Consequences of a Postmodern Epistemology – Part 1
In the course of my life I have been fortunate to witness many profound happenings. One thing that has intrigued me is the societal transition from a predominantly modern (in the epistemological sense) to a postmodern culture. In this series of posts I want to ponder some of the consequences of this transition.
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In my understanding one of the main differences between modernism and postmodernism on the epistemological level is that modernism believes one can obtain objective and certain knowledge. Postmodernism disagrees and holds that one cannot know with certainty and that objectivity is a pipe dream.
One implication of a modernist epistemology is that its practitioners assume a warrant to impose their understanding upon the less enlightened. After all they posses a certain and objective truth (so it is assumed).
Postmodernism brings a moral dimension into the epistemological debate. It is assumed that practices stemming from a modernist epistemology come from impure motives and generally are an attempt at maintaining (even misusing) power.
For all the criticism waged against modernism there is one thing that it can do well. It can maintain order and unity. Postmodernism cannot do this. In fact it encourages the opposite. Unity or disunity, order or chaos can take place at all levels of a society depending on the predominant epistemological modal. In politics, in the judicial system, in ethical questions even in the church.
Although I agree with much of the postmodern criticism against modernity I see a naive and fatal flaw in its argumentation that could prove disastrous. In my understanding postmoderns assume that mankind left on its own without the evil domination of moderns would live in peace, happiness and generally be better off. I disagree, my contention is that the evil in the world propagated by mankind is normal and to be expected. This is a Christian anthropology, which asserts the depravity of mankind. When people live in peace and justice reigns this is not the normal and expected state of affairs but rather an exception.
A Societal Consequence
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I think the driving force behind the implementation of societal practices and norms, which are based upon a postmodern epistemology, is the hope that the removal of modern dominance will release society from bondage and peace, prosperity and happiness will ensue.
This, however, assumes a much more optimistic anthropology. If this assumption is incorrect and an anthropology of depravity is closer to reality, than the removal of modern dominance will not result in prosperity but in catastrophe. The developments in post cold war Yugoslavia provide a possible analogy. During the cold war an oppressive regime was able to maintain order among the differing ethnicities. With the removal of this regime society became worse and not better.
In the western world we may experience something similar in the long term. Instead of returning to Eden we may end up in Belgrad.
I’m not proposing a return to modernism. I too see many of its faults. At the same time I do not view postmodernism as an epistemological improvement. A moral improvement yes to a degree, but epistemologically it is a step backward. Thus my position is neither full fledged modernism nor full fledged postmodernism. There are positive aspects to both. In our zeal to do penance for the sins of modernism let us not be naive and forget some of the positive aspects.