Postmodernism: Where Do We Go From Here?
Where do we go from here? We’ve all thought about it from time to time. 2018 is a year that seems beset on all sides by the din of politics and the clash of ideals. What seems to me a more pertinent consideration is not the ideological chaos of our present, but a possible determination of a cyclical future - a future brought about, in my opinion, by the corrosive nature of ‘postmodernism’.
This isn’t a notion that I in any way claim to have unique possession of. Intellectuals such as Jordan Peterson have framed postmodernism as a key component in the dissolution of our societal structure, and what he termed, in an interview on the Joe Rogan Experience, as “the metaphysical substrate of our culture”. But what exactly do we mean when we say that postmodernism is a catalyst of societal self-destruction?
Postmodernism first appeared in the mid-20th century as a refutation to the limiting assumptions of Modernism, swiftly emerging across a plethora of fields. Fundamentally, it has a an attitude of irony which is applied to the rejection of the universalist manner in which Modernism conceived its ideology. Such universalism is evident within the main propositions of Modernism itself—namely, that there is universal truth, objective reality, and—as borrowed from Hegel—social progress as we move through history. In contrast to this, the Postmodern intellectual might appeal to theories of socially-conditioned knowledge, inferring that our morality and truth comes from ‘discourse’ between varying cultural hierarchies.
Behind the jargon, the danger of these two movements cannot be overstated. Modernism’s appeal to a single conception of truth and identity led to a struggle between democracy and the grand rationalist ideologies such as Communism and Fascism, to determine whose truth mounted the throne of history. Postmodernism, however, is no cure to such strife.
Rather than class struggle or racial identity, Postmodernism puts identity itself on trial. One manifestation of this is the concept of gender-fluidity. The idea behind the transgender movement is that one can self-identify as something (or multiple things), in defiance of convention or categorisation.
From a revisionist standpoint, this is a clear portrayal of the postmodernist rejection of modernist norms —whereas the latter pursued an agenda of identity as unchanging, the former appeals to the fluidity and malleable nature it believes identity possesses. In essence, to describe anyone or anything as something—whether male or female—is to imprison them; to restrict them in a being who they are not. But then, if one cannot categorize the human self, can one truly categorize anything? If I am not me, is the sky not itself? Is the world not the world?
These questions seem harmless enough—no one is suggesting that nothing is as it is. But how did we ever come to know what a thing is. What a stone or a serpent or a swallow truly is. How do we imagine these in our mind, and connect those images to the way we see the world?
I believe it is the categorical power of words. Once we were alone in a dark world. We discovered fire. Thus, the foundations of modern society were derived. And from there we conceived a codex for transcribing this immense void into terms we could comprehend—endless languages and forms of speech, once frigid and fixed, now flexible as a plastic wristband, wind their way into our synapses and give a voice to the void.
Sure enough, the languages of Western Society have been transformed since the days of Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great, but even as the way we see the world changes, the world is still there. We are still who we are.
As postmodernism’s contention, that there is no objective social reality seeps into modern academia, and from that into popular culture, it begs the question: after the intellectual war over gender is settled, where does the movement spread to next? Perhaps into chemistry or physics, as it already has its talons set firmly into biology and psychology? Will it be height-normative to call someone tall or short, or weight-normative to call someone heavy or light?
When Oprah Winfrey says, “Speak your truth”, does she speak to everyone’s varying perceptions of a single truth we all seek? Or does she reference truth in a way divorced of all objectivity? Is truth a quantity that still exists, or do we just make it up as we see fit?
In any case, there are serious implications on the future of language, and how, in a linguistic sense as well as a psychological one, this impacts our ability to compartmentalize and categorize the world so that we might, in our fragile and finite bodies, make our way through it. In a larger sense, it hinders our ability to seek the truth, much less see it for ourselves.
So, back to my starting question: where do we go from here? What does the future hold, as we appear to be shifting paradigms towards the emptiness of postmodernisms’ fractured promises? How ridiculous, it is, that one could even suppose humanity will lose sight of the truth it once sought. But concede, if you will, that Modernism is an expression of order and Postmodernism of chaos—one builds, and one destroys. Yes, Modernism constructs harmful structures of which simple answers to complex questions of existence and social progress have left millions upon millions dead; its foundations are corroded by the false assertions of its grand narratives.
But Postmodernism is no solution—it does not wish to upheave the social order. It wishes to see it disintegrate. And one thing we should know about the nature of chaos, is that it refuses to be tamed.
The truth is, postmodernism is the snake that eats itself - for it is a half-philosophy. It wills a paradigm shift on the world, and yet brings only deconstructive elements to a society whose progress is built on the tenants of creative destruction and constructive revision. Postmodernism is the diseased child of modernism, in a sense. It too has its own form of societal progress.
To the postmodernist, truth is not an object, but a prize awarded to they who triumph in the socio-cultural war of the 21st century—this is the perhaps the greatest issue of postmodernism; that in being purely deconstructive, it leaves us with a vacuum where once was the individual and freedom of the mind; and the soul is thus left wishing for truth and for vision. It is, in this way, more vulnerable to the promises of Marxism and Fascism and is easily used as a conveyor belt for the ideology of both (though far more successfully by the former).
However, as to any illness, there is both a diagnosis and a prognosis. But the real question facing philosophers today—is there a cure? A cure to the emptiness and the loneliness and the void left behind by the death of God.
In my eyes, in a world where we humans strike chords of infinite color and imperfect beauty in such short sparks of life, identity will be eroded—by postmodernism—to the point where only a grey sea remains—the ocean of the collective.
To prevent this, the individual must reclaim itself. The individual must speak out and strive for liberty among all the lies. For life among the lifeless. Otherwise the days of the Last Men, as Nietzsche once predicted, may come to pass. And this world will be a shadow of what it could have been. And us? What will we be, all of us, but silhouettes on a blank canvas that we, ourselves, wiped clean?