Truth and Postmodernism

October 3, 2014


The point of postmodernism is to get as far away from anything real as possible.

–Catherine A. MacKinnon
Points Against Postmodernism

Over the past year or so I have made comments critical of postmodern philosophy on this blog and in private conversations with friends. I have referred people to the insightful feminist criticism on postmodernism that is available on the Internet, but I have realized belatedly that people who interact with me, virtually or in real life, would rather that I myself explained the concepts involved here and why they are problematic. In this series of articles I am going to explain what postmodern philosophy is and why I consider it incompatible with a spiritual path. If you do not care about philosophy or if the word “postmodern” causes your eyes to glaze over, this is an important article for you to read, because you have been affected (or infected) by postmodern ideas without realizing it.

We usually think of philosophy as belonging to an obscure and musty corner of academia having little to do with those of us in the real world. Philosophy is difficult and uses its own language, and philosophers for the most part are completely uninterested in making their ideas understandable to ordinary people. But while philosophy usually emerges from a rarefied and privileged atmosphere, it does not stay there. Eventually it moves into other academic disciplines, then into theology, pop psychology, art and politics. The postmodernism I am concerned with is the latter kind, the pervasive thinking inspired by postmodern philosophers (though not always faithful to them) that has bled into the mainstream and has taken people in some circles hostage. Unless we’re trying to show off, we do not call it postmodernism or any other name; we simply think of it as truth.

Postmodernism stands in opposition to the principle that complete and perfect truth exists and that it is useful. Whether it is attainable is a separate question; the premise of postmodernism is that any reality residing outside of an individual’s subjective mental state is not worth contemplating. My own belief is that truth exists and that it is endless and pervasive, bigger than any self or collective concept. The mother of all truth is time, and it is through time that truth reemerges from obscurity while falsehood dies and confusion disintegrates. Truth nourishes each individual through her umbilical cord, but the flow of her life blood can be constricted for a variety of reasons. Some have reduced the flow to a trickle by declaring that every half-baked idea that comes into their head is true. It is “their truth,” which is as good as any other thing labeled as “truth” because truth can only be understood by the individual through subjective reason. They may change and modify “their truth” after listening to others speak “their truth,” but they will do so only if this modification causes no discomfort or otherwise serves their own utilitarian purposes. There is no need to abandon self-serving views if all subjective truths are valid.

In the next post I will discuss the theoretical underpinnings for what results, in the real world, as the ultimate in rationalization.

Like a Vague Malodorous Stain Seeping into the Theological Discourse

September 12, 2014

Photo Ervin Popisil
Photo Ervin Popisil

Note: I am aware that the words “male” and “female,” used to signify biology, have moved from the passe to the forbidden and are now considered by some to be offensive and bigoted. I am going to use them anyway, because I cannot make a coherent point without them. That is probably why these words have become verboten in these post-enlightened times. The road of postmodernism, if followed far enough, will end in the forced fealty to the idea that nothing exists. And yet the strong will still take from the weak.

This article discusses the parallels between fascism and political movements that view themselves as rooted in postmodern philosophy, especially Postmodern Feminism and Queer Theory. I wish to show how postmodernism is harming feminist religions just as it has ruined about everything else. I am not implying that fascism and postmodernism are the same thing; they are two very separate ideologies, albeit similar in certain presentations, self-conceptions, and tactics.

Fascism is classically defined as a version of romantic nationalism that became a political force a century ago in Europe. It was characterized by obedience to an authoritarian militaristic state. Postmodernism seems to be the polar opposite of this. It is characterized by amorphousness, lack of definition, and fuzzy boundaries. In fact, many people are unsure exactly what postmodernism is. At one time postmodernism simply referred to bad poetry and atrocities in the visual arts. Later it transitioned to mean obscure, unintelligible, and increasingly irrelevant academic papers. Although enthusiastic acceptance of the philosophy in academia implies some grounding in theory, the political and social manifestations of postmodernism are so contradictory to claimed post-structural origins that it is as difficult to link postmodernism to theorists Foucault or Derrida as it is to trace Nazism to Nietzsche. It is as if the Postmodern Feminist insistence that sex be replaced with gender identity were an example used to illustrate Foucault’s thesis that knowledge is used to regulate people. It is as if students who band together to prevent scholars critical of Queer Theory from speaking at their universities were demonstrating Lacan’s chains of signification on the unconscious self. Or maybe they are queering their role as students by performing the role of the uptight university president.

But I am not going to get lost here in the contradictions between social/political postmodernism and the theories that spawned it. Instead I want to point out a curious parallel between fascism and postmodernism in practice: both have been heavily promoted as progressive and youth oriented. Nazism was so expertly packaged for appeal to youth that, despite being thoroughly discredited with the majority of the population, a brief flirtation with the ideology remains a rite of passage for a subset of white males. Postmodernism and its demon children are also posited as edgy and new even though 1) being new and being progressive are not the same thing, as those early postmodern philosophers would have been the first to agree; and 2) postmodernism is getting long in the tooth. I was way too cool for postmodernism when I was in my early 20s, and I am no longer a young woman. In fact, I am one of those “second wave dinosaurs” that postmodern feminists and their ilk contend need to “die off” to make room for a feminism queer-identified males approve of.

The postmodern cult finally got a toehold in Paganism several years ago with the demand that Dianic priestesses admit trans women into our rituals on the grounds that biological sex has been theorized out of existence, or at least relevance, in favor of self-identified gender. It’s the new best thing. Gender itself is not defined because nothing in postmodern politics is defined. Definitions are passe, especially when they create boundaries you want to crash. Demands to admit males into female spiritual space have been present since the seventies, but now they are based on the argument that the old women, “on the wrong side of history,” need to step aside for the new generation with the new ideas, an argument that drips with ageism. Ageism isn’t particularly new, especially when applied to women. Go read about the witch hunts.

I am not going to expound in this article about the right of women to set our own boundaries or the reason Dianics have decided that trans women do not belong at many of our rituals. I set out the rationale for this position in my essay for the book Witchcraft Today: Sixty Years On. What I want to say is that I am tired of hearing the position that biological males are entitled to erase the boundaries of biological females argued as new and progressive. It is a position older than fascism, older than monarchism, and older than Aristotle even if it is wrapped in some version of postmodern non-speak. Please postmodern third wave progressive queer theorist feminists, stop trying to tell me what’s old and what’s new, because I’m old enough to know the difference. And I’m sorry I made fun of your poetry: it seems pretty harmless, compared to subsequent developments.

Zero is the New Queer

December 20, 2013

The whole of the universe should be represented by the number zero rather than the number one.

When I ran across this contention on the blog of a pagan queer theorist (a queerist?) I decided to ignore this incredible statement, once my head stopped exploding, because it is, er – not credible. But since this idea has actually been seriously entertained by a few other people, I’m going to address it. I will not link to the post, even though the author proudly took credit, because I’m embarrassed for zhir.

Photo by Veda Napha Maramit.
Photo by Veda Napha Naramit.
Photo by Adriano.
Photo by Adriano.
In mathematics we use words and symbols to represent things that exist in the real world or to represent concepts that do not actually exist but help us to understand reality nonetheless. There is one cat in the picture to the left and two cats in the picture to the right. The numbers one and two have a physical, concrete basis in the real world. In the next picture, there are six images of cats, but taken as a whole this is one picture (or, as it is known in mathematics, one set). But what if there are no cats? We can designate a picture without cats in it as “no cats” or “zero cats,” with zero referring to cats that do not exist. Zero is is defined as having no existence. It is nothing, only a useful human construct for that which does not exist in the real world.
photos: top left - Alvesgaspar; top middle & bottom left - Martin Bahmann; top right - Hisashi; bottom middle - Von.grzanka; bottom right - Dovenotel
Photos: top left – Alvesgaspar; top middle & bottom left – Martin Bahmann; top right – Hisashi; bottom middle – Von.grzanka; bottom right – Dovenotel
There are no cats in this picture.
There are no cats in this picture.

Now let’s look at the whole of the universe, represented by this whole uncut apple pie. We have one (1) pie, and when we take a piece of out of it, say one-fifth, we have one divided by five (1 ÷ 5) or 1/5. But what if we start with a universe of nothing? In this picture of the whole of everything represented by nothing, not even any pies, we can take a fifth out of this nothingness and have 0 ÷ 5 or 0/5, which equals zero. Another way of saying this would be that something cannot exist within nothing, or you can’t get something out of nothing.

Photo Jonathunder.
Photo by Jonathunder.
We’re talking about numbers and math here, which involve definitions, so if you want to arbitrarily redefine things, you can call zero what used to be one and call one a purple rhinoceros and still be right within your personal made-up universe. The possibilities are endless in the realm of making stuff up. It stands to reason that this “zero is everything” idea should come out of the universe of queer theory, where queer includes all kinds of people who used to be straight but are now queer, along with all the queer people who used to be queer but are still queer. Queer means nothing anymore – in fact in postmodern queer theoryland everything means nothing anymore – so it stands to reason that nothing should now mean everything. It has a sort of balance.

applepie But maybe the source of the confusion comes from the symbol 0, which sortof looks like a pie. It’s the kind of mistake a child would make. You might infer, if you didn’t know any better, that the symbol 0 is defined as the number one, a word which has an O in it. Those of us who are not queerists pay attention in the first grade, at least one-fifth of the time, so we learn our numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc., and we use the symbol 0 to designate nothing or as a place-holder. I recommend the first grade to everyone who still calls themselves “queer” and thinks it means something other than “I’m an idiot.” It might mean no longer embarrassing yourself, or zhir-self, or whOever zoo say zoo are.

A picture of zero.
A picture of zero.