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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptic > 24.1 > Straw Man on a Slippery Slope

Straw Man on a Slippery Slope

The Case Against the Case Against Postmodernism

“What one generally calls a fact is an interpretation of a situation that no one, at least for the moment, wants to call into question.” —Gerard Fourez

“Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” —Leonard Cohen

FRIENDS, YOU ARE EITHER CLOSING YOUR EYES TO A situation you do not wish to acknowledge, or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated by the presence of a private lingo spreading through your schools one student at a time. Yes, a kind of intellectual autism is infecting your children, turning earnest minds cool and ironic. An abuse of reason is destroying Truth as we know it, creating a world where any old explanation is as good as the next. It’s almost as if “feeeeelings” matter more than evidence. Well, the first step on that short road to de-gra-day-tion is when those big-city professor types go teachin’ that secret lingo to the new gen-er-ray-tion. And the next thing you know nobody cares what the really smart people have to say and kids from Evergreen to Portland are fritterin’ their better years away. Yes, fritterin’! I’m sorry to say, disconnected from the Real World™! That’s right, folks, ya’ got trouble, right here in Every City, with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for Postmodernism.

I have to apologize to Meredith Willson for abusing Ya Got Trouble, the showstopper from The Music Man in the previous paragraph. For those readers too young to be familiar with his once-famous musical, the story is about Harold Hill, an itinerant scam artist who convinces the townsfolk to pitch-in on some marching band instruments in order to keep their kids on the righteous path after school. Of course, once the funds are collected Hill plans to shuffle off on the next red-eye. The parallels between Willson’s charismatic confidence man and the new crusaders against postmodernism are just too good to resist. Both make slippery slope arguments that prey on our natural fear of change and our desire for cultural continuity. In Hill’s case it’s the arrival of a pool table that is going to lead the kids to drinking, smoking and gambling; in the latter case it’s postmodernism that is going to reap the whirlwind with the destruction of science, reason, and truth.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to argue that we shouldn’t be concerned about the effects of postmodernist thought. I tend to side with Georg Lakacs on that point anyway; no philosophy is ever completely innocent. On the other hand, if you’re looking for reassurance, I caution you to look away and avoid this article at all costs. It’s my contention that the grim admonitions coming from a cadre of vaunted antipostmodernist intellectuals won’t succeed in stuffing the postmodernist genie back in the bottle. Try as they might, their priestly fulminations are too narrowly focused on identity politics to put a dent in the general tenets of postmodernism as an evolution of philosophical skepticism. Epistemological certainty, as they say, is so last century.

Then again, I hope I’m not giving you the idea that I’m here to offer you a guided tour of the rudderless future awaiting us as society, drunk on its own success, stumbles and reels away from every cultural compass point five thousand years of civilization has established. Okay, there might be a little of that, but only to set the stage. Really, what I’d like to do is appeal to your more delicate nature by way of suggesting a more nuanced way of looking at all of this. As it happens, The Music Man has another character that points in this direction. The one person in town who sees through Harold’s ruse is Marion the librarian. She instinctively condemns his actions at first, but she also decides to admire the unintended positive developments that his scheme brings about. In keeping her heart and mind supple enough to handle seemingly contradictory evidence, she occupies what I’ll call the skeptical sweet spot. It is here in the frisson of doubt and certainty that creativity, discovery, and generosity of spirit thrive.

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BEHE’S LAST STAND COLUMNS The SkepDoc: Is Low-Dose Radiation Good for You? The Questionable Claims for Hormesis, by Harriet Hall, M.D. • The Gadfly: Define Your Terms (or, Here we Go Again), by Carol Tavris ARTICLES Making Gasoline from Water: John Andrews and the Invention of a Legend • Online Gaming: A Virtual Experiment in the Dark Side of Human Nature • Duped by Data Mining • How Science Will Explain and Fix Fake News • The Cult of Falun Gong: A Dance Troupe and Victimhood Raises Big Money • The Opioid Epidemic Misunderstood • Why the Human-Centered View Has Not Served us Well • Behe’s Last Stand: The Lion of Intelligent Design Roars Again • Straw Man on a Slippery Slope: The Case Against the Case Against Postmodernism • A Disproof of God’s Existence REVIEWS Reviews of: The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure; The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe: How to Know What’s Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake; Investigating Ghosts: The Scientific Search for Spirits; Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post- Facts, and Fake News; Hoax: A History of Deception: 5000 Years of Fakes, Forgeries, and Fallacies; Truth’s Fool: Derek Freeman and the War Over Anthropology JUNIOR SKEPTIC Quest for the Truth about Dungeons and Dragons