Occasionally, I come across the word “postmodernism.” Intellectuals use it to characterize the world we live in. But I’m not an intellectual. In fact, a friend advised me never to engage in a battle of wits because I would be going into a fight unarmed.
The word confused me. I assumed the period we live in right now is modern, or of the time (modern furniture, modern fashion). But the prefix “post–” means “after.” How could I be living after the time I’m living in now? It made no sense. But that’s because I’m not an intellectual. I think literally; intellectuals think conceptually. To me, a lawn mower is a lawn mower. To an intellectual, my Toro SMARTSTOW® Personal Pace Auto-Drive™ High Wheel Mower is a cultural symbol of the pathological bourgeoisie drive toward greater leisure by applying scientific knowledge for practical purposes. Who knew?
Call it pride or vanity, but I don’t like not knowing what other people do know, unless they’re in the beef jerky-making business. So I decided to investigate postmodernism and see what it’s all about. If you’re short on time I’ll give you the executive summary: Everything you see, think, and believe isn’t real. Got it? Have a nice day.
Postmodernism is intentionally hard to define. If, as the theory claims, the world has no intrinsic meaning, then the word to describe it should be no exception. For example, the French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard defines postmodernism as “incredulity towards metanarratives”—which certainly is meaningless in the sense that one can only respond, What the @#^&* does THAT mean?
I’ll try to explain. In this context, “modern” refers to all the collected wisdom of the world’s great thinkers, from Plato to Joe the bartender, who, like wise parents, told us, “This, my children, is how the world works.” Then, around the 1950s, a bunch of intellectuals came along like gum-snapping juvenile delinquents and said, “Yeah? Who says so?” Hence, postmodernism.
Postmodernists are skeptical on a grand scale. They don’t question some things; they question everything. Why should I listen to Socrates? He couldn’t even write. He had to get Plato to take notes. And this Descartes guy with his “I think, therefore I am.” We think he isn’t what he thought he was. Gravity says things fall down? We’re spinning on a ball in space. There is no up and down. And if Shakespeare was the greatest writer of all time, how come he never made The New York Times Best Seller list?
These statements all spring from postmodernism’s overarching view that the truths and values we accept as established knowledge are no more than the subjective opinions of some self-important old guys who want us to think like they do. Their “facts” are actually symbols of oppression meant to form a vision of human life as they prefer to see it.
Postmodernists don’t question some things; they question everything.
If the conclusions derived from this viewpoint are accurate, I’m afraid I have some depressing news: There is no universal truth. You can’t really “know” anything. “Reality” isn’t real. There’s no innate human nature—it’s all social conditioning. And two plus two may or may not equal four. It’s entirely up to you.
If you choose to become a postmodernist (they give you a test with no right answers, so it’s pretty easy to pass), you’ll lead an interesting life. Even something as simple as a traffic ticket can lead to a discourse worthy of Aristotle: Your honor, this ticket says I ran through a “red” light, but that is not true. “Red” is a wholly arbitrary term applied to a particular segment of the visible color spectrum somewhere between 380 and 750 nanometers—a so-called scientific “fact” which I do not accept. There is no absolute criterion by which you can prove the light was “red,” and consequently no way you can pronounce that I broke “the law,” which is in itself a totally subjective social construct invented by the elite to arrogate all power to themselves.
If you can get away with that, let me know. I’m in.
Of course, the conundrum is that if the postmodern world is absurd—i.e., having no rational connection to human life—then none of us exist. When I told that to my wife, she reminded me that if we don’t pay our nonexistent mortgage we’re going to have a nonexistent house. I pondered those words as I mowed our nonexistent lawn and thought—maybe I should stop listening to intellectuals.
John Cadley is a former advertising copywriter, freelance writer, and musician living in Fayetteville, New York. Learn more at www.cadleys.com.