Monday, March 29, 2010

Postmodernism exemplified

I often regret having taken a module on "Rural Change" at university instead of "Postmodern Geographies." Why is this? Because Postmodernism is rampant as a philosophy! Although my father is an academic, he is most decidedly not a Postmodernist, and has written against it. Thus I exist in the world where history is a matter of facts, not just of opinions.

And, having referred to my father, may I say that he has a good point when he says that the Postmodern approach to history does not work. After all, who wants to say in public that the opinion that the holocaust did not happen is jolly good? Holocaust denial is a pariah subject in academic history, as witness the fate of David Irving. I saw no Postmodernists rush to his defence, declaring that his opinion is just as valid as the opinion that Hitler murdered millions of Jews, Gypsies and other "undesirables".

In my experience, Postmodernism can be wearying for the apologist. Let me give an example. A while ago I engaged a Postmodernist in debate on the internet (informally). He had stated that the Bible had been changed over time, and that we could not know what the documents originally said, because the "Church" had control of them (I summarize). I replied that in fact there has never been a time in which any one person or body had control of the text. Rome and Constantinople have never been willing to submit to each other. I also pointed out that the papyri found in Egypt were under no-one's control.

He re-stated his views, adding "How can you be true to yourself knowing this?" Note the implication that to disagree with him is a sign of intellectual dishonesty. Since postmodernism does not hold absolute truth to exist, it cannot say "you're wrong." All too often the substitute phrase or idea is "you are intellectually dishonest". Thus a personal attack takes the place of reasoned argument.

I answered that there are good factual reasons for holding his view to be factually incorrect, but we were arguing on different planes. He then changed his tack to the idea that "nothing in the Gospels is original", and that it is "an old tale new told." I replied that I would like to know what his sources are so I can examine them for myself, and pointed out that the parallels usually claimed are seriosuly over-stated. His reply was along the lines of:

"My view that the Gospels are 'an old tale new-told' is a deeply held personal belief..."

There you go. This is code for "back off or I'll be offended". Never mind that he began by attacking the trustworthiness of the Bible (surely a 'deeply held personal belief' of Christians, his "deeply held personal belief" cannot be questioned.

Now, for someone like myself, there is the temptation to view this as some sort of victory, showing that his ideas are not based on fact, but are part of an irrational belief system. The trouble is, Postmodernism doesn't really care for the facts, at least not this man's brand of it. This irritates me, as it makes debate all but impossible!

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