Flirting with postmodernism

by toonalfrink1 min read28th Aug 202112 comments



Simultaneously studying software architecture and Ken Wilber brought be to the dazzling idea that postmodernism is essentially an attempt to split up our cultural "big ball of mud" into different systems of truth (aka contexts), and create loose coupling between them.

There is no longer a requirement for true and meaningful claims to be consistent across system boundaries, only within them.

In software development, this means teams no longer have to check how new functionality impacts some other department, which greatly reduces the complexity of their work.

Complexity is a great limitation on progress. If it only takes a year to learn how a system works, you can spend the rest of your time extending it. But extending it makes the learning time greater. The story becomes longer.

At some point, the time it takes to understand a system is so great that extending it becomes near impossible, and progress grinds to a halt. You can solve this by splitting the system up. Pieces of it that were already relatively self-contained, become systems in their own right.

We know various ways to do that with software, but how do you do it with a culture? Well maybe: deny the concept of objective truth, of which there can only be one, and affirm subjectivism and pluralism. No longer one global judge of truth and meaning, but many local ones.

I'm not defending postmodernism in its entirety here, because obviously the pendulum has swung too far, but consider how relaxing our ever so stringent requirements on truth might help us make more epistemic value attempts.

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Instead of denying objective truth, can't you get the same benefit by making your claims precise enough that they only talk about one system?

But where is the ground of even one system to make it objective (rather than intersubjective)?

I don't have a good answer for how people do this, at least not without thinking about it for a while. But I think I know several people who are quite good at in practice, so I dispute that 'you can give a philosophical explanation of how this works' is a relevant rebuttal.

There is some relevant difference between the practical and the philosophical, where for some particular purpose the lack of "objective" being possible doesn't matter because you're not asking for resolution past the point where it's relevant. As long as you are comfortable with the assumptions you've made and don't wish to question them, this won't be a concern, and you can make great practical progress despite the lack of firm grounding (as evidenced by the existence of the modern world).

When I read what you write it's unclear to me what this has to do with postmodernism. I imagine that you wrote it without engaging with postmodernism. Wilbers work seems to me to have little to do with the postmodernist project.

I am admittedly working off the definition of it's critics, including Wilber's definition which includes, in his words:
- constructivism (the world is not just a perception but an interpretation)
- contextualism (all truths are context-dependent, and contexts are boundless)
- integral-aperspectivism (no context is finally privileged, so an integral view should include multiple perspectives; pluralism; multi-culturalism)

Do you think this definition is missing the point? If yes, where do you think I should be looking for a better one?

I've been down this path. Just give up the idea of talking about "postmodernism" it causes too much confusion. Just say what you want directly without referencing this much confused and misunderstood ism.

Construtivists like Norbert Wiener aren't post-modernists by most understandings of the term. If you for example look at the Wikipedia page for constructivism and for postmodernism there aren't any overlapping names. 

"The integral view should" that's Ken Wilber speaking about his philosophy. It's not some standard postmodern philosopher speaking.

I don't see how acknowledging that different models work in different contexts necessitates giving up the search for objective truth.

Let's say that in order to reduce complexity, we separate Physics into two fields - Relativistic Mechanics and Quantum Mechanics - whose models currently don't mesh together. I think we can achieve that without appealing to subjectivity, or abandoning the search of an unifying model. Acknowledging the limitations of our current models seems enough.

You're right, simply acknowledge differences is insufficient. You have to run it all the way to ground to discover there was never any ground as solid as you thought there was.

Thank you for the link.

Right, none of our models are philosophically grounded. But, does that make them all equal? That's what the post sounds like to me:

Well maybe: deny the concept of objective truth, of which there can only be one, and affirm subjectivism and pluralism.

To me, this seems like the ultimate Fallacy of Gray.

Then again, I am not well read at philosophy, so my comments might be isomorphic to "Yay pragmatism! Go objectivity!", while those may or may not be compatible.

If culture does not have any common ground which binds them together, it simply disintegrates. You are essentially for atomization of society actually. If you rip apart different parts of culture, and they stop making sense to each other, same will happen with people.  Without a common narrative, a myth, it is impossible to keep society together.

To frame complexity as a problem is like "I am not smart enough x problem therefore how about I pretend that there is no x." 

Nations and peoples are bound together by common myths, common cuisine and common survival strategies. These uniqueness create a bond, a familiarity. Destroying this is effectively destroying people.

You should take a look to the Early Greek history and especially focus on Polis.