when “postmodern” gets too nice

May 2, 2008

Ever since I started blogging, and even before that, I’ve tried steering as clear as possible from the term “postmodern” (or post-modern). It’s a minefield when you go out there. When I use the word I try keeping to a very general definition. I found Fritjof Capra’s A Web of Life to be one of the best definitions, although he doesn’t ever give a definition, but simply describe changes in science over the past couple of decades.

But sometimes, in ground-level conversations, we tend to be more prescriptive about postmodernism than descriptive. What I mean is that we spend more time telling people how they should think when postmodern than listening to how they think now that they are part of a postmodern generation. This typically comes out when people state, explicitly or implicitly, that postmodern is necessarily “good” and modern “bad”, and that on top of that, postmodern is what “I am”, and modern what those I differ with are.

We then hear things like all truth is relative (something which I think I agree with, wrote about it here), or that we should make room for different opinions (another thing I’m very fond of), and then try to force this into our own lives in unnatural ways. Two examples:

  • I joined a discussion a few days ago, and took some friends along. In the car on the way back, I started asking about their experiences (another thing I like to do at times), and onssaid that the problems with the discussions is that there isn’t really discussion going on. Everyone would just say what they think, and even differ, and then leave it to that.
  • I am currently attending a “seminar” by Roger Greenaway, an expert on reviewing. I’ve been using his model and some of his tools for reviewing for nearly three years now, and can tell amazing stories about how this has helped me. But currently I’m not that impressed with the experience I’m having. I’m not sure if it’s his fault, or the group’s, but somehow the conversation tend to get into the “let’s just get every opinion on the table and let it be”, or the “let’s get something nice to say about everyone, whether they deserve it or not” category the whole time.

This seem to be very nice, and very “postmodern”, but I think we are missing the point here. We could, for example, gain a lot from Roger’s work when using a word like “holistic” to describe postmodernism; Roger could then help us to not only listen to the logical argument going on, but also to the experiences people are having, which would help us get a more holistic view of what happened, or what is happening. Or what if we rather used a word like “relational”: I’ve written some time ago:

Truth is also relational, in relation with each other, in conversation with each other, seeing each others opinions, looking through each others lenses (as far as that might be possible), we arrive at answers.

When in conversation, differing is OK! Even arguing is OK. What’s not OK is saying that my way and my way alone may be correct. What’s not OK is saying that the logical argument I’m using must be correct because it’s logical. The physical sciences have shown over and over again that what seemed logical at one stage change when new information, or perspectives, get put on the table. So if differing, or even arguing, can help you to see things through the others eyes, through the eyes of another gender, generation, race, culture, or whatever else there might be, then maybe we need the differing, maybe we need to point out to people if there is a difference in how we see things. Not necessarily to be able to win the case, but rather to continue our search for truth and meaning relationally, rather then individually, or by only listening to certain “power” figures (whether intellectual, political, religious, or whatever might be found).

Do sharpen my thoughts on this if I’m missing the point myself…

2 Responses to “when “postmodern” gets too nice”

  1. lushbooks Says:

    Great posting. I like the idea of using the word “relational”.


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