ThoughtStorms Wiki

Context: PostModernism, InformationOverload

Quora Answer : If pre-modernism is associated as the age of romanticism and if modernism is associated with the age of enlightenment, what age is post-modernism associated with?

Sep 13,2020

Another way of looking at it is that TheEnlightenment put a lot of faith in "learning" and "education" and "books" etc ... when information was still a scarce resource, owned and managed by well educated and largely responsible, but also privileged and self-interested, gatekeepers.

Post-modernist philosophy grew in the second half of the 20th century, partly in response to the explosion of media : of many newspapers, radio, television, magazines. Of mass advertising. And, of course, kind of "predicted" the effects of the Cambrian explosion of even more media that we'd see with the internet.

To answer your question, if pre-modernism is associated with the age of "romanticism". And "modernism" is associated with "enlightenment", you can argue that post-modernism is the philosophy of the age of "InformationOverload"

When there's too much information - too many different, contradictory voices chattering at us - then Enlightenment ideals like "freedom of speech"; and Enlightenment institutions like modern "education systems" and "democracy" etc, are simply unable to cope with the excess of rival contradictory information.

There are now no centres of authority - whether the government, the university, the academics, the intellectuals, the media etc. - who people trust to distinguish truth from lies. Not even doctors in the age of Covid19 denialism. Meanwhile social media and YouTube have an infinite amount of space for an infinite number of rival narratives, all presented with equally passionate intensity.

People get the post-modernists wrong. They think that the post-modernists advocated relativism and the abandonment of truth. And they are outraged when they hear this. But the post-modernists were far less advocating abandoning truth than they were warning us ... that the institutions we were putting our trust in : "reason", "education", "democracy", "a free press" etc. - even "language" - were not adequate to cope with the creative power and inherent perversity of "narrative". (OnNarrative)

Post-modernists would talk about "the play of the signifiers free from the signifieds". And people think "what nonsense". But today, most of us understand that a meme's survivability and capacity to "go viral" on the internet is independent of whether it is true or not. But that's really just a different metaphor for saying the same thing. (SurvivabilityDoesNotEqualTruth)

The PoMos saw that language / media / symbols / signs / culture ... were autonomous from "reality". And had a life of their own. You could study these phenomena. You could enjoy them. (Lyotard and Baudrilliard are very big on the pleasure that this world of autonomous symbols gives us, and why we love it.) But we couldn't rely on it. We couldn't rely on language or signs or the media to stick with reality. Or to underpin rational discussion and decision making.

Like I say, a lot of people were outraged, and wanted to shoot the messengers.

But here we are in an age of the internet, with over 3 billion people absorbing and reiterating every bad idea that comes their way. The things that the PoMos were talking about now affect all of us. Memes and culture REALLY ARE autonomous of "reality". Reality can't hold the storytellers and the fake-news and the all mighty "narrative" to account. Academia, government authority, democratic institutions, rational argument etc. etc. have all failed to keep signs tied to reality.

Exactly as the PoMos implied they would.

The Enlightenment was a sham.

Imagine Voltaire or Benjamin Franklin trying to cope with the phenomenon of QAnon. Imagine how their simplistic liberal platitudes and homespun sensible wisdom stacks up against the machinations of Roger Stone and Alex Jones and the people who say "go out to work because COVID is a communist plot, caused by 5G and BillGates. And also stay home, despite all that smoke, because the wild-fires are a myth spread by AntiFa who want to rob your house".

Much of the self-confidence of Enlightenment ideals was based on the fact that it was a few, rather decent, and powerful men who held them and advocated them. And everyone else was a powerless peasant.

Now everyone really does have a voice. And a broadcast channel. And many people with these things are either stupid or malicious. And possibly both.

And the result is an unintelligible cacophony within which wisdom is swamped.

I've written elsewhere (FrenchPostModernism) that post-modernism thrived in Paris after the second world war because thinkers there had seen the Enlightenment fail with the rise of Nazism and the second world war.

Instead of learning from them, too many people today simply stuck their fingers in their ears saying "La! La! La! Can't hear you! How dare you diss the Enlightenment ideals I was taught to idealize!!!!" And, like I say, tried to shoot the messengers.

On Quora you get questions along the lines of "Is Fake News all the fault of the post-modernists teaching that facts don't matter?" NO. Fake News is the fault of people who denied the post-modernist insight that facts couldn't compete with the power of narratives and gave the narrative spinners a free pass.

So now we have a new "Nazism". Don't quibble about the details of whether it's the same as the old Nazis or not. What is obvious is that it IS the same catastrophic failure of the authority of Enlightenment reason to stand up to right-wing romanticism, racism and disinformation. And it is starting to do real harm and kill many thousands of people.

Post-modernism is the philosophy that correctly describes a world where information overload overwhelms the capacity of reason to guide us, and only raw power survives and shapes the world. Perhaps we were always living in such a world (Nietzsche thought so). Perhaps its a world that really appeared with Capitalism and the excess of production and products and signs (which is how various post-modernists would have described it) But it is VERY obvious that it's the world we have now made for ourselves.

See ShamanismAsAResponseToInformationOverload for further thoughts on this.