Given my last post, it had me reflecting on some women who’ve influenced me—especially my thinking and worldview. Unlike Mitt Romney, I don’t have binders full of women.
Simone de Beauvoir (Philosopher)
Beauvoir is brilliant. I consider her to be the first feminist. The women before her, I rather consider being proto-feminists. I was immediately gripped when I read her book, The Second Sex, and her idea that women are not born that way, and it’s not even a simple ageing-maturity function. It’s a performative role.
Addendum: Perhaps not as famous, she’s at least as apt as Sartre as an Existentialist philosopher. I still have a fondness for Existentialism in the same way I like Pragmatism. Although life has no inherent meaning, if making one up gets you through your life, by all means, conjure up a meaning.
Judith Butler (Philosopher, Gender Theorist)
Butler taught me the perspective of gender expression and performativism. Whilst Beauvoir was more describing gender as a role, Butler extends the notion to that of performative speech acts, which is to adopt the identity and declare, I am a woman.
Ruth Shore (English Professor)
This was my undergraduate Critical Writing professor. All but one of the assignments were by female authors. And the only male author was for an assignment to critique, compare, and contrast articles by Gloria Steinham and Thorstein Veblen. I don’t remember Steinham’s article (though I recall coming down hard on her for citing sources that did not tie back to her position). Veblen’s work was Conspicuous Consumption, an essay from The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions, which is worth the read even today.
To be completely honest, I’m not sure I’ve quite remembered her name. I believe it’s her name, but I’m not great with names. As evidence, I turned in a final essay for one of my undergraduate English Literature courses. His trip was American fiction authors and interpreting literature by understanding the life and time and place of the author—clearly not into Barthes or Derrida. In this case, on the cover page, I had typed the course name and Professor David Grace (or some such). It was returned by post a week or so later with two remarks. The first: ‘I’ll miss your sardonic humour‘; the second: My name is whatever it was [sorry again], not David Grace. I’m pretty sure Professor was one of my maths professors, but don’t hold me to that. As far as I know, not-David doesn’t identify as a woman, but I do recall spending time on Edgar Allen Poe (also not a woman) and Donald Barthelme (still not a woman), the Postmodern Absurdist, who at fate would have it, died a couple of months after I graduated.
Hannah Arendt (Philosopher)
Arendt’s concepts of the banality of evil and totalitarianism. My first exposure was through Eichmann in Jeruselum, where she discusses the banality of evil and how my postmodern roots become more ossified. Sadly, here Origins of Totalitarianism are too relevant for comfort these past few decades in the West.
Sunera Thobani (Sociologist, Feminist)
Thobani’s post-colonial feminism is a newer influence, but she really drives home the point that the Western perspective is privileged and intervention in other cultures to ‘save the women’ from oppression is imposing the privileged perspective in a colonial manner.
Elinor Ostrom (Economist)
I was inspired by her work showcasing that coöperation prevails over tired competitive models. She was also the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize for economics just before her death.
Margaret Atwood (Author)
Before Handmaid’s Tale was a Hulu series, it was a book. When I read this genre-establishing speculative fiction in the 1980s, I took notice. That it remains relevant is cause for trepidation.
Ursula K. Le Guin (Author)
Le Guin’s story, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, truly unveils the Utilitarian, Consequentialist narrative of the greater good. This is more speculative fiction in the domain of Margaret Atwood, but Le Guin’s domain is typically science fiction. As often as I’ve tried, science fiction narratives don’t typically resonate with me, so I haven’t engaged her longer works. But the impact this had and continues to have on me should suffice.
Herculine Adélaîde Barbin (Intersex Case Study)
I believe I was introduced to Alexina through Michel Foucault. It helps to shine a spotlight on how arbitrary identity really is. Perhaps not capricious, but definitely arbitrary. A few years back, I even created a short video that, as I recall, commenced my YouTube channel.
I had originally intended to make this a post on the positive influences of women, but as I was searching my memories, a couple of reprehensible influences came to mind. Thatcher topped that list.
Margaret Thatcher (Politician)
In the US, Liberals and we Leftists demonise Ronald Reagan for being the beginning of the end of cordial US politics. Whilst this is true to a point, Thatcher predates Reagan’s destructive national policies by a couple of years. If not for the path she paved, we may never have taken it. Granted, the Clintons made sure to drive nails into the bipartisan coffin to seal the pact, and perhaps Thatcher and Reagan were just symptoms, not causes, in the manner that Johnson, Trump, and Biden are more expressions and conduits than catalysts…or at least generators.
In any case, she’s left a lot of destruction in her wake.
Ayn Rand (‘Philosopher’)
Rand is another woman I love to hate. Her so-called Objectivism has given permission to so many looking for an excuse or justification for their assholery.
To be fair, when I read Atlas Shrugged as an impressionable youth, I was taken in. I decided to read it after having heard her speak in an interview. I fell into her storyline without critical examination. I even tried to adopt it as a frame or lens. And then I read Fountainhead, which added nothing.
Fast-forward to the late ’90s, I was reevaluating my vantage and perspectives, so I decided to re-engage Atlas Shrugged as an audiobook. It was embarrassingly bad writing with 1-dimensional characters, which is appropriate because 1-dimensional people adopt this worldview. Apologies for the ad hominem, but I include myself in this cohort. I hope I’ve actually come to evolve additional dimensions rather than simply swap them, but Rand is a hack writer who had helped make the world a more toxic place to live. Not a fan.
Sophie Germain (Mathematician)
I named my second daughter Sophie Germain Surname, hoping it would be aspirational. Although it wasn’t, she is still proud to point out her legacy.
I saw this first on LinkedIn—that Instagram for personal promotion in a sea of vanity and hubris of all flavours—and had been sourced from Twitter, a more free-form universe.
As the narrative went, this was written by a Parkinson’s-afflicted father to his daughter. There are many ways to interpret this. Ostensibly, it’s in line with Nike’s Just Do It tagline of a few decades back or perhaps Joseph Campbell’s advice to follow your bliss, but what is it?
To me, the it involves socially sanctioned activities, whether in commerce or the arts. If the it is robbing banks or shooting fentanyl, perhaps the drive should rather be suppressed. So the do it or go for it operates within boundaries. Nothing new here.
Then there’s the ‘no time is better than now’—exclamation—bit. Why privilege now? Why wouldn’t it have been a better yesterday or last week or tomorrow?
I love quotes—or they pique my interest—if they interest me. But vapid platitudes annoy me to no end. They are beyond being trite. I suppose I can forgive the person who finds solace in this note, but these almost always preach to the choir. They resonate with the daughter—first on an emotional level owing to the familial connection and next to a connection in worldview. I don’t need to point out the connection between worldview and upbringing. Let’s pretend there is no covariance.
Meantime, whatever you’re doing go for it. Just do it. Or not. Take the path on the left. Or the right. Or just sit and meditate. Or turnaround and try something else. But whatever you do, just do it. There’s no better time than now.
Joe Talbert, singer and songwriter for IDLES, shares some of his perspective with us. Cued is a bit on masculinity, particularly the toxic variety.
For me, it’s a breath of fresh air. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but the IDLES bring some of the lost energy back into music. I’m old enough to remember the first Punk wave of the 1970s and the next waves as well as the ripples.
I’ve always been out of step with my music interests, ability, and availability. In the ’70s, I was raised on the Classic Rock of the day, from the Beatles and Stones in the ’60s, to Zeppelin and Sabbath in the ’70s before focusing more on the likes of Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin, and then Allan Holdsworth. In the mid-’70s, came vapid and syrupy, saccharine pop and the nonsense that was Disco. Thankfully, this was disturbed by Punk on one hand and Eddie Van Halen on the other. Then there was New Wave and the Hair Bands.
When I wanted to play Rock in Japan, I had offers for Country. My mates in Los Angles were into retro when I was into Progressive and Jazz Fusion. I did get on a Blues kick for a while, but I didn’t really feel like I could pull it off—some affluent white kid and all. Besides Hair Bands in the ’80s, there was a Euro-synth wave, but I wanted something more complex and experimental. By the ’90s, I finished grad school and was career-oriented. I fell in love with Grunge and post-Grunge, but that was a personal endeavour. I did finally play that in the 2000s as covers sprinkled with originals, but it was a side-gig not designed as a career. That train had sailed. Nowadays, I still dabble, but I’m not all that motivated to compose much.
Anyway, IDLES is refreshing. I don’t critique it as music. It’s not particularly melodic or harmonic. It’s about the message and the energy. There’s a beat that drives, and there is instrumentation and vocals. It’s an experience.
But this isn’t about the music. It’s about the notion of normalcy. In this clip, Joe talks about his longing for normalcy. Maybe that’s just normal, but I’ve never subscribed to the notion of normalcy, so I’ve never longed for it. Truth be told, my preference is for people to realise that it’s all a control mechanism.
Joe was influenced by therapy and The Descent of Man by the artist Grayson Perry. In this book, Perry, clearly giving a nod to Darwin’s earlier work, takes on toxic masculinity and attempts to reframe the very notion of masculinity. Like normalcy, I am not interested in gender roles either.
I worked as a statistician for a couple of years way back when, so it turns out that I have a perspective on normal. The problem with the notion of normal is that deviation for normal is seen as broken. Social sciences and pop-psychology have done this. Foucault wrote a lot on this phenomenon. I won’t address his work here.
Joe viewed himself as broken because he bought into the narrative. He feels better now. He feels he’s in a better place. Perhaps this was necessary for him. I can’t speak to that. It’s not a goal I aspire to. Perhaps I’m privileged. I can’t say. For now, I get to enjoy the respite Joe & Co afford us.
Although I have written about authenticity in the past, I’ve been wanting to delve deeper for a while. I’ve been engaged in a discussion thread, which has motivated me to accelerate. This acceleration has forced some trade-offs, but I feel I can present a cogent position nonetheless. This segment will be more editorialising than academic, and I expect to short-shrift the historical perspective. Perhaps I’ll expand on these aspects in future.
I expect this graphic to serve as a visual reference to abbreviate some typing. Below, I reference the captions of the cards in order.
Let’s commence with some definition and exposition.
This is the unadulterated core of a person’s existence. The religious might term this as a soul. For those who favour reincarnation, this is the bit that travels from time to time, body to body.
Identity is a shell formed around the Self based on environmental inputs such as social cues. It’s about perception. Essentially, the goal would be to mimic the Self. There are several challenges to this notion. I’ll return to this, but one of these is identity composition.
The notion of identity is that it is a composite of various dimensions, each of which is a social reflection if not actively socially generated. Combined, these dimensions constitute identity. Does one self-identify as athletic, intelligent, witty, gregarious, quick-tempered, altruistic, and on and on. Does one have a certain gender identity? What about sexual orientation? Occupational identity? Identities around affiliations of religion or philosophy? Identities related to personae—a worker, an entrepreneur, a day-trader? Mother, father, sibling, coworker, student…
In the end, the picture illustrates that identity is a bundle of particular identities. Presumably, these identities can shift or reprioritise by time or place. You may choose to hide your Furry identity from your mum and coworkers—or your preference to identify as a CIS male with a sexual orientation toward women and yet prefer to wear dresses.
This brings us to authenticity.
Facile authenticity might be thought of as how well aligned your behaviours are with your identity and your Self. According to the mythos, the perfect trifecta is that these are all in perfect alignment—like Babushkas, Russian stacking dolls, neatly nested. This notion has some practical problems already hinted at.
The first challenge is an extension of the identity composition problem. As Identity is multidimensional, so must authenticity be. If one dimensionalises identity into some array from 0 to 6, then in a perfect arrangement, each of the expressions of these particular identities needs to have a corresponding authenticity pairing. Yet this is unlikely.
In practice, we need to look at how a person performs and compare that to their self-identity. This creates a challenge. How another person identifies a person may not align with their self-identity. We may have no insights into how a person sees themself. This is the reaction we have when someone we ‘know’ commits suicide. S/he seems so happy. S/he had everything. We see smiling depression.
Assuming we have some magic identity lens, we are left with a self-alignment challenge. A person has no access to their own Self, and others have less access still. This is where psychoanalysis fails practically and succeeds economically. They get paid to divine the Self, but that pseudoscience is for another day.
Regarding the illustration, we see a derangement of performances. This is in a lesser state of disarray because the Self is sublimated, but we notice that dimensions 1 and 3 are aligned, whatever they might be. Dimension 0 is off centre, but it somehow remains within the bounds of identity. But dimensions 2, 4, and 6 are ostensibly inauthentic. This person claims to be a vegan, yet is eating Wagyu beef in a teppanyaki house.
And dimension 5 is absent. This person identifies, say, as a musician, and yet plays no instrument efficiently. Whether s/he claims to be a musician or just feels that s/he is a musician seems beside the point. There is no performance. There is no expression.
Not even a summary. This was a concise download of my current perspective. I hope that it at least provides something to react to. If you have any perspective to lend, feel free to comment below.
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.
Riffing on my recent post, I wanted to provide a tab more perspective on my claim that postmodernism serves a purely disintegrative function. Anyone can disintegrate a narrative into constituent parts, but postmodernism provides no grounds for privileged reintegration, as this too can be disintegrated. So, whilst one is free to disintegrate and even to reassemble the parts, one is never in a position to claim that this is how it should be put together because this privileges the subject and another subject can always come along and privilege another perspective. Also, there is no PoMo toolkit available to reassemble the parts that I am aware of.
When I was a child, a neighbour owned and operating a demolition company. He disintegrated buildings. He kept some of the materials and sold some other for scrap. Whilst these materials could be repurposed and used in the construction of another building—or a picnic table—, this was not the function of the demolition company. It’s safe to say that no one was ringing him up under the premise that he had tools, so why won’t he build them a house. He knows houses, right?
This is the same problem we face when deconstructing a narrative with postmodern tools. If we want to construct something, we can, but we should expect that no matter what we do, the next wave can readily knock it down. And though we can rebuild more castles made of sand, they are all subject to the same forces.
* I admit that this title was lent from The Cure’s Fascination Street, which does happen to be on their album Disintegration.
I tend to go on about weasel words and the insufficiency of language, but I tend to get a lot of resistance by people who insist the chasm isn’t as expansive as I make it out to be. This makes me wonder how one might create a test to determine how much is similar and how much doesn’t.
To summarise my position, abstract concepts of this type are specious archetypes that cannot exist in the real world: truth, justice, freedom, fairness, and so on. The common thread here is almost always that they exist in the realm of morality, another false concept.
It seems to me that one could construct a sort of word cloud intersecting with a Venn diagramme. I’d assume that more articulate people would have more descriptors, thereby creating landscape with more details and nuance for any given concept.
Additionally, I could see a third dimension which would capture diametric meanings. There is also the issue of diverse contexts, e.g. in the case of justice, we have distributive, retributive, restorative, and procedural flavours, so one would need to be taken into account.
In everyday existence, I notice that these terms are good enough and have enough substance to trick people into believing not only that it’s real but that the are operating with a shared concept. My point is that it’s more apples and oranges. We could employ dimensions that make these appear to be similar.
Additional scrutiny would illustrate the differences.
This difference between this concrete case is that we can observe the objects to compare and contrast, but with abstractions, we have a sort of survivorship bias in play. We remember what we agree on and forget or diminish the parts we don’t agree on. And we don’t necessarily even know the complete inventory of descriptors of our counterparts.
The image at the top of the page is not to scale. I don’t know what the percent breakdowns are, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in a situation where there were 10 possible descriptors, that only 4 would be commonly shared—so 40 per cent—, leaving 6 not in common—60 per cent.
In any case, I wonder if anyone has attempted this sort of inventory comparison. I haven’t even looked, do there could be tome upon tome published, but I don’t suppose so.
Postmodernism seems to have as many definitions as the number of people who encounter it, and that’s just not very useful. It’s less useful still when people with ulterior motives control the narrative. I’d like to take back the narrative and offer a succinct definition or description and offer reasons why some of the competing definitions are fundamentally incorrect. My journey commenced on my Descriptive Postmodernism post.
Each year, I start with a new notion to explore. For 2021, it’s postmodernism. I identify as practicing postmodernist, but it seems to have a nebulous definition, and many people assume it means different things. Some definitions seem to comport and others are curious takes. I am well-aware that some people in this space have opinions at least as strong as mine, and many have deeper and/or broader exposure than I do. Nonetheless, I feel confident that my logic will resonate.
As I pursue this definition, I will explore a line of inquiry that I hope will help to frame the issue.
These are my initial questions:
What is the core definition of postmodernism?
Why hate postmoderns?
Why can’t postmodernism be constructive?
Why do postmoderns deny Truth?
When did postmodernism, a critical, dis-integrative concept become identified as being integrative?
How does one parse the theory of postmodernism from the personality who espouses a perspective on it?
Postmodernism can be viewed as a reaction to so-called modernism, but it’s not so cut and dry. Postmodernism as an intellectual pursuit was in full force in the 1970s and 80s. But Modernism was still the main thrust, as is remains today. Post- is likely an overstatement, as it did not supersede. In comparison, post-Enlightenment thought—reason and logic—still competes with pre-Enlightenment thinking—metaphysical and superstition—, but even persons holding post-Enlightenment views still cling to traditional beliefs. Contrarily, people holding modern beliefs are not likely to simultaneously hold postmodern beliefs and vice versa. For moderns, postmodernism is a hot button, trigger item. For this cohort, any association will set them off.
What is the core definition of postmodernism?
From early on, postmodernism has been used as a pejorative term by its detractors. Many academics associated to postmodernism do not identify as postmoderns. They have been categorised as such, as something they have said or written is heretical to the Modern orthodoxy.
These days—if not from the start—postmodernism is nebulous. It has long since lost its brand to detractors, and its definition is undergoing some revisionist history by this cohort. What started as a perspective or lens to disintegrate content and context is now seen by many as possessing a point of view for constructing, for building.
The Condition of Postmodernity Before defining philosophical postmodernism, let’s first exclude a possible source of confusion: postmodernity. Postmodernity is a periodical distinction, a cultural state where it occurs chronologically subsequent to the period referenced as Modernity.
Postmodernity is a condition or a state of being associated with changes to institutions and conditions and with social and political results and innovations, globally but especially in the West since the 1960s, whereas postmodernism is an aesthetic, literary, political or social philosophy, the cultural and intellectual phenomenon, especially since the 1920’s new movements in the arts and literature.
To be fair, the philosophy of postmodernism is a reaction to the philosophy of Modernism, but there was a diversion of the periodic reference from the philosophical. If we adopt this definition, the only requirement for inclusion is to have been active in this period. Since Feminism and Marxism were coincidentally prevalent phenomena, it would be easy to include these by virtue of chronology, but it doesn’t follow that these fall into the philosophical notion of postmodernism. It may be a simple matter of the ambiguity of language.
Some social theorists and sociologists—Scott Lash, Ulrich Beck, Zygmunt Bauman, and Anthony Giddens—deny that there is a postmodern condition. Instead, they suggest that modernity has simply extended into a state of late or liquid modernity.
To establish a grounding and because he got there first, let’s see how Lyotard defines it in the introduction to his Postmodern Condition:
Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward meta-narratives. This incredulity is undoubtedly a product of progress in the sciences: but that progress in turn presupposes it. To the obsolescence of the metanarrative apparatus of legitimation corresponds, most notably, the crisis of metaphysical philosophy and of the university institution which in the past relied on it. The narrative function is losing its functors, its great hero, its great dangers, its great voyages, its great goal. It is being dispersed in clouds of narrative language elements – narrative, but also denotative, prescriptive, descriptive, and so on. Conveyed within each cloud are pragmatic valencies specific to its kind. Each of us lives at the intersection of many of these. However, we do not necessarily establish stable language combinations, and the properties of the ones we do establish are not necessarily communicable.
The simple definition is captured by the first sentence. The rest is exposition. But let’s rewind for a bit and establish a frame. Admittedly, even at the start this is ‘simplifying to the extreme‘. Moreover, the context is relative to hard sciences. Lyotard admits he was over his head. In fact, he later referred to the book as his worst. But books have lives of their own, a sentiment with which Barthes might agree.
The central point here is to question metanarratives. Period. Full stop. The next task is to ask how a postmodern might accomplish this task and what might be their perspectives and tools?
In Reclaiming a Scientific Anthropology, Lawrence Kuznar claimed that « the primary tenets of the postmodern movement include: (1) an elevation of text and language as the fundamental phenomena of existence, (2) the application of literary analysis to all phenomena, (3) a questioning of reality and representation, (4) a critique of metanarratives, (5) an argument against method and evaluation, (6) a focus upon power relations and hegemony, and (7) a general critique of Western institutions and knowledge. » [See end note 1]
Postmodernism is a disintegrative system. It disassembles, deconstructs, atomises, and lays bare. It is suspicious of underlying metanarratives—and I’d be willing to argue that it is equally suspicious of stated narratives as well. It questions who is served by a given narrative, who gains and loses power by one interpretation over another.
[tools and systems]
In the end, a reader may disagree with what I am proposing here, and the reader may even be correct in claiming that my definition is too reductive. Perhaps, I should abandon the postmodern label and simply recast my definition as Disintegrationism or some such. Deconstruction is already taken, so why not?
Why hate postmoderns?
One problem I notice is that postmodernism, long being applied as a pejorative term in a similar vein to the use of SJW, is a way to discredit personalities and ideologies they disagree with. We see entire ideologies being besmirched as postmodern theories. We might see Stephen Hicks misrepresent postmodernism and conflate feminism with it. Moderns are by nature traditionalists or conventionalists, so whether postmodernism, feminism, Marxism, and the like, these are unconventional. It may be a simple heuristic trick to paint all of these with a broad brush. Nuance and difference be damned. [See end note 2] Jordan Peterson‘s bete noir is cultural Marxism, that he insists is part of the blight of postmodernist thought.
Many have attempted to conflate social theories with postmodernism, whether Marxism, feminism, identity politics, and so on. But this is inherently wrong. Lyotard provided postmodernism with its original definition in his book, but detractors have been annexing other unpopular concepts to it in order to create a sort of critical mass for the uncritical opposition.
Why can’t postmodernism be constructive?
Postmodernism necessarily can’t be constructive, because after one disintegrates a perspective into its primitive elements, any reconstruction needs another narrative to serve as a foundation. It is true that one may reconstitute a disintegrated narrative through a different lens, as cited above Marxist, and so on, but all this does is to shift perspective, point of view, and creates a new power play.
There is nothing wrong with this approach, but neither is there a reason to privilege this interpretation over the original or some other. A Marxist perspective may resonate better with Marxists, and Feminist perspective with Feminists, but this doesn’t make the interpretation better or more generally applicable. It just brings it into clearer focus for that cohort. As near-sighted lenses help the hyperopic and far-sighted lens aid the myopic, neither is inherently better outside of the defined context. And each solution would create a distortion for a person neither near- or far-sighted. There is no lens that is all things to all people.
On balance, I think it’s fair to say that postmodernism is descriptive and not prescriptive, so whilst one can play at disintegrating and reintegrating, but this is simply to gain a new perspective and new insights. In literature, we might consider, say, Philip K Dick’s, The Man in the High Castle. In this, Dick explores what might have been if the Axis led by Nazi Germany had prevailed. This alternate historical rendering can be evaluated as a postmodern exercise. Dick is not promoting this outcome, he is merely playing what-if—reordering the actors to create speculative new narratives. Although the Amazon.com version takes liberties and injects additional narrative perspective, the reintegration is still evident.
As well, postmodernism cannot be constructive because it would be infinitely recursive. For each construction, there would exist a deconstruction. All that’s occurred is a rearrangement. From the same Lego pieces, we apply a new map—a new narrative. From the position of purpose, one construction may be deemed better or preferred, but this is not likely to persist from another.
Whilst I am more interested in the philosophical, postmodernism has much application to literature. This might be better defined as poststructuralism.
Why do postmoderns deny Truth?
Some people have argued that postmodern thinkers don’t believe in the notion of Truth.
There are a few things to clarify first: the definition of truth and the context of a truth claim.
There are different and competing theories on what truth is—whether correspondence, coherence, or some other version—but that’s beyond the scope of this content. Some people use ‘truth’ as a synonym for ‘fact’, but in the name of clarity, we should separate the two concepts even if idiomatically the terms can be used interchangeably. [See end note 3] In creating this bond, it’s easy to see how these people might be confused. Virtually no one is proposing that ‘facts’ are not ‘facts’. It may be that postmodernism should have a weak and a strong version.
If the colour red is defined as the reflection by an object having a wavelength between 625 and 700 nanometres and a corresponding frequency between 400 and 480 THz, and a ball as a 3-dimensional object where every point on the surface is the same distance from the centre, and all of the incumbent terms are similarly defined and accepted with concordant definitions, then a sighted person with no colour vision perception deficiencies in an environment with natural full-spectrum lighting, will agree with the fact that the sphere is red. If one prefers to label the correspondence of a red sphere and the perception of the red ball as true, then this trivial relationship is valid.
It may be a correct assessment that some thinkers deny all truth, but it’s more likely that these thinkers are suspicious of the person claiming to know the truth because of the relationship between truth claims and power. Although Lyotard’s commentary was directed at hard science and underlying metanarratives such as progress, most postmoderns are more concerned with claims of moral truths.
This is related to the context of a claim. Per Foucault, if one context gives me power, I am more apt to adopt that perspective in order to manifest that power. I am not going to delve into some political discourse at the moment. Apart from this, Truth—where synonymous with fact—is contextual.
Using a typical example, one can evaluate the moral claim that killing another human is immoral. In fact, many—not all—people may agree with this as a general principle. But when we apply context—say, self-defence, military action, or capital punishment—, we discover that some of the same people now evaluate that killing another human is moral. So, we arrive that this moral assessment is subject to be either true or false depending on the context it’s evaluated in. Myself, being a non-cognitivist, I find moral claims to be lacking truth aptness, but that’s another story.
When did Postmodernism become a constructive rather than decompositional philosophy?
I’ll reserve the option to finish this section later. A quick internet search finds that David Ray Griffin coined the term constructive postmodernism. Griffin appears to have an agenda to return to modernism, particularly, it seems at first glance, Pragmatism.
My initial thought is that it was not thinkers fully invested in postmodernism; rather it was people with ulterior motives. Infusing Christian elements appear to be the most common thread. This line of thought is entirely speculative, so please stand by for an update or retraction. Metamodernism appears to have similar attributes, though perhaps simply metaphysical rather than Christian in nature.
How does one parse the theory of postmodernism from the personality who espouses a perspective on it?
Many people identified as postmoderns don’t self-identify as such. Kuznar labels postmodern anyone whose thinking includes most or all of these elements, but there is a compositional challenge inherent in this claim.
There are several compositional problems. First, one can apply postmodernism to a narrow domain and operate fully as a modern in the rest—perhaps even the majority of situations. Second, one can apply a postmodern lens theoretically, but be more pragmatic in more mundane matters. Third, one might apply a postmodern lens among many lenses, defending each in turn. Fourth, one may have had strong postmodern tendencies at one point in life but not held this perspective at other points.
Taking Foucault as an example—as well as one who eschewed the postmodern label—, he did disintegrate history and did question the underlying narratives, hitting all of Kuznar’s touchpoints. For one, I would categorise him as a postmodern thinker. Moreover, his disintegration led to the discovery of a common power thread throughout. Much of his writing was focused on this power relationship and illustrated how it was manifest.
Foucault was also a vocal Marxist. This is a constructive (integrative) worldview. This perspective gives privilege to Marxism, which is antithetical to postmodernism. As a rational interpreter, Foucault determined that this was a better form of government—but clearly, that’s because he accepted the underlying narrative and historicity proposed by Marx. Does this invalidate his postmodern credentials? Do we revoke his PoMo card?
Excuse me for occasionally using this space as a scratchpad, but it serves the purpose well. I’ve never delved deeply in to critical theory, though I suppose I suppose that at least some of it resonates with me.
Note that I approach this as a stream of consciousness. It’s not meant to be a robust academic treatment. Although, I do cite source documents in some cases, many of my points are anecdotal or pulled from memory, understanding fallibility and so on. I expect to return to flesh out some details, but I figure I’ll publish my thoughts now and make updates in future. I may even correct spelling, grammar, and redundancies.
My goal at the start was two-fold (at least). First, is to describe the domains of postmodernism from the perspective of a proponent (as opposed to accepting a definition imposed by detractors). Second, is to assess where critical disintegration diverged to an integration theory. It’s obvious that you hold that deconstruction and discourse analysis fall within the domain. They are certainly orthodox post-structural concepts, so I suppose a third goal might be to define the boundaries of poststructuralism relative to postmodernism.
 This modern cohort has a similar tendency to paint any form of Socialism as Communism, and they see the Soviet Union’s failed experiment of whatever they attempted to do as Communism. Therefore all forms of Socialism are destined to fail. The failure to appreciate nuance and detail is the common thread. I might posit that it’s similar to the phenomenon where, on average, women tend to perceive more colours (or colour names) than men.
 Aping logical empiricism, idiomatic language allows for broader definitions of truth and allows it to be synonymous with fact. This is similar to the idiomatic similarity of sex and gender, though this distinction is necessary for technical and academic discussion.
One if the biggest foci of postmodern philosophy is the metanarrative. Employment diversity is a place that the metanarratives go unquestioned by most. The most predominant aspect is the frame. Don’t accept it.
Inside this frame, some uncritically adopted narratives are as follows:
Work is good
Work builds character (proportionately to the effort exerted)
Work defines your value or worth as a human
Work signifies your place in society
Work is its own reward (except for monetary payment and recognition)
Value is defined by monetary achievement
Worth is defined by your place in an enterprise
And so on…
In this HBR article*, the frame has been established as a corporation and the diversity within this context. What this say by omission is that money and power is the measure of a meaningful existence. If only women were afforded a seat at this table—proportional to their population in society—, things will be even.
Women should start their own successful companies. Women should rise to the top of existing companies. Especially if they buy into the aforementioned narratives. Many women and men buy into this story lock, stock, and barrel (whatever that means), but only is you accept this as a frame is this relevant.
It’s easy to imagine a world where money is unnecessary, where labouring is unnecessary. Some have imagined a world without work, where people could instead pursue artistic endeavours, but this is just adopting a different set of narratives—like the person who exchanges drugs or alcohol for Jesus or some such. Out of the frying pan into the fire. This is the lie.
Interestingly, the HBR article makes these points:
Quantify gender equity in terms of economic gains for the company.
Hold leaders accountable for change by tying DEI metrics to performance reviews.
Offer development opportunities to increase gender intelligence, empathy, and self-efficacy.
Pull back the curtain on misperceived social norms.
Establish cross-gender professional relationships.
Frame, focus, and integrate interventions into core business outcomes and mission.
Notice that each of these operates from the perspective of the company. Granted, this is HBR, where the B is for Business, but still. Here’s the low down.
Gender equity will at some point increase your bottom line.
Create diversity metrics (and incentives) and tie them to performance review—presumably tied to the economic performance expected in bullet 1.
Educate your executives and staff to the misconceptions—so long as you don’t question the deeper metanarratives.
Essentially, the ask here is to establish male-female protégé-mentor relationships. Of course, this could be expanded to break binary gender stereotypes, too.
Back to business, frame the frame. But to tell the truth, I don’t even know how to interpret and summarise the provided example. It seems this is an admixture of points 1 and 2, given metrics should ladder up to stated objectives and outcomes.
In any case, asking for this equity in diversity is a short-term fix, but it’s unimaginative and buys into the worldview of the patriarchy. There is no reason to accept this prima facie. As with the notion of Democracy, I’d be willing to argue that the system itself is the problem and that any tinkering within the system is limited by the system itself.
* Apologies in advance if HBR has a paywall. Typically, the first 3 articles are free, but if you are like me that exhausts on day one.