“Worsening symptoms are signs of improvement” »« Difference Feminism

Not postmodernist

I posted a couple of paragraphs last summer from a piece I did in 2002 about difference feminism. Now I’ll just post the whole thing, because I want to.

I want to because some people are confusing the kind of feminism that was discussed and assumed at Women in Secularism 2 with difference feminism, and with postmodernist feminism more broadly. That is completely wrong. Nothing that was said in talks or on panels had anything to do with difference feminism, much less postmodernism. Nothing.

The word “privilege” is not code for epistemic relativism. It’s not.

I will admit that I don’t use the word in this context myself. It puts people’s backs up, and it’s never been part of my vocabulary anyway, so I don’t use it. I don’t bark “check your privilege” at people. But then, who does? Not many people that I know.

But I at least get what’s meant by it, and I understand that it’s not sinister. It doesn’t mean that what Privileged Person knows is untrue because privilege. It doesn’t mean all knowledge is relative to privilege. it doesn’t mean there is no truth, there is only situation. It doesn’t mean the Enlightenment was a big mistake because it forgot to do feminism, or that we should do the opposite of everything the Enlightenment did because the Enlightenment forgot to do feminism. It doesn’t mean science sucks because privilege. It doesn’t mean anything like that. It simply means that if your privilege insulates you from a particular kind of experience that a non-privileged person has, then you probably don’t have a good understanding of that particular kind of experience.

There, that’s not so scary, is it?

It applies to all of us, doesn’t it. Nobody knows every kind of lack-of-privilege there is. We’re sealed into our own heads, and we can be dense about that which happens in someone else’s head. We’re all the more dense if their circumstances are radically different from ours. The good news, though, is that we can learn.

Is that really such a terrifying insight?

I’ll repost Difference Feminism in a new post.

Update: Coincidentally, Jason was writing a much more thorough post at the same time. Read it.

 

Comments

  1. great1american1satan says

    Yes indeed! Furthermore, science can help us understand privilege and its effects, but only if we’re willing to accept science as a valid epistemology, right? Not that everything about the science needs to be accepted without question. That would be unscientific.

    I make too little money to think about epistemology.

  2. says

    Surely if science says that privilege is a valid scientific concept, then that’s the kind of science that is post-modernist and a different way of knowing, right? It can’t be REAL science, which dismisses sociology as identical to psychology and other such pseudosciences! (Except EVOLUTIONARY psychology. That stuff’s totes legit.)

  3. Gretchen Robinson says

    This privilege thing reminds me how we can use our
    despair like the badge of our particular suffering.
    Here’s an excerpt from Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”.

    “Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
    Meanwhile the world goes on.
    ….
    “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
    the world offers itself to your imagination,
    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
    over and over announcing your place
    in the family of things.”

  4. great1american1satan says

    That reminds me of one of my partner’s artist statements from college (by now totally OT):

    http://www.borfy.com/Comics_ArtSta1.html

    Ja Thib- I was totally going to reference the double standard about sociology and evo psych, but didn’t think of a good way to phrase it. XD

  5. Stacy says

    I want to because some people are confusing the kind of feminism that was discussed and assumed at Women in Secularism 2 with difference feminism, and with postmodernist feminism more broadly

    Memo

    To: “some people”

    From: the people you’re arguing with

    It isn’t skeptical–or intellectually honest–to reject concepts you don’t understand. And it isn’t skeptical–or intellectually honest–to argue with people when you haven’t given their argument a fair hearing.

    And we know you haven’t, because we keep making it, and you keep responding with straw.

  6. atheist says

    Does Postmodernism really mean “there is no truth” or “there are only situations”, though? From the single college class I took, it seemed to be more about not accepting narratives, and seeing concepts as constructed and changeable. Essentially, it seemed to be secularism informed by ancient-style skepticism (the mode of skepticism described by Cicero). Sometimes I find it odd how everyone disses Postmodernism, without really defining it.

  7. M, Supreme Anarch of the Queer Illuminati says

    And here I thought that in things like being cautious about accepting the current state of knowledge as absolute, capital-”t” Truth, science is quite post-modern. Suspicion that what seems obvious or common-sense might be a matter of unwarranted assumptions sneaking in by hiding behind linguistic and cultural habit? Post-modern. Occasional frustration at how trying to find what’s really going on with reality is kinda like playing “Marco Polo” with a reality that’s speaking a different language or just cheats? Post-modern. Constant reminders that all the truths that everybody knows (men and women have fundamentally different roles, theism is the only rational approach, Ayn Rand had talent) often turn out to be artifacts of a limited (esp. privileged) perspective? Post-frakking-modern.

    (Of course, there are plenty of bad post-modernists — they’re the ones who go from “I basically live in my own imagined version of reality, not reality itself” to the solipsistic “…and so there’s nothing out there at all beyond my model.” And even some of the “good” ones are and were entirely too fond of contrarianism and wordplay…)

  8. ewanmacdonald says

    Very well said. It is not a scary concept unless you’re totally invested in its not being true. Sadly we see a lot of people can be thus described.

  9. thephilosophicalprimate says

    M (@8 above), I’m afraid that everything you cited as postmodern is, well, not even particularly modern. Well, it’s “modern,” but in the sense of a Modern Philosophy class, i.e. post-Medieval, but surely not postmodern: I could probably find quotes from Hume to directly support most of the skeptical positions you cited, and John Stuart Mill for the rest. (And that’s just picking out a few prominent English-speaking philosophers.) I’m not sure what postmodernism *added* to the already established Enlightenment tradition of seriously questioning our own epistemological assumptions — metaepistemology, if you will — beyond a lot of muddy jargon and willfully obtuse word-play. Everything worthwhile in postmodernism was done better by earlier philosophers with much less obfuscatory rhetoric, and the most popularly cited postmodern thinkers (Foucault, Derrida, Lacan, Boudrillard, Irigiray, Kristeva, etc.) are all paradigm examples of the “bad postmodernists” you cited in your concluding parenthetical comments. Call me cynical, but I’m not sure that leaves any “good” postmodernists left!

  10. says

    What we tend to forget is that, once upon a time, modernity really did have overarching metanarratives of progress driving it forward in cultural and political terms – these were embodied in doctrines as diverse [and yet also closely related] as Marxism-Leninism and social-Darwinist eugenics; they were explicitly stated in the ‘civilising mission’ and ‘white man’s burden’ of imperialism, as in the ‘Manifest Destiny’ of C19 Americans and the ‘Modernisation Theory’ of mid-C20 ones.

    All of these things are/were real, vast, powerful agencies of historical change, and of vast edifices of oppression and dogmatic disregard for simple, empirical, truths about their real impact.

    Whatever other kinds of intellectual masturbation much ‘post-modernist’ thinking turned into, it was also against all that, so it was not all bad.

  11. atheist says

    I should say that I totally agree with Ms. Benson’s point about the concept of “privilege” being more straightforward that its detractors make it out to be. Indeed there is nothing sinister or even particularly difficult about this concept. I suspect that those who claim to reject this concept are generally folks with a lot of privilege themselves. They may reject the concept out of self-absorption, or perhaps out of belief in hierarchy. If someone is very attached to hierarchy as the proper scheme of society, then naturally the concept of “privilege” which both displays the hierarchy, and is used to call it into question, will be threatening.

  12. atheist says

    @Dave – June 4, 2013 at 2:37 am (UTC -7)

    What we tend to forget is that, once upon a time, modernity really did have overarching metanarratives of progress driving it forward in cultural and political terms – these were embodied in doctrines as diverse [and yet also closely related] as Marxism-Leninism and social-Darwinist eugenics

    Yes. If postmodernism is what made it possible to doubt the concept of “progress”, for instance, then that is already a point in its favor.

  13. says

    But postmodernism isn’t what made that possible.

    Also…”the concept of ‘progress’” is actually quite a good thing. What would we prefer? Stasis? Stagnation? Regress?

    The point is more that “progress” can cover a multitude of sins, can be totalizing, can be a fig leaf for invasion and exploitation; also that it’s not a magic inevitable force that can never stumble or reverse itself or go sideways or fuck everything up; also that “progress” for some is not necessarily progress for all; also that history is not an inevitable upward march into the kingdom of progress. Etc.

  14. daniellavine says

    thephilosophicalprimate@10:

    You’re missing stuff. Enlightenment skeptics such as Hume were naive empiricists. No small part of post-modernism is a critique of naive empiricism.

    Naive empiricism includes exactly the gender essentialism stuff feminists spend so much time arguing against. The idea that many parts of our perceived worlds (race, for example) is a post-modern one. Hume, for example, almost certainly believed in distinct races of human being.

    The rhetoric isn’t always obfuscatory, either. The problem is that post-modernism implies that language gets in the way of understanding concepts — language locks you into a certain view of the world. For example, the English language locks us into certain ideas about gender and race and it requires a lot of talking around the ideas to get to the other side and see that many of these ideas are culturally constructed.

    As someone else just said: it’s not skeptical to reject ideas you don’t understand.

  15. daniellavine says

    OB@14:

    “Progress” can be a good thing or a bad thing. You probably wouldn’t be so enthusiastic about “progress” for patriarchists and theocrats. As atheist said, it’s quite valuable to be able to critique the idea that progress is always good for exactly the reasons you mention.

  16. says

    Daniel – exactly. For the reasons. That’s why I mentioned them. But I do not think it’s valuable to “doubt the concept of ‘progress’” tout court, just like that. That’s simply reactionary.

  17. says

    Daniel @ 15 – but again – the claim that language shapes what we can perceive is not an invention or discovery of postmodernism. It’s a good deal older than that.

  18. says

    What Dave said in the last sentence @ 11 is a good summing-up of what Richard Evans said in his book on history and postmodernism. Dave is a historian, by the way.

  19. M, Supreme Anarch of the Queer Illuminati says

    I’m afraid that everything you cited as postmodern is, well, not even particularly modern.

    “Post-modernism” makes sense as a label mostly because of historical context — it came after (and in reaction to) a “modernism” in which everything was visible and cleanly rational and progress and industry showed a clear way forward. And no, much of post-modernism wasn’t absolutely new; as far as avoiding naive acceptance of language, thought, etc. as accurately reflecting (or even being capable of accurately reflecting) a directly-perceivable reality, though, it’s still a few good steps forward.

    I’m also not quite sure how Foucault or (especially!) Baudrillard can really be read as taking the solipsistic approach. There’s a difference between suggesting that people effectively live in invented realities and suggesting that there’s no “something” in which all this making-up and collective illusion-making is going on. (That we can’t directly experience the “real real” doesn’t mean it’s not there.) That’s part of the postmodernist and post-structuralist (often-unhealthy) fascination with violence and abjection, I think; it’s looking for the cracks where near-solipsistic experiences start leaking in uncomfortable bits of reality. (I prefer evidence and experiments to pain and disease as hints of reality…)

  20. daniellavine says

    OB@18:

    Yes, the idea dates back to the ancient Greeks but it was just an idea and did not enjoy widespread credibility until articulated more broadly in postmodernism and specifically poststructuralism. If you want me to justify postmodernism it will have to wait a few days until I can get the time to research more thoroughly and write more about it. Frankly it seems like the criticisms of postmodernism in this thread are tending towards what I’d call “reactionary” as well.

  21. daniellavine says

    And I agree with Dave. Postmodernism abides by the 90% rule just like everything else.

  22. daniellavine says

    Certainly more widespread inasmuch as now there are people who believe such things whereas before there really weren’t. As far as I know. M makes a good account of it in #20.

    As I said I’m not in a position to do an in-depth defense of post-modernism right this very minute.

    Stop being so reactionary. :)

  23. daniellavine says

    Let’s go with one example. Kuhn’s post-structuralist critiques of science. I can defend Kuhn all day long. Any objection to the concept of theory-laden observations?

  24. Numenaster says

    Daniellavine, when you reference the 90% rule, are you talking about Sturgeon’s Law? I’d include the Wikipedia cite but can’t make the preview show it properly.

  25. daniellavine says

    Yes, I am. I can never remember that guy’s name.

    While I’m making another comment I’d also like to mention that my views on race and gender are predicated largely on post-structuralist critiques of the concept of race and gender so if postmodernism had never done anything useful except to provide the material to inform my current views I would still consider it quite useful from a personal point of view. I suspect I’m not the only person in this position.

  26. says

    Daniel @ 24 – but there were more people who knew about it when the Greeks talked about it, too. Also when linguists talked about it, when psychologists talked about it, etc. You seemed to be saying that postmodernists were (or are) especially good at spreading it, and I don’t know that. Many postmodernist academics have a tendency to exaggerate the influence of postmodernism as well as its originality.

  27. daniellavine says

    OB@28:

    From M@20:

    And no, much of post-modernism wasn’t absolutely new; as far as avoiding naive acceptance of language, thought, etc. as accurately reflecting (or even being capable of accurately reflecting) a directly-perceivable reality, though, it’s still a few good steps forward.

    I agree with M. The postmodern articulation of these ideas is more robust and broad than previous articulations even if it isn’t absolutely new. It can be argued at length that no ideas are new. It seems to me you’re just being contrarian about the idea that postmodernism might have contributed anything at all to our understanding of the world. I am telling you now it has contributed greatly to my understanding of the world. I’m not sure why you have such a problem with that.

  28. daniellavine says

    PS how can there be “more” people when the Greeks talked about it? “More” relative to what? I meant “more” as in “numerically there are more people now (both in absolute terms and proportionally) who are willing to at least consider the idea that many aspects of our experience of the world around us are socially constructed rather than directly perceived”. What is it you mean by “more” in 28?

  29. says

    The word “privilege” is not code for epistemic relativism. It’s not.

    neither is “post-modernism”, since not all post-modernist thought includes or even accepts epistemic relativism.

  30. says

    Does Postmodernism really mean “there is no truth” or “there are only situations”, though?

    it doesn’t, even though there are branches of post-modernism that step past “humans are incapable of purely objective, unbiased perception of reality” into “there’s no objective reality at all”.

    From the single college class I took, it seemed to be more about not accepting narratives, and seeing concepts as constructed and changeable.

    pretty much; the only thing that all post-modernisms have in common is that they challende modernist assumptions. The largest of which is the assumption that “modern” man is objective, reasonable, and capable of unbiased perception and understanding of external reality (and the converse of that: that the story of reality as told by modern men is the the same as actual external reality, and therefore the stories of reality as told by anyone else are completely wrong by definition if they in any way contradict the modern men’s story)

  31. says

    I’m not sure what postmodernism *added* to the already established Enlightenment tradition of seriously questioning our own epistemological assumptions

    modernity doesn’t question much the ability of a sufficiently modern human mind in a modern society to derive correct conclusions; nor does it question much the idea that modern society is in a constant state of progress. Those are postmodernist ideas; that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist before the 1930′s; post-modern ideas existed as long as there were modern ideas. They’re called post-modern because they go beyond the assumptions of modernism.

    Also…”the concept of ‘progress’” is actually quite a good thing. What would we prefer? Stasis? Stagnation? Regress?

    it’s not a matter of preference, it’s a matter of accepting that modernity is not a constantly forward-moving, improving, thing. it can lead to stagnation and regression just as any other worldview can.

    The point is more that “progress” can cover a multitude of sins, can be totalizing, can be a fig leaf for invasion and exploitation; also that it’s not a magic inevitable force that can never stumble or reverse itself or go sideways or fuck everything up; also that “progress” for some is not necessarily progress for all; also that history is not an inevitable upward march into the kingdom of progress. Etc.

    those are post-modern criticisms of progress. also, including regression into the definition of progress is just silly.

  32. says

    “intersectionality” was created as a concept in 1989. That doesn’t mean that such ideas weren’t floating about before that, but that’s when the ideas that make up intersectionality were brought together and became part of a larger discussion/criticism of looking at oppressions.

    the same is true for post-modernist ideas. Like i said: they’ve existed (almost) as long as modern ideas have; and just the same way that modern ideas were “formalized” and became a more overarching, more prominent means of analizing, perceiving, and experiencing the world during the Enlightment, so post-modernist ideas became more synthesized after 1930. That’s when these ideas “entered the mainstream”, if you will.

  33. says

    how can there be “more” people when the Greeks talked about it?

    1)”more” than what?
    2)The Greeks also held a number of modern ideas; they were however neither a modern nor a postmodern culture

  34. daniellavine says

    Jadehawk@35:

    (1) was the question I was asking. I don’t know what OB meant by “more” in that context. I explained what I had meant by “more” in the comment to which she was responding — more people accept post-modern ideas now both in absolute terms and proportionally than in, say, 300 BC.

    I never said anything contradicting what you say in (2) and agree completely.

  35. says

    That seems awfully flexible. There were ideas of the pm type before pm but pm systemaztized them, but at the same time pm is lots of things and the only thing they have in common is being…post modern.

    That’s so flexible as to be meaningless. Or merely chronological.

    And I just don’t buy it that “modernism” was all that monolithic either. For everyone who thought ‘”modern” man is objective, reasonable, and capable of unbiased perception and understanding of external reality’ there was someone else who thought the opposite.

  36. daniellavine says

    OB@37:

    Language is awfully flexible.

    There were ideas of the scientific type before science but science systematized them, but at the same time science is a lot of things and the only thing they have in common is being science.

    That makes pretty good sense to me. I think that’s just how words and concepts work.

    You’re right that “modernism” was/is not monolithic but people who thought that “modern” man is not objective, reasonable, and capable of unbiased perception and understanding wouldn’t typically be considered a “modernist” thinker. If you have counterexamples I’ll be happy to stand corrected.

    Again, this is just how language works. We need to categorize things even if categories are necessarily fuzzy.

  37. daniellavine says

    I should say that your bit “at the same time pm is lots of things and the only thing they have in common is being…post modern” is unfairly prejudicial as you can pretty easily see when I use the same objection for science instead of post-modernism. It’s not that there’s some intrinsic “post-modernity” property that allows us to recognize particular ideas as post-modern and others as not post-modern. “Post-modern” is, like science, a big abstract noun that is hard to define and somewhat fuzzy but definitely based in more than circular reasoning or question begging.

  38. says

    Counterexamples – D H Lawrence? Freud?

    That’s not how all words and concepts work. Some are necessarily baggy but still clear enough; I would say “science” is that. Some aren’t baggy at all but narrow and precise.

  39. says

    That seems awfully flexible.

    what, the definition of post-modernism as criticisms of modernist assumptions? why?

    For everyone who thought ‘”modern” man is objective, reasonable, and capable of unbiased perception and understanding of external reality’ there was someone else who thought the opposite.

    1)there’s a difference between “monolithic” and “having core assumptions”
    2)existence of individuals who rejected modernism is hardly evidence for diversity in modernism.

  40. says

    Freud?

    really. the guy who thought much of irrationality could be treated with assorted modern therapies is your example of a modernist who didn’t think modernity made man rational?

    as for Lawrence… modernism as an artistic movement is something competely different from modernist society/philosophy/ideology; it’s simply rejection of “realism” and “traditionalism” in art (both in content and form)

  41. says

    hell, Freud thought that civilization (including modern civilization) was trying to tame and make rational the irrational human nature. He disagreed with some other maodernist thinkers about the degree towards which that was possible, but he didn’t reject the notion that humans can understand the world rationally, given the right (modern) training/education/upbringing. Hell, he thought there was an objective way to interpret dreams, if you just apply modern tools to them.

  42. says

    “Modern therapies”? Hardly.

    ORLY. what do you think e.g. psychoanalisys was, if not a modern therapy meant to reduce irrationality and make people more “civilized”?

  43. says

    how’s that relevant to my point? it was still what Freud believed would reduce irrationality. it was what he proposed as a modern cure for irrationality.

    or are you going to claim that something that proved to be bullshit can’t be modern? because that’s one hell of a redefintition.

  44. says

    2)existence of individuals who rejected modernism is hardly evidence for diversity in modernism.

    But that’s not what I’m arguing. I’m arguing that ‘”modern” man is objective, reasonable, and capable of unbiased perception and understanding of external reality’ is no more modernist than its opposite.

    I just think these are dopy, unhelpful, undescriptive words. They’re like those journalistic summings up of a decade. I want more precision in my adjectives.

  45. says

    No, Jadehawk, I’m arguing that the word lacks content. It doesn’t pin anything down. I’m not trying to redefine it, I’m saying it doesn’t define anything.

  46. Unphysicalism says

    I would say that the assertion that “modern man” is incapable of objective perception/reasoning is itself an extreme assertion. The reasonable attack on the notion that modern man is always rational and objective is the negation of that statement. The negation isn’t “Modern man is never rational and is always lacking objectivity.” The correct negation is “Modern man is not always objective and not always rational.” Replacing one extreme with an opposite (and indeed self-refuting if taken completely literally) extreme is silly.

    Humans have certain cognitive biases. However, we can discover what these biases are, and we can design systematic methods to gradually and asymptotically reduce the impact of these biases and, in some contexts, such as pure mathematics, complete objectivity is possible. You have to acknowledge errors in thinking in order to correct them. You don’t simply acknowledge them and then say “Fuck it!” to any attempts at ever making intellectual sense of anything.

    It’s almost like you’re taking Alvin Plantiga’s asinine false dichotomy against naturalistic evolution seriously, that either our brains are completely reliable or completely unreliable, and since naturalistic evolution wouldn’t make them completely reliable, they must be completely unreliable, so naturalists who accept evolution should not consider any of their thoughts to be worth anything. If the human brain has any flaws at all, nothing it produces can be trusted whatsoever. Nonsense.

  47. says

    I’m not trying to redefine it, I’m saying it doesn’t define anything.

    you don’t think modernity describes anything?

    fascinating. but if that’s true, then why could post-modernity mean one thing, and specifically “epistemic relativism”? If you don’t think there’s a modern core, then it makes even less sense to insist there’s a post-modern one.

  48. says

    I didn’t say it doesn’t describe anything, I said it doesn’t define anything. You’re using it as if it did but at the same time you’re saying it means everything. That’s not useful.

  49. freemage says

    Hell, the first time I encountered post-modernism was strictly in reference to literary analysis–the idea that the reader installs the meaning into a work once it is written, and thus, the death of the author. In that context, post-modernist analysis can often be useful (so long as it doesn’t descend to the level of self-mockery, which I certainly admit can happen).

  50. says

    I’m arguing that ‘”modern” man is objective, reasonable, and capable of unbiased perception and understanding of external reality’ is no more modernist than its opposite.

    So you believe that philosophical modernists and post-modernists are *on average* both equally strong proponents of that proposition?

    Then why your connection of post-modernism to epistemic relativism?

  51. says

    No, I don’t believe that; I have no idea one way or the other. I don’t know where people get all these confident assertions about such things. I’m saying that that caricature of a belief is no more modernist than its opposite.

  52. daniellavine says

    That’s not how all words and concepts work. Some are necessarily baggy but still clear enough; I would say “science” is that. Some aren’t baggy at all but narrow and precise.

    Obviously some concepts are more narrow and precise than others. Few of us have much trouble with concepts like “desk”. Even there, though, there are fuzzy examples. In Dennett’s philosophy of mind class he used an example to explain what functionalism is: if he told you that your paper is sitting on his desk and you went into his office and saw the office door propped up on four chairs with a reading lamp and a computer on it you probably wouldn’t experience more than momentary confusion as to what he meant. People have constructed various bits of furniture that purposefully defy common definitions of those bits of furniture.

    However I think you’re greatly underestimating the muddiness of the term “science.” Is Halton Arp a pseudoscientist? Is cryptobiology a scientific field? One we’ve been dealing with a lot lately: should the social sciences be considered part of “science” proper? What about economics in particular?

    I’ll happily go back to my earlier suggestion of using “theory-laden observations” as an example. Was Galileo doing science when he constructed his telescope? There was no theory of optics at the time sufficient to justify any claim that the telescope was simply magnifying existing objects in the sky (rather than, say, distorting them as well). Was it only science in hindsight?

    But that’s not what I’m arguing. I’m arguing that ‘”modern” man is objective, reasonable, and capable of unbiased perception and understanding of external reality’ is no more modernist than its opposite.

    And you’re simply wrong about this. You’ve adduced one example which was disputed — and you’ve failed to answer that rebuttal in any kind of satisfying way. If you’re trying to argue this point you’re doing a terrible job of it. (Psychoanalysis wasn’t technically a “fraud” since there is every indication that Freud seriously believed it, and the fact that a modernist theory of mind turned out to be false certainly doesn’t support the contention that modernism is a meaningless term.)

    I just think these are dopy, unhelpful, undescriptive words. They’re like those journalistic summings up of a decade. I want more precision in my adjectives.

    And I think you’re wrong about this. Look at the very first section in the wikipedia page on modernism:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modernism#Present-day_perspectives

    Check out the wikipedia article on post-modernism:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism

  53. daniellavine says

    I’m saying that that caricature of a belief is no more modernist than its opposite.

    And failing to justify this assertion.

  54. Unphysicalism says

    Sorry, the “you’re” refers to the one who stated that postmodernism rejects the notion that “modern man” is capable of objective perception or reason. I believe it was Jadehawk.

  55. says

    @57

    I’ll repeat my second question: can you justify the connection you made in the OP between post-modernism to epistemic relativism?

    Because what you seem to be saying, at this point in the discussion, is that post-modernism is too large a tent to provide any useful information about the ideas expressed under that label (“I’m not trying to redefine it, I’m saying it doesn’t define anything.” about modernism….the corollary regarding post-modernism follows.)

  56. says

    Every indication that Freud really believed it? No there isn’t. There was a lot of fakery and concealment. Maybe he managed to do all of that with his eyes closed, so to speak, but it’s not likely.

  57. says

    Would you mind answering why you think post-modernism and epistemic relativism are connected how you suggested in the OP? I mean, clearly you would, but I’m not sure why.

    I don’t see how the corollary follows. I think “modernism” is being defined in a more caricatured way here.

    Then you do think post-modernism defines something concrete? What is that?

  58. says

    @ 64 – No, I wouldn’t, it’s just that I don’t have infinite time. I think that because I’ve read a good many postmodernists or people citing postmodernism who make claims of that sort.

  59. says

    I feel we must read very different post-modernists. I certainly don’t find contentions of epistemic relativism in any of the foundational/precursive works of postmodernism (e.g. Nietzsche, Foucault, Lyotard, Deleuze). If you do have time, could you name a couple post-modernist philosophers you’ve read who do argue for epistemic relativism? I’d be interested to read them.

  60. says

    Oh, not philosophers. That’s just it. There are lots who aren’t philosophers but seem to think they are. Andrew Ross is one.

    I’m talking about epigones here, or epigones of epigones. People who once would have been lit crits, but with postmodernism got to call themselves Critical Theorists instead.

  61. atheist says

    @Ophelia Benson – June 4, 2013 at 7:34 am (UTC -7)

    But postmodernism isn’t what made that possible.

    Also…”the concept of ‘progress’” is actually quite a good thing. What would we prefer? Stasis? Stagnation? Regress?

    Sorry for late reply. I agree the concept of progress is good. I guess I meant questioning its inevitability. I also agree with your point, by the way, that the definition “post-modern” is so vague as to be almost useless, or merely a way of signifying “contemporary”.

  62. daniellavine says

    atheist@68:

    There’s also questioning its meaning. “Technological progress” sounds good, but which is the more reasonable position:

    A) Technological progress is always good.

    B) Technological progress can be good or bad depending on the particular technology and the context in which it arises.

    I would describe (A) as a modernist sentiment. The fact is “progress” is just a word and can be used to describe any state of affairs many of which people would not consider “good”. The postmodern critique of “progress” is really an examination of what we actually mean by the word “progress” and where we get these meanings in the first place.

    Ophelia, the title of this blog post is “Not postmodernist.” If you agree that this phrase actually means something in the first place then you must also agree that “postmodernist” means something. What exactly do you think it means?

  63. daniellavine says

    Every indication that Freud really believed it? No there isn’t. There was a lot of fakery and concealment. Maybe he managed to do all of that with his eyes closed, so to speak, but it’s not likely.

    This is kinda frustrating, btw. Whether or not psychoanalysis is a “fraud” is a complete non-sequitir with respect to the point Jadehawk was making and is largely irrelevant to the argument I made in the comment to which you were responding.

    Your attitude here seems to me a whole lot like that of the folks who reject ideas like “privilege,” “rape culture,” and “Schroedinger’s rapist” without making the first attempt at trying to understand them. I do really believe you’re being unreasonable but I don’t see any way through it since you’re just getting evasive now so I’ll leave it alone.

  64. says

    Daniel, honestly, what you’re claiming would be much more convincing if you didn’t give such caricatured versions of “modernism.” It sounds way too much like just “those stupid people back then thought this but clever us, we think newthis.”

  65. daniellavine says

    1. I didn’t offer the caricature — Jadehawk did.

    2. What precisely is wrong with the following at least as a starting point? Let’s bear in mind that your one counterexample is at the very best quite debateable.

    Some commentators define Modernism as a socially progressive trend of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve and reshape their environment with the aid of practical experimentation, scientific knowledge, or technology.[13] From this perspective, Modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding that which was ‘holding back’ progress, and replacing it with new ways of reaching the same end.

    3. Your caricature of my position (“those stupid people back then thought this but clever us, we think newthis.”) sounds an awful lot like just about every justification of science I’ve ever heard. Sounds a whole lot like most criticisms of religion I’ve ever heard too. It’s pretty obvious to me that a lot of people have believed things in the past that we’ve later come to see are either wrong or a great deal more complicated than initially believed. I’m mystified that you’d find such a position problematic given that you’re militating against “epistemic relativism” in the first place.

    Really, it’s a bizarre conversation. The only argument of the person criticizing postmodernism seems to be “well, that’s just your opinion, maaaaan.”

  66. daniellavine says

    Non-prejudicial, non-caricatured example of modernist thought: Bertrand Russell’s logical positivist philosophy.

    It’s a great example especially because it’s ridiculous enough that it actually looks like a caricature.

    Popper’s falsificationism is a slightly more sophisticated modernist philosphical theory. I’d describe it as modernist because at least “naive falsificationism” suggests that we can reason directly from evidence to conclusions about the world without any of that messy “interpretation” stuff getting in the way. It’s been criticized at great length by postmodernists (and folks mentioned in the same breath as postmodernism) and is no longer the candidate for ultimate philosophical theory of science even though a lot of people still talk about it as though it was.

    Part of the problem is that modernist assumptions are so deeply woven into our culture that most of us have trouble seeing them in the first place. (Hey, this stuff is kinda starting to sound like “privilege”!)

    Here’s a political example: belief in the viability of a rationally planned economy (in a word: communism) is a modernist idea. So is socialism and the 20th century’s faith in the beneficence of a welfare state — the idea that a bunch of technocrats can fix social problems by putting together some legislation and funding correctly-designed programs. (Here I should be clear that just because I’m calling ideas “modernist” I’m not arguing that they are incorrect. I’m just trying to give you a “non-caricature” idea of what I mean by the term “modernist”.)

    I’d call The Death and Life of Great American Cities a postmodern criticism of the modernist program of urban planning which was essentially socialism at the city scale. DaLoGAC advocates organic growth of cities rather than planned growth which is a very postmodern idea. Related, the idea of rhizomatic thinking. The idea that the world can be apprehended and categorized completely within one hierarchical structure is a modernist idea and rhizomatic thinking is a response to that.

    Is this helping at all? More concrete examples? I’d like to generalize a little but I suspect if I try my generalizations will be immediately dismissed as “caricatures”.

  67. says

    That’s not how all words and concepts work. Some are necessarily baggy but still clear enough; I would say “science” is that.

    you do? then how do you explain the existence of arguments over whether the social sciences are “real science”; or the disagreements over whether it’s “science” when you apply skepticism to your everyday life; or when exactly philosophy became science; etc.

    aside from that, I agree with daniel that “science” is a very huge category of things; though using e.g. “feminism” would have probably gotten his point across better.

    I didn’t say it doesn’t describe anything, I said it doesn’t define anything. You’re using it as if it did but at the same time you’re saying it means everything. That’s not useful.

    I don’t understand what that’s even supposed to mean. I’m guessing “it” refers to post-modernism rather than modernism even though we’ve just been talking about you saying don’t think modernism means anything. Beyond that, I don’t get the difference you’re making between describing and defining, and I don’t get why you think I think post-modernism “means everything”.

    Not literally everything; but it is all over the place.

    yes, it is (well, not ALL over the place, but there’s plenty of contradictory ideas in it). and? there are feminisms that directly contradict each other, too, but that doesn’t mean that feminism doesn’t descrbe or define anything, nor that it means “everything”.

    I’m saying that that caricature of a belief is no more modernist than its opposite.

    I don’t think it’s a caricature; it’s a simplification, because I’m not planning on reproducing the blog-post I’m working on in your comment section.

    People who once would have been lit crits, but with postmodernism got to call themselves Critical Theorists instead.

    so you’re talking about Post-Modernism in literature, and trying to apply it to philosophy (feminism)?
    That won’t work. Modernisms in art, literature, and philosophy are three separate animals that only share one thing in common: the rejection of traditionalism in their respective fields. Consequently, the post-modernisms in these fields will have fuck-all to do with each other, since again they’ll only share rejection of modernist core-ideas in their respective fields in common.
    So yeah. the notion that the meaning of a text is determined by the reader, not the writer, is epistemic relativism; and it has neither any meaningful relation to pop-art nor to post-modernist philosophy.

    - – - – -

    The negation isn’t “Modern man is never rational and is always lacking objectivity.” The correct negation is “Modern man is not always objective and not always rational.”

    but humans, modern or otherwise, are are always lacking objectivity. objectivity is not a state achievable with a human brain and human senses. humans cannot perceive reality “objectively”.

    we can design systematic methods to gradually and asymptotically reduce the impact of these biases

    “asymptotically” is the keyword here. humans can get closer to “objective reality”, but they’re not actually capable of perceiving it accurately; just more or less inaccurately.

    You don’t simply acknowledge them and then say “Fuck it!” to any attempts at ever making intellectual sense of anything.

    I have no idea where you get the notion that all of post-modernism claims we can’t even get get closer to perceiving reality? especially given that a lot of post-modernist work is about trying to use as many different perspectives as possible to uncover as many biases as possible.

    either our brains are completely reliable or completely unreliable

    i think you’re confused. a brain that’s incapable of actual objectivity is not the same as a wholly unreliable brain.

    - – - – - – -

    Here’s a political example: belief in the viability of a rationally planned economy (in a word: communism) is a modernist idea.

    the belief in the “rational actor” as per neoliberal economics is, as well :-)

  68. daniellavine says

    OB@76:

    Yeah, Robert Moses is a great example. Modernist art and modernist philosophy really do come together in architecture — a lot of the urban planning stuff was based around modernist architectural ideas (Jane Jacobs uses the term “Radiant City” to refer to this). Gernsback-style sci fi art and golden age science fiction (Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, etc.) is all really heavily modernist stuff and I think art deco heavily overlaps with that aesthetic.

    Jadehawk@77:

    Great thoughts but I’m not sure I entirely agree with this:

    “asymptotically” is the keyword here. humans can get closer to “objective reality”, but they’re not actually capable of perceiving it accurately; just more or less inaccurately.

    I’m not sure by what standard you can determine whether a particular perspective is more or less inaccurate (or accurate). Here’s where Baudrillard comes in: a perfectly accurate map is useless because it is the same size and just as detailed as the territory which it’s trying to represent. Knowledge is necessarily a simplification of the thing being known. Science is more about finding useful simplifications (models) than it is about accurately representing our objective reality (assuming there is such a thing, although I’m as confident that there is such a thing as I am about anything else). Utility and intersubjectivity (which is arguably a kind of utility) are the only benchmarks by which we can appraise the value of a particular theory or model.

    Lest I be accused of advocating epistemological relativism I should say that the hypothesis of a shared objective reality underlying our perceptions is the only model of which I can conceive that usefully explains my sense experience. While it’s also useful to be able to question that hypothesis I do believe it would be foolish to abandon it.

  69. Unphysicalism says

    1) The notion that humans are absolutely incapable of ever being objective is trivially false.

    “All fields of characteristic zero have a subring isomorphic to the rational numbers.”

    Tell me where the subjective bias in that statement is. The best you could say is that this statement is only true given certain definitions of the words contained therein, but that would be a confusion of a proposition for the language used to convey the proposition. What about the actual structure of the information in the proposition is biased and/or subjective?

    2) The statement that we are incapable of ever having an accurate perception of reality is also a statement which is simply not true. It is almost always (in measure theoretic terms) true when referring to perceptions lying along a continuum. However, when referring to necessarily discrete statements, it’s not true. If, within a particular realm of discourse, there exists only a finite or countably infinite set of possibly correct states of affairs, then it necessarily follows that at least one of these states of affairs has a non-zero probability of being correct. Probability density is only a necessary construct when dealing with continuum (or greater) cardinalities, and even then it isn’t always necessary, as the existence of delta distributions will attest.

    3) The idea that all knowledge is a simplification of reality is similarly an extreme statement, for almost identical reasons. There exist statements that, by their very nature, are either exactly correct or exactly incorrect. “The laws of physics are invariant under parity transformations.” is an example. It happens to be exactly false, as the known examples of CP violation in weak interactions demonstrate.

    This insistence that every single statement uttered by anyone MUST be inexact, approximate, subjective, or biased is itself an extreme, and also demonstrably false, concept. It’s as false as the idea that modern man is a perfectly rational super-being. Philosophers tend to be creatures of extremes, and it often gets them into trouble. You should be very careful in universalizing claims that may be correct within a certain domain.

  70. Unphysicalism says

    Oh, as an addendum, I’m not convinced that it’s even possible to coherently discuss the idea of there being no “objective reality” of any kind whatsoever. It seems to be one of these completely unintelligible constructs of language where it’s possible to make a grammatically and syntactically correct, but completely meaningless statement.

  71. says

    The idea that all knowledge is a simplification of reality is similarly an extreme statement, for almost identical reasons.

    oh yeah so extreme that even physicists agree with it.

    you’ve no clue what you’re talking about.

    I’m not convinced that it’s even possible to coherently discuss the idea of there being no “objective reality” of any kind whatsoever.

    who cares, given that no one proposed discussing any such thing?

  72. Unphysicalism says

    I am a physicist, and I’ve really not heard any physicists claiming that all knowledge is necessarily a simplification. Some knowledge is. Some certainly does not have to be.

    Take the postulates of quantum theory, for example. They are very likely to be exactly correct. Even in string theory, the basic postulates of states being represented by vectors in a Hilbert space are still valid. The same is true of many other (less successful) approaches to quantum gravity.

    Indeed, it’s almost impossible to alter the postulates of quantum theory without getting mathematically inconsistent garbage. The time translation operator must be both linear and unitary, which means that its infinitesimal generator must be Hermitian. This means that all observable quantities (which can only be observed by perturbing the infinitesimal generator of time evolution) must also be Hermitian operators.

    The form that any model of reality must take, the form of the broadest framework that exists, that is a piece of information, and knowing about it would certainly count as knowledge.

    Another possibility, if (and yes, I do mean if) string theory is the correct theory of quantum gravity, then it follows that string theory (or rather its completed, non-perturbative definition) is an exact description of nature. String theory permits of no deformations, so either string theory is an exact description of the fundamental nature of reality, or it’s not true at all. There is no middle ground, because the mathematics of string/M-theory does not allow it to consistently be viewed as an approximation of any deeper model. This is a unique feature of string theory that no other theory we have ever produced has. It (roughly) follows from the conformal invariance of the world-sheet making the renormalization group of string theory trivial.

    I could think of other examples, but the point is that “Every idea about the universe can only ever be approximately correct.” is simply too extreme to be true. It’s often true, and in our commonsense experience it’s always true, but dogmatically insisting that commonsense notions exactly track with the way nature works is rarely a successful approach to advancing our understanding.

    Also, why is it that you literally only picked one sentence out of that rather long post to respond to? And why is it that the only argument that you offered in response was an appeal to authority?

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>