Postmodernism

I didn’t get a single question, not one since the last post.  I guess this just means you all decided to see what I would come up with on my own, or there is no “you all” in the first place.  Nevertheless, I cannot let this stop me, so I have used my horribly limited creativity to decide that this post will be about Postmodernism.

Before I embark on an expedition of the way in which humans express ideas and relate to the observable world, I would like to start by apologizing.  If I apologize ahead of time, I figure that excuses me from offending a few people in the near future.  Unfortunately, my views of Postmodernism do not include reverence, awe, respect, or any positive regard whatsoever.  In fact, I think Postmodernism is one of the most destructive and dangerous ideas existing in modern society.  And that is why I need to apologize.  Those are strong words, and many people faithfully hold to the theory of Postmodernism.  What I say to you is do not be offended.  I am attacking an idea, not you.  You should feel free to disagree, in fact, please do so for the sake of good conversation, but do not feel that I am insulting you or trying to make anyone look stupid.  I am simply trying to critically analyze the world in which I live.

Postmodernism is the belief that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs, as they are subject to change inherent to time and place (thank you Wikipedia).  Now, Postmodernism is also more generally an era of literature, and it has other definitions and ideas it embodies, but at the heart of Postmodernism, you will always find this idea: that everything is relative.  By extension, if everything we experience is relative to our environment, it does not matter what the author or creator of a work intended, what matters is how we experience the art.

There are some examples where this is just fine.  Some poems do not have any apparent meaning or purpose, and are simply up for interpretation.  Now, I have no idea why anyone would be interested in spending time writing such a poem, but they already exist, and in those cases, sure, feel free to interpret away in ridiculous, disparate ways.

That being said, in almost every other case, Postmodernism can be dangerous.  Refusing to consider the author’s intent and only focusing on the reader’s interpretation can lead to terrible misunderstandings.  Though some people might say this is no big deal, that Postmodernism only encapsulates a small portion of the artistic population, this is not true.  Many of the ideas of Postmodernism have crept into society and become engrained in the people of modern culture.  All around me every day I can see pieces of Postmodernism is other’s people’s opinions, words, ideas, and lifestyles.

Clearly, it is no small deal.  The first problem with Postmodernism is the Relativism it implies.  By saying that everything is up to interpretation since everyone’s perspective and environment is different, Postmodernism assumes the doctrine of Relativism, which states that there are no objective truths.  Personally, I find Relativism silly because it cannot stand up to the most basic logic.  Let me demonstrate.

Relativist: “There are no objective truths.”

Objectivist: “Is it possible that there is one objective truth?”

Relativist: “No.”

Objectivist: “Are you absolutely sure?”

Relativist: “Okay, I guess there can be one absolute, and that absolute is that there are no other absolutes.”

Objectivist: “Is it possible that there are two absolutes?”

Relativist: “No.”

Objectivist: “Are you absolutely sure?”

And as you can see, the logic falls apart, there must be some absolutes in this world.  So in that regard, Postmodernism is illogical.  The second problem is not simply one of a lack of logic, but one of danger.  Postmodernism is a dangerous idea, and this is most horribly apparent in the Supreme Court (hey, we might as well start at the top).  Many of the newer judges on the Supreme Court and others interpreting the Constitution have started to express the ideas of Postmodernism, however subtly.  They like to talk about how it is “up to interpretation” and how it needs to change to fit the times.  Obviously, certain components of the Constitution are not still applicable (such as the three-fifths compromise), but the fact remains that there are certain ideas that should, and must remain absolute.  If our Supreme Court Judges begin deciding that it is all open for reconsideration in light of our new circumstances and environment, our Constitution can be ignored in some cases, rewritten in others, or possibly even eradicated.

Don’t just take it from me.  Here’s what Jefferson said:

"In the lapse of two or three centuries, changes have taken place which in particular passages… obscure the sense of the original languages….  The effect of these changes is that some words are… being now used in a sense different from that which they had… [and thus] present wrong signification or false ideas.  Whenever words are understood in a sense different from that which they had when introduced…. mistakes may be very injurious."

This implies that we must be very careful when interpreting the Constitution not to misread it.  Expressions today are not the same as they were 224 years ago.  However, Jefferson does NOT say that this means we should rewrite it when it gets old, he says that we must be all the more careful to properly interpret it so as not to make injurious mistakes.  I think it needs to be said again, “Whenever words are understood in a sense different from that which they had when introduced…. mistakes may be very injurious.”  Jefferson would have hated Postmodernism, even cursed it if it had existed in his time.  Postmodernism rests on the idea that things can be reinterpreted in different ways, but clearly this is dangerous, especially with the Constitution.  Because of the way Postmodernism has infiltrated our culture, I worry for the future.  If we begin to lose sight of the idea that some things need to remain absolute, we will no longer entirely believe that “All men are created equal” and that there are certain “unalienable rights.”

In the end, certain parts of Postmodernism are fine.  If you want to write in stream of conscious, go knock yourself out, but ideas of Relativism and reinterpretation have the potential of unravelling the framework of the single most successful society in history.  Despite our flaws, the American system has been the most successful, and let us not forget that we were founded on ideas that superseded time and place, a belief that Postmodernism threatens.  For that reason, I believe firmly that Postmodernism is a danger and needs to be combated, if not eradicated.


Research-Induced Busyness and Questions?

So last Friday I spent nearly ten straight hours programming in MATLAB for my research project.  It was probably one of those things I can only do every few months or maybe even just once a year.  That kind of dedication would be unhealthy on a regular basis.  Nevertheless, it was extremely constructive as a one-time thing.  I literally solved almost half of my entire project.  It was great.  However, devoting that much time to research on the same weekend as my Academic Team Regional Tournament and the Super Bowl left so little time that I barely had the chance to do my other homework, let alone write on my blog.  In the end, I was just very, very busy recently, so this was the first chance I had to write.  Along the same lines, I had fun typing the work “busyness.”  It’s so close to “business” but is pronounced just slightly different and has a completely different meaning.  Semantics is cool.

My other goal right is to find a way to make sure I have great topics for later posts.  I said in my very first post that I would be open to almost any ideas (with a few necessary limitations) and that I would enjoy giving any legitimate idea the amount of consideration it deserves.  In case that wasn’t explicit enough, I just wanted to make it clear that I am extremely open for questions.  You guys asking me questions means I spend less time trying to think of something exciting to write about.  Instead, if you have a thought-provoking question, or even just a question you’ve always wondered what my answer to it would be, please ask.


Q
Unknowledgeable, by our standards, doesn't mean that the ancient Greeks, or any similar culture, were less intelligent than us. The Allegory really doesn't build off anything, so it's entirely up to the individual's intelligence, not the state of his society. I'm not even sure ours is all that much superior, anyway. You mentioned a religious belief that contradicts what we now know as scientific fact, but today we still have people who believe very similar things, even when the knowledge is available to them. I'd argue that's far worse.
A

Yes, but the amount of unreasonable beliefs back then was significantly greater than it is now.  We still have people who know little and believe unsupported and even refuted ideas, but it is much less common today than it was back then.  My point was simply, that to have the mental facility to sift through all that foolishness surrounding him and make a conclusion like this is impressive, and I would say slightly more impressive to have done it then than to have done it today.

Also, yes, I agree, those few people who still believe that silliness despite the available knowledge are even worse.  They just exhibit even more egregious ignorance.


Q
I was wondering exactly why you found it impressive that Plato thought up the Allegory of the Cave so long ago. Obviously he was rather intelligent for any time, but that kind of thought seems to be rather basic, in that it doesn't build off of other thoughts or theories. It takes a great mind to come up with it, but it would be just as impressive if it had been thought up in Ancient Greece or yesterday.
A

Perhaps it would be just as amazing now, but then again, I feel the time period does add a little bit to the impressiveness.  For instance, back then most people thought lightning occurred because the gods were fighting.  Today, we are much more educated and have access to much more general knowledge.  As a result, you would expect this to leave people with more time to think about greater things such as the ideas in The Allegory of the Cave.  Plato is impressive because he thought of it amidst a very unknowledgeable people.


Q
Nickkkk. This is Rahi :)
sorry to be a creeper, but im just curious...what college are you going to?
A

I won’t know until April.  I applied to Virginia Tech, Johns Hopkins, Carnegie Mellon, Rensselaer, Princeton, and Duke, all Regular Decision.  Therefore, I won’t know until they all submit their admissions decisions, which all fall around April 1.  I don’t really have a definitive favorite yet, so if I get into more than one, I’ll have quite the decision to make.


Gourmet Foods and Plato

This semester I am enrolled in Gourmet Foods, quite obviously because it is a class about eating.  What more needs to be said?  However, on the first day, our teacher told us that if we complete all of the recipes correctly, work together with our groups, make something that tastes good, and clean up thoroughly afterward, we will receive a 95% for the day.  Now, this may just be a crazy thought, but I seem to have this assumption that if you fulfill all of the requirements thoroughly, you receive a 100%.  She went on to tell the class that to get a 100%, you must go above and beyond (e.g. helping her clean up her workspace, helping her fold laundry, etc.)  First of all, good for her making sure that her elective class doesn’t turn into some joke of a blow-off class.  I admire teachers that take measures to ensure that students don’t take the class too lightly.  That being said, completing the assignment thoroughly should earn a 100%.  Maybe the requirements for a 100% should be stringent, but “going above and beyond” implies beyond the requirements or beyond the regular grade.  ”Above and beyond” shouldn’t be necessary to earn a full completion grade, that defies the rules of logic, something I cannot let go unnoticed.  Alas, we cannot beat the system, so I am left to toil away in Gourmet Foods nearly as diligently as an AP class just to ensure I don’t hurt my GPA.

On an obviously related topic, today I got to discuss Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.  If you haven’t read it yet, you probably will have to in college, but even so, I think you should read it now.  It’s deeply philosophical, yet usefully practical.  I love discussing the intricacies of why a person would be so resistant to the truth and why it could be nearly impossible to change a person so long engrained in a lie.  It is difficult enough to understand the profundity, and afterward, I am always left in admiration of Plato.  I love philosophy and frequently discuss abstract ideas, but I would be lying if I told you I was capable of coming up with an idea as incredible as The Allegory of the Cave all on my own.  The most amazing part: Plato did it more than 2400 years ago.  That is to be admired.