Glenn Sunshine’s Portals, Chapter 3
‘Postmodernism’ literally means “after” “what is modern”. One feature of Modernism was a tremendous confidence in the power of human reason. Postmodernism, at least partially in reaction to horrific World Wars and personalities such as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, suggests this confidence was both misplaced and ill-founded. As Sunshine writes, “Postmodernism is built on the premises that absolute truth does not exist, that objectivity is impossible, and that everything we think of as true is a product of culture.”
Several key implications, says Sunshine, then follow:
- Truth is personal: something can be true for me while simultaneously being untrue for you.
- Truth is political: social power defines reality so those with the power determine reality (e.g. White House press conferences)
- Language is key: control language and you can create a better world (hence speech codes).
The story of postmodernism is that we came from the process of natural selection acting on random genetic mutations (just as in the secular naturalist story). What went wrong with the world is that institutions accumulated the power to oppress. The solution is “to work toward a worldy utopia based on unrestricted personal freedom enforced by government regulation”. It’s essentially Occupy Wall Street writ large. The purpose of life “is to create a world where each individual is free to live out her or his own self-defined identity, free of judgment from others, with all essential needs supplied by society.” In my mind, the re-election of President Obama fits this narrative strikingly well.
Here are some questions that may call the viability of postmodernism into question. First, how can truth be solely personal? If my truth is to drive on the right side of the road, and yours is to drive on the left, we are going to collide head on, and we both know it. Second, how can truth be essentially political? When the White House Press Secretary gets challenged, and reiterates or obfuscates, do you really find that convincing or satisfying? Third, if controlling language was really our key to salvation, wouldn’t salvation have long ago been achieved in places like the Soviet Union, where saying one wrong word could land you in the Gulag?
Where have you encountered postmodernism in your own life?