The title of this post refers to…
- Westworld‘s selling point (Westworld, the park itself, not the show)?
- how Russian citizens feel about their country under Putin?
- how American citizens feel about their country under Trump?
- a college student’s initial understanding of postmodernism?
- a professor’s evolved understanding of postmodernism?
Take the last two and you might say that #2 and 3 showcase how an elite class summons a worldview into existence, i.e. we do indeed reap what we sow. Postmodern thought has so pervaded global culture – a certain influential bubble of it, at least – that it’s become embodied by run-of-the-mill-by-historical-standards counterculture. In other words, Putin and Trump are normal effects of History’s dialectical “truth.”
Postmodernism has been the thesis of our time. According to (what gets labeled as) Hegelian understanding, every historical thesis breeds an antithesis; in this case, leaders are rising to power around the world who are totally exploiting (not necessarily consciously because that part of it doesn’t matter) and concretizing the once abstract tenets of our prevailing thesis. We’re seeing the division we used to imagine (it’s always been there, but stay with me on this). We – people who intellectually masturbated to postmodernism’s destructive prowess and never cleaned up after ourselves or made it so our release was life-affirming or creative…we just let the means of life waste away into paper, be it a napkin or a dissertation – are now eating our words, those slippery signifiers that we thought were always bereft of real meaning.
The irony of criticizing Trump for being so fickle? We’ve assumed that’s how all of reality (because it’s languaged) works, so if anything, Trump is the peak manifestation of our former faith. He represents everything we were convinced we knew about the world, but now that we’re actually in that reality (the one we created), we refuse to believe it! Where we might celebrate his presence, we’re running away from our part in his being here. We whispered his name (metaphorically…now we scream his name out of fruitless anger, which is largely frustration with our own ignorance and naivety) long enough in our comfortable caves (turns out we were Plato’s prisoners…our cave was just decked out) that we made him appear like Beetlejuice, or the Candyman, or whatever other strange creature requires you to speak his name a bunch of times for him to show up. And show up Trump did! As the perfect farcical counterpoint to our faith.
Why did we want to believe so strongly in a world that was fundamentally broken? Postmodernism didn’t sow division, it reflected it. It was a truer examination of the world as it was, not this terrible manufacturing of a world to come (by our very labor). Or maybe it’s both. Dwell too insistently on the past, and you let it bleed into the present. If all our postmodern analysis of where we’d been – which would give us necessary confrontation and reckoning – didn’t lead to catharsis, if we found no means of release and just grasped onto our own intellectual powers, then we’d just carry the past with us so closely that we’d keep it alive. Perhaps that’s what happened. We held onto ourselves, grateful that we finally achieved some clarity about who we are, even if the identity we discovered wasn’t so savory. Stuck in our sin, and in particular, in our relationship to our sin – we knew it and felt we could know it, even if it was fundamentally elusive – we perpetuated it. Our goodness lay elsewhere, waiting for us to breathe life into it. We were too busy paying all of our attention to how broken we were that we didn’t think carefully enough about how to piece ourselves back together. Breaking ourselves apart, we broke our world apart – or we at least sustained a world that was already broken – and now we’ve produced leaders who are running with it.
We couldn’t let go of what we saw, how divisive and destructive we were; we called it “human nature.” It is what it is.
Yes, and it is what we make it. We make it what it is. We made Trump, we made the world, we made ourselves. Our mistake before, however, was dwelling on the past, getting caught on the misguided assumption that things are what they are, and the best we can do is offer running commentary on that reality. The commentary contributes to the perpetuity of that reality, the thing that we forget isn’t actually unchangeable. We’ve made it appear fixed, as it is, but we can change it. How? Change our perception of it, our relation to it. We make Trump, we make the world, we make ourselves. It is a present project, not a past problem.
Anything is possible, nothing is true. How do you relate to this statement? How do you choose to relate to this statement? With despair? Then guess what world you’ll get in return? One that feeds you your despair, confirming your bias. With hope? With freedom? See what I’m saying? I choose to meet this statement with love (which is becoming my refrain for how to relate to life…why would I choose anything else?), which is to say, I choose to embrace my part in making it real or not, in giving it a particular meaning and then acting on that meaning in the world. This is not abstract intellectual exercise but practical recognition of my creative power. Postmodernism showed us the dark side of the force, how easy it is to destroy all idols. Post-postmodernism (we need a better name) brings us back to our light, out of the cave, and into a world of creative possibility.
I’ll see you there, or rather, I see you here already. Welcome home.