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






  1. 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.


    1. 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…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 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.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. 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”.


    2. 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.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. 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.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 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.


      2. 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…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. 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.


      1. 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.


      2. 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.


      3. tyelko

        @Brian J Gladish

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


    4. 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.


  2. 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’.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. 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.


    1. 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.


  4. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 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?


      1. 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.


      2. 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.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. 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’.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. 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.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. 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.


  5. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. 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.


  7. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 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.


      1. 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.


    2. 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.


  8. 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.


  9. 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.


  10. 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) ! !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 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).


  11. 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.


  12. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. 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.


    1. 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.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 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.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. 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!


      3. 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…


      4. 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.


      5. 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.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. 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.


      1. 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.


      2. 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.


      3. 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.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. 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.


  14. 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


    1. 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.


    2. 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.


  15. 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.


    1. 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!


  16. 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?


  17. 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.


    1. 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.


      1. 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.”


  18. 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”.


  19. 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.


    1. 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.


      1. 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.


      2. 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”?


  20. 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.


  21. 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.


  22. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. 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.


  24. 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.


    1. 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.


      1. 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.


      2. 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.


      3. 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.


      4. 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.


    2. 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.


      1. 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.


      2. 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.


      3. 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.


      4. 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.


      5. 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.


      6. 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.


      7. 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.


      8. 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?


      9. 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.


      10. 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.


      11. 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.


      12. 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.


  25. 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!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. 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.”


  27. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. 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.


    1. 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.


    2. 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.


      1. 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!


      2. 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.


      3. 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.


      4. 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.


      5. 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.


      6. 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.


      7. 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.


      8. 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.


      9. 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.


      10. 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.


      11. 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….


      12. 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.


  29. 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.”


    1. 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.


      1. 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.


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