I happened upon an article that notes that the postmodern label is now 50-odd-years old, so what’s next? Just a short response, the label never made sense for several reasons.

First, the prefix post suggests a new era or paradigm. In and of itself, this is not a problem. The challenge is the root: modern.

Effectively, modern means now, the current era, in the same manner as today sits between yesterday and tomorrow. The problem is that we are employing the term postmodern as if it’s tomorrow but today. Of course, except in jest, tomorrow is never simultaneously today. The notion reminds me of the sentiment captured in the quip when asked ‘When will you do this task?’ ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’. When queried the next day, ‘Why have you not yet done this task?’ and the response is ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’, ad infinitum.

I’ll caption this tomorrow

Modern derives from the Latin meaning ‘just now‘. People have been labelling themselves as modern since at least 1585 when it meant ‘of or pertaining to present or recent times‘. As early as 1500, it meant ‘now existing‘, so more toward ‘extant‘.

My point is that one might be able to retroactively reference post-X in relationship to X, but to name something duratively as post-X simply makes no sense. Add to this the complication that Latour mentions that we’ve never been modern or the further connotation that privileges the term adopter over others. Namely, whilst the West are modern at time-zero, being the height of modernity, some other contemporaneous other does not qualify. The United States are modern—just not Appalacia and certainly not Bangladesh. In a temporal sense, premodern takes on a similar meaning, e.g. Aztec or Mayan civilisations.

Besides the unfortunate naming, ‘postmodern‘ attempts to envelop many thoughts. As I’ve mentioned before, it is most typically pejoratively.

Whist I attempt to align myself with certain so-called postmodern figures, and I use the term myself because it still has some referential value, I do so with reservations and the understanding that it’s a nonsensical notion from the start. Perhaps, I’ll suggest a new solution tomorrow.

Modern Spectrum: 1 Dimension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metamodernism on the Ternary Plot

I don’t have a strong grasp of Metamodernism, but at first glance, it doesn’t seem to be a place I wish to reside, and I don’t have the motivation to look deeper. Instead, I’ll rely on proponants and advocates to fill that void. They are already ahead of me on that curve and far more qualified to lead that charge. Moreover, I believe there are at least two paths to follow.

Metamodernism attempts to synthesise Modernism and Postmodernism, but from my perspective, it’s a Modern belief that simply preferences Premodern mysticism over Postmodernism. From what I understand about Metamodernism, all of it’s dimensions can be measured on the planar ternary plot I am architecting. From what I read by Metamodernists is that it is either operates to sublate or is a paradigm shift that transcends these worldviews.

If my characterisation is correct, Metamodernism is captured by the model and simply shifts the dot to the left. If one of the other persectives is correct, it either changes the shape of the plane itself, alters the pathing of the movement of the dot, or creates a need for a Z-axis to capture this Z-dimentional movement. To assess this, I’ll need more information. For now, I will adopt my perspective and see where I end up.

Usign this ternary chart as a reference, if I am the solid red dot at time-1, and adopt some Metamodern world views, my place at time-2 moves in the direction of PreModern, which is to say down and to the left.

To be clear, the direction of this shift is not inevitable. It depends on the initial orientation and the dimension under consideration. If I were lower on the chart (more Modern than PostModern), then the movement would more likely be from right to left horizontally and not angular as depicted. Moreover, even from the starting position shown, the movement might simply go left. What it won’t do is go up or to the right, the area shaded in red on the chart below.

My next step is still to dimentionalise this. Altought I have some canditates already in mind, I suspect this will be an emergant process. Feel free to come along for the ride.

Ternary Chart

I am working toward fleshing out my Modernity Triangle. Since I want to illustrate placement graphically, I’ve settled on using a ternary plot—at least for now. I’ve borrowed an existing Excel template, which already contained the simple maths and charting. This is really just the tip of the iceberg as creating appropriate dimensions, measures, and weights is the heavy lifting.

I may work on the aesthetics, but this is the underlying framework. I’ve already commenced a scoping conversation in a previous post. In a nutshell, there are three primative movements—the spectra are Premodern to Modern, Modern to Postmodern, and Postmodern to Premodern.

This chart is meant to be discriptive. As the adage goes, there is no correct placement. If you identify as a Modern, you may wish the dots to bias in that direction, but the same is true if you occupy one of the other corners. For those who prefer moderation as a stance—the Middle Path—, you may be tempted to find comfort in a dot occupying the centre. That’s fine. I’m not judging your worldview.

Taking a moment to mention prescription, the best I can offer at this point is that if you feel you should or want to occupy a particular place. Feel free to create a vector from where you are to where you aspire to be. My only caveat at this point is that sometimes it is hard to reverse tack once the genie’s been let out of the bottle. An example might be agriculture. Humans progressed from Hunter-Gatherers to Aggrarians. Some have ‘progressed’ to Industrial and Postindustrial worldviews. However, not all humans have taken these paths. But due to encroachment of Premodern humans by Moderns, the habitat of Premoderns has made hunting and gethering an untenable lifestyle, so in the contemporary world, only Hunter-Horticulturalist remain.

In the accompanying ternary chart, I clumsily place myself where I self-identify, though I could be way off base. As a matter of example, this dot could represent a single dimension as well as some aggregation of dimensions. At the most abstract level, the view should interpret as a person espousing a tendency toward Postmodernism over Modernism fairly far removed from Premodernism. The lower leftmost dot on the Premodern corner could represent a typical pre-Enlightenment peasant as well as a member of some contemporary indigenous tribe such as the Sentinelese.

In the contemporary Western world, I’d imaging that they might be represented by the 2 dots on the second horizontal, fairly Modern, a smidgeon of PostModern, and more PreModern than they’d likely be comfortable to admit.

Political Compass

I was inspired by the Political Compass conceived by Libertarians attempting to differentiate themselves from a strict Left-Right political frame. My intent is to create something similar. I don’t feel that I have four points to work with, so I settled for three. I discuss how Metamodernism fits into this model elsewhere. Here is an how the Political Compass situated the UK parties in the 2019 general election.

Modernity Triangle

I’ve been thinking, but I haven’t had a lot of free time, so I may be fleshing this post out over time.

I participate in several online groups centred around Postmodernism. There are some fellow Postmoderns, and there are some Moderns, some who want to find out what all the hubbub is about, and some detractors. Invariably, the conversation turns to one of definition. This post will not attempt to answer that question. I’ve made that attempt elsewhere and elsewhen.

This post is meant to orient the relationship between premodern, modern, and postmodern. Image A depicts a strict linear chronology. I don’t suspect anyone views this progression where at some point Modern philosophy superseded Premodern and was itself superseded by Postmodern thought. In my own experience, this does not ring as valid, and it doesn’t feel like this will unfold in any future.

Image B is a more plausible chronology, though some might prefer a permutation where Premodern eventually fades away and where Modern fades away at another point. Again, experience doesn’t bear out this scenario.

In fact, this is how I came to conceptualise the relationship as a triangle—rather a radial chart limted to three points. This is represented by image C1, where there is a triangular relationship, with each of the schools of thought represented at the angles. The placement of the labels is arbitrary. That Postmodern is rendered at the top should not suggest that it is elevated or better than the others. Neither is Modern better because it resides on the right side. The triangle doesn’t indicate and time dimension.

Image C2 is merely a representation of C1 with a dot to indicate placement on the plane.

Ostensibly, each angle contains dimensions and measures. I haven’t sussed out fully what these dimensions might be, but a triangle might represent individuals or aggregations of individuals. An individual or a group might place differently at different times.

Regarding the triangular plane, the concept is that an entity may hold belief sets of any or all of these worldviews simultaneously. A bit of self-reflection might place be on the orange dot in C2, though the chart is arbitrary and not to scale. No animals were harmed, and so on.

Moreover, it’s important to distinguish between the system of belief and the pragmatic life of an entity. In my case, I feel that I am intellectually a Postmodern. I have an incredulity toward metanarratives, don’t believe in objective truths, and feel that every system requires context to evaluate. This said, I am quite strategic and analytical. Also, although I’ve been called many times a Stoic and Spock from Star Trek, my emotions and cognitive biases and sense perception deficits still allow me to favour the underdog as a Social Justice Warrior.

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

— No one in particular

It’s been pointed out that many Postmoderns are simultaneously Marxists or otherwise Leftists. Personally, I feel these are simple covariances, that a Conservative has to give more weight to history and teleological arguments, thereby qualifying as a Modern, whereas a Postmodern is more likely to dismiss these are metanarrative-laden. I consider myself a Leftist, but again, this is an emotional rather than intellectual decision. As a Postmodern, intellectually speaking, I believe there is no way to determine whether Anarchosyndicalism is better or worse than Republicanism or Oligarchy, but I know how I feel about these. And without going down some political rabbit hole, it’s plain to see that many people are predictably irrational and vote against their own interests time and again as they believe some narrative where they see themselves in another position where this self-deprecation will pay off in the end. This is embodied in the meme that “socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” This is usually misattributed to John Steinbeck, but the sentiment remains—don’t tax the rich—because I am just a stone-throw away from that—if only I paid less in taxes.

Finally, there are the Premoderns. These people are not only nostalgics, but they retain superstitious beliefs, favour natural remedies, and Ayurvedic treatments. They retain religious beliefs—some even preferring pre-Judeo-Christian paradigms. And yet they may also be scientists and otherwise structured thinkers. It’s harder for me to conjure scenarios where an entity might simultaneously hold Premodern and Postmodern beliefs. Off the cuff, it seems that one might believe in some sort of cultural relativity and at the same time believe in some shamanic healing or Ayahuasca retreat for cleansing or getting in touch with the universe. I wouldn’t presume it’s that unusual for people to hold antithetical and mutually exclusive beliefs. I am not superstitious, but I carry a lucky penny or some such.

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

Please stand by.