Postmodern thinkers claim to have broken the fetters of logic that have characterised rational discourse since the enlightenment. They claim to have ushered in a new age of freedom of communication, that rationality is no longer the only, or even the major, “communicative virtue” and that social, psychological, political and historical considerations must all take precedence over logic and reason.
Freed from the confines of logic, discourse can now become open, honest, sincere, politically sensitive and historically conditioned. While premoderns and moderns judged a speaker’s claims on how well it was based on the facts of the case and the logic of the argument, the postmoderns “play the believing game” which accepts the speaker’s claims according to the degree of sincerity exhibited by the speaker. Hence expertise and authority are no longer possessed only by an elite few. Communication is truly democratic. We are all informed; we are all rational.
Hence we find educational curricula based on the premise that anyone can teach anyone else and the great sin is lecturing or instructing. Richard Rorty the American postmodernist has said our only task is to keep the conversation going.
The postmodernists conclude that there is no Truth to be aspired to, but that there are at any time a great many “little truths”. Each of these little truths depends on the social, psychological, political and other contexts of their utterance. Person A speaks as a woman, as an oriental, as an unemployed person, as a mother and so on. Person B speaks as a male, or as a Maori, or as an artist and so on. One person’s X is another’s NOT-X depending on who (and where, and when and what gender, race, and age) they both are.
This new age of Postmodernism has helped to foster the “New Age” of healing crystals, channelling, UFO abductions and the other beliefs of the Shirley Maclaine tribe because we are encouraged to ignore nonsense, unreason, and irrationality.
These postmoderns see science as “no more than the handmaiden of technology” according to Rorty. And technology is viewed as evil itself, because it is perceived to be the cause of most of today’s economic, environmental and medical ills.
Education has contributed to this evil advance and must be reformed in the postmodernist image. The enlightenment tradition must be rejected on moral grounds. There can be no separation of teacher (master) and student (slave) when there are no universal standards of truth. School children must be allowed to discover their own reality while facilitators encourage their creative and free ranging thought.
Postmoderns at first appear to be superbly tolerant. After all, if all ideas are equally true then your truths are equal to mine. We are truly all equal before this lore. My idea that Jim Anderton’s recent move in and out of party leadership reflects a similar trauma in one of his earlier lives and your idea that it reflects a complex interaction between public and private life are on a par with each other. Each deserves to be tolerated and given due recognition.
But just as Doris Lessing found that her Marxist friends seemed to love humanity but hated people so too this universal tolerance for ideas seems to go hand in hand with a remarkable intolerance for individual expressions of thought.
This apparent anomaly has its own internal logic. The philosophy that seeks only “local” truths rather than aspiring to universal truths not only repudiates science but divides people according to their “locality”, which means dividing them according to who, where, when, and what colour, gender they are or what political beliefs they hold. The natural result of such division is an intolerance that tends to manifest itself in racism, nationalism, sexism and all the expressions of hostility and intolerance which we identify as Political Correctness. It’s not the Truth that counts–but the Politics which give rise to your local truth.
When my truth and your truth are allowed to differ depending on the differences between us, then the differences between us can no longer even claim to be ignored–simply because these differences play far too great a role in our social discourse. Universities used to be places where we could escape the petty confines in which we had been bound by race, nation, status or class. Some universities of today seem determined to reinforce these schisms rather than to replace them with the ideal of the universal community of scholars.
Academic discourse too frequently focuses on where its students “are coming from” rather than on where they might be trying to go.
In more innocent times the Skeptics existed to challenge pseudoscience and the paranormal by applying the universally accepted standards of scientific method and logical argument which had been accepted since the Enlightenment.
We now face a large and more challenging task–which is to challenge those ideas which would challenge the utility of science and logic itself.