Explaining the Cognitive Barbarism of the Proglodyte Left
The book takes on added importance in light of the fact that Obama is our first postmodern president. You or I might think that he is an uneducated, ahistorical buffoon, but in reality he is simply accurately regurgitating what he learned in college. This is why he is so preposterously confident in his ignorance, because all of liberal academia has his back.
Near as I can tell, the transition from sober liberal education to intoxicating illiberal postmodernism reached a tippling point by about 1980 (probably before that at elite universities), and Obama obtained his BA from Columbia in 1983. Prior to 1980 it was still possible to escape the university relatively unscathed, but since then the nonsense of postmodernism has totally permeated academia. I can't think of anything that exceeds the cost-to-worthlessness ratio of a university education, being that it's not just worthless, i.e., neutral, but exceedingly harmful. Therefore, to be fair, universities should pay us to attend them.
So when Obama apologizes for America, or embraces cultural and moral relativism, or regurgitates discredited socialist economic theories, or expresses animus for Israel, or adopts the homosexual agenda, or passively accepts Iranian tyranny, or finds a spiritual home for his soul's envy and hatred in liberation theology, it's all of a piece.
My only critique of Hicks is that he seems to believe that there is a non-theological solution to the problem, which I do not believe. Rather, as I discuss below, postmodernism in all its varieties is simply the "final common pathway" of the rejection of the Absolute. Once you reject the Absolute, there is nothing to stop your philosophy from descending all the way to the bottom. And then crashing through, into the nether regions where man cannot survive as man. Rather, he must become something else in order to live in that environment. Ultimately he must become the image and likeness of this diabolic inversion, whatever you wish to call it. A Keith Olbermann or Bill Maher are perfect adaptations to the "minus pneumaspace" in which they live.
By the way, this review is not comprehensive, and should not replace actually reading the book. If I could add my blurb to the back of the book, I would say that it's a bracing philosophical disinfuckedup for the parasite-ridden assoul. Kills resistant postmodern mutations on contact!
Surely you have wondered why the academic left is not just foolish, but completely out of touch with reality? In a mere 201 pages, author Stephen Hicks efficiently accomplishes exactly what is promised in the title of his book, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault. Not only is there hardly a wasted sentence in the book, but Hicks writes in an exceptionally clear way about some rather difficult and abstruse thinkers and concepts. This itself is a crime against The Tenured, so I'm surprised he's allowed to teach at all. They don't allow many plain speaking hicks in academia.
I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but the purpose of Hicks’ book is clearly to answer the questions: What has happened to our universities? Why do the humanities departments of our elite universities teach such unalloyed leftist nonsense? In short, why is the left so bereft? Hicks makes the critical point that, if we were just dealing with generic nonsense, then we might expect about half of it to result in left wing nonsense, the other half in right wing nonsense. But practices such as deconstruction result in almost 100% left wing nonsense, meaning that, whatever theoretical or methodological cover these academics are taking behind their high-flown rhetoric, it’s all just a smokescreen for the promulgation of leftist ideas.
And that is exactly what Hicks concludes. He chronicles the utter failure of socialist ideas in the past three centuries, beginning with pre-Marxist leftists such as the odious paleofrog Rousseau. But the key figure in the descent into modern irrationalism and illiberal leftism was the figure of Immanuel Kant, for it was Kant who divided the world into phenomena (what is accessible to our senses and categories of thought) and noumena (the ultimate reality behind them). By closing off the noumenal reality to reason, Kant thought he had spared religion from the onslaught of scientific skepticism, when he had actually opened the door to all the baleful forms of irrationalism that followed. For in the Kantian system, all we can really know is our own nervous system -- reason and science merely toy with the phenomena, leaving the deeper reality unknown and unknowable. The next time some cliche-ridden boob says to you, “perception is reality,” know that they are a metaphysically retarded son or daughter of Kant.
As an aside, one can trace the history of philosophy in a pretty straight line from the ancient Greeks to Kant. But Kant represents the end of that line and its subsequent ramification into the many streams, creeks, crocks, drainage ditches and sewer lines that reach us today. Virtually every philosophy since Kant has been either a rational extension of his ideas (Schopenhaur, structuralism, phenomenology), an irrational exploration of his ideas (e.g., reality is absurd, we are impotent to know anything, feeling and instinct trump reason, the irrational yields more valid insights into reality, etc.), or attempts to undo his ideas (e.g., Hegel, who reunited noumena and phenomena in his notion of the Absolute Subject, and Hegel's upside-down disciple, Marx).
Postmodernism involves a smorgasbag of these various reactions to Kant. Ever wonder why leftists are so irrational and unreasonable? According to Hicks, postmodernism is “the first ruthlessly consistent statement of the consequences of rejecting reason.” This is why leftists routinely resort to ad hominem attacks, extreme hostility to dissent, speech codes, and authoritarian political correctness.
Ultimately, according to Hicks, postmodernism is “the academic left’s epistemological strategy for responding to the crisis caused by the failures of socialism in both theory and practice.” Ironically, they have an a priori and unfalsifiable belief in the moral superiority of socialism over capitalism. But since capitalism has repeatedly disproved every one of socialism’s predictions, postmodernism provides the “skeptical epistemology to justify the personal leap of faith necessary to continue believing in socialism.”
Ironically, Kant was trying to save traditional religion from being eroded by scientific skepticism, but his ideas are now used by the secular left to shield the false religion of socialism from rational scrutiny. The choice for leftists is simple: either follow the evidence and reject their utopian ideals, or hold to their beautiful ideals and undermine the notion that logic and evidence matter. Obviously they have chosen the latter course, which is why a casual stroll through the halls of academia, the idiotorial pages of the New York Times, or the darker corners of the internet reveals that language is no longer being used as a vehicle to understand reality, but a rhetorical club with which to beat opponents. In this context, “Bush bashing” can be seen as a completely impersonal and inevitable phenomenon, for if your only tool is a rhetorical hammer, you will treat everything as an ideological nail.
And this also explains the common observation that the left is devoid of constructive ideas, for without logic and evidence, leftism has been reduced to a knee-jerk critique of Western civilization. It is essentially irrational and nihilistic, because language for them is not about reality, but simply about more language. Therefore, language cannot build anything but illusions.
Moreover, this explains why the left is so incoherent and contradictory -- why, for example, all truth is relative but leftism is absolute, why all values are subjective but "homophobia" and American exceptionalism are evil, why tolerance is the highest ideal but political correctness is higher still, why discrimination is bad but the Wise Latina is good, etc. Leftism is simply an absolutism masquerading as a relativism, which is why they can never be honest about their true principles, at least within the mainstream. An honest leftist such as Dennis Kucinich could never be elected to national office. If Obama had been honest about what he intended to do as president, he would have lost in a landslide.
The only problem with Hicks’ book is that he stops short of explaining how to overcome what I call the intrinsic logopathologies of the left. This is because he appears to be an objectivist or secular libertarian, and seems vaguely hostile to religion (and one cannot blame him for this if he has only been exposed to irrational religion). In reality, there is no defense against these destructive ideas within the bounds of common reason -- as soon as you descend into mere reason, you have already given the game away, for there is almost nothing the human mind can prove that it cannot equally disprove, or at least cast doubt upon.
In our last post, we were discussing the unfortunate philosophical consequences that followed in the wake of Kant's division of the world into phenomena (the small world we pretend to know) and noumena (the larger world we can never know). For Kant, there was no way to escape our nervous system and "get at" the world, so to speak. As a result, to paraphrase Alfred North Whitehead, we end up with conjecture on one side, a dream on the other. Or you could say that we are bequeathed an unavoidably irrational world mirrored by a parallel looniverse known as the academic left.
But in truth, any such "bifurcationist" strategy that tries to horizontally divide one part of the world over and against another part will end in paradox and absurdity. For example, Whitehead noted that Cartesian dualism had resulted in "a complete muddle in scientific thought, in philosophic cosmology, and in epistemology." Not for nothing has modern philosophy been called "error on a grandiose scale," or "a route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing."
As the Jesuit philosopher of science Stanley Jaki explains it, philosophers are forever trying to get to second base before they have touched first. Baseballically speaking, they start their analysis at second, but have no philosophy that can justify or explain how they have gotten there. For the presupposition of any philosophy is the belief that man can know truth, that he can encode this truth and place it in an object (for example, a book), and that this object can in turn cause a miraculous thing called understanding in the consciousness of another. Therefore, the first duty of a philosopher is to endorse the idea that knowledge may be embodied in objects and cause understanding in subjects.
One may well ask, "What in the philosophy of deconstruction justifies such a process?" For speaking and writing the nonsense of deconstruction presupposes a reality that, whatever else it may be, is capable of encoding information and transmitting objective understanding from one mind to another. How is this possible? No purely materialistic philosophy can explain why objects are intelligible, any more than idealist philosophies can explain how ideas are embodied in objects.
Rather than beginning with the division of the world into phenomena and noumena or mind and matter, traditional metaphysics begins with the division between time and eternity (eternity understood not as time everlasting but timelessness). It affirms a hierarchical order of the cosmos, in which the corporeal domain is considered only the lowest tier, outer shell, or "epidermis." The cosmos is regarded as a theophany infused with a logos from which it can never be separated, so that the visible and tangible things that unfold in time are a reflection of the atemporal realm "above."
Similarly, human beings are not considered ancillary to a hostile or indifferent cosmos, but central to its structure and purpose. Man is a microcosmos that contains the same blueprint as the macrocosmos. It is because we are a microcosm that we are able to so unproblematically know -- we are able to know the cosmos because it preexists in us. True, human knowing is a miracle, but outside the explanatory paradigm of traditional metaphysics, it is an impossible miracle that no postmodern philosophy can explain. The bottom line is that the soul is not in the cosmos; rather, the cosmos is in the soul.
In the traditional view, the horizontal division of mind and matter (or phenomena/noumena) that results in paradox and absurdity is eliminated. However, there are vertical divisions that reveal a hierarchy of ontological degrees of reality, and corresponding ways to know them. There is not a tiny phenomenal world that we can know, surrounded by a limitless noumenal world that we can never know.
Rather, we begin with the lowest level of being, material reality, which corresponds to our empirical, rational, scientific methods of exploring and describing it. True, there are degrees of understanding, but the process is much more analogous to comprehending a great work of art, say, one of Beethoven's symphonies. While the symphony will yield much deeper insights to the trained ear, that doesn't mean that the symphony available to our senses is simply the audible aspect of a noumenal symphony that we can never hear.
What Kant called the noumena -- the greater unKnown reality -- is not behind but above. It is accessible to humans, but only through the proper means. Because the human intellect derives its light from the divine intellect, truth is bonded and underwritten by our nonlocal Sponsor. While it is true that all knowledge is in some sense participatory, that doesn't mean that knowledge is merely subjective -- again, ours is an objective, hierarchical world susceptible to degrees of knowing. Knower and known are not divided but unified in the act of participatory knowing, so that the known universe is the universe.
By ridding ourselves of dualism and returning to the real world, the cosmos is no longer reduced to an incomprehensible and absurd material flatland devoid of intrinsic meaning. Truth may be known because man was made to know it. In fact, if someone tells you otherwise, you might ask them exactly what in their philosophy permits them to doubt our assertion? For their philosophy presupposes what it cannot justify: knowledge of truth and reality.
And if you really want to irritate them, you can tell them that, In the Chronological, Ontological, and Epistemological Beginning was (and is) the Word. That is, antecedent to anything else that might be said about the cosmos, it must fundamentally be composed of things capable of referring to other things, of things that point beyond themselves and convey messages and meanings.
Even on a strictly mathematical basis, the fact is, quality must precede quantity, because ordering anything means that there must be a system whereby something can stand for, or refer to, something else. What are the beautiful equations that govern the Big Bang but beautiful words dwelling in matter, words spoken 13 billion years ago that we can unpack from matter and clearly hear and understand today?
Postmodernism offers only a factitious liberation from traditional ways of knowing the world. There is no way to get around the principle that the world is intelligible and that the mind is capable of knowing it (and why would you want to?!). Once this is understood, it becomes clear that human consciousness is intrinsically related to the totality of being in a way that belies any postmodern superstition. There is a source of truth antecedent to man that is perceived not by the senses, but by the intellect.
Hey, getting an elite university education is so easy, even a four year-old can do it! Just learn how to piss all over on Western civilization in the sandbox of academia: