In the previous post, I briefly mentioned the problem of the postmodern rejection of and antipathy for metanarrative. This antipathy toward metanarrative is traced back to Jean Francois Lyotard. It, along with the general assertion within postmodernism that there are either no objective facts, or at least, no way for us to know that we know something objectively or factually, is what unites what is a diverse, often contradictory, set of writers and their ideas.
Although there are several sophisticated critiques of postmodernism from both a Christian and a non-Christian perspective, the best criticisms of postmodernism are taken from postmodernism itself. Some are quite obvious. Others are not.
The first and, perhaps, best critique is to home in on the unifying characteristics noted above: the postmodern antipathy for metanarratives and the denial of epistemic objectivity or, less stringently, epistemic certainty. The critique is simple: these basic assertions of postmodernism present as both a form of metanarrative and as an objective, factual claim. If there are no such things as objective, knowable facts, then we have no good reason to believe that this core claim of postmodernism is true. If it isn’t possible for us to know whether such a thing as truth or factuality exists, then the claim that truth and factuality doesn’t exist either isn’t true or can’t be known to be true. Therefore, the basic claim of postmodernism renders it self-referentially incoherent and inconsistent. Because the foundational claim of postmodernism cannot itself be applied to postmodernism without indicting postmodernism on the same grounds upon which it rejects other worldviews, applying its own criteria to itself means we ought to reject postmodernism and its claims.
In a similar fashion, the idea that there is no metanarrative to describe either history, the present, or the future in any sort of unifying, teleological way is itself a form of metanarrative that attempts to explain history, the present, and the future in a unifying, teleological way. Once again, applying postmodernism’s own standards to postmodernism itself yields the conclusion that we ought to reject postmodernism. Of course, I hope that it’s also obvious that the claim about metanarratives is also a claim of fact that can be known with some degree of epistemic certainty, thus violating the other basic assertion of postmodernism discussed in the previous paragraph.
But presenting an abbreviated, logical refutation of postmodernism and its claims is not all one needs to do to start getting at the bottom of its problems.
One of the things that makes dealing with postmodernism, at times, frustrating is that people who understand and embrace it as a major worldview component admit to this logical inconsistency. Most people who, for good reasons, see the blatant absurdity of postmodernism find it difficult to counter someone who just accepts the illogical nature of their worldview. But what’s more important is the fact that our most important social institutions are now flush with leaders who fully embrace an absurd, illogical, and ultimately destructive perspective on truth.
What’s important to understand is that, in the end, the postmodern rejection of things like logic and the objectivity of truth is based on one’s own selfish desire to ignore truth. When confronted with a clear presentation of truth, those who are committed to a postmodern perspective have no other recourse but to deny that such a thing as truth even exists. But even this apparent outmaneuver doesn’t get them very far, because at some point even postmodernists will need to rely on assertions of propositional truth. And it is this that makes them disastrous–and dangerous–for society and its culture. When folks who are wholly given over to a postmodern worldview gain cultural or political power, they make decisions that are inconsistent with one another, based on presuppositions that are incoherent, which lead to policies that not only conflict but that advance a socio-political environment that can only be described as chaos.
Few examples illustrate this as clearly as the wholesale adoption of transgender ideology by the progressive left in the United States. Let’s begin with a basic propositional claim made by transgender activists and their fellow travelers:
Transgender women are women.
This propositional truth claim necessarily makes several assumptions about reality. First, it necessarily assumes that there exist such things as women and that the group or class described by the term women is distinct from other groups or classes described by other terms, like men or avocados. This necessarily means that terms like women, men, and avocados can be known or defined. Otherwise, even making the statement, transgender women are women, would be as meaningless as saying transgender women are barfflesnaps because barfflesnaps does not refer to any existing object, being, class, or group known to exist. If it is not possible to know what women are, then we cannot claim to know that a class or group described as women exists.
Another assumption that is necessarily included in this propositional truth claim is that there is some sub-class of women properly described as transgender. The use of the modifying and limiting term, transgender, necessarily assumes that, of the class or group known as women, there exists some sub-class or subdivision of the group classifiable as transgender. This means that this sub-class or subdivision will have the same characteristics or attributes of the class women, along with some additional characteristics or attributes that warrant the modifier, transgender.
I hope you’ll understand why I’m reluctant to cite current sources on this question, namely the fact that the meanings of words are openly–proudly, even–modified and changed to fit political ideology. For a bit of clarity, I decided to use–of all things–a dictionary to get a hold of what, for most of American history, we understood a woman and therefore, women, to be. Specifically, I looked at the 1991 Webster’s College Dictionary, published by Random House, and available on the Internet Archive. Why 1991? Well, I spent my middle-school and high-school years in the 1990s, so whatever definition existed in 1991 is the one that most of us who are over the age of 35, say, assume or, at least, used to assume.
That definition is that a woman is “an adult female person, as distinguished from a girl or man,” and that refers “to adult human beings who are biologically female, that is, capable of bearing offspring.”
For a point of comparison, I looked up the word woman in Chambers’ Compact Dictionary, which says a woman is “an adult human female.” Common to both definitions is the word female. So I looked up that term, too. A female is one who is “of the sex that produces young.” Putting this all together, we can say that, at least until just a few years ago, we all agreed that a woman is an adult human who is capable of bearing children and producing young. Therefore, as a class or group, women–the term used in transgender activists’ oft-repeated propositional claim–is the class of adult human beings capable of bearing children and producing young.
Let’s now return to that propositional claim. If the claim is true, then we ought to be able to substitute the class of adult human beings capable of bearing children and producing young for the term women without losing or modifying any of the meaning of the claim.
Transgender women are adult human beings capable of bearing children and producing young.
Obviously, this restatement is false. Transgender women are not capable of bearing children and producing young. The propositional claim that:
Transgender women are women,
has as much truth value as the claims that
Avocados are women, or
Barfflesnaps are women, or
Men are women.
The lack of truth in the last phrasing is, of course, precisely what the claim that transgender women are women attempts to overlook. But I’m not writing this to get into weeds that other writers have already gotten into. My point is to simply demonstrate that one of the primary claims of the transgender movement–fueled by a postmodern emphasis on subjectivism and constructivism–is clearly false. Not only is it false, everyone–and I mean it when I say everyone–knows that it is false.
So then, what happens when entire public policy infrastructures are built on a propositional claim that everyone, including those who advance the claim and its related policies, knows to be false? Just like when Dr. Evil gets angry, people die.
Despite what the various “new study says” headlines that flood mainstream media claim, those who go through with gender reassignment surgery and its associated procedures have a higher risk of mortality, particularly via suicide, as well as other mental health risks. This is on top of the post-operative complications that can arise in the surgeries themselves. This raises serious ethical questions, particularly in cases where these procedures are completed on children. When all this evidence piles up against a position that advocates have staked out and refuse to reconsider, what recourse do they have left?
The answer is force.
For most of what we normally call Western Civilization, that which we can, for short, refer to as the historical influence of both Jerusalem and Athens, we accepted as fairly self-evident the correspondence theory of truth–that is, that something–like a propositional claim–is true if the claim corresponds to reality, the way things actually are. Closely associated with this concept is the idea that knowledge is defined as justified true belief. That is that, to know something, one must believe it, be justified in believing it, and the belief must be true in the sense that it corresponds to the way things actually are.
Sticking with the contemporarily relevant example of transgenderism, we can think of the advocates and activists who say things like: “My little Susy was assigned male at birth, but when she was just three years old, she started telling me that she just knew that she was really a girl, that there had been some mistake.”
Now, little Susy–who’s really little Jonny–might have honestly believed that he really, truly, was and ought to be a girl. But he did not, could not, know that. He had no justification for this–no uterus, no vagina, none of the biological markers suggesting that he is “of the class of adult human beings capable of bearing children and producing young,” or that he ever could become a member of that class. It is also simply not true. The propositional claim, Jonny is a girl, would never have a relationship to reality in the sense that it would describe things as they actually are.
Of course, little Jonny–and more importantly, little Jonny’s parents–really want you, and me, and everyone else to act like they believe something that they themselves don’t believe. They want you to behave on “a level with the man who”–to appropriate a famous C.S. Lewis quote–“says he is a poached egg.”
It is fairly well established in various social-scientific settings that behavior is driven by beliefs. Stated another way, behavior is the visible, tangible manifestation of belief. If we don’t believe something, we tend not to act on it. If we are acting a particular way, then those actions are evidence for our beliefs. One of the most-significant sets of beliefs when it comes to outward behavior is the set of beliefs we hold about ourselves. Of primary importance is our own beliefs about the extent to which we are in control of our own actions. If I can make you behave in a way that is contrary to your beliefs, then I have taken away some of your control over yourself and, thereby, cast doubt on your own beliefs. Or, more to the point, if little Jonny’s parents can make me say things that I don’t believe to be true–it’s little Susy, not Jonny; Susy’s pronouns are she/her; Susy is a girl–then they have successfully taken a major step in discrediting my own beliefs–not just about reality, but about myself, because they have taken control of my behavior.
But, of course, little Jonny’s parents are doing it for little Jonny’s sake. They just want to affirm him as he is and as who he is, which is little Susy.
Except they aren’t.
The attempt to force capitulation in the pronoun game, the locker-room game, the school-library game, and all the other games we’ve come to associate with this nonsense isn’t about the children, or their identity, at all. It’s about the identity of adults, not just the virtue-signalling parents’ identities, but the adults to whom they’re signalling their virtue: the set of cultural elites, driven by ideological motives, grounded in a postmodern rejection of truth. It’s not the parents of transgender children who want to control your speech, it’s the elites who have convinced those parents to deny what they obviously know to be true. The parents are proxies of control, social actors sub-contracted to mete out cultural shame to those who cling to notions of truth and metanarratives in conflict with the zeitgeist.
This is why postmodernism is dangerous. It’s why it’s chaotic. And it’s why it illustrates clearly why politics is ultimately, at base, religious.
Postmodernism is a religion dedicated to the god of self because its worldview places individuals at the center of its worship. This emphasis on the individual and their subjective experiences also contributes to postmodernism’s chaotic and incoherent nature.
A lot of people have trouble understanding how such an individualistic philosophy can morph into the collective actions we witness in our society today. In fact, this is one point where cultural elites and their lackeys will try defending themselves via confusion. For example, when writers work to educate the public on the intellectual history of how we got here, apologists for postmodern culture claim that their emphasis on individual autonomy makes them opposed to classical, collectivist modes of thought–like Marxism. However, this is not the case. Postmoderns adopt several, sometimes competing, theories of truth, but all of them emphasize the ability to form a consensus. Once this consensus is formed, the question becomes one of action: how can this consensus be acted upon?
When a culture or society has a shared set of core assumptions and beliefs, consensus is general. It is the heart of what we mean by the term “common sense.” It is a sense of things common to everyone. However, postmodernism departs from the common-sense notion of “common sense” by suggesting that there is nothing authoritative or even real about the common experiences of human beings. Instead of adapting our behaviors to reality as we experience it, the postmodern worldview suggests that we can adapt the world to the ways we want to behave. In other words, we are gods who can impose our own order, regardless of how the world or the universe is put together.
This ultimately leads to chaotic and contradictory results. This in itself shouldn’t be surprising given the directions postmodernism has taken in recent years. For example, one outgrowth of postmodernism’s influence in the academy is the various schools of critical theory that emphasize narrow, subjective experience as an interpretive lense while rejecting traditional methods of inquiry, even to the point of suggesting that logic and reason themselves are merely two examples of “white male Euro-Christian construction.” Such views are propagated using public taxpayer funds via public universities, and even the Smithsonian is in on the game, including its indictment of the scientific method (i.e., inductive logic) as a product of “whiteness.” This, of course, points to another obvious contradiction: gender is so fluid and mutable that a man can become a woman, and vice-versa, but whiteness is imbedded so deeply, even within logic, that nobody can escape it, least of all, of course, white people.
Nobody, of course, actually believes any of this to be true. But for the sake of cultural relevance, money, fame, position, and power, they play along.
How can I possibly say such a thing? How can I presume to know that nobody actually believes this stuff?
“For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles.”Romans 1:18-23, HCSB
The very natural order that postmodernism and its intellectual offspring work so hard to deny is that which testifies against them. Their rebellion against nature is a rebellion against God, and they know it. Their denial of truth–generally and in specific instances–is their attempt to suppress the testimony that God has given us in nature, and in ourselves, to call us to repentance. We know these things because logic and reason are gifts from God to discover truth, not tools invented by white Europeans for the subjection of other races or peoples. It was logic, reason, and an appeal to the Scriptures that convinced most of the Western world to abolish slavery and that sparked the Civil Rights Movement. It was the widespread acceptance and social influence of the Christian worldview that gave abolitionists the moral, ethical, and rhetorical grounding to make their claims. In a postmodern worldview, there is no objective basis on which to argue against slavery, racism, or any other social ill because all truth is ultimately defined by power. Shifts in power become shifts in truth–this is inherently chaotic. And it is also why, in a society governed ultimately by postmodern beliefs and their derivatives, people suffer.
This is the message that Solzhenitsyn communicates in his essay, “Live Not By Lies,” which is echoed in Rod Dreher‘s book of the same name. When governments are co-opted by reality-denying ideologies, then governments employ their monopoly on violence to force conformity to that which everyone knows is a lie.
Say this man is a woman, even though you know he isn’t.
Say that you’re a racist, even though you aren’t.
These sound a lot like the first century’s command to say that caesar is lord when Christians knew that he wasn’t–that he couldn’t be–because Christ is Lord. Telling the truth in a society built on lies is the the ultimate, most dangerous form of civil disobedience. It means you will not bow to the god of self sitting atop the throne that postmodernism has erected. You will not inflate the egos of elites and their allies at the expense of denying He who is truly Sovereign.
“Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female” (Matthew 19:4).
Transgender women are not women.
“My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7).
Nobody is inherently racist, and the gospel unites everyone who believes its truths.
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own opinion and clever in their own sight” (Isaiah 5:20-21).
Truth is real. It is objective. It is knowable. It is wickedness to deny it.