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.

Property, Tax

Interestingly, I started this blog exploring property, a concept that makes no sense to me, and continued on a Postmodern journey to discount rights and truth. And then Enlightenment thinking in and of itself. I think of these still, most recently turning onto the concept of Democracy. Whilst researching de Tocqueville, I happened upon this letter by Ben Franklin. What on? Property. And taxation.


CHAPTER 16|Document 12

Benjamin Franklin to Robert Morris

25 Dec. 1783

Writings 9:138

The Remissness of our People in Paying Taxes is highly blameable;

the Unwillingness to pay them is still more so.

Benjamin Franklin

The Remissness of our People in Paying Taxes is highly blameable; the Unwillingness to pay them is still more so. I see, in some Resolutions of Town Meetings, a Remonstrance against giving Congress a Power to take, as they call it, the People’s Money out of their Pockets, tho’ only to pay the Interest and Principal of Debts duly contracted. They seem to mistake the Point. Money, justly due from the People, is their Creditors’ Money, and no longer the Money of the People, who, if they withold it, should be compell’d to pay by some Law.

Franklin calls out those citizens unwilling to contribute their fair share to the commonwealth.

Property superfluous to [the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species] is the Property of the Publick

Benjamin Franklin

All Property, indeed, except the Savage’s temporary Cabin, his Bow, his Matchcoat, and other little Acquisitions, absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the Creature of public Convention. Hence the Public has the Right of Regulating Descents, and all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the Quantity and the Uses of it. All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it.

Franklin is supportive of Locke’s property of ‘life, liberty, and property’ fame, but he is decidedly not a fan of passing along excess generational wealth. In fact, he feels that such excess property should accrue to the public.

To those unwilling to play by these rules, banishment to the wolves is not too good for them. Stripping them of citizenship is not too harsh a punishment.

He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages

Benjamin Franklin

The Founders’ Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 16, Document 12
The University of Chicago Press

The Writings of Benjamin Franklin. Edited by Albert Henry Smyth. 10 vols. New York: Macmillan Co., 1905–7.

Easy to print version.

Natural Causes

Some of us are concerned with the metanarratives underlying society, but and given society is apt to have many competing metanarratives. Logical Positivists tapped into the narrative of science, which is a primary theme of Enlightenment thinking. This was supposed to have supplanted the narrative of superstition, except it didn’t. And a sort of empirical, scientific Nature was supposed to have supplanted the metaphysical gods, except it didn’t.

Illuminati Eye Symbol

Apart from the problem that a supernatural God was replaced with a sort of animated Nature, some people just didn’t buy into the new narrative. Today, in the 21st Century Western world, some people still subscribe to these pre-Enlightenment notions, but that’s not the root of the issue. Neither is necessarily right or wrong. And in a Hegelian synthesis, some people assuage the ensuing cognitive dissonance by merging the two and cherry-picking the ones that work for them. These people usually have little difficulty finding people who believe that the earth is 4.5 billion or 6 thousand years old, that Ayurvedic medicine is superior or inferior to Allopathic medicine, that vaccines cause or don’t cause autism, that homeopathy is effective or ineffective, that the Illuminati are some secret society that rules the world or not.

Many people still can’t get past an appeal to nature, whence the Organic and traditional medicine movements. This is not to say that some or all of these claims might have validity; it’s just to say that ‘because it’s natural’ is not a suitable defence. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day—unless it’s set to a 24-hour display, in which case it’s only right once a day.

Without rehashing the argument whole hog, we know that poison ivy and uranium, arsenic, and cyanide are all natural. Not many attempt to defend this with an appeal to nature, so this suffers from selection bias from the start.

you cannot go against nature
because if you do
go against nature
it's part of nature, too

— Love and Rockets, No New Tale to Tell

The larger issue is about how we define nature. I don’t recall if this was Lyotard or Lacan (and I don’t feel like looking for the cross-reference at the moment), but by definition everything observed is natural, whether physical or behaviour.

Love and Rockets – No New Tell to Tell

Some humans—notably the Enlightened ones—like to view themselves as somehow above nature, but the veneer is nanometers thin and threadbare at that. And these people extend this concept to behaviour. As the song goes, you can’t go against nature because when you do, when you observe it, it is by definition part of nature, too.

Oftentimes, this becomes a moral argument: this or that is unnatural. Certain sexual activities are usually held up as examples, and yet many of these activities are not only practised by many humans, they are also practised by members of other species. The argument is that we need to elevate about nature, an so they are making some appeal to meta-nature or some such.

In any case, the complaint shouldn’t be whether it’s natural anyway. It might rather be couched in some instances as not ‘naturally occurring’, so plastics would not happen save for manufacture, but neither would asphalt or telephones or televisions or processed foods, so I find it to be disingenuous to rail against some items that do not occur naturally whilst ignoring the ones you happen to find useful.