What is Postmodernism

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Principles Series
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Apr 3, 2022 01:47 PM
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Today we’re going to do a explainer on Postmodernism. I’ll share my biases upfront: postmodernism is a deeply flawed and dangerous ideology. I think you’ll see why.
Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy starts its definition of postmodernism with the statement that “That postmodernism is indefinable is a truism. However, it can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.”
Maybe that’s just Stanford. Well, Purdue starts its intro by stating “Postmodernism poses serious challenges to anyone trying to explain its major precepts in a straightforward fashion.”
This should immediately throw up warning signs. But I’ll do my best to put this into terms everyone can understand.
Put simply, postmodernism is the belief that the entirety our modern system is a social construct and that there exists no absolute or objective truth. Rather, reality is only shaped by individual interpretations.
What does this mean in practice? At a basic level, this calls to question any ideals or values that are embedded in “modern” culture (hence postmodernism). It also creates this concept that you’ll hear of “my truth” or “your truth,” and a broad stance of moral relativism. A postmodernist would believe my truth and your truth are equivalent, no matter who threw the first punch.
This seems like an apt visual for postmodernism: a nonsensical attack on critical values we’ve evolved over the past several hundred years.
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Can you see why this is a problem now? Practically, postmodernism thus challenges anything we’ve derived from the past through the “modern” beliefs. This includes scientific, philosophical, or religious concepts.
Admittedly, many people may find themselves as religious postmodernists. Viewing all of them as different systems without clear indication as whether one is better than any others. We’ll leave that one aside for now.
But postmodernism applies this same mindset to philosophy and science. The broad set of “Western Values” that most anyone reading this holds are thus a social construct we’ve created that’s no better than anyone else’s. This serves as a good litmus test: ask someone if our freedom-based democratic governance system is better than that of Saudi Arabia’s oppressive monarchy. A postmodernist will be hesitant to give a real answer.
This all may seem crazy and that such a belief system will never take hold. But it already has in very meaningful ways. Universities are awash in this and it’s being fed to college students as a viable belief system. I’ve heard a University Professor say something to the effect of, “Yes, science is a social construct, but at the end of the day the plane still flies, so I guess there’s something in it.”
Postmodernism serves as a foundation for a lot of the crazy that you are seeing in the world today. That’s why it’s important to understand and recognize it. We’ll get into more of the crazy soon, but here’s a (deliciously nutty) taste comparing children’s dieting to sexual assault.