It is impossible for me to write about this topic without disclosing my own biases. My philosophical interests in school centered on the analytics, and when I studied history I delved pretty deeply into Marx and his ideological descendants. It’s thus fair to say that I have only a surface appreciation of postmodernism, inasmuch as it comes out of the continental tradition, which I’m really not qualified to talk about. Sadly enough, despite the fact that I recognize this lacuna, I’m probably the most qualified to talk about it in the manosphere. One reason that this is unfortunate is the fact that critics like Dalrock seem to be instinctively aware of the dangers of falling into the postmodern trap, without really knowing enough about it to effectively negate its appeal.
Beginning some five years ago, I began being accused of postmodernist tendencies myself. This is one example:
It is fair to say that I’m a fan of (many of) the Frankfurters: Marcuse, Adorno, Benjamin and the like. It is not accurate to posit the existence of “Frankfurter Deconstructionists,” because deconstructionism is a tool of postmodernism, and the Frankfurters are, to the last, the most vicious critics of postmodernism available. Frankfurters mock the notion of deconstruction, they don’t use it to prove their points. Derrida was not a member of the Frankfurt School. In fact, all his favorite ideas were cut to pieces for sport by a Franfurter named Jürgen Habermas. The fact that GBFM doesn’t know this is both funny and sad, but that sort of ignorance is not at all uncommon in the androsphere.
I take postmodernism as a reaction to enlightenment theses, generally. What does this mean? We start with Kant’s work on enlightenment: Was ist Aufklärung? This essay begins by describing enlightenment as “the emergence of the human being from his own self-imposed tutelage.” Historically, the individual has seen his standard-of-living rise, and he has thus seen a corresponding increase in the proportion of leisure time. What this has led to is an increase in real freedom: intellectual, political, academic and scientific, as history progressed. Enlightenment, for Kant, was at least partly a function of economic prosperity. The fear of starvation and exposure often kept people timid and pliable. Once enough surplus wealth began circulating, people became less insecure, which led to individuals being able to make more decisions for themselves.
Fast forward a bit, and we find that the results of enlightenment freedoms have led to some truly bizarre scientific theories. We can revisit Frege and look at the difference between sense and reference. We can then get technical and look at quantum field theory. In both cases, there seems to be a surface level of reality, mediated by our senses, which gives us a picture of objects in the everyday world. This surface level is deceptively difficult to reconcile with the deep structures that seem to make up what actually happens in reality. Bertrand Russell talked about this general notion in the first chapter of his Problems of Philosophy.
The difference between phenomenology and metaphysics has grown much more significant with the advent of enlightenment thinking. The postmodernist universalizes the difference, and generalizes the study of deep structure, to the detriment of everything else. Derrida’s famous line: “everything is text,” is an example of the sort of broad paintbrushing that postmodernists love to take to any edifice which has yet to be sufficiently tagged. By this token, the postmodernists have upended enlightenment thinking, and have used its own fruits in an attempt to negate or minimize its successes. Here is the primary postmodernist thesis, as I understand it:
There are two basic levels of reality.
The first level of reality is the phenomenological, corresponding to the data we get from our senses. This is an illusion.
The second level of reality is metaphysical, corresponding to things we will never be able to understand. The best we can hope for is to work out mathematically what happens in reality; but even then, the best we can do is predict isolated incidents. We really don’t know what is going on.
There is no single postmodernist answer to the postmetaphysical thesis they defend. Derrida attempts to formulate a philosophical method which is called deconstructionism. Vattimo (who would angrily decry his place in the postmodernist canon) sets up a competing method based on Gadamer’s hermeneutics.
Here is one of the more enticing and dangerous logical entailments of the postmodernist thesis:
At the surface level, we think our actions are rational, but at the deep level, they are not.
It’s important to disambiguate here, because lots of non-postmodernists will say similar things. Marcuse, for example, was a Frankfurter, and he made what seemed to be similar statements in Eros and Civilization and One-Dimensional Man. In fact, examining the difference between a post-Marxist like Marcuse, and a postmodernist like Derrida, can give us a clearer view of what postmodernism actually is. Marcuse’s argument hinged upon psychological and economic devices to lull us to sleep. Derrida’s argument is founded upon the idea that it is impossible to really understand what motivates us to do anything. For a post-Marxist, human beings are redeemable by their evacuation to a more authentic, non-ideological environment. For a postmodernist, all is for naught.
There are a number of important ethical questions that spring from an acceptance of the postmodernist thesis. For example, if we are not, and can never be, free, then we can never be responsible for our own virtues or our cruelties. Secondly, if the enlightenment ideal of objectivity is impossible, then it is also impossible for us to obtain any epistemic credence in things like justice, fairness or right. Postmodernists generally conclude that we have no epistemic confidence in anything, even in the Cartesian notion that we, ourselves, exist.
The appeal of postmodernism is obvious: It promises a reversion to infantile excuses for our bad behavior, and allows for the cultivation of an unexamined life. After all, if knowledge, decency and understanding is impossible, then we can’t be blamed for not trying.