the impossibility of anti feminist post modernism

September 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

The following is an exchange with Prof. Gad Saad from the comments section on Karen Straughan’s youtube page.

I said:

“I appreciate Prof. Saad stomping the hell out of SJWs and he’s pretty good at it, but post modernism doesn’t begin with the assumption that there aren’t any universals, nor is it solely the product of a social constructivist or view hell bent on political correctness.

How exactly do we square these ideas? Implicit within political correctness is a normative claim about absolute morality, which of course like any normative ethical claim presupposes the universal.”

To my surprise, Prof. Saad responded:

“I rarely respond to YouTube comments that are not on my own channel. But here we go.

The defining premise of postmodernism is the rejection of universals in general and human universals in particular.

Here are a few quotes that I culled in five minutes via a cursory search:

1) “Postmodernism tends to revolve around the following themes: (1) the attainment of universal truth is impossible; (2) no ideas or truths are transcendent; (3) all ideas are culturally or socially constructed;…”

2) Here is another (top of p. 9): “Let us then resist the intimidations of postmodernists who like to cant: ‘there are no universals!’ ”


3) Here is another quote: “Postmodernism is ‘post’ because it is [sic] denies the existence of any ultimate principles…” From:

4) Here is another: “So the idea [inherent to postmodernism] that there is nothing essential, in the sense that there are no human universals, is dogma.”

When I interacted with the postmodernist in question, she obviously fully agreed with the foundational premise that no human universals existed (according to postmodernism).  This is what allowed us to have the outlandish conversation that I described in the clip.

I should just mention that the rejection of human universals as an article of postmodernist faith is about as unequivocal as the existence of gravity.  I don’t wish to engage in an ongoing exchange but I thought that I should weigh in to correct your statement (not that I had to but felt it a courtesy to do so). Cheers.”

I responded:

“Well ok.  I guess I should thank you or something.  Not that I’m expecting a response, but right off the bat, from your first source:

‘Postmodernism encompasses the idea that people tell stories in order to explain the world. None of these stories is reality but are simply representations of reality based on incomplete and often inaccurate information.’

This is what ancient Greek philosophers called ‘mimesis.’  It’s the appearance of truth as distinct from truth itself.  Truth as we are capable of grasping it can only be appearance or “imagined” in the sense that we can never have full access to truth in its entirety.  To do so would make us omniscient. Truth as we experience it is always to some degree appearance in that it is in part what we imagine it to be rather than what it actually is.

If the appearance of truth is distinct from truth itself, it is implicit in the argument that truth exists and can be known, even if we don’t yet know it or can ever know it.

This is hardly cultural marxist academic wankery, it’s an idea that is 2500 years old and is at the root of western philosophy, including the philosophy of science, both ancient and modern.

It is related to the concept of falsification, both in the modern sense as defined by somebody like Karl Popper and in the ancient sense as defined by somebody like Plato’s fictional Socrates.  We can never assume we have the whole truth in the form of a theoretical explanation for the factual.  All theories are falsifiable or they are not by definition scientific or rational.  There are only theories of lesser or greater degrees of explanatory power for the factual.  No theory becomes a fact itself.  Theories explain facts, they are not facts themselves.  No theory can be said to be true, or The Truth, no matter what current of future evidence might suggest, or otherwise it would be dogma, or a claim by faith rather than reason.

Put another way, all theories can only be regarded as the appearance of truth.  The recognition of this is basic to rationality, not an attempt to disregard rationality or truth.

‘Postmodernism is ‘post’ because it is [sic] denies the existence of any ultimate principles…’

It is ‘post’ modernist in the sense that it questions the foundation of modernist pretensions to universality, not universality itself or its possibility.

Let me give you an example from art which can be applied to ideas generally:

Aesthetic regimes begin, typically, with folk art, parables, religious allegory, and myth. With the rise of a development like economic affluence, political stability, or the development of civil society and democratic modernity, mythic art gives rise to its critique in the form of modernism, which attempts to tear down a traditional mythic and religious idealism and its artificial symbolic or aesthetic tropes in order to replace it with realism.  You see this everywhere in 19th and 20th century art, particularly in literature. Think lost generation writers or somebody like Sinclair or Steinbeck, but you also see it in the critique of divine right monarchy by the end of the 18th century.  Mythologized history that was served up by theology and which purported to explain the given social arrangement was recognized as myth, artifice, or construction, an image of reality, not reality itself.

Post modernism becomes “post” when it attempts to carry this realist critique to its conclusion.  It’s in the recognition that modernism’s realist pretensions were themselves artifice just as surely as myth was artifice, that art itself can’t represent life but only recreate it in the form of a new idealism, a new set of myths which pass into anachronism, theology, and kitsch.  So post modern art doesn’t attempt to portray life, but explores its own constructed nature, since it is only the work of art itself which can be said to be truly real, or at least more real than any subject an artist might attempt to capture according to any realist or modernist formulation.

So post modern art becomes “meta” in the sense that it explores its own construction.  And since theory, like a movie, a narrative, or any other representation of reality is only an image rather than the genuine article, it is true for theory just as surely as it is for art.

Godard’s Breathless is a great example.  At first it appears to be a b-movie about gangsters, one that apes the style of American films of the same genre.  About 10 minutes into it, however, the main character looks at the camera and addresses the audience, shattering the illusion of the film and revealing its artifice.  Breathless isn’t a movie about gangsters (or life), it’s a movie about movies.

You could argue that this is the abandonment of realism, of modernism, or of the possibility of truth, but it’s really a recognition that no movie’s realism can ever be the truth.  The artistic construction or commodity in the form of the film itself is reality while the gangsters portrayed in such a film can never be anything but appearance.  What is real, or true, is the artifice of the film.  There are no gangsters, there is only an artistic commodity and an audience which consumes a movie which attempts to make artificial and constructed images of gangsters  *That* is the truth.  Or it at least is a closer approximation of it than any on offer by modernist or pre modernists. Breathless attempts to “deconstruct” American film noir, which was itself supposed to be a gritty form of realism, but one that had passed into kitsch by revealing its own mythology, construction, tropes, and artifice.

This was the basic idea behind pop art, think Warhol’s campbell soup cans or David Bowie creating a self consciously fictional rock star persona in the form of Ziggy Stardust. Before that it was Duchamp or dada.

The bottom line here is that post modernism, at least as it was conceived of by somebody like Derrida, wasn’t the contention that there is no possible meaning or truth, but about accounting for the way meaning is produced. The point of deconstructing a “text” like an American gangster film, a novel, a newspaper article, theory, or manifesto, was not to render it meaningless or to assert that there is no possible meaning, but to account for what its true meaning is.”

He responded (dismissively):

“Divided Line, thank you for your response. It is indicative of a PoMo mindset, which leads me to think that you are vested in this movement (and hence this explains the impetus of your original comments). In any case, good chatting with you. Cheers.”

I responded:

“I’m invested in it in the sense that I think it leads to truth.  If you deconstruct feminist texts in the way Derrida deconstructed texts generally, you tease out the feminist’s unexamined, implicit, and unconscious ideological assumptions and the results I think are pretty embarrassing for them.  It’s not as if anything feminists or SJWs are doing is immune to the same forms of critique, it’s that they’re rarely held to the same standard because most of their critics are prone to various forms of anti intellectual bias.  I think that’s a huge mistake.  There’s no reason to concede post modernism to them than there is to concede the humanities to them generally.

In fact, if you go this route, and employ deconstruction against them, they begin to resemble social and religious conservatives, which is what, I think, they are at the end of the day.  Modern feminism owes more to the prudery, grievances, and fears of 20th century upper class white women than it does to post modernism or marxism. Their arguments are faith based rationalization that grows out of unexamined ideological assumptions and they lead to hysterical persecution politics just as surely as religious faith does.  All I’m saying is there’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Anyway, have a nice evening.”

In conclusion: There is no possibility of an anti feminist left.  Oh well.

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