Tuesday, January 22, 2013

On Post-modern Discourse and its Progeny 

The decline of politics and religion in the West, particularly in the United States, can be explained by a number of factors.  But among them is the decline in discourse brought about by Post-modern thought (And I use that last word loosely.) and discourse.

Living Text has posted one of the best descriptions of Post-modern discourse I have come across.  Most of this will sound all too familiar to my engaged readers, who may find that it explains a lot of what passes for debate nowadays.

Postmodern discourse
Over the past half century, a competing mode of discourse, the one I call postmodern, has become steadily more entrenched in academe. Following are ten of its hallmarks, as Roberts and Sailer describe on their blogs:
• "persons and positions are ordinarily closely related," with little insistence on keeping personal identity separate from the questions or issues under discussion;
• "sensitivity, inclusivity, and inoffensiveness are key values";
• priority on "cooperation, collaboration, quietness, sedentariness, empathy, equality, non-competitiveness, conformity, a communal focus";
• "seems lacking in rationality and ideological challenge," in the eyes of proponents of modern discourse;
• tends to perceive the satire and criticism of modern discourse as "vicious and personal attack, driven by a hateful animus";
• is oriented to " the standard measures of grades, tests, and a closely defined curriculum";
• lacking "means by which to negotiate or accommodate such intractable differences within its mode of conversation," it will "typically resort to the most fiercely antagonistic, demonizing, and personal attacks upon the opposition";
• "will typically try, not to answer opponents with better arguments, but to silence them completely as ‘hateful’, ‘intolerant’, ‘bigoted’, ‘misogynistic’, ‘homophobic’, etc.";
• has a more feminine flavour, as opposed to the more masculine flavour of modern discourse;
• results in "stale monologues" and contexts that "seldom produce strong thought, but rather tend to become echo chambers."

That sounds like Twitter run amuck, does it not?  It also sounds like most of the Left and Libchurchers although others are certainly not immune from Post-modernism’s influence on their thinking and discourse.

I wonder how one can have a fruitful discussion or debate with those with such a mindset.  Really, Post-modernism is in many ways post-rational.  How does one discuss things rationally with those who have rejected the rational in favor of identity and subjective impulses?

Moreover, debate amongst Post-moderns has become downright dangerous as Rod Dreher points out:

This has a lot to do with why intelligent people in professional settings keep their opinions and their thoughts, however apparently benign, to themselves. If somebody from an official victim demographic takes offense, the emotion is often considered sufficient grounds to find the person guilty . . . .

You may think that the rules of modern discourse will absolve you upon examination of your case. That is a dangerous assumption to make.

For Post-modern discourse is coming to prevail, making attempts at rational discourse not only difficult, but indeed even dangerous at times. Conservative and libertarian bloggers more prominent than I can tell you some stories about that.    

In such a toxic atmosphere, it is all to easy to fall into either of two attitudes: an aggressive one that finds discussing matters with adversaries so pointless that defeating them is the only viable course, or a passive one that avoids engagement and discussion out of self-preservation.  (I admit that I have fallen into both attitudes from time to time.)

The harm that such an atmosphere can do is obvious.   A society unable and/or unwilling to discuss rationally matters of import amongst themselves is a profoundly divided society virtually by definition.  Further, if one group, unwilling to consider the concerns of others nor the restraints of the rule of law (which is a rational construct after all), gains enough power to overrun others . . . .

On this anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I think we can see for ourselves what the results of that can be.

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