The Postmodern Wedge
“Narrative”. That word has become the earmark of postmodernism. Say or write the word, “narrative” in your talk or essay, and many people will identify you as a postmodern lecturer or writer, and either trash or hail your words according to their attitude toward postmodernism.
But I use the word, “narrative” a lot, yet I am no postmodernist writer. It would be, then, a false positive. It would be so because it is a red herring. The idea of narratives is not inherently a postmodern one. To be a postmodernist, more than that is needed. Also, few of those we regard as postmodernists are truly such, yet that does not subtract one whit from their being on the enemy side. Now for the details of what I am talking about.
We cannot do without narratives, even if we believe in objective reality. There are facts, but their interpretation may not always be straightforward, and also, there may be bias in selecting them. We like to think of the hard sciences as being the realm where facts rule supreme; this is true for mathematics most of all, but the Global Warming™ brouhaha shows how interests can lay a fog even over hard sciences. All the more so when we discuss things closer to human peculiarities, such as politics and history and art.
The destruction of the World Trade Center towers is the fact. There is the Lesser Disputation, which is the “9/11 Truth” movement, claiming it was an inside job by the American government; thankfully, this is derided as kookery even by Marxists like the ones on CounterPunch. But there is the Greater Disputation, which is the view of the root causes of 9/11, and therefore of the remedies against its recurrence. One narrative says: Islamic imperialism making its first awesome statement of intent. Another narrative says: the colonized non-Western other making a visible protest against a long series of injustices.
I have no problem calling those two, “Narratives”, for I believe that is the best name for them; nor do I have any problem with listening to all narratives, with recognizing how other people think. Ignorance is not bliss, and listening to the other side does not equal capitulation. But knowledge of the other side does not mean assent to their ideas, and listening does not automatically translate into action in their favor. And I judge. I certainly judge. I listen to the other side’s narrative, I study it thoroughly, and then, after all that, there is a quite real possibility that I will judge that narrative as totally erroneous. That’s what sets me apart from postmodernism.
Take one of the most widely-circulated postmodern mantras of today:
One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.
What is wrong with that phrase? Is it false? Maybe. But if it’s not false, there is only one other option: it’s a tautology, a statement of the obvious. Of course some people give the title, “freedom fighters” to those we call, “terrorists”, and vice versa! If that phrase is true, then it’s a “Well, duh…” kind of phrase no one should be wasting such an inordinate length of time on. But people do. We all do. Because there is a serious reason for doing so.
The comparison between groups such as the Stern Gang and Hamas ought to be an open-and-shut case: though both employed violent tactics, the former had no goal other than the liberation of the Land of Israel from British rule, nor did they raise their children on a heritage of perpetual hatred toward the British or sacrifice them, while the goal of Hamas would be equivalent to claiming Britain as part of the Jewish state and striving to liberate it all from the “Anglo-Saxon invader”, and instead of doing anything in the way of building their state, on lands they already have (the Gaza Strip, for example), they use their money for weaponry, and raise their children on the heritage of genocide and suicide-terrorism. The Stern Gang were freedom fighters using terrorist tactics from time to time; Hamas are terrorists in essence, having no way of life apart from terrorism, and cannot be considered freedom fighters, for they are fighting against the freedom of the other side.
Is the above just my narrative? If it weren’t for postmodernism, then no, it would be a foregone conclusion, borne out by the facts. But here comes our phrase, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”, and inserts a wedge into the upright tree. It innocuously poses as an invitation to listen. That is not the actual problem, for I just said listening is basically a good thing. But it is no innocent enticement at all, for it comes with a threat: “Don’t be judgmental! Don’t look down upon the Other! Don’t be such an intolerant Orientalist!”, and so on.
I have no problem with the fact that the members of Hamas may actually consider themselves to be freedom fighters. I have a problem with this order, this command, not to be judgmental. This is no artistic matter, no literary criticism, no hour of entertainment passed by on the couch; this is an issue where life and limb are concerned. Judgmentalism is not only allowed—it’s an imperative! Postmodernism is somewhat sufferable when expounded by professors of literature with too much time on their hands sitting atop the ivory tower; but, as the Sokal Affair showed, when carried over to hard, real-world matters, it can be disastrous. We cannot afford it now at all, for the future of the world is at stake.
Nor is the enemy postmodern. Not the Muslims, whose certainty and judgmentalism, when displayed by a Bible-believer, are decried by the Marxists as “colonial haughtiness”; but not the Marxists themselves either. “Bush = Hitler” is anything but postmodern. It requires, first, the judgment of Hitler as an evil man, and then the judgment of Bush as equivalent to him. The rants of the moonbats against “money-grubbing corporations”, against “the human blight on the environment”, against “the racism of Western governments”, against “the Zionist history of ethnic cleansing” and for “peace and justice for all, no peace with justice!”—all these are decidedly judgmental, to such a degree that it would make a fundamentalist Christian hellfire preacher (or a Muslim imam—but that’s “Racism! Racism! Raaaaaacism!”) blush. It is as far removed from the “all narratives are of equal worth and truth” tenet of postmodernism as can be.
The reality is, postmodernism is nothing but a wedge against the West’s traditional truths, to be used as the beginning of their toppling, and a safety-valve against the same, to be used once they have already been toppled. Postmodernism invites the listener to grant worthiness (and not just an ear, which is what I do) to the view that the customs of wife beating or cannibalism are to be tolerated in modern Western society, a view which self-confident modern Western minds would throw into the trashcan of depraved ideas as soon as they had finished listening. Then, when somebody dares to voice an opinion against those customs, postmodernism is invoked to stifle it on the grounds of, “intolerance toward the other”. We see it all the time at Western universities: whenever you hear the word, “diversity”, you can safely bet it’s a prelude to proscribing some opinion the heads of the university don’t like, even if it be an opinion on hard, factual, real-world matters. Taken to its logical conclusion, postmodernism could be used to force “tolerance” of the “narrative” that 2 plus 2 equals 5 if the head of the university (or state) feels like it, just as Orwell wrote.
I don’t flinch at the word, “narrative”. I will listen, and listen attentively. But I will judge once I have finished listening. I will deliver judgment on each narrative, and I will not cave in to accusations of “cultural imperialism” and “colonial haughtiness”. Any student who asserts that judging things is bad ought to be given an F, and when he protests that, his professor ought to answer, “Stop being so judgmental. Show a little tolerance toward my narrative, according to which you deserve an F”.
Human judgment carries the risk of error, of course. But sitting on the fence carries the certainty of failure. Postmodernism is either a dishonest ruse or a fence-sitting laziness; either way, we cannot afford to give it credence.