Friday, July 10, 2015

Postmodernism is the adolescent in the philosophy department

From I tried to escape my privilege with low-wage work. Instead I came face to face with it. by Noah Phillips.

He opens with:
I attended the Edmund Burke School, one of Northwest Washington’s small private prep schools, where college acceptance rates were close to 100 percent, students called our teachers by their first names, and — despite our de facto liberalism and the lip service we paid to the ideal of diversity — we were mostly white and well-off. Most of our parents were left-leaning architects or journalists, federal employees or lawyers, who thought their children would thrive best in small classes and had the means to make it happen. I was sheltered, and I knew it.

So I inclined away from the kind of internships or resume-building white-collar gigs that my peers were pursuing the summer after graduation. I wanted something physical, something working class. This wasn’t based on an intellectual desire to gain a deeper understanding of class theory or race relations — just a 17-year-old’s urge to broaden my experience beyond my $30,000-a-year high school days.

I’d never had a job, but I knew where I wanted to find one. I’d spent the first few years of my life in Adams Morgan, a funky, diverse neighborhood and, in my eyes, the antithesis of Friendship Heights, the leafy, gleaming enclave my family had moved to. A few weeks before graduation, I spent a Saturday morning pacing 18th Street, stopping at every establishment with a “help wanted” sign, gravitating toward the places that fulfilled my vision of the city’s seedy underbelly: the late-night spots, the greasy pizza joints, the hookah bars.

I’m hardly the first privileged young man to go looking for grit. Others, from George Orwell to Chris McCandless, also have chafed against the neatness of their upbringings and tried to step outside their comfort zones. They found this to be the only tonic for their increasing unease with and burgeoning cynicism toward their backgrounds.
Nothing particularly new in the piece and reasonably self-centered, self-focused, and oblivious. He moves into "management" immediately because unlike his fellow workers, who are all Hispanic, he speaks English fluently and is able to interact with the customers comfortably and entertainingly. In other words, he has two critical skills they lack, language fluency and cultural compatibility. To Phillips, indoctrinated as he has been with the long discarded teachings of Foucault, this is class and race privilege.

To normal people, this is common business sense. Supply and Demand. But to Phillips, schooled in postmodernism and apparently suffering under the Marxist delusion of labor theory of value, this is evidence of Privilege.

And boy, do normal people tell him so in the comments. Well, that's not quite right. They tell him many uncomplimentary things but the subtext is that you are letting your neo-Marxist class, race, gender filters blind you to simple realities of which everyone else is aware. There already were some 800 comments when I looked and they were still pouring in, uniformly exasperated with Phillips's piece and the ignorance it displayed.

The gulf between the chattering classes and everyone else ever widens.

Perhaps there is something further here. The anger and irritation in the comments seems disproportionate. If I had to, I would guess that this is a function of two different ways of viewing the world. There is the traditional, pragmatic, American way of viewing things. American optimism paired with Francis Bacon. Yes, I am interested in your theory but tell me about reality. "Just the facts, ma'am." To this mindset, there is nothing notable in Phillips story. Supply and Demand. It is what it is. More than that, and I think this is where the irritation comes in, there is something repugnant to normal people about trying to force fit individuals into abstract categories of "White", "Hispanic", etc. The American vision wants to know who you are based on what you actually do.

The postmodernists, out of a ménage à quatre of Marx, Heidegger, Foucault and Derrida, don't think about people. First they thought about "the masses." Then they got sophisticated and thought about generic people as they fit into abstractions such as race, class, gender. Everyone lives with privilege that burdens the masses and that privilege should somehow be taken from those who have it. Try to pin down what constitutes unearned privilege and you quickly bog down in jargon or are dismissed as not getting it. Of course you don't get it because there is nothing to get. Postmodernism is the adolescent in the philosophy department - full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

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