My hope is that this post will encourage some to further investigate the philosophy of postmodernism.
It’s dangerous, it’s dominating our campuses, and it has infiltrated our primary schools. It’s why Antifa, Social Justice Warriors and 90% of English and Humanities professors can say in all seriousness that speech and violence are the same.
No matter how ridiculous it seems, there is a case to be made that postmodernism contains some truth, going back to the Counter-Enlightment philosophers and especially Immanuel Kant.
Complacence, because of the laughable internal inconsistency and overall incoherence of postmodernism, is a luxury we cannot afford. Postmodernism wears inconsistency and incoherence as a badge of honor.
It’s the indoctrination being visited upon your children. It’s envirostatism, social justice uber alles, and Title IX rejection of due process by university adminstrators.
Postmodernism has many strains, and the ability to actually believe they mean what they say requires extensive study. I’ve begun that study, having read several books and hundreds of articles on the internet. So, I’m pretty sure that not more than a tenth of one percent of those reading this would be interested in a long explication. You can get that elsewhere, and I’ll include some suggestions at the end.
Keep in mind, postmodernists mean what they say. It’s not metaphor. They’re quite sincere.
I want to focus on how postmodernists can claim that speech (they don’t like) is literally violence. To start, here’s a brief prerequistite look at PoMo:
Postmodernism, the school of “thought” that proclaimed “There are no truths, only interpretations” has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for “conversations” in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster.
–Dr. Daniel Dennett
In sum, postmodernism rejects truth and knowledge in favor of intention and emotion. Reason itself is merely a tool of oppression. Postmodernism elevates group identity and victimhood to the status of religion and denigrates individualism.
Postmodernism, in the forms where it is not simply banal, is a nihilistic doctrine where, because there’s no objective reality, nothing you do can actually matter. This allows its adherents to free themselves of responsibility for their own actions, thoughts, intentions and emotions. Being free of responsibility is attractive.
Even as it drains all meaning from life, freedom from responsibility seems very safe. Though you can’t accomplish anything good, nobody can blame you if you do something bad. “Good” and “bad” are just figments in the imagination of Western Culture, in any case. Praise and blame are merely social constructions.
The postmodernist meta-argument that speech is violence posits the very concept of free expression as a Western, scientific, individualist, colonial, cisnormative, male, white, capitalist conspiracy to prevent the oppressed from being heard. Not prevent them from speaking, mind you, the oppressed are allowed to speak in order to maintain the illusion of free expression; but the opressors not only don’t listen, they’re incapable of listening – because “privilege.” A corollary here is that the speech of the oppressed can never be violence, because who cares about speech they can’t hear? This is parallel to the idea that only whites can be racist.
To buy into that you have to accept a number of assumptions, the primary of which is that there is no objective reality. From that follows absolute cultural relativity and complete moral equivalency. Except for Western culture, which is evil.
Did I mention incoherence and inconsistency?
Notwithstanding their rejection of Western science (One postmodernist-feminist writer, Dr. Luce Irigaray, claimed that the formula E=Mc2 “privileges the speed of light.” See also my posts Lysenko’s handmaid, Connecting the dotty and Academiot roundup), the PoMoists don’t mind attempting a ‘science-based’ argument to advance their narrative if they think they can get away with it. It’s like taqiyya.
Here is a postmodernist case from the New York Times for equating speech with violence. I’m not going to quote from it, you can read the whole thing if you want to, but the summary is that speech can cause stress and stress can damage your body. So, some speech – whatever speech makes you uncomfortable – is literally violence.
From this, it is easy to conclude that the principles our society uses to deal with physical violence should also be applicable to speech, so violence against “speakers I dislike” is self-defense.
Therefore, it is important to train students that anything that upsets them is a form of violence.
a-Students’ emotional reactions are a direct result of others’
speech, and automatically make students victims.
b-Physically silencing upsetting speech is morally justified,
c-Questioning a or b proves you are an oppressor by definition,
and you commit violence when you question.
What’s missing from this stress argument is this: In the case of physical violence, damage to your person is controlled by another; but in the case of stress caused by speech you can assert control by taking responsibility for your reaction, by logically refuting that speech, or by simply avoiding exposure to it. Since responsibility and logic are not available to postmodernists, they can only choose ‘avoid exposure’ – but they won’t do that because they have to make you act as if cultural relativism and moral equivalency are absolutes in a universe where truth cannot be known.
Did I mention incoherence and inconsistency? But, remember, it isn’t silly – it’s being taught to your children.
In conclusion, a real world example: This doctrine of “speech as violence” would fully justify the massacre by sufficiently offended (they decide, and they did) Islamists at Charlie Hebdo as ‘self defense.’
The best introductory book on postmodernism I’ve read so far is Dr. Stephen Hicks’ book Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault.
Violent Phrases That Are Used In Everyday Speech
This one is just silly, but it demonstrates the insidious reach of incoherent postmodernism.
Postmodernism and Cultural Marxism | Jordan B Peterson (44min)