Re: Transparency and Paradigms

Lois Shawver (
Mon, 20 May 1996 00:47:00 -0700 (PDT)


It also seems to me that much of the enthusiasm for postmodernism activism
is rooted in a kind of jadedness about the promises of the human sciences.
During WW2 Americans pulled together with a sense of identity and purpose,
and this sense of identity was fostered by a heavy propaganda campaign to
assist in the war effort. Many of us, like myself, who are old enough to
remember this period, remember that patriotism and American pride was an
important part of who we were then.

And, as you know, psychiatry (and psychology) gained enormously in
prestige during WW2. It was an era of Norman Rockwell Americanism and
simple comfort in the belief that God was on our side. And operational
psychology grew, too. I suspect George Kelly rode in on the same ship
that brought in B.F. Skinner, Carl Rogers, Fritz Pearls, Harry Stack
Sullivan, and so many who have come down to us as memorable theorists who
told us what the world was about. We were a culture looking for great
men to tell us how things were. Of course, they all had something to
teach us, but their answers were never as total as we imagined it then.
When people present them as total today, they must do so in small
enclaves that protect them from the critics. Then, with all the heroes
competing for our minds, we could go from plate to plate without
distress. So much prestige did psychology have in those years that no
one seemed daunted by all the inconsistencies. It just made this
glorious theory richer.

But times have changed. What happened to Norman Rockwell America? Yes, I
suppose Viet Nam was a dramatic part of our change of culture. But I also
think the illusion that God is on our side was a shallow illusion of the
youth of those of us old enough to remember it, a part of the war time
propaganda that stopped when the war machine stopped. (I researched some
of archives on this propaganda for a recent book.) It had to change when
the propaganda machine stopped feeding us lines like "lick your plates and
lick the Japs" while we scurried our Japanese neighbors off to
concentration camps.

I suppose postmodernism is has been given a push by the jadedness that was
the inevitable valley to follow such outrageous national patriotism. We
thought this patriotic frency, after all, was the way things should be.
Natural disillusionment with all that simplicity left us thinking
ssomething was drastically wrong. I suppose each generation finds
something to criticize in the prior, usually, but to me it is only
reasonable that the sixties generation through today, would still be
scoffing and the excesses of national identity that were artificially
created in the forties and fifties.

I think all that is true. But, in my opinion, this is a slim part of what
is exciting and revolutionary in the postmodern philosophy. I am even
sorry to see it so identified with its political sidekick, jaded
disillusionment with WW2 America.

Postmodernism is a new paradigm for understanding life. It is as new and
exciting to me as I'm sure positivism was to the last generation of
paradigms. It is not simple relativism, although it is often, and
understandably confused with relativism. Postmodern epigones often
confuse it with relativism. Relativism in the traitional sense (Plato's
Protagoras, Gorgias) is subjectivism (Man is the measure of all things).
This is very far what these postmoderns are telling us.

The later Wittgenstein, the later Heidegger, Lyotard (at least in his
book The Postmodern Condition) and the brilliant and obscure Jacques
Derrida have something exciting to say to us. Yes, it was somewhat
anticipated by Vico and Nietzche, but it is not reduciable to them.

Like all paradigms, postmodernism emerged out of a new vocabulary with new
concepts and new imagery, and this new vocabulary directs our attention to
new new ways to carve up experience.

Yet I wonder if these exciting ideas will survive the century. I believe
in them, but I think that many brilliant ideas have been burried in the
margins of time. I'm not sure they can survive. They are strangled
mostly by their own obscurantism. Those who have not learned the
vocabulary hear it as gibberish. But I am always encouraged when I see,
as I do here, people who have seen enough here to have gotten a glimpse
of what is exciting here.

Still, in my opinion, those who are moved by the profundity of these ideas
understand that at their center is a remarkable paradox that even
postmodern ideas themselves only live in an artistic construction of our
language (the constructs) that our culture has taught us and that continue
to echo so magically in all of our minds.

..Lois Shawver

On Sun, 19 May 1996, Hemant Desai wrote:

> It seems to me that the emergence of the post-modernist enterprise found
> their epistemological roots in relativism (see how this has led to a re-
> discovery of Vico's work for example) because the positivist worldview
> failed an entire generation of writers and researchers in accounting for
> the legitimacy of existing social structures in basically a moral sense.
> Interestingly, this happened at a time when the presumed objectivity of
> positivistic thought was shaken by the empirical evidence of social injustice
> (this was the era of cold and hot wars-Vietnam, civil rights struggles,
> feminist writers, the resurgence of closet Marxists after Senator McCarthy's
> inquisitions ended, and so forth, in the United States).
> The constructs of justice and freedom were largely ideological creations
> placed by a ruling elite as mythical avenues for conformity from the poor,
> women, and ethnic minorities. The situation in many ways still remains so
> at both organizational and societal levels worldwide.
> In brief, to operationalize justice and freedom in the manner that have
> been used to describe them by many western philosophers, considerable
> barriers exist. These barriers can be seen as the constraints placed by
> ingroups on individuals' developmental progress in terms of stereotypic
> constructs about gender, intelligence, appearance, economic-value, etc.
> More thoughts on this?
> Hemant Desai