More PoMo Ponderings…
A few days back, Josh Marshall wrote an article marking GW Bush as a post-modernist. Marshall’s article was subtitled, “Deception, Denial, and Relativism: what the Bush administration learned from the French.” There’s a delicious irony there in pairing W with the French, and thats probably what drove Marshall’s conceit.
David Weinberger picked up on the story and posted a rebuttal that included these wise words:
Pomo doesn’t say there is no truth so you can say and believe whatever you. It is worrying at something much harder: truth isn’t a direct relation between self and world. It is mediated by language and history. That raises issues about the nature of truth … issues confirmed by even the most casual acquaintance with the world’s diversity.
So, no, the Bush administration isn’t PostModern. Any administration that says the world is divided into good people and evil-doers is way out of the PoMo parade. IMO, the Bush administration’s policies are a instead based on a bracing mix of self-assertion, self-delusion, willful ignorance and lies.
Well, I’ve been gnawing at the bone of understanding post-modernism for a while, and what I love about the net is how a tyro like me can test my opinions with the experts like Weinberger and AKMA, so I was happy to jump into the stream of comments that David’s post spawned. i’m restating my most recent comment below, not because I think it has any particular merit or profound insight, but because it seems like a good place to stash the keystrokes as these issues season for me. There are other people over there making more sense than I’m making right now, but trust me… something is working it’s way toward the surface.
Oh yes. I’m not denying that the right just hates it that these pointy headed intellectuals, these nattering nabobs of negativism, or at least the intellectual heirs of those Agnew scorned have shaped social discourse to include concepts like cultural competence and co-creationism… tools that empower the marginalized and provide a foundation for political organizing around issues that the right has no interest in resolving.
But the values of the (old) new left and the old left before them have also been betrayed by a linguistic relativism that counters the concern for precise language and dialectical clarity. (This is an offhand observation without a lot to back it up, except some anecdotal personal experience). The “moral relativism” that permits us as individuals to embrace libertarian political-economics while advocating social justice and economic reform that requires large, well organized and fairly administered government programs seems rooted in the post-modern ironic humor that is the refuge of the powerless intellectual in the face of the forces of organized capital on the right. Obscurity and a willingness only obliquely to address issues that the new left faced head on seem to me to be unacceptable compromises that have left us hanging.
These ideas need better development than I can give them, but take the case of Professor Bruce Franklin… here’s his CV:
What it doesn’t show is how his political work caused him to be marginalized by the Academic Senate at Stanford… and I could point to several other less celebrated cases of people who went head to head with the establishment and lost while standing up for what is right.
Now, the way I read the PoMos is that they practiced a slippery kind of intellectual judo that didn’t require them to face these issues down, but rather permitted them to finesse the issues entirely.
I’m putting this stuff together bit by bit and don’t pretend to have it straight yet, but my basic point is that perhaps there is enough reason for the left to be careful in our embrace of post-modernism, and indeed reason for us not to admire their work.