Many Westerners remain unaware of the inculcations of Postmodernism and the threat it represents to the West.
This issue of PortVitoria is dedicated to Postmodernism, a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad scepticism, subjectivism, or relativism, a general suspicion of reason, and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power. Postmodernism started in the field of literary criticism, where it promoted the idea that there are countless ways to interpret a text. Postmodernism became a threat to the West when it began to be applied to society. Inspired by Karl Marx (1818-1883) and the Marxist French philosopher and psychologist Michel Foucault (1926-1984), this is exactly what the sociologist Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) did when he modified Marx’s view of the power relation between capitalists and the proletariat to one between oppressors and the oppressed. According to the postmodern interpretation of society, all the values of the Enlightenment such as reason, science, technological progress, dialogue, individual liberty, etc., are all masks to hide the truth, which is the power relationships that exist between different groups in society. A major consequence of Postmodernism is identity politics, which is behind every existing social conflict within Western society such as male versus (vs) female, black vs white, gay vs straight, etc. Another consequence of Postmodernism is the inculcation that it is acceptable to put the past on trial and to judge it through the morality of the present. Some examples are the defacing of public monuments, the scrutiny of everyday speech, and the idea that pecuniary reparations are owed by the West to the descendants of those who were oppressed by slavery and colonialism. All of these things are enveloped by hate, which serves the objective of power of Postmodernism. The unwanted consequence of this hate is to remove the old wisdom of ‘let bygones be bygones’, which allows individuals to move on with their own lives.
To move on with one’s life is a necessary condition to enter the path of the ‘good life’ defined in Western philosophy as ‘a life of virtue that is the way to a happy existence’. Postmodernism is unconcerned with the ‘good life’ and dismisses traditional philosophy just as it dismisses the Enlightenment, labeling both as ‘grand narratives’ designed to give power. Undermining the values of the West is part of the postmodern strategy of social construction and deconstruction which is normally staged on the media by the social constructivists. One of their tricks to enhance a piece of news is to synchronize press releases in different communities. It is not surprising that many social constructivists are versed in the art of propaganda. Their narratives normally reveal a preference for short narratives and powerful imagery that emphasize the grim, the outrageous, and the eye-catching. There is the hallmark of Postmodernism in the rise of political tribalism and collective identity, the infestation of web bots, and the current proliferation of fake news.
This edition offers a neutral description of Postmodernism extracted from Encyclopaedia Britannica, as well as two critical opinions; one by Norman Berdichevsky and the other by myself. Berdichevsky’s article is entitled “How the Left wins arguments by narratives; Postmodernism, and the ‘greater moral significance’”, and it focuses on the postmodernist transgression of the traditional pattern of narrative. My article is entitled ‘What is Postmodernism about’, and it is an essay taken from my 2016 book O Homem Razoável (The Reazonable Man).
Another offering in this edition is a chapter from Stephen R C Hicks’ book Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, which was published initially in 2004 by Scholarly Publishing, and in 2011 by Ockham’s Razor Publishing. The article was taken from the Portuguese translation of Hicks’ book. In it, Hicks explains that social media has given an edge to Postmodernism by luring people into group-thinking.
The awareness of Postmodernism allows a clarifying hindsight of past events that we were unable to comprehend fully when they occurred. An example is the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, or simply Rio 92. It was supposed to solve the conundrum of how to develop without destroying the natural environment, but instead, it turned out to be more of a great spectacle to grab media attention. Although the hindsight examination of UNCED clearly reveals Postmodernism in action, such as the construction of iconic personas, there are two eye-witnesses that confirm this. They are two Canadian journalists, Elaine Dewar, who recorded her findings in her 1995 book Cloak of Green, and James Cobett. The latter revisited the event with Dewar, in an interview conducted in February 2016. This interview complements the arguments presented against Postmodernism.
The two books reviewed in this edition dwell on the problems of Postmodernism. The first book is Provocations (2018) by Camille Paglia, a massive collection of essays on high and low culture, including Postmodernism and the damage it has caused to higher education. The second book is The Madness of Crowds. Gender, Race and Identity (2019) by Douglas Murray, an in-depth analysis of the upsurge in political identity groups of women and LGBT. In his book, Murray points out some of the problems of group political identity, especially the abuse of power on the part of their leaders. Assigning the label of racist to people they dislike, demanding the sack of an academic for merely expressing an opinion, and insufflating disturbances on campuses are some examples he cites.
Finally, a Postmodernism-free space, in the Poetry slot, which is dedicated to Noel Rosa (1910-1937), one of Brazil’s most creative composers and lyricists. Although Rosa died age 26, of tuberculosis – he managed to compose over 300 songs during his short life, mostly ‘sambas’ and lively carnival songs called ‘marchinhas’ . Three of Rosa’s songs are shown, accompanied by their English translations, after his biography. I often speculate on how far Rosa would have gone if he had not died so young. He might have been a Brazilian alternative to Bob Dylan.
I hope this edition will provoke thought and even, a questioning of some modern-day misconceptions.
Editor of PortVitoria