Dr. Strangethought or: How I Learned to Stop Being Modern and Love Being Post

It’s popular in our culture today to attach the prefix “post” to an ideology or position to indicate that we have somehow advanced beyond such a position or ideology. Such phrasing, however, tends to be more Orwellian than an accurate description, as what is usually “post” still holds to the key tenets of what it supposedly leaves behind, but simply changes the conclusions of those tenets. We might say we are “post-anything,” but the sad reality is that we still very much belong to the old ideology; we slap “post” on there to act as though we’ve escaped the ideology, but we are still within its grasps.

Imagine that while walking in the woods, you come across a house. The outside of the house is painted brown and has roses in the garden. When you walk in you notice that the house has 2 bedrooms, an office, one bathroom, the carpet is purple, and the entire inside is painted red. Such a house simply will not do for your tastes. You first take out the roses and plant tulips. Next you paint the house beige on the outside and pure white on the inside. You take out the carpet and put in hardwood floors, all the while you add another bathroom and turn the study into another bedroom. While the house is different, the frame and foundation remain the same.

Likewise, when we apply the word “post” to an ideology, more often than not we have simply redecorated the ideology without changing the ideology. The base presuppositions of the ideology remain the same, but the conclusions and certain definitions to terms might change. In essence, the ideology remains the same, but is still tweaked; the presuppositions remain while the conclusions drawn from the presuppositions change.

For instance, we think of “post-modernism,” which should indicate that we have moved past the Enlightenment period of history and are now in a period that no longer holds onto the theory of absolutes, that is, we have abandoned the Enlightenment experiment and find ourselves to be enlightened for it. Any astute observer of the history of philosophy will tell you, however, that we haven’t really moved beyond modernism, but simply shifted the conclusions of modernism. Whereas modernism recognized the inherent problem of knowledge and embraced skepticism, it eventually concluded that we could reach a unified epistemology (way of thinking) worldwide through reason. Though there are some differences between modernism and modern modernism (what is called post-modernism), each begins with the same premise and presuppositions, but simply move in different directions as to the conclusions.

But post-modernism isn’t the only mis-labeled term. Terms such as “post-racial,” “post-feminism,” “post-colonialism,” and even “post-Christian” tend to fall into the Orwellian trap of renaming something to change how it’s received. Is our society truly post-racial? When a black politician can encourage voters to vote for a senatorial candidate because “he looks like us” and no one pays attention to such blatant racism, are we really “post-racial”? Rather, what we call post-racial is little more than racism against the majority – should you label something wrong because it’s a vestige of the “white male” then you are seen as an academic. Should you label something wrong because it’s a vestige of the “black man” then you are seen as a racist. The fact is both viewpoints are racist because both seek to lift up one race while degrading another. There is certainly nothing post-racial about that; the core of racism remains the same (i.e. that one race is superior/inferior than another race), but the conclusions are different.

We see this shift of conclusions occurring in other areas. Whereas feminism used to desire equality with men based on the conclusion that the genders were equal in power and perspective, post-feminism generally attempts to say that our world is run by a patriarchal mindset and that the world would best be served if we all adopted a feministic viewpoint, that is, if we abandoned the thinking of males and instead thought like females (which implies that males are deficient in their thinking while females are perfect in their paradigms). The core presumption remains the same – that one gender has a better view on life simply for being that gender – but the conclusions simply differ.

Hence, the problem with applying the prefix “post” to any term is that we’re not really “post” anything. We’re still adhering to the same presuppositions, but coming to different conclusions. This does not indicate a paradigm shift, but rather a deconstruction of a worldview down to its presuppositions, but not beyond its presuppositions. Slavoj Zizek serves as the perfect example. He could be considered a “post-Marxist” in his worldview and in fact we know that he embraces the deconstruction of Jacques Derrida. But is Zizek willing to deconstruct his presuppositions? One would have to argue that while we say he is post-Marx the truth is that he’s not post anything. He begins with the same presuppositions that Marx did, but simply comes to a different conclusion. For instance, with Zizek terrorists are defenders of their lands, America is a nation attempting to exert its colonialism on yet another nation, and we do all of this to exert our control over the masses. While Zizek might disagree with Marx on what constitutes the proletariat and bourgeois classes, Zizek cannot escape having such classes and then succinctly placing groups and ideologies into their respective classes. Zizek isn’t post-Marx, he simply disagrees with Marx’s conclusions and definitions; the presuppositions remain the same.

There is an arrogance inherent within labeling ourselves as “post” anything. When we do so, we are implying that we are more enlightened and wise than our predecessors were. We argue that while Kant, Hume, and Descartes might have been smart, these are dead white men who promoted Enlightenment ideals that led to the suffering of minorities, and we’re post-Enlightenment. Yet, we are fools because we fail to recognize that we have embraced the presuppositions of Kant, Hume, and Descartes, but simply come to different conclusions. While Descartes held out hope that we could know reality, Kant taught we could not know the ding an sich (the thing in itself) and Hume said that we could really know nothing at all. So even in our “post-modern” era (modern modernity) though our conclusions differ, they differ only slightly from the Enlightenment because they begin with the same presuppositions (uncertainty in knowledge).

But what about the term post-Christian? It is popular to call our age a “post-Christian” age, where people are ignorant of Christianity and no longer adhere to a Judeo-Christian worldview. This term is seemingly more accurate, but falls apart upon further examination. While it is true that in the past people were more knowledgeable on what Christianity was and what Christians believed, we’ve never had a Christian era or society that we can really be “post” with. For instance, can we think of a time in Western history where the vast majority of humans gave their money to the poor, where leaders lead by example and by being servants, or where the orphans were taken care of and the widows had no worries? Can we think of a period in Western history where the vast majority of people sought out God on His terms rather than theology as a commodity for their own selfish purposes? Such a period of history doesn’t exist, but these would be markers of a “Christian era.” We can safely assume that there never has been a Christian era on this earth or a Christian society, so how can we be “post-Christian” if society has never truly been Christian to begin with? It would be improper to say that England is “post-Alexandrian” when Alexander the Great never ruled over or directly influenced England. Likewise, it is equally inappropriate to label a culture or era as “post-Christian” when no culture or era has truly represented Christianity.

Certainly there are times when we move past the presuppositions of an idea that did influence a culture and begin to adopt new presuppositions. It would be proper to say that we are a post-Virtuous society or a post-realist society. Both would indicate that whereas society’s presuppositions taught that (1) there was a natural order to the universe, including ethics and (2) there was a God in the universe who ordered our lives and held us up to standards, we have since that time moved past such presuppositions. We now believe in a more open universe, that ethics depends on the person and a desire not to harm others, and that while God may or may not exist, we should live our lives according to what helps others, not to whether or not there is a Divine Law-giver. Such changes indicate a change in presuppositions, not just in our conclusions.

Regardless, more often than not the prefix “post” is overly applied and done so quite arrogantly. To say that we have moved beyond what those bumbling fools of the past believed and have now reached a more enlightened state is near the center of modern man’s absurdity. We are not post-racial, we are simply racist against a different race. We are not post-feminism, we simply degrade a different gender. We are not post-Marx, we simply have a different idea of who composes the bourgeoisie. We’re not post-modern, we simply have a different conclusion on where fragmented knowledge gets us. We’re not post-Christian because no era or society has ever truly been Christian, so we cannot be past what has never been.

We must avoid thinking we are post-anything if we have not first evaluated our presuppositions. For all the talk about fear of the ‘other’ from those who label themselves post-colonial, they are quite afraid of those who would seek to entrench a “colonial” ideal. That is, in their attempt to abolish the idea of the ‘other’ and in the hopes of embracing multiple narratives and listening to all voices, they have subsequently excluded all voices they see as colonial, hence creating the ‘other.’ Post-colonial is still colonial, just with a different ‘other’ who is being oppressed and suppressed. Rather, we must look to those who disagree with us and discover why they disagree with us. We must look at their way of thinking, why they believe what they believe, and do so in an open fashion. We must evaluate their presuppositions independent of our own, that is, we must look to see if their presuppositions match with reality better than ours do. If their presuppositions are logically consistent and match with reality, then we must begin to question our own. Even if they don’t match with reality, we should still question our own to see if maybe both us and the ‘other’ are wrong.

I do not expect those who love to label themselves “post” will take such words to heart. Mostly because to label one’s self “post” anything requires a certain amount of arrogance and self-importance and one undeniable fact is that arrogance bemoans correction and self-reflection. However, I would ask that we be careful with how we label ourselves and how we look at our ideas. Have we really moved past an idea, or do we still accept its foundation (or even its walls and structure), but simply redecorate it so it looks different? Most of the time you will find that while the decorations may have changed, the foundation remains the same, thus you really haven’t moved on.

One thought on “Dr. Strangethought or: How I Learned to Stop Being Modern and Love Being Post

  1. Wow! Very enlightening. I for one have never been fond of labels of any kind (protestant, evangelical, liberal, conservative, etc) as it seems to become a moniker without substance over time. I would much rather observe the world thru the lens of the words of Jesus: “By their fruit youwill recognize them.” You can apply that to most everything!

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