19.4.19

DECONSTRUCT THIS.

Colin Turfus offers today's Trenchant Observation.
The counter-Enlightenment’s most perceptive thinker was probably Friedrich Nietzsche. His portrayal of a madman running around with a lantern proclaiming that God was dead parodied the Enlightenment philosophers who looked to replace traditional values with a new value system which pared away the superstition and retained the essence; but that there was no such essence. Freed from the constraints of the prior expectations of our peers, we are free to steer whichever course we choose.

Postmodernism builds on this insight, asking us to consider that there are no objective standards of right and wrong, only differences of perspective.
Properly understood, post-modern skepticism might simply be a strong form of "how can we be sure we understand what we understand?"

So far, so good.  But the vulgar form of post-modern skepticism becomes a strong form of liberating tolerance.
This point of view is often portrayed as moral relativism, but this misses an important feature of the postmodernist position: although it holds that there is no single correct point of view on questions of right and wrong, all points of view are not necessarily equal in validity. Indeed, echoing Orwell’s critique of communist society in Animal Farm, some points of view are in practice “more equal than others.” For, as stated above, values are thought to arise in practice in “discourses” taking place in different social groups or communities. And some groups have greater power or “hegemony” to impose their view on other relatively disempowered groups. Without taking a position on whose views are more correct between the relatively more or less powerful group, postmodernists argue that it behoves [c.q.] us to take the side of the relatively disempowered group so as to help redress the intrinsic injustice of the situation.

So the conversation moves from one about being right to one about having rights. While a traditional perspective on human rights would be to argue that all human beings possess rights equally, the postmodernist position is that greater rights have to accrue to the relatively disempowered and so greater emphasis should be given to defending their values. From here springs the concept of group rights: women’s rights, gay rights, transgender rights, black rights, Muslim rights, and so on. It is one of the great achievements of the postmodernist agenda that, without any need for moral discourse, it has become possible to dismiss almost any moral position portrayed as disrespectful to any of those group rights, particularly if that moral position can also be portrayed as promoting the interests of some relatively more powerful group.

Not surprisingly, this approach leads quite quickly to inconsistency and even incoherence.
Of course it did. Is anybody surprised that when you put "truth" in scare quotes you lose consistency, and perhaps you get Trump. I know I repeat myself, but I'm not surprised. "Yes, and goodness gracious, if the Good Ideas of Smart People were that persuasive, there'd be no serious debate about their Correctness."

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