An academic writing in the Washington Post last weekend set out to sever the phenomenon of Trump from the rise of the “postmodernist” school of thought of the last half-century. Aaron Hanlon, an assistant professor of English at Colby College, penned the short essay, “Postmodernism Didn’t Cause Trump. It Explains Him,” in a convoluted, failed attempt to redeem “postmodernism’s” core concept.
That core concept, as identified in his very first paragraph, is that “universal truth is a myth.” But he says it is wrong to associate that view with the evolution of the Trumpian “alt right” and “post-truth” assault on rational and scientific thought.
Hanlon’s antiseptic perspective, cultivated and delivered from the pristine halls of learned discourse, completely avoided the cultural context of the last century, as seen from the street level, if you will, and thus contributes to the mass confusion and mental chaos that has allowed our culture to propagate a movement of mass irrationalism giving rise to fascist cults and, voila, Trump.
His academic blither-blather posits notions of “left” and “right” without attempting to understand the meaning, in real life, of those philosophical categories. This is something that the media and the culture overall have simply adopted, and to the detriment of a better, and vitally necessary, social discourse. We all seem to use that shorthand now, but should we? What do those categories really mean? If we’re talking about the vested self-interests of the “one percent” in our culture who control the wealth and power to an unprecedented degree over the 99 percent of all the rest of us, then why don’t we just say it that way?
If there is a myth afoot it’s that there is a “left” and a “right” which are unrelated to this “one percent” reality, and you can appreciate why that one percent wants us to look at the world that way.
Academia is just one of the tools this “one percent” utilizes to break up the potential of the 99 percent to destroy and subsume their power. It’s really that simple. One would think it would be far more difficult for such a tiny minority to maintain control and expand what they have.
Once the lightbulbs start going off in people’s heads concerning what this game is about, then a real social revolution will surely ensue. Ironically, this current Trump situation is doing more to cause that to happen, in the way that earlier theorists have posited the internal cultural contradictions that are objectively bound to cause such a fundamental rupture.
This said, Hanlon’s apologia about “postmodernism” is a lame attempt to sever the academic justification for its brutal assault on the core tenets of Enlightenment thought, which unleashed the first true revolution in modern history, the American revolution that overthrew a ruling class monarchy, and its justifications, although it took until the resolution of the American Civil War to effectively finish the job almost a century later.
Yes, the first “postmodern” was Pontius Pilate, who amid the revolutionary fervor of his time, said in a cynical and nihilistic tone, “What is truth?”
Yes, the theories of all the sages and institutions since that have subordinated scientific method and truths to superstition and relativistic dissembling, have been part of a timeless struggle to control masses of human beings by repressing their potential power, through reason, to shape better lives for themselves down through the ages.
Yes, it was exploitation of the philosophies of the crazed Nietzsche to declare “God is dead,” that relativism is the proper justification for brute force and wanton cruelty of the powerful over others, that shaped the next century’s insatiable appetite for mass genocide by its fascists and the masterminds of two unthinkable World Wars that massacred the highest percentage of the most educated populations of the planet to that point.
Yes, these were all precursors to what emerged from the Second World War as more refined forms of moral and mental dissuasion, augmented by new weapons of social control, including drugs, cults and the mass media, which were fully operative in great American counter-revolution of the 1970s only to finally be labelled “postmodern,” quite tardily, in 1979.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected].