The Incoherence of the Philosophers: The Horror of Postmodernism

The title of this bit here refers to an 11th-Century work of Islamic theology, explained here: https://existentialcomics.com/comic/126

The rundown is that a pseudointellectual retreat from rationalism invited its well-deserved ridicule too late, and may have been responsible for the needless and terrible demise of a great world civilization's halcyon era, for which the whole world suffers to this day. We need to learn from that.

Everyone here needs to be aware of this, I'm afraid: The modern Western equivalent of The Incoherence. It explains so, so much. If you're wondering why you're suddenly being barraged with Orwellian jargon, charged with crimethink, seeing the issues you've been harping on for years suddenly turned against you as though you've never even heard of them, get aggressively assigned identities you've never had in your life and told that the person you've always been can't possibly exist, and that the consensus, however flawed and incomplete, of the past 50 years on many hard-fought issues is quite suddenly being treated as though it was all a nefarious lie (a la 9/11-flashback), here's the root of who and what to blame:

https://areomagazine.com/2017/03/27/how-french-intellectuals-ruined-the-...

The fact that institutions of higher learning have been coddling this for so long, despite the special treatment it could not survive without, and despite the fact that it bears the mantle and exploits the public clout of science, education, liberalism, and diversity, just to destroy all those things, is particularly shameful. They might as well allow Dianetics as a legitimate alternative to psychology.

Below is what I personally maintain is the Greatest Political Cartoon In American History. Though it refers to only one issue, it elegantly explains nearly everything wrong with American political thought.
The best politcal cartoon ever.gif

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arendt's picture

I'm going to post what I wrote ten years ago in a separate thread, giving you full credit for bringing up the subject.

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Cassiodorus's picture

Postmodernism presents a threat not only to liberal democracy but to modernity itself.

When in doubt, scream and shout, run around in circles, and panic! Uh-huh. Postmodernism was the solution to an academic problem which arose in the Eighties with the proliferation of Ph.D. and M.A. degrees in the humanities. Nobody wanted to read another thesis or dissertation on Shakespeare, and all of the academic work had to be strictly original and pass increasingly onerous originality tests of the type employed by turnitin.com . Meanwhile the authors had to write these damn things if they were to receive diplomas and move on to teaching jobs. Postmodernism to the rescue! Postmodernism as such was an aesthetic movement, revealing with drab uniformity the juxtaposition of everything in an era in which everything was a commodity. Postmodernism is the Hamburger Helper of the academic humanities, a solution to a purely practical matter.

But Pluckrose continues to panic. Here she is characterizing the postmodern perspective:

Therefore the author of a text is not the authority on its meaning.

So? Perhaps Pluckrose needs to read more undergraduate papers, in which their authors evoke an eternal authorial struggle. "Say what you mean!" my teacherly red ink continually shouts at these undergraduates. Of course this is a problem when one's undergraduates write run-on sentences or sentence fragments. But does anyone really say what they mean? I suppose we can at least try harder. Meanwhile original meanings get lost in the procession of history. A prima facie example of this is "originalism" in Constitutional jurisprudence, which claims ultimate reliance on an "original meaning" of the Constitution -- you know, that one and only one original meaning the Founders intended. Never mind that said Founders were walking contradictions. Take for instance Thomas Jefferson, that eloquent waxer upon the virtues of freedom. Now ask Sally Hemings about him.

Let's skip to Pluckrose's conclusion:

In order to regain credibility, the Left needs to recover a strong, coherent and reasonable liberalism.

I don't see why. How about if we figure out what sort of utopian dream would be appropriate for our world in our day and age, and then decide afterward if we want to call it "liberalism"? Isn't the point of the "science" which Pluckrose regards so highly to put the conclusion at the end of one's research, rather than at the beginning?

I could go on, but this is long enough for a comment in a diary.

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"Day-to-day life under crapitalism is so horrible and depressing." -- Sam Miller

The Liberal Moonbat's picture

@Cassiodorus

Postmodernism to the rescue! Postmodernism as such was an aesthetic movement, revealing with drab uniformity the juxtaposition of everything in an era in which everything was a commodity.

That's a different kind of "Postmodernism" altogether, the kind associated with (if I'm not mistaken) such Chaotic gems as MAD Magazine, Monty Python, The Far Side, and the vibrant, innovative weirdness of a wide array of 1990s art, literature, and pop culture. My very bones are built on such things.

There's also "postmodern architecture", best known for being boring (my mother has been known to call it "post-architecture").

This, though? This is something entirely anathema. The aesthetic we call "postmodern" is liberating and innovative (at least as long as it stays in the hands of people who "get it"); it teaches that there are no rules, that life is a strange and beautiful carnival, that we can be whatever we want to be, and the world can be whatever we want it to be. "Postmodernism" as sociology, on the other hand, with its denial of the very existence of the individual, and obscene redefinitions of such sacred words as "Justice", is just all but explicitly totalitarian, and would have us believe that the entire 20th Century, with all its hard-fought, bitter-bought victories and miracles, was all for nothing.

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“The enemy wasn't men, or women, or the old, or even the dead. It was just bleedin' stupid people, who came in all varieties. And no one had the right to be stupid.”

― Terry Pratchett, Monstrous Regiment

Cassiodorus's picture

@The Liberal Moonbat @The Liberal Moonbat that it is "liberalism" itself that has run out of gas.

At any rate, to deal with the objections to postmodernism: it's a performative contradiction to be an academic writing against the idea of the individual, for higher-level academia exists to adorn the resumes of self-proclaimed individuals. I just don't see postmodernism, of whatever kind you care to distinguish, as anything but harmless, useless, and pointless outside of its obvious role in contributing to the resume-building efforts of professors in the humanities, and I haven't seen anything here to change my mind about that.

Rather, the problem is that the liberals have run out of new mechanisms whereby the liberal utopia might bear fruit. The liberal trend peaked a long time ago. And, in the meantime, liberal objections to the neoliberal utopia, the utopia of total market existence for everyone as enforced by government diktat, have become toothless. In the US context the liberals appear either blind to or despairing of the fact that the best they had for politics was Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and that their hero Bernie Sanders nullified himself by endorsing Hillary Rodham Clinton. In the French contest the best they had was Macron. I suppose that there are a few islands of sanity elsewhere. But liberalism does not contribute substantially to the longevity of such islands.

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"Day-to-day life under crapitalism is so horrible and depressing." -- Sam Miller

The Liberal Moonbat's picture

@Cassiodorus To me it just means...well, kind of just being a good, intelligent, and independent-minded person who learns from history and builds on it. If, as I've read the claim, "conservatism is the negation of ideology", I'd venture to describe liberalism as the absence of externally-derived ideology.

I don't think the establishment Democrats - spineless, capitalist, militarist, insular, and ultimately authoritarian - deserve to be let anywhere near the label "liberal".

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“The enemy wasn't men, or women, or the old, or even the dead. It was just bleedin' stupid people, who came in all varieties. And no one had the right to be stupid.”

― Terry Pratchett, Monstrous Regiment

Cassiodorus's picture

@The Liberal Moonbat are "good, intelligent, and independent-minded" people who "learn from history and build on it." The difference, of course, is that the postcapitalists want to jettison capitalism whereas most of the liberals want to "build on it." "A well-regulated capitalism," they tell us, is the way to go, because history declares "Communism" anathema. Now perhaps not all liberals agree with this well-recited dogma, but its primary problem is that it does not touch capitalism's commodification of everything including governments. Thus liberals who believe in this dogma claim that they seek the best-possible accommodation with capitalism, and "well-regulated" means "regulated enough to look good." Politicians with the endorsement of liberals must keep the air and water clean in areas where the residents are rich enough to buy politicians.

Now of course the liberals will protest this characterization of them, proclaiming once again that they are "good, intelligent, and independent-minded." But where can they be seen imagining the world after capitalism? Kim Stanley Robinson at least tries:

Kim Stanley Robinson, Keynote from Environmental Humanities Center on Vimeo.

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"Day-to-day life under crapitalism is so horrible and depressing." -- Sam Miller

The Liberal Moonbat's picture

@Cassiodorus I've come away with the conclusion that the very concept is, at best, nothing more than a kind of subtopic of history, and at worst, outright pseudoscience, if not religion. My attitude has since spread to much of the rest of that which bills itself as "social science" - sociology's one thing, of course, and so is modern psychology, having dumped Freud, but I think the notion of "social science" is finally revealing itself to mostly be just another disastrous 19th-Century conceit. Free will is kryptonite to science. "The economy", "society", "culture", people labor under these things because they believe they're unavoidably real, but it's really all just a game, and the rules can be almost whatever we want them to be.

You can try to make anything into a "science" - but not everything can or should. Case in point: After World War II, the Soviet Union decided that military strategy and tactics were a science, and that it had natural laws or whatever that could be honed to the same degree of precision as the laws of physics; with time, they believed, they'd be able to predict the outcome of a battle before a single shot had been fired. This "science" crashed and burned when they invaded Afghanistan.

As to the question of "what do we replace capitalism with?", my honest answer is: Nothing. Stop believing in "economics", and just do what makes sense based on situational necessity and a long-term vision of what we want. A "mixed economy" like those of Norway, 1970s Britain, or (arguably) New Deal America is really just an economy that has broken free of the religion of "economics," and plays by its own, common sense/common morality rules. The best economic policy MO I've ever heard of is Finland's: "Let's do what makes our people HAPPY!" (I read a dandy article about that a while back, but I can't seem to find it now).

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“The enemy wasn't men, or women, or the old, or even the dead. It was just bleedin' stupid people, who came in all varieties. And no one had the right to be stupid.”

― Terry Pratchett, Monstrous Regiment

travelerxxx's picture

@The Liberal Moonbat

The best economic policy MO I've ever heard of is Finland's: "Let's do what makes our people HAPPY!" (I read a dandy article about that a while back, but I can't seem to find it now).

TLM, if you recall that article, I'd be interested in reading it. You can shoot me a PM here.

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arendt's picture

@Cassiodorus

I have seen his books for a long time, but never was that interested. Now that I know he is a politically active sci-fi writer - who is not a screaming libertarian fuckhead like Neal Stephenson or Vernor Vinge - I will pick up one of his books.

He says some very radical things (nationalize the banks, end austerity, stop burning fossil fuels), but he does so in such a droning, sophorific manner that you don't quite appreciate how extreme his stance is. Perhaps that is an intentional tactic.

Anyway, thanks for linking the video.

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I enjoyed a museum visit in Sharza, where one section of the complex had displays of incredible scientific contributions I had never associated with this part of the world.
When I left that section, everything became examples and displays of Islam. Korans, proper clothing, a few weapons. Thinking back, the science section pre-dated this philosopher.
I saw his influence, just didn't know it until today.
Very interesting essay.

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Azazello's picture

I never could understand Postmodernism. Is this because I am a white male or because I find Enlightenment concepts more coherent and more useful in my everyday life and politics ? Whatever, I remain happily stuck in the late 18th century. Good to see a mention of Alan Sokal in the linked article.

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And other literature courses was that the classes were about the schools of literary criticism on Shakespeare, rather than about the students doing a close reading of Shakespeare. And then of course, critiques on the schools of literary criticism.

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