The Dangerous Inventions of Post-Modernism
September 20, 2003 3:03 AM   Subscribe

The Aletheia Forum's searing critique of post-modernism When faced with moral questions, post modernism turns to invention but not truth for answer. The result are insane inventions like totalitarianism. Hence "the deep affinity, the holding hands under the table between postmodern intellectuals and totalitarian regimes."
posted by gregb1007 (24 comments total)
And remember, he's kidding.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:47 AM on September 20, 2003

After all that careful tracking up to what has been in ogue for a time now, the writer never mentions a simple fact: much of what is now without a stable moralanchor and is relative is seen as such in light of Darwininian thought. After all, what the scientists gave us was the aspect of a world without a grand designer or design or plan...we are randomly moving about, despite theoriesw such as Marx or Freud gave us--attempts to show us who we are and why.
And Nietzsche was aware of Darwin too.
posted by Postroad at 4:06 AM on September 20, 2003

Aletheia's Mission Philosophy: "Under Construction".

Says it all to me.
posted by wendell at 4:21 AM on September 20, 2003

To truly take this article on would take a much larger comment than I care to make. Suffice to say that I think the author's understanding of Post-Modernism is tenuous at best - even to the point that he has confused it with other philosophies and schools of thought.

In my opinion, this "searing critique of Post-Modernism" from this group is about as useful as a "searing critique of Bush" from the committee to elect Dean - which is to say, if you already agree with the article, you'll say "hell yeah," and if you don't agree with the article you'll say "hell naw!"
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:24 AM on September 20, 2003

This is really a cutting-edge critique, and can be seen as the first of many shots across the bow of the Titanic of postmodern philosophy which much be sunk before it does any more damage to our universities, to our American way of life, and our precious bodily fluids.

Or at least it would be, if it were 1989. This essay genre was played out by the early-to-mid 90s. I await the Aletheia forum's essay about the encroaching opressive movement of "political correctness" that is taking over our universities.
posted by deanc at 6:01 AM on September 20, 2003

".... To Kimball, these pithy one-liners amount to nothing but "deliberate stupefaction." "[D]oes . . . Fish literally mean 'There is no such thing as literal meaning?'" When Derrida goes to the pharmacy "he depends mightily on the fact that there is an outside to language, that when he asks for aspirine he will not be given arsenic instead." However, deliberate stupefaction or not, these ideas have been so absorbed into our ways of thinking that they are second nature to most. "Like most world-explaining constructions" they act "as catnip on susceptible souls. Once one is seduced, everything seems marvelously clear." "

Catnip on susceptible souls, eh? Right-O

I fully agree that Postmodernism has seeped into Western institutions - most deeply into the US Republican Party, I'd say - and that this has fed a horrible sort of political rot.

But refuting Postmodernism? Good Luck. Why not start by refuting the Copernican Model of the Solar System? From there, we can advance to a broad frontal assault on Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. The rear guard of Christian Fundamentalism can clean up that mess that Darwin left us too.

Sure, there are shared societal values and conventions. Like: we flap our meat (talk, that is) and sounds come out. We have shared understanding of what those sounds represent - this works for me. How about you? - Good. I thought so. So we don't envision a postmodernist threat to everyday language any time soon (if ever), right? .

So what's the big deal, what's the point? I imagine - when the Aletheia Forum finally gets around to finishing it's "Mission Philosophy", we'll get a bracing exhortation to return to Pre-Vatican 2 Christianity, reinstate the medieval medical theory of the Four Humours, and start burning witches in the village square.

Then. we'll move on to a reinstatement of the teaching of cannons of the Greats of Western Civilization at Western colleges and Universities. This will reverse the moral decline of the West, push back the pagan assaults against Christianity, put Islam on the defensive (and thus end all terrorism), and put an end to tooth decay, flatulence, and bad manners.

Ronald Reagan will regain his lost brain, JFK will spring from the grave, and the two will dance a jig on the White House lawn and pledge harmony forever more in American politics.

All good things will come to pass - as long as you have the correct understanding of what a "good thing" is, of course. Otherwise, watch out.
posted by troutfishing at 6:13 AM on September 20, 2003

gregb1007 - many thanks - from myself, deanc (I'm sure) and the others who will follow - for the opportunity to blast away, at close range, at the stinking carcass of this dead horse.

It was fun. Now I have some serious stuff to do. Dhwtag quwarblutheq ip lapstredxm (!) - You know what I mean.
posted by troutfishing at 6:21 AM on September 20, 2003

Yeah I thought this essay was like a massive troll. That's right, philosophy is to blame for people misbehaving isn't it? Of course, obviously. It's all philosophy's fault.

A post-modern viewpoint does not turn people into monsters!
posted by mokey at 7:12 AM on September 20, 2003

Haystack Dude.
posted by y2karl at 7:35 AM on September 20, 2003

In essence, Kimball argues that the hope and promise of Postmodernism is that "invention can supercede belief."

I thought the whole point about moss-backed, barnacle-encrusted Defenders of All That Is Right and Smiters of What These Awful Kids Are Up To was that at least they could spell. Now it looks like there's no point to them whatever.

Really, I'm as fed up with Stanley Fish and the gang as the next guy, but please: still holding poor old Chesterton up as your exemplar of greatness, making a hero out of Jew-mocking, wife-driving-crazy T.S. Eliot because he wrote: "If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes," beating up on Wallace Stevens (!) because he somehow advanced the cause of Darkness but then relenting because at the end he found Catholicism... this is just embarrassing. What any of this has to do with totalitarianism is anyone's guess (check out the esthetic preferences of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia and see how much wacky postmodernist fun you turn up). In conclusion, I agree with troutfishing:

Dhwtag quwarblutheq ip lapstredxm!
posted by languagehat at 8:11 AM on September 20, 2003

A post-modern viewpoint does not turn people into monsters!

No, it just allows them to redefine monstrosity.
posted by rushmc at 8:17 AM on September 20, 2003

The vision for Aletheia Forum grew out of a common belief among its founders that our communities, though prosperous, have somehow lost their way. A belief that with secularization and increasing relativism, something vital has been lost. There was a time when the Judeo-Christian understanding of justice, mercy, peace, equality, responsibility, sacrifice and integrity informed and permeated the public square.

And that was... when, exactly? There's a good post-structuralist critique of the myth of the lost idyll somewhere, but I can't be bothered digging it out.
posted by riviera at 9:05 AM on September 20, 2003

No, it just allows them to redefine monstrosity.

Yeah. Like when Michael Jackson says "I'm bad" but really he means good.
posted by mokey at 9:22 AM on September 20, 2003

There's no reason to do an ad hominem attack on this. Christians aren't the only ones who have issues with post-modernism. What bothers me personally, as it seems to also bother troutfishing, is the Bush administration's use of post-modernism. They dismiss objective facts of science like global-warming and come up with their own counter-theories that contradict scientific research. If according to the Aletheia forum postmodernism is about "abandoning [one's] ideal of being faithful to, [and] engaging intelligently and responsibly with reality" then Bush is definitely post-modern.
posted by gregb1007 at 12:16 PM on September 20, 2003

...then Bush is definitely post-modern.

Anyone who puts such deep faith in the concepts of good and evil is a LONG way away from postmodern thought. IANACT, but I don't even think it qualifies as modern.
posted by jeffj at 12:57 PM on September 20, 2003

...but I don't even think it qualifies as modern.

Look at me, all deferential to some objective authority. For the purpose of being true to the spirit of the thread, let me rephrase that - "I wouldn't even describe it as modern."
posted by jeffj at 1:04 PM on September 20, 2003

From 2003 Sep 20 14:31:00 + 1100
Subject: Thx for your essay in NYRB!

I agree with your point about intertextuality. You must give lectures at one of my many palaces, and then we shall hold hands under the table.

From 2003 Sep 20 14:32:00 - 700
Subject: Postmodernism sinks ships

If you read 'Dutch' by Edmund Morris, you're with the terrorists.
posted by ~rschram at 2:31 PM on September 20, 2003

check out the esthetic preferences of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia and see how much wacky postmodernist fun you turn up

Well, they had it going on for a little while, but it didn't work out too well...

But overall, I concur.

weourl;f.hggm!! *(&(*^!!
posted by jokeefe at 2:53 PM on September 20, 2003

There is some blatant mischaracterization here -- the Iris Murdoch part for instance. This essay does not rise to the level of serious scholarship. It's funny. The parts that are explicity denigrating the author's idea of postmodernism cannot be accurately described as postmodern, but when the author discusses how people view reality he does get close to how postmodernists view it too. It's not so much the postmodern view of reality is all that different from other schools, it's the conclusions they reach with same evidence.

Look, there are many valid critiques of postmodernism -- that it reaches conclusions long held by other schools, that the theoryese is needlessly thick (I've seen some amazing and utterly unreadable examples of this), that their idea of language as little more than a social construct is almost complete nonsense. I have never heard, and with good reason, that postmodernism leads to totalitarianism. I have never heard it before because that statement is, frankly, stupid.
posted by raaka at 4:06 PM on September 20, 2003

Use of the word "aletheia", used in the New Testament very frequently and generally translated as "truth", immediately tipped me off to these people, and sure enough, we're talking creation scientists, abortion protesters and such ilk. Much as I roll my eyes at post-modern theory, wacky English professors are much less likely to try to foist a totalitarian government on me than these guileful theocrats are.
posted by gimonca at 6:39 PM on September 20, 2003

Philosophy doesn't kill people, philosophers do!
posted by wobh at 7:50 AM on September 21, 2003

This essay does not rise to the level of serious scholarship.

You're right, but I don't think scholars are the intended audience of this article. Rather I think it's aimed at giving people who don't understand "postmodernism" a nice straw man to parade about, and to inoculate people against valid critiques of problematic pre-modern worldviews by getting them to reject that scrutiny without consideration.

This is a powerful, effective rhetorical strategy. The political right here in the States is enjoying great success with this strategy at the moment:

1. Define anything other than a far-right position as a "liberal" position (or a "postmodern" position in this case);
2. Shape thought about "liberals" (or "postmodernists") by using straw men, absurd caricatures, and sweeping generalizations, and assure that any position not endorsed by the far right is rejected without thought as just another example of liberal absurdity;
3. Accuse "liberals" (or "postmodernists") of dragging us further and further away from an idyllic past that never existed (what riviera said, above) and sell your far-right fantasies as the ticket back to a nostalgic time when life was swell and people didn't ask such troubling questions;
4. Construct an idealized positive identity that people can project onto themselves and feel good about -- by agreeing with you, people should be able to see themselves as the virtuous defenders of reason and good, standing with the great philosophers and patriots and righteous believers that came before. This is especially effective when constructs are kept vague and closely tied to positive, strongly-conditioned affective responses (e.g., seeing yourself as a defender of 'American values" against attacks by the "un-American");
5. Provide ways for people to avoid cognitive dissonance and insulate themselves against uncomfortable emotions: All matters in ethics have easy answers, everything our country does is for the greater good, people suffer only by fault of their own, the people you might feel bad about having oppressed in the past are actually oppressing you now, etc. -- all this comfort can be yours if you adopt our way of seeing things.

Of course the left attempts to do this as well, but they're nowhere near as sophisticated or successful with it at the moment.
posted by boredomjockey at 1:30 PM on September 21, 2003

Use of the word "aletheia", used in the New Testament very frequently and generally translated as "truth", immediately tipped me off to these people, and sure enough, we're talking creation scientists, abortion protesters and such ilk.

although you seem to be right about this group, I'd just like to point out that "aletheia" is simply an ancient greek word, translated as truth, disclosure, uncovering (it's an alpha-privative) used by pretty much all ancient greek philosophers, and plenty of post-modernists who like/d the greeks. Heidegger wrote a lot on aletheia.
posted by mdn at 2:08 PM on September 21, 2003

For anyone interested, here's another critique of post-modernism, but this time from a liberal - literary critic Terry Eagleton.,12084,1045021,00.html
posted by gregb1007 at 4:34 AM on September 22, 2003

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