Thursday, June 1, 2017

Eight blind spots of postmodernist thought

From The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker, Page 341.
Gender feminism is an empirical doctrine committed to three claims about human nature. The first is that the differences between men and women have nothing to do with biology but are socially constructed in their entirety. The second is that humans possess a single social motive—power—and that social life can be understood only in terms of how it is exercised. The third is that human interactions arise not from the motives of people dealing with each other as individuals but from the motives of groups dealing with other groups - in this case, the male gender dominating the female gender.
I think this observation can be extended beyond gender feminism to virtually all the derivative off-shoots of deterministic Marxism, i.e to postmodernism, critical theory, critical race theory, social justice, identity politics, deconstructionism, postcolonial theory, multiculturalism, etc.

I would expand the observation to all postmodernist critiques. I would reorder in terms of consequentiality. I would add five additional pathologies that are almost always present. Postmodernist claims about the human condition:
1) There is only one human goal and that is to obtain power.

2) All human reality is socially constructed and is not influenced by biology.

3) All human interactions should be interpreted solely in terms of group rivalry for power and not as the product of chance or individual actions.

4) All outcomes are deterministically caused by intentional human actions.

5) Average differences are superior to individual differences.

6) If there is correlation, there must be causation.

7) All personal choices are necessarily political choices.

8) There are no limits. No trade-offs need ever be made.
To elaborate on the five additions:

All outcomes are deterministically caused by intentional human actions

No state of human affairs exists except that it must have been intended as such by the veiled oppressive powers that be. Postmodernists are not believers in emergent order. Nor do they have much tolerance for complexity, chaos theory, Pareto distributions or power laws. A common example of this blindness is the well intentioned concern about differential discipline outcomes in schools. Postmodernists are disposed to believe that if there is a differential between two ethnic groups, it cannot be because there are different behaviors or values, but that it must be because of intentional discrimination.

Average differences are superior to individual differences

A different way of saying this is that postmodernists are strongly disposed to focus on statistical averages rather than delve into the details and therefore they frequently end up comparing apples and oranges. They are prey to category confusion. Perhaps the most common example of this is their conviction that there is a pay differential between men and women that is the product solely of misogynistic bias. They compare the average compensation of men in the work force and the average compensation of women and find that women earn 70 cents for every dollar men earn. They focus on the average and do not explore individual differences. When you look at the details, you discover that there are all sorts of differences: men work more hours, they work more overtime, they stay employed over longer periods of time and are more continuously employed. The more thorough the investigation of the differences, the more the pay gap shrinks. When you finally get to the point of comparing apples-to-apples, you discover that there is no statistical gap to be accounted for.

If there is correlation, there must be causation

This blindness to the distinction between correlation and causation is pervasive. A pernicious example is mistaking home-ownership with middle class values. The belief has long been common that owning a home forces adjustments in behavior that foster prosocial middle class behaviors in terms of planning, saving, investing in the community, etc. This belief is fostered by the observation that home ownerships is correlated with such behaviors.

The reality is, of course, that the correlation said nothing about causal direction. Home ownership is a consequence of such prosocial behaviors, not a cause of them.

The tragedy is that for a couple of decades, the assumed causal correlation between home ownership and prosocial middle class behaviors underpinned government programs intended to foster homeownership, especially by making mortgages cheaper and easier to get. Policies which led to the housing bubble and collapse, wiping out all those who had never developed the behaviors in the first place that enabled them to sustain a mortgage.

All personal choices are necessarily political choices

The personal is political has long been a postmodernist rallying cry, forcing individuals to justify their personal choices in the public arena. It is a massive exercise of unjustified intrusion and coercive bullying but highly effective from a political advocacy perspective. It has led to political correctness, people being unwilling to acknowledge their real views for fear of the resulting social ostracism and attacks of social justice warriors. It has also been tragically effective in precluding the most down trodden from learning of the behaviors most likely to lift them out of poverty. As Charles Murray documented in Coming Apart, the most successful quintile demonstrate remarkably low levels of early marriage, divorce, out-of-wedlock children, cohabitation, etc. and yet they are the most vocal about individual's rights to divorce, cohabitate, and have children out-of-wedlock. Those that do demonstrate these behaviors, end up concentrated among the bottom quintile. It almost appears as if the successful wish the unsuccessful to not learn the behaviors that would make them better off.

There are no limits. No trade-offs need ever be made.

The human condition is defined by limits. Limited food, limited space, limited time, limited attention, limited money, etc. We are known by the trade-offs we make within those limits. Limits are an inherent part of the human condition. You can't have it all. Postmodernists reject that supposition. They believe that you can have it all, that merely wishing for something can make it real. The corollary is that they do not acknowledge consequences.

Education, defense, healthcare, infrastructure, clean air and water, protected environments - these are all good and desirable things; within limits. If you spend everything on education, you have nothing left over for defense, healthcare, etc. You are making a choice that has consequences. Postmodernists wish not to be so constrained. They wish to spend everything on education. And on defense. And on healthcare. They do not wish to acknowledge limits and trade-offs.

Similarly with public policy. Postmodernists wish to be both color blind, ensuring that everyone is treated equally. But they also want to foster group identities, affirmative action programs, etc. There is an inherent trade-off between the two. You can pursue one or the other but not both and still maintain integrity or logical consistency.

For non-postmodernists, this style of thinking seems foolish, childish, or magical. Or, more cruelly, stupid. Regardless of how it is characterized, it is prevalent in postmodernist ideologies.

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