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Postmodern Theories Playing Out in Today’s World

Photo of William DyerWilliam Dyer | Bio

William Dyer

William Dyer is an ordained minister, works as a patrol deputy in Virginia, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner, and the host of DyerConversations podcast. Following the advice of his father to be a life-long learner, he is eager to use his investigative skills in the realm of higher education. His passion is to break through echo-chambers and continually seek the truth through his own independent research of biblical studies and related topics.

How are postmodern theories playing out in today’s world? The theories of postmodernism explain the shift from seeking truth in objective reality to defining truth according to subjective experience. Postmodernism reacts against notions of objective truth and scientific progress by treating such claims with suspicion. Beginning in philosophy lectures by French Theorists, postmodernism is now playing out in everyday life as people define their own reality; exalt their inner experience over objective, even scientific, facts; and combat grievances by policing language.

Does philosophy connect with the real world?

The average person today holds to a quasi-deistic faith in philosophy. They are familiar with a few popular names like Plato, Aristotle, and maybe even Hume. Some might even quote René Descartes’ famous aphorism “I think therefore I am,” but without knowing the source or meaning. In the course of typical marketplace conversations, philosophy is seen as something confined to the ivory tower that does not interact with life in the real world.

The truth is that philosophy is actually omnipresent. Everything we do and every institution functions based on how we think. Our conclusions flow from our philosophical positions. For example, American philosopher and evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer said the bloody French Revolution that led to the dictatorial rule of Napoleon Bonaparte was due to the French’s attempt to “reproduce the English conditions without the Reformation base, but rather on Voltaire’s humanist Enlightenment base.”[1] Today’s ideas become tomorrow’s revolutions.


“Today’s ideas become tomorrow’s revolutions.”


Philosophy, therefore, is not confined to the ivory tower. It walks our streets, paints our art, composes our music, writes our laws, dictates our educational curriculum, elects our politicians, determines our diet and workout routines, and so much more. The question is not whether or not to add philosophy to your cultural canvas. Rather, it is which philosophy will be painting your cultural picture. In contemporary American values, there is a skirmish over which philosophy is holding the paint brush.

Where are we philosophically?

It is vital to accurately evaluate where our culture currently stands philosophically, not where we might want it to be. It’s also important not to be misled into thinking that our worldview is aligned with mainstream opinion simply because we have crafted an echo chamber in which to live.

So, where on the map of philosophies is contemporary Western culture? Three current figures have, through a crafty scheme, helped expose to the world the current state of affairs driving Western academic research. They are American philosopher Peter Boghossian,[2] British author Helen Pluckrose,[3] and American mathematician James Lindsay.[4]

In a self-initiated project, these three co-conspirators submitted multiple research papers to peer-reviewed academic journals relating to cultural, queer, race, gender, fat, and sexuality studies.[5] The deception, however, was in the fact that the papers were a hoax submitted under pseudonyms. Their goal was to promote absurd ideas in a quest to see if they would be approved for publication by peer-reviewed journals in order to highlight the deplorably low standards of academic research and the questionable moral compass of academia.


“Their goal was to promote absurd ideas in a quest to see if they would be approved for publication by peer-reviewed journals in order to highlight the deplorably low standards of academic research and the questionable moral compass of academia.”


Over a two-year period between 2017 and 2018, they submitted twenty papers. Before the hoax was discovered, four papers were published, three accepted but not yet published, six rejected, and seven still under review.[6] This led Yascha Mounk, associate professor at John Hopkins University, to conclude the hoax “doesn’t just expose the low standards of the journals that publish this kind of dreck, though. It also demonstrates the extent to which many of them are willing to license discrimination if it serves ostensibly progressive goals.”[7]

This experiment underscored that there is a standard in academia that exalts social grievances over objective truth. With this reversal of priorities, it is not surprising to find how effortless it was to hoodwink them. When objective truth is discarded, there no longer remains a standard by which to judge the genuine from the fraudulent. Hence, Mounk’s comment, “If certain fields of study cannot reliably differentiate between real scholarship and noxious bloviating, they become deeply suspect.”[8] The very notion that feelings of grievance would be elevated over objectivity as a measure for truth is mindboggling to a large number of Americans. But this is because they haven’t been paying attention to the philosophical trends in our society.

Postmodern Theories Applied to America

No philosophical trend is given birth to or matures in a vacuum. In order to explain Critical Race Theory (CRT), gender studies, or queer studies, we need to trace the developments of postmodern thought in America and list its basic tenants. These offshoots took the principles of postmodernism and evolved them into aggressive political movements determined to radically overhaul the foundations of Western Civilization.

The freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to worship are some of the primary reasons America has flourished and, in my opinion, has become a beacon of hope to the world. I recognize the sins of America, her lack to live up to her principles, and the fact that there are no perfect systems. And I am not defending how American culture has acted in its history. Instead, my point is that the foundational ideals or principles upon which America is built (foremost being that all people are created equal and have God-given rights) are good and true. This is why people living under totalitarian regimes sing America’s national anthem, wave the Stars and Stripes, and look to us for liberation and hope.[9]


“The foundational ideals or principles upon which America is built (foremost being that all people are created equal and have God-given rights) are good and true.”


America has provided a place for people to freely discuss, dialogue, and argue in the marketplace of ideas without fear of political, social, or physical repercussions. Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay said this culture provides “a framework for conflict resolution and one within which people holding a variety of views on political, economic, and social questions can rationally debate the options for public policy.”[10] However, America is paradoxically trying to cut off the hand of freedom that feeds her. This is the fruition of postmodern philosophy.

Postmodernism is a “multifaceted phenomenon” which is hard to define.[11] Senior editor of Encyclopedia Britannica, Brian Duignan, says it is “a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power.”[12] While postmodernism itself might be seen as a relativist, its children tend to be tyrants enforcing authoritarian ideologies.[13] When institutionalized, the offspring of postmodernism enforce their subjective absolutes[14] through political correctness.


Postmodern Theories: “When institutionalized, the offspring of postmodernism enforce their subjective absolutes through political correctness.”


The Rise of Postmodern Theories

American culture went through a fundamental change in the 1960s that has subsequently altered the way Americans think about the world. Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, David Harvey insists the whole realm of knowledge “underwent a fundamental transformation during this short space of time.”[15] Just prior to the twentieth century, the standard view was of the evolution of culture through technological advancement and the ever-increasing progress of man through the discoveries in science.

However, the twentieth century brought two world wars, mass genocide, Fascism, nuclear weapons, and other pieces that shook people’s confidence in the progression of mankind. Despair, pessimism, and the loss of ultimate meaning were beginning to shape the cultural ethos. Harvey writes, “In the absence of Enlightenment certitudes as to the perfectibility of man, the search for a myth appropriate to modernity became paramount.”[16] Philosophically this shift is connected to the influence of French Theorists Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-François Lyotard.[17] This influence upon American culture in the second half of the twentieth century also quickly spread to other parts of the world.[18]


Postmodern Theories: “This influence upon American culture in the second half of the twentieth century also quickly spread to other parts of the world.”


Postmodernism is best defined through what it stands against, particularly Enlightenment thinking. Duignan lists eight tenets of postmodernism.[19] Among these are the denial of objective truth, that science and technology (even logic and reason) are not vehicles of progress but instruments used to oppress, human nature is a societal construct, language does not refer to a reality outside itself, and general theories of history or society are illegitimate metanarratives.[20]

Postmodern Theories & “Reality”

The Enlightenment held to objective knowledge and believed science was the method used for obtaining or discovering knowledge through reason and experience.[21] Thus, professor of educational psychology and director of the Centre of Qualitative Research at the University of Aarhus, Steiner Kvale says, “Postmodern thought is characterized by a loss of belief in an objective world and an incredulity towards meta-narratives of legitimation. With a delegitimation of global systems of thought, there is no foundation to secure a universal and objective reality.”[22] “Metanarrative,” a term popularized by the French philosopher and sociologist Jean-François Lyotard, is a narrative attempting to give a comprehensive account of historical events, experiences, and social phenomenon through the appeal to objective truth.[23] Therefore, postmodernism is a type of skepticism that doubts the metanarrative of human progress typical to Enlightenment thinking.[24]

The postmodernist rejected the staples of modernism like unifying narratives, progress, and advancement through scientific discoveries.[25] In an outright rejection of the Enlightenment’s commitment to truth, the postmodernist pushes skepticism to the extreme form of nihilism and is left holding something they might call truth but which has almost nothing to do with objective reality.[26] According to postmodernism, it is presumptuous to claim there exists a single answer to truth that man must seek to discover[27] because they reject the possibility of objective knowledge.[28] They try to convince us the only way forward is through doubt, subjectivism, deconstruction of categories—and a new metanarrative which they apparently see as true.


Postmodern Theories: “The postmodernist rejected the staples of modernism like unifying narratives, progress, and advancement through scientific discoveries.”


Postmodern suspicion toward objective reality shows up in our time in the influence of Critical Race Theory. Richard Delgado, the John J. Sparkman Chair of Law at the University of Alabama and one of the founders of CRT, along with Jean Stefancic, Professor and Clement Research Affiliate at the University of Alabama School of Law, explain that CRT “contains an activist dimension” and that, “It tries not only to understand our social situation but to change it, setting out not only to ascertain how society organizes itself along racial lines and hierarchies but to transform it for the better.”[29]

In keeping with its postmodern roots, Delgado and Stefancic describe Critical Race Theory as a belief that “questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”[30] They go on to define CRT by a few basic tenets: racism is ordinary, there exists a “white-over-color” ascendancy, racial categories are social constructs, and a unique voice of color.[31] Pluckrose and Lindsay define CRT as “chiefly concerned with revealing hidden biases and underexamined assumptions…which are ways in which society and the systems that it operates upon are going wrong.”[32]

Postmodern Theories & Science

This is why the offspring of postmodernism (e.g., gender studies, queer studies, and Critical Race Theory)[33] are dismissive of the scientific facts that contradict their theories. In their view, all claims to truth are constructs of culture. The Enlightenment thinker believed there was objective truth in the world that we must seek to discover through reason, facts, knowledge, and things like the scientific method. According to the postmodernist, the scientific method is not to be seen as an objective method utilized to discover truth or test truth claims. Instead, it is but one cultural approach among many. However, since it is part of the “system” it is laden with biased reasoning and used to oppress minorities.[34]

For example, take a postmodern tendency to deconstruct the concept of gender. Even though it is undeniable that there is a genetic difference between “male” and “female” gender, this does not stop the postmodernist from denying it based on their subjective outlook. They attack it on two fronts: First, the knowledge of the genetic difference comes from the scientific method which was established by society as a system of power and is therefore inherently oppressive. Second, the category of gender is a social construct and therefore, the individual is free to deconstruct this category in order to assemble more fluid categories according to ever-evolving identity fluctuations.[35]


Postmodern Theories: “Even though it is undeniable that there is a genetic difference between “male” and “female” gender, this does not stop the postmodernist from denying it based on their subjective outlook.”


Postmodern Theories & Language

Language is generally considered to be the vehicle by which we transport our thoughts and ideas to another individual’s mind for their consideration. All the while, the underlining agreed-upon assumption is that there is an objective truth we are attempting to accurately describe through our language. The postmodernist, however, has redefined language and reassigned its function. Insomuch as they have, society is losing its ability to distinguish between what is objectively true and what an individual experiences.[36]

Steiner Kvale points out the postmodernist reframing of language and how societies will utilize it to create their own subjective realities and the denials of universals.[37] In a sort of metaphysical reversal, culture is given a sentient status of sorts and the individual “no longer uses language to express itself” because the individual “becomes the medium for culture” to express itself.[38] Thus, the individual becomes a sort of automaton speaking at the dictation of “culture.” This concept becomes meaningless babel when one realizes the “voice of culture” is only animated by the individuals who make up its composition.

Taking their cue from a postmodern reframing of language, contemporary advocates of CRT place their focal point on analyzing language and how society uses language to maintain power over the oppressed through systemic racism.[39] Proponents of CRT say attention ought to be given to things like microaggressions, racial insults, unconscious discrimination, and affirmative action in higher education.[40] It is not that individuals actively and willingly oppress, although both advocates and critics of CRT would agree this does still occur. Rather, society itself is laden with systems of power the individual unconsciously supports when they function through the norms of routine interactions, adhered-to expectations, and the use of socially structured language categories that all express a certain understanding of the world.[41]


Postmodern Theories: “Taking their cue from a postmodern reframing of language, contemporary advocates of CRT place their focal point on analyzing language and how society uses language to maintain power over the oppressed through systemic racism.”


Delgado and Stefancic picture society as a two-headed monster of outright racism and white privilege.[42] The dominant group (whites) participate in the former through “microaggressions” described as “small acts of racism, consciously or unconsciously perpetrated.”[43] They describe racism as so pervasive that “no white member of society seems quite so innocent.”[44] In other words, white people not only commit overt acts of racism; they also subconsciously participate in a racist system through channeling the voice of their culture.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I have attempted to show how philosophy does not stay in the ivory tower but permeates all aspects of our society for the good or bad. It is inescapable, for whatever you think of reality is your philosophy. We all have an opinion whether we like it or not. Christians tend to be shocked at the current cultural landscape in America, wondering how we got here. However, I hope now you have a better understanding that we are seeing the fruits of a tree that has been growing for a long time. It is important, though, that Christians do not give up for we still hold the high ground even if things appear bleak. The way to change the current tide of this war starts with the individual Christian soldier. It is not up to those who are in seats of power or social media icons, it is up to people like you and me as we help influence those we interact with in our everyday lives. The good news is that while we might have a long road ahead of us, the terrain is not too difficult if we are willing to prepare ourselves with a few simple tools.

First, commit yourself to the work of the Lord. The Bible says, “Commit your works to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (Pr. 16:3, NASB) and “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things [daily necessities of life] will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). Let us never forget that we serve the one who sits on His throne in heaven scoffing at the nations who plan against Him.[45] It is improper for us to throw up our hands and allow the culture to rush headlong into destruction. It is imperative for us to prepare to do the Lord’s work in whatever capacity that may be.

Second, be willing to learn something even if you are not willing or able to be a scholar. Not every Christian needs to aspire to be a world-class scholar, theologian, or philosopher. But that does not mean we can ignore the biblical command to prepare ourselves to defend the hope that is in us.[46] You will be surprised at how much of an impact you can have to turn the hearts and minds of people back to a biblical worldview with some simple pieces of knowledge. I would suggest, as a start, to learn how to identify and expose self-refuting statements. For example, if someone says, “There is no truth”, you can ask “Is that true?” See if you can perceive how this is self-refuting. There are some good books out there to help you understand how to think logically like this.[47] With this one tool, you will be able to show how the subjective nature of postmodernism is untenable.


“I would suggest, as a start, to learn how to identify and expose self-refuting statements.”


Third, remember the biblical method of discipleship. In the Great Commission,[48] Jesus commanded us to make disciples. Paul told Timothy to take the word he gave to Timothy and entrust it to faithful men who could teach others (2 Tim. 2:2). Paul’s example of discipleship was to become relationally close to others and teaching them the gospel as they shared life together (1 Thess. 2:8-9). We must be willing to put in the hard work of discipleship to properly fulfill God’s mission. This means we need to become vulnerable with people, get outside our comfort zones, and be willing to have hard conversations with those we know to win them to Jesus Christ. This is predicated on the first two suggestions I’ve already given. Discipleship is not flashy, and it does not bear quick fruit, but it is the only method that truly produces the type of person God desires for us to be.


[1] Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?: the Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 121.

[2] Assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University

[3] She is also the editor of the online website Areo Magazine that deals with current cultural topics in academia including feminism studies, social justice issues, critical theory, racial issues, etc…

[4] He is also the co-author of the book Cynical Theories that I reference in this paper. Furthermore, he is the found of the website New Discourses that functions as an educational resource for critical theory and social justice.

[5] Yascha Mounk, “What an Audacious Hoax Reveals About Academia,” The Atlantic, October 5, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/new-sokal-hoax/572212/ (accessed December 14, 2020). Some have deemed this project ‘Sokal Squared’ after Alan Sokal, professor of physics at New York University, who first attempted this type of hoax.

[6] Daniel W. Drezner, “A Paper That Would Never Have Gotten Past Peer Review Criticizes the Academy,” The Washington Post, October 4, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/10/04/paper-that-would-never-have-gotten-past-peer-review-criticizes-academy-film/ (accessed December 12, 2020).

[7] Mounk, “What an Audacious Hoax Reveals About Academia.”

[8] Ibid.

[9] Nancy Flory. “Hong Kong Protesters Raise American Flag, Sing the Star-Spangled Banner.” The Stream, August 13, 2019. https://stream.org/hong-kong-protesters-raise-american-flag-sing-the-star-spangled-banner/ (accessed January 15, 2021).

[10] Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity-and Why This Harms Everybody (Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2020), 12. Apple Books E-Pub. They specifically call this “liberalism” in the context of this quote.

[11] Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 28-29.

[12] Brian Duignan, “Postmodernism,” Encyclopædia Britannica, September 4, 2020, www.britannica.com/topic/postmodernism-philosophy (accessed December 11, 2020).

[13] Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 13-14.

[14] Pun Intended.

[15] David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: an Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990), 28-29.

[16] Ibid., 30.

[17] Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 26; Delgado and Stefancic, Critical Race Theory, 19.

[18] Brian McHale, The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodernism (Cambridge University Press, 2015), 1.

[19] See also Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 37-8. They paraphrase Walter Truett Anderson, The Fontana Postmodernism Reader (London: Fontana Press, 1996), 10–11. I was unable to track down Anderson’s work and verify the information. Regardless, the important point here is that Pluckrose and Lindsay list four pillars of postmodernism as it relates to the tenants of Critical Race Theory. I will examine these similarities later in this paper. 

[20] Brian Duignan, “Postmodernism,” Encyclopædia Britannica, September 4, 2020, www.britannica.com/topic/postmodernism-philosophy (accessed December 11, 2020).

[21] Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 40.

[22] Steinar Kvale, “Postmodern Psychology: A Contradiction in Terms?,” In Psychology and Postmodernism: Inquiries in Social Construction, ed. Steinar Kvale (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1992), 32. (italics original)

[23] New World Encyclopedia contributors, “Metanarrative,” New World Encyclopedia, September 19, 2018, https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Metanarrative&oldid=1014622 (accessed December 16, 2020).

[24] Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 33.

[25] Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 27.

[26] Helen Pluckrose James Lindsay. “A Manifesto Against the Enemies of Modernity.” Areo Magazine, Accessed December 14, 2020, https://areomagazine.com/2017/08/22/a-manifesto-against-the-enemies-of-modernity/.

[27] Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, 28-29.

[28] Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 27.

[29] Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory (Third Edition) – an Introduction, (New York: New York University Press, 2017), 19. (emphasis mine)

[30] Ibid., 18.

[31] Ibid., 20-22. That is, race is not objective or fixed and does not correspond to any biological reality. According to this tenet, society invents race categories for pragmatic reasons. Generally, the dominant group uses race categories to stay dominant. In reference to the last tenet, they argue that minorities, due to their different experiences and histories, can communicate things to their white counterparts that whites are unlikely to know. I will examine these concepts in the rest of this article.

[32] Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 15.

[33] There are other undisputed representatives, but these are listed as examples.

[34] Ibid., 42.

[35] This latter view is known as “passing” in Critical Race Theory.

[36] Ibid., 38.

[37] Kvale, “Postmodern Psychology,” 33-36.

[38] Ibid., 36.

[39] Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 165. 

[40] Delgado and Stefancic, Critical Race Theory, 73.

[41] Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 49.

[42] Delgado and Stefancic, Critical Race Theory, 64-65.

[43] Ibid., 17. (emphasis added)

[44] Ibid., 65.

[45] See Psalm 2:1-12.

[46] See 1 Peter 3:15.

[47] I would suggest the following books to get you started; Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004). You can focus on the first 69 pages of this book; Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, Come, Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1996). You might also check out Paul Copan, True for You but Not for Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2009) and Gregory Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).

[48] See Matthew 28:18-20.