Making Sense of the Surreal: The Worldview of American Politics, Part 2

In the previous article, I discussed two important characteristics of the version of postmodernism that dominates American political life.

The first is the belief that truth and with it, reality, is a social construct. This leads to an obsession with language and political power, because they have the ability to reshape social constructs and with them, truth (as perceived by the public) and reality itself.

The second characteristic is the systematic use of the zero sum game in analyzing power, social relations, cultures, economics, moral standing, etc. In a zero sum game, for one person to win or get ahead, another person must lose or fall behind. Combined with the assumption that all the problems in the world are caused by oppression, the zero sum game leads to the idea that socially or culturally dominant groups got that way by taking power from others and thus oppressing them; this means that the dominant groups lose moral standing while the oppressed gain it. This helps explain why feminists and homosexual activists can also support the Muslim Brotherhood, and President Obama can make deals with Iran (which executes homosexuals) while lecturing Kenyans on their need to accept same sex “marriage.”

A third element is the Grand Bargain: the demand for unlimited sexual freedom enforced by government regulation, and thus a willingness to compromise other rights as long as sexual freedom without any consequences is preserved.

Cracks in the facade
The problems and dangers inherent in this view of reality are legion. We see one of them in the competition to be recognized as an oppressed group in order to gain moral authority. The conflict between transgenders and radical feminists is an illustration of this: radical feminists, in an odd convergence with social conservatives, argue that being a woman is a matter of birth not choice, and trans-women therefore do not deserve the protections afforded by law to women; the transgender community sees itself as oppressed, argues that trans persons have the right to define their own reality (cf. Justice Kennedy), and thus have every right to be recognized legally as women if that is how they define themselves.

Or consider women in society more broadly: a higher percentage of women than men graduate from high school, enter college, complete their degrees, and go on to advanced degrees. Similarly, the wage gap between men and women that has been touted even by the President has been thoroughly debunked by economists when you take all the relevant factors into account. Yet my university has a Permanent Committee on the Concerns of Women despite the fact that particularly in educational terms, they are succeeding far more than men. Men are routinely presented as buffoons in television commercials and sitcoms, while women are shown as more responsible and capable. Yet feminists insist that sexism is a major problem and that women are oppressed, because by so doing they gain moral authority. This is not to deny that sexism still exists, but it is far less virulent and powerful than it is made to appear.

Finding the Root Causes of Social Problems
Political postmodernism also prevents us from identifying the real source of many of the problems we are facing. For example, we have a litany of explanations for the problems facing America’s inner cities. We wring our hands over solutions, most of which involve blaming the problems on institutional racism exhibited in inadequately funded schools, incarceration rates of African American men, police harassment of minorities, etc.

While there is no doubt that we have racial problems in this country, racism is not the root of the problem. Social science shows us that poverty, criminality, drug use, dropout rates, earlier sexual activity, and a host of other problems we see in the inner city are statistically connected to fatherlessness, but that is the one thing we are not permitted to talk about. The rhetoric is that all family structures are legitimate, that fathers and mothers are interchangeable, and to suggest that one family structure is normative or superior is bigoted, judgmental, and “heteronormative.” Thus rather than addressing the root causes of the problems, we absolve criminals of their activity if it is a “protest” against “oppression” and we put the blame on the police or on institutional racism. Conveniently, the solution is to give the right political elites more power so they can fix the problem, thus promoting the postmodernists’ statist agenda.

Similarly, one philosopher argued that parents who read to their children at night are giving them an unfair advantage, which they should at least occasionally recognize (and presumably feel guilty about: who wants to be unfair?). But the appropriate solution isn’t to make parents who are doing the best for their children feel bad about it, but to help all parents give the same advantage to their children.

The Zero Sum Game vs. Win-Win Scenarios
On a bigger level, we should simply note that the world is not a zero sum game. To use the standard analogy, if one person takes a big piece of a pie, it does not mean everyone else has to have a smaller piece; you can bake more pies so everyone gets more. Human creativity means things are not as fixed and finite in reality as they are in the minds of postmodernists.

This is the fundamental problem with the emphasis on “white privilege” that has gotten so much press recently. To the extent that it exists, the solution is not to end it but to extend it to other groups: we should be working to give the “advantages” that come from being white to all ethnicities. This can raise uncomfortable issues: one reason police tend to stop young Black men so often is that they commit a disproportionately high number of crimes. Until issues such as this are addressed, white “privilege” will continue to exist.

Or look at poverty: the solution is not to play Robin Hood and take from the rich to give to the poor, but to fix whatever institutional problems are holding the poor back—violence, lack of property rights, lack of access to courts, failure of rule of law, etc.—and to provide the poor with opportunity to work their way out of poverty. No one was ever raised out of poverty by charity; they need opportunity.

The examples can be multiplied.

If we are going to interact effectively with our neighbors and with the political classes today, we must first understand how they think and why some of the things that seem to make no sense actually fit together in their minds. Like most people, political postmodernists are often not even aware of the ideas that make up their worldview. Helping them think through the core ideas, especially about the zero sum game, may open the door to more fruitful dialogue and the ability to shift their positions to something that aligns more with true reality.

Next steps

How well do you think you grasp the concepts in this article and the one previous. Try sharing them with a friend, or your small group. See what kind of response you get. Do you think you could hold your own in a debate with someone who holds a postmodern worldview?

Further Reading:
If you’d like to get a broader grasp on postmodernism, download “Literary Criticism and Postmodernism” from the Colson Center Library. You can purchase a more in-depth work called Truth or Consequences: The Promise & Perils of Post-Modernism from the Online Store.



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