I continue being not well, and otherwise also as before, so I cannot do much. Yesterday there was no Nederlog and today I continue a theme I wrote about before in connection with ME, namely postmodernism. I think this is quite relevant and important, so as to come to understand the Wessely-school of psychiatry, that uses its methods, and to understand why this pseudoscience could become so dominant in society and politics, and namely over patients with ME/CFS in England (Wessely, White, Sharpe etc.), the USA (Reeves, Holmes, Jones), and in Holland (Bleijenberg, Van der Meer): postmodernism has corrupted and poisoned the standards and practices of science, education, academia, politics and public discussion.
1. Introducing pomo
2. Morningstar shines bright light on postmodernism
The first section gives an overview of postmodernism aka pomo with the help of my own writings and those in the Wikipedia and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, while the second section shines a bright light on it by an engineer in a text that deserves wide reading and some comments.
1. Introducing pomo
I wrote about it before, and postmodernism is a large topic, but very happily I have found a nice and interesting text that I will quote from, comment on and link below, in which the topic of postmodernism is very nicely and clearly analyzed, as I will show by quoting, while also I'll make some additional explanatory points.
That treatment will be quite general, so I start with some references to postmodernism. Here it is first as defined in my Philosophical Dictionary, followed by a number of my texts in Nederlog of this year:
- Postmodernism: a.k.a. po-mo: Fraudulent philosophy of fraudulent would-be scientists and would-be philosophers who seek to make a career and get money and status by pretending to emancipate others, and who insist "truth does not exist", "truth is relative", "all moral norms are equally relative", "all men are equal" (and usually in po-mo circles "but women are more equal than men").
... followed by considerably more text
Scientific Realism versus Postmodernism | ME en postmodernisme
This is a clear tabular nine-fold distinction between the two. The second is the original of the first in Dutch.
On science, ME, research-funding and postmodernism
What has happened over the last two to three decades is that post-modernism has mostly taken over, and has politicized-moralized almost things, into democratic issues of correctness, that also should be publicly discussed and decided in the media or by governments or by NGOs or or by corporations, with the money to manipulate the media, mostly on a public relations level for the deceived public, and in networks of (semi-)political professional players in committees behind the scenes.
Hence effectively, the politicians, bureaucrats, NGOs and corporation have, largely through playing, paying and manipulating the media, taken over the power in science and research from the scientists and researchers, and for the most part force these to do what they want researched and not researched, although always proper care is taken for a good dose of pr and spin to deceive the public into thinking all has been done for the best of reasons in the general interest, while this is normally not the case, as in fact private, political or corporate interests pay the piper to play the tunes that are most profitable for them, while appearing digestible to the average - "The Democratic Majority" - of The People.
On the postmodern falsifications in Wessely & McClures BMJ-editorial
As will be explained below, the essence of postmodernism is abuse of language and reason, and here I show quite clearly how Wessely and McClure did this in an editorial about their negative XMRV-experiment.
Finally, in more general terms about postmodernism, here are some links to Wikipedia-items and a Stanford Enc Phil article (as seen last today) with some enlightenment-bringing quotes:
Postmodernism (postmodernistically presented on Wikipedia)
I quote its beginning:
Postmodernism is a tendency in contemporary culture characterized by the rejection of objective truth and global cultural narrative. It emphasizes the role of language, power relations, and motivations; in particular it attacks the use of sharp classifications such as male versus female, straight versus gay, white versus black, and imperial versus colonial. Postmodernism has influenced many cultural fields, including literary criticism, sociology, linguistics, architecture, visual arts, and music.
Postmodernist thought is an intentional departure from modernist approaches that had previously been dominant. The term "postmodernism" comes from its critique of the "modernist" scientific mentality of objectivity and progress associated with the Enlightenment.
Warning: The links in the above are again seem mostly... postmodernistic.
Postmodernism (postmodernistically presented in... the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, that is on the whole much better than this article).
I quote its beginning:
That postmodernism is indefinable is a truism. However, it can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.
The term “postmodernism” first entered the philosophical lexicon in 1979, with the publication of The Postmodern Condition by Jean-François Lyotard.
Followed by a lot more.
The Sokal-affair (Wikipedia)
The American physicist Sokal was not amused and produced a famous hoax: He tricked the editors of a leading French postmodernistic journal to accept utter nonsense.
The link gives text and background and many links.
Postmodernism disrobed (by Richard Dawkins)
Here one may learn a lot in a brief scope - and Dawkins will have none of it, but has nice quotes, such as this most enlightening typical pomo bit:
We can clearly see that there is no bi-univocal correspondence between linear signifying links or archi-writing, depending on the author, and this multireferential, multi-dimensional machinic catalysis. The symmetry of scale, the transversality, the pathic non-discursive character of their expansion: all these dimensions remove us from the logic of the excluded middle and reinforce us in our dismissal of the ontological binarism we criticised previously.
And also I must draw your attention, especially in the context of Getting your Whee-whees cuddled - the French postmodernistic psychiatric maitre penseur Lacan in full flight, caught by Dawkins, and I for one would not at all be amazed if Wessely, White and Sharpe have learned a lot from Lacan, notably what one can get away with and what one get famous with, since postmodernism ruined most of the universities.
Here is the postmodern equivalence of the square root of minus 1 and the male organ:
They go on to quote the following remarkable piece of reasoning by Lacan:
Thus, by calculating that signification according to the algebraic method used here, namely:
You don't have to be a mathematician to see that this is ridiculous. It recalls the Aldous Huxley character who proved the existence of God by dividing zero into a number, thereby deriving the infinite. In a further piece of reasoning that is entirely typical of the genre, Lacan goes on to conclude that the erectile organ
... is equivalent to the of the signification produced above, of the jouissance that it restores by the coefficient of its statement to the function of lack of signifier (-1).
We do not need the mathematical expertise of Sokal and Bricmont to assure us that the author of this stuff is a fake. Perhaps he is genuine when he speaks of non-scientific subjects? But a philosopher who is caught equating the erectile organ to the square root of minus one has, for my money, blown his credentials when it comes to things that I don't know anything about
The Postmodernism Generator
I have mentioned it before and here repeat my instructions for its use from the last time I did:
Instructions for use, also for instantaneous enlightenment and enduring bliss:
1. Click the link
2. Savour and Enjoy (save if useful for your coursework in clinical psychology!)
3. Reload the page.
4. Savour and Enjoy (save if useful for your coursework in modern philosophy!)
5. Return to step 3.
This will give you infinite supplies of Crawleyesque, Wesselite, Whiteish, Sharpeish prose.
2. Morningstar shines bright light on postmodernism
Now to the the text that shines a bright light on pomo: Chip Morningstar's
I found it under The Sokal-affair (Wikipedia), and indeed it is earlier than the Sokal-affair of 1994, namely from 1991, and it didn't get to be an affair, but seemed to have involved much laughter.
The link above leads you to all of it, and is much recommended, but here follows a list of quotations in the order in which they occur in the text, with my comments. I will indent Morningstar's text.
It starts thus:
This is the story of one computer professional's explorations in the world of postmodern literary criticism. I'm a working software engineer, not a student nor an academic nor a person with any real background in the humanities. Consequently, I've approached the whole subject with a somewhat different frame of mind than perhaps people in the field are accustomed to. Being a vulgar engineer I'm allowed to break a lot of the rules that people in the humanities usually have to play by, since nobody expects an engineer to be literate. Ha. Anyway, here is my tale.
Note that the year is 1991 and Morningstar is going to make a presentation on a conference that motivated him in a particular way:
It was in turn stimulating, aggravating, fascinating and infuriating, a breathtaking intellectual roller coaster ride unlike anything else I've recently encountered in my professional life. My last serious brush with the humanities in an academic context had been in college, ten years earlier. The humanities appear to have experienced a considerable amount of evolution (or perhaps more accurately, genetic drift) since then.
I will leave most of that and some other matters out and follow the main line of his argument only, while I should start by remarking that postmodernism, to which Morningstar was entirely new and fresh in 1991, was known to me since the 1970ies, first only in French philosophy, then in leftist politics and movements (green, environmental, feminist, gay), and then in the University of Amsterdam, where it soon came to dominate the whole university, because of the way these were governed, namely by students + staff since 1971, and in other universities, also outside Holland, namely especially in the socalled soft and literary sciences, and soon also in the media, at least in outline and principle.
But Morningstar missed all that - and indeed it started as a small movement or fashion in philosophy and lit.crit. studies, and in France and Europe before it reached the US.
Back to Morningstar and his conference in 1991 in the the USA, where postmodernism meanwhile had arrived and flourished quite a while, basically - as we shall find out - because it is so very easy to make a degree and career with in the soft science in the universities, that in all Western countries were full to the brim with an ever greater proportion of adolescents who wanted a university-degree without having any interest or talent for real science, but who all were formally qualified to enter university because pre-university education had been much levelled "so as to give people more equal chances". (*)
Here is what Morningstar saw and heard, to his initial bewilderment:
People kept saying the most remarkable things using the most remarkable language, which I found I needed to put down in writing because the words would disappear from my brain within seconds if I didn't. Are you familiar with the experience of having memories of your dreams fade within a few minutes of waking? It was like that, and I think for much the same reason. Dreams have a logic and structure all their own, falling apart into unmemorable pieces that make no sense when subjected to the scrutiny of the conscious mind. So it was with many of the academics who got up to speak. The things they said were largely incomprehensible. There was much talk about deconstruction and signifiers and arguments about whether cyberspace was or was not "narrative". There was much quotation from Baudrillard, Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard, Saussure, and the like, every single word of which was impenetrable. I'd never before had the experience of being quite this baffled by things other people were saying. I've attended lectures on quantum physics, group theory, cardiology, and contract law, all fields about which I know nothing and all of which have their own specialized jargon and notational conventions. None of those lectures were as opaque as anything these academics said.
Quite so, and I judge on the basis of similar experiences. And the difference is that in the other sciences - if contract law is a science, which it is to a considerable extent - the lecturers are not trying to bullshit one, and usually know at least what they are lecturing about.
Morningstar and his colleague had learned quite a lot on the first day of the conference, at least terminologically and morally speaking, and decided to adjust their presentation:
We retreated back to Palo Alto that evening for a quick rewrite. The first order of business was to excise various little bits of phraseology that we now realized were likely to be perceived as Politically Incorrect. Mind you, the fundamental thesis of our presentation was Politically Incorrect, but we wanted people to get upset about the actual content rather than the form in which it was presented. Then we set about attempting to add something that would be an adequate response to the postmodern lit crit-speak we had been inundated with that day. Since we had no idea what any of it meant (or even if it actually meant anything at all), I simply cut-and-pasted from my notes. The next day I stood up in front of the room and opened our presentation with the following:
The essential paradigm of cyberspace is creating partially situated identities out of actual or potential social reality in terms of canonical forms of human contact, thus renormalizing the phenomenology of narrative space and requiring the naturalization of the intersubjective cognitive strategy, and thereby resolving the dialectics of metaphorical thoughts, each problematic to the other, collectively redefining and reifying the paradigm of the parable of the model of the metaphor.
This bit of nonsense was constructed entirely out of things people had actually said the day before, except for the last ten words or so which are a pastiche of Danny Kaye's "flagon with the dragon" bit from The Court Jester, contributed by our co-worker Gayle Pergamit, who took great glee in the entire enterprise. Observing the audience reaction was instructive. At first, various people started nodding their heads in nods of profound understanding, though you could see that their brain cells were beginning to strain a little. Then some of the techies in the back of the room began to giggle. By the time I finished, unable to get through the last line with a straight face, the entire room was on the floor in hysterics, as by then even the most obtuse English professor had caught on to the joke. With the postmodernist lit crit shit thus defused, we went on with our actual presentation.
This must have been about the last time, for some ten or more years at least. in which criticism - 'critique' is the pomo PC term, also used as a verb - of postmodernism was received with laughter by postmodernists, and in fact the subject of postmodernism is a lot more serious than Morningstar seems to have realized in 1991.
For postmodernism was and is about power and career and politics for postmodernists, who generally are impostures, tricks, frauds, trying to introduce non-scientific myths and nonsense in the universities instead of science, for which nearly all postmodernists are not qualified, and in which they are rarely interested, for they are interested foremost, after their own power and career, in politics.
And as it happens postmodernism, that arose in French and German universities, was much helped by Marxism of the sixties and seventies, for most Marxists found out that they could hold on to anything by being postmodern about it, and that one could at the same time claim anything and get away with it, while also seeming quite profound and deeply moral.
At this point, you may be quite interested: How to do this? Morningstar has been there:
I can't claim to be an expert, but I feel I've reached the level of a competent amateur. I think I can explain it. It turns out that there's nothing to be afraid of.
We'll come to that in a moment, but first must pass by an unfortunate misunderstanding of Morningstar, although he sees fairly sharply what is involved:
In fact, one of the beliefs that seems to be characteristic of the postmodernist mind set is the idea that politics and cleverness are the basis for all judgments about quality or truth, regardless of the subject matter or who is making the judgment. A work need not be right, clear, original, or connected to anything outside the group. Indeed, it looks to me like the vast bulk of literary criticism that is published has other works of literary criticism as its principal subject, with the occasional reference to the odd work of actual literature tossed in for flavoring from time to time.
My point and difference with Morningstar is that this "belief" is only "characteristic" of the more stupid "of the postmodernist mind set", which indeed may be the majority of its followers and readers, but is not "characteristic" of its leaders: They know that they are playing O'Brien's language-games described by Orwell in '1984' and that they are in fact themselves impostures, frauds, paradies and travesties of real scientists, and Whores of Reason, just as Tony Blair knows quite well when and why he is lying and what for (Tony's own interests, including the Labour Party). These persons are not stupid: they are clever frauds making a career by deceiving the public.
But since these manner of things are impolite things to say to start with, this is one more reason why postmodernists can get away with it like the emperor without clothes: People are afraid to seem to be impolite, to displease, to criticize, and especially to criticize such apparently unmeasurably deep profondities of great moral bearing that is the usual postmodern fare, for postmodernism is usually preached in the name of the needy: Feminists interests, homosexuals interests, environmentalists interests and anti-globalists concerns have all been adapted by postmodernism as tools for furthering the careers of its proponents.
Now we get to Morningstar's fine analysis of postmodernism, that starts with a fundamental observation I make bold:
The basic enterprise of contemporary literary criticism is actually quite simple. It is based on the observation that with a sufficient amount of clever handwaving and artful verbiage, you can interpret any piece of writing as a statement about anything at all. The broader movement that goes under the label "postmodernism" generalizes this principle from writing to all forms of human activity, though you have to be careful about applying this label, since a standard postmodernist tactic for ducking criticism is to try to stir up metaphysical confusion by questioning the very idea of labels and categories.
And that's it: It's lawyers English; marketing language; language designed to deceive; propaganda disguised as science of some kind; mumbo-jumbo called "new insights of modern psychiatry" and so on.
Here is Morningstar's step by step instruction sequence to learn to be A Real Postmodernist:
Deconstruction, in particular, is a fairly formulaic process that hardly merits the commotion that it has generated. However, like hack writers or television producers, academics will use a formula if it does the job and they are not held to any higher standard (though perhaps Derrida can legitimately claim some credit for originality in inventing the formula in the first place). Just to clear up the mystery, here is the formula, step-by-step:
Step 1 -- Select a work to be deconstructed. This is called a "text" and is generally a piece of text, though it need not be. It is very much within the lit crit mainstream to take something which is not text and call it a text.
In fact, one can take anything at all, the more scandalizing the better, often, and say anything at all about it, provided one does it with lots of moral and intellectual pretension and in forbidding jargon and grammar and not hindered by any desire to speak the truth or respect the facts, for truths and facts themselves are texts for interpretation rather than standards or ends.
In brief, the text or non-text can be anything at all:
Thus you want to pick your text with an eye to the opportunities it will give you to be clever and convoluted, rather than whether the text has anything important to say or there is anything important to say about it. Generally speaking, obscure works are better than well known ones, though an acceptable alternative is to choose a text from the popular mass media, such as a Madonna video or the latest Danielle Steele novel. The text can be of any length, from the complete works of Louis L'Amour to a single sentence.
We are on the way:
Step 2 -- Decide what the text says. This can be whatever you want, although of course in the case of a text which actually consists of text it is easier if you pick something that it really does say. This is called "reading".
Aka "interpretation", especially among philosophical and would be philosophical postmodernists, who indeed call anything at all said about anything at all "interpretation", and believe or pretend they have said something of importance with it.
The brief guiding principle of pomo is: Everything is textual; everything said about a text is interpretation; and anything goes.
Step 3 -- Identify within the reading a distinction of some sort. This can be either something which is described or referred to by the text directly or it can be inferred from the presumed cultural context of a hypothetical reader. It is a convention of the genre to choose a duality, such as man/woman, good/evil, earth/sky, chocolate/vanilla, etc.
I must remark here that, as before, I am not quoting all of Morningstar's text.
Step 4 -- Convert your chosen distinction into a "hierarchical opposition" by asserting that the text claims or presumes a particular primacy, superiority, privilege or importance to one side or the other of the distinction. Since it's pretty much arbitrary, you don't have to give a justification for this assertion unless you feel like it.
We're almost there. Two important things to get here is that postmodernists are very much preoccupied with power and sexuality and related matters (gender, feminism, homosexuality), and that it helps a lot to use a currently fashionable postmodernistic term. (A little after 1991, "hegemony" became THE postmodern epitheton of the day, and every other sentence in a fashionable pomo publication had two or three occurrences of it.)
Step 5 -- Derive another reading of the text, one in which it is interpreted as referring to itself. In particular, find a way to read it as a statement which contradicts or undermines either the original reading or the ordering of the hierarchical opposition (which amounts to the same thing).
Sofar Morningstar's recipe is mostly mechanical. Here a moment of creativity may enter, but since in principle anything goes, one can say anything here, provided one does it in the proper jargon and with PC moral claims. (For that is another pomo feature: In the end, the justification is moral, as in "the end justify the means", while "the end" is always "emancipatory", which has the side-benefit that opponents of postmodernists must be real baddies.)
Indeed, as he says
Fortunately, you have a wide range of intellectual tools at your disposal, which the rules allow you to use in literary criticism even though they would be frowned upon in engineering or the sciences. These include appeals to authority (you can even cite obscure authorities that nobody has heard of), reasoning from etymology, reasoning from puns, and a variety of other word games. You are allowed to use the word "problematic" as a noun. You are also allowed to pretend that the works of Freud present a correct model of human psychology and the works of Marx present a correct model of sociology and economics (it's not clear to me whether practitioners in the field actually believe Freud and Marx or if it's just a convention of the genre).
Fortunately, if not for my peace of mind, this last issue is quite clear to me: The practitioners of Freudianism and Marxism, ever since French and German postmodern academics understood that this allowed them to say anything whatsoever and get away with it, while being praised enthusiastically for one's moral attitudes and concerns ("emancipatory"), have practised postmodernism, quite consciously also, and have achieved much power with it, in universities, in schools, in education of any kind, in politics ... it has been adopted everywhere, and in fact the neo-conservative counter-revolution that started around 2000 again is mostly postmodernistic in orientation and outlook, albeit that their claimed ends differ. They are as relativistic, as prejudiced, and as much spinning, astroturfing, posturing and propagandizing as their opponents, with the same techniques and general outlook.
In fact, the reason that postmodernism is so popular is that it combines the arts of propaganda and marketing and the powers of wishful thinking, fallacious reasoning, groupthinking, and prejudice with the rhetorics of phony philosophers, the moral ideals of conmen, and the moral pretense of the priesthood and clergy, and in fact reduces all questions, all problems, all science, all reasoning, and all argument to propaganda and majority-voting (**). For more see Scientific Realism versus Postmodernism.
Back to Morningstar. In fact, the reader now knows almost all there is to know to become a proficient and famous postmodernist, except for one extra cherry on the cake:
Another minor point, by the way, is that we don't say that we deconstruct the text but that the text deconstructs itself. This way it looks less like we are making things up.
That's basically all there is to it, although there is an enormous variety of stylistic complication that is added in practice.
Morningstar, it should be added, who evidently is a really intelligent man, has taken the trouble to dive into postmodernist literature and "explanations", as he explains in his text, so indeed he did know what he was talking about, though it is a pity he missed in 1991 the strong presence of postmodernism in much of academia, namely wherever there is a soft science.
Being an intelligent man and having taken trouble to understand, Morningstar has found something of some value
Buried in the muck, however, are a set of important and interesting ideas: that in reading a work it is illuminating to consider the contrast between what is said and what is not said, between what is explicit and what is assumed, and that popular notions of truth and value depend to a disturbingly high degree on the reader's credulity and willingness to accept the text's own claims as to its validity.
I grant this - but with the qualifying remark that all of this can found in far more sensible, clearer and better form outside postmodernism, namely in good texts on rhetorics (there are some good modern more or less logical studies in this) and in good literary criticism, that these days belongs to days fairly long gone: Writers like I.A. Richards ("Principles of Literary Criticism"), Ezra Pound ("ABC of Poetry"), and A. Quiller-Couch ("Art of Reading").
And unlike all postmodern writing, that is uniformly ugly, nonsensical, pretensious, false and phony, the just mentioned books are eminently readable and sensible.
Morningstar has a neat and fair if overly optimistic summary judgment, that also seems mistaken to me in various ways. I put the main insights, that I agree with, bold:
The Pseudo Politically Correct term that I would use to describe the mind set of postmodernism is "epistemologically challenged": a constitutional inability to adopt a reasonable way to tell the good stuff from the bad stuff. The language and idea space of the field have become so convoluted that they have confused even themselves. But the tangle offers a safe refuge for the academics. It erects a wall between them and the rest of the world. It immunizes them against having to confront their own failings, since any genuine criticism can simply be absorbed into the morass and made indistinguishable from all the other verbiage. Intellectual tools that might help prune the thicket are systematically ignored or discredited. This is why, for example, science, psychology and economics are represented in the literary world by theories that were abandoned by practicing scientists, psychologists and economists fifty or a hundred years ago. The field is absorbed in triviality.
Unlike Morningstar, I believe postmodernism's main perpetrators have not much confused themselves: They knew they were posturing and why, namely to get personally well-known and make a career, and further the political interests of the groups they were interested in.
And discredited theories - Marxism, Psycho-Analysis - thus became again en vogue or got more powerful by being restated postmodernistically: Postmodernism is a return to pre-scientific reasoning, to propaganda and rhetorics, whether in the name of emancipation, as with the postmodern feminist and gay movements or whether in the name of "Evidence Based Science".
Here are Morningstar's concluding words:
It is clear to me that the humanities are not going to emerge from the jungle on their own. I think that the task of outreach is left to those of us who retain some connection, however tenuous, to what we laughingly call reality. We have to go into the jungle after them and rescue what we can. Just remember to hang on to your sense of humor and don't let them intimidate you.
In fact, he would have been right if he had said instead of or supplementary to "the humanities": "the humanities and the universities":
Thanks to postmodernism, most existing nominal intellectuals, that is, those with some degree of some university, are no longer intellectuals in any real sense. The nominal intellectual elite of Western Europe and the US consists of phonies: Mandarins with an IQ of 115.
The only relief I can see is that most of them also are too unintelligent to understand that the soft science they believe to have been educated in is not really science at all.
P.S. Well... I seem to have been in a philosophical mood. I wrote it because I liked the text I annotated, and as usual these days will have to make corrections later. (Dutch readers may find my Wat is (persoonlijke) beschaving? relevant.
-- October 17, 2010: Made some corrections.
P.P.S. It may be I have to stop Nederlog for a while. The reason is that I am physically not well at all. I don't know yet, but if there is no Nederlog, now you know the reason.