Friday, May 05, 2017

Helen Pluckrose: "How French Intellectuals Ruined The West: Postmodernism And It's Impact, Explained"

   Pretty good, for a popular piece, says me.
   This might be of interest to people who aren't subjected to pomo BS all the time:
   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?”
   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.”
Also:
   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.
   As well she should...
   However, I do want to point out something about that last bit: it's not inconsistent with more traditional / ordinary / realist / rationalist / whatever-you-want-to-call-them views. You don't have to be a nattering naybob of nihilism to think something of that kind. In fact, the idea that you do is one of the things that drives people in the pomo direction. Because that stuff in that last quote there is true. I think postmodernism is laughable, but I don't see anything to object to in the last quote. Cultures contain competing stories, their power is mostly non-rational and often community specific...honestly, who'd disagree with that? Not to put too fine a point on it: that has nothing to do with validity nor reason... It's about the power of myth and consensus or whatever. That's the stuff that's pitted against reason...and it's powerful stuff. Every good rationalist (in the non-specific sense of 'rationalist') knows (or damn well ought to know) what reason is up against. Nothing there says that reason isn't objective, nor that it doesn't have a power of its own, nor that it never wins out, nor that it won't largely win out in the end. It is, it does, and and it does. And maybe it will. All that people like me think--or ought to think--is that reason isn't impotent and doomed to failure in every case. People often go wrong by thinking that, to be against postmodernism and related BS, you've got to be some kind of Cartesian, believing in the irresistible power of absolute certainty. Fortunately, that isn't true. If it were, I might just be a postmodernist myself...

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