Much of jurisprudence is based on logic founded on faulty premises of regurgitated theological concepts shrouded in naturalistic theory and pseudoscience. This is not about the defund the police social trend of 2020. This is to say that the justice system is smoke and mirrors writ large. It’s ostensibly built on anachronistic concepts such as volition, evil, soul, blame, and forgiveness that should be tossed into the dustbin of history along with phrenology, humours, and will.
The titleof this post is taken from Robert Spapolsky’s proposed chapter concept for Behave, published in 2017, where until now, it’s languished on my Want to Read list, having entered via the vector of my interest in behavioural economics. Chapter 16 was eventually published with the title of Biology, the Criminal Justice System, and (Oh, Why Not?) Free Will.
I’ve been writing for years about the nonesensical attachment to these notions, so it gives me comfort in solidarity to discover others who share, at least to some degree my perspective, knowing, of course, that this doesn’t make this perspective any more correct.
To be fair, I’ve held a low opinion of so-called justice (and government) systems pretty much since I was taught about them almost 50 years ago. In the US, much teaching is really propagandising about how fair these systems are and how peers and reasonable persons concepts make is superior. In my mind, those were the being failings. Later, when I hopped onto my language insufficiency bandwagon, it only fell apart more. Kafka’s The Trial represents the internal workings of most justice systems than the logic and reason of propogated but proponants.
Stopping here. Much to do. I recommend reading Behave. If you’ve read it, I’d love to see what you thought about it.
This is why I dedicate time to watching YouTube. Although this essay was published in 2007, I had not been aware of it or its author. This work and David Guignion’s presentation is an excellent reminder of the relevance and intersection between feminism and post-modern perspectives. In the West, at least in North America, we often hear the term ‘privileged’, and many of us defend that we don’t feel very privileged. Sunera Thobani shows us how we are complicit in exacerbating world problems, particularly reminding us that not all women are ‘Western women’, and not all women need to be rescued by the West. Moreover, even women who identify with the West as a privileged or modern lens do a disservice to women who don’t hold this worldview.
Don’t let David, a male who is delivering the message, be a distraction. It feels like he is authentically trying to represent Thobani’s perspective. I provide a link to Thobani’s original article if you’d rather just read the unfiltered source.
Full Disclosure: I consider myself to be a determinist. I looked for something like Dawkins’ spectrum of theistic probability to evaluate where one might be oriented on a scale of free will to determinism to fatalism whilst also considering compatibilism.
Let’s lay some groundwork by establishing some definitions from most constrained to least:
Fatalism : a doctrine that events are fixed in advance so that human beings are powerless to change them
Compatibilism : a doctrine that maintains that determinism is compatible with free will
Determinism : a theory or doctrine that acts of the will, occurrences in nature, or social or psychological phenomena are causally determined by preceding events or natural laws
Freewill : freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention
It seems that freewill and fatalism are bookends with compatibilism attempting to moderate or synthesise freewill and deteminism. But it also seems that one’s selection may be contexual. Ultimately, this argument is fraught with semantic challenges insomuch as some underlying concepts are yet unresolved.
Crash Course Philosophy does provides a nice summary of the challenges in defending even compatibilist positions away from detemininism and even fatalism.
As this video notes, our choices may appear to be free, but it doesn’t take much effort to perform a 5-whys investigation to remove anything but homoeopathic amounts of agency.
Taking a short example, let’s look at the cases of the trial judges mentioned by Sapolsky (Behave) and Kahneman (Noise). Given all of the factors entering into sentences, prior offences, sex or gender of either the defendant or the judge, education, income, and so on, but far the largest factor in determining the length or severity of a sentence was the time between the sentencing and the judge’s last meal—effectively their blood glucose levels.
Some may argue that this is a short interval, but behaviourists would argue that a person now is a culmination of all of their experiences to date. That the decision of the so-called criminal to rob the liquor store (going for the stereotype here) was not the result of low blood sugar. This may be true, but there is still an unbroken chain of confluent events that brought them to that place.
From a culpabilty perspective, even absent true agency, the offender should still be incarcerated or whatever to prevent this behaviour from repeating. Of course, if you believe in rehabilitation, you are necessarily a behaviourist in soem shape or form: the idea is to effectively repattern experience impressions. The other problem is one of probability. That you did X once, are you lilkey to do it again? If not, then there is no further risk to society, as it were. Given the probability of recitivism—and some argue that mass incarceration increases the probability or attempting criminal actions post-release—, is this even an effective deterence? It’s time to get out of the rabbit hole.
From my position, it is impossible to reconcile experience and freewill. The best you can argue is that one is free in the moment—like some strange improv exercise, where you are shown a film that stops abrutly, and you are instructed to act out the remainder of the scene. Is this free, or is this extrapolating on your experience.
Skipping to fatalism, how probable is it that absolutely everything is determined. Reality is just a film we are both in and observing or experiencing, but all of it is already laid down. We are just unawares. Every strange plot twist and early exit was not only already scripted, but it’s already been captured. There is no room for improvisation or flubbed lines. There is no opportunity to go off-script. Even these words are predestined. Even unpublished thoughts were not meant to be published.
There is no way to test this sort of system from inside the system, and there is no way to get a vantage above it, so here we are.
The notion of determinism affords humans some modicum of agency, perhaps akin to one part in a trillion trillions. Practically, we are taking credit for a butterfly effect—and punishing for this degree of freedom. As Sapolsky has noted, most instances of perceived agency are trivial. We can ‘instruct’ finger movement with our brain. Ostensibly, we think: move finger; bend; point; stop. And even so, what was the cause of the thought to move the finger? Was there truly a non-causal event?
Cognotive dissonance ensures that we can’t allow ourselves to be NPCs or automotons. We have to omuch hubris for that. We must have some free will. Some religions say we not only have agency here in this life but that we chose the life to begin with. Even so, we’ve not seen the script in advance; we’ve merely chosen which lessons we want learnt.
So what about compatibilism? Sort of, who cares? Whilst I can define some interstitial state between free will and determinism, it seems that it would not be even tempered or would otherwise skew heavily toward determinism.
What keeps me from being a hard determinist is that I hold out hope for statistics, chaos, and stochasticism. One might argue in return, that these, too, are determined; we just don’t see the underlying connection. And that’s my cognitive cross to bear.
To be fair, it seems that the notion of free will or even compatibilism are secondary, let’s say, reactions to the need for culpability, for moral responsibility. Societies are built upon these notions, as are legal systems. Necessary ingredients to invent are:
Agency and Volition
Choice, Motivation, and Intent
Responsibilty and Blame
None of these actually exist, so they need to be invented and constructed in order to associate self-control to actions. In fact, we have insanity escape clauses to recognise that there are cases where control is lost, whether temporarily or permanently, or never had in the first place for any number of ‘reasons’. At core, these attributes are necessary to exert power in a society. The next goal is to convince the actors or subjects that these things are ‘real enough’— as the saying goes, ‘good enough for the government’.
Even if we accept these things at face value, the interpretation and processing of these are different animals still. The notion of Will itself is likely speceous or another fabricated notion. Perhaps, I’ll address Will on another day. Probably not, as all of this is distracting me from my language insufficiency work.
When I think about free will, it is foisted on humanity in the same manner as gods and religion. With gods, we have been defending against theism for millennia. The gods fetish and free will are inextricably linked. As with the chicken and egg connundrum, the question is whach came first. Is God a reaction to fee will, or is it the other way around. Did we create free will to allow for responsibility and then fabricate Supreme busy bodies to act as ultimate judges? Or did we create the gods and build out the myth of free will to accommodate punishment of deviant behaviour. Or are these just parallel constructions? Enquiring minds want to know.
In bygone days, national governments asserted power and prevailed over relgion, in essence forming a ceasefire partnership that has, save in pockets, pretty much held fast in most of the Western world. Religion is still somewhat of a factor in many corners — in some circles dominant —, but the latest challenger are the acquisitive corporate defenders: multinational (wannabe supernational) entities, whose aspirations of dominance is stifled by the prevailing power structure.
As many in government are Capitialist converts, they each and collectively have an Achilles heel, as captured by the adage probably misattributed to Lenin, ‘The capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them’.
Contemporary politics see the orgy of strange bedfellows and the slow poisoning of Democracy by lobbyists and their palliative care of the deligates of the People. Some of the polis see this and react in horror to decisions such as Citizens United in the United States, as more and more foxes are voted into the hen house — and wolves into Congress. This is not limited to the United States.
Along the way, some government officials attempt to cozy up to the predators to enriched themselves personally at the expense of their citizenry and on the way to the killing floor. They’ll have been fattened by scraps, only to be consumed in the abbatoir. In some cases — perhaps many — the leaders are themselves part of this acquisitive class, so they are not in particular need of a country.
Even if the acquisatives are aware that they’re destroying the host and the structure that invented them, these petulent progeny run roughshod anyway. But the permissive parents don’t wish to bite the hands that feed them.
So far, the acquisitive corporatists have been able to snuggle up with the ruling class, and this class perceives themselves as being part of this class. Most aren’t. They are entourage at best — pathetic sycophantic hanger-ons. Once they realise that they are not members of the club and try to wrest control, the real fight will commence, but it will likely be too little and too late. The real losers will be the people, no longer having evern the semplence of protection. Libertarians will finally see that their dream was a nightmare from the start.
And then we await the next paradigm shift.
What prompted this post?
A colleague on Facebook posted a Scientific American article about oversimplification of sex determination in response to a transphobe, and Facebook took it down. Having had a couple similar responses myself, I have come to the conclusion that Facebook and the other social media giants need external governance. I don’t want to endure what ass hats like Donald Trump have to say any more than the next person, but this censorship needs to happen in a different way. Given my perspective on Truth, we need to assess how best to keep devisive speech in control. In some cases, these people are simply lying. They claim that I didn’t say that, wasn’t with that person, wasn’t in that place, and so on when these are all demonstrably false. This is not generally illegal behaviour.
When Trumps says, I’ll be president again in August, or I’ll be Speaker of the House, this is a prediction. It’s like saying, ‘This is the winning lottery ticket’. Language allows for this speculative hyperbole. Again, bad form and taste are not illegal. Even if some assclown riles up some portion of the populace, who’s to say whatever they’re hawking isn’t for some future greater good at the expense of some near-term disruption.
I’m rambling. The point is that the overreach of Facebook is just another instance of corporations taking power into their own hands and uncontested. It will come to a head. Perhaps not in my lifetime, but mark my words.
I’ve recently read Adorno’s publication, The Authoritarian Personality, and I share my perspective and thoughts.
This study was performed post-World War 2 and published in 1950. It was meant to determine if a relationship existed between anti-semitism, ethnocentrism, and fascism (cum authoritarianism) and compared several psychometric tests to determine the correlation between cohort groups. The new test was called the F Scale test, a pale attempt to hide the purpose of the Fascism Test.
What’s interesting to me, is how these map to the épistémè of the day, but perhaps that’s more a reflection on how ripe some populations were for fascism. In many ways, it’s dated,and many have questioned the approach and methodology. Moreover, some have noted that the correlation with fascism may simply be a correlation with authoritarianism more generally.
Before I get to the main content, I admit that I don’t agree with the psychoanalytical vantage. In fact, I equate psychoanalysis with astrology and tarot cards. To this end, I ignore the etiological aspects. I also feel that the fixation on anti-semitism is overspecified, so the effects would map to any targeted out-group. Finally, I feel that the chosen categories are not mutually exclusive, so there are unnecessary covariances. I discuss these in turn. Adorno created 9 categories. The first is conventionalism.
Conventionalism: Adherence to conventional values
By conventional, Adorno means traditional — people who find solace in the familiar. In my experience, most people are conventional and to a large degree. When I consider conventionalism, it’s about how people present themselves when they think they are being observed. I’m not sure that I’d differentiate closet rebels from people who are simply conventional to the bone. Many people will tell their closest confidantes how rebellious and unconventional they are…but only behind closed doors because they fear being judged and reprisals. In practice, they will even call out and chastise a person who has been caught being unconventional. This extends to beliefs, sexuality, and other propensities, such as recreational drug use.
Authoritarian Submission: Towards ingroup authority figures
Authoritarian submission also over-indexes across the board. Ostensibly, this is about obedience and deference. Even if one disagrees with an authority figure, they are unlikely to voice the disagreement and will quickly cave any defence when push comes to shove.
Note the in-group qualifier. In the United States, when George W Bush was president, the authoritarians railed on about how important it was to support whoever was president — until Obama became president. When Trump became president, it was important to fall into line behind the new leader, leaving differences in the past — until Biden became president. In practice, some of these people couch the ousted leader as the better or legitimate leader. Historically, this has led to fractures that have taken down nations. This is also the story behind the Sunni-Shia conflict of Islam.
Authoritarian Aggression: Against people who violate conventional values
Authoritarian aggression is a natural extension of conventionalism and submission. I submit, and so should you — if only performatively, I will call you out. We can witness this when closet gay legislators not only pass laws against their own beliefs and activities, but they do so vocally, aggressively. The best defence is a strong offence. And better to be the accuser than the accused.
Anti-Intraception: Opposition to subjectivity and imagination
Anti-Intraception is a fancy way of saying that one is an objectivist. Anti-intraception is a characteristic of the authoritarian personality which results in a low tolerance for creative thinking and emotion-importance; people who are anti-intraceptive (i.e. are not particularly self-aware) reject subjective thinking in favour of more concrete thinking (e.g. placing high importance on clearly observable facts instead of thoughts and feelings). There is no room for subjectivity or relativity. This is one god, one truth, and whatever the prevailing position of the day, with no room for perspective or interpretation. Other sources equate prescriptive optimism to be an effect of an anti-inceptive disposition.
Superstition and Stereotypy: Belief in individual fate; thinking in rigid categories
I would have distinguished between superstition and stereotypy, but perhaps there is a strong correlation between the two. Stereotypy is where we get the need for strong categories and things like binary sex and no distinction between sex and gender. Superstition is obviously belief in improbable metaphysical forces and entities. This is where gods enter the equation. With superstition comes fatalism. Things are not within their control. Things just happen to them. They feel powerless, and so seek to align with the powerful, being somewhat subsumed by the bully. This is a perfect segue to the next characteristic.
Power and Toughness: Concerned with submission and domination; assertion of strength
Power and toughness are where militarism and domination come into frame — Nietzsche 101. This is also projected and reflected onto leaders and representatives. Brawn is privileged over brains. Affiliated bullies are copacetic. It also manifests in ethnocentrism, jingoism, nationalism, and patriotism. We’re number one. We’ve got the best this and that, whether country, state, school, sports team, or Girl Scout Troop. It doesn’t matter. Everything is a competition, and I need to come out on top — if even only by association.
Destructiveness and Cynicism: hostility against human nature
Excerpting from the text, this is about ‘the inability to identify with humanity [that] takes the political form of nationalism and cynicism about world government and permanent peace. It takes other forms, all based on ideas concerning the intrinsic evil (aggressiveness, laziness, power-seeking, etc.) of human nature; the idea that this evil is unchangeable is rationalized by pseudoscientific hereditarian theories of human nature. The evil, since it is unchangeable, must be attacked, stamped out, or segregated wherever it is found, lest it contaminate the good. The democratic alternative — humanitarianism — is not a vague and abstract “love for everybody” but the ability to like and dislike, to value and oppose, individuals on the basis of concrete specific experience; it necessarily involves the elimination of the stereotypical ingroup-outgroup distinction and all that goes with it‘.
As one can notice, this fits into the religious mindset. It’s also a prime motivation for genocide.
Projectivity: Perception of the world as dangerous; tendency to project unconscious impulses
Projectivity takes us to the Leviathan of Hobbes’ ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short‘ natural existence. It’s also takes the most blatant psychoanalytical aspect: projection. Enough said.
Sex: Overly concerned with modern sexual practices
Sex and sexuality ties back nicely to conformity and conventionalism as well as stereotypy. It manifests as repression, to borrow from psychoanalytical nomenclature. By and large, the reason these people want privacy in the bedroom is because of modesty. Make no mistake, these people practise plenty of deviances and excuse themselves in typical attribution bias fashion. When caught in the act, they make excuses for their deviance rather than to defend their personal rights. Some of these deviances are not actually deviance from practice. Rather, the deviation is versus belief.
Whilst I agree with the sentiment of sexuality, this feels like it’s already been captured as a special case of conventionalism and is a quaint throwback to the Freudian obsession.
Speaking for myself, I’m not certain that a post-modern can be a fascist. First, what post-modern is a conventionalist or traditionalist. The only recognised authority is the underside of a power relationship. Without a recognised authority, there is nothing to react against. A key element of postmodernism is subjectivity over objectivity, which helps to explain why authoritarians like Jordan Peterson so vehemently oppose even the notion of postmodernism. Postmoderns eschew categories or make them so expansive as to not provide much gravity for stereotypes. I can’t speak for other postmoderns, but I am a pacifist and conscientious objector. I’ve got no tolerance for power plays, alpha males, and machismo. I am a bit of a cynic, but it’s not from some sense of evil caricatures. I don’t even believe in the notion of good or evil. I don’t believe in nature, let alone human nature. These are just facile categories to contain stereotypes. Where have I seen that before? Do I project my unconscious as my perception of the world? The shadow knows. And then there’s sex. My sex life and my insouciance of others’ sex lives are not necessarily in sync. I’m no pansexual, but neither do I care if someone is. Not my monkeys. Not my circus. I am not overly fixated on sex — especially what everyone else is or isn’t doing.
I’ve avoided reading much Adorno over the years, primarily because I was put off by his work on media and culture. And in general, I am put off by people holding onto teleological propositions. I’m amazed that I hadn’t tripped over his work on authoritarianism.
I’ve always questioned authority, and authoritarians and even mainstream people have painted me as being oppositional to authority because of my upbringing, taking a psychoanalytic approach. Being suspicious of psychoanalysis and its tendency towards conformitivism, I received similar criticism. In the 1980s, Robert Altemeyer renamed the authoritarian personality Right-Wing Authoritarianism, as this was in step with the times and in recognition that there other authoritarian constructs outside of the Right and Fascism.
I’m not sure I ever needed permission to question authority and confirmation, but somehow Adorno does just that. The blind faith Adorno attributes to Fascism, has always rubbed me like a priest. For all intents and purposes, I ignored the Semitic and psychoanalytic aetiology, focusing instead on the attributes.
All of this said, it is easy to create a stereotypical heuristic strawman, if you will, and live in fear for the many people who seem to fit this bill. Meantime, I’ll occupy my time elsewhere.
Memories are fallible. I’d thought I had written on this topic of opiates and public policy at length. And perhaps I have. Just not here. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Searching my blog for my take on opiates, I find that I cite Marx’s ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses‘, four times—make that five. But nothing more.
Carl Hart is a professor of neuroscience in the psychology department of Ivy League, Columbia University—at least before he published his book. I’ve not read his book, but at my blog I’ve provided a link to the Guardian article, which prompted this post.
The gist I get from having read the Atlantic article is that the public health narrative surrounding heroin and other illicit drugs is akin to the hype of the days when Reefer Madness was all the moral outrage. And make no mistake—this outrage has everything to do with moral one-upmanship and nothing to do with health outcomes. This is pure and simple cultural performativism signalling the higher ground one occupies. As is common enough, many people have actually internalised their misinformation and disinformation to the point they truly believe there is a medical basis to their belief systems. If they are at all introspective, they would see that morals and Calvinism have nothing to do with this purported health care policy. It’s a seemingly reasonable, logical place to arrive. No emotional element is necessary.
But allow me to step back for a moment. Am I saying that there are no possible harmful effect for consuming drugs and other chemicals? No. Am I claiming that no one has ever died as a result of chemical intoxication or overdose? No, again. Am I saying that drug abuse does not incapacitate some people? Nope. I am saying none of the above. I am claiming that hyperbole abounds, the causal connection is overattributed, and cofactors are ignored in favour of an orthodox etiology.
For the record, I am a teetotaler. I do not abuse or even use chemicals referred to as drugs—illicit or otherwise. I don’t drink alcohol, don’t smoke cigarettes. I don’t even drink coffee or covfefe. I do drink Coca Cola, so my big vice in this regard is caffeine. Even rarely do I take ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
As I note in my Defence of Capitalism post, it’s difficult to get good second-hand information of illicit drugs. The medical-industrial complex and the official police state peddle fear and disinformation. Whether they believe the information they dispense is true or not is irrelevant. What is important is the low truth content. It makes one wonder what to trust and what not to when these agencies routinely propagate falsehoods and misrepresent truth.
This misrepresentation isn’t limited to opiates. I found it interesting when Michael Phelps won gold at the Olympics, only to announce that he was the consummate pothead, and smoking weed was part of his daily routine. Here’s what the official Olympics website says about him, by the time he retired at Rio 2016 at the age of 31, Michael Phelps had collected a total of 23 golds, three silvers and two bronzes at the Olympics, a record-breaking haul that looks unlikely to be bettered for many years to come. So much for the lazy stoner stereotype. As marijuana becomes more accepted by mainstream culture, we come to notice that many of the so-called mental health issues were just fabricated. The purpose was to shroud a moral argument in medical legitimacy. Whether the healthcare industry was complicit or it was the law enforcement regime gone rogue is a separate question. Yet again, it undermines the legitimacy of any claims.
In 2020, the world encountered the Coronavirus, COVID-19. And medical expertise, particularly around immunology and the spread of pathogens, came into question. In the United States and United Kingdom, their misinformation was further exacerbated by administrations hostile to science. But given the history of misinformation for political purposes, it may be premature to blame the general public for being reluctant to trust the alarms. They’ve created the classic Boy Who Cried Wolf scenario. And so the question becomes what health information can one trust? And who is the authoritative source?
We’re all familiar with the scenario: a representative from law enforcement appears at a door and flashes a badge or an ID. It’s in most of the police movies. A gaggle of people in official-looking uniforms. One of them pulls out a warrant, and they make their way into the residence. You still with me?
Here’s the rub? How does one know with any degree of certainty higher than blind faith?
Do you know what an ‘official’ badge or ID looks like? How do you know it’s not counterfeit?
Do you even know what a search warrant looks like? It’s signed, do you know the person it’s signed by? Perhaps it’s a judge. Is the warrant real or fake? What about the uniforms or official-looking vehicles?
The answer is most people would have no idea. Indoctrination and cognitive dissonance are key factors. In movies, apart from the documentation, there’s the intimidation factor. And maybe guns for full effect.
To be sure, people have performed variations of this script, and they’ve been punked. So, the question remains: How can one tell? And when does when get to call bullshit?
And what are the down sides? If these cats are legit, and after the bullying and indignity, you’ll probably be facing accusations of obstruction or resisting. Of course, you’ll be justified, but justification is asymmetrical and out of your favour. The house holds the advantage, and you aren’t the house.
But let’s pretend that justice is symmetrical and does have meaning beyond its application as a power tool, how far would one need to go to be sure?
Take the case of the warrant signed by a judge. S/he shows up in person and says, ‘Yup. I signed that warrant’. Has that gotten you anywhere? Probably not. You don’t know this person, and you have no way of evaluating the authenticity of the claim. Does it take the governor? The president? The head of the UN?
And even if you trust the entire process thus far, what say do you have in justifying the merit of issuance of the warrant?
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.
Amazon is threatening to pull the plug on Parler because of the content of its users. Google Play and Apple Store are pulling the Parler app from their offerings. These are private corporations and so are allowed to choose who they allow on their platforms, but these are dangerous grounds to tread. And it’s all too easy to fall into the mass hysteria—performative or otherwise—and let the mob rule.
Parler is a joke, but make no mistake this is the epitome fascist oligarchy and oligopoly. This is a concerted power play by the power brokers. The powers that be of the oligopoly are some of the same players as those of the oligopoly. And there is no mistaking the powers. They have the power to silence the president of the United States of America.
Believe me. I feel that Donald J Trump is a vile person and a poor excuse for a human being. Viscerally, I wish they had silenced him 4 years ago—or 40, give or take. But this is clearly a shot over the bow.
A parallel in the public sector might be the way they got their foot in the door with income taxes back in the day. To pay for World War I, the US needed cash. Taxes are an easy scheme, but at the time most government operations were funded through tariffs, excise and use fees, and property taxes.
Taxing income was illegal, so there was a dilemma. But this dilemma had an easy solution. Let’s make incomes taxes legal, and we can tax the richest Americans the fair and modest amount of 1 per cent of income. The common man wouldn’t even notice.
Once taxing income was legal, the trojan horse having successfully breached the fortress, it was only a short while before the rates rose above 1 per cent and the tax base expanded to everyday workers, even as the wealthy moved away from an income-based existence to a capital gains-based one.
This is a textbook slippery slope.
My question is how does one get from ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ to ‘Ferme-la!’ so easily?
In the end, this is playing to emotion, leveraging mass hysteria and outrage, performative and otherwise.
I’ve got too many distractions happening to finish with the exposition, so here’s a short list of reference stories I intended to reference.
My armchair pop-psychology assessment is that people who are drawn to police work are underachievers with power and control issues and conformity and morality fetishes.
Advantage goes to the house
Law enforcement and jurisprudence systems wouldn’t work if they didn’t stack the decks in their favour. They give themselves get out of jail free cards and rely on lies and deception to create an advantage. Watching these TV shows, they have permission to lie, withhold, misrepresent, coerce, and entrap without repercussion. They make ‘deals’ in domains where they have no authority. They are even allowed to engage in criminal activity if it serves the better interests of a case. They can buy drugs and property, engage with prostitutes, and any number of otherwise illegal activities.
I won’t even spend more digital ink commenting on the lack of due process judges commit in the courtroom—personal fiefdoms.
Over 40% of active police officers have domestic abuse histories. These people have records of abusing the wives, children, domestic partners, and pets. And these are only the ones who have been caught. Statistically, the percentage is very likely to be over 50%. This is not shining endorsement. Sadly, domestic abuse is inversely correlated with IQ, so this doesn’t fair well with the next topic.
The average IQ of a police officer in the United States is about 104. In and of itself, this might not seem strange. This seems to imply that these IQs are in line with average, but there’s a problem. The courts have ruled that is not discriminatory to exclude people with high IQs from being police officers because they are more likely to be independent thinkers and not conformant.
Because cops are usually and expectedly conformant, it should come as no surprise that they feel the urge to prescribe this conformity on others. Given the opportunity, I’d argue that in many instances this conformity is superficial and performative, but that’s a topic for another day.