Monday, January 4, 2010
Oh Lord, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
Oh Lord, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
Monday, January 04, 2010
Whenever a liberal says she’s been “taken out of context” you had better look out. It means she intends to inflict an intentional harm and claim it was accidental. But the trick seldom works with conservatives because we are generally brighter than liberals assume we are – although I shouldn’t brag too much. After all, it’s been said that even a dog knows the difference between being tripped over and being kicked.
But the reason liberals are so likely to cry “out of context” these days has not, in my opinion, been addressed adequately by any conservative columnist. It should not surprise readers that I intend to do so. Nor should it surprise anyone that I intend to do so by reflecting on my experiences in higher education.
Some years ago, a graduate student in the English department came to me with a serious concern. He said he was being prevented from graduating due to an ideological conflict with a professor. He had written a thesis on art and architecture and had prepared to defend it before a committee of professors. A part of the thesis involved analyzing the structural characteristics of centuries old bridges.
During the course of describing one particular bridge the student stated that not all of its characteristics were artistic. Some of its characteristics were “essential” to the basic functioning of the bridge. The professor directing his thesis objected to the use of the term “essential.” In fact, she said the term “frightened” her.
The problem between the professor and the student was that the former subscribes to a philosophy of postmodernism, which is largely a rebellion against the certainty of objective efforts to explain reality. It is a philosophy that stems from a belief that reality is not mirrored in human perception but, instead, is “constructed” as the mind tries to comprehend its own personal reality.
This is the reason postmodernists are so critical of explanations claiming to be valid for all groups, cultures, and races. It explains why the postmodernist focuses on the “relative” truths each person allegedly adopts. In the postmodern mind, interpretation is everything. Nothing can be essential because nothing contains its own essence. Everything is contingent upon human perception.
Professors who adopt this philosophy are dangerous because they are so dangerously arrogant. They deny that anything has any objective meaning because they want to be the ones assigning meaning to all things. In other words, they wish to be gods. That is why so many of them are atheists.
Postmodern professors are also dangerous because they impart their arrogant philosophy upon students who are often ill-equipped to detect its pitfalls. I ran into just such a student a few years ago after I ran a column criticizing one of the professors in the postmodern English department.
The professor had publicly defamed some conservative students in a Letter to the Editor of our local New York Times affiliate. The local McTimes ran the letter, already knowing it was defamatory. I tore the letter to shreds – line by line – in a nationally published column in which I reprinted the original letter word for word.
The professor did not attempt to defend himself. He lied, and got caught. But one of his students wrote and accused me of taking his words out of context. I wrote back and asked her how I could have taken his words out of context if I reprinted them in their entirety. There was no evidence that she even understood my rebuttal.
But that is really as far as it goes in the postmodern liberal mind. If you were upset by something the postmodernist said you simply misunderstood his meaning. There was nothing objectively wrong about the postmodernist’s statement. You just assigned a different meaning to it. There can be no objective defamation if there is no objective truth or falsity.
In other words, the postmodernist didn’t really kick you. It was all an innocent misunderstanding. Someone just tripped.
Some weeks ago, I got a little taste of what things will be like after our first postmodern generation finally graduates and assumes control of the workplace. I sent a request to teach a couple of summer courses at our extension campus at Camp LeJeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina (about fifty miles from our main campus). My email specified the courses and the sessions and the location with the specific words “at Camp LeJeune.”
There was no reference to the Wilmington campus to be found anywhere in my email. That is why I was perplexed to see a single course assignment on the Wilmington campus, rather than the one on Camp LeJeune fifty miles away. I made a polite inquiry about the mix-up. In response, I was told that my courses were put in the schedule as my email was “interpreted.” It “wasn’t clear” that I had requested Camp LeJeune – despite the words Camp LeJeune – so they assigned me to Wilmington.
The point of this account is not to claim that I was somehow victimized. I was not. I simply canceled the course that was assigned in error before the schedule was finalized. Within 48 hours I made up the lost income by accepting a series of summer speaking engagements in Colorado.
There is far more at stake here than a “misunderstanding” regarding my summer schedule. Put simply, the very functioning of civil society is threatened by the uncritical acceptance of the postmodern philosophy. If someone can claim to have seen the word “Wilmington” when looking at the word “LeJeune” someone else can just as easily claim to have see the word “go” when looking at the word “stop.” Or he may claim to have seen green when looking at the color red. Or (has the feminist ever considered this?) claim to have heard “yes” after hearing the word “no.”
The recent growth of acceptance of postmodernism on the American campus is bad for society and bad for the student who aspires to function in a real world governed by real rules enforced by real consequences. It is only good for the dishonest liberal who wishes to inflict intentional harm and claim it was accidental.
Those are all of my comments for now on the subject of postmodernism. I hope they won’t be taken out of context. After all, I’m just one soul whose intentions are good.
Posted by Brett at 9:46 AM