Last week, tiny public liberal arts college Evergreen State in Olympia, Washington became the focus of national attention when progressive biology professor Bret Weinstein attracted the ire of a student lynch mob for refusing to leave campus due to being white. I won’t delve into the full timeline, which can be readily found elsewhere, but basically the university has celebrated a long standing tradition starting in the 70s, called Day of Absence, in which black students consensually left campus in order to leave “those left to reflect on the meaning of their community without these essential members.” On this particular occasion, they requested that whites leave instead, and when Weinstein wrote an email protesting, describing the event as “a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself,” chaos shortly ensued. Online videos surfaced displaying student activists menacing, cursing, and chanting at white professors, even demanding that president George Bridges keep his hands to his side. Currently, news reports indicate that vigilante groups are roaming the campus with bats, seeking out Weinstein supporters (for what reason, you can use your imagination).
Weinstein promptly went to the media to present his concerns, appearing on classical liberal podcasts such as the Rubin Report and Joe Rogan. Beyond the fact that this incident represents just another example in a long line of despicable student behavior, from Yale (outrage over Halloween costumes) to the University of Missouri protests to the Berkeley riots over invited speakers. The most interesting aspect of this saga, however, was revealed when Weinstein, on Rogan’s show provided the following analysis of the student’s motivations, “The thought process that led to this was postmodernism.” Weinstein clarified his position in greater detail on Rubin’s podcast:
The real issue is, in the 60s and 70s, a new type of scholarship emerged around critical theory, and at the moment critical race theory at the front, it has reorganized the fundamental nature of the academy, because it is built from an incompatible set of assumptions from the sciences and other disciplines… and because of that the two can’t really be in terribly close contact, they have to be compartmentalized away from each other in a normal university setting, but that also means science is not in a position to check critical race theory, so critical race theory has reached some conclusions that I believe are not valid and it is now in such as strong political position to dictate those terms to the sciences that we are seeing a kind of reversal of fortune.
It is this dichotomy between postmodern and modern that is the most important takeaway from this entire affair. In many ways, the old left/right dichotomy no longer applies. Instead we are faced with a three-part distinction between postmodern/modern/traditional.
Indeed, it is between the modernists and postmodernists where the future of society is being fought. Modernists are those who believe in human progress within a classical Western tradition. They believe that the world can continuously be improved through science, technology, and rationality. Unlike traditionalists, they seek progress rather than reversal, but what they share in common is an interest in preserving the basic structures of Western society. Most modernists could be classified as centrists (either left or right-leaning), classical liberals and libertarians.
Postmodernists, on the other hand, eschew any notion of objectivity, perceiving knowledge as a construct of power differentials rather than anything that could possibly be mutually agreed upon. Informed by such thinkers as Foucault and Derrida, science therefore becomes an instrument of Western oppression; indeed, all discourse is a power struggle between oppressors and oppressed. In this scheme, there is no Western civilization to preserve—as the more powerful force in the world, it automatically takes on the role of oppressor and therefore any form of equity must consequently then involve the overthrow of Western “hegemony.” These folks form the current Far Left, including those who would be described as communists, socialists, anarchists, Antifa, as well as social justice warriors (SJWs). These are all very different groups, but they all share a postmodernist ethos.
All of this matters because, whether people are overtly aware of it or not, their beliefs and actions are implicitly guided by one of these three world-views. A person may have never attended an Ivy League gender studies class, but if they belong to and agree with the ideas of a typical urban, liberal, hipster milieu, they are very likely subscribing to a postmodernist ideology, even if they’ve never cracked open Lyotard.
In the end, the Weinstein/Evergreen State affair poses a significant crossroads to modern society, extending well beyond the conflict occurring on campus. Evergreen State represents the natural culmination of postmodern thought—roving mobs attempting to silence dissenting thought merely based on race, informed by far left theories that weaponize a victim status drawn solely from immutable, innate traits. Unfortunately, I cannot place full blame on the students either, as they have been indoctrinated with these ideas on the very campus that is now serving as the petri dish for applied postmodernism.
It is no coincidence that, while society outside the walls of campus looks on with disbelief, administrators to this point have been siding with the students. For if they were to repudiate the actions of the students, they would also need to repudiate the ideology with which they have been brainwashing them. In other words, taking a stand against the students would require administrators and professors to re-evaluate the meaning and value of the entire raison d’etre of their adult professional careers. Holding on to madness is a way of forestalling dealing with the grief that comes with the realization that one’s higher purpose has been a fraud. I am not sure of the final outcome, as this kind of process is long, difficult, and very, very painful.
Monday, June 12, 2017
Modernism versus regressive postmodernism
A worthwhile article exploring the creeping corruption of postmodernism. From Evergreen State and the Battle for Modernity by Michael Aaron.