I am oppressed in so many ways. I am oppressed by the patriarchy because I’m a woman. I am oppressed by restaurants that fail to offer a decent range of vegan options.
I am standing up for minorities who haven’t had the necessary education to know what their opinions should be. I have always supported censorship of those who have the wrong opinions.
Those statements are from a Twitter account that’s tongue-in-cheek. Unfortunately, they’re pretty close to what you’ll find written by people who aren’t kidding. Censorship of those who have the wrong opinions is what we’re seeing these days on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia, etc.
In our last episode, we began examining the core philosophy of those who feel justified in de-platforming others. In his book Explaining Postmodernism, philosophy professor Stephen Hicks introduces us to the subjectivist philosophers whose ideas morphed into postmodernism. Unlike the Enlightenment thinkers who emphasized logic and reason (and whose views triggered major advancements in science and technology), the subjectivists insisted that:
- Reason and logic are irrelevant because there is no objective truth
- Feelings – especially morbid feelings — are a deeper guide than reason
If these ideas had merely kept generations of young philosophers up at night, they would have done little if any harm. Unfortunately, postmodernism eventually infected universities like a virus. And as Hicks explains, it happened largely because Marxism was such a bust.
Before Marxism was actually put into practice, Hicks writes, its proponents believed it was logical and reasonable – darned near scientific, in fact. But reality wasn’t so kind.
In practice the capitalist nations are increasingly productive and prosperous, with no end in sight. Not only are the rich getting fantastically richer, the poor in those countries are getting richer too. And by direct and brutal contrast, every socialist experiment has ended in dismal economic failure—from the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, to North Korea and Vietnam, to Cuba, Ethiopia, and Mozambique. Morally and politically, in practice every liberal capitalist country has a solid record for being humane, for by and large respecting rights and freedoms, and for making it possible for people to put together fruitful and meaningful lives.
The crisis for the far Left was that the logic and evidence were going against socialism. Put yourselves in the shoes of an intelligent, informed socialist confronted with all this data. How would you react? You have a deep commitment to socialism: You feel that socialism is true; you want it to be true; upon socialism you have pinned all your dreams of a peaceful and prosperous future society and all your hopes for solving the ills of our current society. This is a moment of truth for anyone who has experienced the agony of a deeply cherished hypothesis run aground on the rocks of reality. What do you do? Do you abandon your theory and go with the facts—or do you try to find a way to maintain your belief in your theory?
We know the answer. If you feeeeel that socialism is correct but reason and evidence say otherwise, you of course adopt a philosophy that says reason and logic are irrelevant, while what you feeeel is true.
If values and politics are primarily a matter of a subjective leap into whatever fits one’s preferences, then we should find people making leaps into all sorts of political programs. This is not what we find in the case of postmodernism. Postmodernists are not individuals who have reached relativistic conclusions about epistemology and then found comfort in a wide variety of political persuasions. Postmodernists are monolithically far Left-wing in their politics.
And guess where many of those postmodernists ended up working?
With the collapse of the New Left , the socialist movement was dispirited and in disarray. No one was waiting expectantly for socialism to materialize. No one thought it could be achieved by appealing to the electorate. No one was in a position to mount a coup. And those willing to use violence were dead, in jail, or underground. What then was to be the next step for socialism? In 1974, Herbert Marcuse was asked whether he thought the New Left was history. He replied: “I don’t think it’s dead, and it will resurrect in the universities.”
And it certainly did.
The dominance of subjectivist and relativistic epistemologies in academic philosophy thus provided the academic Left with a new tactic. Confronted by harsh evidence and ruthless logic, the far Left had a reply: That is only logic and evidence; logic and evidence are subjective; you cannot really prove anything; feelings are deeper than logic; and our feelings say socialism.
If you adhere to a philosophy that says reason and logic are irrelevant, you of course have a very different view of what a proper education entails:
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 a social identity.
Postmodernist professors aren’t interested in teaching your children how to think. They’re much more interested in (ahem) teaching your children what to think. They want your children to have exactly the same “correct” beliefs the postmodernists themselves have – and one of those beliefs is that reason itself is a tool of the oppressors.
Many deconstruct reason, truth, and reality because they believe that in the name of reason, truth, and reality Western civilization has wrought dominance, oppression, and destruction. “Reason and power are one and the same,” Jean-François Lyotard states.
Postmodernism then becomes an activist strategy against the coalition of reason and power. Postmodernism, Frank Lentricchia explains, “seeks not to find the foundation and the conditions of truth but to exercise power for the purpose of social change.”
The purpose of education isn’t to teach you how to examine the evidence and think your way into logical, reasonable conclusions. Nope … because reason itself is oppressive, a tool of the powerful, and is thus a barrier to meaningful social change.
So when you make a logical, reasonable argument in favor of free speech, the postmodernists aren’t at all impressed. In fact, they’ll likely just interpret your logical, reasonable argument as proof that you’re aiding and abetting the oppressors – although it might not be your fault. You might simply be an unwitting tool for the oppressors. As Hicks explains later in the book:
We are constructed socially, the postmoderns argue, and we are, even as adults, not aware of the social construction that underlies the speech we are engaging in. We might feel as though we are speaking freely and making our own choices, but the unseen hand of social construction is making us what we are. What you think and what you do and even how you think are governed by your background beliefs.
So in order to prevent you from being an oppressor – unwitting or otherwise – it’s okay to tell you to shut up. We’ll get to the “shut up” part next time.
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