In previous posts we encountered the radical academic left’s war on the West. A war that targets science, reason, knowledge, objectivity, and concepts of reality as pillars of the West since the Enlightenment. As we’ll see, this return to superstition is not merely a rhetorical goal, but an actionable one based on a dogma of self-contradictory irrationality; one explicitly stated and long underway in our university humanities. To this fraction of the left, progress in freedom, equality, civil rights, or technology that can save lives or the planet are aspects of Eurocentric, white male patriarchal colonization. Exposing their overt bigotry, the likes of Galileo, Newton, and Einstein — notably their way of thinking — are to be deconstructed, which means dismantled, while non-Eurocentric, non-white “ways of knowing” are to be valorized. This validation is accorded to “victims of Western thought” by academics who maintain there is no such thing as values, truth or judgment — except their own. With a flair for condescension, those “other ways of knowing” by other peoples are branded as myth, magic, and faith — categorized as such by Western scholars, a no-no among Western scholars. To heap further contempt on those defined as casualties, the wounded are considered intellectually incapable of grasping concepts like science or human rights because they are — as all of us universally are — “culture bound,” cerebrally subjugated by their own inviolable beliefs. So defined by those who deny the existence of universals. Notice that Galileo, Newton, and Einstein were also culture bound, but somehow imagined the unimaginable, violating their boundedness. The three-century-long project of liberalism — that is, classical Enlightenment liberalism — which seeks to expand, balance, and tame freedom, equality, and the rest is considered naïve and far too moderate by this faction of the anti-West left now so prominent in the humanities.
As declared by University of Arizona and University of Alabama editors of Decolonizing Research in Cross-Cultural Contexts, essays therein “stand at the center of the ‘beginning of the presencing’ of a disharmonious, restive, unharnessable (hence unessentializable) knowledge that is produced at the ex-centric site of neo/post/colonial resistance, ‘which can never allow the national (read: colonial/western) history to look itself narcissistically in the eye.’”
First, don’t be afraid. Translating postmodern performance is an art. Recall Ferry and Renaut’s remark, “that incomprehensibility is a sign of greatness…not proof of weakness but the indication of endurance in the presence of the Unsayable.” Decoded, Decolonizing Research announced, “We are the beginning of a culture war.”
As UCLA feminist theorist Sandra Harding wrote, criticism has “evolved from a reformist to a revolutionary position…[with] calls for a transformation in the very foundations both of science and the cultures [i.e., the West] that accord it value.” This holy cause seeks to convert all of Western society with splendid exactness to Fredrich Hayek’s steps to tyranny in his Road To Serfdom: rally the troops emotionally; provide stirring but vague slogans allowing for a wide latitude of solutions; create an enemy upon which to focus the rebellion; recast old paradigms in a new light “we always sensed but could never articulate.” Someday, someone must carry out by force the Final Solution for this movement, however ugly, if it is to succeed. As Harding writes, the movement raises the possibility of “a painful world-shattering confrontation with moral and political values.”
Since the colonization of university humanities in the 1960s by French postmodernist philosophers Michel Foucault (1926–1984), Jacques Derrida (1930–2004), Jacques Lacan (1901–1981) and a host of others, the twisted thinking continued to coil as mutations in the movement metastasized. These early postmodernists set out the crumbs from which more recent scholars were able to create slices, then whole loaves, of bread as communion for the Ivory Tower faithful, feed for the ignorant, or, hollow as they are beneath a thin crust of dogma, packed with explosives to lob on the West from the safety of the Academy. And conferred academic freedom by the very civilization they target. Postmodern crumbs of the 1960s and 70s were word games and obfuscations. Like the tobacco and fossil fuel industries lying about the lethal consequences of their commodities, their most profitable product was doubt. Likewise, postmodernists seek to deconstruct certainty in knowledge of any kind, so long as it was valued by the West. But skepticism wasn’t new to postmoderns. The Scientific Revolution was built on a healthy skepticism to preserve open-minded examination in the interest of truth, as was the Enlightenment. What the postmoderns did was to radicalize skepticism to proportions beyond ridiculous, but early on, no one was listening.
Despite the excess, despite all the awards that like-minded academics showered on each other for “breakthroughs in victimology,” “shredding the dominance of biology” or “genderfucking gender,” postmodernists found early on that all that lobbing, all those published papers, all the fury really didn’t do much. The post-Vietnam shift to prioritizing emotion over analysis once common to the humanities didn’t help. The conviction for postmodern myths — what Pluckrose and Lindsay termed a “religious adherence” — didn’t convert many outside the Tower. Still, those in the hard sciences sauntered by the social “sciences” on campus with so little regard they didn’t even sneer. And of all the insults, even within their own walls, the likes of historical scholarship, political philosophy, and law still chugged along in their quest for evidence-based understanding. Worst of all, the public wasn’t buying it. In part because the public face of postmodernism wasn’t new. “Postmodernism did not invent ethical opposition to oppressive power systems and hierarchies — in fact, much of the most significant social and ethical progress occurred during the preceding periods that it rejects.”
The problem with early postmodernism was that it incriminated itself. If the truth is that there is no truth and that’s the truth, then all that French deconstruction of the West was just as flimsy as any Western truth claim. Recognizing this, the professorate changed from commitment to tactics beginning in the 1990s. Deconstruction became “a call to reconstruction.” As Jean François Lyotard wrote in 1991, postmodern thinking “should not be accorded predictive value in relation to reality, but [have] strategic value,” that is, like Trump’s 2020 election gospel, it needn’t be true, only useful as subterfuge. By the blurring of accepted boundaries between everything; by promoting language as a dangerous tool only of the powerful, targeting all that is written or spoken for deconstruction to reveal “hidden instruments of control”; by the doctrine of cultural relativism and the relativism of everything else; and by the dismissal of the individual and the concept of universals in favor of group identities, the new applied postmodernists could deny any categories their “objective validity and disrupt the systems of power…” In other words, the academic left could dismantle what they most loathed as power politics with power politics by redefining boundaries as they wished with “dangerous” language of their choosing, armed with cultural “certainty” from the university pulpit. Their tactics coalesced but they still had no actions to execute. All they could do was prattle.
By the latter 1990s the academic left claimed they had moved on from postmodernism. Many sought to insulate themselves from the rationalist drubbing postmodernism took by critics. But this was belied by their every utterance laced with quotes from the French white male patriarchs, genuflecting to the canon, like exclaiming “Stop the Seal!” — as tribal I.D. Their new title: Social Justice scholars within the “theoretical humanities.” But changing their title was like calling creationism “Intelligent Design,” expecting the detachment of creationism’s failure. An especially weak ploy for both camps when constantly referring to the founding. But just as creationists try to “sound scientific” in their effort to destroy science, radical academic liberals could sound academic — sort of. More than that, they could sound like they shared Enlightenment’s quest for freedom and equality. It was an important fulcrum. Instead of attacking “the West” — nation-states, political systems, capitalism as Marx had and failed — they were supporting the oppressed. The theme of oppression had been there from the beginning starting with Foucault, but even Foucault dealt with real victims, those defined as mentally insane, for example. (Whether inmates at the asylum suffered punishment or compassion is another matter.) It dawned on postmoderns that victims could be invented. In time, victims dropped from the dark thunderheads of power-hierarchies like rain. By pretending to be champions for the oppressed, not their university salaries, postmodernists might insert a self-destructive dogma that would invite the West to destroy itself. Like Facebook and Twitter before there was Facebook and Twitter. Of course, this would also dissolve those cushy university chairs, but if it’s not already apparent, postmodernism is anything but consistent. Like herding cats, none of this plan was coordinated, but rather a wildly synthetic kludging together of buzzwords, social justice papers, lectures, and like the professorial gathering for Decolonizing Research above, a quest for the most subversive deconstruction that could reach beyond the Ivory Tower.
The goal was to evolve a social virus that would “spread, leaping the ‘species’ gap from academics to activists to everyday people, as it became increasingly graspable and actionable and therefore more contagious,” writes Pluckrose and Lindsay.
And finally, postmoderns did it. They had the pseudo-intellectual sound, they held the emotional high ground, they had the faith, their moral pose was for the little gals and the little guys — so long as the little guys weren’t “hetero-normative” — and victims were suddenly everywhere.
So, what did this virus look like how did they inject it?
Paragraph 2: “stand at…” In Helen Pluckrose, James Lindsay, Cynical Theories, Pitchstone Publishing, 2020, p. 83, italics in original.
Paragraph 3: “that incomprehensibility…” Ferry and Renaut, p. 14
Paragraph 4: “evolved from…” Harding, p. 9. “a painful…” Ibid., p. 39
Paragraph 6: “religious…”, Pluckrose, Lindsay, p. 18. “Postmodernism…”, Ibid., p. 38
Paragraph 7: “a call…”, Ibid., p. 72. “should…”, Ibid., p.39. “objective…”, Ibid., p. 39
Paragraph 8: “theoretical…” Ibid., pp. 50.51
Paragraph 9: “spread…”, Ibid., p.46