The Rise of Postmonderism
Postmodernism is reaction against modernistic thinking. Pomo doesn't so much stand for certain beliefs as much as it stands against them. If pomo is what comes after and opposes modernism, we first need to describe what modernism is.
Modernism, simply put, is a mindset that humanity has the ability to control the world. There are several ideas that usually go along with modernist thinking.
1. There is one essential problem that is holding humanity back from realizing our potential, and there is one ultimate solution to the big problem. Actually there are a number of different forms of modernism, and the biggest difference between them is what they believe is the core problem, and thus the core solution. In fact, it could be said that most of the wars fought in the 20th century were between competing modernisms.
|Modernisms of our Century||The Problem||The Answer|
|Marxism||economics: the rich always exploit the poor||No personal property: no more rich and poor|
|Freudianism||repressed, unconscious sexual desires||uninhibited sexuality|
|Democracy||inequality in basic human rights||self-government by ALL the people|
|Dewey||inadequate socialization||public education teaching social skills|
|Darwin||constantly changing environment||natural selection|
|Eugenics||defective genes cause human problems||gene therapy|
|Nietzsche||everyone competes for power||survival of the fittest: the Superman|
|Scientism||a lack of understanding our natural world||scientific research will solve human problems|
2. Progress is inevitable, due to evolutionary process, advances in science, technology, medicine, and education.
3. Because this progress is certain, modernists were optimistic about the future-we're getting better all the time. Society will learn from the mistakes of the past and will continue to improve into more and more enlightened civility.
4. Human rationality may be trusted to lead us toward truth. All authorities are susceptible to critique, and the autonomous individual thinker is capable of discovering truth about reality. Using good logic will yield right answers
Simply put, pomo disagrees with each of these points.
1. Questioning of "scientific" thinking:
Science is not going to solve the world's problems, because science has its limits.
- (a) First, no scientist is ever really objective-the human mind always prescreens information (everyone has a "paradigm"). Thus we can't see things as they really are. "We don't believe what we see, we see what we believe."
- (b) The Heisenberg Principle states that, at the atomic level, the very act of attempting to observe atomic particles will inevitably change them. Thus we will never, ever know how they actually are and behave when we're not looking.
- (c) The findings of quantum physics reveal that most of what we call scientific laws simply don't work at this subatomic level. So instead of "laws," scientists now talk of "probability theory," "chaos theory," "uncertainty principle," etc.
- (d) Scientists are unable to crack the mysteries of quantum physics or to postulate a "Grand Unifying Theory" to explain the cosmos
Modernism says that when we study anything we can and should set aside our biases in order to be neutral and objective. If we do so, then eventually not only will the truth emerge, but we'll also reach agreement on that truth.
Postmodernism says that people who cliam to be "objective" are either clueless (deluded) or liars (disingenuous). Either way, they should be distrusted.
2. Doubts about evolutionary "progress"
Even if evolution is accepted as a valid theory, our genetic improvements are not happening fast enough to keep up with our increasing problems. There was unprecedented slaughter of human life in the 20th century: the "War to end all wars" (World War I) was followed 25 years later by another, even greater (?!?) world war (WWII). Other mid-century calamities included the Holocaust, 66 million political deaths in USSR, the cold war, Korea, racial upheaval, Viet Nam, conflict in Israel/Palestine, etc. Plus the multiplying of other global problems--pollution, urban blight, global warming, world hunger, etc.-have led to skepticism that humanity is actually improving.
"Confident articles on the future seem to me, intellectually, the most disreputable of all forms of public utterance. "Ken Clark
3. Death of idealism
In the first half of the 20 th century, many people believed that with time, effort, and dedication, we could usher in a new age of utopia. In the 2 nd half of the century, these ideals crashed on the rocks of reality. One grand solution after another (i.e. different forms of modernism) after another proved inadequate. The Iron curtain, Soviet oppression, and the collapse of communism dashed Marxist hopes. Political corruption in the U.S. was seen in the paranoia of McCarthyism, incidents such as My Lai which forced Americans to realize that our own army could be the "bad guys," the scandal of Watergate, etc. These all tainted the former confidence in democracy as the solution to world politics. The ineffectiveness of the "Peace" Movement to bring about any real change, the failure to win the war in Viet Nam, the explosion of crime, and illegal drug use, etc. all pointed out the futility of pursuing some "promised land" offered by idealistic thinking.
4. Pessimism about the future
Humanity lacks both the will and the technology to solve global problems: depleting ozone layer, runaway national debt, incurable diseases, the fear factor of growing up in the shadow of terrifying nuclear/chemical warfare, diminishing resources, etc. Thus the average kids growing up today is filled with fears about the future, aware that any number of factors point toward life being far worse in the future than it is now.
5. Skepticism about history
Confidence that we can learn from the mistakes of the past has eroded. Historiography (the interpretation of past events) is hopelessly tied to the ideological agendas of each historian-people just use history to promote their own causes. Historians, like scientists, only see what they're looking for, and thus will overlook or ignore any evidence that would criticize their own positions. History is simply a tool people use to make themselves look good and their opponents look bad. In addition, there is growing opinion that the worldviews, values, and social rules of yesterday no longer have relevance-what ancient Greeks thought about reality simply doesn't matter to people living in a constantly moving world of microchips, internet, and virtual reality.
6. Mixed feelings about technology
While technology has contributed to longer lives, easier and faster communication, and a huge assortment of entertainment options, it comes at a cost. People have become depersonalized-who we are is a unique series of numbers: Social security, driver's license, PINs, phone, billing account numbers, etc. Many are also intimidated, not able to keep up with how to operate all the electronic gadgets they "must" have. Many also feel alienated from the world of nature, increasingly lonely while simultaneously surrounded by people--urbanized and media-connected.
The Matrix depicts the ominous side of technology, in which we are prisoners to it.
7. Sense of societal failure
Many people have experienced disorientation in their personal lives. The breakdown of family structures (divorce, blended families, revolving door live-in partners, etc see link to music lyrics), and rapid changes between jobs and living situations have left them hurt and confused, unable to build long term, trusting, committed relationships. Not coincidentally, the field of counseling and psychotherapy has undergone exponential growth throughout the 20th-21st centuries as people have looked beyond family structures to find caring listeners and good, competent advice.
Where is Modernism?The following quote is from a moderenistic, generally optimistic professional journal, The Economist, reflecting the loss of confidence experienced by so many in the postmodern shift:
Some thought God would bring about the New Jerusalem, others looked to history or evolution. Some thought people would improve if left to themselves, others thought they should be forced to be free; some believed in the nation, others in the end of nations; some wanted a perfect language, others universal education; some put their hope in science, others in commerce; some had faith in wise legislation, others in anarchy. Intellectual life was teeming with grand ideas. For most people, the question was not whether progress would happen, but how. The idea of progress forms the backdrop to a society…. Society must in principle be able to move towards its ideas, such as equality and freedom, or they are no more than … self-delusion. So it matters if people lose their faith in progress. And it is worth thinking about how to restore it.
n.a. “Onwards and Upwards” The Economist 393/8662 (12/19/2009-1/1/2010): 37
Postmodernism represents the opposite of the modernistic statement of beliefs. (1) There's not just one big problem-there are too many overwhelming problems even to count, and too fearful to think about. Furthermore, anyone claiming to have the solution is not only deluded but frightening-s/he is the very kind of person who contributes to the problem of modernism. (2) We are not progressing-everything is in fact getting worse. (3) Consequently, optimism about the future is only for those who out of touch with reality. The future is uncertain at best, and there are plenty of reasons to believe that we're on the verge of some kind of total collapse of life as we now know it. (4) We can't rely on science, education, or logic to give us the answers that we need. Logic is simply a kind of language game we play, with no set rules, and no certain answers.
|Premodern - Prior to 1650||Modern - 1650-1985||Postmodern - 1985-present|
|Most highly respected persons||Clergy & royalty||Scientists & professionals||Pop culture stars|
|Preferred Language||Latin||Common vernacular||Increasingly images|
|Chief authority||Church||Science||Question authority|
|Source of Knowledge||Revelation of God||Discovery through research||Uncertainty|
|Truth||Accepted uncritically||Accepted critically||Skeptical|
|Purpose of life||God-ordained||What benefits society||Individual preference|
|Faith placed in…||God||Reason||Experience|
|Perspective on the World||Confessional||Objective||Subjective|
|Basis of Ethics||God’s will, as taught by the church||Good of society||Relative to the individual & the situation|
|Hope||In God||In progress||Wherever you can find it|
Dr. Ray Lubeck
For Further Information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-modernist
This quote summarizes the problem of Postmodernism:
"The modern age opened with the destruction of God and religion. It is ending with the threatened destruction of all coherent thought. The age was held on course by stories of progress and emancipation.... But these stories are now exhausted. There are no new stories to replace them.... The paradigm for constructing paradigms is now collapsing.... The only political ideals left are those of the cynical and the paranoid. Such disillusion has lurked in the wings of European culture for two centuries. Now it can command centre stage. We are paralyzed by the performance and we cannot leave the theatre. All the exits are blocked."
The 2nd of January Group, After Truth: A Post-modern Manifesto (London: Inventions Press, 1986), quoted in R. Kearney, The Wake of Imagination (London: Routledge, 2nd ed, 1994): 360.