Your Postmodernism Is Showing
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by [a hermeneutics of suspicion]”
“Haters gonna hate”
Has anyone else noticed it, too? A sort of outbreak of unproductive cynicism in our circles? A popcorning of sarcastic jabs and overt pessimism? A permeating ripple of pinpricks and ironic antithesis, ever seeking to undermine a new idea or model but not necessarily promoting anything positive in its place?
I’ve been feeling wearied and worn out this past week, but not just because of the mild case of plague I’ve likely come down with. No, I think I have succumbed to something else that seems to be going around our liminal web: a subtle deflation of spirits, an exasperation at a million counter-productive “yets,” a frustrated exhaustion at playing whack-a-mole to all the ingenious takedowns and aporias our gifted band of intellectual heavyweights are capable of mustering.
But why? What are we about?
Please don’t get me wrong: I’m all for critical thinking and intellectual interrogation. We need to test the mettle of our bold proposals in the refining fire of open discourse. But if there’s anything that postmodern deconstruction and endless critique have taught us, it’s that these have their limits and their limitations. Relentlessly picking things apart will never build us a better world. Cleverly unpacking and problematizing will never get us closer to solutions.
It’s one thing to apply our incredulous and skeptical skills to the old “Game A” systems and narratives. I’d say it’s a shared tenet amongst us all that these are the proper aim of our invectives, and that they need to be dismantled and replaced. But after deconstruction comes reconstruction—and this is no easy task. It should go without saying that we’ll get much wrong at the get-go. That we’ll need to be continually reforming and refining our ideas, together. That nothing’s going to be perfect—and, indeed, never will be.
But when reconstructive efforts are made in good faith to explore new territory or otherwise support and expand our fledgling community of rebel thinkers and alternative world builders, do we need the same “claws out” mentality? Might we instead find ways to use what’s offered as a scaffold, or “yes and” the effort, or otherwise keep building, even if we recognize the foundations aren’t the be-all end-all?
I’ve felt a wave or slow deluge recently of relentless quippers and pundits, castigators and excoriators, riding the good intentions and big attempts arising from our various movers and shakers. But to what end? Haven’t we seen this film before? The cool kid rolls his eyes and crosses his arms, and everyone thinks him wise to the degree he shows himself jaded. The inky-cloaked intellectual sighs and cites their favorite French thinkers who prove that everything good and true and beautiful is a lie, and everyone thinks her brilliant to the extent she seems unduped by the world’s enticing illusions. The activist interrupts, and derisively labels an idea white, cis-gendered, hetero-normative claptrap, and everyone thinks that settles that for good because who can argue with them?
For everything there is a season. A time to doubt, and a time to hope. A time to shrug, and a time to try. And we are in trying times now—in every sense of the word. We do not have the luxury of endless cynicism, of endless calling-into-question, of constant deconstruction. We have big problems to tackle, and colossal issues to face.
“Ah, the ‘meta-crisis’? How cute. But isn’t all this ‘meta’ overused? And that ‘meaning crisis’? No, that’s dead, silly.”
Sound familiar? The old postmodern bug, now worming its way into the discourse. Talk about a parasite!
Never forget this fact: The exploitative and short-sighted elements of society need no solidarity. The barons of industry and consumerism need only their “Invisible Hand” to hold them all together, and the powers-that-be are tightly bound and fortified in favor of “what is” against “what might be.” We do their work, then, dividing ourselves for conquering, when we might show some support toward common goals, and not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Keep this in mind next time you hear bemoaned and pilloried any attempt to name ourselves or find a flag to rally around. Or see a splintering toward countless new “isms.” Or are already bored with this name or that, and wonder what we might add “post-” to. Or say it’s all meaningless anyway, and that these terms and labels don't mean anything anyway.
Keep this in mind before savaging some new video or proposal, before attacking some torch bearer or another for their inevitable faults or imperfections. It isn’t easy to try to change the world; what’s easy is sitting on the sidelines and pointing out blemishes. What’s easy is nay-saying, winning points by losing hope.
The driving strength of this community has always been its qualified enthusiasm, that sentiment of “pragmatic idealism” that defines the metamodern sensibility. We know nothing is perfect or final, and yet we try anyway. We assume we might fail, and most probably will, and yet we try anyway. We put our necks on the line with our aspirations and our attempts, and make ourselves vulnerable prey to the easy ridicule of critics—that expected choir of cynics and postmodern moralists for whom our bold and earnest projects are fodder to their intellectual display and virtue signaling. We do this because we know: if there’s to be a better world, it won’t come from them. They are the tearers-down. Their deconstruction has been needed to clear the path. But after demolition, they seem to know no other skill. And so they turn upon the task we’ve set ourselves: to create, to build, to fashion anew, to revitalize and regenerate.
Look: do not be dismayed. Do not be confused. Our task is a hopeful one. We are the renegades of promise. We are attempters, doers, makers. We look on coming storms and seek to meet them, head on. We stare into the Void—and look beyond it. That is a meaning of our “meta” often overlooked (in the often drifting sense of ‘metamodernism’). We are beyond these postmodern doomsayers and skeptics, beyond their shrugging resignation, beyond their endless desire to get ahead of things in order to undermine them. Keep that in mind when they would have you think our efforts are misguided, our enthusiasm misplaced, our ideals mistaken. We know we walk on the knife's edge of possibility. It is our conviction that keeps us aloft, and our committment to not go down without a fight. For, to quote some sage-like words of mythos that often inspire me in times like these: "There is some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it's worth fighting for."
The postmodern cynicism that would infect our enterprise is itself an exhausted force. However loud it roars, it’s still a dinosaur—out of touch and out of date. The irony of ironies is that, for those who embrace its ethos in the interest of being “in” and being “cool,” cynical irony itself is now precisely the opposite. Those who peddle it only show their being out of step with the emerging zeitgeist, and thus the least qualified voices to lead us into the future.
Our moment calls for dreamers, enthusiasts, visionaries, creatives. It calls for earnestness, sincerity, and hope. Its hallmarks are openness and graciousness, charitableness and candidness. Those are the ones who "get it."
So, cynics, what do you say? Ready to put down your explosives and take up some hammer and nails? Ready to get to work, instead of just critiquing it? We need all the help we can get.
Let's get building.