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I ranted a lot about this subject on Quora. (See QuoraAnswers) :

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Quora Answer : Can you explain postmodernism to a fifth grader?

Nov 11, 2019

You know the story of the blind men and the elephant? Blind men and an elephant

Post-modernists are basically Western intellectuals who recognised the wisdom of that parable. You were never going to get a definitive theory about how human culture and society worked. Just a lot of rival perspectives and interpretations.

Quora Answer : What are the pros and cons of postmodernism?

Feb 8, 2020

Post-modernism isn't a single theory or ideology.

Rather it's a whole family of critiques of the various theories and ideologies that came before it.

The main pro of post-modernism is that these critiques have validity.

Some are merely sceptical ... pointing out that things that the previous ideologies assert can't actually be justified or shown to be true.

Some are based on historical research, where, for example, Foucault finds in various historical records that the same behaviour was, in one century, treated as crime, and in another, as madness, this strengthens the case that the line between the two is negotiable rather than absolute.

Others are entirely new conceptual frameworks for thinking about how the world works. They may sound weird compared to what we were used to. But they are often capable of helping us see things that the old frameworks don't. And even if there's no compelling reason to adopt the new one, its very existence shows the old one to be more arbitrary than you previously thought.

The main con of post-modernism is exactly that, because it's not a unified theory or ideology, and in fact a proliferation of different ideas, some of which are not compatible with each other, and many of which are odd, it doesn't necessarily give rise to a programme for action. It's not practical.

Once you've noted the slipperiness of words, and given some compelling evidence of it, what do you do? You can't STOP using words. Political discourse and argument and rhetoric goes on as before.

Once you've identified that oppression is diffused within the population in the form of biopower, and exerted horizontally ... how do you combat oppression? It's everywhere, in the cracks and interstices of everyday life. You can try calling out every occurrence, but it becomes intractable. And leads to some of the problems we have today where racism and sexism and other prejudices within the population, are called out and treated as heinous so universally, that sooner or later the accusation loses its force, and the population builds up a kind of immunity. (ThePyramidOfHate)

Quora Answer : Could someone explain the essence of postmodernism?

Oct 31, 2014

Post-modernism isn't a "thing" ... it's a kind of space.

Previous to post-modernism, the intellectuals of the modern era felt obliged to work within certain narratives or frameworks : Marxism, Freudianism, Humanism (what you're calling Liberalism), "Structuralism" (a theory of language and thought which saw them as a kind of system of relationships between signs.)

Largely these were "normative" or "opinionated" theories. They had an idea what was good and how to get there. History was seen as progressing in the right direction. Psychoanalysis was therapeutic. Etc.

Post-modernism was what happened when the thinkers allowed themselves to give up on these alleged certainties. Their motives for doing so were various. Some were disillusioned ex-Marxists who felt that Marxist predictions were busted. Some had always been anti-Marxists. Some were Feminists, kicking against the residual sexism they found in Freudianism and Marxism. Some were (small l) libertarians looking for space to pursue their own agendas free from the constrictions of the earlier narratives.

One of the strongest justifications for post-modernism was the way the world was obviously changing in the late 20th century consumer / media-saturated economy. You must understand that post-modernists were largely from the humanities and were cultural critics. They weren't doing Marxism as economists or political activists. Nor were they doing Freud as psychologists. They were interested in these narratives because these narratives claimed to be universal theories of human culture. How people thought and saw the world was seen as a byproduct of their economic situation or psychological development.

But as the electronic age evolved into the information age, what we saw was a proliferation of different ways of seeing the world. Not a single human mentality, but a patchwork of niche interests. Those who liked this kind of music or that kind of movie or read this newspaper, or were convinced by those adverts. It was hard to sustain a grand narrative that explained how human culture worked, faced with the fact that human cultures were diversifying and fragmenting (though sometimes also reunifying) under the influence of the explosion of media.

So the post-modernists set about shifting the focus; from some kind of external "reality" that was meant to underlie culture, to looking at how culture actually worked, how it changed and mutated. They started with the models they already had : Marx, Freud, Structuralism, the Human etc. and then began looking at how these models needed to be revised to make way for the increasingly dynamic cultural landscape of the 60s and 70s. These revisions became more radical : stretching and eventually breaking the original theories. In doing so, and focussing on change, they challenged all alleged fixed notions : siting their new models in ideas of flux and slippage and differance and in soft relationships like seduction rather than hard ones like opposition.

Quora Answer : Does postmodernism oppose progress? If so, why?

Aug 6, 2019

Postmodernism denies we can know the direction of progress.

It denies we can detect a single "arrow of progress" that points unambiguously in one direction (eg. towards Communism as the Marxists thought, or towards a Capitalist End of History, or towards ever more Liberal human rights etc.)

Instead it sees a lot of different agents in the world, all doing their own thing and pulling the world in different directions. Thus history is a kind of Brownian motion buffeted around between competing forces.

Quora Answer : Do conservatives and liberals define post-modernism differently?

Aug 26, 2018

That's a polite way of putting it.

The reality seems to be that conservatives are clueless as to "post-modernism" and why it arose.

As far as they're concerned it's a generic label to slap on every intellectual, academic or social trend that they don't like from the last 70 years.

It doesn't matter if it actually IS "post-modernism", if it's a different branch of left-wing thought, a kind of Marxism, a kind of feminism, a general society-wide trend to accept people of other sexualities or genders etc. If it isn't idolizing the economics of the 19th century or the social mores of America prior to the 1960s, it's now in that big bag of "what-we-don't-like-ness" they call "post-modernism".

Every time you hear a conservative use the word "post-modern" you might as well translate it into "new-fangled" because for them it's basically the same thing.

Now, to be fair, 99% of liberals don't know what the fuck "post-modernism" means either. But at least they aren't obsessively flaunting their ignorance by spraying the term around indiscriminately.

Quora Answer : Why is postmodernism still openly embraced in some academic circles?

Jan 22, 2019

Because it's wiser and more principled than what it replaced.

The irony of today's post-modernism hate is not simply that the critics are clueless about what PM is and is for, but that it illustrates so clearly the points that the post modernists themselves were making.

"Look at these horrible people saying that there's no objective truth" cry the haters as they spray fake news across the internet. "Word meanings aren't slippery" they demand before insisting that Nazism is "left-wing", "liberalism" implies "big government' and "post-modernism" is a branch of Marxism. "knowledge is not a product of politics" they think as they rail against bias in academia.

And how has this insurgency against the old liberal status quo and a new red pill consciousness come about? By the proliferation of new types of media. YouTube and Twitter and Whatsapp. Exactly the type of thing that the post modernists said would change our mentality.

Transcluded from Epistemology

Quora Answer : What are the big similarities between postmodernism and skepticism?

Sep 21

It's a historical story.

"Philosophical scepticism" was a project launched by Descartes.

He wasn't trying to doubt or attack philosophy. He was trying to put philosophy and human knowledge on a solid basis, and to sort the properly justified and justifiable knowledge from the random speculation. Descartes was also a mathematician, of course; what he was really hoping for was to give our empirical knowledge of the world a similar rigour and reliability as mathematics which had formal proofs.

So he used systematic scepticism : let's start by assuming we know nothing. Then we can't accept anything UNTIL we can justify that we know it.

That was a project any of us today can at least understand and most of us can applaud and relate to. Surely we should have a solid rational basis for our claims to knowledge. We shouldn't just believe random nonsense for no reason.

Unfortunately, the sceptical method that Descartes invoked was stronger than he expected.

Philosophers spent a couple of hundred years trying out various justifications : reason, empirical evidence, the senses, memory etc. as the basis for knowledge.

And while all these things seemed useful in day-to-day life, when subjected to hard scepticism, they all failed.

Could you trust your senses? Well, what about illusions? And dreams? As Descartes himself noted, how could he know that the world wasn't a lie that a daemon was telling him? (Today we'd say "how do we know we aren't living in the Matrix?" or "a computer simulation?" etc)

Memory? Well we seem to forget easily. Can't trust memory.

What about science? Science is good, no? Except it's based on assumptions that can't themselves be justified. Is the universe a clockwork mechanism following laws? Well, assuming that it is, then science works, bitches. But can science test that assumption? Can science itself guarantee that the universe IS a clockwork mechanism following laws?

And so on.

The history of modern (by which I mean "post-Descartes") philosophy was the history of philosophers struggling to come up with something that could be a strong enough basis of justification to ground our knowledge; and other philosophers saying "well if we can't have that, can we at least have this instead of being able to ground our knowledge of the world. Perhaps we can only ground our knowledge of the experience of the world. Or our concepts of the world. Or our language that describes the world. Etc.

Finally, along comes Nietzsche, who is a bit like the boy who points out that the emperor has no clothes, and gleefully, and obnoxiously tells everyone that this whole philosophy thing is a scam, and that knowledge is nothing more than a power-struggle in which the great thinkers impose their ideas on the common herd.

Now Nietzsche isn't simply trying to be an asshole here. Nietzsche cares deeply about this stuff and about the failure. In fact, he's trying to hold on to the one thing he thinks he can say. Just as Descartes says "I think, therefore I am". Meaning that the one thing he thought he could really be sure of, was that he existed. Because he couldn't even be questioning whether he was thinking, without thinking and existing.

So Nietzsche thought that, at the very least, ideas and values were the product of creativity and a kind of "vitality" of life. You couldn't be sure they were true. Or that the values were the right values. But you could be sure that the ideas were a great invention and that someone came up with them who was really smart, and really serious about it. The kind of guy who got things done. Or rather, the guy himself was a kind of vehicle or channel for a creative "will-to-power" force. You had to believe in a will-to-power, a vigorous and ruthless spirit of inventiveness running through humanity, because otherwise, how could there be all these ideas and values?

Now "post-modernism" is a wide, vague label. And now a lot of people who know nothing about it have decided on a political culture war against a completely unrealistic straw-man of what it is. Those stereotypes are too broad. And there is little really to "post-modernism" other than "what this generation of thinkers thought."

But, as I observed on Phil Jones (He / Him)'s answer to Can we consider that Nietzsche is a postmodern philosopher? If yes, how and why? if you want to make a generalization which is still bad, but not quite as bad as everyone else's, then you could say that the post-modernists are the philosophers who took Nietzsche's model seriously. That doesn't mean that they are straight Nietzschians. But they did recognise that other attempts to justify and give a foundation to knowledge had largely failed. And so some kind of power-struggle between impersonal but creative forces was the only viable game in town.

Some people love to paint a completely bizarre picture with post-modernists as cackling villains saying "ha ha! I will destroy all your truths".

No, it was Descartes's scepticism which had already led to nihilism. The PoMos and Nietzsche were just trying to deal with it.


In reply to a tweet saying

the weirdest part of the CultureWar is that both sides feel like they’re losing