Many of my work colleagues through the years could have been described as leftist in their political and philosophical bent. Some of them were proudly of the post-modernist variety who spouted the clichés that there was no objective reality; that truth and morality were only “contingent.” Truth varied depending upon your viewpoint. This meant not just that all opinions should be considered and analyzed, but that all opinions must be respected, which soon morphed into the idea that all opinions were of equal validity. If something were true for you, then it was true. Facts were always subjective. There was no objective truth.
Sometimes a fraternity-style lingo was involved. I would hear terms like “reification,” “ramification,” or “hermeneutics.” To me these were quintessentially postmodernist terms. I would ask what they meant, and I would get different responses. I learned that they meant whatever the utterer meant them to mean, which did not have to mean what another utterer meant. They seemed to have no objective definition. But they sounded impressive, and since they seemed to be without a fixed meaning, when I heard them I began to believe that their presence often hid the absence of an idea.
Philosophers were invoked, often French ones. I felt that my knowledge was incomplete so I tried studying Messrs. Foucalt and Derrida. I would read a paragraph but could not make sense of it. I would read it again. I would read it a third time, but meaning would not emerge. Perhaps I was not as bright as my colleagues who discussed this philosophy, but I doubted that, and I began to doubt those who claimed to understand so much of this philosophy. Emperors and new clothes came to mind. I saw terrible writers or thinkers whose thought was so unclear that they could not clearly express what they meant. I am of the school that if the writing is opaque, the thinking is too. But the books seemed definitely postmodernist. Their truths were “contingent.” Each reader read individual meanings into the words.
Back in the day, it was anti-conservatives who claimed truth was indeterminate and subjective, and right-wingers railed against those who could not tell right from wrong or could not tell there was a recognizable, firm truth.
We have had a switch. Now “conservatives” say something similar to what leftists said before. Rudy Giuliani, for example, has recently stated that truth is relative. Other conservatives talk about “alternative facts.” Conservatives deny evidence about climate change suggesting that science, too, is relative–that it is only political. Conservatives seem to have adopted postmodernism, but they have gone beyond it.
(Concluded on July 11)