Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Wherein I Claim to be Postmodern

I’m postmodern. I used to be pre-modern, then I flirted with modernity, and now I am past it. Does that mean that I deny the existence of external reality independent of my perceptions? Or that I hold that all moral propositions are equally valid? Of course not. That is the straw man postmodernism that folks like to rail against. Sure, some college sophomores understand pomo this way for a while, but they eventually come down from whatever they have been smoking and figure out that pomo is not the nihilistic dead end that they thought it was.

What I mean by postmodern is that I acknowledge that, while there is doubtless an objective reality independent of my observing it, my sensory inputs and reasoning capacity are limited. Nature has endowed me with just enough access to reality to permit me to survive and reproduce (joke’s on Nature since I don’t have kids). I have no good reason to believe that the deliverances of my senses and the cognitive modules by which I process them actually approximate reality. Any model of reality that did more than necessary for survival would be a waste of resources.

It follows that I cannot trust the deliverances of my senses and my human reason to render infallible judgments about the world. It also follows that my perceptions and human reasoning may be prejudiced and want examining. In my postmodernism, the world exists; I just don’t have the ideal instruments for accessing the essence of it.

I also acknowledge that my thinking and perceptions are colored by the social order and web of power relations through which I must navigate. Conventional wisdom, common sense, unquestioned norms, “Western culture” all constrain me, and all of these want examining and deconstructing. This does not mean that I reject all of these out of hand; I just don’t want to have anything put over on me without critical analysis if I can help it. I want to know what memes are working on me and how they operate. There are other ideas out there, other traditions, and I am keen to know about them and have the freedom to adopt them if I wish.

I acknowledge that all normative propositions ultimately rest on metaphysical assumptions that are not susceptible of proof. My most profound religious beliefs and moral values rest on such assumptions, and I will never be able to demonstrate through reason that these are correct or desirable. I am an agnostic Christian. I believe, but I know that my belief is a gift from God, not the product of reason. I recognize that other people are seekers as well and that their searches may lead them to other religions and other moral values. This doesn’t mean that I reject my own beliefs.


bkmarcus said...

VF, I think you'd quite like Robert Anton Wilson's books on science, psychology, faith, and agnosticism. Start with Quantum Psychology. Wilson very briefly called himself postmodern, but then changed his mind when he discovered the crazy nonsense that other postmoderns were claiming.

My problems with your argument are (1) what you claim are strawmen are actually flesh-and-blood people ardently arguing in the name of postmodernism for what you claim postmodernism isn't; I went to school with them; I studied under them; I read them; I fled them; (2) when I tried, as a philosophy major in an advanced undergraduate class on postmodernism (though that term was in neither the course's short main title nor its long subtitle), to salvage postmodernism in the name of a metacultural model agnosticism, the professor gave me a lower-than-usual grade and told me I was stuck in linear thinking and scientific models. I'm pretty sure she'd grade your blog post similarly.

If postmodernism means anything (and this is a by no means clear), then it means what you say it doesn't mean. It certainly does not mean what you say it means.


Vache Folle said...

Thanks, bk. I have also known my share of folks who held on to the sophomoric notion of postmodernism way past the sophomore year and rode it into academic tenure. I don't yet despair of reclaiming the term, and I am not so concerned with the crazies who take it too far. I don't surrender a whole lot of authority to academics.

MDM said...

You might be interested to know that there's a whole different school of post-modernism, called "constructive" postmodern (in contrast to deconstructive pomo) that's rooted in process philosophy and american pragmatism. Some key proponents are also Christian theologians (Griffin, Cobb, etc.). Cf. www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2220