why criticize postmodernism

Here is Noam Chomsky on postmodernism and whether there is such a thing as “truth”, especially moral and scientific truth (for the record, he gets it right). Some have mentioned to me that they don’t understand what I mean when I criticize postmodernism in the academy.

Ultimately, what this boils down to is a divide that is primarily, though not exclusively, on the left, about whether things can be true outside of our own personal experiences. If they can be true, then there are better and worse ideas, and better and worse ways of doing things. If there are not better and worse ways of doing things (hence, if there is no truth), then all ideas are created equal. The postmodernist believes that the “ideas” generated over the past 400-500 years have been, almost exclusively, the ideas of those who are privileged, straight, white, and male, and that more voice needs to be given to other, often marginalized groups. The postmodernist will say–and here I want to point out that I am speaking in generalities, so as not to construct a strawman–that as a result of western, white male oppression (of pretty much the world), the ideas of marginalized voices (essentially anyone who is not straight, white and male) have been suppressed, and thus more weight needs to be given to them because those ideas are, by definition, equally true and equally valid.

On this I have two things to say 1) It is decent and noble to strive for a world where more voices can be heard, because diversity in thought leads to better outcomes for everyone in time, however, 2) Not all ideas are created equal, and we should not judge the merits of an idea based on some misguided deference for the idea holder’s marginalized status.

Let me be clear: this is not a statement about how we should treat people, as all individuals should be treated with respect, and all thinkers should have an opportunity to make their voice heard. What I am saying is that we should not take seriously bad ideas, and our societies are better off the extent to which we are able to root them out. Norms in existence that hinder our ability to criticize such ideas are unproductive, and should also be discarded. Hence, why I criticise postmodernism in politics and science (but not art, I like it there).

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