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“Unless someone can answer the simple questions that immediately arise in the mind of any reasonable person when claims about “theory” and “philosophy” are raised, I’ll keep to work that seems to me sensible and enlightening, and to people who are interested in understanding and changing the world.

Johnb made the point that “plain language is not enough when the frame of reference is not available to the listener”; correct and important. But the right reaction is not to resort to obscure and needlessly complex verbiage and posturing about non-existent “theories.” Rather, it is to ask the listener to question the frame of reference that he/she is accepting, and to suggest alternatives that might be considered, all in plain language. I’ve never found that a problem when I speak to people lacking much or sometimes any formal education, though it’s true that it tends to become harder as you move up the educational ladder, so that indoctrination is much deeper, and the self-selection for obedience that is a good part of elite education has taken its toll. Johnb says that outside of circles like this forum, “to the rest of the country, he’s incomprehensible” (“he” being me). That’s absolutely counter to my rather ample experience, with all sorts of audiences. Rather, my experience is what I just described. The incomprehensibility roughly corresponds to the educational level. Take, say, talk radio. I’m on a fair amount, and it’s usually pretty easy to guess from accents, etc., what kind of audience it is. I’ve repeatedly found that when the audience is mostly poor and less educated, I can skip lots of the background and “frame of reference” issues because it’s already obvious and taken for granted by everyone, and can proceed to matters that occupy all of us. With more educated audiences, that’s much harder; it’s necessary to disentangle lots of ideological constructions.

It’s certainly true that lots of people can’t read the books I write. That’s not because the ideas or language are complicated — we have no problems in informal discussion on exactly the same points, and even in the same words. The reasons are different, maybe partly the fault of my writing style, partly the result of the need (which I feel, at least) to present pretty heavy documentation, which makes it tough reading. For these reasons, a number of people have taken pretty much the same material, often the very same words, and put them in pamphlet form and the like. No one seems to have much problem — though again, reviewers in the Times Literary Supplement or professional academic journals don’t have a clue as to what it’s about, quite commonly; sometimes it’s pretty comical.

A final point, something I’ve written about elsewhere (e.g., in a discussion in Z papers, and the last chapter of “Year 501”). There has been a striking change in the behavior of the intellectual class in recent years. The left intellectuals who 60 years ago would have been teaching in working class schools, writing books like “mathematics for the millions” (which made mathematics intelligible to millions of people), participating in and speaking for popular organizations, etc., are now largely disengaged from such activities, and although quick to tell us that they are far more radical than thou, are not to be found, it seems, when there is such an obvious and growing need and even explicit request for the work they could do out there in the world of people with live problems and concerns. That’s not a small problem. This country, right now, is in a very strange and ominous state. People are frightened, angry, disillusioned, skeptical, confused. That’s an organizer’s dream, as I once heard Mike say. It’s also fertile ground for demagogues and fanatics, who can (and in fact already do) rally substantial popular support with messages that are not unfamiliar from their predecessors in somewhat similar circumstances. We know where it has led in the past; it could again. There’s a huge gap that once was at least partially filled by left intellectuals willing to engage with the general public and their problems. It has ominous implications, in my opinion.”

Source: http://www.mrbauld.com/chomsky1.html [accessed 30 Dec 2008]

When the topic of post modernism comes up, I always brace for the onslaught of adherents who sorta miss the point of what PoMo thought is all about.  It’s been so long since I’ve dealt with an actual post modern argument, and not just people who want to replace authoritarian definitions with their own authoritarian definitions.

So perhaps we are arguing against a pale imitation of what a post modern argument actually looks like, because at least in this explanation of PoMo theory, it doesn’t sound as beyond the pale.

 

So, when postmodern folks claim subjectivity it is not that they are saying nothing, it is that they are acknowledging both their own flaws and the need for constant interrogation of the facts laid out before us. The idea that one must come to a conclusion in order to find truth is actually the definition of fascism. If a dictionary must appear in its final form, who says the human race must not also? And how would such a society deal with change—specifically that of cultural migration and economic unease.

So, hopefully, this at least establishes the urgent need to abandon the very concept of objective truth. Objective truth is anti-democratic. There is no such thing as an unbiased statement that has not been shaped by elements of power or hierarchy. There is no such thing as a random statement, and there is no such thing as a true statement. In fact, a random statement and a true statement amount to the same thing, and it is only by connecting them that we can give meaning to either.

I can hear the grumbles now. Saying truth is the same as randomness is actually saying nothing! Really? Then why on earth react to it at all? If this statement really said nothing, wouldn’t a more adequate response be: ‘what do you think?’ or even, just in case ‘can you speak up?’ No, but truth, in how we arrive at its exact conclusions, can only retain any meaning if we acknowledge how arbitrary it is to get to that exact spot of perfection. It is only then that we can begin to unpack the biases that got us to that spot, which of course aren’t random at all, and link throughout history, sociology, geography, physics and biology. It is only after we unmask the assumption that is in authority that we can dethrone it and restore democracy.

Now, there is nothing true about democracy either. Each person operates within their own distance from the truth but at least, to borrow Marx, implies ownership of the production of truth, rather than the blind following of it. Does such a philosophy naturally imply the free market, rather than Marxism? Not necessarily. The distribution of goods, the control over the means of production, those sorts of things are not the same as ideas, let alone people. It could be very possible to have a centralized form of economics that thrived for diverse ideas and people. In fact, such a neutral form of economics—pure in its democracy and lack of discrimination—would imply absolute blindness to differences and a replacement of this hierarchy of difference with universal human rights. That doesn’t mean that each difference wouldn’t get a say, it is to say that each would have a right, no matter their say.

It is fairly obvious that an economy that has no such tools to guarantee human rights would naturally create hierarchies to (re) order distribution and create profits. The idea that one must have an objective idea of truth to reject neoliberalism implies that the neoliberalism was a cultural, not an economic counter-revolution. This seems to apply a backward order of operations. Even though the neoliberal has assaulted the cultural and the personal, it a truly perplexing leap for Marxists to make the claim that as soon as the economic theory of their “objective” choice falls out of favor, we suddenly are not talking about economics anymore, but culture that drives the economy. Just dead wrong.

The goal of the lie of objective truth is to establish power for a certain group of people, so that they can therefore profit from and exploit the people whose truth does not fit the proper definition of normality. That’s why Foucalt saw prisons so clearly. What is a prison? And who decides it?

   This is a meaty read folks, and much better when put in context of the original article that you should read here.  It will need a second and third reading, IMHO.

 

   “Identity politics flows logically from this broader censure of universalism. It is derived from the postmodern condition of fragmentation and decentring, according to postmodernists. At the level of description, this basic argument does have some force. Capitalism drives towards totalisation (as some postmodernists might put it) in its pursuit of unlimited capital growth, markets and resources. It unifies different societies and spheres of human endeavour by subsuming them under capital’s rule. Yet, it is quite clear that the major fluctuations of late capitalism—unemployment, the roller-coaster ride of global markets—are experienced by their victims as fragmenting and decentring. The destabilising effects of capitalism result from its central contradictions, and yet these contradictions impact on everyday lives in ways that seem incoherent. This appearance is most visible in the OECD countries where, not by coincidence, postmodernism has flourished. It is in the most developed zones of world capitalism that the penetration of all spheres of human life by capitalist social relations is at its greatest. However, fragmentation is not due to the dominance of the text, discourse or the Hyper-reality of postmodern life. There are other causes. While there is some validity in the description of contemporary life as seemingly volatile and disconnected, this condition should not be taken for granted. The underlying and complex reasons for it, and not just its surface effects, must be pursued.

However, identity politics is much more than just the experience of late capitalism’s instability. It is also a personal assertion of identity based on a condition of marginality. The assertion of identity is no longer part of political activity; it can constitute the entire arena of activity. Politics becomes a matter of “style” and a contest of competing and proliferating identities. This risks political impotence, if the sole emphasis is on difference at the expense of any principle of equality. Under those circumstances, identity politics becomes hostile to any idea of a universal basis for social justice and a revolutionary transformation of society. But not all identities are treated equally. The more traditional identity of class is disavowed. It has always been interpreted as a foundation for solidarity, rather than fragmentation. The “new” identities have emerged in such a way that they displace this traditional category, according to the postmodernists.23

The Marxist notion of class rests ultimately on a theory of exploitation that assumes that the social formation has an underlying logic or coherence. In contrast, identity politics assumes multiple bases of power that generate multiple forms of oppression. These are seen as the sites in which power is contested, but rarely in forms of alliance or with reference to a broader political vision. As the category of class is discarded, so also are forms of political organisation and the connections between struggles that it implies. Indeed, even many of the grassroots campaigns of social movements that combated marginality in the 1970s and 1980s become suspect for the broad fronts that they entered.

The institutional basis of marginalisation (racism, sexism, heterosexism) is neglected in this style of politics. Postmodern concerns with body, identity and difference displace the focus of theory, analysis and action from the institutional sites of power, such as the family, the state, work and school. All that remains, as a political orientation, is the mobilisation of identity in an ironic stance towards the institutions of power. The use of irony and a certain attitude to life is pitched as a gesture in itself towards power, one that avoids forming a counter-power. If this view has any value at all, some political judgment as to why one ironic posture is more potent or effective than any other would have to be exercised. But, it is not clear how postmodernists might do this, when the possible foundations of judgment debated by philosophers are themselves held in contempt.

The political corollary of postulating all identities as unstable and fragmented is dissipation of opposition to capitalism as a whole:

In a fragmented world composed of “decentred subjects”, where totalizing knowledges are impossible and undesirable …[w]hat better escape, in theory, from a confrontation with capitalism, the most totalizing system the world has ever known, than a rejection of totalizing knowledge? What greater obstacle, in practice, to anything more than the most local and particularistic resistances to the global, totalizing power of capitalism than the decentred and fragmented subject? What better excuse for submitting to the force majeure of capitalism than the conviction that its power, while pervasive, has no systemic origin, no unified logic, no identifiable social roots?24″

-Jeremy Smith

Ms. Hungerford clearly has no time for all the silliness po-mo brings to the table.

“Post-modern neoliberalism seeks to dismiss the experience of womanhood by claiming that anyone can choose to be a woman. And, in any case, it claims that we are too diverse to be generalized about. An interesting position to take: the class “women” has no defining characteristic, and yet transwomen know exactly what being a “woman” feels like.

The maxim “trans women are women” means at least three things: first, it means that being raised as girl from birth is not an important or relevant aspect of being a “woman” because one can be a woman without it.

Secondly, it means that having a female body is not an important or relevant aspect of being a “woman” because one can be a woman without it.

And third, it means that to be a “woman” reflects an individual’s desired relation to the social construct “woman,” rather than a description of the physical and/or cumulative experiential realities of female-born (and certain intersex) people as described above.”

-Hungerford, E. 2013,

pomoHow We Reached the Point Where We Can’t Hear Each Other” is a article on Counterpunch by Joseph Natoli.  I’ve excerpted some of the beginning bits for context, but the best is when he focuses on what is happening in Education and how people are taught to think these days.  I’m also a fan of his borrowing of radical feminist methodology that focuses on the the material reality of the situation and the naming of the problem.  I heartily recommend you read the full article, as it suggests reasons why we are becoming less social despite ‘social’ media and the corrosive effect that identity politics, one of the crown jewels of post-modern theory, is having on our society.

[…]

“The intent of a past analog world to put us all on the same page so we could all direct ourselves in common to our common, societal problems is something now disseminated into an infinitude of self-designed enclaves. We have connectivity between the like-minded, or opinionated, but not conjunction which Bifo Berardi defines “as a way of becoming other.” (And: Phenomenology of the End, 2015)

If you want to reflect beyond the entrapment of your own personal experiences and the personal opinions derived from such, you are desiring something that has been superseded.

If you want not to be the blind man who feels the tail of an elephant and pronounces the elephant to be shaped like a snake, you are hoping for a door that leads out of the room of your own limited experience.

Unfortunately, there is no longer any need to leave that room because cyberspace has designed the whole world to be your room. You can blog, tweet, text. Video, emoji your reflections online without any intent to augment social knowledge or understanding or to encounter a counter-punch that will cause you to adjust your views.”

[…]

“We exist now within narratives, not impeccable logics and sound proofs, air-tight arguments or binding adjudications. For reasons too elaborate to condense, we have accepted Nietzsche’s view of reason as a pawn of power and have retreated to our own personal reasoning.

This retreat to personal arbitration of all matters is expressed in the politics of identity, a politics concerned with the full emancipation of the individual not as defined within any cultural, religious, historical, or anthropological notion of the individual, but defined by each and every variety of individual. It is as if the individual is a knowledge within itself.”

[…]

Education is also in a special dilemma considering the mission here is get a student to put his or her personal opinions and preferences and different experiences out of sight and attend to a rationally validated collective representation of a subject.

Nathan Heller points out that elite colleges find that the cultivation of the individual is not an easy matter when students will not leave their personal “experiential authority” at the door. (“The Big Easy,” The New Yorker May 30, 2016) One is not reading to extract eternal verities, the Enlightenment dream, or to deconstruct the pretenses of those same verities. In the climate that Heller describes, no content can be permitted to transgress the personally defined identity of the reader or listener.

An Oberlin student who Heller describes as “a trans man …educated in Mexico, walks with crutches, and suffers from A.D.H.D. and bipolar disorder …lately on suicide watch” objected to a discussion of Antigone without a trigger warning, i.e., characters in the play committed suicide. Identity-based oppression is responded to with a theory of intersectionality, which contends, “who knows what it means to live at an intersection better than the person there?” Thus, personal experiential authority now contends with a pedagogic tradition of minimizing the effects of personal experiential authority on objective, rational reflection.

Education attempts to respect individual arrangements of the results of critical thinking but not allow those arrangements to taint the process of critical thinking. This long standing agreement is no longer in effect. We have reached the point where we cannot engage in any way what may “trigger” our personal dislike or what may upset a private space we have self-designed.  Long standing notions of both education and society are dissolving.

We now listen to our own voices and our clones in “social” media, a pathological condition that undermines much needed social and political communication and interrelationships. The way out, as with all pathologies, is to first recognize the condition, observe the point we have reached and reorient our compass.”

Teaching critical thinking in public education has always been a revolutionary activity, as this article confirms, it looks like it shall continue to be in the revolutionary category for quite some time.

 

postmodernismYou can find the original conversation here. As this appeared on tumblr I’ve taken some editorial liberties with correcting spelling and grammar and adding titles to the speakers. I’ve had versions of this conversation before and of course, I was not nearly as eloquent as the final response was.

 

POMO: Terfs are always demanding a definition of womanhood– and its like… Idk what to tell ya. Its all made up. The only reason they demand a definition is because they think womanhood is based solely around genitalia… which is ironic because who else does that? Misogynistic cis men…👀

Material Reality: This is so incoherent lmfao

POMO: is it incoherent to you because you are uncomfortable that your politics line up with misogynists…? 🤔

MR: I don’t really care if you believe me or not but gender is made up. Its fake. Pretending there are “biological truths” to gender is not only illogical but hurts women.

MR: Also frankly I don’t give a fuck what you think of this post. It’s rather short and straightforward and you not understanding kind of seems like a personal problem. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

MR: Gender isn’t real, any radfem can tell you this lol we invented that just so you know. What’s incoherent is that if gender doesn’t exist, which is doesn’t, then the only way to define a woman is an adult human female :)

POMO: And here we get to the major issue.. which is that you seem to think that the (also fake, also constructed) “biological” naming of gender is somehow the “valid” version… is that it? Because if we are being honest here, what you just wrote is incomprehensible and laughably hypocritical.

POMO: If you want to continue putting people in boxes based on the shape of their genitalia (which i wouldn’t advise because quite frankly its reductive and insulting) then you should just use the technical terms. Acting like you believe and understand that gender is fake while simultaneously and desperately clinging to biological essentialism is inherently contradictory.

POMO: The thing is, you are still assigning gender to people, you’re just using different words. and to be quite honest, the only people who reduce women to their genitalia and call women “human females” are misogynistic cis men, which brings me back full circle to my original point which is to say that you lot have more in common with misogynists and there is really no way around it. You can keep trying to deny it but you simply cant make the above statement insisting that it makes any kind of sense. it just doesn’t. The fact that you refuse to see the faulty logic says more about your stubbornness and ignorance than anything else.

POMO: Now, since I’ve made my points and reblogged this ridiculous response, I will be disengaging from this conversation. Kindly read my words and do some thinking before responding, thank you.

——

MR: Postmodernism is a plague.

-Noam Chomsky

-Noam Chomsky

Okay. Let’s do it like this:

Read the rest of this entry »

derrickjensonThis excerpt for the article ‘Liberals and the New McCarthyism

”   And I blame the groundlessness of postmodernism, with its assertion that meaning is not inherent in anything, that there are no truths, and that each person’s perception of reality is equally valid. As well as destroying class consciousness—which is one reason modern blacklisting is often based on claims of how some speaker will supposedly hurt or trigger the individual, rather than emphasizing harm or gain to society as a whole—postmodernism has led to much of the insanity we’re discussing.

    As philosopher Daniel Dennett commented, “Postmodernism, the school of ‘thought’ that proclaimed ‘There are no truths, only interpretations’ has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for ‘conversations’ in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster.” And if all you’ve got is rhetoric, that is, “interpretations” and “assertions,” as opposed to, say, factual evidence, then the only way, or at least the most tempting way, to conclusively win an argument is through rhetorical manipulations. If you can’t say, “Your opinion is wrong, and here are facts showing your opinion is wrong,” you’re pretty much stuck with, “Your opinion is oppressing me, triggering me, hurting my feelings.” And that’s precisely what we see. And of course we can’t argue back, in part because nobody can verify or falsify your feelings, and in part because by then we’ve already been deplatformed.”

 

Some food for thought.

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