Join us for this nuanced investigation of the postmodernism worldview as Robert MacNaughton and Michael Porcelli unpack what’s worth keeping and what’s gone over the edge in this late 20th century movement that questions all that would normally be considered “True.”
There’s a lot of discussion these days about all of the dangers of postmodernism if you’re plugged into the “Intellectual Dark Web”–e.g. identity politics, political correctness, partisan politics, and cancel culture. What you won’t easily find is an appropriately nuanced acknowledgement of what’s important about how postmodernism has up-leveled our culture and therefore shouldn’t be disregarded wholesale. The aim here is to distinguish both sides as fairly as we can–acknowledging our biases where we’re aware of them–and giving you the best opportunity to recognize where and how these elements live in your own world.
As this is the first episode in this series, we decided to start with some philosophical foundations. In many ways, helping our clients, friends, and community with the “pitfalls of postmodernism” has been a primary inspiration for this project, and the principles explored here will likely echo through the series.
Postmodernism — What’s worth preserving? by Michael Porcelli
First, the “good thing” worth preserving, then the “too far” version to be left behind. All of the “good things” are found outside of, and often prior-to, what’s “officially” considered postmodern thought, making the philosophy basically superfluous. Postmodern philosophy oscillates from the “good thing” version to the “too far” version, whenever the “too far” version is challenged, there’s typically a retreat to the “good thing” version with some clever plausible deniability built-in.
#1 Everything is in a context and appear within a particular perspective. Becoming aware of implicit contexts is valuable. Noticing the factors that make up perspectives is valuable. Being able to try on different perspectives is valuable. Point of view is an essential ingredient to any experience.
Too Far — There’s nothing but contexts and perspectives. All contexts and perspectives are equivalent. The priority of contexts and perspectives is arbitrary.
#2 People’s minds are biased. Just knowing that you’re biased isn’t enough, you’re still going to tend to be biased anyway. We’re not really aware in any moment of where are ideas and choices are coming from entirely, and then we tend to rationalize them. It’s valuable to become aware of your biases and to counter them, and you need to remain vigilant
Too Far — Biases cannot be ‘corrected’ except through further biases, and no bias is better than another.
#3 The map is not the territory. What we believe to be true, and what is actually true are related to each other, but they aren’t one and the same. We can and do change what we believe to be true.
Too Far — There’s no such thing as Truth, we just believe things are True
#4 Progress is not inevitable, nor the direction of progress predetermined. Progress is to a non-trivial degree a matter of achieving consensus about what we would collectively consider to be a success and then coordinating action in that direction. The ideas that progress will just happen “on its own”, or that we all share the same ideas of what we mean by progress or that progress exists independently of what we say it is, can be tempting, but are ultimately unsound.
Too Far — There’s no such thing as progress, it’s an illusion, and we should give up trying.
#5 Language is partly relative to itself and is a powerful influence on thought. Words are defined in terms of other words. New words are coined, words change meaning over time, and some words fall into disuse. Words are intertwined with the politics and agenda of the speakers and can’t be cleanly separated. Loaded word choices influence thoughts. Word usage activities like defining terms or categorizing a word as vulgar both reflect and influence social consensus. Things like propaganda and hypnotic language influence people’s behavior. Changes to the language game can range from liberating, emancipating, and empowering, to oppressive attempts at Orwellian thought control.
Too Far — Language is infinitely malleable and strictly shapes and controls thought.
#6 Culture influences people. We tend to grow up believing what we were taught to believe, and that turns out to be very different than what people from a very different culture were taught to believe. Since they can’t all be correct then it’s logical to believe that the beliefs at least as much to do with the culture of origin than they do with the truth.
Too Far — Culture determines thought and behavior, no culture can be assessed as better or worse than another.
#7 Power influences everything, yet tends to be concealed. Agendas are often hidden and the rules of the game are often rigged, and looking for “who benefits” is a valuable perspective to try on when attempting to understand your situation. Power is easily used to acquire more power and can feed on itself. Power can be used to conceal its wielders in plain sight.
Too Far — Nothing is as it seems because everything is a mask of power and all motives and behaviors are merely the use and acquisition of power to no other goals or ends.
#8 Identity shapes behavior, yet is unfixed. Cultural, religious, racial, group, and gender identity shape behavior. Identity is not fixed, but changes with time. The sense of one’s identity can be co-opted by consumerism and capitalist forces like advertising and propaganda. One’s sense of identity can be dismantled and shaped consciously and positively through mental techniques.
Too Far — Identity is crucial and determines everything important about who a person is.
Trump and a Post-Truth World by Ken Wilber
Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity―and Why This Harms Everybody by Helen Pluckrose & James Lindsay
Executive coach and facilitator, Robert is a pioneer in the fields of Integral community organization, leadership development, and experiential education. Robert focuses on supporting leaders with execution strategies, fostering healthy work culture, and navigating interpersonal conflict both personally and professionally. Robert co-founded the bygone Integral Center in Boulder, Colorado in association with renowned philosopher Ken Wilber, which hosted an international community of thought leaders, practitioners, and "evolutionaries."
Co-host & Expert
Michael Porcelli, co-host and "pandit” or general subject matter expert, is a coach, educator, writer, speaker, facilitator, consultant, and specialist in social technology. Over his career, he’s developed insight into the dynamics between human beings, technology, and the social world. He has expertise in Authentic Relating; Holacracy; Evolutionary, Teal, & For-Purpose Enterprises. Michael is a founding member with Bedrock Culture and Leadership, and a former colleague of Robert’s at the Integral Center where he directed curriculum and faculty development.