Are we Post-Modern?

Postmodern DemotivatorThis is a question I wouldn’t have thought to raise myself, but, having heard it, I did find myself intrigued. The speaker in question pointed out that no one is post-modern about reading the directions on a medicine bottle – that science should be accepted, and the non-scientific is meaningless. As such, he claimed that our current cultural perspective is very modernist.
Of course, this struck me as an oversimplification. While it is true that modernist thought emphasizes the importance of scientific discovery, it does not allow for the disregard of meta-narratives that occurs within post-modernism. This is a difference which, I feel, is very relevant to our culture.

The most succinct way I’ve heard it put is, unfortunately, also the most cynical:
No one is post-modern on issues (s)he really cares about.

I’ve often had the thought that post-modernism is, for most of us, more an excuse to avoid debating what is true than something we actually believe. It’s simply much easier, and superficially pithy, to say “you do it your way and I’ll do it mine” than to hash out the differences. Even agreeing to disagree means at least two things. (1) Stating directly that you think a person is wrong, and (2) hashing out a seemingly limitless pile of arguments regarding truth.
Neither of these things are comfortable, and I can definitely understand the appeal of stating that there is no truth.

But is “there is no truth” a true statement? While this is hardly the mantra of philosophically sophisticated proponents of post-modernism, it is a common implication from laypersons. Our culture seems to house a disturbing indifference toward the idea that there is no truth – no objective ethical standards, and no ultimate narrative of life and its meaning.
Personally, I do find it hard to believe that anyone truly accepts these ideas. The closest I’ve come to accepting them have been among the most horrific times in my life. Nor do I think it likely that the oppressed peoples of the world will be nearly so amiable to moral relativism as those of us who are complicit in that oppression.

I think I do, in fact, believe that our commitment to post-modernism is largely a matter of courteous talk. Try though we might, we believe certain things to be true. Rather than deconstructing our own beliefs for the sake of another belief (in post-modernism), I’d much rather that we simply found a way to separate “your claim is false” from “I judge you to be inferior”.

Were we able to do that, all this talk of there being no truth, or multiple truths, would become unnecessary.


4 responses to “Are we Post-Modern?

  • squiznit

    I love this post, very true that our society, scientifically, is modernist, however when it comes to the question of what is truth, I tend to side with the postmodern historians of our day. Some believe that truth is purely subjective and therefore all history is, to quote one historin, “the history of thought”. An historians opinions and thoughts mixed with the past.
    Great post!!

  • debilis

    Thank you!
    I definitely agree that there is a subjective element to all history. Personally, I’d say that the truth is a balance between recognizing this and drawing conclusions about the reality of the past.
    Either way, it will be interesting to see how the past is interpreted once the postmodern culture begins to seriously reflect on its own history.

  • c emerson

    Good post. Let me add a wrinkle: the functioning of subjectivity is itself an objective but perhaps indeterminate process. If that is true, then truth itself is not subjective.

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