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does Left = Postmodern?
Posted: 17 August 2007 01:24 PM   [ Ignore ]
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It seems most people here lean Left, and most people here are also pro-Science (i.e. Modernism).

What I’m trying to figure out is how these two fit together when it seems the Left is more for promoting Post-Modernism:

- equality of diverse and contradictory truths,
- what is true for you is true for you and what is true for me is true for me,
- being against discrimination (“recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another”).

The Left seems to be a breeding ground for lots of New Age nonsense, promoting feelings over facts, a diminishing of the importance of Science, and misuse of Science. For the pro-Science people what is attractive about modern Liberalism? Is it reactionary because the Right is usually based in Christian principles or is there something else that seems beneficial from it?

Explain how or why you fit these seemingly contradictory sides together, or why they are not really contradictory.

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Posted: 17 August 2007 02:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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certainly some portions of the Left are looking to post-modernism and what a shame! its what Bill Blum calls the “mush-minded liberals” and what I call “The Gullibles.”

i realize that im way, way Left in many respects but i dont subscribe to post-modernism at all!

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Posted: 17 August 2007 02:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The question is vastly too simplistic. You can’t lump people together like that. It’s like trying to condense Tolstoy’s War and Peace into a paragraph.

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Posted: 17 August 2007 03:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Yeah, I agree. But then also the two party system is too simplistic. It requires lumping people into one side or the other. Working within this system, we often have to choose one or the other. There are good and bad parts about both sides. I’m trying to look into this more and see the reasons behind why certain people choose one side over the other.

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Posted: 17 August 2007 03:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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working within the system - which I think we should be looking at ways of altering, or working around, to give more room for particaptoary management in the social, economic and political forum to the general public - you do choose between two stale parties, reflecting basically the same interests.

look at kerry and bush in 2004. it was between two men who went to the same college, belonged to the same secret society and relied on pr firms to sell an image and not their issues, and when you looked at the issues they have a say on you saw they were nearly identicle. in a general sense the public is choosing on the basis of either going with or against the grain. people who vote democrat think they are going against the grain and supporting change (like they thought they did in 2006 only to have the new speaker of the house say impeachment was “off the table”) and those who vote republican see themselves as goin with the grain, being loyal, patriotic and preserving tradition (whatever those empty slogans mean).

basically, elections are pr campaigns to sell an image, and not where voters play a civic role in determining the shape of governmental policies. i dont know whether it is necessary to go into all the factors and historical precedents that validate this, but if you look at it honestly enough and dig deep enough I think you will see that its all a farce where the voters choose between two heads that share the same body.

but i think this is all superficial. i think we know why people vote the way they do. what i think is more important is a deeper analysis of the structure of our society, where we see flaws and what we can do to alter them cooperatively.

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Posted: 17 August 2007 03:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I don’t think that postmodernism is compatible with any serious political enterprise.

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Posted: 17 August 2007 03:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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doug, you have this amazing gift to say the most profound things very simply.

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Posted: 17 August 2007 05:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Geez, you mean I’ve been confused and was really a conservative all these years?  LOL

Every belief set has loonies in it (just look at some of the posts on this, supposedly rational, forum), but unless the great majority of its members are loonies, it’s hard to assign looniness to the belief set.  Similarly, because some loonies in set #1 happen to also belong to set #2 you can’t assign the loony level of set #1 to set #2.

Occam

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Posted: 17 August 2007 07:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Some of the best critics of postmodernism and of the equation of postmodernism with leftism are on the left - think Alan Sokal and Norm Levitt.

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Posted: 17 August 2007 10:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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PLaClair hit it in pointing out that the question presumes identity between leftist politics and postmodernism, and a dissonance between science and postmodernism that must algebraically lead to a conflict between science and leftist politics, but the oversimplification is what leads to the apparent problem. Aspects of postmodern theory make sense, especially the relativity of many cultural practices, the subjectivity of much art, the cultural influence on social processes including scince, etc. Other aspects, such as the notion that all forms of knowledge and epistemology are equivalent, is manifest nonsense. And While liberals tend to be sympatheitc to cultural relativism because it seems a way to invalidate prejudice, ethnocentrism, and the kind of imperialistic and patronising hubris exemplified by the Bush Administration, this does not mean that as a group they buy all aspects of the theory. As a literature student, I appreciated the insights into culture and history that a postmodern approach to texts yielded, but as a scientist I feel that some approaches to knowledge of the material world are clearly superiori to others. And as a liberal, I think it is defensible to say that “our” way of seeing things (whoever the “us” is) isn’t always the only, best, or right way. This doesn’t have to invalidate science . Barto’s separation of various categories of relativism (cultural, cognitive, etc) seems apt for avoiding the apparent problem implicit in the question.

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Posted: 17 August 2007 10:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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mckenzievmd - 17 August 2007 10:05 PM

Barto’s separation of various categories of relativism (cultural, cognitive, etc) seems apt for avoiding the apparent problem implicit in the question.

In fact, it is not mine. I just don’t have original ideas wink. I reach to this conclusion (I don’t have original ideas, which is not an original idea) after listening Jorge Luis Borges claiming he didn’t have originals ideas, that all what he wrote was taken from previous sources. By the way, reading Borges in his own language is the best reason I could find to recomend the learning of spanish. grin

Sorry for the offtopic, but I couldn’t add anything to what had been said (the question is a biased simplification) and I couldn’t keep my mouth closed.

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Posted: 18 August 2007 09:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Barto, on Borges I agree 100%. Reading him in high school was one of the highlights, and definitely the greatest thing we read in spanish class. Not easy, but terribly rewarding for anyone with a philosophical mindset.

Pointing out that many subjects may be founded upon mere matters of opinion (fashion, etc.) is important. But what is more important is that one make clear claims, that one avoid obscurantism and “bullshit” in the Harry Frankfurt sense of the term. That is, that one make claims which purport to be true, and not simply verbiage with no interest in the truth or falsity of what one is saying. Much of contemporary academic postmodernism is BS. Indeed, that was one of Frankfurt’s topics when he wrote his essay. The reason for their spouting BS is clear: it is a classic post-modern claim that any truth-claim is no more than one’s own opinion, and no one opinion is ever better than any other. There is a rejection of the distinction between evidence and conclusion; a rejection of the distinction between language and reality. (Who was it who said that “All is text”? Derrida?)

This rejection is extremely important, because it means that one cannot ever look outside of a linguistic item to support its truth or falsity. This is why the postmodern “sociologists” of science do not ever assume that scientific results are agreed upon because of evidentiary support. Since all is language, there is never any possible extra-linguistic support for any belief. So scientists must come to their conclusions because of something else: politics, power, etc. At least the clearer ones make these sorts of insupportable claims. The less clear ones simply reject any possibility of sensible discourse and end up doing what one of my graduate colleagues described as “creative sharing”, or in other words, spouting nonsense.

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Posted: 19 August 2007 03:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I think that it is a mistake to think that the more absurd claims of pomo scholars are actually taken seriously by most academics.  The right uses extraordinary examples in order to slander their opponents (Dinesh DeSouza and Alan Bloom started the ball really rolling back in the 80’s).

mckenzievmd - 17 August 2007 10:05 PM

Other aspects, such as the notion that all forms of knowledge and epistemology are equivalent, is manifest nonsense. And While liberals tend to be sympatheitc to cultural relativism because it seems a way to invalidate prejudice, ethnocentrism, and the kind of imperialistic and patronising hubris exemplified by the Bush Administration, this does not mean that as a group they buy all aspects of the theory.

Strange, isn’t it, that on the one hand the left is called postmodernist and accused of caring nothing for “the truth”, and yet simultaneously called (pejoratively) the “reality based community”?

I tend to view the whole postmodern thing as some excellent ideas, poorly used by people who don’t really understand them.  Al Gore described postmodernism as nihilism mixed with narcissism.  I don’t think that describes the postmodernists of, say, the fifties to the seventies.  The people who use these ideas in politics tend more to show Gore’s mix of a denial of all values (nihilism) except their own (narcissism).  Identity politics gets caught up in these kinds of contradictions, as does “activism”.

I think that much of contemporary postmodernism is a simple idea, surrounded by bullshit.  Much of it is literally unreadable - but then they can fall back on a philosophical position where a writer doesn’t really have to make sense.  For example, Baudrillard has a few really interesting ideas, but his writing, in French or translation, is a car crash.  Daniel Boorstin wrote about things similar to Baudillard’s simulacrum, but in accessible prose (e.g. about people who are famous for being famous, or pseudo-events - events which happen only in order to be able to relate that they have happened).  I don’t think Boorstin would ever be accused of being a postmodernist.

Of course, Boorstin was writing in a way that was hostile to things like pseudo-events (and Fromm about “personality”, and Reisman about “other-directedness”, and so on), because he resented their falsity.  Postmodernist “leftists” seem now to wallow in falsity, deception, delusion, ambiguity, ambivalence, un-truth, etc. like pigs in mud.  They get stuck in aself-absorbed, iconoclastic, anti-authority, adolescent rejection of the world as presented, wanting a world that suits their own wants.  That is very similar in tone to leftist revolution, and so revolutionary leftism becomes their aesthetic (though they may be entirely ignorant of its theory or history).  There is a huge disjoint between their politics and their philosophy because they do not look at one in terms of the other.  There is also a deep incompatibility with actual leftism, because they disdain materialism in favour of appearance.

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Posted: 19 August 2007 03:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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First, the strongest criticisms of postmodernism have always come from the old left and from leftists-turned-rightists. Noam Chomsky is anti-pomo. Marvin Harris’s book Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches is mostly an old left polemic against the new left, showing that scientific reasoning can be used to derive universal anthropological truths. Alan Sokal went to teach math in Nicaragua when the Sandinistas came to power, which is why Social Text published his parody in the first place.

Second, the strongest criticisms have always been directed against the most ambitious part of postmodernism, the strong program. More modest and robust stuff, such as Habermas’s writings, is entirely untouched by those critics, which doesn’t prevent them from dismissing all of continental philosophy as trash. I disagree with what Habermas says about religion, but I’ve found it a lot more reasonable than what secularist paragons such as Dawkins, Dennett, and Russell say. It’s similar to how Gould only attacks the most absurd notions of evolutionary psychology, such as those held by Dawkins or argued in The Bell Curve, but then also reject by implication the weaker EP claims accepted by nearly all biologists (Lewontin does attack mainstream biology, but consequently he ends up saying a lot of factually wrong things about science).

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Posted: 19 August 2007 05:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Alon, perhaps you could start a separate thread about what intelligent things Habermas has to say about religion. I confess to having thrashed my way through a few pages of Habermas in my university days, and wasn’t wildly impressed. That said, I did not do any sort of thorough study.

Re. Gould, I found him to be on the wrong side of the Dawkins/Dennett/Pinker debates ... he’s definitely no fan of postmodernism, of course, and a smart guy.

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Posted: 20 August 2007 04:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I have always found the term postmodern somewhat annoying.

To me “modern” should mean up to date, so postmodern should mean something about the future.  Of course by the time the future gets here it’s merely modern.

I looked it up in Wiki a long time ago:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism

They explain how it means different things when applied to different subjects.  I thought, “I’m not remembering all of this junk.” 

Science is two things, a body of knowledge and a way of thinking and analyzing the unknown to increase that body of knowledge.  A problem arises in the attitude about the unknown.  I decided I was an agnostic when I was 12.  To me it simply mean admitting that I don’t know what I don’t know.  I considered atheism illogical but some atheists regard agnostics as weak-atheists.  I consider that rather insulting but then I consider the atheists more like that theists than like agnostics.

Religion was never important enough to get emotional about as long as the nitwits don’t bother me.

psik

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