At a readers’ suggestion I got Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault. Unlike The Dialectical Imagination this is not necessarily a detached academic book. Rather, the author has a definite perspective. About 20 years ago I read George H. Smith’s Atheism: The Case Against God, and there are a lot of similarities between the two books. From that I suspected before doing some research that the author had some influence from Objectivism, and that seems correct. I don’t care too much, and I probably broadly share the authors’ libertarian/classical liberal politics, but the middle sections of the Explaining Postmodernism got a little preachy for my taste.
Nevertheless the first half especially is excellent, and it outlines a genealogy of the Postmodern movement very concisely and in an illuminating manner. There are some details where one might quibble (e.g., the relationship of Immanuel Kant to religion is much more in dispute than presented in Explaining Postmodernism, though that’s a minor objection). But the progression of Transcendental Realism down to the morass we see around us today is a familiar story told more crisply here then elsewhere.
The author does outline a sociological origin for Postmodernism which is very intriguing, as it explains why it is an overwhelmingly far Left movement, despite the implications toward extreme relativism and subjectivism one might infer from the worldview. But there is something that is omitted here, perhaps because the author was not aware of this fact: there is a relationship of Postmodernism to elite intellectual religious revival in the past few decades.
Alister McGrath is a proponent of this school, and outlines his thesis in The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World. To condense McGrath’s argument, if everything is a superstition, then people will fall back on the tried and true superstitions. McGrath asserts the collapse of the authority of rationality and philosophical realism signal the end of the Enlightenment project, and undermines the secular world. As an empirical matter there is a lot one can quibble with here; in particular, though Postmodernism may be vigorous in the academy, science and technology are concrete witness to power of naive realism and rationalist presuppositions. But McGrath’s position is philosophically cogent. And, it is not well known, but the doyen of modern Intelligent Design, Phillip E. Johnson, has admitted that the he was strongly shaped by Critical Theory:
I used to refer jokingly to myself as the entire right wing of the Critical Legal Studies movement, which in their view was a contradiction in terms. Their critique was purely the instrument of a left-wing political program, which was chosen arbitrarily and presumed to be good. It was a faith commitment.
So I’m reading a lot of things on Postmodernism. I’m going back to Hegel. On the one hand this is a major opportunity cost. There’s a lot of science and programming stuff I want to read that I don’t have time to read. On other hand, much that I was suspecting becomes very clear. Ultimately I’m respecting Postmodernism more insofar as it is a reasonable tool from what I can see in destroying certainty and realism for those who are innumerate. If you have any understanding of statistics you’re pretty insulated from Postmodernism. But very few people think statistically. I also now believe it is ultimately far more dangerous than before, because it is a serious intellectual tool that can deconstruct much that is precious and rare in the world. In particular, the Enlightenment project, which in many ways goes against the world historical grain, or at least the grain of human intuitions and preferences. Postmodernism as an intellectual exercise is easy to dismiss. But as a tool of political battle it has to be taken seriously.
A Single Migration From Africa Populated the World, Studies Find. I will blog these papers. It’s a question of time. Please don’t pester me on non-open threads about this stuff.
Gunman kills Jordanian Christian writer charged over anti-Islam cartoon. The title is misleading, as the cartoon was making fun of jihadists, not Islam. He posted the cartoon on Facebook.
Chinese Jews of Ancient Lineage Huddle Under Pressure. Most of the Kaifeng Jewish community was absorbed into the Han, though some became Muslim.
Please use the “open thread” for random stuff. The OT comments early in threads are pretty annoying.
Also, if you follow me on Twitter if you tweet at me a lot, and I don’t respond, but you keep tweeting at me demanding a response, I’m probably going to block you. Also, I get annoyed at readers and Twitter followers who presume they know my state of mind or aspects of my life from what they see on the interwebs. If you do that and tweet at me, I’m going to block you, just as if you do that in the comments here your chances of me publishing future comments goes way lower. If you have read me for a while you should be aware that I have a really long memory and recall commenters who have crossed me in some way for years, so even if I let you comment again please don’t think I’ve forgotten. The major problem is commenters who presume over-familiarity with me. Probably a function of the low social intelligence of many of my readers.
Finally, Sean don’t post anything on sexual selection on this thread. I won’t post the comments.