Modern Spectrum: 1 Dimension

I’ve been pondering how to effectively dimensionalise the spectrum that illustrates the relationship among premodern, modern, and postmodern—and potentially, metamodern. I was researching and happened upon a YouTube video from a few years back by Rick Durst, a Conservative Evangelical professor. He was diagramming the chronological path from pre to post.

I think at this point it’s important to distinguish between Modern and Modernity and PostModern and PostModernity1. I feel that the noun form, Modernity, can be used to describe the chronology whilst the adjective form, Modern, describes the philosophy. I’m not sure that this is a standard distinction. If I adhere to this difference, then Rick is discussing Modernity rather than Modern. Perhaps I’m being pedantic.

I’ve taken liberties to rerender Rick’s model.

In his view, the stages are from God to Man to Earth. I don’t fully agree with the transition from Man to Earth, but the God to Man or Humanism doesn’t feel very controversial. Although Rick is describing modernity against a temporal backdrop, this doesn’t invalidate the God-Man-Earth aspect—leaving open the possibility that it may be invalid for other reasons.

Following the chronology, Rick points out that the overlapping periods between PreModern and Modern and Modern and PostModern are not clean breaks. As I’ve suggested before, in illustration B, some people today retain PreModern beliefs and others hold PostModern beliefs. On balance, I feel that the Western world today remains substantially Modern, philosophically speaking. I am not sure that I am qualified to assess this relative to contemporary Eastern cultures.

Again, without otherwise critically evaluating Rick’s model, belief and God and in particular, Catholocism was the hallmark of the PreModern, PreEnlightenment world—the supernatural and superstition ruled the day.

Many consider Modernity to have commenced with the Renaissance, roughly from the 14th to the 17th century—describing it as early modern. Given the prevalence of superstitious beliefs, I’d be more comfortable with something more along the lines of proto-modern rather than modern. Scientific discoveries were evident, but this was reserved for the elite.

Given the Protestant Reformation that occupied the 15th century, it’s clear that a declaration of Modern should be considered to be premature. One might even argue that even with the advent of the Age of Enlightenment, which spanned the 17th and 18th centuries, Secular Humanism become the theme for the empowered elites, but the masses never relinquished their PreModern belief systems. If we are to start the Modern clock at all, this seems to be as good a place as any.

Although Modernism is marked by Humanism, in the United States, federal and state government is still predicated on PreModern principles, so it is not unfair, twisting Lyotard’s phrase, to question, Have We Ever Been Modern? It is somewhat interesting how—at least anecdotally—how many people do not find it inconsistent to have faith in humanity to solve the ills of the world through technology whilst simultaneously believing in gods, angels, tarot, and homoeopathic and other anachronistic healing modalities.

Chronologically, Rick demarcates Modern and PostModern with the ecological crises of the 1970s, which turned the focus from Man to the Earth. Seeds of postmodernism were sewn post-WWII and even post-WWI with the devastation and realisation of the limits of human capacity.

For the purpose of the ternary plot, it seems easy enough to assess where a person might feel relative to gods versus humans. And whilst I could argue that the belief in gods and the supernatural is a discrete binary state rather than on a continuous scale, I could argue as well that someone could feel that their gods are in control but they retain some degree of what’s known as free will. As a matter of degree, one could be a Deist—believing in some Prime Mover—but feel that now humans are on their own. God is like a crocodile slithering into the darkness having enabled the next generations. On a 1 to 10 spectrum, they might get 90% Modern and 10% PreModern. A believer in astrology, tarot, and the like, might also have faith in Man, yet they may reside more on the 60%-40% in favour of Modernity—or vice versa.

The question is how to get past Man to Earth. I am not sure how to frame this. Perhaps this wasn’t the right avenue to pursue.


  1. For the record, I chose to render the terms PreModern and PostModern in camel case for no particular reason, save to think that it seems to make the prefix more readily distinguishable.

Metamodernism on the Ternary Plot

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.

Ternary Chart

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.

Political Compass

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.

Modernity Triangle

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 attemt 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 chornology. 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 in dividual 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 impoartant 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 time a Stoic and Spock from Star Trek, my emotions and cognitive biases and sense percpetion deficits still allow me to favour the underdog as a Social Justice Warrior.

socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires

— No one in particular

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 qualifiying 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 themsleves 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 stonethrow 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 othersie structured thinkers. It’s harder for me to conjure scerarios 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 sime such.

My next step in this journey is to dimensionalise the model. I already have got some ideas, many of which have alrady been captured here, but my familiarity of Premoderns is limited and probably contains a lot of stereotypes and caracatures.

Please stand by.

Postmodern Labyrinth

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.

Postmodern Reaction

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.

Metanarrative Problem

Postmodernism was summarised by Lyotard as having an incredulity toward metanarratives.

What does this mean? What are metanarratives, and why harbour incredulity toward them?

Metanarratives are narratives. Stories presented through a lens with a certain perspective. These stories provide a historical account of how a culture arrived to where it has. They can be viewed as origin stories. Metanarratives are also teleological, as they provide the foundation to progress, to advance the culture to a better future. Embedded in these metanarratives are the rules and conditions necessary to navigate, both from the past and into the future.

We’ve got stories. In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, historian, Yuval Noah Harari tells us how important stories are for having made human progress. Hooray for us!

This sounds good so far. Right? We’ve got Caesar, Cornwall, and Kahn. We’ve got triumph of us over others. Good prevailing over evil. Right over wrong. So why the incredulity?

Let’s keep in mind that Lyotard is suggesting incredulity and not rejection. The narrative could be fine and accurate enough. One might argue that the benefit of the narrative for the purpose of cohesion outweighs the detriments posed.

There are several notable problems with metanarratives.

Firstly, the past suffers from a cherry-picked survivorship bias. The story threads that don’t support the narrative are abandoned, and some threads are marginalised. So, there’s a dimensional problem. As with any historical account, one needs to adopt a perspective and create a story. Let’s not forget that the word history comes from the word story. In fact, French only has one term: l’histoire. History is story.

Secondly—and this is somewhat related to the survivorship bias problem—, is that we privilege the perspective we take to view this history. In his book, We Have Never Been Modern, Latour uses this line of argumentation to arrive at the conclusion that we have never been modern. It is only because we are here now and surveying history through a rearview mirror that we can even look into the past. And we feel that we have somehow overcome this past. The past was primitive, but we are modern. Some time in the future we’ll deservedly be viewed in the same light because that’s how progress works. But there is no reason to accept this privileged assignment. It’s a function of ego—and to be even more direct: hubris.

Lastly, there’s the issue of teleology. Through this privileged vantage, we orient toward some alleged destination. Like fate, it’s just there for the taking. The only barriers are time, not keeping your eyes on the prize, and not following the rules to get there. There’s an embedded deontology. Those other societies don’t understand what it takes. You need to follow this path, this religion, this sports team. Because this is the best there is.

But there are no crystal balls. We cannot divinate the future. There is no particular reason to believe that our imagined path is the best path. If you don’t believe this, just ask the culture next door.

I’d like to think that somehow Progressives would be more aware of this tendency—and perhaps in some sense they are, but it’s not very apparent pragmatically. I don’t want to get distracted by the notion of institutionalism, but that is evidence of taking a privileged position regarding the status quo—even if your vision of the future would take a different path than your more conservative brethren and sistren.

In closing, this has been a summary of the problem postmoderns have with metanarratives. It could be that the metanarrative you believe to be valid is valid. It could be that your religion is the true religion. It could be that your sports team is the best sports team. That your system of government is the best of all other alternatives. It’s more likely that you’ve convinced yourself that these things are true than them being true.

We can either adopt the perspective of Voltaire’s Dr Pangloss and consider our world to be the best of all possible worlds, or we can step back and consider that we haven’t exhausted all of the possibilities.

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.

Can Metamodernism Sublate Modernism and Postmodernism?

I’ve been hearing that metamodernism is the next stage in the march of history toward progress. Metamodernism will synthesise modernism and postmodernism into something better that before. It’s what’s for breakfast.

I’ve heard about metamodernism in the past, and everytime I review some material I discount it and move on. This time, I’ll react to it. My colleagues in some other online fora have suggested metamodernism (Freinacht) or post-liberalism (Pabst), who see their solution located in the middle between conventional polarities. The attempt here is to adopt Hegel’s dialectic approach, so we’ve got a starting point, an objective, a lens, and a framework. Sounds good. Let’s go. But what are we trying to reconcile?

Ideas attributed to Modernism are

  1. Faith in science
  2. Development and progress
  3. Democracy
  4. The individual
  5. A meritocratic social order
  6. Humanity can recreate nature by virtue of her reason

Ideas attributed to Postmodernism are

  1. Critical questioning of all knowledge and science
  2. Suspicion towards all grand narratives about “progress”
  3. Emphasis on symbols and contexts
  4. Ironic distance
  5. Cultures have been oppressed and ruined by modern society
  6. Reveals injustice in “democratic” societies
  7. Relations create the individual
  8. A multicultural order where the weak are included
  9. Humanity has destroyed the biosphere

Metamodern Ideas

  1. How can we reap the best parts of the other two?
  2. Can we create better processes for personal development?
  3. Can we recreate the processes by which society is governed, locally and globally?
  4. Can the inner dimensions of life gain a more central role in society?
  5. How can modern, postmodern and premodern people live together productively?
  6. How can politics be adjusted to an increasingly complex world?
  7. What is the unique role of humanity in the ecosystems of nature?

Reviewing the Modern List

I want to be careful not to construct a strawman or create a false dichotomy, so perhaps I do have to backtrack to touch on the Modern list.

Faith in science is exactly that—faith—and is not warranted without recognised and articulated assumptions.

The notions of development and progress rely on underlying teleological goals and values that are not universally agreed upon and don’t benefit participants in the same manner and to the same degrees. There are winners and losers.

Democracy is a specious notion that I’ve railed against time and again. This is simply one form of political organisation among many. There is no reason to elevate this form over many others.

Moderns do have an rather fixed notion of what defines the individual. A Postmodern is not very likely to accept this notion except as a snapshot that can only be interpreted within a narrowly defined context.

A meritocratic social order is a Modern concept ripe with metanarrative support.

That humanity can recreate nature by virtue of her reason—notwithstanding the odd use of ‘her, evidently a nod to Mother Nature—, there is a elevated notion that reason is a superior mechanism. I’d extend this to include the notion that many people—not just the elite—are capable of ‘reason’. Yet again, all of this is questionable.

Critiquing the Postmodern List

At the start, I’ll suggest that Metamodernism is an attempt by Moderns to re-established ground lost to Postmoderns under the auspices of reconciliation. This does not appear to come from a disinterested mediator. The constituents of the Modern list look orthodox enough for my purposes, and I wish to spend some time parsing the Postmodern list. These lists don’t appear to be equivalent, as there is more editorialising in the PoMo list. I’ll skip the the first 4, taking them as given.

That cultures have been oppressed and ruined by modern society is quite value-laden. I’d be more inclined toward cultural constructs rely on unspoken metanarratives that leads to unbalance and disrupt the playing field. Employing the term ruin is a hint that the author is a Modern out of their element. To ruin would presume a notion of something to ruin with some teleological metanarrative in play.

That PoMo reveals injustice in “democratic” societies is interesting. First, the quotes around democratic suggests that the author finds claims of democracy to be specious or finds the term is at least at times misapplied. I can’t be certain. In the end, it’s not important because it seems to be acting as an unnecessary filler anyway. I better rendering might be the phrase ‘reveals injustice in societies‘. Full stop.

Relations create the individual feel legitimate. Identity is unnecessary in a vacuum. Although Identity is a dynamic and ambiguous concept. I don’t think this will affect my assessment.

A multicultural order where the weak are included is prescriptive. This, again, is a misinterpretation by a modern. That a Postmodern makes a claim that a culture has inequalities and inequities, it does not follow that s/he is promoting some particular solution—include the weak. Emotionally, this may indeed be the reaction by a Postmodern—perhaps myself included—, but this is not part of the philosophy that points out the discrepancy. It’s an annex.

Attributing the claim that humanity has destroyed the biosphere to Postmoderns is a huge stretch. I don’t believe this is an idea initiated by Postmoderns, and I don’t think this perspective is disproportionality held by Postmoderns over some other cohort.

Perusing the Metamodern List

Now to react to the metamodern list. Having already inspected the list, I’ll point out that every one of these questions has a Modern perspective—the need to construct and resolve over a need to deconstruct and explore.

How can we reap the best parts of the other two?

Ok. The concept of best here is a bit disconcerting since best is value-laden and relies on context, which further relies on some set of narratives.

Can we create better processes for personal development?

Again, what is this person we are developing? What is the telos? Why this telos and not another?

Can we recreate the processes by which society is governed, locally and globally?

This is a binary question, so I’ll assume the author meant more. We already know this answer. It’s yes.

The question this implies is ‘what might it be?’ We already know this answer, too. There are any number of organisations and processes of government, none particularly better than the next.

Can the inner dimensions of life gain a more central role in society?

Where is the inner dimensions idea even come from? Why would anyone even accept the notion, and why give it any preference let alone credence? Not to be a dick, but why give anyone a role? The apparent metanarrative here appears to be democracy or at least participation, but there is not reason to accept this as better or worse than alternatives.

How can modern, postmodern and premodern people live together productively?

Why ‘productively’? This is another Modern notion foisted on the solution. Aside from the productivity red herring, this is a somewhat valid question, though it does elevate the notion of an inclusive society, and there is not reason to accept this as a preference, again, without some underlying metanarrative treatment.

How can politics be adjusted to an increasingly complex world?

This feels a bit emptier that the other list entries. Again, the answer depends on the goals and expectations, so it requires this context.

What is the unique role of humanity in the ecosystems of nature?

Really? Humans need to have a unique role? This is obviously a Modernist-Humanist notion that elevate humans. I could see an argument where humans can be unique but not elevated. Again, what world would that be in? With notions of progress and productivity, it should be obvious that we’re again operating with some underlying metanarratives in place.

So What?

Reviewing metamodernism again, I can see why I forget about it shortly after I encounter it. Perhaps this will serve as a reminder that I’ve trodden this ground before. In summary, it’s painfully apparent to me that so-called Metamodernism is simply an attempt by Moderns to repackage and re-gift Modernism through the same old lens, but I’m not buying it.

Along my quick review of information on Metamodernism, there is a large metaphysical/spiritual element that is quite unlikely to resolve to either rationality or Postmodernism.

I may investigate other flavours of this concept, whether post-post modernism, post-liberalism, but from what I can tell, these are backwards looking toward Classical Virtue metaethical models. Besides having nostalgic value, I’m not a fan.

Death of the Metanarrative

Until I recently read Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge I never quite understood why Moderns accused Post-moderns of being anti-science. I’d heard Jordan Peterson complaining, and I’d read forum and blog posts with the same attacks.

As it happens, postmodernism eschews the meta-narrative or is leery of it. This includes the meta-narratives underlying science and the Enlightenment more generally. If you’ve read my posts over the years, you’ll see that this is a common complaint of mine, that everything is a human construct. Although Lyotard published The Postmodern Condition, I only read it this week.

To be fair, I sought it out. I have been attempting to find some other philosophers who have asserted that Truth (and other notions like Justice and Progress) are nothing more than the result of a rhetorical victory. And although Lyotard does not come out and say this (at least not in this book), I feel that he would not disagree with the notion. I may have to read some more of his work.

The least one can do is find the underlying narrative. Feel free to operate day to day as per usual, but be aware. The inscription at Delphi was not exactly right. There is no self to know, and narratives change, but to ‘know’ the prevailing narrative of the day seems it might at least allow one to better assess what’s happening above ground. The Matrix trope may be overplayed, but it’s a fitting metaphor for seeing what underlies. There is no Truth, but for what it’s worth, there’s another data point.

We live on the map, but the terrain is inaccessible. The postmodern doesn’t hate science or progress. We merely question the veracity. One cannot assess progress without a vector, without velocity and direction, so we contrive stories to serve as a foundation.

The founding of these stories don’t need to be sinister or nefarious. They can grow organically. But the ones who understand the rules, Wittgenstein’s language game, can wrest power, and s/he who can bend the rules through convincing rhetoric, perhaps as Locke and Rousseau, can change to course of history. But this course can be changed again. When Marx tried to change the narrative, it threatened the status quo, so they try to delegitimatise it at every turn—primarily through the dissemination of disinformation in a sort of corrupt meme machine. Marx tried to embrace and then co-opt Capitalism, but the Capitalists were not ready to cede power. One hundred and fifty-odd years later, they still aren’t. And it might be that a different narrative is adopted before Marx’s vision is even able to take root.

I was a bit confused by Lyotard’s quip about utility being the arbiter under modern Capitalism in lieu of Truth, as I am not sure how many postmodernists embrace the notion of some objective Truth. To be clear, I don’t.

Lego Blocks

In the end, I feel it is better to deconstruct the concept of a knowable reality. The trick is not to try to reconstruct something from the pieces. It’s like deconstructing a Lego model and rebuilding a different model from the pieces whilst making the claim that this reconstitution is the true manifestation when in fact any construct is as ‘good’ as the next, but good cannot be determined until you’ve defined a context. Such is the role of the metanarrative. Once you define an end, you can then evaluate utility in light of it, but there is nothing to assess the choice of one end versus some other ends save by preference. And of course preference can be manipulated by rhetoric.