Why Postmodernism Fails

This post was authored by Austin Henshaw

Last week I authored a piece titled “The Death of Logic and Reason in the University” where I critiqued the negative impact “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” were having on the campus environment, and the influence of postmodern philosophy on the modern social sciences and humanities. One criticism I received was that I did not understand the true intent of postmodernism; that postmodernism was simply “an incredulity to grand or meta narratives.” I actually do understand the intent of postmodern scholarship, and I’m all for challenging dominant narratives when they are incorrect. That is largely the intent behind this page, challenging dominant narratives in the media and academia.

Ironically, many of those who do prescribe to postmodernism aren’t open to critiques of their own dominant narratives. Like being challenged on there being an existence of “campus rape culture” and needing unconstitutional due process policies for the accused to confront it, or that the “gender wage gap” statistic that often gets cited is incredibly misleading and the issue is more complex than women simply being paid less for doing the same work as men.

I completed a graduate program in higher education that was heavily based in social justice theories based on postmodernism, where logic and reason were often framed as “other ways of knowing” from an epistemological perspective, and personal narratives took precedence over evidence and facts. Academic social justice theory is largely Marxism but applied to issues of “identity,” like race and gender, in addition to as opposed to focusing just on class differences. Arguments are often evaluated on the basis of the person’s perceived “identity,” not the evidence behind what they were saying. I previously worked in campus sexual violence prevention, but because I was a white, heterosexual, cisgender male, my professional experience and knowledge of accurate data and effective methods was always automatically dismissed because of my “privileged” social identities, not the evidence behind what I was saying.

That isn’t to say that looking at an issue from a gender or race lens is necessarily always a bad thing. For example, when examining criminal justice policies, United States drug policy disproportionately impacts African Americans and Latinos. Men also receive 63% longer sentences for the equivalent crime as women in our current criminal justice system, although men are considered to be the “privileged” class in the “Matrix of Oppression” because of the “patriarchy,” so this is an issue that doesn’t get as much attention.

The social sciences can positively contribute to human flourishing and liberty, and I want them to be better to avoid the need of Twitter pages like @RealPeerReview which highlights bad social science, of which I provided several examples last week. As it is now, postmodernism is simply too open to abuse. That isn’t to say more quantitative methods aren’t open to human abuse or error either (extrapolating causation from correlation, using unrepresentative samples, etc.), but there are many more methodological safeguards to help prevent that from happening, whereas a postmodern gender scholar has to interview 55 women to affirm that there is in fact “a link between having a vagina and being a woman.” or can get published writing about “the performance of toilets.”

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