Inside the Snowflake Academy

 

 

Snowflakes: Overly sensitive persons, incapable of dealing with any opinions differing from their own. Snowflakes are light-weight and suffer meltdown when exposed to the light or heat of complex ideas in conflict. They can often be seen congregating in “safe zones” on college campuses.

A previous post (Retreat from Reason) provided a look into the mentality of today’s college professors teaching humanities and social sciences. The dominant mindset is termed “postmodern” to distinguish this perspective from the “modern” viewpoint born of the age of reason or enlightenment.

That text came from Professor Jordan Peterson who recommended reading a book by Stephen Hicks called Explaining Postmodernism. This post provides some descriptions (lightly edited) from Hicks regarding the education of today’s students and the liberal arts attitude toward science.

Hicks presents two hypotheses regarding the world-view embraced by postmoderns, which they pass on to their students.

Hypothesis 1: Postmodernism is the first ruthlessly consistent statement of the consequences of rejecting reason, those consequences being necessary given the study of knowledge since Kant.

Thomas Kuhn published in 1962 his landmark book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, signifying the result of four decades of analytic philosophy and the dead end it had reached. If science’s tools are perception, logic, and language, then science, one of the Enlightenment’s prized children, is merely an evolving, socially objective enterprise with no more claim to objectivity than any other belief system. The idea that science speaks of reality or truth is an illusion. There is no Truth; there are only truths, and truths change.

Consequently, by the 1960s, the pro-objectivity, pro-science spirit had collapsed in the Anglo-American philosophical tradition.

Hypothesis 2: Postmodernism is the academic far Left’s stance in response to the crisis caused by the failures of socialism in theory and practice.

Postmodern thinkers inherit an intellectual tradition that has seen the defeat of all of its major hopes.

While the neo-Enlightenment thinkers have come to terms with the modern world, from the postmodern perspective the universe has been intellectually shattered. We can not turn to God or to nature, and we cannot trust reason or mankind.

The failure of Left politics to achieve the vision of a beautiful collectivist society was merely the last straw. To the postmodern mind, the cruel lessons of the modern world are that reality is inaccessible, that nothing can be known, that human potential is nothing, and that ethical and political ideals have come to nothing. The psychological response to the loss of everything is anger and despair.

But the postmodern thinkers also find themselves surrounded by an Enlightenment world that does not understand. Postmoderns confront a world dominated by liberalism and capitalism, by science and technology, by people who still believe in reality, in reason, and in the greatness of human potential. The world that they said was impossible and destructive has both come to be and is flourishing. The heirs of the Enlightenment are running the world, and they have marginalized the post-modernists to the academy. Resentment is then added on top of anger and despair.

The Enlightenment world is proud, confident, and knows it is the wave of the future. This is unbearable to someone invested totally in an opposed and failed outlook. That pride is what such a person wants to destroy. The best target to attack is the Enlightenment’s sense of its own moral worth. Attack it as sexist and racist, intolerantly dogmatic, and cruelly exploitative. Undermine its confidence in its reason, its science and technology. The words do not even have to be true or consistent to do the necessary damage.

The College as Snowflake Academy

In education, postmodernism rejects the notion that the purpose of education is primarily to train a child’s cognitive capacity for reason in order to produce an adult capable of functioning independently in the world. That view of education is replaced with the view that education is to take an essentially indeterminate being and give it social identity. Education’s method of molding is linguistic, and so the language to be used is that which will create a human being sensitive to its racial, sexual, and class identity.

Our current social context, however, is characterized by oppression that benefits whites, males, and the rich at the expense of everyone else. That oppression in turn leads to an educational system that reflects only or primarily the interests of those in positions of power. To counteract that bias, educational practice must be recast totally. Postmodern education should emphasize works not in the canon; it should focus on the achievements of non-whites, females, and the poor; it should highlight the historical crimes of whites, males, and the rich; and it should teach students that science’s method has no better claim to yielding truth than any other method and, accordingly, that students should be equally receptive to alternative ways of knowing.

Moderns thought science and technology are good for all, extending our knowledge of the universe and making the world healthier, cleaner, and more productive. Postmoderns say science betrays its elitism, sexism and destructiveness by making the speed of light the fastest phenomenon, thereby unfairly privileging it over other speeds–by having chosen the phallic symbol i to represent the square root of negative one–by asserting its desire to “conquer” nature and “penetrate” her secrets–and, having done so, by having its technology consummate the rape by building bigger and longer missiles to blow things up.

And previously it had been generally thought liberalism, free markets, technology, and cosmopolitanism are social achievements that can be enjoyed by all cultures. On the contrary, Postmoderns think non-Western cultures are superior, since they live simply and in harmony with nature. They find the West is arrogantly blind, elitist and imperialistic, and imposes its capitalism, its science and technology, and its ideology upon other cultures and an increasingly fragile ecosystem.

Conclusion

And thus graduates are fully equipped and predetermined to believe in climate change.

 

 

 

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10 comments

  1. hunter · June 8

    Ouch. A real “Darkness at Noon” sort of analysis. How to deconstruct such a reactionary self absorbed dogma?

    Like

  2. Geoff Chambers · June 8

    Thanks for these two interesting essays on postmodernism. There’s a lot to think about, and a lot to disagree with. For example, the two hypotheses you quote from Hicks on the nature of postmodernism are clearly inadequate. The “rejection of reason” certainly didn’t begin with post-modernism, since it was a defining chartacteristic of many of the prime currents of early 20th century modernism (dada, surrealism, concrete poetry, stream of consciousness novels etc.) And, though postmodernism is definitely a characteristic of the left, whereas modernists covered the entire political spectrum, I would describe it more as an occupational disease of a certain kind of intellectual leftist, rather than a “response to the crisis caused by the failures of socialism.” The two great ex-socialist powers have emerged from the ruins of their failed experiments, have adopted a kind of rough approximation of western democracy, and are currently running rings round the West. As an unrepentant Marxist with an attachment to all the freedoms of our liberal enlightenment, I find that amusing, if disturbing.

    Whereas modernism was a pervasive cultural phenomenon with a readily identifiable list of typical authors, painters, and theoreticians, postmodernism as an intellectual movement is almost entirely limited to a certain strand of obscurantist European philosophy. The list of “post-modern” authors given at the Wikipaedia illustrates the absurdity of identifying post-modernism as a cultural phenomenon. Nabokov, Borges, Barthelme and Pynchon have nothing in common except being roughly contemporary and good writers. Whereas anyone identifying themselves as a “modernist” would have been understood to be defending the likes of Picasso, Joyce and Stravinsky, I’d be surprised if many of the students you discuss in your article have read Derrida. What binds them together is not a cultural nexus but a joint obsession with sexual and racial identity and very small number of core beliefs, largely conspiratorial, about the nature of capitalism and the weather.

    This peculiar cult-like movement requires a sociological analysis, in terms of the place of the humanities in a vastly expanded university-communications complex (Eisenhower didn’t warn you about that one) where professors of literature and philosophy have to fight for survival with rival departments (like environmental studies) offering better job prospects. I look forward to more discussion on this.

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    • Ron Clutz · June 8

      Thanks for a thoughtful reply Geoff. Agree that the modern/postmodern distinction is slippery. To be fair to Hicks, I left out his considerable discussions of the course of 19th and 20th century philosophy. My interest was more upon the bias against objective realism and science among the teachers of liberal arts.

      As for failed socialist experiments, it is true that Russia and China are now attempting an amalgam of autocracy with semi-free enterprise. It’s not a combo that worked in the past, once businessmen rebel against their lack of social power. In any case, despite those quotes favorable toward China as environmental global leader, I doubt that true socialists regard today’s China as their exemplar.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Geoff Chambers · June 8

        But who are the true socialists? Almost all those with access to the media would insist that a “true socialist” would have to be a defender of decisions of United Nations organisations, of firm action on climate change, and a fervent supporter of all things feminist and anti-racist. I’m none of those things, precisely because I believe the socialist programme is more serious than that.

        But I can’t continue this conversation right now, since I’m following the results of the British election, and am delighted that the Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, our own Bernie Sanders clone, is doing very well. And our post modern friends will be pleased to know that the first three results are 100% left, 100% female, and 33% African (that’s African, not Afro- something or other.)

        One thing I believe we agree on is the importance of the people being able to overturn the certainty of the experts. I look forward to continuing this conversation.

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    • Ron Clutz · June 8

      One further clarification. Hicks never said the attack on reason started with postmoderns, his reciting the history shows the many antecedents. His hypothesis stated that the postmoderns arrived at the most stark, uncompromising ant-reason position. He then attributes that radical stance as grounded in anger, despair and resentment over “being on the wrong side of history,” to use one of Obama’s favorite phrases.

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  3. Caleb · June 10

    Thanks Ron, for tackling this difficult topic. It needs to be addressed, though arguing with insanity can seem like a total exercise in futility.

    The Evergreen craziness reminds me a lot of China’s “Cultural Revolution.” The Chinese teachers failed to understand that they themselves would be the target, if they taught students to reject “tradition”, for all the knowledge of the past can be seen as a “tradition”, and that makes teachers and textbooks “counter revolutionary.” In the end the madness resulted in not one teacher being made into a scapegoat, but nearly every teacher China had. China was reduced to a state of ignorance and poverty, and the only way back was to copy the west. They “stole our secrets”, but the joke is that most of what they copied was never a secret. It simply was Truth, which they had deemed “counter revolutionary.”

    I think the “Cultural Revolution” was Mao’s response to seeing “The Great Leap Forward” was an abject failure, and had made China’s economy fall behind Japan’s, and South Korea’s. In his frustration over failure, he wanted to just tear China down and start over. Much that was beautiful about the Chinese people was subjected to hate, and destroyed forever, and the culture was impoverished more than it was enriched.

    Frustration makes our minds resort to ahger, and produces those deeds we are most sorry for, afterwards. That is the position the Left is now in.

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  4. rw · June 10

    I’m dismayed by the shallow treatment of Thomas Kuhn’s book by this author – although to a degree Kuhn deserves it. As far as I know, Kuhn never repudiated his wonderful book on the Copernican revolution, although under this author’s interpretation I don’t know how Kuhn could defend it. To some degree, Kuhn in his 1962 book is simply talking about the difficulties of determining facts in practice as opposed to the classical philosophy of science view. But the latter can still be taken as a reasonable idealization of the logic of empirical investigation.Of course, there were times subsequently when he did sound a bit post-modernist, but I think he was being careless.

    I also have to LOL when I see the phrase “ruthlessly consistent” used in connection with post-modernism. Reading the seemingly off-the-top-of-the-head sophistry that these people dish out, the last term I would think of to describe it is “rigorous” or “consistent”. Who’s the author kidding? (Was Alan Sokal being “ruthlessly consistent” in his famous essay on hermaneutics?)

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    • Ron Clutz · June 10

      rw, thanks for your comments here and on the Faultlines post. Agree that there is more to Kuhn than the short shrift in the quote. Giving Hicks the benefit of doubt, I take his paragraph as expressing how postmoderns use him to dismiss rather than engage with scientific thinking.

      I get your POV that postmoderns should not be taken seriously. The problem is that their pap is widely sipped and adopted, more as a tribal ritual perhaps, but still the ideas are mouthed with some ugly consequences. I don’t fault any of these writers for wanting to expose this stuff and get people to see through it.

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  5. rw · June 11

    I didn’t think of this yesterday. But a good discussion of the more serious philosophers of a post-modernist cast (like Rorty and Goodman) can be found in the last section of John Searle’s book, The Construction of Social Reality. This is a discussion of anti-realists and attacks on the correspondence theory of truth.One thing that Searle notes that even with these people the anti-realist arguments tend to be mushy and hand-wavy. So even with these more substantial figures one does not find anything like real rigor of argument.

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    • Ron Clutz · June 11

      Thanks rw for the reference to John Searle and that book of his. I will be looking into it.

      Like

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