David Thompson


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May 18, 2009



I agree with Richard that Po-Mo can be a useful tool for bringing us closer to a true understanding of all things through questioning the basic assumptions underlying science and culture. That is a noble purpose and if done right can be almost magical in how it dispells illusions which we thought were real. Learning that supposed heroes of the past were not perfect frees us to rise to their level instead of always coming short.

Yet that apparently isn't enough. It must befuddle, rant incoherently, and make itself more than it is. It must create its own obfuscation to which only those initiated in Po-Mo discourse can penetrate. This new paradigm has invaded the humanities in higher education. If it were the idealistic form of Po-Mo, I would applaud. But it is this sort of strident revolutionary perspective which presupposes as its narrative that Western culture is evil that has become the new standard.

Instead of coming to a fuller understanding of history, for example, we discount any version of events written by a "white male" and recast any event in terms of oppression. That's just as simplistic as seeing Western civilization as the natural zenith of human society. So instead of coming to middle ground and realizing that history has as many meanings as there are observers/participants, the Po-Mo establishment insists that there is in fact only one meaning: White society is an evil oppressor.

The truth, or at least a better understanding of events, is discarded in favor of furtherance of an ideology. The Po-Mo revolutionaries have become the establishment. Now to insist, for example, that the British Empire was a force for the improvement of societies in which it became dominant would be considered revolutionary.



“Po-Mo can be a useful tool for bringing us closer to a true understanding of all things through questioning the basic assumptions underlying science and culture.”

Well, perhaps. But I don’t see much that’s new and useful being brought to the table, and there’s an awful lot of crap being trodden in the carpet. If you want some thoughts on scepticism, for instance, read David Hume; he’s more informative and much easier to fathom. PoMo has given license to any number of absurd and corrosive claims, not least regarding rationality and the scientific method. If someone wants to “interrogate” bias and assumption within scientific methodology, perhaps they should take comfort from the fact that the scientific method, and logic generally, provides a framework within which bias and assumptions can be tested and addressed. That’s pretty much the point. The scientific method is one of the best practical lessons in intellectual humility. As the mathematician Ian Stewart pointed out: “Science is the best defence against believing what we want to.”

Attacking science (or “evidence-based discourse”) as a “privileged belief system” or a form of “micro-fascism” is a pastime for arrested adolescents. Likewise, claims that reason is a tool of “cultural and political despotism,” or a “colonising” project designed to oppress more primitive cultures. Or claims that thinking and writing clearly is “conservative” and thus reinforces “the cultural tyranny of capitalism.” And so on. And the more lurid and bizarre the claims, the thinner the actual argument. This is the most obvious practical legacy of postmodernism – laughable standards and widespread disrepute. And the potential for self-correction that’s a defining feature of science seems alien to the “theorists” who take umbrage at the functional pre-eminence of the methodology they attack. One might argue about how *closely* the scientific method is observed in any given instance and whether shortcuts have been taken, but that isn’t what postmodernist critics of science generally do. Idiots like Sandra Harding, Michael Fegan, Frederique Marglin and Andrew Ross disdain the methodology itself for reasons of political irritation. As you say, the result is a kind of pretentious contrarianism, and remarkably doctrinaire.




Slightly OT, but I thought it relevant.

Just reading Alain de Botton's 'Consolations of Philosophy', and came across this marvellous quote from Montaigne:

"Difficulty is a coin which the learned conjure with so as not to reveal the vanity of their studies and which human stupidity is keen to accept in payment"


I suppose it's the romantic in me that wants to see some value in PoMo. If it ever was of value that value has long since fled. What could have been a serious effort to encompass more perspectives of experience has become a tool for enforcing a rigid worldview even more restrictive than what existed previously.

Perhaps I just don't want to know what PoMo truly is.

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