Published on http://www.counterpunch.org
“I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in”
– First Edition, Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was In), sound track to The Big Lebowski
I have just been given a copy of Gad Saad’s The Parasitic Mind in which I read:
“Some of the parasitic viruses of the human mind that I tackle include postmodernism [which] rejects the existence of objective truths.” He relates it to social constructivism which “posits that the human mind starts off as an empty slate largely void of biological blueprints.” (18)
I am incited to respond at first because way “back in the day” I wrote A Primer to Postmodernity and used it as a text in my modernity/postmodernity class in both pre-millennial and millennial worlds. With all impunity I concocted a Europe travel program “Is This a Postmodern World?” and that went on for 15 years. I double downed on all that with A Postmodern Reader, which Linda Hutcheon and I edited, and then Postmodernism: The Key Figures, edited with Hans Bertens. From 1991 to 2009, I was the SUNY Press series editor for Postmodern Culture.
So, yeah, I nourished what Saad calls a parasite. But I didn’t think what I was describing was a parasite but rather a kind of disclosure of what finding truth and reality amounted to, how reason was inside and not outside our life-worlds, and how we put words to world, how unreliable that linkage was, and how terribly bad we were at facing the consequences of all that. It’s sad to tragic that we are more easily persuaded by straw man tactics than engaged in pursuing the politics of such tactics and then setting out to do the hard work of seeing ourselves and our world as clearly as we can. If I didn’t think we needed to re-tailor our thinking on basic foundational levels and, most importantly, that it could be done, I’d tend my garden as Voltaire suggested.
Postmodern is not post-truth but the substitution has taken hold which is unfortunate because what we’ve done is severed a scary diagnosis, i.e., we lost the truth and don’t know how to find it, from a deep look at the condition we’re in. Truth is now at once pronounced fake because it’s produced by The Deep State, itself controlled by evil forces, or, in its sanest guise, always politicized by socialists, aka Democrats. Being post all that is liberating from this paranoic perspective. Kleptocratic moguls don’t object to the name, nor does it seem do most Americans. Perhaps it’s because we all want to join the hedge fund when we grow up. We could become celebrities and champion a return to American greatness.
If you are a hard-shell fundamentalist politically, religiously, or a Proud Boys/Oath Keeper, losing paths to the truth is not a bad thing because what’s really The Truth is already owned by you. Excluding others is the sine qua non of your “fellowship.”
If you were not in the game of finding The Truth but rather in the game of selling, persuading, bullshitting, the object inconsequential — cars, houses, rockets, windmills, chips, whatever — the post-truth world is like home court. Advantage: Hucksters/Spinmeisters/Aspiring Autocrats.
If your ego can flourish and amass thousands of followers in cyberspace regardless of how moronic and absurd your take on what truth is, day to day, you are like the thief in a country in which there are no thievery laws, or every indictment can be cancelled by your own testimony. Truth is in podcast charisma.
If you hang on to the scientific method, you don’t expect a “post-truth” virus will infect you. Surprise! As many people believe global warming and Covid pandemic are hoaxes as those who say real. Dr. Fauci’s science is in a popularity contest with Trump’s bleach cocktail.
Post-truth has nourished the always present illusions of individual autonomy and personal will to power and empowerment as bedrock in the American mass psyche as guns, cars, and burgers. That there is no truth that can outweigh your own opinion, that all authority and all gate keepers dissolve into dewy nothingness is like a great gift to a culture of personalities, the bigger the better, yours being always in the running. The criminality of a plutocratic order obscures its privileges within the bewildered confusions, delusions, and illusions of a post-truth climate.
If “the secret” is the power of your own will, your own choices, you do not see yourself ‘”post-truth” but rather the creator of truth, the discoverer of the real facts. Your fact becomes just that: your fact. Your opinions are grounded in your facts. Sounds like a bad thing but in the American cultural imaginary, it’s great! You could say, reality has been personalized, privatized, subject to your inviolable freedom to choose. You are free to choose to attach what meaning you wish upon the world. You can construct reality on demand, your demand. We’re an On Demand culture, and you make the demands. It’s a Youniverse.
But it isn’t. Two observations of postmodern thought have, for various reasons, gone to scale in the American mass psyche. They’ve taken hold but on that subliminal level where stuff haunts you, but you won’t face it.
One is that it is difficult to retain illusions of individual autonomy, a personal will to power and empowerment when your -Up dreams aren’t starting up. Nothing trickled down. Five Americans have as much wealth as 50% of all Americans. Dividends flooded upward for dividend recipients.
Every madman school shooting reminds you that what is happening out there is totally incomprehensible to you, totally beyond your control. On the heels of that is the shocking recognition that there’s no hard ground to stand on, no supreme court to straighten things out. We now distrust the U.S. Supreme Court because it’s clearly partisan, but that distrust is a kind of by-product of a foundational fear that there are no foundations in life. In postmodern terms, our worlding has neither universal and absolute foundations nor universally recognized external points of reference. In short, we are, whether we profit by it or cry over it, all at sea, the waters going from wobbly to tsunami, and there’s no life preserver, anchor, or light house.
A contagious spreading of an awareness: There is actually no universally accepted universal rule of judgment. Nor of meaning. In what Heidegger refers to as our uniquely human enterprise, we are “worlding,” meshing our perceptions with the Great Outdoors, the stuff of the planet we stage ourselves upon. Because I cannot point to a much-desired Archimedean reference point to settle the differences between your worldling and mine, what you say and what I say is going on, we have clash. Your comments in cyberspace vs. my comments in cyberspace. My authority for saying what I say cannot prove itself as an authority you must bow to. We both have our reasons.
What we observe in the flux and flow, the endless roll of opinions on social media is that everyone has reasons. Is it not transparently clear that we reason from within and not outside our life-worlds, the framing of reality we wear like spectacles? Our reason employs words that do not challenge our way of knowing and being; neither our words nor our reason is traitorous to the life-worlds we are in. They are not going to testify against us.
When we had authorities commonly accepted, we had less clash. When we could arrive at a common understanding, we had less clash. But in our present and on-going hyper-awareness of what was left out or deliberately erased within all our prior regimes of “common understanding” from 1776 to 2022, only the die-hards burn with nostalgia. So, we never had less clash but just less videoing of clash. We had a “common” understanding among those in imposing positions of interpretation and a follow-up imposed understanding of what they interpreted. Representative elitism.
Of course, if all those authorities were just made up, concocted by us, we could then see ourselves as waking up, a Great Awakening. False consciousness gone and so on. Really not so great. Not so great when you consider that any order of things, personal or societal, has to have consistent, reliable premises, a foundation we stand upon. Unless difference and diversity achieve some unity beyond all such difference and diversity then we have a fractious disorder. A politics of difference and diversity cannot rest at that point; it must go on. “We can’t go on. We go on,” Beckett writes. But we haven’t gone on. We remain at the perilous stage of disorder. Perilously fractious. Armed. Bullets too.
The startling recognition of the presence of such disorder as well as a recognition of the absence of any regime of order from which a functional society can emerge triggers a yearning for the illiberal and autocratic.
We have a deep-seated need for a normalcy, a security and optimism within which a family can flourish. Perhaps we aren’t as much into families anymore because we foresee them not flourishing in the kind of disorder reported every day. They seem destined to dysfunction. They are endangered. Home schooling a disorder prophylactic?
We are made aware in a 24/7 news cycle that we do not have order of any kind, but we do have a varied palette of disorder, school mass random shootings at the top of the list. And the present of such and the absence of effective response has much to do with a worldwide move toward the illiberal and the autocratic. And on the level of interpersonal relations and communication, we have all heat and no light.
Being held within reality frames impervious to what any second order observing would show us privileges a self-empowered autonomy and ignores the postmodern observation that our lives are never ours alone but formed within an imbrication of world and self.
We are at every moment always already within a world, one in which we are intertwined. There is no dualism here. We filter a world as if through a lens but at the same time we are already a filtered being, a filtered perception. We and world, mind and stuff conjoin. When we seek the truth of anything we seek to examine the framing of our perceptions, the filtering prescription of our lens and adjust it in order to see our always existing entanglement in the world. Similar to the way we are neither fully objective nor subjective mindless of objective reality, we are not fully socially constructive in the sense that we can ignore the determinants and constraints of our own bodies and our planet. We are embodied within the world and the world embodied within us. We turn into the dust of the earth, the atoms of the stars. We are born of them.
Our “worlding,” our mediation of our consciousness with the Great Outdoors has a macro dimension, a meta dimension which overwhelms individual mediations. For example, we now in the U.S. live within a brilliantly manipulative environment maneuvered by the magister ludi of our Wall St. financial sector, cybertech and its “social” media, Congressional control by lobbyists of D.C.’s K street, the spinmeisters/dream merchants of Madison Avenue and Hollywood, and the tsunami of smash-mouth TV and radio opinionating resulting from the repeal of the FCC Fairness Doctrine.
The guy behind the guy here, the controlling force, is a semio-capitalism that captures “the inner resources of the subjective process: our experience of time, our sensibility, the way we relate to each other, and our ability to imagine a future . . . Once cognitive energy becomes the main force of production, since capital valorization demands ever-increasing productivity, the nervous systems of the organisms existing under semiocapitalism are subjected to accelerated exploitation.” (Berardi, AND: Phenomenology of the End, 2015)
It would be difficult to extract what was uniquely personal from a worldly/cultural shaping delivered directly to our baby brainpans by these forces. A notable part of the spin is that we are all unique and our children even more so. Our American exceptionalism rests to some degree on the personal exceptionalism of its people. In short, on delusion.
Americans have been racing toward making everything subject to what we personally want to make of everything while at the same time we are down to the cognitive level being manufactured. We are the market’s most profitable frontier. Similar to consciousness not being removed miraculously from the world, we don’t make the world according to our personal design. It makes no sense dividing consciousness from world or arguing against an individual autonomy that doesn’t exist in the first place. If we transgress, by which I mean assume the world is what we alone make of it, we can suffer Icarus’s fate, dramatically instantaneous, or, more likely, suffer over time the results of our presumptions, our blindness. There is no one sided mediation by definition; the power of our own will, our own freedom to choose is at once ab ova housed in the world.
Icarus’s wish to fly was real but so too was the heat of the sun’s rays. We can define progress as continuous growth of the economy, choose this path, although this is a “progress” and “growth” exhausting, toxifying, and endangering our planet, its hard physics oblivious to our will. The sun never did rise and never will. Icarus didn’t defy gravity though he believed he could. The wings of our touted market efficiency have never flown 80% of the population to new heights though we choose and will that system into hard shell doctrine.
Truths arise and grow out of different sociocultural political arrangements. Differing orders or regimes of meaning go to scale and then subside. All proposals of truth are true to the conditions of their context and so to that degree they are objective. Objective reality is as objective as a perceiving subjectivity allows. We are thus inevitably filtering the world “out there,” the Great Outdoors, mediating it and mind. History shows us that we never stop seeking meaning and truths revealed. We would not go on in such a way if we were committed to truth not existing. This in itself is an order of things we live within that we have not de-legitimated or can we cancel.
We are therefore not “post-truth” but rather more hotly in pursuit of it.
Living within a cultural certitude, either grounded in religious belief, political ideology, or Market Rule, does not compel us to search for truth. We stagnate in such certitude.
That search entails a discerning where our will proposes a preemption of the world in which it is housed. It entails a disclosing of where we divide ourselves from that world in a foolish struggle to dominate and win. Resting on “It’s God’s will” or “It’s the will of the Market” or “I bow to the will of this or that autocrat” or “The secret is to shout what you want out the window and the universe will give it to you” deactivates a truth search. All these stories tell us we are already in possession of it. And we are not. Posting loudly one’s personal opinion as undeniable Truth as if others and the world did not exist and getting millions of followers is an historical new. It’s also a low point in the intellectual development of humankind. Multitudes of followers attracted gratifies ego but not truth.
The straw man declarations made against what clearly are changes in regard to reality, truth, reason, word and world, personal choice are made for the same reasons straw man attacks are always made. Demolish the threatening brand by falsifying its argument and image. Reduce socialism to dictatorial communism, put free enterprise democracy in the ring against the socialist hive mind and then ring the bell.
Why set up straw man attacks against the postmodern after eulogies for it some forty years ago? Because the thinking persists and it’s threatening to both plutocracy and our autocratic yearnings. A society more illiberal than democratic and moving toward autocracy establishes an Orwellian Animal Farm “One Law,” a foundational law” an absurdity when we are painfully aware we’ve lost any foundation, if we ever had any. The One Law and its foundation we know after living with Donald J. Trump is just “that guy.” Tweets from that guy do not of course “float.” They impart determinate, indisputable meaning. Also, we are not inextricably tied to the world we inhabit but in an adversarial relationship. All progress emerges from subjecting the world to our will. We do not nourish our mediations of the world for our mutual health but rather exhaust that world in the name of profit or a personal will to power. And that will is not to be shared but owned, a property of the winners, or The Winner. Everyone else is subject to constraints, to a regime of order that restrains their will. The hard shell inescapable “realities” of poverty, illness, and ignorance to be borne and not relieved must be faced if you are rational and realistic. As narrated.
There are indeed many reasons to confound and obscure the ways in which our world has changed, to leave a populace in angry, frustrated confusion, wholescale mounting dysphoria, to set the stage for a demagoguery of bold answers, well-defined targets, posted villains and godsent champions, transparently clear truths, loud declamations from the gut.
Full disclosure must always be reduced to fake news.