I have always been very interested in learning more about post modernist thought and why it has been popular in certain segments of the intellectual community. I was in the past, however, totally turned off from any consideration of the philosophy after learning of Michel Foucault's proclivities. There exists strong evidence, including salacious statements from the man himself, that Michel Foucault may have been an active pedophile. Regardless if this is true or not, what is true is that in 1977 a petition was addressed to the French parliament calling for the overturning of the age of consent laws and the decriminalization of all "consensual" sexual relations between adults and minors. Many prominent french intellectuals including Foucault and Jacques Derrida (both mentioned in the podcast) signed the petition and later defended this position and the signing. Foucault also stated that one of his heroes was the Marques De Sade and he talked about the desire for people to get together and have suicide orgies.
Thinking long and hard about how to approach the philosophy I came up with a scenario in my mind. A very utilitarian scenario. Hypothetically, if in Dr. Josef Mengele's notes there was an experimental treatment for cancer that seemed to have an amazingly high success rate, practically a cure for cancer, would we burn those notes or begin a medical trial as soon as possible? If a thing has great utility and the promise of helping society or saving people, do we simply look at the sins of the ones involved in creating that thing and dismiss that thing? I do not believe that should be the case. So I decided to push away my disdain and attempt to have an open mind. Then this podcast came out.
Linked below is Episode #060 of the Michael Malice fronted "Your Welcome" podcast. It is available on youtube.com, gasdigitalnetwork.com, and most places podcasts are available including the itunes store. In this episode Malice is is speaking with Thaddeus Russell. Who you can find out more about by heading to thaddeusrussell.com. I like both these men in their own way. Also, even though I disagree with Russell on a few points he has made in the past and disagree with him here I find him to be honest in his beliefs and straight forward when he talks. I was extremely interested to see this podcast come into my feed as I was wrestling with this subject and was told that they had discussed post modernist philosophy in the podcast. It almost felt like providence.
I attempted to go into this discussion as a fairly blank slate, having not read any post modernist books or treatises. After the podcast I half reject and accept post modernism. In large part it seems to be a fairly useless and non-utilitarian philosophy. I disagree with both men about the lack of universal truth and disagree with Russell about there being no truths. Though, he did seem to accept the concept of contextual truth to a small degree. In the end I still have respect for both men.
The main point of post modernism, according to Russell, is to examine truth claims as a skeptic. To look at all truth claims with skepticism and examine where those truth claims come from. He also states that no truth claim or question should ever be looked at as settled. That it is important to examine the history and culture surrounding truth claims and that they can be and are rejected or revised. So far so good. It is extremely important to look at truth claims as a skeptic or as someone who actually uses good scientific method and to accept that they may be revised. This is exactly right.
In today's world for example, many articles are click bait where the headline does not even match what the article says. Often times, these articles are breakdowns of a study, written by a journalist who, seemingly, did not read the study or doesn't understand science. Other times the study is not even linked and you have to search for it and hope you found the correct study.
Many will read an article or a history and take it at face value. Many more will argue their point using studies that are bad studies, including politicians, journalists, and talking heads. Either the study doesn't say what they are claiming or there are major structural problems with the study. The sample size may be small, the sample size may be very homogenous or a special group and not applicable to society as a whole, the study may be a study that has never been reproduced despite attempts, or the data collection methods or analyses used are obviously flawed. The truth presented can also be completely devoid of historical or scientific evidence.
Where this discussion fell apart is the contention of truth and reality. Post modernism states there is no eternal truth and there is no reality outside of human perception. There is no objective reality outside of varying human perspective. I flatly reject this from a utilitarian and logic perspective. Reality is there and it exists regardless of human perception or perspective. Post modernism is saying that reality and existence are a product of human consciousness. This may be where the atrocious "My Truth" statement comes from.
The cop-out here, from the post modernist perspective, is that there are societal or system "logics" that define how we act in a situation. If someone gives you an address you use the "logics" of geography to find that place. They also say that you can use the "logics" of math but that those aren't truth. Malice did a good job of pointing out that Aristotelian logic exists even if you don't pay attention to it. "The logic still pays attention to you."
They also state that you cannot come to truth through language because languages are closed and circular systems. This is not useful is any way. Denying a basic understanding of the physical world is not helpful. If you hand a small child a cup and say cup over and over the child learns that as a cup. Two years later you ask the child to grab the cup, they will grab the cup. To the child it is true that the cup is a cup. That is useful to moving through the physical world. Post modernism seems to ignore the need for utility in life and learning. I do agree with Malice that raising a child speaking more than one language improves their ability to think conceptually.
Truth and reality are contextual and to work through the physical world and function adequately you must have basic contextual truth to guide you. It seems to me that this is metropolitan, philosophical, stoner talk to even spend the time examining truth or the lack of it in this post modernist way. To the vast majority of people this aspect of the philosophy has no utility. No real use or benefit. Or I do not understand and cannot see this aspect being useful.
This seems to be where the most controversial statements that Russell and other post modernists have made. That characteristics are mutable. That sex and gender are social constructs. That biological sex is not a real characteristic because it is based on a societal norms and Russell asked the question, "What is biological sex?" He refused to answer a question about who on a statistical average is stronger a person with an XX chromosomes or a person with an XY chromosome. He absolutely rejects essentialism (that your characteristics are genetic or inborn or immutable) because it has been used in nefarious ways historically. While he is correct about the historical negatives about essentialism and also points out that the SJW crowd are essentialists, there is a use and utility for understanding what may or may not be immutable characteristics.
This is an argument for another day, but to flat out reject that biological sex, not gender, is a social construct or that there is no genetic component to anything physical is not useful or utilitarian. It is not useful for science or for trying to navigate the world or solve issues if you cannot have or do not believe in contextual or situational truth. Yes, truth can evolve, be rejected, or revised but to say truth even contextual truth can not exist is not useful. I also believe that there are universal truths that mountains of evidence support.
Here is one of those universal truths that I will die on a hill for if need be: Children cannot consent. I understand now having listened to this why it would be easy for a post modernist to reject this truth and petition the government to remove criminal penalties for raping a child (consensual sex in their minds). It is just another truth claim to be rejected that sexual relations with a child are harmful to that child and society.