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.

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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.

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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.’”

and

“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]

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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)

and

“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.

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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

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Notes

[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

[5] http://hydra.humanities.uci.edu/derrida/sec.html

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

[7] http://hotair.com/archives/2017/03/10/is-intersectionality-a-religion/

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

[9] In Sullivan http://hotair.com/archives/2017/03/10/is-intersectionality-a-religion/

[10]  http://dailycaller.com/2017/01/30/anti-trump-march-for-science-maintains-that-racism-ableism-and-native-rights-are-scientific-issues/#ixzz4bPD4TA1o

[11] http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/10/science-must-fall-time-decolonise-science/

[12] https://kenanmalik.wordpress.com/2017/02/05/not-post-truth-as-too-many-truths/

272 Comments

  1. Kevin

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

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

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Kåre Fog

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

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Kåre Fog

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

        Like

      2. tyelko

        Kåre Fog

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

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

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

        Like

      3. wolandscat

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

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

        Like

      4. tyelko

        @wolandscat

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

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

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

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

        Like

      5. wolandscat

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

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

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

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

        Like

      6. tyelko

        @wolandscat

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

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

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

        Like

      7. wolandscat

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

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

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

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

        On political correctness, I assume your comment relates the the use of the term in Trump-land. I’m neither right wing, nor do I think manners should be forgotten, quite the opposite. FWIW, the kind of PC nonsense I am talking about is this: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2017/04/22/students-avoid-making-eye-contact-could-guiltyof-racism-oxford

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

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

        Like

      8. Kåre Fog

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

        Like

      9. tyelko

        @wolandscat

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

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

        “I’m neither right wing, nor do I think manners should be forgotten, quite the opposite. FWIW, the kind of PC nonsense I am talking about is this: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2017/04/22/students-avoid-making-eye-contact-could-guiltyof-racism-oxford

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

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

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

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

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

        @ Kåre Fog

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Like

      10. wolandscat

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

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

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

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

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

        Here’s another good example of the stupidity – protest against the use of the word ‘violate’ in law school classrooms. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/trouble-teaching-rape-law

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

        Like

      11. Kevin

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

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

        Like

    2. Uber

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

      Like

    3. Kåre Fog

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

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Kelly

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

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

      Like

    5. Kåre Fog

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

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

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

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

      http://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/conceptual-penis-social-contruct-sokal-style-hoax-on-gender-studies/

      Like

  2. Teed Rockwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Like

    1. Kåre Fog

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

      Like

      1. Kåre Fog

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

        Like

    2. wolandscat

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

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

      Like

  3. Colin Broughton

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

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

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

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

    Liked by 1 person

  4. c21styork

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

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  5. Anonymous

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

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  6. Karol Staśkiewicz

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

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

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

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    1. Kåre Fog

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

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Anonymous

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

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

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    1. Kåre Fog

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

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  8. Stephen

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

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    1. wolandscat

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

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    2. Teed Rockwell

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

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