the sleight of hand and redirect.

never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by ignorance*

Hanlon’s Razor

A textbook example is Stephen Hick’s attempt in Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault to conflate feminism (a positive mechanism) with postmodernism (to reiterate, a negative mechanism). In it he claims that feminists Andrea Dworkin and Catherine Mckinnon are proponents of PoMo thought, but he is apparently unaware that McKinnon has explicitly attacked PoMo as destructive to feminism. A fuller critique of Hicks‘ work can be heard on YouTube. I recommend it highly if you have the better part of an hour to spare. Jordan B Peterson is a celebrity personality whose primary exposure to PoMo is Hicks, so when you understand how off-base Hicks is, you’ll realise why Peterson is so off-base, too.


* Hanlon’s razor is originally cast as “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity“, but I prefer the term ignorance, as it it less value-laden and more broadly applicable. Besides, to be ignorant does not mean to be stupid. Many ignorant people are not stupid. I am ignorant of the Russian language, but I am not stupid.

Arguing against Prostitution

TRIGGER WARNING: This post is about sex and prostitution and includes words and images not necessarily appropriate for the self-righteous.

If this describes you, avert your eyes.

The Holy Water, It Burns

I stumbled across another blog site advocating the Nordic (anti-prostitution) Model, which in a nutshell makes it illegal to buy but not ‘sell’ sex.

On the positive side, the advocates of this model pretty much all adhere to the same talking points. On the negative side, there are only weak strawman arguments , moralising, and anecdotes. Any studies referenced are limited in scope and with dubious rigour.

In this case, I (again) pointed out that the core of the argument was one against Capitalism, and (again) the response was that it is (somehow) more than this—because, well, things…moral things.

Interestingly, the site is named Your Social Construct Is Showing, but it seems her complaint is not about social constructs in general; rather, she doesn’t appear to like any social construct she doesn’t agree with—and without recognising the irony in claiming to understand the constructed nature of society whilst also claiming that her construction is somehow better—because, well, things…just things. She’s got some subcultural metanarrative running through her head, and, by God, it’s got to be the only valid one.

I’ve written on this before, but the primary argument is that sex work is not work—otherwise, they wouldn’t have to label it as work. It sort of employs the same logic that oral sex is not sex for the same reason—because reasons.

The next angle is to conflate prostitution with sex trafficking, just hoping no one will notice the redirection. Then they try to muddy the waters with other issues such as exploited, underage subjects as if there is some parallel between these cohorts and women who choose this line of work.

Example of an advertisement by a sex worker

So, to be fair and not fight strawmen like Cammy, I’ll comment on a Logos blog she posted in a response to me. She seemed to be impressed with it. After a rambling preamble, the post gets to its points:

Worker safety: Sex Work does not comply with OSHA rules.

Sexual Harassment: ‘unwelcome sexual conduct that is a term or condition of employment’

Civil Rights: Slavery used to be illegal, and now it isn’t. Prostitution is like slavery.

Without devoting more than a passing moment to remind the reader that workplace safety and sexual harassment rules are social constructs that vary by place and time. OSHA is relevant in the United States of America and nowhere else. Let’s address these in turn:

The Logos post cites various OSHA rules and attempts to rationalise how sex work would be non-compliant.

1

Worker Safety

Mouth pipetting/suctioning of blood or other potentially infectious materials is prohibited

The author (attributed as Lori Watson) points out that ‘this doesn’t say is permitted with protective gear. It says prohibited.’ The line of argumentation here is seemingly that semen is a potentially infectious material and so is prohibited. What she fails to note is that suctioning is not the purpose of oral sex, and with a condom, no suctioning could happen anyway.

Gloves shall be worn when it can be reasonably anticipated that the employee may have hand contact with blood, other potentially infectious materials…

If the punter is wearing a condom, it cannot be reasonably anticipated that the employee would be in contact with [semen].

Masks, Eye Protection, and Face Shields. Masks in combination with eye protection devices, such as goggles or glasses with solid side shields, or chin-length face shields, shall be worn whenever splashes, spray, spatter, or droplets of blood or other potentially infectious materials may be generated…

Again: Condoms obviate this need.

Gowns, Aprons, and Other Protective Body Clothing. Appropriate protective clothing such as, but not limited to, gowns, aprons, lab coats, clinic jackets, or similar outer garments shall be worn in occupational exposure situations. The type and characteristics will depend upon the task and degree of exposure anticipated.

Ditto: Condoms

In the event of exposure, OHSA requires: “The source individual’s blood shall be tested as soon as feasible…

OK

This part of the post closes with a comment that many [note: weasel word] punters do not prefer condoms.

2

Sexual HARASSMENT

Since the definition and expressed purpose of prostitution is ultimately an exchange of sexual services for remuneration, it seems that a person waives this protection. There is much precedence of this occurrence.

Case in point. In the United States, citizens are protected by the Constitution and its Amendments. These documents contain inalienable rights (as established by the Declaration of Independence), yet these rights are abridged (waived) in many instances—military service being the most notable, where members do not have the right to free speech, peaceable assembly, to carry a weapon (except as specifically allowed), due process, and on and on.

3

Civil Rights

The response here is a deluxe word salad, so I’ll break it down slowly.

If sexual autonomy is to mean anything, it has to mean the right to refuse sex with anyone, at any time, for any reason. 

Indeed. And the woman can refuse service and refund the fee. If I am a fast food worker, I can forego my wages and my job if I no longer wish to do it. Try to do that in the military. Indentured servitude, you ask? Why, yes. I do believe you’d be correct.

[As] a regulated commercial exchange, the “providers” are cannot be legally free to refuse clients in protected classes on grounds of their membership in the protected class.

Indeed. If I were a lawyer and refused to service a member of a protected class, I would likely be disbarred. This said, the sex worker could choose another profession. In my experience, many sex workers exclude various classes of people they do not prefer to service.

Below are some images I found whilst performing a Google search. Notice that the provider advertises her boundaries and limitations.

This one makes it clear that she does not provide unprotected services or anal sex and does not accept African-American (AA) customers under 35 years of age.

No BB – No Greek – No AA

This ad makes it clear that she only practices safe sex (No BB (bareback), including no BB oral sex) and will not provide Girl Friend Experience (GFE).

No BBBJ

Again, this provider does not service African American men of any age and does not require protection for oral sex, but she only services from her own location.

BBBJ Friendly – No AA

So at the end of all this, I stand by my original position that there is no argument to have beyond ‘boo hoo. I don’t like prostitution and neither should you. I can’t come up with a cogent argument, so I’ll shout into an echo chamber where my friends and allies will cheer me on, but critical thinking need not apply because reasons and things…lots of them.