Some Comments on Postmodernism

The exclusively digital approach to aesthetics, ethics, and politics is better known as postmodernism, pluralism, and multiculturalism (this last a strange kind of digital-collectivism, where everyone in a given society are the same digit). While this approach has been a necessary corrective to the analogical world view, if we take the digital view to its logical conclusion, and reject the analogical as a constituent part of the world, all it can do is create alienation—among different races, different cultures, between men and women, and, if we take Quine’s view that we never actually understand one another, among each and every individual. If we take what Quine says in a very limited way, he has a point, but an extreme view makes the mistake of thinking that if there is any noise—ambiguity—in communication, we cannot communicate; whereas information theory says we need noise if we are going to have any communication at all.

An analogical view may lead us to collectivism, including communism, but an exclusively digital view leads to the alienation found in postmodern radical individualism. The consequence of this digital world view is postmodernists telling us we cannot understand one another. Men cannot understand women, and vice versa. Different races and cultures cannot understand each other, we cannot understand anything that happened in the past, and there is the suggestion that we cannot really understand each other. The consequence of this is an increasing fragmentation of society, creating warring factions (men vs. women, minorities vs. majorities, secular vs. religion), and increasing distrust among people.

Many postmodern theorists have observed that one of the features of modern Western culture is its increasing fragmentation and alienation, a favorite theme of many Marxists. But it is this alienating ideology that creates these conditions. And it is further ironic that some of these same critics are the very people making the problem worse. If we cannot understand one another, we are incapable of projecting ourselves into another’s situation. While this is literally true in a factual sense, it is in another sense not true at all. We can and do have empathy for others, basing that empathy on related experiences. While I may not understand perfectly an intellectual woman’s complaint that most men do not take her seriously as a thinker, I do understand the sting of not being taken seriously, especially when I know I know more about a subject than the person who is not taking me seriously as a thinker. Only if we can place ourselves in another person’s situation can we develop the empathy needed to be moral or to effect any sort of positive social change.

Studies show orangutans, a distant cousin to humans, can putting themselves into others’ minds. If food is placed out of reach of a caged orangutan, and a person is brought in with a bucket on his head and placed near the orangutan’s cage, without hesitation the orangutan will take the bucket off the person’s head and physically point the person in the direction of the food. The orangutan knows the person cannot see the food if he has a bucket on his head. How could the orangutan know this if it could not project itself into the mind of the person with the bucket on his head? This is a cognitive feature of the great apes, including humans, whose ability to do this developed even more with the advent of language. “One of the common ancestor species of all the living great apes and humans was the first in which individuals realized that others had viewpoints and knowledge different from their own, and could build up novel sequences of actions” (Richard W. Byrne, Tree of Origin, 169).

This ability is why were are capable of telling stories—including fiction. To say we cannot (or should not) do this is to say we are (or should be) cognitively less complex than the other great apes and place us on the cognitive level of monkeys. This attitude goes beyond being merely anti-human, to being anti-great ape. It is anti-language since “Evolution of language would be impossible in a species in which individuals could not imagine that other individuals know things that they do not know themselves” (Byrne, 172). The consequence of this anti-theory-of-mind view for literature has been the creation of a shallow sort of minimalism that avoids letting the reader know about anything more than the actions of the characters, on this theory that we cannot know what others think – so the author should not bother to tell us what his characters think, since he cannot even know. If they think at all.

Postmodernism creates social ruptures—it is anti-social in nature. It puts up barriers between men and women. Postmodernism’s radical individualism says there is an abyss of difference between men and women. The collectivism inherent in the Franco-German individualist tradition, whose egalitarian individualism attempts to eliminate all difference, suggests there is no difference between men and women. Specifically, women have been told they should be more like men. This has created an identity crisis in many women. They are told by their culture (which has been influenced by the pro-masculinizing gender feminists) they should be one thing, and by their biology and psychology they should be something else. I fear American women will soon face a tragic crisis, which can only be headed off if women are allowed by this culture to be women in the fullest sense, and not made into either men or relegated into some sort of submissive role, as we had in the past, and as we still find in many cultures around the world.

Postmodernism, far from being a solution to this crisis, only makes the problem worse. And gender feminism, by insisting that there are no fundamental behavioral differences between men and women, only reinforces the prejudice that differences are inherently bad and unequal. It is those feminists who perpetuate the belief that femininity is inferior. Despite what they think, it is not. American culture in particular is sorely lacking in femininity—not the cultural myths we once held about how women should act, but natural femininity, which can come about in a more inclusive, open culture – this lack is primarily the fault of the gender feminists, who insist that our genetic differences make no difference. This is creating the groundwork for a tragic situation, where women are pushed by culture to go beyond their own physis without even trying to understand their physis (vs. the myths of their physis). One hopes we learn the outcome through works of literature, including plays and film, rather than within society itself.

This anti-social element is found not only in relations among men and women, but among races and cultures too. I welcome the emphasis on multiculturalism, as it creates the potential for a much richer, more complex American (and world) culture, but the way postmodernism practices it creates a number of problems. What are we to do with a culture that practices clitorectomy? Or oppresses women? Or practices genocide? Are we to just consider these a legitimate part of the rich tapestry of humanity?

Postmodernism’s insistence that we cannot judge anyone—particularly other cultures—puts us in a serious dilemma in considering these situations. I think there are few who support genocide, but how can one come to say genocide is wrong if one does not make some sort of judgement, or insist there is some sort of universal we should be guided by? I asked Cynthia Haynes (a self-identified postmodernist) this question, and she told me the only thing she does not tolerate is intolerance. But isn’t the intolerance of intolerance itself a universalizing view? One assumes she (and other postmodernists) wishes everyone was intolerant of intolerance. But if one wishes for such an overarching view, one’s entire postmodern world view collapses (of course, the very fact that postmodernism is a world view and, thus, a grand narrative, makes it collapse, imploded by its own hypocrisy).

Postmodern multiculturalism will not work. But we should not return to a “melting pot” view either. Why not a mixture of the two, maintaining cultural identity while integrating everyone into, for example, the American (or, better, world) culture? This view presumes there are more than two societal levels—the individual and the culture/state—which goes against the Franco-German philosophical tradition leading to postmodernism. It is possible—I would say preferable—that there is more than just the individual and her culture. Why can’t a person be an individual, a member of a family (nuclear and extended), a member of a community, a subculture, an organization (if not several), including churches, clubs, schools, etc., an overarching culture, and a citizen of a state, a country, and the world? If there are this many levels between an individual and the government, the government’s power over that individual is weakened, and the influence of that government (and any who wish to influence that government, the culture of a country through the government, etc.), is greatly weakened—which may explain why many pro-statist postmodernists oppose this view.

Postmodernism’s anti-social view of humanity makes it anti-human. Humans are a social species, like all the great apes (even the apparently solitary orangutan will socialize when food is abundant), most monkeys, lions, elephants, dolphins, and wolves. Social species are different from and have more complex behavior than herd or schooling species, like antelope, sheep, or sardines, in that there is little to no bonding among the members of the herd. Individual members are less likely than social animals to aid unrelated or distantly related members of the herd. It seems postmodernists wish to make us act more like herd than social animals.

One thought on “Some Comments on Postmodernism

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s