How French “Intellectuals” Ruined the West: Postmodernism and Its Impact, Explained

| by Helen Pluckrose |

Postmodernism presents a threat not only to liberal democracy but to modernity itself. That may sound like a bold or even hyperbolic claim, but the reality is that the cluster of ideas and values at the root of postmodernism have broken the bounds of academia and gained great cultural power in western society. The irrational and identitarian “symptoms” of postmodernism are easily recognizable and much criticized, but the ethos underlying them is not well understood. This is partly because postmodernists rarely explain themselves clearly and partly because of the inherent contradictions and inconsistencies of a way of thought which denies a stable reality or reliable knowledge to exist. However, there are consistent ideas at the root of postmodernism and understanding them is essential if we intend to counter them. They underlie the problems we see today in Social Justice Activism, undermine the credibility of the Left and threaten to return us to an irrational and tribal “pre-modern” culture.

Postmodernism, most simply, is an artistic and philosophical movement which began in France in the 1960s and produced bewildering art and even more bewildering  “theory.” It drew on avant-garde and surrealist art and earlier philosophical ideas, particularly those of Nietzsche and Heidegger, for its anti-realism and rejection of the concept of the unified and coherent individual. It reacted against the liberal humanism of the modernist artistic and intellectual movements, which its proponents saw as naïvely universalizing a western, middle-class and male experience.

It rejected philosophy which valued ethics, reason and clarity with the same accusation. Structuralism, a movement which (often over-confidently) attempted to analyze human culture and psychology according to consistent structures of relationships, came under attack. Marxism, with its understanding of society through class and economic structures was regarded as equally rigid and simplistic. Above all, postmodernists attacked science and its goal of attaining objective knowledge about a reality which exists independently of human perceptions which they saw as merely another form of constructed ideology dominated by bourgeois, western assumptions. Decidedly left-wing, postmodernism had both a nihilistic and a revolutionary ethos which resonated with a post-war, post-empire zeitgeist in the West. As postmodernism continued to develop and diversify, its initially stronger nihilistic deconstructive phase became secondary (but still fundamental) to its revolutionary “identity politics” phase.

It has been a matter of contention whether postmodernism is a reaction against modernity. The modern era is the period of history which saw Renaissance Humanism, the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution and the development of liberal values and human rights; the period when Western societies gradually came to value reason and science over faith and superstition as routes to knowledge, and developed a concept of the person as an individual member of the human race deserving of rights and freedoms rather than as part of various collectives subject to rigid hierarchical roles in society.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica says postmodernism “is largely a reaction against the philosophical assumptions and values of the modern period of Western (specifically European) history” whilst the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy denies this and says “Rather, its differences lie within modernity itself, and postmodernism is a continuation of modern thinking in another mode.” I’d suggest the difference lies in whether we see modernity in terms of what was produced or what was destroyed. If we see the essence of modernity as the development of science and reason as well as humanism and universal liberalism, postmodernists are opposed to it. If we see modernity as the tearing down of structures of power including feudalism, the Church, patriarchy, and Empire, postmodernists are attempting to continue it, but their targets are now science, reason, humanism and liberalism. Consequently, the roots of postmodernism are inherently political and revolutionary, albeit in a destructive or, as they would term it, deconstructive way.

The term “postmodern” was coined by Jean-François Lyotard in his 1979 book, The Postmodern Condition. He defined the postmodern condition as “an incredulity towards metanarratives.” A metanarrative is a wide-ranging and cohesive explanation for large phenomena. Religions and other totalizing ideologies are metanarratives in their attempts to explain the meaning of life or all of society’s ills. Lyotard advocated replacing these with “mininarratives” to get at smaller and more personal “truths.” He addressed Christianity and Marxism in this way but also science.

In his view, “there is a strict interlinkage between the kind of language called science and the kind called ethics and politics” (p8). By tying science and the knowledge it produces to government and power he rejects its claim to objectivity. Lyotard describes this incredulous postmodern condition as a general one, and argues that from the end of the 19th century, “an internal erosion of the legitimacy principle of knowledge” began to cause a change in the status of knowledge (p39). By the 1960s, the resulting “doubt” and “demoralization” of scientists had made “an impact on the central problem of legitimization” (p8). No number of scientists telling him they are not demoralized nor any more doubtful than befits the practitioners of a method whose results are always provisional and whose hypotheses are never “proven” could sway him from this.

We see in Lyotard an explicit epistemic relativity (belief in personal or culturally specific truths or facts) and the advocacy of privileging  “lived experience” over empirical evidence. We see too the promotion of a version of pluralism which privileges the views of minority groups over the general consensus of scientists or liberal democratic ethics which are presented as authoritarian and dogmatic. This is consistent in postmodern thought.

Jean-François Lyotard

Michel Foucault’s work is also centered on language and relativism although he applied this to history and culture. He called this approach “archeology” because he saw himself as “uncovering” aspects of historical culture through recorded discourses (speech which promotes or assumes a particular view). For Foucault, discourses control what can be “known” and in different periods and places, different systems of institutional power control discourses. Therefore, knowledge is a direct product of power. “In any given culture and at any given moment, there is always only one ‘episteme’ that defines the conditions of possibility of all knowledge, whether expressed in theory or silently invested in a practice.”[1]

Furthermore, people themselves were culturally constructed. “The individual, with his identity and characteristics, is the product of a relation of power exercised over bodies, multiplicities, movements, desires, forces.”[2]  He leaves almost no room for individual agency or autonomy. As Christopher Butler says, Foucault “relies on beliefs about the inherent evil of the individual’s class position, or professional position, seen as ‘discourse’, regardless of the morality of his or her individual conduct.”[3] He presents medieval feudalism and modern liberal democracy as equally oppressive, and advocates criticizing and attacking institutions to unmask the “political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them.” [4]

We see in Foucault the most extreme expression of cultural relativity read through structures of power in which shared humanity and individuality are almost entirely absent. Instead, people are constructed by their position in relation to dominant cultural ideas either as oppressors or oppressed. Judith Butler drew on Foucault for her foundational role in queer theory focusing on the culturally constructed nature of gender, as did Edward Said in his similar role in post-colonialism and “Orientalism” and Kimberlé Crenshaw in her development of “intersectionality” and advocacy of identity politics. We see too the equation of language with violence and coercion and the equation of reason and universal liberalism with oppression.

It was Jacques Derrida who introduced the concept of “deconstruction,” and he too argued for cultural constructivism and cultural and personal relativity. He focused even more explicitly on language. Derrida’s best-known pronouncement “There is no outside-text” relates to his rejection of the idea that words refer to anything straightforwardly. Rather, “there are only contexts without any center of absolute anchoring.” [5]

Therefore the author of a text is not the authority on its meaning. The reader or listener makes their own equally valid meaning and every text “engenders infinitely new contexts in an absolutely nonsaturable fashion.” Derrida coined the term différance which he derived from the verb “differer” which means both “to defer” and “to differ.” This was to indicate that not only is meaning never final but it is constructed by differences, specifically by oppositions. The word “young” only makes sense in its relationship with the word “old” and he argued, following Saussure, that meaning is constructed by the conflict of these elemental oppositions which, to him, always form a positive and negative. “Man” is positive and ‘woman’ negative. “Occident” is positive and “Orient” negative. He insisted that “We are not dealing with the peaceful co-existence of a vis-a-vis, but rather with a violent hierarchy. One of the two terms governs the other (axiologically, logically, etc.), or has the upper hand. To deconstruct the opposition, first of all, is to overturn the hierarchy at a given moment.”[6] Deconstruction, therefore, involves inverting these perceived hierarchies, making “woman” and “Orient” positive and “man” and “Occident” negative. This is to be done ironically to reveal the culturally constructed and arbitrary nature of these perceived oppositions in unequal conflict.

We see in Derrida further relativity, both cultural and epistemic, and further justification for identity politics. There is an explicit denial that differences can be other than oppositional and therefore a rejection of Enlightenment liberalism’s values of overcoming differences and focusing on universal human rights and individual freedom and empowerment. We see here the basis of “ironic misandry” and the mantra “reverse racism isn’t real” and the idea that identity dictates what can be understood. We see too a rejection of the need for clarity in speech and argument and to understand the other’s point of view and avoid minterpretation. The intention of the speaker is irrelevant. What matters is the impact of speech. This, along with Foucauldian ideas, underlies the current belief in the deeply damaging nature of “microaggressions” and misuse of terminology related to gender, race or sexuality.

Jacques Derrida

Lyotard, Foucault, and Derrida are just three of the “founding fathers” of postmodernism but their ideas share common themes with other influential “theorists” and were taken up by later postmodernists who applied them to an increasingly diverse range of disciplines within the social sciences and humanities. We’ve seen that this includes an intense sensitivity to language on the level of the word and a feeling that what the speaker means is less important than how it is received, no matter how radical the interpretation. Shared humanity and individuality are essentially illusions and people are propagators or victims of discourses depending on their social position; a position which is dependent on identity far more than their individual engagement with society. Morality is culturally relative, as is reality itself. Empirical evidence is suspect and so are any culturally dominant ideas including science, reason, and universal liberalism. These are Enlightenment values which are naïve, totalizing and oppressive, and there is a moral necessity to smash them. Far more important is the lived experience, narratives and beliefs of “marginalized” groups all of which are equally “true” but must now be privileged over Enlightenment values to reverse an oppressive, unjust and entirely arbitrary social construction of reality, morality and knowledge.

The desire to “smash” the status quo, challenge widely held values and institutions and champion the marginalized is absolutely liberal in ethos. Opposing it is resolutely conservative. This is the historical reality, but we are at a unique point in history where the status quo is fairly consistently liberal, with a liberalism that upholds the values of freedom, equal rights and opportunities for everyone regardless of gender, race and sexuality. The result is confusion in which life-long liberals wishing to conserve this kind of liberal status quo find themselves considered conservative and those wishing to avoid conservatism at all costs find themselves defending irrationalism and illiberalism. Whilst the first postmodernists mostly challenged discourse with discourse, the activists motivated by their ideas are becoming more authoritarian and following those ideas to their logical conclusion. Freedom of speech is under threat because speech is now dangerous. So dangerous that people considering themselves liberal can now justify responding to it with violence. The need to argue a case persuasively using reasoned argument is now often replaced with references to identity and pure rage.

Despite all the evidence that racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia are at an all-time low in Western societies, Leftist academics and SocJus activists display a fatalistic pessimism, enabled by postmodern interpretative “reading” practices which valorize confirmation bias. The authoritarian power of the postmodern academics and activists seems to be invisible to them whilst being apparent to everyone else. As Andrew Sullivan says of intersectionality:

“It posits a classic orthodoxy through which all of human experience is explained — and through which all speech must be filtered. … Like the Puritanism once familiar in New England, intersectionality controls language and the very terms of discourse.” [7]

Postmodernism has become a Lyotardian metanarrative, a Foucauldian system of discursive power, and a Derridean oppressive hierarchy.

The logical problem of self-referentiality has been pointed out to postmodernists by philosophers fairly constantly but it is one they have yet to address convincingly. As Christopher Butler points out, “the plausibility of Lyotard’s claim for the decline of metanarratives in the late 20th century ultimately depends upon an appeal to the cultural condition of an intellectual minority.” In other words, Lyotard’s claim comes directly from the discourses surrounding him in his bourgeois academic bubble and is, in fact, a metanarrative towards which he is not remotely incredulous. Equally, Foucault’s argument that knowledge is historically contingent must itself be historically contingent, and one wonders why Derrida bothered to explain the infinite malleability of texts at such length if I could read his entire body of work and claim it to be a story about bunny rabbits with the same degree of authority.

This is, of course, not the only criticism commonly made of postmodernism. The most glaring problem of epistemic cultural relativity has been addressed by philosophers and scientists. The philosopher, David Detmer, in Challenging Postmodernism, says

“Consider this example, provided by Erazim Kohak, ‘When I try, unsuccessfully, to squeeze a tennis ball into a wine bottle, I need not try several wine bottles and several tennis balls before, using Mill’s canons of induction, I arrive inductively at the hypothesis that tennis balls do not fit into wine bottles’… We are now in a position to turn the tables on [postmodernist claims of cultural relativity] and ask, ‘If I judge that tennis balls do not fit into wine bottles, can you show precisely how it is that my gender, historical and spatial location, class, ethnicity, etc., undermine the objectivity of this judgement?” [8]

However, he has not found postmodernists committed to explaining their reasoning and describes a bewildering conversation with postmodern philosopher, Laurie Calhoun,

“When I had occasion to ask her whether or not it was a fact that giraffes are taller than ants, she replied that it was not a fact, but rather an article of religious faith in our culture.”

Physicists Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont address the same problem from the perspective of science in Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science:

“Who could now seriously deny the ‘grand narrative’ of evolution, except someone in the grip of a far less plausible master narrative such as Creationism? And who would wish to deny the truth of basic physics? The answer was, ‘some postmodernists.’”


“There is something very odd indeed in the belief that in looking, say, for causal laws or a unified theory, or in asking whether atoms really do obey the laws of quantum mechanics, the activities of scientists are somehow inherently ‘bourgeois’ or ‘Eurocentric’ or ‘masculinist’, or even ‘militarist.'”

How much of a threat is postmodernism to science? There are certainly some external attacks. In the recent protests against a talk given by Charles Murray at Middlebury, the protesters chanted, as one,

“Science has always been used to legitimize racism, sexism, classism, transphobia, ableism, and homophobia, all veiled as rational and fact, and supported by the government and state. In this world today, there is little that is true ‘fact.'”[9]

When the organizers of the March for Science tweeted:

“colonization, racism, immigration, native rights, sexism, ableism, queer-, trans-, intersex-phobia, & econ justice are scientific issues,”[10] many scientists immediately criticized this politicization of science and derailment of the focus on preservation of science to intersectional ideology. In South Africa, the #ScienceMustFall and #DecolonizeScience progressive student movement announced that science was only one way of knowing that people had been taught to accept. They suggested witchcraft as one alternative. [11]

Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 9.57.46 AM.png
Photo by Drew Hayes

Despite this, science as a methodology is not going anywhere. It cannot be “adapted” to include epistemic relativity and “alternative ways of knowing.” It can, however, lose public confidence and thereby, state funding, and this is a threat not to be underestimated. Also, at a time in which world rulers doubt climate change, parents believe false claims that vaccines cause autism and people turn to homeopaths and naturopaths for solutions to serious medical conditions, it is dangerous to the degree of an existential threat to further damage people’s confidence in the empirical sciences.

The social sciences and humanities, however, are in danger of changing out of all recognition. Some disciplines within the social sciences already have. Cultural anthropology, sociology, cultural studies and gender studies, for example, have succumbed almost entirely not only to moral relativity but epistemic relativity. English (literature) too, in my experience, is teaching a thoroughly postmodern orthodoxy. Philosophy, as we have seen, is divided. So is history.

Empirical historians are often criticized by the postmodernists among us for claiming to know what really happened in the past. Christopher Butler recalls Diane Purkiss’ accusation that Keith Thomas was enabling a myth that grounded men’s historical identity in “the powerlessness and speechlessness of women” when he provided evidence that accused witches were usually powerless beggar women. Presumably, he should have claimed, against the evidence, that they were wealthy women or better still, men. As Butler says,

“It seems as though Thomas’s empirical claims here have simply run foul of Purkiss’s rival organizing principle for historical narrative – that it should be used to support contemporary notions of female empowerment” (p36)

I encountered the same problem when trying to write about race and gender at the turn of the seventeenth century. I’d argued that Shakespeare’s audience’s would not have found Desdemona’s attraction to Black Othello, who was Christian and a soldier for Venice, so difficult to understand because prejudice against skin color did not become prevalent until a little later in the seventeenth century when the Atlantic Slave Trade gained steam, and that religious and national differences were far more profound before that. I was told this was problematic by an eminent professor and asked how Black communities in contemporary America would feel about my claim. If today’s African Americans felt badly about it, it was implied, it either could not have been true in the seventeenth century or it is morally wrong to mention it. As Christopher Butler says,

“Postmodernist thought sees the culture as containing a number of perpetually competing stories, whose effectiveness depends not so much on an appeal to an independent standard of judgement, as upon their appeal to the communities in which they circulate.”

I fear for the future of the humanities.

The dangers of postmodernism are not limited to pockets of society which center around academia and Social Justice, however. Relativist ideas, sensitivity to language and focus on identity over humanity or individuality have gained dominance in wider society. It is much easier to say what you feel than rigorously examine the evidence. The freedom to “interpret” reality according to one’s own values feeds into the very human tendency towards confirmation bias and motivated reasoning.

It has become commonplace to note that the far-Right is now using identity politics and epistemic relativism in a very similar way to the postmodern-Left. Of course, elements of the far-Right have always been divisive on the grounds of race, gender and sexuality and prone to irrational and anti-science views but postmodernism has produced a culture more widely receptive to this. Kenan Malik describes this shift,

“When I suggested earlier that the idea of ‘alternative facts’ draws upon ‘a set of concepts that in recent decades have been used by radicals’, I was not suggesting that Kellyanne Conway, or Steve Bannon, still less Donald Trump, have been reading up on Foucault or Baudrillard… It is rather that sections of academia and of the left have in recent decades helped create a culture in which relativized views of facts and knowledge seem untroubling, and hence made it easier for the reactionary right not just to re-appropriate but also to promote reactionary ideas.”[12]

This “set of concepts” threaten to take us back to a time before the Enlightenment, when “reason” was regarded as not only inferior to faith but as a sin. James K. A. Smith, Reformed theologian and professor of philosophy, has been quick to see the advantages for Christianity and regards postmodernism as “a fresh wind of the Spirit sent to revitalize the dry bones of the church” (p18). In Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church, he says,

“A thoughtful engagement with postmodernism will encourage us to look backward. We will see that much that goes under the banner of postmodern philosophy has one eye on ancient and medieval sources and constitutes a significant recovery of premodern ways of knowing, being, and doing.” (p25)


“Postmodernism can be a catalyst for the church to reclaim its faith not as a system of truth dictated by a neutral reason but rather as a story that requires ‘eyes to see and ears to hear’ (p125)

We on the Left should be very afraid of what “our side” has produced. Of course, not every problem in society today is the fault of postmodern thinking, and it is not helpful to suggest that it is. The rise of populism and nationalism in the US and across Europe are also due to a strong existing far-Right and the fear of Islamism produced by the refugee crisis. Taking a rigidly “anti-SJW” stance and blaming everything on this element of the Left is itself rife with motivated reasoning and confirmation bias. The Left is not responsible for the far-Right or the religious-Right or secular nationalism, but it is responsible for not engaging with reasonable concerns reasonably and thereby making itself harder for reasonable people to support. It is responsible for its own fragmentation, purity demands and divisiveness which make even the far-Right appear comparatively coherent and cohesive.

In order to regain credibility, the Left needs to recover a strong, coherent and reasonable liberalism. To do this, we need to out-discourse the postmodern-Left. We need to meet their oppositions, divisions and hierarchies with universal principles of freedom, equality and justice. There must be a consistency of liberal principles in opposition to all attempts to evaluate or limit people by race, gender or sexuality. We must address concerns about immigration, globalism and authoritarian identity politics currently empowering the far- Right rather than calling people who express them “racist,” “sexist” or “homophobic” and accusing them of wanting to commit verbal violence. We can do this whilst continuing to oppose authoritarian factions of the Right who genuinely are racist, sexist and homophobic, but can now hide behind a façade of reasonable opposition to the postmodern-Left.

Our current crisis is not one of Left versus Right but of consistency, reason, humility and universal liberalism versus inconsistency, irrationalism, zealous certainty and tribal authoritarianism. The future of freedom, equality and justice looks equally bleak whether the postmodern Left or the post-truth Right wins this current war. Those of us who value liberal democracy and the fruits of the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution and modernity itself must provide a better option.


Helen Pluckrose is a researcher in the humanities who focuses on late medieval/early modern religious writing for and about women. She is critical of postmodernism and cultural constructivism which she sees as currently dominating the humanities. You can connect with her on Twitter @HPluckrose



[1] The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (2011) Routledge. p183

[2] ‘About the Beginning of the Hermeneutics of the Self: Two Lectures at Dartmouth.’ Political Theory, 21, 198-227

[3] Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction. (2002) Oxford University Press. p49

[4] The Chomsky – Foucault Debate: On Human Nature (2006) The New Press. P41


[6] Positions. (1981) University of Chicago Press p41


[8] Challenging Postmodernism: Philosophy and the Politics of Truth (2003) Prometheus Press. p 26.

[9] In Sullivan




Digital content is available for free, but content that isn’t subject to the whims and demands of its sponsors is rare. Areo is one such publication. Fielding writers and creating for you is our passion, and we want to devote more of ourselves into this venture and continue to produce independently. If you find value from our articles, support us on Patreon:


  1. Tyelko

    Indeed, not at all surprising that we disagree on everything, since you seem to believe that your say-so establishes fact, that you’re perfectly entitled to trivialize and belittle ACTUAL totalitarianism to pamper fragile egos and that you have the authority to rewrite human rights. Ironic, since you were the one complaining in May that someone else was redefining words to suit his needs. If any more evidence of your double standards was needed, you demonstrated it once more.

    Your “defense” of science is in the league of Lenard, Tomaschek and Stark trying to defend physics as a “German” science against concepts such as relativity.

  2. Bradley Robinson

    I mean ontology in the most basic sense: The study of being. For me that means gaining a holistic understanding of the human with no reference to our dualistic past. One may think we have done that (and certainly some have) but even those thinkers whose task it was to challenge the epistemic source of knowledge (Kant, Hume , etc) were still operating in the milieu of dualism. To demonstrate, look at Hume’s fact/value dichotomy. I say “You can get is from ought as ought is an is. Everything is.” That is, everything has a real existence. Values exists. It’s information. And information has real power to move materiality.

    We shouldn’t look at something elevated or profound and think “That’s really different from this rock. It must be something completely different ontologically.” But rather understand, as John Searle has stated “we live in exactly one world with many features.”

    Religion has often laid claim to beauty, goodness and truth. Many, in rejecting religion, threw out the possibility of anything objective in that realm. I’m trying to reexamine the the objective realities that I believe exist there.

  3. wolandscat

    From your other posts I assume you are talking about an ontological understanding / representation of the natural world (something I use in my professional life, to understand how medicine is practiced); but I think ontology can only be understood as describing how things are, but not explicating meaning (other than in things like ‘ontology of terrorism’, which provide structural descriptions for certain modes of thought).

  4. Bradley Robinson

    My project has been to find a common, natural approach/language that gives our lives elevated meaning and significance that we can all agree on and make use of while maintaining our own unique views of the ultimate source of the natural things. Some would certainly see sacred in those terms, I know, but as I’ve stated, I think it’s problematic. I guess I’m asking for a substantial, natural intermediary before we get to our individuals views.

  5. wolandscat

    @Bradley Robinson
    “It’s that last line that I really have an issue with. The scared is often a means to escape a “mundane” life. It always seems to devolve into something “other” than what we have in front of us.”

    I get what you mean, but I think this is a wrong conceptualisation of the sacred (but very common – so you are right, it’s a real problem). A good version is not an escape, but a new way of seeing what is there – a way to see transcendent beauty in common things, e.g. a mother breastfeeding an infant, or a man who maintains a garden shop in the middle of a Syrian warzone (Raqqa, reported earlier this year from memory). I would not characterise it as ‘running away’ (as many do, admittedly), but ‘seeing what matters’, which is, to say deep truths that transcend time and specific circumstances.

    Of course all this is subjective, and easy to attack rationally. Nevertheless there are many who agree on a ‘good version’ of ‘the sacred’ can and does exist, despite all the wrong turns made by various churches, religions, village traditions etc.

  6. Bradley Robinson

    I understand where he’s coming from. I used to be very religious and promote the importance of the sacred dimension. But it is so laden with bad concepts. Your post brought to mind the work of Rudolf Otto: Here’s a brief quote from Wiki: “In his early years Otto was most influenced by the German idealist theologian and philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher and his conceptualization of the category of the religious as a type of emotion or consciousness irreducible to ethical or rational epistemologies. In this, Otto saw Schleiermacher as having recaptured a sense of holiness lost in the Age of Enlightenment. Schleiermacher described this religious feeling as one of absolute dependence; Otto eventually rejected this characterization as too closely analogous to earthly dependence and emphasized the complete otherness of the religious feeling from the mundane world ”

    It’s that last line that I really have an issue with. The scared is often a means to escape a “mundane” life. It always seems to devolve into something “other” than what we have in front of us.

    What I have tried to do in my own thinking is to strengthen my connection to the wider universe. Not in some New Age way. But everything that is or ever will be is a part of the physical universe. The universe has love and poetry. Essentially, I want to give ontological heft to our actions. To make what we do everyday more significant yet be firmly rooted in this one and only reality. One that is filled with mystery and wonder for sure but not something “other.”

    In an earlier post, I quoted Matthew Crawford from his book “the World Outside Your Head.” He speaks of life being about the joy of finding “inexhaustible ways of fit in the universe.” This is the attitude I would prefer over notions of the sacred.

  7. wolandscat

    @Bradley Robinson
    “Kare, words like transcendent and spiritual muddy the waters and are superfluous if you believe that this existence here on earth has real, ontological meaning.”

    “Your post reveals you really are coming at this from a religious mindset and as I said before, I don’t believe this is remotely a way forward for humanity.”

    It seems to me that Kare is claiming that there is a transcendant / spritual dimension to life which provides meaning via the ‘sacred’. There is no doubt that humans and human tribes, societies etc have a capacity for a connection to the sacred, which may be conceived in many forms – many kinds of ‘religions’ that sacralise the Christian God, Liverpool football club, nature, or even the ‘state’ (Maoists etc). Some of us just sacralise the love that exists between us and (say) our children or other close family.

    The problem for many of those who see ‘religion’ as an odious backward weight on the shoulders of humanity is that we forget that we have a need for the sacred of some kind. Jonathon Haidt’s book ‘The Righteous Mind’ is not a bad lightweight excursion into this subject area where he recapitulates some of Durkheim and others who recognised this important trait.

  8. Bradley Robinson

    I just read this review of a new book about how the built environment literally and physically shapes us. The author, who once taught at Harvard’s GSD notes how she couldn’t teach this within the academy because of the prevalence of Poststructuralism. In essence, she couldn’t talk about our actual, real connection to the wider world. I’m happy to see this out there and the ideas of “embodied cognition” put to such important use. We shape the world that shapes us. Understanding this is the only hope for the future.

  9. Bradley Robinson

    After re-reading your post, I may have overstated your personal view on religion. But I still think the religious language is superfluous and needs to be overcome. I think we who believe in a holism that includes all aspects of human experience must reclaim the naturalness of feeling, intuition, etc. without referring back to our religious past.

  10. Bradley Robinson

    Your post reveals you really are coming at this from a religious mindset and as I said before, I don’t believe this is remotely a way forward for humanity. According to your post, the beautiful, good, and true things actually do NOT work. Otherwise, why would we need some “force” to suppress the more effective evil? I would refer you to Steven Pinker’s Better Angels book which shows by no means is evil triumphing. Consider Robert Wrights point of our continuing growth in cooperation that has led us from hunter-gathers to the United Nations (complexity).

    You have revealed the flaw of religion: It does harm to this reality and separates you from it. The solution? According to you some force from outside of this reality.

    Part of the blame lies with the binary choice we have often been given. 1)The pure rationality of a scientific mind or 2)Religious faith. I don’t think those are all of our options. Part of the problem is that science has been operating in a Cartesian mindset that nature is a machine. Noah Brender has stated it thusly: . . .”we cannot understand how knowledge arises within nature unless we abandon the Cartesian view of nature as a machine
    composed of mutually external and indifferent parts.
    If nature is a mechanism then it has no intrinsic meaning or unity.
    Thus nature could only be meaningful for a constituting consciousness
    that imposes a meaning on it by synthesizing its disconnected
    parts into an ideal whole. However, this amounts to denying
    that we can know nature at all.”

    But we are not outside of nature. Mr. Brender goes on to say “The problem is for consciousness to reflect on its own emergence
    within nature, without projecting the results of this reflection
    back into its conditions. There must be something for us to
    know, some nascent intelligibility in nature that is not placed there
    by us—otherwise, knowing would be impossible. But this natural
    meaning must not yet be an idea for a consciousness—otherwise,
    knowing would already have taken place. For knowledge to be
    possible at all, then, nature must have its own endogenous meaning
    which is prior to thought.”

    Access to this meaning is not merely by rational thought but by feeling. I think we must acquire an updated view of perception. But perception and intuition are not magic. I don’t think we know the full extent of our connection to the wider universe yet. It’s a mystery but we don’t need to make the leap to magic or spirit.

    I think a viewpoint that seems new-agey at the moment may gain some traction and that is proto-panpsychism as discussed by David Chalmers etc. I think there are some language problems at the moment in communicating it effectively. I don’t think everything is conscious but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that everything has a sensitivity to everything else. Oil and water don’t mix because water molecules are more attracted to themselves than to oil. There is some information monitoring that is taking place. Anyway, this kind of structure has the potential for explaining mysterious events without the attending problems that religion has. Too much to say here.

  11. Kåre Fog

    I agree that humans require meaning, and that meaning is created. But meaning is not necessarily created by each individual. Many persons do not invent a meaning by themselves, but take on a meaning presented to them by others.
    To many people, the most obvious possibility to acquire meaning is to import it from some religion. Others take it form e.g. a marxist or ultraliberal ideology or conservative ideology.
    An obvious aspect of meaning is that you have to believe that the good forces will prevail in the end, and that evil forces will lose. If you believe that the evil forces will prevail in the end, you could as well commit suicide to be spared from witnessing that. So you must have a belief that even though things look dark right now, it is worthwhile to fight for the good, whatever that is.
    There is much to indicate that evilness should win. If egoistic cynical people usually win, and altruistic considerate people lose, then over the generations, hell should come closer and closer. For instance, we know that psychopathy is to a considerable extent heritable, and that male psychopaths tend to become the biological father of relatively many children. So the frequency of psychopaths should rise for each generation (which may probably be true, actually).
    So to preserve `meaning´, you have to believe that there is some force keeping evilness down, and helping goodness to prevail. Some people see this force in some kind of spirituality. Spirituality may change people´s minds and make them take decisions different from what they took before. Spirituality may be conceived as some kind of thinking or perceiving that may be transferred from one person to another, or may be common to some assembly of people. It may be conceived as something natural, of this world – like if people cooperate in a good spirit, or if a sports team has a high morale. This spirit may arise somehow within a group of people, during their interactions or intuitive mutual understanding. It seems that we humans are in our brains disposed to be receptive to such a way of feeling/thinking. But a spirit may also come from some wider surroundings, and maybe even go generations back.
    Now, many people are also genetically disposed to be religious. If there are widespread genes for religiosity, then religiosity must have been beneficial to some extent during human evolution. And for those with this disposition, it is natural to import meaning or a good spirit from some religious context.
    Now, some people might say: If we via our genetics are equipped with brains that have dispositions for being receptive to some kind of spirituality, wouldn´t that imply that spirituality is something real? We have ears that function because sound waves are real, and eyes that function because light is real – so if we also have some brain structure allowing us to perceive some kind of spirit or transcendent force or whatever it could be, would we have those structures if these phenomena are not real? The answer to this depends on, what precisely you think of when you use words like spirit or transendent force.
    Peterson says in one of the videos, that he will not discard the existence of magical phenomena, because he has experienced them himself. He says for instance that he has experienced strange synchrony of events that goes beyond rational understanding. Well, such phenomena are not necessarily against physical laws, if you consider the quantum mechanical concept of entanglement. And how came that physicists discovered entanglement in the first instance? Because Niels Bohr was led in his research by some strange metaphysical principle that told him that Einstein could not be right in his rational understanding of the world as one large set of causes and effects. It turned out that Bohr´s intuition was right, and some strange kind of metaphysicism in his mind prevailed in the end over Einstein´s rationality.
    I could also mention the Danish scientist Eske Willeslev, well known for his many studies of ancient DNA and the human pedigree, who claims that he has experienced magical phenomena – like it has paid off for him in some mystical/magical way to pay due regard to primitive tribes people in arctic areas. It was an experience that somehow there is a spiritual principle that may cause that if you help something good prevail over your own egoistic and “rational” impulses,it turns out in the end to have been the right thing, without your ability to understand how came that things turned out that way.
    So Willerslev´s experience is close to a common human condition – we are prone to believe that good will prevail, if we cooperate on the good, altruistic side, even though altruism apparently does not pay off from a rational view point. Our tendency to think in that way – and that tendency may be conditioned on our willingness to accept that there exists some kind of spiritual force – our tendency to think in that way may be just that which in the end has made it possible for humans to build surviving societies and reach the remarkable results that we have reached.
    I think it is to commit hubris to believe that there is only simple rationality. We should be humble and open to the possibility that there are fundamental principles in the world that we do not yet understand – like the phenomenon of entanglement, which was at first found due to some kind of spiritual thinking, but is now being utilized in building new kinds of computers.
    The ultimate test of what is real, will not come in each persons own lifetime. Entanglement was demonstrated only after Bohr´s death. Therefore, some humility will be in its place.
    But we can see a lot of ways of thinking that obviously go against reality on a shorter time scale, within our own lifetime. Postmodernism, in most of its aspects, is one such way of thinking.

  12. Bradley Robinson

    Kare, words like transcendent and spiritual muddy the waters and are superfluous if you believe that this existence here on earth has real, ontological meaning. And I don’t mean a grand meta narrative (except perhaps along the broad lines of complexity). I’ll concede some of Lyotard’s critiques of that.
    I do however believe that meaning is created. My difference with some Postmodernists is that that creation is not ex nihilo. It’s rooted in our interactions with our environment, which include other people of course. And while I do think the creation of various meanings are nearly limitles in the individual , I don’t believe that all meanings are similarly efficacious nor move humanity to greater complexity . . . Like the belief that I can fly and overcome gravity without assistance. As soon as you posit another source for meaning other that this natural existence, you have done irreparable harm to it.

  13. Kåre Fog

    I have now seen the video with Peterson discussing the problem of atheism. He says that according to Dostoevsky, without a god, humans are free to do everything. He obviously thinks that humans are NOT free to do everything. So in some sense, there has to be a god, or something similar like, as he says, some transcendent morality. In another video he is asked to answer whether God exists. His answer is that he does not know, but he feels that he has to act as if God exists.
    So, God, or some transcendent morality, limits the number of interpretations that you are allowed to make.
    As I see it, God could also be a symbol or representation of that principle in nature that limits the number of interpretations that we are allowed to make. He discusses psychopathy, which in some sense is extremely rational – it is a mentality that says all benefits for myself, irrespectively of the others. But in the long term, nobody can live in that way, because you are dependent on the others. That dependence is a simplified example of the principle that you are not allowed to make any interpretation that you may choose. The physical world, and nature, and reality, and maybe also some spiritual principles that we do not understand well, set strong limitations on the number of attitudes that we can be allowed to make.
    As I see it, and I guess as Peterson also sees it, postmodernism is wrong because it goes beyond the few interpretations that we are allowed to make.

    As an example, Foucault (whom I see as one of the fathers sparking the rise of postmodernism), came up with the contention that knowledge is always tied up with power. So if scientists have made a study and concluded something about how things are, then they can stop any discussion by saying that in reality, the facts are so and so. Thereby they exert power, forcing their opponents to accept their contention. So, if there is some power that Foucault´s followers do not like, they will oppose the science that lies behind it. For instance, if they oppose the idea that men and women are mentally different because of some biological effect, they will deny the science that demonstrates that men and women are mentally different because of some biological effect. With this approach, you are free to make any interpretation of any set of evidence, by disregarding that which you do not like, and throwing away the criterion that your contentions have to agree with reality. You can do that, for instance, by claiming that there is no objective reality. You can define your own concept of reality, and claim that everybody not agreeing with it are evil persons that should be fought, even though this morality does not function well in the long term in reality.
    It is like you decided from now on, everybody should have the right to fly around freely, and that the concept of gravity is an oldfashioned patriarchal concept that should be discarded, because it holds people back. So people will throw themselves out in the air from rocks or high buildings believing that they can fly. They will fail miserably, and die. Nobody believes that, of course, because the reality of gravity cannot be overlooked. But many people have similar conceptions regarding certain kinds of morality or principles of organising society, in which the believe that they can make their type of society “fly” without falling down and crashing. They disregard the more subtle causes of limitations, which have been tried out and tested constantly during our evolutionary past, and which have thereby become ingrained in us biologically.

    When we are discussing these more subtle limitations, we are entering very difficult fields of discussion, and Peterson certainly does not conceal that these are very difficult subjects, also for himself.
    So, as you see, I do not see any contradiction between his various conceptions; they fit together, but in ways that you do not see because your way of thinking is obviously very, very different from his ways of thinking.

  14. Bradley Robinson

    Saying this life has meaning because of something outside, above, transcendent, etc is equivalent to saying this life has no meaning and that meaning is foreign to nature and needs to be applied to an otherwise meaningless existence.

    Meaning exists. Meaning is natural. Because it’s natural it is rooted in physicality. Because it’s physical, is has constraints.

    But the constraints are due to our current physical orientation. It’s not static. Matt Crawford ‘s latest book “the world outside your head” ends with a picture of humans finding seeming “inexhaustible ways of fit.” I like that. It’s open ended like existence yet there is a constraint there.

  15. Bradley Robinson

    I watched the video of Dr. Peterson and a couple of others. He seems to have an inconsistency, saying on the one hand, there are not an unlimited number of interpretations as we are constricted by our biology and yet in a video about The Problems of Atheism, he reaffirms Dostoevsky’s claim that without God, we can do anything. You can’t believe both. In the end he is affirming what many Postmodernists are saying–without God, this life is essentially meaningless (that is, you can create ANY meaning, it doesn’t matter what it is). What must be understood is that we created our “transcendent” values. We did that precisely because we are constrained by a structural reality if we want to gain complexity. This is explored by Robert Wright in his book Nonzero (higher and higher levels of cooperation leads to complexity). An understanding of Complexity and Dynamic Systems Theory could mitigate the need to react to the Postmodernists with Religion. I was really dismayed by his Judeo-Christian inclusion. 🙁
    It is NOT the way forward.

  16. Kåre Fog

    To Tyelko:

    It seems that we disagree about absolutely everything.
    That is no surprise to me.

  17. Tyelko

    “Canadian psychologist Jordan B. Peterson considers postmodernism as a threat to western civilisation. In the talk in this video, he discusses how one can best remove postmodernism from the universities. He claims (and I tend to agree) that the following disciplines are `corrupt´, i e. permeated by a lack of proper scientific approach:

    women´s studies
    ethnic studies
    racial studies
    English literature”

    And of course, defamation is proper scientific method….

    “If you think that Peterson is excessively sharp and implacable, I will not agree with you. His attitude is a very understandable reaction to the extremely rude treatment that he is given by students and others with postmodernist / SJW attitudes. ”

    Right, because using the expression “SJW attitudes” is not a case of muddying the waters.

    He and you are hypocrites and frauds projecting your own willingness to toss scientific methodology the moment it becomes inconvenient onto others.

    “Peterson, however, is angry in a very civilized way, defending freedom of speech, including freedom of speech for himself. ”

    He’s doing no such thing at all, but thanks for underscoring my point about fraud, This has nothing at all to do with freedom of speech and is a dishonest and abusive use of the concept to something it does not apply it. It is particularly egregious given that there to make such a post right after the death of Liu Xiaobo. Neither you nor he are defending free speech. Neither you nor he is under any threat of incarceration or fine for any of the nauseating bullshit you spew, no matter how much you trivialize and belittle actual oppression with your “Help, help, I’m being suppressed!” whining. Free speech implies no right to applause and no right to be left undisputed. There is nothing civilized about trivializing atrocities and oppression. Least of all is there a defense of free speech in your railing against people daring to voice their opinion.

    Anyone using “free speech” in this context has demonstrated that they are either completely and utterly illiterate and unqualified to discuss any philosophical topic or plain and simply liars and propagandists with an agenda.

    Given your repeated dishonest use of the concept of scientific method as nothing but a deadbeat argument you refuse to abide by yourself, I tend to assume the latter.

  18. Kåre Fog

    Canadian psychologist Jordan B. Peterson considers postmodernism as a threat to western civilisation. In the talk in this video, he discusses how one can best remove postmodernism from the universities. He claims (and I tend to agree) that the following disciplines are `corrupt´, i e. permeated by a lack of proper scientific approach:
    women´s studies
    ethnic studies
    racial studies
    English literature

    If you think that Peterson is excessively sharp and implacable, I will not agree with you. His attitude is a very understandable reaction to the extremely rude treatment that he is given by students and others with postmodernist / SJW attitudes. If you have to perform your lectures while students shout that you are a piece of shit all through your talk, and try to disturb the talk in all possible ways, then most people would become very angry. Peterson, however, is angry in a very civilized way, defending freedom of speech, including freedom of speech for himself.

  19. Bradley Robinson

    I realize I am using the word objective in an unusual way. If I said “subjectively objective” it probably would make much more sense to many. I’m more interested in the truth about “objects,” “existence” and “realness.” The self-created life is distinct and real. Sex exists. It’s real. It needs no language. Everything in the universe is a construct of information. I admit to ignorance of Foucault’s work so perhaps I’m misunderstanding.

  20. Bradley Robinson

    It seems to me that Foucault was treating social constructs as something less than natural. Social constructs are information. And information exists objectively. Just because it’s not static and changes does not make it less objective. It puts it in the same category of everything else in the universe. Everything that is or ever will be is natural. What other choice is there?

  21. Gutterdandy

    I still contend that lumping Foucault together with people like Derrida ultimately gives a false impression of what his life and work, which he saw as a one and the same–that philosophy *was* a way of life–were about. His earliest works were more rooted in what you mention, but he evolved quite far away from The Order of Things (which he basically disowned much later on) by the end of his life. I think Foucault would be repulsed by much of what is lumped in under the term “postmodernism” in 2017. Foucault’s interest in a neo-dandyism, in the remaking of the the self, is not something that one hears much about in the American academic circles that created a character called Michel Foucault that today might be unrecognizable even to Foucault. It is heresy amongst academics to say so, but Foucault was more of a mystic than a postmodernist. So while you might include Foucault in that group of thinkers that get lumped under the postmodernist banner, I would do so with a giant asterisk at the very least.

  22. Kåre Fog

    It is wrong to say that Foucault should not be lumped with other postmodernists.
    First, Foucault certainly was focused on the importance of language. After all, he wrote a book with the title “Les mots et les choses”. Also, he coined the expression “mise en discours”, which is an element of the idea that by formulating something in words, you produce what you talk about.
    Concerning his concept of power, he said that science cannot be separated from power. Thus, there is no objective science. If you can say on the basis of scientific evidence that things are in a certain way, then you can win a discussion and force others to accept your point of view. That is, science may be used as a weapon to force others to accept your point of view.
    In his book on the history of sexuality, he is very much against the idea that sex is something natural that exists by itself. To him, sex arises only in connection with social influence. Sexuality is an example of “mettre en discours” – it is produced by talking about it. Thus, it is a social construct.
    So, some of the central tenets of postmodernism – social construction, and the lack of an objective truth – are also important points in Foucault. Actually, Foucault is used as a main reference or source for many people today that adhere to a postmodernist and social constructionist thinking.
    I think Foucault is the most important of all thinkers that form the basis of modern postmodernism. Everybody refers to him. So to exclude Foucault from the postmodernists is to bring confusion. You may possibly say that he was not a full blood postmodernist himself; but then at least he was a forerunner who created that particular way of thinking that by his followers was developed into postmodernism.

  23. Gutterdandy

    Foucault doesn’t really belong thrown in with some of the other names as a “postmodernist.” Foucault was misinterpreted either intentionally or otherwise by clueless American academics. His ideas on Dionysian transgression, for instance, are certainly not centered on “language” alone. But squeamish American academics didn’t like to think about implications of actual transgression. Also, Pierre Hadot, who wrote “Philosophy as a Way of Life,” influenced Foucault’s thinking greatly. For Foucault, a philosophy that one only talked about and was based only in language, but didn’t apply in one’s own life, was useless. This idea became central to his later work: a type of neo-dandyism in which one’s life was the raw material for self (re) creation, remaking the self as a work of art. We know that in his own life, Foucault *practiced* Dionysian transgression and didn’t just talk about it. One first had to transgress given given social boundaries, and then through an act of will come through that experience to become a new person, to refashion one’s life in the style of an artist. This notion is explored in Foucault’s later work in refreshingly clear, simple language. But if you don’t really study Foucault and accept the American party line about Foucault, language, postmodernism, etc., and thus and lump him in with people like Derrida, what mattered most to Foucault in his later life and work is lost.

  24. Joseph O'Leary

    Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Guy Debord, Fredric Jameson are not inventors of postmodernism but its diagnosticians. Jameson identified it famously as “the cultural logic of late capitalism.”

  25. Bradley Robinson

    Teed Rockwell, one last comment: I think Rorty and others ultimately have a bad ontological view of the universe. If Truth exists for Rorty, it’s in a “fixed and final form,” and we are subjects being acted upon by objective truth. But instead we are instead emergent coalescences both acting on and being acted on by every other emergent coalescence in the universe. To what end is the question? But if we pay attention to what works, what is beneficial and beautiful etc it really might reveal structures in the universe that we are organically and integrally a part of. And again, I’m talking truth that is actually relative to us.

  26. Bradley Robinson

    Teed Rockwell, One clarification: as I’ve thought about the Pragmatist’s critical evaluative language (it works, it’s beneficial, etc) it led me to ask the ontological question of “Why?” If we accept that how we currently see the world makes up our objective reality and structures our actual sensitivities (or lack Thereof) then things “work” because of our reality meshing with the world in some way. As long as we understand that our senstivities will change and develop and therefore new things will “work.”

  27. Bradley Robinson

    Teed Rockwell, I started developing my ideas in response to Rorty’s quip that we are not undermining some essential aspect of humanity when we torture. The quote was in an article about the problematic foundations for human rights. I set out to try to give ontological heft to human action and my former comment is a brief window into that approach. I’ve been wrestling recently with trying to reclaim the idea of correspondence and capital T truth based on my understanding of relativism through my lens of “radical objectivity.”

    But imagine a man with diplopia (double vision). He processes the world and the data he intakes exists and corresponds to his physical reality. As that “truth” travels from his personal objectivity (though his description of reality) out to say, his family, it will either be corraborated or challenged. (Corraborated if his entire family has the same genetic disposition.) But at some point it will be challenged and break correspondance. Replace the physical ailment with a psychological filter and add the same directionality, out from the person, to the family, tribe, nation, world, universe.

    Based on that idea, I came up with this thought of capitial T Truth today:
    A capital T Truth is one that, as it enlarges from person to family to tribe to world it gains objectivity. It also gains robustness via its growing network of relations. If it makes it through the process and does not undermine further complex development, It thus corresponds with the world given our current structure in existence.

    I understand the problematic nature of the terms and am merely poking around at the idea.

  28. Bradley Robinson

    Teed, Thank you very much. I was being gracious to Mr Rorty and really just borrowing the general idea. I actually have read your paper and agreed with it and am familiar with your book “Neither Brain nor Ghost,” but haven’t read it yet. Rorty’s aesthetic turn is very much in the same vein to receive Pluckrose’s critique and it seems Rorty failed to understand the environment’s impact on actually (literally) shaping behavior (which you and others have made clear) and therefore aethestic’s real, ontological, objective aspect.

  29. Bradley Robinson

    Viewing existence through the eyes of complexity and symmetry-breaking, I have sympathies with aspects of postmodernism. But I believe postmodernists were operating in, to borrow a phrase from Alan Watts, “the ruins of theism.” They stopped believing in static, objective truth and didn’t understand the true nature of relativism–that something could be both “true” and changing. True is a loaded word of course and I’ve made attempts to avoid the true/false binary by adopting the Pragmatist’s evaluative language of beneficial, work, etc. and added my own category of significance which relates to the ability to coalesce and become more complex. . . .which is, in a sense what each human is doing. Gathering sense data through greater and great articulation of the world around them This data is truly unique to them, actually exists, and becomes “objective,” that is, an object. The question for me is how “raw” was the data and how tainted, distorted etc. was the acquisition of the data (confirmation bias). This is where Rorty’s conversationalism comes in handy and we can all, hopefully see where narrative and bias are at work and alter our “objective, relative” truth so it can benefit all. This approach allows for an open, changing, seeking environment without resorting to “anything goes.” All opinions have equal existence but all opinions do not equally work and have benefit.

  30. Kåre Fog

    Jordan Peterson:
    Postmodern studies at the universities should be defunded. They give no benefits to society. 80 % of publications in the humanities garner zero citations.

  31. Kåre Fog

    SquidScribe: You write: “The article is one assertion after the next . . . “.
    Yes, it has to be, because convicing evidence requires more space than is available here.
    But it is indeed possible to bring evidence for all the assertions that are made here. I have studied many (but of course, not all) of the postmodernist thinkers, and my conclusion is that they do not have evidence for any of their contra-intuitive claims. So there is evidence that the postmodernists do not have evidence. Also, the recent deterioration of the way that discussions are led in academia is an urgent problem, which can certainly be documented with a wide spectrum of examples, especially from American campuses. The first problem is that this documentation requires much space – that is, not articles, but books. And the second problem is that those who are criticised, do not read such books, because they refuse to listen to the criticism directed towards them.

  32. SquidScribe

    I wouldn’t put it quite so harshly, but as this is my first ever exposure to not only the definition of postmodernism but the idea that it has unduly influenced liberal academia, I’m left grappling with ”That’s an interesting thought, but why should I believe you?” The article is one assertion after the next and I’m basically supposed to assume she has an accurate view, absent context, and examples.

    It seems you are all quite schooled and have established positions; I am not and have not. I’m a young liberal struggling to make sense of an ideological rift within my own tribe. The author begs the question all over the place, and I’m only saying that because I want to understand what she failed to communicate.

  33. Sean Luo

    The author sounds ancient. Stuff that are cited occurred more than 20 years ago and the kind of “debates” are not very fashionable anymore. The more recent stuff (identity extremism, etc.) are fairly tangential in terms of relationship to original postmodern theories. Ironically, IMHO social sciences actually moved way more to the empirical side since the Sokal era, mostly due to increasing availability of data and computing power. Younger humanities researchers are also moving more towards the empirical side (i.e. digital humanities, experimental philosophy etc…) The “ruination” seems to have not occurred.

  34. Denise Cummins

    What an excellent essay! Well-reasoned, coherent, beautifully argued, and vitally important. Thank you, Dr. Pluckrose, for writing it, and thank you, Aeon, for publishing it.

  35. Anonymous

    Like anyone cares about your opinion, stick your head back in the hole you came out of, troll.

  36. Kåre Fog

    Here is yet another case of what journals in the social sciences are willing to publish.

    In this case it is not a hoax. The author really means what she writes. And what she writes, is utterly absurd concentrated insane nonsense.

    A “scientific field” where such texts are accepted for publication are not scientific, but pure waste of public money.

    “In this semimanifesto, I approach how understandings of quantum physics and cyborgian bodies can (or always already do) ally with feminist anti-oppression practices long in use. The idea of the body (whether biological, social, or of work) is not stagnant, and new materialist feminisms help to recognize how multiple phenomena work together to behave in what can become legible at any given moment as a body. By utilizing the materiality of conceptions about connectivity often thought to be merely theoretical, by taking a critical look at the noncentralized and multiple movements of quantum physics, and by dehierarchizing the necessity of linear bodies through time, it becomes possible to reconfigure structures of value, longevity, and subjectivity in ways explicitly aligned with anti-oppression practices and identity politics. Combining intersectionality and quantum physics can provide for differing perspectives on organizing practices long used by marginalized people, for enabling apparatuses that allow for new possibilities of safer spaces, and for practices of accountability. ”

  37. Eric Blair

    You validate the points the author of the piece is making. Plugging your ears and shouting abuse at her rather than, you know, offering a counterargument suggests you either do not understand her argument or you do not want to understand it. Choosing ignorance and scorn over reason is…oh nevermind. Good luck to you when this society collapses and returns to rule by brute force (the physical kind). With no state structure and rule of law to protect you will you still argue that “oppressive” rhetoric is on par with violent domination and subjugation?

  38. Eric Blair

    An excellent piece of writing. When academics, of all people, dismiss reason and logic as tools of oppression and instead advocate radical subjectivity and equate speech with physical violence…that is worrying. When this trend runs rampant in wider society, as it is doing today, with very little opposition in the mainstream…the implications are terrifying. Liberals and left-leaning people who opportunistically support this insidious nonsense (that means you Democratic Party) are playing with fire. Likewise, rational people on the left who go along with it out of fear or misguided loyalty…you need to stop and consider the implications.

    It’s especially worrying that often the divide between intersectionalism and reason are split along gender and ethnic lines with one side dominated by white males. This fuels the righteous fury on the other side and, in their eyes, validates their position. The problem here is obvious. It is compounded by the fact that racism and sexism are fluid constructs that mean whatever a person wants them to mean. Many other uncomfortable questions that western society has avoided honestly seeking answers to also come to the forefront.

    At the very heart of the issue is how does one communicate with a person who rejects reason and the notion of truth? Good faith dialogue and debate are impossible when something as fundamental as reason is rejected by one party. When dialogue stops, violence often begins and the way things are lining up on multiple fronts a descent into barbarism and rule by brute force seems almost inevitable if things continue this way. And it won’t be the intersectional PMists calling the shots.

  39. Kåre Fog

    To Kevin:
    “Pluckrose assumes the truth of her premises.”
    No, she does not. If you claim so, you must demonstrate where and how she assumes the truth of her premises.
    If you say that by using the word “postmodernism” she assumes the truth of her premise, I do not agree. There is such a wave of thinking that may very well be called postmodernism, but which may also be called something else, like poststructuralism or whatever term you may want to apply. But if you deny that there is such a wave at all, by redefining all terms in such a way that they do not apply here, then you are evading a long overdue criticism of this wave by manipulating linguistically in such a way that – poof – the whole thing being discussed has evaporated into empty air, and there is nothing left to discuss. I consider this a dishonest form of linguistic manipulation, a form of cowardice where you refuse to listen to relevant criticism.
    As to your example of a cogent response to Sokal and Bricmont: That response (in French) is practically nothing. It does not refute what Sokal and Bricmont write. The few examples dealt with in the response are dealt with in such superficial way that I do not understand how come that you cite this a a cogent piece of criticism. The author of the response does not seem to understand the physics part of the argumentation, and why the way that physical terms are used is complete misuse.

  40. Teed Rockwell

    Kevin, I think part of the problem here is statements like “the PC movement is a joke.” There’s nothing wrong with using vague statements like that as starting points. But from there you have to start talking about specific writers who you claim are part of the “PC movment”, and use citations to show that those specific writers actually said X. Otherwise, the whole discussion degenerates into abuse and innuendo. You’re no more or less guilty of this than anyone else on this thread, in fact it’s probably the rule for most online discussions anywhere. But it’s still a trend worth resisting. For example, I don’t know of anyone who claims that “decency should be chosen not enforced”. I think what the PC movement is trying to do is redefine what decency is, not lock people up if they aren’t decent. If you’ve got some actual citations that prove otherwise, I’d like to see them.

    Some of my students who cited various position advocated by what they called Feminazis which sounded apalling to me. I asked them to find me some citations, and all the citations were from 3rd parties attributing these positions to Feminazis, but nothing from any actual people who said “this is what I believe.” We had to conclude that these Feminazis were strawpersons.

    Also, despite what many people on this thread have claim, Pluckrose is not guilty of this. She has citations to specific authors to back up each of her claims, and arguments based on those citations. I disagree with many of her conclusions, but it is just not true to say that she is not offering arguments or citations to back them up.

  41. Kevin

    @Kåre Fog:

    I really don’t know how to make it any clearer: Pluckrose assumes the truth of her premises, without demonstrating why they are true. She then argues by assuming the truth of what is to be proven before all else: That the straw man she calls “Post-Modernism” corresponds to the works and views of actual individuals, and that these views directly, not proximately, cause the harm of which she accuses them.

    In this respect, Pluckrose’s article is a risible travesty from start to finish, and all the hand-waving in the world from the likes of Kåre Fog will not change this.

    P.S. The assertion that no one has provided a cogent response to and critique of Sokal, et al. is simply ignorance, or perhaps wishful thinking. See the following for but one of many examples: .

  42. Teed Rockwell

    Stephen, I also think your comment is basically right. One qualifier I would add is that it is not all American Academics, but primarily people in literature depts. Pluckrose rightly points out that Analytic philosophers are very critical of these developments. I don’t know enough about contemporary Continental philosophy to be sure that it is being distorted by America Identity politics. But I do know that Pluckrose is inaccurately conflating these ideas with other sources I am familiar with. (Kuhn, The Heidegger of Being and Time, and the American Pragmatists) The best thing about this paper is its descriptions of her direct confrontations with some misleading and dangerous ways of thinking followed by people speaking in the name of identity politics. To say “This can’t true because I would be upset if it was” is the same kind of reasoning that is used to justify Climate Change denial. I’m grading papers now and have already run into a few students who have argued against an author by saying “I find her ideas insulting.” We should not teach students that this subjective fact tells them anything whatsoever about evidence or arguments. I agree that the best way of dealing with this trend is to show why this maxim misinterprets the sources that allegedly justify it.

  43. wolandscat

    I think it’s better than a hodge-podge, but otherwise your point is well made. I suspect many feel there has been the kind of distortion you talk about, mainly in the US academic system (then bleeding back out into the rest of the Anglo world?), but it’s hard to discern clearly what’s going on. I suspect many (me included) are only able to see clearly the thread of bad ideas from the Lyotards etc to today’s identity politics without quite being able to pin down the lineage or reasons for the latter being the way it is. However – there is no escaping the fact that there are some very bad ideas, and indeed thinking so woolly it can’t even be understood, among the French (and other) post-structuralists.

  44. Stephen

    This essay is a hodgepodge of some seriously confused mumbo jumbo. While making a valid point about the destructiveness of “postmodern” identity politics, it mistakenly treats this phenomenon as organically part of the logic of the French post-structuralist thinkers, when in fact it is primarily a grotesque, and almost exclusively American, and Anglo-American, distortion of that school of thought. A more interesting essay would have perhaps discussed how this distortion took the French writers’ truly radical and subversive critique of societal, philosophical and linguistic structures and turned it into the utterly ineffectual red-herring machine of identity politics, which convinces no one but the already converted and shifts the need for political change onto the “safe” terrain of single issues (primarily gender and race) while ignoring the more pressing task of debunking the ideational machinery of the concrete policies currently ravaging the society and the planet in general. And it is, I think, the risible irrevelance and marginality of identity-oriented “critical discourse”, and its inability to affect real change, that explains why it is so tolerated in the corporate-controlled US university system, which otherwise tends to police and suppress any truly subversive thought.

  45. Kåre Fog

    Anonymous: why are you anonymous? Are you a coward hiding behind anonymity?
    “Philisophy is a specialised discipl(in)e like history”- no, it is not. Philosophy is different from most other academic fields, because it does not deal with facts, like history does. As soon as a philosopher finds a fact, it is not philosophy anymore.
    You are postulating that the rest of us are not justified to have any opinion on these matters before we have read a lot of books on the history of philosophy – preferably, I suppose, the same books as you have read. Well, maybe the rest of us have also read a lot of books, but just not those that you prefer.
    And maybe one does not need to know a lot about the history of philophy to be able to see some crucial flaws in postmodernism, poststructuralism, relativism etc. For instance, it is presupposed by adherents of these trends that those using them must be left leaning persons or even marxists, because the left leaning persons are those who have a high moral and the will to do good, and therefore, as long as they are the only ones playing by the postmodernist rules, it will be good. But postmodernism can also be used – and has been used – by people leaning to the right, for example holocaust deniers and deniers of man-made climate change. They, too, can utilise postmodernism to say that there is no objective truth, and therefore you cannot say that holocaust did actually happen. You do not need to study the history of philosophy for twenty yours before you make the simple test of reversing the sides and look at what would happen if the political right used the same philosophy.
    Also, you do not need to study the history of philosophy for twenty years to be able to see that Berger & Luckmann, or Latour, or Foucault, or Butler, do not present any evidence for their most remarkable claims of social construction. If you read their texts carefully just in those exact places where they put forward their most remarkable claims, you will see that to back up and support those claims they have nothing but postulates, taken out of the blue sky without any concrete evidence. Any intelligent and honest person, reading their texts carefully and without prejudice, can see that. But if you read a lot of books on the history of philosphy, maybe you get so confused that you cannot see things clearly anymore.

  46. Kåre Fog

    Here is a new Sokal type hoax in the social “sciences”.

    It seems that anything goes, if only you infuse your text with the right words and phrases and, in the case of gender studies, infer that anything masculine is at the root of all that is evil in the world.

    You may for instance write the following sentence, at the request of a peer reviewer: ” At best, climate change is genuinely an example of hyper-patriarchal society metaphorically manspreading into the global ecosystem.”

    That such a sentence is accepted in a “scientific” journal illustrates that postmodern social science is not science. It is humbug.

  47. Kåre Fog

    Karol Staskiewicz, I do not respect your argumentation, because I do not respect argumentation that is based on linguistics only. You can always evade a critical question by making alternative definitions of the words that you apply. For instance, you can use a very narrow definition of the word “postmodernism” and then claim that all what the others discuss is not postmodernism. I do not respect such a strategy.
    Reality is that there is a certain philosophical wave which may be variously characterized by words such as postmodernism, poststructuralism, social constructivism, discourse analysis, relativism etc. What is common to much of this wave is the claim that there is no objective truth, or that any search of objective truth will be in vain. Derrida´s term “deconstruction” sounds like something destructive, and indeed, it is.
    What we see today at universities in North America, in Britain, in Germany, and many other places, is a tremendous deterioration of academic thought. The young generation has lost its respect for free speech, for fairness, for truth etc., which means that crucial fundaments of western civilisation have eroded away. And the cause for this disaster? – postmodernism! Yes, Lyotard, Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, Bourdieau, Butler etc. etc. are indeed gulity of undermining and dismantling the thinking that is the basis of western civilisation. They have not just predicted the decline, they have caused it or at least augmented it.

  48. Anonymous

    That is precisely the approach of this and many other articles about french intellectuals or postmodernists ruining the west. And it is funny too.

    Plus, its a short story and not a long book that you’ll have to read to make an article on philosophy, which actually won’t be the expression of your political or any other worldview, belief or of your dogmas, e.g. hardcore liberalism that the postmodernists supposedly “ruin” (again, maybe the nowadays liberalism is the issue and needs change, because all the right movements wont fix themselves, not the poor old postmodernists who just predicted what will happen? Read my previous comment). And yes, you have to know a lot of philosophy and have necessary skills (like unprejudiced and critical thinking) to write about it, Especially when you write about the late French philosophy because its maim interest is the critique ofthe foundations laid by the history of philosphy. You need to know the whole history of philosophy at least to know what they are critising, they are the very last philosophers you learn about at any philosophy university course unsurprisingly. Then you can read their books or just real philosophical magazines and afterwards you can make yourself an opinion on the matter. Sorry, but philisophy is a specialised disciple like history and not some folk psychology or politics where your unwarranted opinion may always count. Linking article you find convincing (because they fit your intuitions), which are writtens by people who have no proffesional knowledge on the topic they’re critising, is a joke, It’s the same as writing a thesis on a serious matter and supporting your arguments with links to your favourite blogs, wikipedia and doctonaries. Such people as yhe author of this article “ruin” the western thought (of which the postmodernism is a part – with the difference that it is fully aware of it being its part, because it knows that no philosophy is without history), because they don’t read its books, they don’t understand them, but still they write popular articles about it and make people believe their unwarranted intuitive opinions.

  49. Karol Staśkiewicz

    This and many articles about “postmodernits destroying the wests”, “postmodernists producing trump” and so on are written by people who have no knowledge of philosophy – citing encyclopedia Britannica dictionary as a source, blogs filling half of the bibliography, the rest coming from Wikipedia (which is of course not cited, but all you need is to compare the content), the article on postmodernism from stanford, which is the only viable source quoted here, is reduced to one sentence and actual real books being cited completely out of context and selectively. Firstly, there is no such “current” in philosophy as “postmodernism”. Lyotard coined this term by himself and no other philosopher (labelled by him as a “postmodernist”) never used that term neither to call his philosophical stance nor someone’s else, and also no one ever drew a clear line between “postmodernists” and non-postmodernists, who just deal with something else than philosophy of logic, science, ontology, epistemology and the whole analytic philosophy. Why? Because this term is completely incoherent and has no real content, it’s just a buzzword, you can call cinema, furniture, architecture, literature, history and so on postmodern, you can hate postmodern literature, but read and support postmodern philosophy. Philosophers mentioned in the article have completely no points in common – partially because they don’t tend to build universal philosophical systems as previous philosophers did, e.g. Leibniz, Descartes, Kant, Marx. And that is precisely what they’re after – a philosophy, a reason, which is aware of its intellectual limits, of limits of certainty, of wisdom and aware of its social and historical background – each of the most prominent philosophers develops his or her unique method of doing it, every method gives us a new perspective, not a system comparable with other systems (which is bound to fall as every philosophical system had). It’s the same as labelling some completely opposite and separable music bands “proto post punk rock” just to write an article about “a new genre” and to make people, who never listened to such bands, think they know what they’re talking about. And of course, “knowing” means here having loose and arbitrary assiociations, especially when an article about artificial, misleading philosophical “genre” is written by a person who in fact NEVER studied philosophy and uses only such sources as Wikipedia, blogs and dictionaries. Want to know something real about philosophers mentioned there? Read a good book about them and not crap articles written by ignorant “writers”. It’s the same as writing about history without knowing even a small part of it – sorry, not anybody can write about philosophy because it also requires knowledge and creative, analytical thinking (not just rewriting and jumping into arbitrary conclusions fitting your beliefs). Unfortunately, modern philosophy is so complex and so difficult to read at first, that you can’t just open a dictionary to know what it is about, or read an article on the web written by a non-philosopher who reduces it into two sentences or just memorize “I think, therefore I am”, it is the same for so-called “postmodernist” philosophy as any current influential analytical philosophy, like philosophy of language. At least read a full article on Stanford about one of the philosophers called “postmodernist” in this aeromagazine (or read a real philosophical article in a philosophical journal!) and then make your individual opinion on the matter. Such articles are a plague – people don’t bother to check the sources, they don’t bother to check whether the author knows the topic, nor they think critically about its contents.

    Secondly, the causal chain of events is completely messed up here, it is displayed in such a manner just to fit the author’s thesis. “Postmodernists” (a name for a random group of philosophers as said before, it’s better here to just name Derrida, Foucault, Baudrillard and so on, but you never know which would fit better or not at all) don’t “produce culture” (as author says), they analyse it. They didn’t “ruin the west”, they predicted the fall of the west, the longlasting consequences of enlightment, the politics of rhetorics etc., even a hundred fifty years before the actual thing (Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Hegel). If you would really read them before such a state of events happened then it wouldn’t be surprising for you at all. What’s more, they developed emancipatory tactics for such a relativistic, nihilistic movements, surely better than writing such superficial, ignorant, amateur articles like this (but they require a lot more knowledge and thought than a blog article, that is their “flaw”). Anyway, I’m not going to give a lecture on philosophy now in a comment, just read a book or something I mentioned earlier (something that is longer than few scrolls with a mouse). And of course, Trump, alt-right and 99.9% of Trump’s voters (just everyone critized in this article) didn’t read Derrida because almost NO ONE reads Derrida and the like, not even one book (except for some philosophy students, there maybe a few more that read him – still it has no influence on whatever)(p.s. there are even less people that read him and finally understand them so it is really relevant obviously), even people who write about him or talk about him never read his books (as the author of this article). So, summing up, stop blaming philosophers who warned you about the fall of the West for decades (Hegel, Nietzsche, Foucault, Derrida, Marx, Deleuze, Adorno, Horkheimer, Viatimmo, Levinas, Kojeve and the list goes on and on) and critized naivety of thinking that history ended with capitalism democracy (common belief embodied by Fukuyama) – instead of being reactionary, realising something was wrong when it’s over and done with. Start looking for the cause somewhere else, because the current political trend won’t fix itself, nor will the classic metaphysical philosophers fix it, don’t blame them for that. Supposedly, the old status quo certainly won’t fix it too, maybe because its flaws, exhaustion, depletion, mainly the inability of reducing social inequalities, was the trigger of political changes? Just saying. But hey, it’s always easier to blame poor old so-called “postmodernists” for everything, because you never read them and you don’t bother to understand them.

    Just read something real about this or other philosophers before you trust the philosophical knowledge of such “writers”. I hope I introduced you a little to the topic, so that you won’t have any initial, unwarranted prejudices towards it (as the author of this article).

  50. Kelly

    The author has valid points and is headed in the right direction but
    I would argue that German philosophers and politicians are more culpable than even the French. Here is a list I’ve been compiling after it dawned on me that all the issues with the University and (eventually) with the prog/regressives in society all were originally spawned from German philosophers. The french post moderns were heavily influenced by Martin Heidegger (German) and i would say the grandfather daddy of these was Nietzsche who paved the way for cultural relativism. Not to mention KARL MARX whose murderous utopian economics just won’t die!!! And, of course, It goes without saying…. Hitler. But here is my list of the German intellectual / poltitical class that (in my opinion) has screwed over Western society more than any other country to date. In no particular order:
    • Visigoth Germanic Tribes, sacking Rome in 410.
    •KARL MARX (still dealing with his murderous accolites to this day)
    •Adolf Hitler
    •Herbert Marcuse (Frankfort School)
    •Theodor Adorno (Frankfort)
    •Hegel (influencer of Marx, Engels, Kierkegaard)
    •Nietzsche (all is meaningless, atheism, death of god leads to break down of universal values & relativism. precursor to cursor to cultural relativism.)
    •Martin Heidegger ( Existentialism
    counter-enlightenment philosopher) Influenced a host of baddies: Derrida, Foucault et. al. The deconstructionists and post modernism playing havoc on American universities to this day. Jumped the ship and has leaked out into society.
    •Angela Merkel: current german chancellor, unwittingly establishing german hegemony over europe, possibly #1 cause of death European culture & civilization having invited in millions of refugees into germany unilaterally without consensus of the European people thereby reverberating through out EU. Is censoring Germans to silence dissenting views of immigration and immigrant caused crimes (mostly rape, theft & sexual assaults). PC police works overtime in Germany. Culture is conformist, groupthink prone and is dealing with a major national deeply felt guilt trip over its history in the 20th Century (as it should) but that guilt is affecting all other countries in the EU as well.

    Has Western Society run full circle? Beginning with German Tribes sacking rome and the fall into dark ages to Merkel inviting Islamic Barbarism in by the millions which could well round it out! Just some thoughts.

  51. Anonymous

    This is a flashy, unthinking and reductive invective against postmdernism. The author is cast unto a frenzy of unsubstantiated accusations, with hardly any critical appraisal of the ontology and epistemology of the postmodern. The author seems to read Lyotard’s stance as anti-positivist, and thus warrants a forced double-take in the name of the modern. In arguing against Lyotard’s “pluralizing” narrative, she makes a flagrant extension to “postmodern thought”, thus excluding the micro-structures addressed by postmodernists such as Derrida. She projects the pluralizing project unto Foucault’s perception of the individual within society. For her, Foucault seems to square off the individual within a discursive post-structure conducive to an anti-modern, and thus anti-humanist, project. In trying to expose Foucaudlian “destructive” constructivism, the author seems to oust the postmodernist paradigm from the interplay of disciplines by suggesting a modernist reductionism instead. The orthodox defensive of the author invites a rethinking not only of the reactive critique within the current social and human sciences that she advocates but also of the very tools such a critique has borrowed from modernity. The pluralizing syndrome with which the author’s argument is gripped targets even Derrida’s deconstruction. She curiously slots in constructivism as an underlying prop of Derrida’s deconstruction. While the constructivist paradigm is too varied and plural in its reach, particularly within the social sciences, the author of this article insists on forcing it on Derrida’s argument. Derrida’s deconstructionist endeavor contradicts sharply with constructivism as explained by the author, basically because Derrida provokes a crisis within the sign system of the modern rather than constructing a new sign by reversing the old. His project does not seek to dictate new identities by supplanting the old ones; his project is to “supplement”, which is not to construct. Derrida’s project is analytical rather than normative; he does not prescribe, and does not construct out of deconstruction. The author confuses the findings of postmdernists with the aspirations of the constructivists, and, for the same reason, fails to identify the disciplinary divide that keeps the debate alive. The major cause for concern in this article is how the author gives free rein to unsubstantiated arguments against postmdernists rather than critically engaging with the modernity/post-modernity debate. The fixation on the primacy of modern values brings to mind old questions (characteristic of egocentric thinking) which we as academics should not be proud to celebrate. Mnasri Chamseddine

  52. Kåre Fog

    Pluckrose does not commit any hubris here. She argues for the truth of her position.
    She cites for instance the sentence: “If I judge that tennis balls do not fit into wine bottles, can you show precisely how it is that my gender, historical and spatial location, class, ethnicity, etc., undermine the objectivity of this judgement?” And you might add; precisely how is it that my gender, historical and spatial location etc. etc. undermine the objectivity of the statement that giraffes are larger than ants?
    There is no answer to these questions – at least, nobody here has provided such an answer. And because there is no answer, Pluckrose is right to claim that objective truth does exist, and that extreme relativism is false.
    If we should respect postmodernist thinkers, then it should be possible to criticise these thinkers and receive defenses of their thoughts in return. But such a process has never functioned. For instance, when Sokal and Bricmont have come up with their criticism that much of postmodernism is just like The emperor´s Clothes, their valid criticism is just ignored by the postmodernists. It is the postmodernists that “feel no need to argue” for their position.
    It is the basis of western science that there is a truth, which we will never know 100 %, but which we should approach as closely as possible, applying criteria like the highest possible degree of objectivity, fair debate, statistical significance etc. etc. What postmodernists do, is to explode all this, and the results are devastating. We see these devastating results in our universities today.
    Without the science that aims at finding the objective truth, we would not have the modern society that is so rich in material wealth, in welfare, and in information and knowledge. Postmodernists have, unfortunately, been successful in dismantling respect for such science. Their undermining of science threatens to remove the basis of our present prosperous society. What we see in those parts of academia that are influenced by postmodernism, is the erosion of ideals of truth, fair trials, freedom of speech, and other very valuable aspects of science and enlightenment. This is being replaced by absurd ways of thinking that may mark the collapse of western civilisation and a transtion to something that is much, much worse.

  53. Uber

    Totally agree. The only part that sounded reasonable was the last paragraph (although the last sentence is contentious). This article is otherwise a wonderful example of profound hubris.

  54. c21styork

    Very good essay. I’ll share it with friends. Good to see the author doesn’t conflate Marxism with postmodernism and understands that they are fundamentally different (unlike Keith Windschuttle in ‘The killing of history’ in Australia). I think the rise of postmodernism in Academia reflects the decline of Marxism in Academia. Marshall Berman showed how Marxist academics could fight postmodern claptrap. ‘All that’s solid melts into air’ remains a vitally important book.

  55. Colin Broughton

    Roger Scruton does a marvellous hatchet job on Lyotard, Derrida et al in his book ‘Fools Frauds and Firebrands.’ ( ‘The nonsense factory’)

    If anything badly needed cutting down to size, it was the pretensions of such mediocre’ and obscurantist ‘thinkers’. Foucault of course has already suffered at the hands of such as Merquior who pointed out for example that for someone interested in ‘geneology’ and ‘archaeology’, he was a poor historian.

    The fundamental weakness of these ‘intellectuals’ is a sad lack of common sense and a linked failure to recognise the need for social compromise.

    One is not in the least surprised that their thinking lends itself so readily to leftism. That was its purpose all along.

  56. wolandscat

    Personally I am all for civilised conversations (and I tend to treat internet discussions as if they were face to face). But I still think the ‘PC movement’ is a joke. The antics of today’s controllers of language and gesture don’t stand up to even the briefest analysis in my view, and I have yet to see even a thin defence that does not come from the same social-controller mentality as PC itself. If such a thing exists I’d be very interested to see it.

    At the end of the day, I’d say what we need is a society in which decency is chosen, not enforced – otherwise, what we have is just coercion, in the same way as religious practice is in a theocracy.

  57. Kåre Fog

    Teed Rockwell.
    In reply to your last question: I have read Tyelko´s last post once more, to see if it fits with him feeling the same way about me. I cannot see that it fits. All I can see, is his insults.
    I know that I am, myself, harsh against my opponents. My ideal is to be harsh, but fair. Apparently somebody do not think that I live up to that ideal.
    There is an enormous need for criticism of the social and humanistic disciplines. I think that the criticism that does appear is not sufficiently sharp and harsh. A more severe critical cut into these sciences is long overdue. Since the late 1960s, these disciplines have departed drastically from former ideals of how to perform academic studies, with consequences that are in my view disastrous.
    Those ideals that have allowed the rise of western civilisation include the notion that you should always consider the possibility that you yourself might be wrong, and your opponent might be right. This is for instance the basis of our system of justice, where we have a duty to listen to the accused and hear his arguments that he might be innocent. It is also the basis of sound scientific endeavor – you should always consider the possibility, that when somebody oppose your conclusions, they might be right, and you cannot discard their objections, unless you have good, valid arguments for rejecting them.
    What has happened in large parts of the social and humanstic disciplines since the 1960s, is that such sound principles are no longer the ideal. For instance, if biologists say that the behavior or the social position of some person is partially due to biological / genetic factors, then people from the social and humanistic disciplines completely ignore or discard such conceptions. For instance, they study social inheritance in ways that completely discard the notion that genetic dispositions could be at play, and postulate the existence of societal injustices which might actually be due to genetics. If women do not have a 50 % representation in some profession or some board, it is automatically concluded that this proves that there is an injustice at work here, and it is disregarded that some of it could be due to biological differences between the sexes. In this way, these disciplines now abound with accusations of injustices everywhere, and especially in the most recent years, academia has become a playing field where people compete about being the most suppressed, because what gives you recognition and tenure, is that you are the most oppressed, not that you are clever. This has lead to the whole circus of safe spaces, microaggressions, and violent protests to prevent that opponents are heard. The freed om of expression has in reality become suspended at many American universities, as has the usual system of justice, which has been replaced by the omonous kangaroo courts at American universities. There are so many sick trends in academia now, which all originate from the fact that most people in the social and humanistic disciplines reject any criticism, and those few that could speak the truth, dare not do so, because others who have spoken the truth have become fired.
    When people that were educated at such universites enter into positions elsewhere in society, the damage from their wrongful education spreads into society at large.
    I know especially of one very large and very good study of the interplay of biological and social factors in human behavior, established in an exemplary cooperation of scientists from different disciplines. This work should be obligatory reading for everybody dealing with this subject. Instead, it is generally ignored, apparently because it documents that genetics does play an important role. And in general, any attempt to criticise social and humanistic disciplines for disregarding biology, fails miserably. The criticism is always repelled like water off a duck´s back. Which, of course, is directly against all good scientific principles that one should listen to one´s opponent.
    All this is an attempt to briefly sketch why I think that trends like postmodernism should be severely criticized; and when all criticism is routinely and automatically rejcted and disregarded, you become harsh and angry. I have written a large book in my own language (Danish), where I in great detail describe the complete lack of evidence for any of the postulates put forward by postmodernists, poststructuralists, social constructionists, discourse analytics and whatever you call them. If people were decent and fair, they would consider the contents of the book, and consider if any of the points made there could be true. For anyone calling himself a scientist, this would be a duty. But the book is completely ignored. The chosen attitude among those that I criticize, is to remain completely silent and neither review nor mention the book at all. And that is not because it is a poorly written or irrelevant book or because of any other flaw. It is only – only – because the conclusions, based on very detailed and meticulous argumentation, are unpopular.
    Others before me have been more gentle in their criticism. They have obtained absolutely nothing. That is why I am more harsh, more factual, more precise, more uncompromised. But it seems that nothing helps. You could as weel criticize creationists for disregarding Darwin. This is a matter of firm belief, and no factual argument whatsoever helps. How can you argue with anobody about what is the truth, if he postulates that there is no truth at all? All debate becomes obsolete. With damaging consequences for society.
    I might have presented more precise and extensive evidence for what I say here. Obviously, tyelko would want to prevent that from happening. I suspect that his strategy is to be so unfair, so provocative, so insulting, that there is a large chance that I react emotionally. And then, when I do that, I can be discarded as emotional, i.e. a ridiculous person that should not be listened to. I guess that is just another plot to prevent that relevant criticism is ever listened to.
    I myself, of course, should follow my own ideals and try to consider what tyelko says. But I cannot. When I see his text, all I can see is insults, insults and insults. That overshadows any sense or relevant comments that might exist somwhere in his texts, so that I am unable to debate meaningfully with him.
    I am now convinced that any attempt to debate with him, will be a waste of time. I am sure that a constructive dialogue will never be possible.

  58. Kåre Fog

    Teed Rockwell
    Thank you very much for your comment. I would very much like to agree fully with you.
    Actually, I thought a few hours ago about posting something like this:
    “I regret my latest post. I acknowledge that no matter how unacceptably you have been insulted, no matter how unfair the other part is, you should remain cool and calm, repress all emotions and only state factual arguments. ”
    I actually considered writing that. But then, today, I opened the thread of comments and saw the next attack on me. This attack is so infamously vicious, so unfair, so . . . well, I have no words for it. I must simply admit that I cannot keep my emotions calm when i read it. I very much would want to, but I cannot. My interpretation is that the sender is a kind of troll, who is bored and then enjoys to spend the idle time by making others angry, which he then thinks is funny. I guess it is something like that. If I had been a better person than I am, I would have ignored it. But the emotions evoked by such tremendous unfairness are unfortunately so strong, that I cannot keep them down.
    I consider the other person as an evil person who enjoys harassing others. Unfortunately, he has found a susceptible victim in me, and his harassment works.
    In an ideal world, I would not be emotional. But in the real world, this is simply so bad that I cannot keep emotions down.

  59. Teed Rockwell

    I haven’t been participating in this discussion, because I find the tone of it to be emotionally exhausting and abusive. There are some very intelligent people participating in this discussion, each of whom has a unique range of experience and expertise. I agree each of them on certain points, and disagree on others. Yes, there is a tremendous need to readjust the treatment of women and people of color, and to change our understanding of the relationship between knowledge and power. Yes, many of the attempts to make this readjustment go to far in the right direction, and end up being ludicrous or repressive. Why don’t we try to make distinctions between the adjustments that work and the adjustments that don’t? Why do we have to assume that the only choices are “The PC movement is insane” or “don’t you dare question anything ever said by anyone who styles his or herself as a spokesperson for their oppressed group”. Do we really have to choose between throwing out the baby and keeping the bathwater? How about separating the wheat from the chaff instead?

    Unfortunately, I don’t see anyone who is taking this kind of position. Everyone is convinced that his or her opponent is a liar, a swindler, a delusional lunatic and who knows what else. Would any of you talk like this to each other if you were having this discussion over dinner? I doubt it.

    Sadly, I don’t think that this discussion is significantly worse on these factors than any other discussion on the internet. The lack of face to face contact has made this kind of verbal brutality the norm in communication. But I have recently taken what I call a vow of courtesy, in hope that a refusal to stoke this kind of momentum will help to decrease it. I’m not totally successful at this, as occasionally I slip into passive-aggressive sarcasm. I may be doing that now, in fact. But I think it’s worth a try. I’ve created a little speech/poem that I hope will not seem too preachy, and perhaps, inshallah, will have some impact on how its readers think and speak. I present it here for your consideration:

    There are two important differences between online and face-to-face communication

    1) In online communication, you can be as nasty as you wanna be. You’re too far away to hit, and in many cases you will never see the person you are communicating with. This nourishes the kind of armored hostility that creates road rage. We say things to the car that cut us off in traffic that we would never say to the driver if we saw her face-to-face. On the internet, this attitude is reinforced by the fact that we can communicate our rage to the person that triggered it, which triggers rage in them, which triggers rage in us and so on, creating “flame wars”. Like the exploding flames in video games, these online flames don’t physically hurt anyone, but they do create an emotional mood that is more effective for killing an enemy than communicating with a friend.

    2) In online communication, you never have to communicate without proofreading. You can go back, think carefully about what you said, and ask yourself “Is this really what I want to say? Do I want to be the sort of person who says things like that?”. No matter how angry you are, you have the opportunity to cut the snarky and abusive language that first popped into your head, and replace it with a paraphrase that is calm and reasonable. You can replace phrases that make the other person feel so strongly they cannot think, with phrases that help them think by taking their views into consideration.

    You can, in other words, choose to use the internet to present your very worst self or your very best self. Which do you usually choose?

  60. Kevin

    I stand by my statement which is that the author of this piece assumes the truth of what needs to be proven, i.e., she begs the question.For instance, she assumes the truth of her views of Science, Truth, and Objectivity, and uses terms such as relativism simply as sneer words. Her view of the concepts she is discussing is extremely unsophisticated, assuming, for instance, that there is only one form of relativism, or only one degree of it, which is patently false.

    I would add that I do not care much for the thinkers under discussion, either–I much prefer the ultimate source of their ideas, Nietzsche. But it is hard to sit idly by and take seriously a piece that is so patently one-sided, hyperbolic, ideological, and intellectually incompetent.

  61. wolandscat

    Re: p values and so on, no argument. Doing science properly is founded on scepticism (without being too Humean, of course).

    “The problem arises when people see it as oppressive when someone points out such things to them.”

    ‘Pointing out things’ is not a problem. That is what parents, friends and colleagues do in a normal society when someone says or does something offensive. That’s how we learn to be better people.

    You are missing the point that Oxford University (and it’s just the most convenient recent example of hundreds I could have chosen) is a) trying to normalise the insinuation that not looking directly at your interlocutor (as many shy people, autistics, asians and others don’t) could mean you are racist and b) wants to actually modify people’s behaviour on this basis.

    This is a joke, and it’s what PC is – institutions trying to coercively micro-control the behaviour and speech of people by officially codifying certain completely innocent acts / phrases etc as unacceptable, racist, etc and creating sanctions for abuses. This kind of thing would spell the end of normal discourse and an open society, and in my view is mainly to do with either narcissism or lack of professional self-esteem by social engineers that hail from the so-called ‘social sciences’ faculties. People with no clue about reality in other words, but a lot of self-important feelings and apparently, interest in controlling others.

    Here’s another good example of the stupidity – protest against the use of the word ‘violate’ in law school classrooms.

    I’m not clear on what you think Pluckrose’s ‘ideology’ is, other than some vague anti-SJW thing. Or do you have something else in mind?

  62. tyelko


    “The idea that the world of modern medicine can be dismissed as if it does’t demonstrate that objective reality really can be known well enough to correctly infer what is going on and apply a reasonable (if not perfect) intervention is nonsense. The same can be said of most engineering based sectors.”

    I never proposed such an idea. But the notion that having a white coat and waving with a textbook makes one’s approach scientific, as Kåre Fog does it, is likewise nonsense. My point was that self-skepticism and awareness of the limits of one’s methodology is important. And all your writing didn’t even begin to address, for example, what a p-value of 0.05 means vis a vis the massive bulk of scientific literature. I think you take the notion of “voodoo medicine” way too literal…

    “I’m neither right wing, nor do I think manners should be forgotten, quite the opposite. FWIW, the kind of PC nonsense I am talking about is this:

    That’s rather sensationalist writing by the Telegraph. What happens to be a fact, however, is that for people born in a given country, “Where are you from?” can feel like verbal ostracisation, a declaration as “other”, as not part of the community. It makes hasty assumptions about the target. The actual statement of the university clearly underscores that they acknowledge the conduct might not be meant in a demeaning way, but that does not mean that it is perceived in that way by the recipient and that it’s not based on unwarranted subconscious preconceptions.

    “You are right, people should be decent to others. That’s why PC has no place. The only way to achieve a decent society is to have one where people are free to say racist / sexist / whatever things, but choose not to because they know better. Or if they do, they can be educated by the rest. Just read the article I linked to and ask yourself if that is the kind of society you really want.”

    Um, that’s precisely what the article describes – the university pointing out students that some statements may be involuntarily demeaning. And that’s precisely what “PC” is – pointing out to people that their statement is demeaning and unreasonable. The problem arises when people see it as oppressive when someone points out such things to them.

    “Whether Pluckrose has gone too far I don’t know. But I don’t see her article as a ‘plain and simple fabrication to suit a political agenda’, even if it might be a little bit suited to her agenda, if she has one. The main point of the article is perfectly viable, even if it may benefit from adjustments by constructive critics who may know some of the specifics better.”

    Sorry, but not only has she, if I remember correctly, personally attacked people here in the discussion who have pointed out her claims about xenophobia are nonsense, it’s somewhat disingenuous to call out people for proposing concepts that are complete nonsense just because they’d like them to be the case when you believe you are entitled to make up your own bullshit. And whitewashing crime because it doesn’t fit into your worldview is nothing to be cavalier about. Just today, German police arrested a soldier who was preparing a terrorist attack motivated by his right wing ideology. How many buildings have to burn until she takes notice? How many people have to be beaten to pulp? How many human sacrifices does her ideology demand?

    @ Kåre Fog

    You write:
    “You do the same. You insinuate that I am an idiot, byt using the word quackery.”

    I insinuate no such thing. I insinuate that your line of argumentation is invalid and you are fitting the data to your preconceptions rather than vice versa. And your reply demonstrates that that is spot on.

    “I am sure that if I worked all of my life exclusively on studying pros et cons regarding postmodernist writers, if I did not read 100.000 pages of literature like I have done by now, but tens of millions of pages, and based my conclusions on that, you would still call it quackery.”

    You are apparently sure of a lot of things that are not supported by any kind of evidence, which is precisely why I call your holy crusade hypocritical. Instead of providing actual evidence, you engage in sundry prose.

    “It is obvious that you despise persons with the kind of opinions that I have, and I can only say in return that such despise will be mutual.”

    Thanks, I don’t give much about the opinion of frauds who use science as a fig leaf to sanctify their fanaticism.

  63. Kåre Fog

    To Tyelko
    I did not know the English word “quackery”, so I had to look it up in my dictionary. When I saw what it means, I realized that what you write is an absolutely unacceptable insult.
    I have read thousands and thousands of pages of literature; I have really honestly tried to find out where do these social constructionists and postmodernists have their opinions from, what is it based on. I have checked footnotes. I have noticed what references they refer to, and provided these references, and read them. I have seen that the cliams there are based on yet other references, which I have then also consulted, just to discover theat the claims are based on yet other references, and so nearly ad infinitum. The evidence for the more crucial claims does not exist.
    I have also studied literature of the opposite opinion, mainly based on studies performed with the methods of the natural sciences. Here, any claims are documented by concrete evidence, and if the evidence is equivocal and the conclusions uncertain, which they often are, this is admitted directly. The degree of uncertainty is stated. But still, there is enough evidence altogether that human behavior is not solely (I repeat: not solely!) a product of social impulses. This is in stark contrast to the literature of most postmodernists, which is typically formulated with much authority, stating that things are like stated, and insinuating that those who do not grasp that, are more or less idiots.
    You do the same. You insinuate that I am an idiot, byt using the word quackery.
    I am sure that if I worked all of my life exclusively on studying pros et cons regarding postmodernist writers, if I did not read 100.000 pages of literature like I have done by now, but tens of millions of pages, and based my conclusions on that, you would still call it quackery.
    It is obvious that you despise persons with the kind of opinions that I have, and I can only say in return that such despise will be mutual.

  64. wolandscat

    There are all kinds of errors in healthcare, trust me I am aware of them. My specialty includes application of semantics and ontology to health data gathering; conversion of guidelines to computable forms, which requires formalisation. I work with people who specialise in clinical studies and evidence-based protocols. Where a solidly evidence-backed guideline, say for sepsis, is followed, the results are remarkable. When it is not, it’s generally for a sociological reason, and we know the kinds of reasons. But here we are talking the frontier of scientific medicine. In many routine situations, a reasonable diagnosis and intervention are determined. If they are not the best available, that is generally down to reasons of finance, or other sociological reasons.

    Patient care is not generally awash with voodoo, however, there is too much ‘we’ve always done it this way’. In fact, some institutions have figured out that the most determining variable in outcomes of patients with serious conditions like sepsis, ARDS, cardiac events, strokes etc can be medical school the doc graduated from, and year.

    None of these detract from the fact that science-based approaches, properly exercised produce vastly better outcomes than either a) lack of science-based approaches (e.g. real voodoo medicine) or b) poorly applied science-based approaches in the Western world. There is an ocean of evidence to show that science is ‘good enough’ to work, even when very high accuracy is required, such as in MRIs and genetic testing.

    The idea that the world of modern medicine can be dismissed as if it does’t demonstrate that objective reality really can be known well enough to correctly infer what is going on and apply a reasonable (if not perfect) intervention is nonsense. The same can be said of most engineering based sectors.

    On political correctness, I assume your comment relates the the use of the term in Trump-land. I’m neither right wing, nor do I think manners should be forgotten, quite the opposite. FWIW, the kind of PC nonsense I am talking about is this:

    You are right, people should be decent to others. That’s why PC has no place. The only way to achieve a decent society is to have one where people are free to say racist / sexist / whatever things, but choose not to because they know better. Or if they do, they can be educated by the rest. Just read the article I linked to and ask yourself if that is the kind of society you really want.

    Whether Pluckrose has gone too far I don’t know. But I don’t see her article as a ‘plain and simple fabrication to suit a political agenda’, even if it might be a little bit suited to her agenda, if she has one. The main point of the article is perfectly viable, even if it may benefit from adjustments by constructive critics who may know some of the specifics better.

  65. tyelko


    “Perfectly usable” and “objective” are two very distinct concepts. The very concept of Munchhausen’s Trilemma illustrates that the only way to escape infinite regression or circular logic is to decide “Sod it, good enough!” But only when you make that decision consciously and in good faith and based on standards accepted beyond your own person are you actually practicing science. Which is why I’m a bit taken aback by your statement that you work in healthcare. Totally aside from the fact that you should know, then, that modern healthcare is probabilistic and medical studies based on statistical power and p-values (with margins so large that statistics alone points out there’s tons of studies out there that are nothing but random data scatter), there’s plenty of “researchers” out there who never learned how to set up a reliable study in the first place and consequently publish pure garbage on a regular level.

    Take a random evidence-based guideline and make a fact check as to how many physicians or institutions actually adhere to it. You’d likely be surprised. But then, even “evidence-based” guidelines, alas, are often subject to plenty of politicking. Clinical patient care is awash with what basically is little more than voodoo garnished as “We’ve always done it that way” or “The alternative would be too cost-prohibitive”. I’ve worked with a bacteriologist who was imploring his institution’s urologists not to give urinary tract infection patients antibiotics until he had actually confirmed it WAS a bacterial UTI – not only was that in vain, they regularly used an antibiotic they already had a 30% resistance problem with, because it was dirt cheap and hey, 30% resistance means 70% susceptibility, right? Yeah, well, today…tomorrow is a whole different story.

    As for the supposed “thought control of modern political correctness”, that’s really just a tired excuse of right wing people to forget their manners. There is nothing modern and nothing in any way relating to though control about not being a d*ck to the people around you. It is funny how the same people who constantly complain about alleged suppression of reasoned debate declare such suppression to be first and foremost present when they are called to order on unreasonable debate, on undifferentiated and unjustified generalisations, or, as in the case of Helen Pluckrose, plain and simple fabrication to suit a political agenda. Stating that “better understanding of the different experiences of being human is needed”, quite distinct from suggesting that we can already pass judgment on sundry groups. But of course, it’s much more convenient, as Pluckrose does it, to simply label people “leftist” and “Social Justice activists” based on them not agreeing with her.

  66. wolandscat

    I took Kåre Fog’s statement about having to rebut post-modernist tracts page by page is a comment on the difficulty of debating with people who have no grasp of realism, science or any other means of grounding narrative. Like debating creationists – largely futile.

    It’s not hubris to say that there are, for all practical purposes, perfectly usable objective scientific results. if that were not so, we would not have nuclear reactors, space shuttles or CAT scans. So it does give us a lot of objective truths, within error-ranges so small that they don’t impinge on our ability to safely do large scale engineering (of course, we make errors sometimes). (I work in healthcare – clinical patient care proceeds largely successfully on a daily basis because of dependable theories, explanations and the devices and methods that follow).

    You seem to have an issue with Pluckrose’s claims around racism, sexism diminishing in Western societies, and maybe you are right – I don’t know if we have reliable proof one way of the other. But one thing that post-modernists love (and have more or less created) is identity politics, which is a great tool for creating divisions where none are needed. Better societal understanding of the different experiences of being human is needed, not political groups based on being black, lesbian, trans, or something else, let alone the thought control of modern political correctness.

    On the point of random xenophobic violence exploding I’d have to concur in the UK at least.

  67. tyelko


    Well, given that some pretty dominant schools of thought in philosophy of science suggest that while there may be (or is) an “objective world” out there, all knowledge we can formulate about it is at best an inter-subjective approximation which can asymptotically , converge on what’s out there we should very much be careful going around with hubristic notions of objective scientific results. And that leads us to what science does – it’s not going to give us any objective truths, but the BEST explanation for observations that we have TO DATE, based on the CURRENTLY available data.

    And when Kåre Fog suggests that he’d have to go through every page of every book and point out “there’s no evidence”, that’s a stunning statement, given that it’s a rather basic logical fally (absence of evidence vs. evidence of absence), all the more when in the very same post, he describes a far better way to illustrate specific points to be wrong – specifically when he talk about sexuality as a biological vs. a social urge. If sexuality was a social urge, it would be society-dependant. As it’s observable in nature across species, in a wide variety of forms, that is far stronger evidence towards a falsification of the assertion that it’s dependent on specific social norms than simply jumping up and down and insisting “there’s no evidence”. The very notion that there is an objective world out there points out that the argument to a lack of evidence for something can only be a valid argument in the presence of counterevidence against it. What matters is not the presence or absence but the balance of evidence.

    Of course, things get much worse when the original author not just dismisses postmodernism, but to do so actually fabricates supposed evidence that not only is plain counterfactual by all practical standards but actually whitewashing crime, then she clearly misses the fundamental point of the first duty of an advocate of science being skepticism towards one’s own assumptions, not simply those of others. It takes quite a bit of gall and disregard for human lives to claim that “Despite all the evidence that racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia are at an all-time low in Western societies, Leftist academics and SocJus activists display a fatalistic pessimism, enabled by postmodern interpretative “reading” practices which valorize confirmation bias.” as Helen Pluckrose did. That’s pure and unadulterated projection of her own confirmation bias, and it’s pretty disgusting in its disregard for the victims of the crimes she simply denies because she can’t be arsed to do her homework. Right wing extremist crime has literally explosed in several countries over the past few years as has random xenophobic violence. Libeling national criminal or statistics offices as “leftist” or “SocJus activists” is hardly a credible strategy.

    So, before talking about a lack of evidence on the other side, and complaining about confirmation bias, it would be good to get one’s own house in order. Not the least because it makes one’s criticism far more credible.

  68. wolandscat

    Well the deeper theory of the scientific method reverts primarily to philosophy of science, and topics like theory formation, subjective and objective probability, Bayes, what constitutes ‘evidence’, the arguments among scientific realism v anti-realism v rationalism v nominalism v etc, and so on. I don’t see any of the pro-science commenters demonstrating lack of understanding of what science is.

    Nor does it take that much of an edifice to knock down post-modernism, since the latter more or less rejects the ability to formulate objective knowledge of mind-independent phenomena.

  69. tyelko

    Kåre Fog

    The problem is that a lot of presumed “defenders” of science are too lodged in anecdotes on their favorite disciplines to really concern themselves with the deeper theory of the scientific method.

    And unfortunately, that includes you. You’re in good company with that, but that doesn’t change that riding crusades against the infidels on the basis of logical fallacies is doing a disservice to science. Whether you do that or the author. Fighting quackery with quackery isn’t going to work and is only going to damage the position of science as one of “scientism”, of “science religion”.

    It would behoove both you and the author to turn it down a notch and start back from the ground up working on understanding what science is and does, what it can and cannot do, and what evidence (and its lack) can and cannot do.

  70. Kåre Fog

    Yes. But in order not to have my email account swamped by emails from persons that strongly disagree with me, I would prefer that you write your email here, and then I will contact you. Alternatively I might be able to find you on facebook and send you a message there, if you prefer that. In that case, what is your name on facebook ?
    But your email written here would be the easiest for me.

  71. Kåre Fog

    “The author absolutely assumes the truth of her position, and feels no need whatsoever to argue for it. ” That is not what I se, when I read her text. She certainly argues. Maybe her arguments are too soft in their formulation and not sufficiently sharpcut. If so be the case, then it is fair to say that one could argue with much more devastating criticism against the postmodernists, like the persons she chooses to refer to. Those claims that are typical of postmodernists may be debunked as unsubstantiated nonsense. This is so for instance for claims that what scientists find out, is primarily dependent on impulses from the surrounding society, rather than dependent on the subject matter itself. Or claims that there is no 1 to 1 correspondence between a type of object and the word that we use to designate it. Or the claim that one should not seek for one truth, because a single truth does not exist. Or the claim that sexuality is a historic product of social influences, rather than a biological urge. And many, many other such claims.
    One major fault in the writings of postmodernists, especially social constructionists, is that there is no evidence for what they postulate. Ludwik Fleck provides no evidence. Karl Mannheim provides no evidence. Berger and Lucmann provide no evidence. Bruno Latour provides no evidence, except “evidence” that reveals that he does not understand the scientific subject that he writes about. Judith Butler does not provide any evidence. What Donna Haraway writes, is just mad. What Sandra Harding writes, is just feministic hate against the natural sciences. And you may go into detail with less famous authors – again they have just no evidence, for instance when they interpret phenomena as the result of social impulses rather than biological impulses.
    I find it very well that Helen Pluckrose presents criticism of this whole school of thought. Such criticism is certainly very much needed. But you may be right that her arguments should have been even sharper and more precise.
    Such precise criticism would require, however, that one goes into detail with precisely where is there a lack of evidence at Fleck; precisely where is there a lack of evidence at Mannheim; precisely where is there a lack of evidence at Berger & Luckann, and so on and so on. To persuade pesons who admire these authors that they bring no evidence, is a gigantic task. For each book they have written, e.g. a book of 300 pages, you will have to state explicitly that there is no evidence on page 1, no evidence on page 2, and so on, up to page 300. And there may also come a claim that you overlooked a piece of evidence in the footnote on page 256. So this `proof´ that all they write is a mirage, will require meticulous treatment of thousands and thousands of text pages, much of which is deliberately written in such a way that it is hard og even impossible to understand the meaning.
    And I am sure, that even if I presented a precise an analysis of 25,000 text pages written by postmodernists, demonstrating that there is in these many pages not a single valid argument, I would not be able to persuade any postmodernist that he is utterly wrong.

  72. Kevin

    I don’t think I have ever read a piece that better illustrates the logical fallacy of petitio principii, The author absolutely assumes the truth of her position, and feels no need whatsoever to argue for it. For someone who lauds the “Western” values of reason, logic, and objectivity, the author falls painfully short of realizing these ideals.

    In sum, if this grossly fallacious piece is supposed to be an example of the superior objective Western mind at work, then I’d say the so-called “Post-Modernists” (Post-Structuralists, actually) have nothing to worry about.

  73. Clinton Davidson

    From when bad writing deserved ridicule: Maurice is the author Byron is lampooning, and Richmond hill his work:

    As Sisyphus against the infernal steep
    Rolls the huge rock whose motions ne’er may sleep,
    So up thy hill, ambrosial Richmond, heaves
    Dull Maurice all his granite weight of leaves:
    Smooth, solid monuments of mental pain!
    The petrifactions of a plodding brain,
    That, ere they reach the top, fall lumbering back again.

  74. Kåre Fog

    Clinton Davidson: You are very, very right.
    I can add this:
    The postmodernistic feminist Donna Haraway writes deliberately in a way that makes the text non-understandable. She first learned the technique in her youth during intense studies of catholic christianity. She loves sentences that are ambiguous, that end in nowhere, or that turn around on themselves so that the end of the sentence denies the meaning of the start of the sentence.
    Other postmodernists do the same. Judith Butler does it all the time; She is only considered as a big thinker because she writes in such a clever way that nobody understands what she writes, and everybody is led to think that they must be less intelligent than her, since they don´t understand her.
    Judith Butler learned this from French postmodernists, and maybe especially from Jacques Lacan, who fabulated wildly in his texts, but always wrote in such a way that even though he did not present any evidence for his claims, the readers thought that he was very clever, since they did not understand what he wrote.
    And yes, from there you can go back to Heidegger who also was clever at frmulating things in such a way that nobody understands them, and everybody believes it is his own fault that he does not understand them.

  75. Clinton Davidson

    Despite grouping Nietzsche and Heidegger together, many of Foucault’s faults are Heidegger’s magnified, and Nietzsche has thoughts which skewer both of them.
    Heidegger and Foucault’s common faults are Manichean thinking(we are on the side of the angels- you are on the side of the devils), pedantry, and exegetical thinking. In exegetical, the interpreter treats a text as important, then proceeds to reads his own ideas into the text, and get them back endowed with authority.
    Or as Heidegger put it, an interpretation must necessarily use force (Gewalt)

    Here’s Nietzsche on pedantic gurus:
    “Being profound and seeming profound. —Those who know that they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound to the crowd strive for obscurity. For the crowd believes that if it cannot see to the bottom of something it must be profound. It is so timid and dislikes going into the water” (The Gay Science, 173).

    And Heidegger as the pedantic guru:
    “Those in the crossing must in the end know what is mistaken by all urging for intelligibility: that every thinking of being, all philosophy, can never be confirmed by ‘facts,’ i.e., by beings. Making itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy” (Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning) [Beitrage Zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis)], notes of 1936–1938).

    And here is Nietzsche on bad reading, from the Dawn, 84:
    The philology of Christianity. How little Christianity educates the sense of honesty and justice can be gauged fairly well from the character of its scholars’ writings: they present their conjectures as boldly as if they were dogmas and are rarely in any honest perplexity over the interpretation of a passage in the Bible. Again and again they say ‘I am right, for it is written ‘ and then follows an interpretation of such impudent arbitrariness that a philologist who hears it is caught between rage and laughter and asks himself: is it possible? Is this honourable? Is it even decent? How much dishonesty in this matter is still practised in Protestant pulpits, how grossly the preacher exploits the advantage that no one is going to interrupt him here, how the Bible is pummelled and punched and the art of reading badly is in all due form imparted to the people: only he who never goes to church or never goes anywhere else will underestimate that.

    Indeed, one could write a book on Heidegger and Foucault and call it “the art of reading badly.”

  76. Kåre Fog

    To mr. Restless.
    You wrote:
    “As it stands now, the hypothesis is being tested and some studies show it to be correct. ”
    That sentence is all you have given us. You don´t give a single reference to a scientific or otherwise credible study. Just “some studies”. You cannot expect anybody to take you seriously with no references.
    And how can any study show the hypothesis to be “correct” ? “Correct” indicates not just some weak indication or correlation, but well established proof. A scientist does not ordinarily take such a word as “correct” in his mouth, and your use of the word suggests to me that your approach is not scientific.

  77. restless94110

    Dear banshee troll,

    My “fraud” is “certified?”

    Your epidemiology is the fraud. And again with your scaremongering.

    I am pissing on other people’s graves? Wow! Next you will have me nuking your momma’s house in the hills.

    Science is based on hypotheses, testing, theory, not your dogma, little-big fraud.

    I can give you some ashrams for you to go to so as to calm yourself down, fraud, if you can’t find any on your own….

  78. tyelko


    It’s cute when a certified fraud claims to be advocating the scientific method. Here’s news to you: fabricating phantom “studies” and forging data is not part of the scientific method.

    “Science is never settled, post-modernist banshee.”

    Science is based on evidence, not fraud. Science is settled until evidence is found that calls it into question. Contrary to your claims, there is none.

    I know who between the two of us is a trained biomedical scientist and who is a fraud who waffles about studies he made up but can’t cite. The only banshee here is you, quite literally – a substance-free whiner whose dirge brings nothing but death. And you’re evidently happy with that.

    But yeah, epidemiology is scaremongering and pissing on other people’s graves is science. I wonder just who the postmodernist is, little fraud.

  79. restless94110

    That’s right. Keep the scaremongering about the entire human race is going to die tomorrow if you don’t adhere to the dogma that is making the human race more and more tenuous and unhealthy.

    Remove that emotional nonsense.

    Talk about the science. The competing hypotheses. Leave post-modernist scaremongering in the dustbin of history, where it belongs.

  80. omarkn

    If this thread is to benefit anyone, the personal positioning stuff must be skipped and we write about ideas, theories, scientism vs. science, knowables and unknowables, truth and falsehood.

  81. restless94110

    The “problem” is public health? There is a solution being offerred? But then you don’t say what it is.

    Your ego is evidently much more important than human lives.

    Science is never settled, post-modernist banshee.

    Stop the scaremongering. Go to a Zen retreat. Meditate on why you feel so emotional and triggered by the scientific method.

  82. tyelko


    “Oopsie. Don’t guess, bud. There are studies that are there. We don’t need to guess that they are. You seem to think that your word is the last word. It isn’t. It never can be.”

    And you seem to think that your say-so establishes fact. It doesn’t. Lying about studies won’t make them magically appear.

    “It’s on the march again in Europe? March to what? Two generations ago it was marching nowhere. Kids got it, they got over it. That was it. Measles is not some scary contagion that you need to scaremonger your nonsense to the historically illiterate.”

    Says a historically illiterate fraud who has no idea about measles whatsoever. Because the fact of the matter is that kids did NOT get over it. Scores of them died. And they still do, in developing countries, where there’s a low vaccinated population percentage.

    “Since the current theory has absolutely no solution to the problem and the problem continues to get worse every year, what on earth do you have to lose by considering a different hypothesis?”

    Since there is not a factual statement in that sentence, there is plenty to lose. The current “theory” very much offers a solution to the problem – the problem being public health. Your hypothesis has been considered, tested, and rejected, and further pursuing it makes you complicit in the death of people.
    But your ego is evidently much more important than human lives.

  83. restless94110

    Measles which may be deadly to some….
    But wasn’t deadly to almost all. I know. I was alive then. I had measles. So did many other kids my age.

    It’s on the march again in Europe? March to what? Two generations ago it was marching nowhere. Kids got it, they got over it. That was it. Measles is not some scary contagion that you need to scaremonger your nonsense to the historically illiterate. Why would you do that, hysterical scaremonger Kare Fog?

    No one is participating in scaremongering of any kind except you. You made your stance clear: if one presents a different hypothesis that must be investigated, then you are “scaremongering” and because one wants to test a different hypothesis then the person wanting such is guilty of causing the entire human race to be extinguished. Because vaccines. Because Kare Fog’s feelings.

    It has nothing whatsoever to do with science, theory or facts. It has to do with Fog’s post-modernist scaremongering and straw man logical fallacy jumps.

    You must not be reading a thing I’ve written, you are so emotional and scared. This has everything to do with post-modernist thought of which you are a principal proponent, so stop using this thread to promulgate a propaganda that causes milliions to contract autism and other disorders that damages them, their parents, and society at large, just because it makes you personally uncomfortable to consider a different hypothesis.

    Since the current theory has absolutely no solution to the problem and the problem continues to get worse every year, what on earth do you have to lose by considering a different hypothesis?

    The only answer to that is post-modernist ninnies like yourself feel emotionally triggered and thus prefer censoring and smearing to finding solutions.

  84. restless94110

    You guess?

    Oopsie. Don’t guess, bud. There are studies that are there. We don’t need to guess that they are. You seem to think that your word is the last word. It isn’t. It never can be.

  85. Kåre Fog

    Here is an easy-to-understand presentation of the vaccination issue.

    Measles, which may be deadly to some, was practically eradicated in America and Europe. Now it is on the march again, especially in eastern Europe.

    Those who participate in the fearmongering against vaccination, must share part of the guilt for people dying from diseases they would otherwise not have had.

    And by the way, this has little to do with postmodernism, so stop abusing this thread to promulgate a propaganda that causes more people to die.

  86. Kåre Fog

    “As it stands now, the hypothesis is being tested and some studies show it to be correct. ”
    I guess not.
    Correlation is not causation.

  87. restless94110

    Yes, Teed, your reply describes the post-modernist argument. However, in reply to your reply:

    You are correct, you don’t know very much about the anti-vax issue, and either does Judy. You call it a position, but it is actually a hypothesis: the phenonmena of increasing rates of autism, and other immune diseases/disoreders is due to either the frequency of vaccinations or something in the vaccines themselves. This hypothesis, when tested successfully, becomes a theory. As it stands now, the hypothesis is being tested and some studies show it to be correct. More testing needs to be done.

    The vaxers claim that there is only one theory (vaccines cause no harm whatsoever no matter how frequent) and that scientific process is now completed for all time. I’m just listening to a lecture on the work of Galileo and Kepler. As is common in science, Kepler endured persecution for his hypotheses, as they violated the scientific “consensus” of his time. Yet, all of his hypotheses turned out to be correct. Kepler’s theories prevailed, and scientific thought progressed.

    This is science: no theory stands forever, unable to be challenged by other theories. To say that the hypothesis I outlined above has been debunked is patently not true. As in many other areas of thought today, consensus hysterics demand that their theory is the only one, while autism rates rise in the US, but not in other countries that have different vaccination schedules.

    This hysterical nonsense (by vax status quo hysterics) is the essence of post-modernist thought.

    The objection to Judy’s article is in her erroneous assertion that post-modernism includes climate change skeptics, vaccine skeptics, and other, well, skeptics of other dogmas and consensus theories. She seems to think that anyone who has a different theory is not basing it on any hypothesis at all and that the skeptics are claiming that they have as much right to have their theory as do those who have the currently prevailing status quo theory because all theories are subjective.

    But skeptics aren’t saying that. They are saying: your theory is not correct, it has problems. Here is our theory. When tested it looks to be more accurate.

    This is not what Wilyman wrote. By including skeptics in her definition of post modernist thought, she damaged her article’s credibility, and, perhaps inadvertently perhaps purposely, produced some post-modernist thinking of her own: that the skeptic’s theory doesn’t make me feel comfortable, it triggers me, thus the skeptic’s theory must be censored and supressed.

    That attitude is the end result of all post-modernist thought and can be seen everywhere from politically correct supression of speech to many current dogmas being spouted incessantly in this country now.

    In other words, Judy’s article about the fallacy of post-modernist thought falls into the trap of post-modernism itself!

  88. Teed Rockwell

    Another way of saying restless’ reply to Rohan: Believing false facts does not make you a post-modernist, nor does reasoning invalidly from them. Everyone does that at least some of time. The problem is that post modernism gives up on reasoning itself, saying that no argument is better than any other argument, and thus there is no difference between truth and consensus. From what I know of the anti-vaccine position, which isn’t much, there are no facts adequately supporting it. But that doesn’t make the anti-vaccine position post modernist. If Judy Wilyman says something like “vaccines cause autism because I think they do, the postmodernist accusation would stick. But there is no evidence in this post that any of her arguments are like this.

  89. restless94110

    [Once again, wordpress log ins are so wonky that I cannot tell if this post went through or not–I can’t see it in the comment thread and a search comes up with nothing either–so I am reposting it. If this thread is moderated, feel free to delete one of the duplicates, if they both appear.]

    That is not an example of post-modernism. This is the problem with this article, which I pointed out in several previous comments. The writer has included valid questioning of dogma into her ideas about post-modernism. She has conflated the nonsense that is post-modernist thought and practice with those who have valid, rational, evidence-based challenges to certain dogmas.

    They are not the same. And, though I have not read anything by Judy Wilyman, your smearing language (“delusional conspiracy theorist,” “psuedo-thesis”) reveals more about you and your anti-science stance than it does about Ms. Wilyman.

    In the post-modernist world, whatever theory is the acceptable theory currently is the only theory possible and all other theories are whacko conspiracy psuedo theories. Of course, this kind of attitude is the antithesis of the scientific process.

    In that process, nothing is ever locked down, unchallengeable.

    You are the post-modernist obviously, by your ridiculous slander and smearing language, which posits that it’s quite arright to censor thought, so long as it does not correspond to your thought and your comfortable dogmas, which is the definition and consequent result of post-modernism.

    I warned about the author of this essay’s erroneous conflation of those who rational question dogmas to the post-modernist hyenas in our midst. Your comment is the obvious reason why my warnings need to be heeded.

  90. Rohan G

    Post-modernism can produce bizarre outcomes when applied in practice. A example of this can be found at the University of Wollongong, Australia, where post-modernity devotee Professor Brian Martin supervised the delusional conspiracy theorist Judy Wilyman to attain no less than a PhD for her anti-vaccination pseudo-thesis. His excuse is intellectual freedom and that vaccination is a legitimate scientific controversy.

  91. Édouard Péricourt


    I would have added Pierre Bourdieu who had (and still has) a particularly devastating influence on the whole French intellectual life and social studies, especially with his concepts of symbolic violence which can apply to about everything. For instance, in his view the encouragement to properly learn and use grammar is a form of symbolic violence of the higher classes towards the lower ones, while historically high expectations rather allowed many individuals from the lower classes to elevate themselves, now expectations tend to be levelled down to not discriminate.

    The difficulty with such views is that they are such relative self-sufficient intellectual constructions, with little anchor in reality, that they resist rational questioning.

  92. Teed Rockwell

    Brian if all you have watched are the first few minutes, you have only seen my comments on anarchist libertarianism. I do not attribute those positions to libertarianism as a whole. It may seem like anarchist libertarianism is a straw person, but surprisingly there are people who believe it. Ayn Rand has written some criticisms of them, and I’ve encountered several in email correspondence. From there I go on to distinguish between the positions of Rand and Nozick, and give separate criticisms of them.

  93. tyelko

    @Brian J Gladish

    I’m afraid the only thing that’s pathetic here is your “rebuttal”. Maybe try bringing actual arguments?

  94. Brian J Gladish

    In the first few minutes, such a straw man argument. Yet another in a long list of pathetic critiques. You will only preach to the choir with such arguments, but perhaps that is what you intended to do.

  95. omarkn

    Now that we’ve left the personal sphere in commenting here a new input with the one dimension which we cannot be without (in the long run):

    Postmodernism may – in the best of cases – “arise as defender of the many diverse views, (but) without the vertical dimension, without the concrete sense of the Absolute, the celebration of diversity as opposed to unity can only be an ironic comment on the impossibility of arriving at objective truth, coupled with a nihilistic denial that such truth is even desirable.”

  96. restless94110

    No. It was your phrasing that indicated you are not mature. It was your phrasing that implied you cannot hold two countervailing concepts in your mind simultaneously.

    You can disagree with anything you wish, come to whatever conclusions you care to. But strange?

    Seeing wild men with bones through their noses in the jungles of Borneo is strange.

    Seeing millions of children become autistic in one country that vaccinates at an intense rate while another country has a much lower rate of autism and vaccinates their infants at a far lower rate is not.

    You are truly right about one thing, though. It’s pointless to talk with you. It’s, as you say, just too strange.

  97. Kåre Fog

    So if I don´t accept something that is obviously bogus, I am a childish person and a postmodernist???
    It really is a waste of time to discuss with you.

  98. restless94110


    “You are saying: so what, just try it anyway. Well, if I had pancreatic cancer I might, but it wouldn’t be because I had any reason to believe it would work, it would be because I was desperate. In fact, you are saying: perform the scientific investigation yourself, with a sample of N=1. I’m not saying that’s never appropriate, just that we need to be clear on how that it different from evidence already existing showing that homeopathic treatment xyz is going to help my condition.”

    I’m saying nothing of the sort.

    I’m saying: people use homeopathy. If it works for them, great. If it does not work for them, great. You don’t have to do any investigation, scientific or otherwise.

    The only criteria is: did it work for you? If it didn’t? Don’t use it. If it did. Use it.

    You apparently want to prove some value that you can then submit to the Encyclopeida Britannica for entry in the next edition.

    Good luck with your efforts.

    Meantime, when I next get pancreatic cancer? I’m going to try new things. Why?

    Because the medical establishment you so fervently and needily support has no cure whatsoever.

    The failed. As did you with your support of endless studies that go nowhere.

    Leaving regular people not infected with post-modernist dogma to just go to try and get it cured. Some turn to homeopathy.

    Don’t read anything more into it than that. Because it’s all about: does it work? or does it not work?

    Someday, 50 years from now, wnen homeopathy or some other discipline has found actual solutions to some of the diseases plaguing humandkind? You will accept their findings. But I don’t have 50 years to wait for your investigations to conclude.

    Do you?

  99. wolandscat

    You said: “I don‘t need to investigate. And either do you. Just try it. If it works, you’re done. If it doesn’t? Move on to something else. One thing is clear: establishment medicine does not, in many if not most cases, have the answers. Step outside the box. Like your Enlightenment Fathers. Step outside the dogma.”

    Well generally speaking I know what Ibuprofen will do, so I know i can reliably buy it to help with pain – the science, clinical trials, etc of Ibuprofen is worked out. With homeopathic cures, nothing is worked out, at least not in any study I have seen. I’m not saying they absolutely cannot or don’t work, sometimes, somehow, but since no-one can either describe the mechanism of function or show clinical trial evidence, there’s nothing for me to believe in.

    You are saying: so what, just try it anyway. Well, if I had pancreatic cancer I might, but it wouldn’t be because I had any reason to believe it would work, it would be because I was desperate. In fact, you are saying: perform the scientific investigation yourself, with a sample of N=1. I’m not saying that’s never appropriate, just that we need to be clear on how that it different from evidence already existing showing that homeopathic treatment xyz is going to help my condition.

    Aside: I’m well aware that the ‘medical establishment’ doesn’t have all the answers. So are they. I work with it on a daily basis. The medical establishment isn’t homogenous; there are people with dogmas and many many others who are quite aware of the weaknesses and are always looking to push the boundaries.

  100. restless94110


    It is incomprehensible the phrase: your opinions on…. are too strange for me.

    In the first place, they are not opinions. They are conclusions based on an assessment of the facts.

    Secondly, our conclusions are “too strange” for you? What does that even mean?

    It looks like it means that you are a post-modernist. We have triggered you. You can’t entertain a different view. You first try to denigrate it as some kind of non-rational thought. Then, when that fails miserably, you just can’t deal. You need a safe space. You need a comfort dog.

    You are fragile. Nature shows that fragile is not a strategy of survival.

    Finding things strange? I think if you were 3 years old that might be viable. Children are not able to handle strange–they are notoriously conservative and reserved.

    Are you an adult? What on Earth could qualify to you, as an adult, as strange then?

    Don’t be an infant. Be an adult. Nothing is strange. Ever. It’s life. It’s human. Stop your whinging. Deal.

  101. Kåre Fog

    To wolandscat and Restless94110:
    Your opinions on climate science, vaccines and homeopathy are too strange for me. Of course, one should always be open to the possibility that things work in a way very differently from what you were used to think. But you should not remain open to everything. If people claim that the earth has two moons rather than one, or that they can make a perpetual motion machine, I will decide that I can totally dismiss their claims. I need not keep every absurd claim as an open possibility. And so it is also with homeopathy. Scientists have been open to investigate possible homeopathic effects, and found none – of course, because such effects would go against the laws of nature. End of case. Period.
    So if I dismiss something that is obviously fantasy, or bogus, or humbug, I am a postmodernist? That is a very, very strange use of the word postmodernism.
    I will not engage in any further debate about this. It is a waste of time.

  102. restless94110


    To get anywhere with homeopathy? You have to investigate it?

    So, as an anology, I go to a store and I pick up a bottle that purports to cure a headache.

    So, instead of buying the bottle and taking a couple of the pills in it, I now, according to you, have to investigate the company that makes the pill?


    If your medical practitioner tells you that you have 3 weeks to live because you have pancreatic cancer, and you decide to go to a homeopathitist, you don’t have to investigate nothing.

    I don’t have to show you no stinking badges, hombre.

    You investigate every which way of every which thing you want to.

    I’m just going to cut to the chase: If I need to and when I need to, I’m going to take advantage of the entire spectrum of human history. I’m going to go to an MD, I’m goimg to go to a homeopathist, I’m going to go to radical heterodox medical practitioners who are trying somethimg new. Hell, I’m going to go to my fortune teller, if I think it might help.

    I do ‘t need to investigate. And either do you. Just try it. If it works, you’re done. If it doesn’t? Move on to something else. One thing is clear: establishment medicine does not, in many if not most cases, have the answers. Step outside the box. Like your Enlightenment Fathers. Step outside the dogma.

    Just. Do. It.

  103. wolandscat

    I didn’t say that any meaningful dialogue on homeopathy, climate models or whatever has to take place within the ‘science establishment’, I said it has to take place in a scientific mode. The ‘science establishment’ is ultimately a social construction and can do all sorts of bad and wrong things, although it probably succeeds at ‘doing science’ properly a reasonable proportion of the time.

    But to get anywhere with homeopathy (just to stick with that example) requires investigating it just like anything else. So far, the claimed mechanism (memory of water) have been shown to be false (or at least the original research shown to be faulty), and the outcomes studies I have seen don’t show any better than placebo effect (i.e. due to psychological belief). but I certainly have no problem with any kind of investigation being undertaken to determine a) if it works at all and b) if so, how. Maybe the memory-of-water thesis is actually true but too subtle for us to understand it right now. Finding this out still requires a scientific mindset. I don’t dispute that there are people who call themselves scientists today who are too closed-minded to entertain such possibilities. All I am saying is that no other paradigm is going to find an answer to the truth behind phenomena we don’t currently understand.

  104. Joseph Southwell

    It isn’t emotional intelligence that is the failing of libertarians. It is a myopic scope in their choice of concentrations of power to resist. They are opposed to concentrations of government power. When what they should oppose is concentrations of power in general. Government power is sometimes the only thing that can constrain large concentrations of individual or corporate power. While it would be better to have neither, reality sometimes constrains us to choose one or the other. In that situation a wise liberal prefers the more constrained elected concentration of power over the less constrained unelected one.
    – A Recovering Libertarian.

  105. restless94110

    I scan read your comment. You personally believe that homeopathy is invalid. You are entitled to your belief. What you are not entitled to is to impose your personal beliefs, no matter what your reasoning. on the rest of us.

    For some, homeopathy is their last resort. Established medicine has let them down. In some cases, homeopathy includes methods that are not approved by the medical establishment, which is obviously corrupt and dogmatic, but most importantly, is unable to provide cures and solutions to many problems in medicine.

    Think about it: if mainstream medicine had cures for those things, no one would go to a person practiciing homoepathy!

    Then think about the doctor who discovered that washing your hands before practicing surgery in hospitals would bring down the infection rate. He was run out of the medical profession by his fellow medical practitioners for his discovery. Years later, decades later I believe, he was proved to be correct.

    Be careful of prostelitizing for straigh-jackets that limit dialog. That’s post-modernist thought you are practicing. The Enlightenment questions things. Good science is never final. There is always room for questions and other theories.

  106. restless94110

    wolandscat, I disagree that any dialog or disagreement just has to take place within the confines of the science establishment, where the dogmas discussed in this thread are firmly ensconced, and where, consequently, no quiestioning is permitted.

    Anyone who questions scientists or doctors is immediately dismissed as a loon. You imply that both sides are intransigent. I only see one side that is.

    I veered off into no road. There are countervailing theories that have been and are being profferred up, and that is what scientific thougth is all about. Here’s one: many, many, many vaccinations of very young human beings can be damaging to the human being that is being vaccinated. Some evidence for this you have mentioned yourself: vaccines schedules in other countries that are lighter, seem to have lower rates of autism and other ailments that are prevelant and rising in the United States.

    The questioning of the projections and the modelling of climate change dogmatists has several countervailing theories put forth by a variety of scientists.

    This is common knowledge to anyone who wants to spend 60 seconds on Google looking for them. I would recommend you read Scott Adams or the Flavius Maximus blog in regard to the modelling issues if you need more information.

    However, once again, my comment was a criticism of the author’s claim that these issues were right-wing issues that had no veracity and that they were due to the prob lems with post-modernism and even a part of post-modernism.

    That assertion by the author is just not true.

  107. wolandscat

    You are misreading me. I agree that belief in homeopathy is fantasy, since today there is no theory at all for it. Therefore, such belief is about the same as belief in rain-dances or astrology.

    Secondly: academic post-modernist thinking occurs in the academic social sciences context, of course. But I am pointing to post-modernist _modes_ of thinking, i.e. derivatives such as identity politics, moral relativism and a fair bit of political correctness that leaked out into the public sphere. These modes of thinking today seriously compromise good journalism, politics, and may yet corrupt the sciences.

    I am not interested in social constructionism/ engineering (I work in the sciences, engineering, and healthcare); what I am saying (maybe wasn’t clear enough) is that there are indeed valid reasons to challenge (some aspects of) vaccines, climate models, or in fact any other scientifically developed theory. This is always true. But these challenges can only meaingfully occur within the sphere of science.

    Secondly, the ability of such challenges (see my examples w.r.t. vaccines) to be discussed calmly in public is almost non-existent today. If I were to post for example on why Rubella vaccine should not be included in the MMR, and why it is not needed at such an early age, I would be instantly labelled an anti-vaxxer. But this particular challenge is in no way anti-scientific, and in fact, the reasons why Rubella was added to the MMR have nothing to do with science, but public health politics (the details are publicly known here).

    We have a huge problem today with public discourse – post-modernist modes of thinking are crippling the ability of the public and many so-called professionals (e.g. journalists) to take any objective stance; instead they treat their own emotions as if they represented mind-independent truths.

  108. restless94110

    To say there is no contrary study or evidence or that any such is only because of the oil companies is fake news. I can point you to many who rationally question the dogma.

    But the main problem with this issue is the modelling used by the clmiate change dogmatists. The modelling is defective.

    However, once again, the questioning of the current dogmas of science and medicine are in no way related to post-modernism.

    That was my point in regard to this article and this comment thread.

  109. Kåre Fog

    You wrote:
    ” Whether this has become difficult due to social or political conditions (e.g. the descent into subjectivity and emotionalism that now prevents any sane public conversation about vaccination) is beside the point – that’s not a limitation of science, but a demonstrable failure that can be attributed to post-modernist thinking.”

    In my view, that is utter nonsense.
    Postmodernist thinking is something that occurs in the humanities. I have not encountered any of it in the natural sciences.
    The problem with homeopathy, in my view, is that belief in homeopathy is superstition and phantasy. To say that when there is no science dealing with homeopathy, the cause of this social and political conditions, with concurrent subjectivity and emotionalism, that is very, very strange for me to hear. Somebody comes up with a conception that is probably nothing more than superstition, and then, when science does not accept that conception, the problem is labeled as a social or political problem ? That is again an ugly example of social constructionism – you social constructionists can only think of something as social or political issues, not as an issue whether the concepts are real or humbug.
    The reason that there is no sciende accpeting the idea of homeopathy is that homeopathy is humbug, and natural scientists, being much less affecdted by social, political and ideological coneceptions than those in the humanities, do not accept such bogus. Many humanistic scholars, on the other hand, propagate a lot of ideas that are bogus.
    To me, your opinions sound like something that could be said by the mad hatter in Alice in Wonderland. The words, as such, give meaning, but they are combined in ways that give no meaning. If you postulate that natural scientists, or those dealing with medicine, are postmodernsts, you turn everything upside down, and discussion becomes a waste of time.

  110. wolandscat

    “There are valid, rational reasons for challenges to vaccines, climate change projections and causes and even homeopathic and naturopathic solutions to serious medical conditions …”

    that bit is ok, at least for vaccines and climate change projections (for the other two, probably more controversial, since there are no published theories of homeopathy and naturopathy AFAIK). The discourse around vaccinations has devolved into antagonistic extremes which now prevents rational discussion of very simple questions like: why does the childhood vacc schedule for Sweden about half the size of that of the US? In health, when the same evidence generates markedly different outcomes, questions need to be asked. Second example: the ‘R’ or MMR is Rubella, a vaccine that until the 90s was only given to prepubescent girls (for which it is clinically indicated). Why is it now in the MMR?

    Similarly, climate change models and projections are always up for questioning.

    But all of this has to occur within the framework of science – that’s the only context in which challenges can be meaningfully evaluated. It’s even true of homeopathy, the only problem is that homeopathy has not made it to the first rung, which is to have a workable theory with any kind of explanatory and predictive power. Whether this has become difficult due to social or political conditions (e.g. the descent into subjectivity and emotionalism that now prevents any sane public conversation about vaccination) is beside the point – that’s not a limitation of science, but a demonstrable failure that can be attributed to post-modernist thinking.

    The end of your statement was: “that “science” seems to not be able to come up with any truly viable solutions for. ”

    which is where you veered off the road. Firstly, science can only function if something resembling a theory can be constructed, and that requires building up an understanding of phenomena under study. I would say that the current failures of science to be able to operate properly are entirely due to the subjective and emotional thinking that prevails today – just the kind of thinking post-modernists deem to be the only acceptable way of thinking.

  111. Kåre Fog

    Reasons for disagreement? Yes, there is a lot of evidence behind mainstream climate science, and little evidence for the opposite, except studies performed by persons who are more or less indirectly paid by fossil fuel companies and thus are not fully trustworthy (examples: Lindzen; Soon and Baliunas). There is also a lot of evicence behind vaccination programmes, and to my knowledge no evidence for at connection to autism. And there is hardly any evidence for effects of homeopathy. This is not to say that mainstream science is 100 % correct and will never change; but with the evidence available to us now, it seems rational not to depart from mainstream scientific conceptions in the fields mentioned by you.
    It seems to me that you are the one conflating genuine rational confidence in scientific conceptions based on a lot of evidence, with confidence in postmodernist studies that presuppose social constructionism that is not based on any evidence.

  112. Kåre Fog

    Two days ago i wrote that “There is no sound evidence for social constructionism”. Since then, people supporting or ascribing to social constructionism have been practically silent.
    So, I write against some opponents syaing that they have no evidence for their claims, and what happens? – remarkable silence on the other side.
    So we have a whole field of study based on no evidence, and when that is pointed out, they just ignore it and keep silent? I suppose that such things are possible only in the humanities!

  113. restless94110

    By the way, remember: my criticism is that the author conflates genuine rational questioning of dogmas ensconced in establishment science and medicine with post-modernist thought.

    This is the issue I address, not the reasons for doubting the dogmas.

  114. restless94110

    Good for you. Reasons for disagreement? Do you think that you need any? The post-modernists would say no. You appear to be one of them.

  115. Kåre Fog

    “There are valid, rational reasons for challenges to vaccines, climate change projections and causes and even homeopathic and naturopathic solutions to serious medical conditions that “science” seems to not be able to come up with any truly viable solutions for.”

    I completely disagree.

  116. restless94110

    [I posted this and did not see it appear. There were forced log in issues so it either was discarded during that process or the post is in some kind of limbo pending moderation. I don’t know which it is, so I’ll post it again, just in case.]

    “Despite this, science as a methodology is not going anywhere. It cannot be “adapted” to include epistemic relativity and “alternative ways of knowing.” It can, however, lose public confidence and thereby, state funding, and this is a threat not to be underestimated. Also, at a time in which world rulers doubt climate change, parents believe false claims that vaccines cause autism and people turn to homeopaths and naturopaths for solutions to serious medical conditions, it is dangerous to the degree of an existential threat to further damage people’s confidence in the empirical sciences.”

    With this paragraph, the author removes herself from rational discourse. There are valid, rational reasons for challenges to vaccines, climate change projections and causes and even homeopathic and naturopathic solutions to serious medical conditions that “science” seems to not be able to come up with any truly viable solutions for. These things have nary a thing to do with post-modermism’s utter nonsensical stylings.

    In fact, these contrarian movements are firmly rooted in rationality, science (which is never ever a closed shutdown case as the hysterical nut bags that shreik about the anti vaccine doctors and the anti climate change scientists seem to want everyone to believe), and enlightenment values.

    This paragraphy is the problem with post-modernism: even its critics are tainted by the foolishness, making these critics authoritarian in their own way. We are truly lost.

  117. simplulo

    Most libertarians’ working definition of libertarianism would be just the NAP (Non-Agression Principle). Some would give some form of the opening line of Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia: “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights).” This continues The Enlightenment tendency to limit power (in the Hohfeldian sense).

    I was a longtime Cato sponsor, and despite the frustration of my personal interactions with them (in the early days of the Free State Project), I don’t have the sense that their batting average is less that of other think tanks. Promoting libertarian policies is certainly not an easy task, even if you possess emotional intelligence, which most libertarians do not.

  118. Marshall Colman

    In reply to Kåre Fog on April 4, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    Surely for social constructionists to offer evidence they’d have to accept that were discernible facts, and therefore that reality was not entirely socially constructed?

    The lineage of post-modernism is all the French 20th century irrationalisms: Bergsonism, Existentialism, Situationism, structural Marxism.

  119. Marshall Colman

    Postmodernism was the product of a society that could afford to employ people in universities to do nothing. Poor societies need agronomists. The obscurity of postmodernism is a form of competition for academic posts: the more difficult to understand you are, the cleverer the you are. The writers you quote *are* clever, but lack of rigour means that postmodernism is readily taken up by not so bright people. That’s probably why it’s spread. This will matter when our society is challenged: postmodernism is no use in war.

  120. tyelko


    “The term ‘objective truth’ coming from any intelligent person (as the commenter above clearly is) is usually shorthand for ‘discernable, and closely enough approximated to mind-independent reality for all practical purposes’.”

    Not when discussing epistemology. Then distinguishing objective truth from intersubjectivity is one of the most critical points in 20th century developments in epistemology.

    “Clearly there is a continuum of ‘approximation’ with at one end, hard science theories that work so well we can build rockets to Mars;”

    Those theories allow us to build rockets to Mars, yes – but within a certain set of limits. Newtonian mechanics work quite well – as long as the entities observed don’t get too small or too fast. Knowing these limits is crucial, and usually, when we make a new discovery, we don’t know them (What do you think Newton would have said to the suggestion that the flow of time is not necessarily constant?) – and that’s precisely why we have to be very careful staking out “truths”.

    Kåre Fog

    “Please do not say that I have an overinflated ego just because I disagree very much with what you said.”

    I never suggested such a thing. I specified specific arguments of yours that suggest an overinflated ego – not the mere fact that you disagree with me.

    “If you think your opinion does not merit contradiction, then maybe the overinflated ego is on your side.”

    And if you have to resort to dishonesty to “make your case”, then you probably don’t have much of a case.

    “It is an objective truth that giraffes exist, and that they are larger than ants. Anyone who wants to discuss that fact is a person with whom I cannot communicate meaningfully.”

    I’m afraid the fact that you cannot communicate meaningfully when modern scientific standards are involved says more about you than others. Your statements demonstrate both cherrypicking and a fundamental lack of understanding of how modern science works. Do you even see a physician when you’re ill? Because by your standards, what he’s doing is pure and unadulterated quackery.

    What we can say is that fully developed current members of the genus Giraffa have been so reliably found to be taller than fully developed current members of the formicidae family that the null hypothesis that there is no difference can be solidly considered rejected based on currently available data. We may also be able to make some statements about (pre)historical members of those groups. But that’s it.

  121. Kåre Fog

    To tyelko, concerning objective truth:
    It is an objective truth that the moon exists. Anyone denying that is a person with whom I cannot communicate meaningfully.
    It is an objective truth that giraffes exist, and that they are larger than ants. Anyone who wants to discuss that fact is a person with whom I cannot communicate meaningfully.
    It is an objective truth that some persones are homosexual, and others are not. I am willing to discuss that claim, but I still consider this an objective truth.
    In all these cases, the objective truth is discernible.
    I agree that there are other cases where we can only approximate the objective truth. If we have a journalist reporting from the Gaza Strip on the conflicts between palestinians and israelis, then the objective truth should remain an ideal that we strive for, even if we know that it can never fully be reached. If we knew that the journalist did not try to find the objective truth, then we would not listen to him/her, and there would be no reason for the journalist to go to that part of the world and report from there, because we would not trust the reports.
    So even in those cases where the objective truth can only be approximated, it is important that we keep objective truth as our ideal.

  122. Kåre Fog

    tyelko: Please do not say that I have an overinflated ego just because I disagree very much with what you said.
    If you think your opinion does not merit contradiction, then maybe the overinflated ego is on your side.

  123. Kåre Fog

    In reply to pmturn.
    “There is no sound evidence for social constructionism? What about gender? Race? Are you saying these things are purely and solely biological? ”
    First: I do NOT say that these things are purely and solely biological. Read my text again.
    Second: Do I really mean that there is no sound evidence for social constructionism? Yes, that is what I mean. I have read many of the crucial works leading up to the formulation of social constructionism, and I have read many articles by people who assume without further notice that human behaviour is just a social construct, e.g. literature on child education, and after having read thousands of pages I have not found a single sentence anywhere presenting evidence that human behaviour, personality, concepts etc. are social constructs.
    For instance, I have read what social constructionists claim about the natural sciences as social constructs. I had expected at least some evidence that how scinetists think, what ideas they come up with, etc. etc., are formed by contemporary society. It was a great disappointment – I found not a single piece of evidence for this. And all other atemtps to find such evidence also failed. “Everybody” say that a lot of phenomena are social constructs, but to my knowledge, nobody has ever presented a single piece of evidence that this is indeed so.
    Social constructionism, and all disciplines that presuppose social constructionism, are a vast field of studies which altogether is based on no evidence at all. The whole thing is just a mirage. There is no sound basis.

  124. Kåre Fog

    In reply to Teed Rockwell:
    No, as far as I know, postmodernists neglect or reject biology.
    For instance, take Foucaults book on the history of sexuality, volume 1. Here, he has a very informative and interesting account of how the concept of personal sexual preferences became gradually more prominent up to the time around 1900. So far, so good. But then he suddenly changes his type of argumentation and claims that sexuality should not be conceived as something naturally given, which was subdued by society and then again came to the surface. No, in his view, sexuality is the result of the historic evolution that he described, He even turns against sex considered as being elementary bodily functions, and argues with much emphasis that sex is something determined by words and categories. Up to this point in his book, he has presented many references to his cliams; but form this point onward, he suddenly presents no evidence whatsoever. He just declares that sexual preferences have nothin to do with biology, without any evidence at all for this claim. So he does NOT base himself on a basis that includes biology. He rejects biology as having anything to do with sexuality.
    LIke Foucault, other thinkers who have inspired to or laid the basis for postmodernism also disregard biology totally. I have seen NO postmodernist scientist/thinker who includes the effects of inborn biology. As far as I know, all postmodernists more or less clearly subscribe to the idea of human behaviour and characteristics as a social construct. Especially when it comes to feminist shcolars, I have seen many texts that explicitly disregard biology.

  125. Aliman

    Good read although using the James K.A. Smith quote does a disservice to the argument in that the inference that modernism precludes religious belief is rather illiberal and precisely that kind of abuse that spurred the development of post-modernism in the first place.

  126. niallcc

    Thank you Teed Rockwell for your thought provoking article.

    I particularly enjoyed:

    ‘Both of these positions assume that there is a line between the “real” intrinsic properties and the causal relations that trigger those so- called intrinsic properties—a metaphysical claim that both Nagarjuna and I reject. This distinction between intrinsic and relational is pragmatically necessary, but there is no single way of deciding where it should always be drawn. Nothing is intrinsically intrinsic, as it were. Intrinsicality is itself a relational property.’

    That brought to mind the Heart Sutra:

    form does not differ from emptiness,
    emptiness does not differ from form.
    That which is form is emptiness,
    that which is emptiness form.’

    Even emptiness then is dependently originated.

    I have also just finished reading The Emperor’s New Mind by Roger Penrose which ultimately led to the Penrose Hameroff theory of consciousness as perhaps being intrinsic to the universe rather than simply an emergent, computable, property of the brain.

    I not sure that the postmodernists ignore the ‘value’ of subjective constructed meaning or conventional reality – in a nihilistic way – simply because it is necessarily relative. Particularly when, at a political, dialectical level between individuals ‘conventional’, but conditional, and not arbitrary, meaning is created. And it has to be so to ‘make sense’ of the world at the individual and wider societal level. Nagarjuna’s Middle Way, a shifting border of conventional meaning, produced by dialectical tension, always at risk of being undermined.

  127. tyelko

    “Btw my wording “upholding” may have been misleading. Popper strove to uphold objectivity against various attempts … , and in fact very convincingly so.”

    Except that is a distortion of Popper. While he acknowledges a “truth” exists, he fully well acknowledges it is not positively discernible to us, since it is only approximable by ruling out what is clearly wrong.

    Cf. also Albert’s take on “proof”, i.e. the Münchhausen-Trilemma.

    Which leads back to:

    “Maybe this is the reason why the “Left” with its narratives can actually be deconstructed from the side of a factual “Right”.”

    The factual right? That would be the climate change denying right, the evolution-denying right, the right for which science itself is a big leftist conspiracy? The Right which always complained that those who have learned to research a subject and meticulously separate fact from fiction somehow all have a left “bias”?

  128. omarkn

    Sentence, verb ?
    ”It’s become increasingly clear to me that only those who have experienced some expansion of consciousness beyond the stridently narrow parameters of Western thought that began in the early 20th century.”

  129. Christopher Stahnke

    I think working this field even to create a synthesis within the area you’ve laid out is impossible and pointless. Post-modernism leads, as naturally as the sun shining in the sky, to post-rationalism. It is what punk music was to music in the late seventies. It’s aim is destruction of the Western intellectual system. What we can do is put together shards and understand why the great “NO” came about. We can then follow some other strands present in the 60s which is to explore human consciousness both in general and personally. It’s become increasingly clear to me that only those who have experienced some expansion of consciousness beyond the stridently narrow parameters of Western thought that began in the early 20th century. Science and, in particular, social and neuro-science has provided us with dramatically different ways of looking at the world yet we cling to the narrow frames of reference that post-modernists tried to expand but instead narrowed. We are afraid of the Big Questions and of looking, now that we have almost the entire available opus of world-civilization at our fingertips because it may force us to move into feelings like love and ecstasy.

  130. Helen Pluckrose

    ” Are the post-moderns sapping the Left’s energy and purpose at a crucial time of confrontation with nativist authoritarianism, or are they mordantly obsessed with downplaying progress and projecting doom and gloom on everything (both arguments turn up at different points and they don’t seem compatible to me)?”

    Neither of those are my claim. My claim is that the Left has become inconsistently liberal making them harder for reasonable people to vote for.

    I’ve responded to charges of reductionism above acknowledging some justice to them and saying that it would have been better to have a paragraph saying that I am not summarising all the three theorists’ work but looking at a small range of ideas to do with the cultural constructivism, sensitivity to language and identity politics that I have criticised in other pieces. This is essentially a background piece to those. So, yes, I am cherry picking relevant ideas. Ask me about, eg Foucault’s Panopticon, and you’ll find me much more complimentary.

    I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone that no-one had come up with race prejudice before the 17th century! Instead, I looked at research around race from that period including anachronistic assumptions that it was as dominant a category as it is now and critcisms of this, (particularly that of Michael Neill in ‘”Mulattos,” “Blacks,” and “Indian Moors”: Othello and Early Modern Constructions of Human Difference.’ in the Shakespeare Quarterly) which point out a certain ‘ethnographic objectivity’ in which religion & cultural differences were more significant at this time. Then I take the work of Jonathan Haidt and Pietraszewski et al in cognitive and evolutionary psychology which show that humans, whilst tribal, are not innately inclined to notice race specifically and racial difference can be easily overcome by shared aims, which is exactly what happens in Othello.

    I quoted Haidt “There’s nothing special about race. You can make people care less about race by drowning race differences in a sea of similarities, shared goals, and mutual interdependencies” (2012.p276.) add it was this that was objected to on the grounds that he wondered how black communities in America would feel about it!

  131. floydmasika

    Btw my wording “upholding” may have been misleading. Popper strove to uphold objectivity against various attempts … , and in fact very convincingly so. So convincingly that a lot of people decorate themselves with Popper and this kind of thinking and try to claim it for their school of thought that is usually more presumptuous than Popper. This fits well with the presumptuous claim of representing some kind of rationalism of modernity against the medieval times.

  132. neafel

    This makes a number of valid points about the meaninglessness of a number of post-modern interpretations but the conflation of the politi[k]s of Lyotard to Foucault is superficial. In terms of rationality the postmodern argument (which to be fair is not made by the French 1970s set cited, perhaps to a certain extent Baudrillard) would contend that the value of rationality is itself predicated on a rational view. This is not particularly helpful but does give commentators the wild opportunity to assert that this “means” all manner of things which it does not, although the heuristics of that statement would themselves come under pressure in a postmodern context.

  133. tyelko

    A cute comment, given that modern sciences is pretty much based on Popper,,a probabilistic discipline that can rule out, but for positive claims only makes statements based on clearly quantified tolerable probabilities of being wrong – to simplify it a bit.

  134. wolandscat

    The term ‘objective truth’ coming from any intelligent person (as the commenter above clearly is) is usually shorthand for ‘discernable, and closely enough approximated to mind-independent reality for all practical purposes’. Clearly there is a continuum of ‘approximation’ with at one end, hard science theories that work so well we can build rockets to Mars; at the other end lies rough sketches of more difficult phenomena such as organisational theory and social economics.

    Post-modernists seem to pretend that only the ‘rough sketch’ end of the continuum exists, which enables them to claim the existence of pseudo-phenomena primarily coming from their own academic or political needs, while denying other readily observable phenomena.

  135. wolandscat

    @Teed Rockwell. Sure, there are some phenomena that can only be understood as being relative to complex social environments. But I think most sane peoples’ objections to post-modernism are against the universalisation of such relativism. To take a simple example: it’s a common post-modernist claim that ‘human rights’ can’t possibly be universal and are instead a construct of privileged Western ex-colonial powers etc. But this is clearly nonsense – the first few articles in the UNDHR (as flawed as it is) are about freedom from torture, slavery etc, and it’s quite clear that there are no individuals in any culture who want those things for themselves (why: because these statements are ultimately grounded in the real phenomena of human pain).

    Similarly, post-modernists excel in creating political factions and groups that don’t or barely exist in reality. In that mindset, if you happen to be gay, black or a woman, that’s what you must identify as, rather than say, an architect who lives in Seattle with her two cats and loves water-skiing. Postmodernism has a lot to answer for…

  136. floydmasika

    The article presented here is reminiscent of Karl Popper and his upholding of various attempts to undermine objectivity and other important supporting tenets of universalism. This is all very good and fine, except that society itself is not as open to tinkering (“social engineering”) as nature, and the tempation to decorate oneself with the prestige of natural science by pretending to be a rational thinker who is able to tinker with society on the basis of individual reasoning itself tends to be preposterous and must be resisted. Which is how we get back to more respect for the evolution of collective intelligence such as found in Common Law or Christianity and advocated by “conservative” thinkers like Edmund Burke.

  137. floydmasika

    The idea that the awakening of reason by “englightenement” brought individualism and modernity as a higher state of being which must be defended by some progressive “Left” is in itself presumptuous, self-congratulatory and simply not in line with facts of historic development. M. Stanton Evans paints a more realistic picture which shows how all developments up to the US Constitution are fruits of Christianity, feudalism, Common Law and British development, rather than of Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau or whatever “rational thinkers” reworded them in terms of philosophical systems of their own, which, being idiosyncratic, had no real relevance anyway, compared to the overwhelming relevance of the Christian culture. Maybe this is the reason why the “Left” with its narratives can actually be deconstructed from the side of a factual “Right”.

  138. wolandscat

    Some of those steeped in post-modernist thinking take it far beyond any possible remit to interpret dreams, feelings or impressions, and make absurd claims about conceptual frameworks (e.g. science) that are rooted in reality, and for which ontological descriptions can and do exist. Such descriptions are language-independent. Post-modernism has nothing useful to say about science, or even proper journalism or world affairs in my view, indeed it just compromises people’s ability to understand properly constructed discourse with its identity politics and moral relativism.

  139. SubGothius

    If the excesses of Modernism as a thesis provoked Postmodernism as a reactive antithesis (and to similar excess), we now face the challenge of forming a synthesis that reconciles and transcends them both — perhaps preserving and combining their best aspects while discarding their worst, or at least putting all their respective tools on our bench and choosing the one(s) most suitable for each purpose we undertake. Gödel could have told us we would never find any one universal tool that is right for every job, neither any of the metanarratives of Modernism nor the counter-metanarrative that Postmodernism has become in some circles.

    It may be time we embrace model-agnosticism at long last. The models themselves may be relative and arbitrary, having no absolute and objective validity in isolation unto themselves, yet they still have validity relative to their origins and applications; some models are more useful, or predictive, or beautiful, or humorous, etc. depending on what we’re applying them to and towards what purpose. The tools at our disposal may cover all the bases we need, even if no one of them alone can ever cover all bases. One may notice I’ve applied an array of Modernist and Postmodernist concepts in this comment, which illustrates my point.

  140. pmturn

    There is no sound evidence for social constructionism? What about gender? Race? Are you saying these things are purely and solely biological? Postmodernists are saying that our knowledge of these things is already interlaced with cultural meaning. And not that social constructivism and science are irreconcilable. They are not mutually exclusive domains!

  141. pmturn

    While the author raises some important points, she also conflates many concepts and ultimately provides an overly simplistic critique of postmodern theory. For example, postmodernists do not ‘privilege lived experience.’ The notion of lived experience has evolved from phenomenology and existentialism, not French post-structuralism. The author even implicitly acknowledges this when she concedes that subjectivity itself is called into question by Foucault and Derrida. Furthermore, can we please stop conflating these very different thinkers? From Lyotard to Foucault to Derrida to Baudrillard there are VAST differences. Postmodernism is telling us to pay attention to differences! To specificities instead of relying on abstract universal theorems. Why do no critics acknowledge the pragmatic implications of post-structuralism? Too busy rendering postmodernists into caricatures via bad journalism?

  142. Teed Rockwell

    Kare Fog you state as your position that “many features of human lives are under the influence of biology – genes, hormones etc. – in a complicated interplay with social living conditions.” this fact is not “totally neglected” by the postmodernists, as you claim. On the contrary,the postmodernists, and the people who inspire them, use this fact as the basis for almost all of their arguments, and they often cite in great detail the scientific evidence that supports that fact. They argue, with some justification, that this complicated interplay makes it impossible to directly interact with reality in the way described by the correspondence theory of truth. I believe that the mistake they made was to make an illegitimate inference from this fact. This inference rests on confusing three importantly different terms. 1) RELATIVE: everything we know really is known only in relation to the complicated interplay you described above. The scientific evidence and philosophical arguments for this fact are impossible to ignore, despite the fact that it scares many people who think of themselves as scientific realists. From this, many postmodernists make the illegitimate inference that all of reality is 2) SUBJECTIVE. if reality really were subjective, I could ignore this complicated interplay and choose a reality that works only for me. We can’t do this, and Heidegger was very aware of that. He argued that we have important choices to make that are in each case mine, but those choices are shaped by our relations to other people, to society, and to the historical moment into which we are thrown. Consequently, it is a mistake to believe that our choices, and the world in which we make them, are 3) ARBITRARY i.e. that it makes no difference what choices we make, and therefore reality can be created at whim by the most powerful political and military forces. That is the mistake that is made by the postmodernists described in this article. But it is an equally important mistake to try to refute them by retreating into a naïve realism, by arguing against the claim that our knowledge is relative. The postmodernist are right about that. They are only mistaken in the inferences they make from this fact.

  143. tyelko

    “his is totally and deliberately neglected by most people in the humanities, and therefore what is said and studied and taught in the humanities conflicts with human nature. ”

    Evidence for your assertion? None. So it’s little more than libel.

    “Of course, such people (postmodernists etc.) have to claim that there is no objective truth – otherwise they would not be able to make a living based on claims that are against objective truth.”

    Whether there is an objective truth and whether it is discernible or merely approximable for us are two very distinct things, and anyone who is peddling knowledge of “objective truths” is peddling an overinflated ego and scientific illiteracy.

    “In my view, people earning their living from propagating nonsense are parasites on society.”

    Then why do you do it? Your “arguments” are the equivalent of religious fanaticism, screaming “Heretic!” and peddling “objective” truths where no one with a real grasp of modern scientific epistemology would touch that “truth” word with a ten foot pole unless it was understood there was a chain of qualifiers on that that reaches from here to the moon.

  144. Kåre Fog

    Of course the concept of reality is not omnipotent. It does not include such things as dreams, mirages and humanistic speculations with no evidence to back them up.

  145. Kåre Fog

    “I think it is an aspect of human nature we should be aware of.” .No, postmodernism does not reflect human nature. Postmodernists are also social constructionists and typically claim that all kinds of phenomena, including personal characteristics and roles, are social constructs. To my knowledge, there has never been brought forward any evidence that this is indeed so. There is no sound evidence for social constructionism. There is, on the other hand, considerable evidence that many features of human lives are under the influence of biology – genes, hormones etc. – in a complicated interplay with social living conditions. This is totally and deliberately neglected by most people in the humanities, and therefore what is said and studied and taught in the humanities conflicts with human nature. Human nature is simply not like postmodernists, social constructionists, or whatever you call them, say. Of course, such people (postmodernists etc.) have to claim that there is no objective truth – otherwise they would not be able to make a living based on claims that are against objective truth.
    In my view, people earning their living from propagating nonsense are parasites on society.

  146. wolandscat

    Well the critique is of the post-modernist departure from (let’s say) scientific realism, i.e. a world in which meaningful discourse and text generally contain provable references to entities in reality, and in which debates between competing narratives (e.g. creationism and evolution) can be judged by not just what is in the text, but the relationships between their referents. There’s far too long a history of successful theory-formation in science to be arguing seriously for jettisoning the whole approach. Getting back to this manner of working is what the article is asking for – thinking based in reality rather than academic political positions or just straight out nonsense (as per Sokal’s Hoax). Removing this obscuring fog doesn’t require any magic, just common sense.

  147. Teed Rockwell

    Omar KN, I think that’s a pretty good mapping of the PM argument. Except that they start from 2) then procede to 1). Nagarjuna’s response to the Nihilist position is that 1) does not follow from 2).

  148. Teed Rockwell

    Omarkin, I told them that Heidegger and I both believe that one can only live authentically if one is aware of death as a permanent possibility that defines life, and that consequently giving their patients an opportunity to experience this possibility is a great service to them. At that point the head doctor said “well in that case, I should probably tell you that there is a very remote possibility you could die from this operation.” I almost pissed myself when she said that, even though I already knew that was the case. So yes, knowing about and experiencing that possibility are two very different things.

  149. Teed Rockwell

    Niallcc, I think you are correct that the Buddhist concept of conventional reality accurately expresses what the postmoderns got right. I also think that this same concept accurately expresses what they got wrong when it is fully developed. Nagarjuna’s concept of the middle way recognizes that conventional reality cannot be ignored, nor treated as a set of arbitrary posits. this is what the postmodernists do, if I understand them correctly. Nagarjuna called this position nihilism’ (very different from the way Westerners use the word. Nagarjuna’s nihilism is a nihilism of facts not values ) The other extreme position that Nagarjuna rejects he calls eternalnism, and it is pretty much the position expressed by Kare Fog below i.e. the belief that reality is what it is independent of any of our thoughts about it.

    Nagarjuna’s middle way rejects both of these extremes and says that conventional reality has its own kind of being, which must be dealt with on its own terms, even though it is not mind independent. Check out the paper linked below for a brief introduction to this great spiritual tradition. In many ways, Nagarjuna’s position is similar to American pragmatism.

  150. tyelko

    “Libertarians believe there are moral lines that can’t be crossed by anybody, even those who claim they’re “fighting for the poor” or call themselves the government.”

    And non-libertarians believe that Libertarians are crossing a line when they believe that they, and they alone, define what such lines are. Which is why Libertarianism is an inherently corrupt system, existing through doing the precise opposite of what it claims it’s doing…

  151. ibeckermayer

    Classical Liberalism doesn’t advocate liberty because it would have “better outcomes”. It’s a moral position, not a pragmatic one. Perhaps slavery would give “better outcomes”, but it’s still immoral.

    Progressives only care about ‘better outcomes’, which is why they endorse any and all state power that promises it. Libertarians believe there are moral lines that can’t be crossed by anybody, even those who claim they’re “fighting for the poor” or call themselves the government.

  152. ILS

    It’s… kind of a confused piece, in a way. Are the post-moderns sapping the Left’s energy and purpose at a crucial time of confrontation with nativist authoritarianism, or are they mordantly obsessed with downplaying progress and projecting doom and gloom on everything (both arguments turn up at different points and they don’t seem compatible to me)?

    I also think it misreads some of the thinkers being summarized and *vastly* overstates their influence, along with engaging in what feels suspiciously like cherry-picking examples to support this supposed academic left culture that no longer believes in facts and is untroubled by unsubstantiated hooey (whose postulated existence has always seemed overblown to me, notwithstanding some of the kooks, name-droppers and blowhards I encountered while studying EngLit). By all means take a stand against hooey and bafflegab, there can surely be less of it; and looking back at them now guys like Foucault and Derrida strike me mostly as having used obscurantism to gussy up philosophical ideas that weren’t as ground-breaking as they pretended.

    But if you’re taking that stand, don’t in the same breath tell me that the only possible objection to the flatly ludicrous notion that 16th-century England hadn’t come up with the notion of race prejudice yet is people’s “feelings.” If you seriously expect me to believe that nobody told you that idea was just flatly ahistorical, that the only problem anyone could think of was “feelings,” I just flat out do not believe you.

  153. tyelko


    Or, more likely, you haven’t actually read my post, in which I pointed out more issues that also apply to “the Rothbard persuasion”.

  154. five68

    “you just had to argue a little louder. When anything goes – NOTHING really matters!”


    Exactly the point I’m trying to make with the author – which for some reasons doesn’t get through –

    I’m not sure why europeans coming from non-libertarian or non-classical liberal countries really understand the process of making a relatively innocuous ideology into a weapon of mass destruction. In France, the first collateral casualty was pragmatism. Or in other words ‘Let’s test this stuff and get our hands dirty’ was forever forgotten. If it didn’t work that was always because you did it wrong, or didn’t have enough of it.

    Dear American or British friends, you can debate about the merits of PM until the end of times, like the Byzantines argued about the gender of Angels, or tackle what makes PM so powerful.

    IMO, postmodernism has an impeccable logistics. This is what makes it such a powerful ideology.

  155. Teed Rockwell

    I actually got a chance to make your test recently. I was in the hospital for heart surgery and just before the operation started the doctor said to me.” I see you are a philosophy professor. Tell me, should I tell my patients when they going to die?”. I then gave a short lecture on Heidegger’s thoughts on authentic being towards death – while lying on the operating table, wearing a hospital gallon open at the back, surrounded by doctors and nurses wearing blue scrubs and face masks. They were genuinely interested in what I said in response to their question, because their medical training did not give them the skills to deal with these sorts of questions. I was gratified that I was able to give something back to these dedicated men and women who ended up saving my life.

  156. Chrysoprase

    Not to quibble too much about words, but it seems you refer to classical liberalism instead of libertarianism. For all practical purposes, people who describe themselves as libertarians tend to see what used to be the classically liberal empirical proposition (that all else equal, free choice tends to yield better outcomes) and turned it into a dogma. That’s the exact antithesis of enlightenment. The Cato Institute tends to lose arguments because they tend to be very bad at thinking and very good at propagating dogma – at least based on the sample I have interacted with.

    If you define libertarianism the way I define classical liberalism, then we have no beef on substance, but you would seem to be in disagreement with most libertarians.

  157. Anonymous

    Some Libertarians may love Rand, but Ayn Rand had little patience for Libertarians, especially those of the Rothbard persuasion. Libertarianism has problems, but you haven’t identified them.

  158. Jezibel

    Your attempt to deconstruct postmodernism has one flaw – it does not take into account that your concept of reality is not omnipotent. This leads to a cognitive bias, for which you cannot delegitimize postmodernism, as it embraces this dissonance in its founding pillars

  159. ManuM

    I find it difficult to see Postmodernism as an actively pushed agenda. To my understanding it merely describes a process that is happening, and in fact, has happend before. Already Nietzsche describes it in the 1880s, when he talks about the two conflicting poles – master-mentality and slave-mentality – that govern our social reality. We see it today, when Trump creats values by actually having no ideals and principles himself. He is just opposing the system and by this manifests his will to power (which is very attractive for many). I haven’t read Lyotard, Derrida etc. (I will do that though) to be honest here, but I don’t think Postmodernism is something we can just brush aside, just some mainstream Zeitgeist that can be overcome. At least it is not helping to shoot the messenger either. I think it is an aspect of human nature we should be aware of.

  160. Oplooi

    Logical positivism did not die because post-modernists killed it. It proved unsustainable. A lot of effort was taken in the fields of ‘analytical’ philosophy of language and science to rescue the concepts of meaning, truth and facts from much decried “relativism” with meagre result. But the simple notion of a transparent word in which theories and propositions map neatly on a locically structured reality has been dismissed also by thinkers like Wittgenstein and Quine. On the contrary it is an incredible falsehood to trademark a Derrida as relativist. For sure Derrida believed his stance to be true and he was a Peircian pragmatist. I have read this sort of lament too often. It smells like nostalgia and wishful thinking and it seldom comes with sound arguments.

  161. Clinton Davidson

    I’m tempted to think that postmodernism is a straw man created by republicans to make cutting education easier. But it’s believed with all the fervor of Scientologists.

  162. Omar KN

    Postmodernism in a nutshell:
    (1) There is no objective truth or reality
    therefore => (2)
    (2) reality is constructed
    therefore => (3)
    (3) all comprehensible world views are oppressive
    therefore => (4)
    (4) such world views should be deconstructed
    therefore => (5)
    (5) Deconstructionism is the progressive pulverization of reality
    therefore => (1)
    (1) ! !

  163. P. Torau


    i have to excuse myself for my english, since i am not a native speaker and i didn’t read or write in english for a while.
    But anway i have to reply on this.

    you wrote:
    “we are at a unique point in history where the status quo is fairly consistently liberal, with a liberalism that upholds the values of freedom, equal rights and opportunities for everyone regardless of gender, race and sexuality”

    The discours, the metanarritive or whatever you want to call it may claims that, esp. for western societies. But if you look on a worldwide scale? And even if we would accept that there are “equal rights and opportunities for everyone regardless of gender, race and sexuality” – but not for origin, which takes all the wounderfull rights and opportunities ad absurdum.

  164. Brencis

    Funny how post-modernism itself takes on the garment a meta-narrative while is proposes “an incredulity towards meta-narratives.” My experience of post-modern discourse is that it cannot free itself of an inherent modernity while expressing a critique of modernity and its trappings.

  165. blowharder

    I have been in academia on-and-off for the last 30 years and am currently working on my 5th academic degree (MSN/FNP) in the United States, where I moved in the mid-90s. I was born and raised in East Germany and witnessed the collapse of Soviet-style communism. Like a select few of my contemporaries in the East German Geisteswissenschaften, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, I was punch-drunk from postmodernist philosophy. I read everything I could get my hands on – Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Lacan, Feyerabend – you name it. Postmodernism (PM) provided great ammunition for blowhards like me in literature, philosophy, and art history seminars; since everything was rhetoric, you just had to argue a little louder. When anything goes – NOTHING really matters!

    The humanities in the U.S. were a bit more pragmatic, at least on the surface. After 7 years, in a rhetoric/literacy PhD program, I woke up and realized how deeply PM had penetrated American pragmatism. There were rhetoricians of science (seriously: an entire branch of American rhetoric studies!), who analyzed decision-making in medicine, physics, biology, etc., with no command of scientifically coded knowledge.

    I drifted toward analytical philosophy – Quine, Davidson, Strawson – which promised different access to the sciences, through applied mathematics and logic. Even Quine, however, when pushed to the limit, saw the ultimate roots of reference (including those of scientific encoding) in relativism.

    To prove that Quine and Derrida have no bearings outside the humanities, ask your doctor at your next visit if he has ever heard of them. If you are an academic or a student in the humanities, ask scientists, professors, and students in the sciences, and you will get the same answer. Remember the Sokal hoax! No researchers in the humanities would be able to publish pure gibberish in a peer-reviewed, academically respected journal in the sciences.

    I switched to the sciences about 10 years ago and became an emergency nurse. I am about to graduate from a nurse practitioner program.

    The common resentment toward the sciences is understandable, since the results of scientific discovery are often politicized and used as weapons (literally) against the uneducated, vulnerable, and otherwise disenfranchised.

    The postmodernists did not say anything that shrewd and vile politicians since Plato have not known instinctively: ignorance is power, as long as it can be marketed as fact to those who can’t or don’t want to learn.

  166. niallcc

    Kare Fog. I don’t permit you to express your ‘sincere contempt’ of me. You clearly haven’t understood my post. I am not denying the existence of anything in conventional terms. Clearly ants and giraffes and suns and moons ‘exist’. However, from the perspective of an interdependent whole which is fluid and constantly changing and impermanent – what I am saying is that ‘things’ don’t exist concretely from their own side. You might want to consider (very postmodern) Buddhist teachings on emptiness, impermanence and dependent origination as well as ‘conventional truth’ as opposed to ‘ultimate truth’.

  167. Kåre Fog

    to Niallcc

    Your answer concering ants and giraffes is awful.
    Of course, ants as well as giraffes existed before any humans had evolved from apes. They existed and exist independently of us. To postulate that they exist only because we give them names, is a sick form og egocentrism, where things are only of any importance if we can see them.
    The sun and the moon would exist also if there were no humans.
    That type of people who claim that things only exist when we give them names, are the type of people that I can have nothing to do with. Any meaningful discussion with such persons is futile. therefore, allow me here to express my sincere contempt for any opinions expressed by people thinking like that.

  168. niallcc

    The answer to that is we conventionally agree on that which is labelled ‘giraffe’ and that which is labelled ‘ant’ and that the former is relatively taller than the latter according to a concept and convention of height. But if we ask the question whether ‘ants’ or ‘giraffes’ exist independently or concretely as ‘things’ in time and space from their own side, the answer has to be ‘no’. They exist interdependently as an indivisible and fluid, and constantly changing ‘whole’. Ultimately, as opposed to conventionally, they no more exist from their own side than ‘good’ or ‘evil’ or a ‘self’ does. We use language and labels and ideological narratives to (importantly) organise, classify and make sense of our universe. But labels are not ‘the thing itself’ which, ultimately, can’t be ‘got at’. It can only be conceptualised. Conventional truths are always relative and that is the ‘truth’ of postmodernism.

  169. Hrafn

    Do you? The degree of confusion necessary to lead someone to disagree with this statement is quite staggering.

  170. Hrafn

    Taking the conventionality and constructedness of scientific truth into account, how would we approach Detmer’s question of giraffes being taller than ants? To what degree is this matter determined by cultural and historic narrative?

  171. Neil

    To those who disagree with this criticism of postmodernism I would offer a criticism of my own: the cognitive bias postmodernismts have is the idea that epistemology is dualistic. That there is either certainty or uncertainty, and that is all. Kierkegaard actually presciently addressed this when he said “the opposite of sin is not virtual, but faith.” In terms of epistemology then, the opposite of certainty is not uncertainty, but faith. But what is faith? It is a nonrational subjective appeal to certainty and objectivity. But this certainty and objectivity is not obtained or held within the experience of a person. It’ is, in fact, not possible for a person to contain within themselves the fullness of such certainty, but rather, one can only experience it, Faith is the incarnational answer to the problem posed by postmodernism, without the cannibalizing philosophical tail eating created by it. Instead of being self-destructive, as postmodernism inevitably is, the very concept of faith is self constructive. Philosophically, postmodernism of necessity will end in the dung heap since it is an intellectual virus that destroys its host. Human life is characterized by the search for personal or meta meaning. If anyone doubts this, just ask Viktor Frankl. Ironically, it is his very personal experience that proves the impersonal nature of his philosophical metanarrative.

  172. Teed Rockwell

    I was originally trained as a continental philosopher, but became a naturalized analytic philosopher. I agree with many of your objections to what continental philosophy has become, but I don’t think you can deal with this problem by retreating back into enlightenment rationalism. Most of what continental philosophy got right was first said by the pragmatists, especially John Dewey. We can return to his level of sanity, we don’t have to go all the way back to Descartes, or even the logical positivists.

  173. niallcc

    The problem with arguments against postmodernism is that, ultimately, meaning (and ‘truth’ and ‘reality) is relative and conventional and constructed. Even scientific truths, robust as they appear to be, are ultimately conventional. All ideologies and narratives of meaning present themselves as transparently ‘true’ and postmodernism merely exposes their constructed nature. It doesn’t present a ‘threat’ to liberal ideology. Calling it ‘nihilistic’ requires an argument that demonstrates what is absolutely and independently ‘true’ and can be established with certainty. Ultimately we exist in an interdependent whole which we have separated and artificially classified with labels. Fine. But don’t shoot the messenger. All postmodernism is saying, is that, ultimately, the emperor has no clothes.

  174. microglyphics

    No to resort to ‘I know you are, but what am I’, but isn’t true that the exploitation is engaged by the ‘rationalists’, who make claims and establish relative social moral standards in an attempt to normalise and control (as revealed in Foucault’s work)? Post-modernists of most stripes merely point out that the emperor wears no clothes and the foundation is built upon shifting sands.

  175. microglyphics

    Interesting how this critique is based on a conditioned, normative perspective. This is typical for self-proclaimed Enlightenment thought, yet there is no objective grounding. It’s all wishful thinking and based on some notion of teleological progress.

    As a human, I root for humanity, but I am also aware of the delusion that metaphysical humanist argumentation is steeped in. In arguing against the ‘negative’ position of postmodernism or deconstructionism, the burden is on the one positing the existence of some inherent meaning or belief system to demonstrate meaning—objective meaning. One can’t just will into existence how things ought to be, as Helen attempts to do here. This is akin to a theist complaining, “Why can’t everybody just agree that there is a god? It would be so much nicer.” But this cannot will a god, a goddess, or a higher power into existence. Thinking does not make it so.

  176. Diz

    Largely agree with your analysis of post-modernism but I think suggesting that “the Left needs to recover a strong, coherent and reasonable liberalism” is not going far enough. Your article reminded me a bit of Pankaj Mishra’s recent book ‘Age of Anger’ where he posits an antagonism between Rousseau and Voltaire; that Enlightenment tried to suppress the tribalism, ‘Sturm und Drang’, the non- or even pre-verbal parts of being human. Perhaps ‘communities of meaning’ come from these roots and cannot be ignored. Secondly, from a philosophical point of view, rather than simply resorting to jokes at the expense of post-modernists, the work of people like Quentin Meiillassoux and Maurizio Ferraris, amongst others, posits a ‘New Realism’ and a possible exit from the ‘Ouroboros of Post-Modernity’.

  177. tyelko

    “but not libertarians–The Enlightenment’s political heirs. ”

    You’re kidding, right? Libertarians are the antithesis of Enlightenment. They talk about freedom, but the only freedom they will give is the “freedom” to agree with them, and the freedom of the one with the biggest stick to exercise his own freedom at the expense of others.

    “But in politics arguments are not won by reason alone, and libertarians’ lack of emotional intelligence (watch moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s lecture at Cato) is their downfall.”

    Their downfall is that their position lacks any foundation whatsoever. It is not based on any understanding of epistemology nor economy, as evidenced by their love for Ayn Rand…

  178. simplulo

    Some on both the left and the right exploit post-modernist anti-rationality, but not libertarians–The Enlightenment’s political heirs. But in politics arguments are not won by reason alone, and libertarians’ lack of emotional intelligence (watch moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s lecture at Cato) is their downfall.

  179. tyelko

    “Well, the alternative is not accepting I think they’re wrong and forcing me to pretend I think they’re right. That is known as theocracy. You can think I’m wrong too.”

    False dichotomy much?

  180. tyelko

    You mean, much like the empty babble of you or Ms Pluckrose who have no idea about how science works?

  181. five68

    “Well, the alternative is not accepting I think they’re wrong and forcing me to pretend I think they’re right”.

    No one is forcing you to do anything. There are truths to postmodernism, even if we don’t like it. The problem is that it was promoted (not necessarily by their authors) as an all encompassing theory, and *weaponised* in to civil society as a way to eliminate a political opponents.

    Point is: France never had to cope with the consequence of postmodernism in feminism, art, science, and beyond well identified social sciences university departments. It severely affected the family structure – the locus of all bad narratives and mental illnesses -, the work place – where all narratives must conflate, that is the battle field – and had a light-touched influence in immigration policies. That’s all (and that’s a lot too).

    What I’m trying to tell you, is that the scope of its influence in Anglo-Saxon countries today is far, far more reaching. It’s become a metaphysic, with a will of its own. In my humble opinion, it is a matter of logistics, that is spreading ideas and making sure they stick.

    You can choose to ignore it, but in 10 years from now, you’ll write the same column with no one to read it. You’ll still right by the way, just like you are now, but you’ll be absolutely powerless and alone.

    On an other note, do you have a link to share about Bilal’s diary?

  182. LuisF

    So much empty talk about the failings of science by postmos and they still fall to see the elephant in the room. SCIENCE WORKS. It’s effective. That’s why they are writing here their criticism and not using tam tam drums. Science is epistemological different. Until they address this obvious fact all their theory is empty babble.

  183. Lev Lafayette

    As an artistic movement it precedes the 1960s and was definitely not French (coined by a British painter, Chapman, 1880s as a response to French impressionism) and by the 1920s used in poetry, art, and music.

    In the social sciences the term was first used in a major work by the British historian Toynbee to refer to the post-WWI.

    Even generously describing it in the context of the OP’s own position “postmodernism” is primarily the material that follows Lyotard’s “The Postmodern Condition” (1979), which itself is a response to Jurgen Habermas’ “Legitimationsprobleme im Spätkapitalismus” (1973).

    In that book, Habermas explicitly describes some of the questions concerning the potential of a new, post-modern (and classless) social formation deriving from Daniel Bell’s post-industrial society (that is, prior to the publication of his seminal book on the subject in 1974) and with his debates with the neofunctionalist systems theorist Niklas Luhmann (Habermas, Luhmann, Theorie der Gesellschaft oder Sozialtechnologie, 1971).

    And if I came across as a little off-handed it’s because the OP should have known all this prior to posting.

  184. Skipman

    Booring. There is no such “french intellectuals”. There are some readers who did not do their homework in the philosophy of science and thinking, but that’s all.

    Isn’t it strange that everybody holds a PhD and always knows better? Natural born stupidity. to stronghold authority? U guys better go and learn to what “postmodernism” reacted. It‘ confusing I know, but that’s the price of “entropy”. So go, learn mathematics before you start interpreting Derrida…

  185. five68

    “…will just have to accept I think they’re wrong.”

    Sounds a tad too much ‘I apologise to beg your pardon…” 😉

    Q: Why is it that so few people have such an enormous influence on a country? Isn’t that the real problem?

    PS: I agree with your analysis on postmodernism, and I love your pined tweet. So don’t shoot.

  186. Kåre Fog

    “Cultural anthropology, sociology, cultural studies and gender studies, for example, have succumbed almost entirely not only to moral relativity but epistemic relativity.” This sweeping generalisation is stated with no kind of supporting evidence. As to gender studies, I have no doubt that it is roughly correct. But is it true for anthropology, sociology and cultural studies? I am debating this article with a Danish sociologist, and he claims that very little of sociology has that character. He says that to put forward such a claim, one should trawl thorugh leading international sociological journals and count what proportion of all articles are actually postmodernistic in their attitude or approach. Has this been done?

  187. Learning Technology (@learningtech)

    I appreciate that you see the validity in some of the criticisms that have been posted here.

    I agree that these authors influenced identity politics movements–as long as one accepts the caveat that these French authors did not see identity as a stable substance (as others have commented).

    But just because very general ideas that circulate in the writings you point to bear a passing resemblance to political rhetoric does not mean that these French intellectuals are the source of those political ideas, nor that the authors you complain about can be held responsible. That’s like blaming Jesus for the Crusades.

  188. engineer

    Hegel’s Spirit didn’t fall into time, he was pushed by the romantics. And ever since they are busy with sinking boats, burning ropes and perforating lifesaver. Those, into the care of which language was recommended, have screwd it up. Good article – utterly pointless debate…

  189. tyelko

    The actual problem isn’t that the piece is simplistic and reductionist in its adressing these philosophers. The problem is that it is simplistic and reducionist, period, and its description of sciences and epistemology in general are horribly out of date and neither reflect modern science nor what has been happening in epistemology in the last 60-70 years. And that’s where it fails. It is so blinkered in its “what must not be cannot be” attitude that it fails to recognize some of the subpoints that actually have merits – and thus ignores the positivism dispute and the development of what some call postpositivism, just as one example.

    Your position thus unfortunately is no more tenable than those simplistic and reductionist caricatures you rail against.

  190. Helen Pluckrose

    Hello, all. Thanks for your comments. People criticising this piece for being right-wing, Eurocentric or Francophobic are simply wrong. People criticising it for not respecting religion will just have to accept I think they’re wrong.

    People criticising it for being simplistic & reductionist in its depictions of the three theorists make a valid point, though. It would have been a good idea to have had an extra paragraph at the beginning stressing that this is not a summary of their thought and political positions – that would certainly be to strawman them – but working backwards from the problems of identity politics and cultural moral and epistemic relativity we see now on the Left to their intellectual source. Its a follow on from two other essays of mine in which I discuss this shift in feminism and anti-racism. I acknowledge that there is a lot more to Lyotard, Foucault and Derrida than these ideas. I like Lyotard’s reconception of Language Games and Foucault’s Panopticon and much of Derrida’s work on linguistics. However, I stand by my claim that they, among other early postmodernists, were incredibly influential on the identity-politics and relativity found in post-colonialism, queer theory and intersectionality as stated explicitly by the leading theorists of those schools of thought. Humanity has a tendency to identity-politics and double standards – we’re a tribal species. These have a longer history in conservativism than in liberalism. However, the early post-modernists with their advocacy of mini-narratives, cultural constructivism and intense focus on language and discourse and claims of its hierarchical and oppressive nature did pave the way for anti-realism, identity politics as subversion and moral and epistemic relativity.

  191. marcus

    I’m very sorry, but this article is the weakest and most uninformed thing I’ve ever read about postmoderne.

  192. five68

    I could only find extracts on your blog (Aug. 5th), is there a url you can (safely) share so I can read the rest?

    For personal reasons, it really resonated, and I loved the reading, albeit heart-wrenching.

    “If only some restaurant on the way home was open, i’d have lunch during friday prayers.”

    Sometimes, change starts with the most mundane of all tiny-steps. Like refusing to leave your seat in a bus, or being asked to get off of a train car.

    And refusing to do so.

  193. Learning Technology (@learningtech)

    This gross oversimplification is inaccurate and turns everything it purports to describe into nonsense.

    The nonsense is in the describing, not what’s being described.

    Only a few examples can be listed.

    (1) Lyotard is not describing Foucault and Derrida when he writes about the postmodern condition. Nor is this (2) Lyotard’s main critical statement (which is arguably JUST GAMING). And (3) he’s not talking about “relativity” nor relativism.

    These are gross mistakes which no careful college freshman would make.

    Nor (4) can Foucault and Derrida be synthesized together into one framework.

    (5) Neither Derrida nor Foucault ‘reject’ ethics. Both have careful things to say about ethics. So how can that be a ‘rejection’?

    It’s easy to reject anything–if you oversimplify it enough.

    This essays is that night in which all cows are black.

  194. Daniel Manske

    And what is simply the correct definition? And what did the author get wrong here? Derision is not argument.

  195. Lev Lafayette

    >Postmodernism, most simply, is an artistic and philosophical movement which began in France in the 1960s<

    Didn't warning bells go off here? Didn't people realise, even at this early stage, that the author simply doesn't know what they're talking about?

  196. birrellwalsh

    I am grateful for this article, Dr Pluckrose. Postmodernism had quite taken over the department where I did my PhD in Comparative Religion. It made me, more than anything else, embarrassed to be an academic. It gave no strength of conviction, and replaced argument with abuse – see above for examples.

    By discarding truth tests as essentially oppressive, they leave only one way to settle arguments: force. We have seen that in universities where bad opinions are not argued down, but run out of town.

    And we see it in the White House.

    So – please keep up the critique.

  197. Allen J.

    I agree with your (Pluckrose’s) position on identity politics. But I believe that you go too far in rejecting the idea of positionality. There is no inconsistency in claiming, on the one hand, that ideas can be rejected, refined, and modified on the basis of reason while on the other hand also accepting that ideas (both true and false) are shaped by social context.

  198. tyelko


    “The basic attitude I hear in this person’s definition of post modernism is that if the “objective truth” isn’t apparent, then we may as well assume there is none and just go with our feelings”

    Who gave a definition of postmodernism in this discussion subthread – or indeed made any statement on postmodernism whatsoever?

    That’s the problem here – in the absence of actual information, you and Sawyer Pence make up data to support your preconceptions. That’s not how this works.

  199. tyelko

    @Sawyer Pence

    “You prattling on about a PHD it sounds like you hardly deserve doesn’t impress me.”

    As if a scientific illiterate were qualified to judge that.

    “Scientific truth isn’t contextual and playing games with ontological categorization to desperately avoid calling statistical facts the best representations of objective reality we have is deceitful.”

    No, what is deceitful is the misrepresentation of statistical probabilities as facts just because you are statistically illiterate. There is a reason why there is a big reproducibility problem in many sciences, and aside from shoddy craftsmanship based on scientific illiteracy like yours, it is also based on the sheer number of studies being conducted, which causes plenty of your oh so best representations of objective reality in fact be simple random data scatter because even with a limited tolerated probability of observations being reconcilable with a valid null hypothesis, enough studies being done makes the aggregate probability of a so-called type 1 error go against 1.

    And that’s not even touching on the problem of sampling issues and the limits of generalization.

    “Falsifiable claims are at the center of science, and turning the truth value of observations into ephemeral and contextual non-sense will be the death of useful science.”

    Cute, coming from the dunce who does not understand how the reliance on falsifiable claims flies in the face of any positive objective truths.

    “It’s certainly telling that postmodernists avoid mathematics like its the plague.”

    And it’s telling that you avoid theory of science like it’s the plague

    ” At least as a biology student, you were able to get away with only some algebra and an undergraduate class in statistics to avoid confronting the fundamentalist principles embodied within.”

    And if you declare the Earth to be flat, it will probably snap to conform with your ideology as well, isn’t that right? Because our supposed disciple of objective truth quite evidently has no qualms making up bullshit to fit the data to his ideology.

    Given that all you know is that I have a PhD in biomedical sciences, what my undergraduate courses were is nothing you have any data about whatsoever. But that’s ok for you – if you don’t have any, just make them up to produce the desired outcome.

    If you want to see a danger to science and to public health, look into the mirror. Frauds like you who declare their hypothesis right by power of ego come a dime a dozen and they have killed plenty of people already with their narcissism.

  200. Jeff/neighsayer

    It’s tempting, this philosophy, relativism, I think it feels good on the ego to think it, and feels fearless to declare it. Also, there is something wrong with humans, something askew in our relationship with reality, and a pure relativism would seem to solve it, to imagine we are simply lost in our senses or our thoughts . . . but the answer for that will be simpler, if we ever find it. It’s going to be in our blindness somewhere, in our willful blindness, not in any inherent “unseeability” of the world.

  201. vigneron

    Bruno Latour himself, sort of pope of french postmodern epistemology studies, made his mea culpa ; and not today with Trump and co, no, 14 years ago. Must read (24 p).
    « (…) Was I wrong to participate in the invention of this field known as science
    studies? Is it enough to say that we did not really mean what we said? Why
    does it burn my tongue to say that global warming is a fact whether you like
    it or not? Why can’t I simply say that the argument is closed for good?
    Should I reassure myself by simply saying that bad guys can use any
    weapon at hand, naturalized facts when it suits them and social construction
    when it suits them? Should we apologize for having been wrong all along?
    Or should we rather bring the sword of criticism to criticism itself and do
    a bit of soul-searching here: what were we really after when we were so intent
    on showing the social construction of scientific facts? Nothing guarantees,
    after all, that we should be right all the time. There is no sure ground even
    for criticism. Isn’t this what criticism intended to say: that there is no sure
    ground anywhere? But what does it mean when this lack of sure ground is
    taken away from us by the worst possible fellows as an argument against the
    things we cherish?
    Artificially maintained controversies are not the only worrying sign. (…) »

  202. Jeff/neighsayer

    wasn’t my take. This is someone on the left who sees that his side is starting to un-tether itself from reality in the same way that the present presentation of “the right” seems to have completely. The basic attitude I hear in this person’s definition of post modernism is that if the “objective truth” isn’t apparent, then we may as well assume there is none and just go with our feelings. Personally, I think it’s better to assume there is one and keep trying to approach it, keep track of our successes, build on them, just to keep some objective reality in view, just so we still believe in one, even if it’s hard to define. “Reality” is still a useful concept, and just because the actual reality is just out of reach doesn’t mean the concept of it isn’t important and useful.

  203. Sawyer Pence


    You prattling on about a PHD it sounds like you hardly deserve doesn’t impress me. Scientific truth isn’t contextual and playing games with ontological categorization to desperately avoid calling statistical facts the best representations of objective reality we have is deceitful. Falsifiable claims are at the center of science, and turning the truth value of observations into ephemeral and contextual non-sense will be the death of useful science. It’s certainly telling that postmodernists avoid mathematics like its the plague. At least as a biology student, you were able to get away with only some algebra and an undergraduate class in statistics to avoid confronting the fundamentalist principles embodied within.

  204. Helen Pluckrose

    Things aren’t quite as bad under postmodernism as they were under Christianity! Also God continues to seem not to exist.

  205. tyelko

    “Environmentalism is more nihilistic than marxism, because the fundamental aim is not ‘uplifting the people’, but ‘saving the planet from the people’.”

    Except, of course, that’s total nonsense. Environmentalism is about keeping the planet a place in which we can live. The planet needs no saving from the people. The planet gives a flying f*ck whether we live or die. The planet has existed AND provided a safe harbour for life long before conditions were anywhere near supportive for HUMAN life.

    Quite the contrary, it’s people like you who preach a false dichotomy between humanity and the environment. And it’s cute that you claim that the aim of environmentalism was not uplifting of the people when in fact it is who who is the one preaching to make our condition as miserable as possible as long as select people promoting select technologies profit from it.

  206. Seriously Mike

    As much as they try to deny that – they are.
    I’m amazed how much shit I’m catching from both groups for pointing out their obvious fallacies and ideological lunacy. They refuse to acknowledge their own irrationality, preferring to parrot whatever duckspeak their gurus came up with recently.

  207. Ron

    I would submit that it is not postmodernism that has ruined the West but instead, the rejection of personal Christianity that has lead many to the embrace of postmodernism.

    As you have written, “Jean-François Lyotard… defined the postmodern condition as “an incredulity towards metanarratives.” A metanarrative is a wide-ranging and cohesive explanation for large phenomena. Religions and other totalizing ideologies are metanarratives in their attempts to explain the meaning of life or all of society’s ills. ”

    Western society was founded on Christian values. All one has to do is drive across the various countries founded on Christian principles and notice that the oldest and generally largest man-made structures in every village, town, and city are Christian churches. The church was the place not only where they worshipped Christ but it was the meeting place of the communities where they openly discussed how to improve the future for their communities. Those communities prospered, and as they prospered together, so did their countries. And the crime rates were low.

    This is supported by Leading German Sociologist and Historian Jurgen Habermas when he said back in 1999, “For the normative self-understanding of modernity, Christianity has functioned as more than just a precursor or catalyst. Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of a continual critical reappropriation and reinterpretation. Up to this very day there is no alternative to it. Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter. ”

    However, in the West, the churches for the most part have failed. The most common response of people leaving the Christian churches in Britain over the last number of decades was that the churches, “do not answer our questions.” If you add to that a huge population that searches for truth from the Internet, and that are now educated in a system that has removed the concept of God, then the usual postmodern response is retorted to and that is that that all religions are equal, that morality is relative and so are cultures.

    If Nietzsche were alive today, he would probably respond to the post modernists concept of morality as he did in the past. As he once wrote, “How can a person rationally justify any commitment to timeless values whatsoever without implicitly invoking God? They cannot”. The thing about the postmodernists of today is, they do not “rationally” justify their morality.

    What is happening in the West is a systematic dehumanization of our civilization by postmodernists. Oswald Spengler in his book, ‘The Decline of the West’ believed that at this time, humanity would be going through what he coined as “Winter phase”. (The culture period makes up the “organic” Spring and Summer of a civilization, and is when the civilization is inspired by its own art and religion. Autumn and Winter make up the Civilization phase, in which the society becomes inorganic and is based only on the organization created during the Culture phase.) This is a largely unsuspected and unnoticed, and generally unsought, result of excessive secularization. Because the Enlightenment was essentially atheistic and anti-theistic, reason was gradually construed as being incompatible with religion. The great majority of people, whether they practice or even acknowledge a religion (though most people throughout the West do), believe in some sort of supernatural intelligence. Most people recognize that there are some spiritual forces in our lives, there was some sort of creation at the start of things, and the human mind can’t grasp the infinite — what there was before there was anything, or what there is beyond the outer limits of everything. So people have always, until relatively recently, in a general collective sense, recognized their limitations.

    But now academia, the media, and the governing elites are almost entirely atheistic. Under the spurious cover of separation of church and state, as if there were the slightest possibility of commingling them or anyone would stand for it, there is a war of extermination being waged by government, academia and the media against the philosophical origins of Western civilization. Western state religion is effectively atheism, and the same atheistic mind that believes in the flawed and insipid concept of the “perfectibility of man” starts by separating people between the good and the bad, based entirely on subjective morality. Since there is no supernatural intelligence, men and women can become gods, as the ancients, especially the Romans, tried to show.

    Anti-Christianism and not atheism is at the heart of postmodernist thought. If it was pure atheism, then Islam would not be embraced (as it much as it presently is), by post-modernists. Jesus Christ made explicit and absolute clams about the truth, that were accepted and believed by many generations through the centuries. The new generations have rejected the Christian heritage of their grandparents and great-grandparents, deeming themselves in their own minds, wiser than their predecessors. Postmodernism has no answer to death, no ultimate hope to give. It is an empty and a sterile worldview which leaves us in a closed Universe; a Universe that will ultimately destroy any last trace that we ever existed. Postmodernism is a hope-less philosophy. The resurrection of Jesus however, opens the door on a bigger story.

  208. The Trumpeting Zone

    Good overview. I am not sure the leftwing viewpoint in the end is that useful. The failing of socialism is what caused disgruntled socialists to start to deny reality instead of changing their ideology. This is clear from the German intellectuals – the so called Frankfurter Schule – that preceeded these French writers. Socialism was the first attack on liberal republicanism and individual liberty, postmodernism it’s philosophical defense mechanism that is now eating away at the foundations of the heights of individual liberty and its products that the West achieved.

    Also, I missed the mention of environmentalism as one of the sects of intersectionality: humanity and it’s environment are juxtaposed, the former smeared as oppressor, the latter propagandised as oppressed. It also a new form of the pretense of knowlegde of these neo-marxists, in that their claims of being scientific are suppossed to mean they can plan our economy – much like ‘scientific marxism’. Environmentalism is more nihilistic than marxism, because the fundamental aim is not ‘uplifting the people’, but ‘saving the planet from the people’.

  209. Sam Mickey

    Blaming society’s problems on some of the most popular of recent philosophers? This isn’t very different from the city of Athens condemning Socrates because he was perceived as corrupting the youth and challenging the accepted truths of Athenian society.

    There are many inaccuracies in this piece. Here are a few:
    1) Derrida never describes himself as “postmodern,” and he never uses the word “postmodernism,” so affiliating him with such a movement is dubious at best.
    2) Conflating Lyotard, Foucault, and Derrida is a gross oversimplification. They are very different on many issues, including points about universals, truth, justice, and democracy.
    3) Quoting Derrida’s statement about “no outside-text” out of context is particularly ironic, as the importance of context is what his statement is about. Contextomy is a fallacy, and perpetuating fallacies is illogical and anti-intellectual.
    4) The ruination of the West didn’t start happening in the last few years or decades. Oswald Spengler noticed “The Decline of the West” before Foucault, Lyotard, and Derrida were even born.
    5) There is so much cherry-picking of evidence here that all of the good that French intellectuals do is ignored: e.g., Derrida was a proponent of democracy and justice (Politics of Friendship); Foucault supports the values of the Enlightenment (see his essay “What is Enlightenment?”).
    6) The attribution of immense causal influence to a few philosophers really obscures the complexity of the history of ideas. The dynamics of postmodern thought didn’t emerge out of nothing. The thinkers associated with postmodernism navigate the same philosophical problems that have been around since the Platonists, Skeptics, Cynics, Stoics, Sophists, and Epicureans were arguing with each other over two thousand years ago. If you’re looking for the underlying patterns of thought that are shaping our current political and cultural contexts, you should look deeper than the second half of the twentieth century.
    7) Perhaps what’s worst about this piece is that, by blaming postmodernism for some (but not all) of society’s ills, it obscures the fact that white supremacy, populism, Islamophobia, and nationalism (all of which postmodern thinkers fought against) are much greater threats to universal values of justice and democracy than postmodern thinkers ever were.

  210. Helen Pluckrose

    Bilal is well. He has decided to remain where he is to look out for his younger siblings and be active in underground secularist and liberal circles. We still talk and he is active onine. I did publish his diary online.

  211. BeyondGoodandBlog

    Certainly this is not the most charitable reading of the “postmodernists”. Would you say there is nothing of value in understanding power structures in culture and throughout history? Or that context defines a lot more of what words mean, and what meaning means, than we’d like to think? You do not have to agree with the end result of some of these thinkers but if you cannot appreciate what they have done for our human understanding of ourselves then I am not confident that you have grasped the point of reading “postmodern” philosophy and literature.

  212. tyelko

    @Sawyer Pence
    That’s cute that you want to project your scientific illiteracy onto others. The problem with your attempt is very simple, however – between you and me, I’m the one with a PhD in biomedical sciences and you are the one who quite evidently has never, ever, taken a single look into primary scientific literature – or you could answer your question yourself: Through a probabilistic approach based on a maximum tolerated likelihood for the observation to be reconcilable with a valid null hypothesis.

    But I fully understand that for a simpleton crawling after positivism and pining after a cartoonistic world with simple answers for complex questions, statistics and stochastics is just a bit too hard to grasp.

    The problem, though, remains that the knowledge that positivist induction is plain impossible is not really new. As the evidentiary nature of any supposed evidence in itself is an assertion for which evidence could justly be demanded, it always boils down to either circular logic or an infinite regression.

    But go ahead continuing to claim that you are promoting science by declaring that you have a much better grasp of the natural world than scientist. You evidently don’t grasp that every single one of your posts confirms Joe Buckstrap’s accusation of anti-intellectualism. You’re a freeloader enjoying the fruits of science while spitting in the face of those who bring them.

  213. Sawyer Pence

    @tyelko That’s cute that you can hide your lack of knowledge about the natural world behind experientialism. But it’s all epistemic cowardice, I wonder how vaccines would be developed in a culture that denied positivism categorically. Magic perhaps?

  214. Cassie Mandrina

    This is an aggressively obnoxious and anti-intellectual piece, distorting the arguments of its targets and, even worse, offering absolutely nothing in its own defense. If “postmodernists” reject “the concept of the unified and coherent individual,” to just give one example, they (and everybody else since Hegel) reject it because it is a weak concept. If you want to slag off thinkers, your very first task is to mount an actual argument in defense of the position they reject rather than wave your hands around. Seriously annoying.

  215. Amedeo D'Adamo

    Great essay! But a few questions. First, isn’t post-modernism an attempt to realize what Paul Ricoer called a hermeneutics of suspicion, which he advocated for after seeing the power of various hegemonies to control the social realm? And isn’t that basic impulse a healthy and needed one? Seems there was and perhaps always will be a need to agitate for better forms of analysis in both cultural research and in the non-hard sciences (where methodologies seem to lack the objective grounding they have in the hard sciences.) Second, don’t you think Foucault should get just a little bit of credit in expanding our sense of human cruelty, seeing it as operating in different ways and through different techniques in our institutions? While it would be silly to equate cruel words and cruel deeds, it is however important to understand the many ways human oppression perpetuates itself, and that seems to be kind of an important part of his project, perhaps its most valid and enduring part. Third, as someone who switched from doing some grad work in philosophy at Berkeley in the 80s to do an MFA in the early 90s, I was always arguing with my Marxist friends at Columbia for certain post-modern approaches to art and culture. And in those discussions it was obvious that post-modernism as an art movement was rather radically different from its philosophical namesake; I’d argue that the art movements were far more fundamentally democratic in their goals and achievements than the theory project was. The art movement had both a baroque wing (marked by the bricabrac/broken geometries look) and a much more situationist-inspired wing which ended up being much more enduring and transformative. In general the movement of post-modern artists set out to change the imagination’s boundaries and hierarchies, and this is a very different project from the theorists’ project to deconstruct western metaphysics. Perhaps the closest the two movements came to borrowing from each other is in the broad post-modern art project to deconstruct the art museum, an institution that at that time did not exactly resemble the enlightenment’s ideals and has as a result of these struggles become much more democratic and much more concerned with enlightenment ideals.

  216. william o. kerr jr

    Yes, I’ve been looking for something like his is a primer for the understanding of US Politics in the moment.

  217. omarkn

    Good effort to characterise postmodernism in opposition to modernism and its consequences on today’s mentality.
    However there is a reason why postmodernism could ‘trump’ over modernism, Enlightenment and Reason as human yardsticks for all & everything.
    Reason (positivism ) is insufficient and incapable of reaching truth, (and logic: everything cannot be relative without there being an absolute) and faith has to go WITH reason, not against it or without it. This is the Islamic perspective.

    See more here: Modernism And Postmodern Thought

  218. badblood

    Interesting assumption that something must be simple and easily comprehensible to be true. Thinking about the complexity of language, literature, everyday life, politics, that seems unlikely.

  219. hguderian

    A bit of horseshoe theory. At some point when you’re so extreme you loop around and resemble the extreme on the other end. SJW and Alt-Right are complete opposites that work on the same principles.

  220. Ilya

    Wow, nice job ignoring my comment completely and, by the looks of it, not publishing it at all. I guess that’s one way of clinging on to prejudice.

  221. tyelko

    @Sawyer Pence

    Your rant is cute, given that it makes Joe Buckstrap’s case. You evidently don’t even know what he was referencing with “positivist”, have no clue about modern scientific method, but have no qualms dishonestly adorning yourself with its achievements.

    Your bullshit about “objective thinkers” only underscores that the foundation of your argument is not evidence but ego and the fact that you lash out at anyone attacking the point as relativist only underscores that you do not even make an effort to understand the evidence of an issue.

    It’s frankly nauseating when a fundamentalist dogmatist like you abuses the achievements of modern biomedical sciences.

  222. Sawyer Pence

    Anti-intellectual? Is that your post modernist way of ignoring an immensely important warning that the ideas you hold are ultimately destructive and capable of dragging us all down into a primitivist pit of suffering? Perhaps we should all split into tribes of our own identities where we can live in peace and die screaming during childbirth or miserably of polio because there isn’t an objective thinker in the entire bunch? Though I assume you’d rationalize that pain as being an integral part of your own lived experience.

  223. Phil

    Thanks, Helen, it’s great to see some push-back against the tide of irrationality unleashed by postmodernism.

  224. Michael H. Nelson

    Niklas Luhmann, while making occasional use of Derrida (but never of Foucault, although he had read him), used to joke about postmodernism by asking how such a trend could occur while the empirical social world became more and more modern, that is functionally differentiated world-wide (globalization).

  225. tyelko

    “What he also shows is that early science advanced by defeating philosophy, at that time the handmaid of theology. Perhaps in late C20 post-modernism could be seen as an attempt by the philosophers to bite back and recover some of their lost authority.”

    That is an inherent impossibility, since science could never defeat philosophy. It is inextricably linked through philosophy through theory of science, which is a discipline of philosophy. When something is considered “proven” is a philosophical consideration. Applying science to it would not only be abusing science (since ‘proven’ is not an observable function), it would be plain circular logic.

    And Wootton has made some pretty sobering mistakes of fitting the data to the hypothesis rather than vice versa. Cf. the review in the Guardian here:

  226. Andrew

    I really disagree with some of this article. It’s easy to claim forensic rhetorical terms, such as a claim of “confirmation bias,” when sounding scientific, but I think a further review of Aristotle’s Rhetoric would be helpful. There he differentiates between kinds of knowledge, demonstrative logic and rhetoric, where one emerges from a reasoned, though not-demonstrative, consensus, and the other asserts facts.

    Also, postmodernity doesn’t proscribe that people construct their own truth, it describes that people do this, in the context of a community. Truths of social science, in particular. The biases it identifies in science aren’t in the method, however, but in the questions asked, the systems that decide what is worth knowing, the financiers of scientific agenda. This is no small, divisive point. Ironically, the author quotes Charles Murray, member of the American Enterprise Institute, who presents an excellent case study of this in his “reasoned” examination of intelligence and race that isn’t quite “politically correct” for those engaged in identity politics. What standard is used for knowledge? What data? He has no agenda in thinking that black people are not as intelligent as white? That’s just some scientific fact that identity politics is too politically correct to accept? (Jared Diamond gives an excellent examination of this). But trying to emphasize this, even if the author thinks that this doesn’t happen all the time, or minimizes this issue, does not mean that such thinking destroys objective thought. Quite the contrary – “Identity politics” in the academy faces the real threat to human rights that have emerged from an “objective” academic community. To the extent that science has an objective center, it is determined by a professional community and is always up for review in the face of new evidence. The problem is when that professional community limits voices and perspective that it decides are unreasonable, which is by no means an objective issue. Not even in method, but the questions asked. This is rhetorical, especially when some voices are excluded. It’s convenient to talk about, say anti-vaxx people, who coincidentally share much of the rhetoric of early Christian Scientists about having their opinion feel “excluded.” But this also emerges from very real silencing of issues in medical justice, where some diseases and treatments receive scientific backing and some don’t. Think of how much activism led to scientists making public a treatment for HIV for example.

    What you do with raw data immediately conjures up narratives, just as journalists create different stories with the same facts. I appreciate that not all narratives have the same factual weight. But ignoring the concerns of someone like Said or Foucault, who reveal what is at stake politically in these assumptions – like colonization – is a mistake. The issue isn’t even that a metanarrative has collapsed, as much that, in the name of justice, the metanarrative has a more collaborative authorial nature. Distributive justice is fast becoming the only “certain” form of justice and the basis for fairness in the West because it seems more certain. But knowledge has never been this way. I fear this when I read Michael Shermer, for example, who can discredit religion and conspiracy theory, and then declare the free market libertarian way the true understanding of ordering for society (yet the free market has many of the same qualities as the Christian God and is no less susceptible to doubt over its actual existence beyond our rhetorical construction of it).

    Overall, I think it’s a bit simplistic to separate postmodernity from human rights in this way. Those who believe in science and reason (which, while connected, are not always the same) privilege an authoritative perspective based on facts and reasoning. But ironically, this begins to question whether something as “rights” exist, which cannot be proven. The mainstream church has championed this very position, based on authority. The only difference seeming to be the source of authority. To the contrary, I think postmodernity has strengthened human rights in this way. Its advocates, some of which you quote in this article, seemed to champion them personally.

    Also, I’d be interested to know what the author thinks of Foucault’s Fearless Speech.

  227. Robert Darby

    Some of the distrust of scientific knowledge goes back to Wittgenstein – or at least to certain readings of his later writings, as David Wootten shows in his brilliant history of the scientific revolution, The Invention of Science. What he also shows is that early science advanced by defeating philosophy, at that time the handmaid of theology. Perhaps in late C20 post-modernism could be seen as an attempt by the philosophers to bite back and recover some of their lost authority.

  228. Mark Schmanko

    I appreciate the summary here of postmodern thought and I think the general characterization of the detrimental impact of identity politics on contemporary social and political life is accurate. I also sympathize with the author’s rejection of the postmodern ethos.

    But I think the author is hasty, if not crude, in linking postmodernism to identity politics the way she does. As I see it, the key problematic is in the question of the relation between post-modern forms of epistemic and moral relativism ‘and’ identity politics. The ‘and’ is crucial to trace. In other words, causal connection is anything but obvious.

    Cultural relativist sensibilities after postcolonial critiques do not necessarily entail rejection of human rights and old school liberal values, but they certainly prioritize or give primacy to the oppressed; for good reasons! The author underestimates the ethical engine moving the impulse to defend the marginalized.

    Another related fault is the author’s treatment of the paradigmatic figures which borders on caricature. Derrida (and Foucault) is a rich complex human thinker with a large corpus; Derrida’s personal view varies depending on the phase of his life and the respective text in question; and Derrida’s cultural reception is an entirely different inquiry, that is, followers of him doing their own thing with the teacher’s textual endowment (not to mention Derrida in later years is a rather conservative, if self-styled exponent of enlightenment principles). And it seems the author is practically, if unwittingly, conflating the latter (i.e.,: cultural reception) with the life and corpus; this has the effect of polemics overriding substance; that is, talking past each other.

    While this is of course somewhat unavoidable on a public intellectual platform, it nevertheless incidentally reinforces the validity of the postmodern view of the destruction of any absolute truths. The point is that one could also present Derrida and Foucault, particularly in terms of the later phases of their work, as pushing back against this postmodernism.

    Three living public philosophers I admire greatly for pushing against such postmodernism and instead thinking big, on the edge of culture yet rooted in principles and realism, are: Peter Sloterdijk, Charles Taylor, and Quentin Meillassoux – albeit doing so in very different ways.

  229. five68

    I have 3 questions to ask you. What happened to Bilal, how about publishing his diary, can we send him snippets of books so he has something to eat?

  230. jamzw

    To identify with or promote the very term “postmodernism” requires an especially wide and shallow pool of narcissism. For three thousand years history repeated itself in different clothes until this discovery.Deconstruction runs hand in hand with it’s sterile proponents.

  231. Kolya Gogol

    “Oh we understand capitalism … 1% of the population owns 90% of the wealth.”

    I’m actually surprised that you can write. But your “understanding” of capitalism is still laughable. Don’t give up, one day you’ll get it 🙂

  232. erejnion

    The part about deconstructing narratives is what I knew about post-modernism from school, and what I pretty much practice in my own life. I mean, in the end that’s just skepticism 101.
    What I “find problematic” is the narratives these people then reconstruct. Also the collosal misunderstanding of science – science has always been about verifiable predictions, not about narratives or objectivity or politics or whatever. You can’t deconstruct science more than what scientists already do on a daily basis.

  233. Anonymous

    In France, a liberal is a soft conservative. By French standards, Clinton is a conservative, and Sanders is a a center democrat. US Republicans are an extinct species. Writers and philosophers are oracles they can say that Mao failed because China didn’t apply the right amount of communism.
    Libertarians are not the same animals in the US and in France. But that’s a long story.

  234. Joe Seeholzer

    Good as far as it goes – but would have been better if it gave “post-modernism” it’s “due” — recognized the legitimate truths it contains – and the legitimate truth of relativism – and then went on to point out it’s adolescent motivated or self-serving and intellectually lazy abuses of it….. But by just painting post-modernism as all bad – and cultural relativism as about the same – the argument and persuasiveness of this piece seems weakened rather than strengthened… The author seems to have some confirmation (or exclusionary) bias herself in not recognizing these aspects…. Thesis, antithesis and synthesis — Take a lesson from Zen – the “west” is way behind in this philosophical evolution – and the “third” or “middle way” is what must be found — instead of engaging in all bad- and all good – It is tempting — One makes a trail back to something and from which seems to have come negative results — and so one villainizes the apparent source — completely ignoring the truth and reason of the source — and the errors of the mindset that had preceded it which it was a response to and/or trying to correct —- and also missing the mis-takes, misinterpretations, mis-turns and self-serving uses of it since its inception…. and lazily simply blaming IT for any negative result there-after — and claiming that what was prior to it was pure and blameless and is all good…… This just puts us back in the same place prior to the arising of this reaction and response and leaves un-attended the actual holes and mistakes or blind spots of what came before it — as if they will not again arise – become problematic and not be responded to (maybe in a worse more skewed hostile and more damaging fashion…). If we throw out the whole of something because of its hard – difficult and problematic parts — on the premise that we have found fault and untruth in it — we only regress and suffer more — Better to do the hard work and be grateful for the truths it holds and integrate them – than reactionarily just create another absolute enemy which we are now all “not allowed” to take and benefit from the good and truth it actually DOES have to offer – because that would be disloyal….. (sounds like the person who could not accept the apparent fact that most accused witches in medieval times were poor beggars because that did not fit her accepted system of thought….)

  235. five68

    Can’t really summarise much about those two philosophers, considering their contribution to western civilisation. So don’t shoot please.

    Nietzsche died following a mental collapse, and Socrates was tried and sentenced to death for ‘corrupting the minds of the youth’; he eventually committed suicide (though despair wasn’t the cause, obviously).

    Nietzsche wrote “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, where the notion of ‘Ubermensh/Superman’ is an allegory representing the path to self-mastery. The story has link to the Indo-Iranian-greek kingdom, a flourishing civilisation that existed in Northern India, around 150 BC, which we – westerners – all come from, either through linguistics or philosophy.

    Socrates would probably go to jail these days, or be killed, or made a social outcast. Just for asking the same questions ‘what is a good life’, ‘what is friendship’, ‘what is virtue’.

    None of what Nietzsche and Socrates left us (thru Plato’s dialogues) are much fun to read though. Plus Nietzsche’s dualism is exhausting…. Hence, reading diverse books, varying information sources is probably the best way to stay the course. Keeping an eye on the prize, that is *freedom*. I can’t help mentioning, that the sanskrit for freedom has numerous meanings, some of which we are already familiar with, others not so much:
    “freedom of will, the being one’s own master”

    There over 60 different flavours of ‘Freedom’ in Sanskrit. As Levi-Strauss pointed out, Europe and Asia are cousins who have lost sight of each other for far too long.


    Finally, for those – non french – who still wonder why post-modernism took over France, and *may* do the same in the US, here it goes.

    Between Camus and Sartre, only Sartre emerged as a victor. It was a matter of simple logistics, Sartre went to France’s best schools, Camus didn’t. Sartre was well-off, Camus was dirt poor.

    Sartre early on, had an economic, social, and cultural advantage, that Camus couldn’t have possibly overcome, even with a Nobel prize. As a strike of bad luck, Camus died midway of his life, so Sartre ran unopposed.

    Postmodernism become the logical continuation of existentialism, men were nothing more than white pages on which the well-read, and well-connected could write whatever they see fit. Resistance was futile, attempts to claim otherwise were squashed. Camus remained an author for high-school girls, while Sartre made his way to the pinnacles of higher education.

    In French universities, Camus was a *harmless* writer, rarely taught (if at all). Mind you, nothing he’s ever advocated for was of any use in taking the Bastille. Sartre however, was weaponised. And a damn’ good WMD.

    All republicans and libertarians at heart were ideologically shot, smeared with the stench of colonialism, genocide, together with the murder of first nations. There was a saying in France, ‘when you meet a republican, you ought to pluck your nose’. Whatever.

    They took a shot at Camus, failed to whack him internationally, but succeeded in making him irrelevant in France.

    So here we are, with this endogenic French society. Those who married Sartre, hired obedient soldiers. The same who viewed communism has a force of freedom (and obviously never read Camus), are now in bed with religious ideologues. A train they hope to get off when they need it.

    The victory of post-modernism isn’t an ideological victory, or a victory on the merits of an idea. It’s always was a logistics problem. Like a startup, the first to reach a critical mass is the winner. And the winner takes all.

    That’s my problem with this piece. In today’s world, a debate on the merits of an idea is futile, because truth is irrelevant; only logistics matters.

    Intersectionality, how many battalions?

  236. Kam

    The research and knowledge behind this article are undoubtedly impressive, and perhaps uniquely useful in understanding how post-modernism has so pervasively contributed to the fragmentation of left/liberal discourse. However, the article seems to give undue weight to academic and activist outliers rather than seeking to establish whether there has been emerging consensus in both fields.

    I think a more helpful question would be “Is there more of a consensus on more categories of issues than there was in the past?”

    Outliers will always be amongst us. Some of them, like evolution, women’s emancipation, and climate change gain weight and become mainstream. Others, like colonialism and Aristotle’s belief in the “Four Elements” fall by the wayside. It is hard to know which outlier views are doomed and which will in 20 years be part of the mainstream, but giving any weight at all to an academic who questions whether a giraffe is taller than an ant doesn’t really help the debate. Outliers carry varying weight, but consensus always carries more weight, and it is natural for the some outliers to become consensus.

    The weight given to outliers will no doubt be influenced by social, political and economic conditions, as has happened in US and Britain. But In my view, despite outliers, we do seem to be tending towards consensus on major universal issues of justice (although the article’s suggestion that justice is separate from freedom and equality seems flawed) and this is something that the article brushes over. By looking at postmodernism as a tool whereby a range of issues can be explored and raised, and those issues then categorised together, it is possible to see that there is indeed a stronger societal consensus on more issues. And isn’t that the aim of liberalism?

    It is perhaps that the transitional/disruptive nature of the process whereby outliers are filtered out or adopted can cause alarm, but this is an eternal aspect of discourse, and it is slightly worrying that the article seems to be suggesting that we should be trying to establish a left/liberal utopia of “consistency, reason, humility and universal liberalism” free of outliers. The idea of a “strong, coherent and reasonable liberalism” seems too close to a liberalism which seeks to eternally protect itself against outliers which may gain weight and become consenus.

    It’s notable that the article (correctly) mentions the threat to science, but doesn’t seem to appreciate the extent to which science itself relies on outliers. For example, there are many theories regarding the fundamentals of physics, but almost all of them must be false – yet we are intellectually obliged to hold on to each until it is falsified. The (scientific) process whereby an outlier theory in science becomes consensus or is held out as “the best theory” is inevitably different from the cultural process whereby non-scientific ideas of justice become accepted as consensus. However, that is not a reason to be disturbed by the apparently fragmentary nature of the current discourse and to give undue weight to outliers.

  237. Oliver

    The “scientific worldview” proposed here is really a pseudoscientific one, peddling in objective truths that a probabilistic and temporary science as it is practiced today cannot hope to deliver. While warning against homeopathy, naturopaths etc. is good and fine, it should be done grounded in solid methodology and not in some naive view that just as much declares empirical data holy writ without any understanding of its generalizability, the confounders it may present itself with and the fact that interpretation of data is always hypothesis-laden.

  238. Vijen

    I hold English-language discussion classes in the Conceptual History department of a South Korean university, though my own background is scientific. Whenever we get on to this topic, I am accused of critiquing a “straw” version of postmodernism. You do not address the problem of why intelligent well-educated people should be so reluctant to abandon this preposterous twaddle, but I believe it is driven by science envy. Humanities scholars feel humiliated, not just by the success of the scientific worldview, but also by its coherence and integrity: postmodernism is itself a rival metanarrative, however inadequate.

  239. george

    So far, this is best criticism of the intellectual fraud carried out by those French pseudothinkers and their cheerleaders. I had only read before Scruton’s criticisms, but this essay deveals its manipulations extraordinarily well. Congrats and thank you for this superb piece.

  240. Andjela Tatarovic

    hello! which two philosophers are you speaking of (in your reply to Helen’s reply to your reply)? I am interested in the topic of “self mastery” and “what the good life” is.

  241. Helen Pluckrose

    Thanks for this. You select very different passages of Derrida’s work to the postmodernists using his ideas to argue for hierarchical binaries and their reversal. I agree that he came into conflict with social justice activists, particularly feminists, for producing a method of deconstructing everything to the point where activism was impossible. Kimberle Crenshaw and Mary Poovey made this criticism of pure deconstruction. I will read this interview with Roudinesco and see how it can be reconciled with the hierarchical ideas and scepticism about universality which seems to be his legacy in postmodern SocJus activism.

  242. Micah Buchbinder

    I’m afraid that this article’s version of Derrida is rather hysterical and illiterate. Pretty much anyone grounded in Freud (Lacan, Derrida, Kristeva, Barthes, Sollers, Zizek, etc.) implicitly or explicitly has rejected identity politics with the same force that they reject ego psychology. Moreover, quite to the contrary of this article, Derrida has stated that his use of an ‘a’ in “differeance” is actually a method for embracing the universal: “differance is not an opposition, not even a dialectical opposition; it is a reaffirmation of the same, an economy of the same in its relation to the other, which does not require that the same, in order to exist, be frozen or fixed in a distinction or in a system of dual oppositions…. I have always mistrusted the cult of the identitarian, as well as that of the communitarian discourse often associated with it. I am always seeking to recall the more and more necessary dissociation between the political and the territorial. So I share your anxiety concerning the communitarian logic, the identitarian compulsion, and like you I resist this movement that tends toward a narcissism of minorities that is developing everywhere — including within feminist movements.” I am quoting here from Derrida’s published interview with Elisabeth Roudinesco, entitled For What Tomorrow. I would also recommend taking a close look at his response to the Chomskyists, Sokal and Bricmont. Derrida was a staunch supporter of Salman Rushdie, and his translator Gayatri Spivak was among the first academics to speak out against FGM. His ties to the ethics of the humanist philosopher Emmanuel Levinas are absolutely essential to understanding his position, which you grossly misrepresent here.

  243. Kim

    Thank you for this very intersting text. As a French person I always wondered why some major french philosophers from France nevet got translated in english as much as Foucault, Derrida or Deleuze. Raymond Aron, Emile Cioran, Philippe Murray are major philosophers and heavy weight adversaries to Sartre, and Foucault

  244. five68

    Self mastery and/or what’s a good life, aren’t trendy topics anymore. Considering what happened to the two philosophers who had interests in such matters, your answer isn’t surprising.

  245. geekrex

    Oh we understand capitalism but we reject the unregulated out-of-control capitalism that is in-place now. When 1% of the population owns 90% of the wealth the system is terribly out of balance and dangerous for society as a whole. Most pro-capitalism people never want to discuss this. They think it is great.

  246. Helen Pluckrose

    I can’t answer on your answer. I’ve argued why I think postmodernism is damaging the west. By all means, write your own piece on why ‘unrestrained wealth’ whatevers are instead.

  247. five68

    Just to say I’m french, I agree with your analysis, post-modernism did kill France. I’ve lived through the times when the promises of the century of enlightenment were taught in high school, to the time when Shoa Survivors could longer come in classrooms to tell the story of the genocide. It took 40 years, and this is a direct – albeit unintended – consequence of post-modernism. On that part, you are (painfully) correct.

    However, France isn’t the West, and therefore, the scope of your exposé is incorrect.

    For example, the UK won’t die from post-modernism, it will disappear because it always was a fragmented kingdom. Wealth kept it afloat, Brexit will end it. For Britain, in its unrestrained race to accumulate wealth, governments never cared to fix the shameful and now interconnected pockets of poverty created since the industrial revolution.

    It is not capitalism, nor post-modernism, but unrestrained, arrogant, race to accumulate wealth.

    Germany, together with part of Nordic countries will also fall as a result an unrestrained use of one of their founding principle, but it won’t be the same as France, or the UK.

    If your question is ‘what ruined the west?’, then the most fruitful approach to finding an answer is to understand the logistics that allowed isolated ideas to become absolute. That is to say, how ruling without restraint become the norm?

  248. Mr Aaron J Michaux

    In my experience, the _vast_ majority of left-wing criticism of capitalism is ignorant of even basic economics. It’s like climate change denial, but for the left. If you decide to write about economics, then imagine that you’re writing about something very technical, like abstract mathematics, and imagine how well you’d do without a graduate degree, or access to someone who has one. Just my 2 cents.

  249. Helen Pluckrose

    I think you’ll need to be more explicit. Are you saying I should have focused on capitalism rather than the development of postmodernist thinking in academia and beyond? I’m English, btw.

  250. Michael Schore

    I am having a hard time understanding how this postmodern movement is “liberal” in any way? They seem more like some of the alt-right people in the US now.

  251. Patrick Battaglia


    Stellar piece here. Thank you for the articulating something that is in dire need of being said. Will share widely!

  252. five68

    Unregulated capitalism, promoted, without shame since the early 70s, first by the US, then by the UK, acting as trojan horse in the European, RhineLand capitalism, bear just as much responsibilities. How many armies, happy to join the regressive left, did it create?

    Liberals using crowds to stomp on individual liberties, are building the mobs which will break social order.

    Republicans, bowing before a handful of plutocrats, pass bills meant to please a few, where citizens are just homo-economicus units, with no duties to their community.

    Then, as equality before the law is replaced by equality in all things, unhinged millennials will take to the streets to claim privileges they have not earned.

    For which libertarians clothed in their self-righteousness, chanting freedom is absolute in choirs, will make way to a new oppressor.

    Therefore, I disagree with the scope of your piece, while I agree with the consequence of post-modernism. You just proved you were well read, but without much courage to shorten your exposé.

    The root of all evils, in this rotten western world of ours, is its absolute lack of restraint. To which your president is the most perfect and most harmless example.

    You can have courage, and find in all things, where and how restraint should be exercised.

    Or you can carry on, until the death of the good man, and all is lost.

Leave a Reply