Postmodernism Marches On (Although Most Still Don’t See It)

Postmodernism — that is the new cultural era brought about by the advent of the internet and the web — is advancing far from the sight of those whose oxen are being gored in the process. Call it what you wish, but long after I’m gone, and on into the centuries to come, the empowering of the people will continue. Chaos will be the on‐the‐table discussion item in the years ahead, because those people who are latched onto the tit of logical and rational modernism can see only chaos with anything else. Always remember the precision of Henry Adams’ observation that the way of nature is chaos, but the dream of man is order.

Let me state emphatically, too, that chaos is in the eye of the beholder. To the postmodernist, there’s nothing inherently chaotic about this new era, only that it is a welcome change from the silos of logic and reason to the breath of creative fresh air.

Even now, the evidence of the conflict between the old (modernism) and the new (postmodernism) is everywhere. It’s in every human institution, like a slimy monster that fits itself into places where it seemingly doesn’t belong and challenges us to rethink just about everything and especially the form of personal advancement known as “credentials” or “expertise.” Jeff Jarvis refers to such as “the high priests” of culture, those who’ve managed their way to the top through their lineage, schooling, hard work, luck, and especially through the protections in place to help those already near the top and to make it difficult for everybody else. Witness the current scandal involving the purchase of bogus “scholarships” to access the best universities in the land. This is a logical behavior in a world that values credentials based on schooling.

As C.S. Lewis wrote in his commencement speech at King’s College, University of London, in 1944 titled “The Inner Ring,” once a person makes it into the inner circle, she defaults to making it harder for others to get inside.

“…your genuine Inner Ring exists for exclusion. There’d be no fun if there were no outsiders. The invisible line would have no meaning unless most people were on the wrong side of it. Exclusion is no accident; it is the essence.”

Protected knowledge is that which separates everyday people from the experts in a logical, modernist culture. For example, it’s what gives doctors the fortitude to suggest that their medical degree beats Google searching, but this is merely self‐preservation in a chaotic tsunami of informed patients. This will rage on, and it has already partially disrupted the authority of the physician. It’s not that she isn’t an expert anymore; it’s just that her expertise — with its incumbent authority — isn’t what it used to be. This conflict will continue until we find and accept that we’re all better off with such knowledge. The medical industry? Not so much.

We all have personal stories of how the institutions of the West have failed us in one way or another. The simple truth here is that the “push” world is being replaced by one that “pulls,” and no matter how many lawyers get involved, the rise of the people — those who’ve today known a freedom that our ancestors never imagined — will not go backwards. Look, information is power, and power that is distributed horizontally in a democracy will forever tip the scales away from absolutism at the top, much to the dismay of those at the top of the modernist pyramid.

Try to search ANY medical condition, and you’ll find at least one group of people with that condition who are ready and able to help those newly diagnosed. If one’s medical degree is, in fact, the be all and end all, then why are these groups forming? It’s because, for a great many people, medicine has its own fatted calf to protect, and its needs are not always in the best interests of patients. As long as the A.M.A. governs medical practice in the U.S., the practice of medicine will never be fully patient‐friendly. The demands on practitioners is so great each and every day now that they simply don’t have the time or the inclination to discuss or argue medicine with patients. And that is to their great shame. Higher education doesn’t make you smarter; it merely positions you for scaling the imaginary cultural ladder.

In his seminal argument, Everything Is Miscellaneous, Harvard author David Weinberger makes the case that no knowledge storage retrieval system that humans can possibly create could ever outdo basic search. This is the “pull” concept in long form. Knowledge can’t be sorted into any directory system that can compete with search. From grocery store shelves to libraries to any institutional silo, it’s impossible to even come close to the efficiency of search. And search has gotten so good that even coming close on a guess often leads to what the user is actually seeking. This is not about to go backwards, so those who insist that THEY can organize their goods in such a way that physical proximity is necessary are being quite ridiculous. After all, these sorts of organizations exist to advance themselves, and it doesn’t matter to them if consumers are inconvenienced.

But, Terry, what if shoppers need what they’re seeking NOW? Enter Amazon’s new “same day” delivery. This is a powerful game‐changer that’s getting very little publicity, but just try to imagine a downstream scenario in which such a service is thriving. Amazon has turned the entire retail system on its head already. People will soon come to accept such and will revel in the magic of it all. Imagine the time saving! Shoppers won’t have to go store‐to‐store in order to find something; they’ll simply search for it online, and it will come to them. This is uniquely postmodern, because stripping away hierarchies is the logical future of empowered people. Grocery chains offer pick‐up service, and while that’s nice, it can’t compete with same‐day home delivery via Instacart. This will change. I promise you.

And now comes Amazon Prime Wardrobe, where the company will send a box of clothes pre‐selected by the user along with a handy convertible box which is used to send that which the customer doesn’t want back to the company. This eliminates the need for the store and the booth in which we try on clothes and moves the whole process to the living room or bedroom (or whatever). So, the customer gets a box of clothes, picks out what he wants, is charged for those, and returns the rest at no cost to him. This is designed to further destroy the value proposition of retail clothing shops, and for Amazon, it’s a way to say “anything you can do, I can do better.”

Those who fear that this horizontal empowerment itself will lead to future hierarchies are stuck in the past and fearful of Orwell’s 1984. The problem with this thinking is that the web provides the same opportunities to Aunt Helen that it does to Big Brother, for the web views them as identical. This is just one of the many reasons we fought so hard for net neutrality. The internet belongs to the people, and although we lost the first round on the issue — it’s a modernist response to the loss of control — we’ll be back and better prepared for what happens next.

Postmodernism is moving power to the base of the pyramid, while institutional power must be at the top. When people at the bottom seize the power given them through the net, they’ll never give it back willingly. So, we’re in for turbulent times as the culture groans in reaction to what it views as an assault, and there’s nothing new to this. The same thing happened with the dawn of the printing press and for the same reasons. At that time, the power was with Rome and the church. When Gutenberg had the audacity to print a Bible, the shit hit the fan, for the priests knew well the danger of putting “the word” in the hands of everyday people, and they were right. The reformation would never have happened, if only Rome held access to the book’s contents. It was John Wycliffe’s common language translation that led him to say, “This book shall make possible government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The same concept is alive and well today.

In fact, it’s fair to say that the years following Gutenberg produced the same kind of Western response that we’re seeing today. Erotica was one of the first genres to be printed. Rome wanted to establish a licensing arrangement where only they could approve of those who wanted to print the Bible. It didn’t work, and the power of the Vatican in all matters cultural slowly but steadily slipped away.

Christian institutions ignore the web today and press for top‐down control, which is kicking against the pricks of culture’s progressive but steady march. It’s not hard to understand, because all they know is a stage and the audience. They want little to do with the work of a more horizontal experience, because they simply cannot trust people who aren’t on the podium. “They’ll never get it right,” the thinking goes, “if they don’t have a group of educated higher‐ups holding their hands.” Such nonsense. Look where we are today with Christian leaders saying that Donald Trump was ordained by God in the manner of the ancient Persian King Cyrus. This flagrantly false and misleading reference is so dangerous that we’ve become a people tripping up a step that isn’t there.

The hue and cry over fake news is another example of the modernist crowd screaming for control. I don’t deny this is an area that needs our attention, but it’s nothing more than a Trojan Horse foisted upon us by the top‐down and right‐wing crowds in an attempt to frighten us into submission. The originators of fake news came from the law and order right wing of American politics. In olden days, we used to call this “propaganda,” but it reached new pinnacles with the horizontal nature of the web. The right wing’s response to the clamor was simply to label opponents “fake” in order to hide their own mischief. In the wake of New Zealand, we now have people demanding that we regulate social media. This is akin to swatting a fly with an atomic bomb. We wish to shield our children from everything we went through (or “could” have gone through), and in so doing we’re preventing them from experiencing the very things that shaped our own character. It’s like beating our kids over the head with a 2x4 rather than giving our permission for them to scrape their knees.

The managers of the status quo come from two different groups — the lawyers, those rule‐bound grifters who suck the life out of everything they touch and turn it into profit for themselves and those they represent — God bless ’em — and the world of business, where players sell their souls for profit and suppress anyone who stands in the way, including the government and especially the poor. The more people become aware of this, the more they’re going to object, and nothing will be impossible for them.

After me, there will be a sweeping constitutional convention to address all of this, because our government was formed in a previous cultural era and is insufficient to govern people who are connected horizontally. Traditions will be given more weight than today, perhaps even equal to laws, for traditions can be discussed and argued whereas our laws are currently given to us by lawmakers, those who exist at the pyramid’s top and therefore have their own self‐centered wants and needs. Influence will slowly move to the bottom, although new forms of hierarchies are quite likely. The buck still has to end somewhere, at least that’s the way I think today.

Much is given to the politics of those who have the final say in our laws, the Supreme Court. The law says there shall be no litmus test for the selection of those who make it to this upper bench, but that is just lip‐service. And, while we are kept busy with arguments about, for example, abortion or religious freedom, the most glaring political difference in the selection of nominees is the extent to which each supports business or the rights of workers. This is the real differentiator, because real power in our culture is a struggle between the top of the pyramid and the bottom. Everything else is a side show.

The Bible says the poor will always be with us, and it’s our reaction to this truth that is the great determinator of our response. If it gets in the way of those at the top, then it’s thought to be a nuisance to be ignored or even made worse, and this is another revelation that comes with empowering the bottom. Civil war in America today would not be political nearly so much as it would be class‐motivated, and this energy has grown, in my view, during the Trump election and administration. So far, Republicans (the silk stocking crowd) have been successful at keeping the truth from their bottom supporters through arguments about religion and abortion, but that will not last forever.

Information is power, and power has a way of opening eyes.

Look, I know we’re in a season of cynicism and confusion, but please do not underestimate — under any circumstances — the power of the masses in determining their own government. This was Wycliffe’s point back in the 15th Century, and it’s the point today in the wake of the web.

If I had any influence on the Democrats, this is the message I would pound home to the people. It’s the money. It’s all about the money. Modernist thinking, however, forces the discussion to the box of “what new policies will you put in place instead?” This moves the narrative away from simply fixing what’s wrong to providing solutions ahead of time, so that they can be analyzed and dismissed by those at the top. That’s the cart before the horse and the source of our current gridlock.

If the base of the pyramid crumbles, the top will have no backs on which to stand. Think about it.

Our neverending civil war

Let’s look at the Donald Trump phenomenon through a slightly different lens, shall we?

I’ve often written in describing postmodernism that horizontal connectivity makes impossible many axioms of modernity, and one of the most disruptive is that “in war, the victor gets to write the history.” As long as leaders are able to control the narrative, this is a fairly easy proposition. The American narrative, for example, is THE history of Pearl Harbor, unless you find yourself on a Japanese tour boat at the Honolulu memorial. There are thousands of other examples. The postmodern point is that the ability of people to cross formerly limited boundaries today makes controlling the narrative harder and harder. I view this as a good thing for humanity.

leesurrender

Take a moment to read this leaflet.

So let’s have a wee bit of fun with the idea of horizontal connectivity in the wake of the Civil War. American History wasn’t very kind to the Confederacy, and that remains the conventional narrative today. When the Union won, the north simply turned the page. After all, their position was judged “correct,” because they controlled the narrative as victors. Over time, however, the assumption of rightness takes its toll on intellect, because there is no controversy associated with their story. Hence, nobody argues, and so it goes.

But what about the people of the Confederate states? To them, edicts that came down from the Union — even generations later — do not carry the same weight, and it’s easy to imagine Facebook exchanges among the varying perspectives. A great many of the “defriendings” that take place in our little adventure are over these fundamental disagreements. Meanwhile, the positions of each side are solidified, as each group validates itself through common beliefs. In the South, no amount of righteous indignation from northerners is going to alter a core belief that “the South shall rise again.” The people may go along with what’s foisted upon them legally, but they’ll always do so reluctantly and teach their progeny what’s actually “right.”

You can see this being played out globally today, and it’s only just begun.

It’s like the boy who’s being punished by his father. “Sit down,” the old man screams, but the boy just stands there. Again, he shouts, “I said sit down!” The boy still refuses, so the father grabs him by the shoulders and forces him into the chair, to which the boy responds, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside.”

During all of this, the press assumes a position of recording history after the war, which includes the narrative of the victor. They fall into the trap of assumption that events that unfold in the wake of “victory” are natural and uncontroversial, and so opposite views become increasingly deviant and unnecessary points of view in reporting “the truth.” This is the case whether speaking of the Civil War or culture wars, which, by the way, are always started by the silk stockings, those who suffer from the deadly and relentless fear that they won’t get what they think they deserve or that someone is going to take away what they already have (See Stephen Prothero’s new book “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections).”

Fast forward to today where we find a vast army of people who’ve been sitting down on the outside while watching the things they hold dear destroyed by the natural assumptions of those who’ve won the culture wars and controlled everything for too long. Their jobs and consequent lifestyles have disappeared. Their faith is ridiculed. They don’t like what their kids are being taught. They don’t feel safe in any real sense of the word. They hear the judgments of their ancestors from the teachings they were given long ago. They’re filled with rage against things outside their control and feel they’ve been enslaved by those with the power to dismiss them and diminish their humanity. They witness the unchallenged complaints of those who march along the assumptive narrative’s path and get all the news coverage. The tyranny of the minority opinion is given free reign — the war over “rights” no matter how far removed from their core beliefs — which produces even more rage over being taken for granted, because the enemy narrative continues to move farther and farther away from everything they know. Their suffering — and it is very real — is irrelevant, because it is judged deviant with regards to the developing history.

In the above light it’s easy to grasp the enormity of the gap between both sides and the intellectual void in those attempting to understand the support for the candidacy of Donald Trump. Over the past year, I’ve watched as he was dismissed by literally every professional observer and journalist, because they’ve lived for so long on the narrative’s path that they’re completely unaware of this other America. Moreover, they’ve been taught and trained that people follow candidates when, in Trump’s case, it’s the exact opposite. The people following Trump are actually leading him, and that’s what makes the whole thing so interesting. They hear in Mr. Trump their own voices, and that’s new for them. It’s not about political party; it’s about deviance standing up and saying, “You WILL listen to me!”

The chorus of groans from the “normal” world is growing louder, and threats by people to leave the country if Mr. Trump is elected have taken on an aura of seriousness since his nomination now seems likely. The press continues to grasp at straws in a vain attempt to get their arms around what they disparagingly view as the absurd. The most common press narrative the past few days has been that a Trump/Clinton campaign will be one of extremes, and that is likely quite fine with Mr. Trump.

I don’t view this as apocalyptic whatsoever, because the union has been fractured for a very long time. It’s simply that it’s dismissed, not discussed, and it has to be on the table before the light of examination can produce anything other than division. In the end, we will be stronger for it. Some think it’s all about education, and I agree. My view, however, is that everybody needs to be educated, not just those whose views are held as ignorant.

Nobody wins culture wars. Not really. It is the scent of victory that produces change, not victory itself, and even then, the subsequent narrative cannot be held as universal.

We aren’t nearly as advanced as we claim.