Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A Call to Rid the Left of Postmodern Thinking

Barry Seidman at Philosophy Now has reviewed David Detmer’s book, Challenging Postmodernism: Philosophy & the Politics of Truth. According to Seidman
Challenging Postmodernism is a philosophical treatise which examines the problems with postmodernism and its anti-humanistic implications, and tries to determine whether or not the intellectual Left is indeed guilty en masse of cultural relativism. It then explains how a progressive politic is indeed very much in step with Enlightenment humanism.
Further, Seidman's summary of Detmer's thesis is a concise deconstruction of postmodern "philosophy"
In the opening chapters, Detmer points out the faulty logic of postmodernism by reviewing the concept of self-referential inconsistencies, and the ‘Argument from Disagreement.’ The former occurs, in Detmer’s words, because when “relativism is judged, as seems only reasonable and fair, in the light of its own explicitly stated content, it seems to contradict itself.” That is, if truth is to be regarded as merely a construct of society, rather than reflecting how things really are, then the claim that truth is socially constructed, must itself be understood as a social construct rather than a reflection of how things really are.

‘The Argument from Disagreement’ has two premises. The first asserts that there is no consensus in some area of thinking, but rather controversy and disagreement. The second premise that if there really was a way things really are, we would not have so much controversy about it. Detmer offers several explanations for how misleading this kind of argument is. One is the fact that “frequently, not all parties to a dispute have access to the same evidence. (Therefore) people confuse relativity of justified belief with relativity of truth.” This leads Detmer to implement critical thinking, and inquire as to how we gain access to evidence in the first place (we being the general public, and not scientists and philosophers).

That access, in today’s world, is gained through the media.
It is here where Seidman and I diverge. In the "what it all means" portion of the review, Seidman applauds Detmer's use of Noam Chomsky as an "objective" news source. And while he does take the news media to task for trying to present arguments as being a choice of either/or or black/white/no-shades-of-gray and for trying to offer voices with the most entertainment value (John McCain or Joe Biden, anyone?), it is in making this last point that he betrays his leftward cant.
Also, Detmer points out that the press’s criteria for finding out who should provide the two sides to any argument, they often look for who will offer the best ‘entertainment value,’ for who is most popular, or for which opinion fits the political slant of their publication or production (as is well-known, many of these have shifted far to the Right since the merging of major mass media operations, mostly owned by the likes of Clear Channel, Rupert Murdoch, and Disney.)
Sure, the ownership may be conservative in their management style because it is sound business practice, but to imply that because media ownership is more conservative means that media content and news analysis has shifted "far to the Right" is a stretch. Finally, Seidman wraps up his review with a quote from Detmer
Quoting Chomsky for the purpose of emphasizing an ethical framework based on Enlightenment Humanism and of the virtues of truth, Detmer records, “Why don’t our leaders tell the truth? When they’re going to destroy Iraq, why don’t they announce: 'Look, we want to control the international oil system. We want to establish the principle that the world is ruled by force, because that’s the only thing that we’re good at. We want to prevent any independent nationalism. We’ve got nothing against Saddam Hussein. He’s a friend of ours. He’s tortured and gassed people. That was fine. But then he disobeyed orders. Therefore, he must be destroyed as a lesson to other people: Don’t disobey orders.'”
I'll let that stand on it's own as an indication from where Detmer and Seidman view politics, etc.

In summary, the review is valuable in that it provides a good synopsis of how to undercut your postmodern friends in a dinner party debate. It is also valuable in revealing that even poor reasoning leftists agree that postmodernism is bunk.

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