The Postmodernism Boom

We’re presently in a Bitcoin boom, a tech stock boom, but a postmodernism boom? By a ‘postmodernism boom,’ I don’t just mean more postmodernism ideologically (although that too is part of it), but an increased interest in the subject of postmodernism itself as measured by debate and discussion of postmodernism on Reddit and elsewhere. Even Scott, jumping on the bandwagon, recently made a post about it.

The surge of interest in postmodernism is related to the broader post-2008 ‘philosophy boom’, but why are many people latching on to postmodernism in particular? The obvious answer is that Dr. Jordan Peterson, whose popularity in the past year has skyrocketed, began making videos denouncing postmodernism. That should have been the end of it, though, given that Dr. Peterson, to a fault, has explained what Postmodernism is and why it’s wrong…end of story. But for whatever reason, on Jordan Peterson’s official Reddit sub /r/JordanPeterson/ and elsewhere, people keep imploring about postmodernism…it’s as if many are unsatisfied with Dr. Peterson’s treatment postmodernism, even though these are the very people who should be in most in agreement with him. If you say ‘postmodernism is liberalism ‘ or ‘Peterson is right about postmodernism’ (or something to that effect), at least 40% of Dr. Peterson’s own fans will take issue with that. It’s not like Dr. Peterson’s videos on Jung, gender pronouns, or Freud generate nearly as much debate and disagreement.

But, interestingly, one can pinpoint the ‘postmodernism boom’ to a specific month of 2017. By mid-2017, Dr. Peterson had made many videos on postmodernism, but there wasn’t much debate. Everyone seemed to be in nodding agreement that postmodernism was this unalloyed evil that didn’t necessitate much further discussion. For the entire history of Reddit ending on May 30th, 2017, shows only 21 Google results for ‘postmodernism’ (when restricted to Reddit). But search query restricted to the past five months alone (after May 30th, 2013) shows 60 results, a 200% increase. This boom can be traced to a 52-minute YouTube video, Defending Postmodernism: An Open Letter to Jordan B. Peterson, uploaded on July 2nd, 2017, which has been watched over 15000 times, and two accompanying highly-upvoted Reddit threads on /r/JordanPeterson and /r/philosophy, by a guy you have likely never heard of, under the moniker ‘Papapaint’. Yes, this one person and his video launched a postmodernism revolution and reexamination…pretty amazing.

Perhaps part of disagreement, at least in my own opinion, stems from Dr. Peterson taking an over-simplistic/reductionist view of postmodernism, unfailingly equating postmodernism with far-left liberalism and overlooking how the ‘postmodernist condition’ is not just a liberal one. I disagree to some extent with Mr. Peterson’s interpretation of postmodernism as ‘infinite interpretations’ (I think it has more to do with infinite values). Or his claim that postmodernists refuse to engage in productive dialogue (rather it’s the indoctrinated, low-information student foot-solders of Marxism who refuse to engage in dialogue and are the ones protesting and blocking campus speakers, not the postmodernist professors themselves). Regarding his book, Maps of Meaning, and whether ‘subjectivity precedes reality’, Peterson is likely alluding to religion and spirituality, which does not imply postmodernism. One should resist the temptation to overgeneralize or politicize any philosopher or’s not politics, where it’s easier to put things into simple, convenient left/right categories, and Dr. Peterson sometimes falls into this trap (but almost so does everyone else). Someone who ideologically identifies as liberal, for example, will likely give a different definition of postmodernism than someone who identifies as conservative. Nietzsche is either a ‘right-wing’ or ‘left-wing’ philosopher depending on which passages you read and how one interprets him; Foucault and Hitler, two polar opposite ideological extremes, both derived inspiration from Nietzsche. Same for Heidegger. And there is also the split between the ‘left-Hegelians’ and the ‘right-Hegelians’.

But also, there is this belief that understanding these things, or that by trying to turn philosophy into a science, will somehow unlock to door to some deeper truth, which related to the trend of philosophy becoming more STEM-like, or how philosophers want to emulate scientists in order to give their field more ‘rigor’ (but I suppose this works better for the ‘analytical school’ than the Continental one). Social science concepts such as ‘deconstruction’, ‘intersectionality’, and ‘postmodernism’ are the humanities’ equivalent of science and physics terms like ‘renormalization’, ‘cohomology’, or ‘perturbation,’ that are supposed to evoke a sort of awe or mysticism, but more importantly, intellectual weight. So when Dr. Peterson equates postmodernism, which is supposed to be this inscrutable science-like concept that gives whoever uses it the intellectual credibility of a ‘real’ scientist (not a social scientist), with just “plain ol’ liberalism”, not surprisingly, people are miffed and there is sort of anticlimactic letdown. It’s like unmasking the Wizard of Oz and seeing it’s a mere mortal. For those who want to understand postmodernism deeper, you’re not really missing out on anything. Instead of trying to turn philosophy into a half-baked science, just go study actual science. There’s no shortage of lingo, terminology, and categories.