“Do you believe Black Lives matter?”
“Of course I do. Every life matters.”
“So you believe in Marxist restructuring of our nation, that black men are being hunted in the streets, we should abolish Police, and we should open our borders?”
“Uh, no. That’s idiotic.”
“Oh, so you’re a racist then....”
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to participate in such an enlightened conversation, you might have left wondering who the crazy one was in that exchange. You might have shrugged it off. “Leftist wacko. How in the hell does he come to such a messed up way of viewing the world?” Some of you might not be curious. For the rest of us, however, questions like this eat into our brain. We can’t fathom a world where people cannot have an honest conversation about Truth( with a capital ‘T’). We’ve been thrust, unwillingly, into a world where our motives are constantly questioned, We can’t escape the ever present gaslighting, and everything we say seems to mean something different than we intended. Racist. Sexist. Bigot. Homophobe. The labels go on without end, and every time we try and avoid one we hit another. Trump has changed a lot in terms of our willingness to walk straight into these labels. We’ve lost our fear of them. They zip off us like bullets that turned out to be mosquitoes. But still, the question remains: WHY?!?! Why do people with whom we disagree vilify us? Why can’t we seem to come to an agreement on the definition of words? Why does it seem like the same phrase can and will have five different meanings in the course of a conversation? And why does our ideological “opponent” not seem to care about being completely inconsistent in their beliefs, values, and even their definitions???
The answer is simple. I like to call it “Practical Postmodernism.” I call it Practical Postmodernism because most of the people you’ll encounter who operate this way have never read a Philosophy textbook. I’d like to say they’ve never read a book, but we won’t go there. If you asked them if they were being Postmodern they wouldn’t say “YES!!!”, or even “NO!!!”. Instead they’d look at you as if you had two heads, then say “What the hell are you talking about???” They haven’t adopted Postmodernism, they’ve been trained by it.
Postmodernism has five main tenets with which most philosophers will agree, but really we only need one: “truth is relative”. I’ll list the other four, but they follow “logically” from the first:
-History is written by the winners
-Words are only tools to achieve dominance
-Logic is suspect
-I forget the fifth one
Aha! Just wondering if you were paying attention. Truth is relative. Now, to continue:
We find ourselves today in a landscape where the war isn’t about facts, details, and logic. Instead we fight on a shifting landscape where our very words are under attack. The book 1984 talks about “Doublespeak”, and how if you control language you control the people who speak that language. This is no different, only in our society most people don’t even know they’re fighting over language.
We’ve watched for years as our institutions were overrun by Left leaning professors. We’ve even grown complacent, thinking “Okay, once these snowflakes see the real world they’ll shape up pretty quickly.” What we failed to realize is that our young men and women weren’t being indoctrinated in a belief system. They were being indoctrinated into a way of thought. They have learned that pro-life people are “anti women’s reproductive rights.” They have learned that equality is “systemic racism”. That have learned that rights involve one person forcing another to do their will( as in the case of the “right” to healthcare). These definitions matter. After all, if I control the definitions to the words you speak, you can never even begin to fight an ideological war. You’ve lost before you started. The shifting sands of the battlefield will swallow you up before you take even a single step.
Yet many of us continue to spin our wheels, all the while pulling out our hair, wondering why the world has gone insane. The problem goes even deeper. If we just needed to realize that we’re fighting a war over definitions, we could adjust our strategies and “define terms” before every debate. In fact, that is a good way to try and take the teeth out of a Postmodern argument. It is pure tragedy that this simply will not work. Our attempt at a good faith hashing out of the battlefield has been preempted by one of the core beliefs of the Postmodernist: words are a tool for subjugating your opponent.
Now, we don’t believe that( well, I don’t, and I hope you don’t either). The difficulty arises, however, when we try and create clearly defined terms for a debate, and our opponent does believe that.
In essence, all of our efforts to create a fair playing field from which we can both learn something will be viewed skeptically, as an attempt to dominate the match. Remember, history is written by the victors. Hence, every exchange of words is a battle. However, where I was using metaphors for war when I described engaging in a debate, to those who have been indoctrinated in Postmodern thought this is true in a literal sense. They see every spoken word as a sword or a barb. They are in constant combat in every conversation. Speech is Violence. So we won’t get the benefit of the doubt. They won’t see us as good faith actors. They will fight tooth and nail over every point they see fit to redefine. Even if we prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that their belief system is inconsistent, they will only become confused and angry. They will respond either by ending the conversation or attackin us outright: Racist. Sexist. Bigoted. Homophobic. These strong words do work, or at least they did, until Trump. Now, we’ve caught on that the war is about redefining terms, avoiding euphemism, and standing strong against any words used on us that are intended to shut us up.
But what do we do now? How do we proceed? How do we even create a playing field where it’s not a war, but an intellectual debate between two good faith actors? I’d love to hear anything you’ve used that has worked for you. In the meantime I’ll be writing a followup article in which I’ll describe some techniques that have worked for me, at least a little bit.