SIO53: What Is Postmodernism? With Aaron Rabi

What the Gender Studies Hoax and Jordan B. Peterson’s pronoun mania both have in common is the bogeyman of postmodernism. It seems to be conventional wisdom that postmodernism is manifestly crazy. But how substantive is that criticism in reality? I’ve invited a philosopher, Aaron Rabi, to give us a bit of a lesson on what postmodernism is and perhaps where the criticisms are accurate and where they fall short.

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3 Replies to “SIO53: What Is Postmodernism? With Aaron Rabi”

  1. I get a kick out of hearing how Einsteinian physics “overturned” Newtonian physics, turned Newton on his head and overrode our then-current understanding of the universe. Our current understanding of the physical universe is 99.9% the same as it was before Einstein. You can go to the moon and back without going “Einsteinian.” You need to throw Kepler in on top of Newton because Newton thought the irregularity of celestial orbits was due to the “hand of God.” Kepler figured out that orbits are ellipses, not circles, but that was way before Einstein. From the point of view of a human living on the surface of the earth Einstein’s discoveries and realizations are “corner cases:” what happens at the extremes of existence. How long it takes your car to stop when the brakes are applied and how fast airplanes fall out of the sky if the engines fail are all the same as they ever were.

    It sounds like the world you live in is very malleable, very plastic, made of ideas and attitudes subject to the vagarious winds of philosophical and academic fashion. There are worlds, like that of an aeronautics engineer, for instance, where the underlying principles don’t change season by season, decade by decade, era by era. The engineer can strive to refine and improve the design of an aircraft, but the basic principles must be adhered to or the product will fail. I’ve brought it up before, but who among us can make a cell phone from scratch? Who among us can live without a cell phone? We are all hopelessly dependent on a deep network of makers and doers who we don’t know and who we have very little understanding of or respect for. We philosophize merrily away at their ultimate pleasure and discretion.

    Oh, and all meaning is local. There can be no ultimate meaning. If there were, we wouldn’t be here. Only the meaningless can be truly eternal. It means what it is. It’s couscous and quinoa all the way down.

    Embrace the Void, y’all!

  2. There’s a part of me that came to this episode assuming I’d be reassured that the notable figures arguing for a return to modernist thought were just overreacting to small, idiosyncratic annoyances that are relevant to their field (e.g., people challenging the relevance of their claims) but failing to appreciate the consequences of rejecting postmodernist thought in other fields (e.g., person-centered therapy as an effective mental health treatment).

    When your guest mentioned naive scientism, and noted “race realism” as an example of modernist thought, I realized my assumptions about these notable figures may be overly hopeful.

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