I didn’t think I would write another word about postmodernism. It’s the same thing I’ve been talking about for years, my assertion that universal truth exists and our reason is an excellent—God-given—tool for finding truth. I shifted to calling it “postmodernism” a few weeks ago, as that was the topic of several personal conversations I was engaged in and that was a simple label for the relatively new notion that universal truth does not exist.
Within those conversations, it was brought to my attention that I have been too critical of that movement, and those comments came from my son and one of my best friends. But they’re are right, to a point, and I will explain.
A long time ago, when I was a religious person—an evangelical to be exact—we saw the world in black and white. Anything we didn’t like, we labeled “demonic.” Some of my Christian friends think I have been saying that postmodernism is “demonic.” It is anything but. It is simply a social movement, amoral in its genesis, but potentially damaging in its application, as are all philosophical movements.
Since the beginning of history, the way we think comes and goes in styles in the same way as hair styles and dress.
A professor of philosophy may disagree with me (I tend to oversimplify things because I am an amateur philosopher and don’t know much) but I see five major philosophical movements in western culture, each gripping the culture as a fad. I will use the word “fad” rather than “movement” to drive home the fact that these movements do behave just like fads. These philosophical fads are not linear, moving in one direction, but are more like a pendulum, swinging back and forth. Maybe, if you think the general development of western culture over time has an influence on these fads, then it would be like a pendulum swinging on a box truck, and the truck is moving in a linear direction.
An example of that linear direction in culture would be technological developments. Previously, it would take a philosophical fad three hundred years to penetrate the entire culture, from the “elite” down to the uneducated poor, and from Europe (where most of these notions started) to western hemisphere. The invention of the printing press, then the airplane, and finally the Internet has shrunk the world drastically. Now, philosophical movements move rapidly through a culture and could start from obscure sources (a woman in her basement broadcasting thoughts on YouTube).
As I’ve alluded to, postmodernism began in the 70s and just fifty years later, has already peaked and the next big movement is on the horizon. Postmodernism did have predecessors, such as deconstruction. It is my personal opinion that postmodernism peaked in 2016, or in the years since. Time magazine called 2016 the year truth died. Now, falsehoods dominate our culture like never before. The experts have been maligned, more so by evangelicals than any other American subgroup. Sadly, in 1970s, the evangelicals wanted to position themselves as the last bastions of truth. Now, they are the most likely group to believe in baseless conspiracy theories. It has been a disaster. In just one area of COVID, 300,000 people died because they believed false information about the vaccine. But I digress again.
The simple explanation of this pendulum’s swing, from the time that written language began in Mesopotamia until today, has been along a line of tension between the seen and unseen. Those words are self-explanatory and I’m not using them metaphorically. The realm of the unseen has shrunk over time because with technology, we began to see the things that were previously unseen, such as air. Along this line of tension, if the pendulum swings in favor of unseen, emotions, things labeled spiritual, it does so at the sacrifice of the seen, which includes our physical existence, brains, and reason. I’m not sure why reason wasn’t cast originally in the category of the unseen, maybe it was, but it quickly assigned to the category of the flesh or material.
So, for example, the 1000 years leading up to the Dark Ages, the unseen or spiritual dominated the culture at the sacrifice of reason. Then reason began to dominate and, like all fads, went too far after the Enlightenment to the point of what some call Scientific Optimism or Techno-Utopianism. In response to the failure of this over-dependence on reason, the pendulum moved in the other direction, through a variety of smaller movements and ended up with modernism (a type of Scientific Optimism) and then the rejection of reason in favor of the unseen or emotional mysticism of the New Age Movement, which became reclassified as the postmodernism (stealing the title from the painters).
I know I still haven’t apologized, but I will.
For the last time, I will review the tenets of Postmodernism and then move on to the area that I think has had a positive impact, at least in its early days.
- There are no universal narratives about the meaning of life, no universal truths. Either they don’t exist or are unknowable by humans.
- Because there are no truths, all worldviews are the same, even those that assert opposite claims. Because they are all the same they can interchange parts between them like features on Mr. Potato Head.
- Because there is no truth, not even the aspiration of truth, questions only have value as questions, the answers meaningless.
- To claim that your worldview is universal, or that you have an answer to a philosophical question, it is considered arrogant since no such answers can exist in that context.
The first step of postmodernism was to question (a paradox as they no longer believe in questions, or at least questions that have answers), the next step was to deconstruct many social mores, looking at true motives. “We pay women less because they are less valuable to our organization.” A postmodern deconstruction would say, “No, you pay women less AND value them less because of your misogynistic attitude.” This is the gift of postmodernism to our culture and for that I want to sincerely show gratitude and I do apologize for casting them only in a dark light.
I will also mention that the great attraction of postmodernism is by decreasing social tensions. Having the belief in a universal worldview has been the source of most world wars. If you think your worldview or culture is superior to all others, you have more of a reason to massacre and dominate “inferior” cultures. The Christian settlers of the Americas and the way they treated the original peoples is a good example of this. Yes, there is a danger in believing in one, your own, culture as being superior to all others. The temptation of arrogance and cultural xenophobia is real. The answer for that problem, at least for the Christian, is that it is sin, unloving.
I rest my case. If you know of any other positive contributions of postmodernism, you can put them in the comments.
Going forward, I want to write more about the mundane of life. I am about to break ground on my cottage and things are getting busy. I finished my first proof of my audio book. There are many Arabic words and the reader nailed most of them. But there were some technical problems that we are working on to make it a really good recording. Hopefully my next round starts tomorrow.