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Review of Stephen Hicks' postmodernism book.

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(Professor) The Mistaken reviews Explaining Postmodernism

"Here’ s a 46-point overview of Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, along with the anonymous author’s assessment of his or her agreements and (gasp!) disagreements.

The author is a professor at an American university who writes under a pseudonym in response to the current climate of intimidation and reprisal that exists in some universities especially".

(Stephen Hicks)

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Thanks for the link to the review of the Hicks book. I heard about it a year or so ago from another Objectivist. Based on my experience at university 2005-2010, it seems correct. One of my last graduate classes was explicitly postmodernist: criminology; two postmodernist textbooks. 

Regarding this view from Uncouth Reflections, I did notice the nods to traditional conservatism by way of "pre-modernism" and the medieval world. From my understanding Hicks simply dismisses all of that and begins with the Enlightenment. But much in the Enlightenment still fails to win congruence from the right.

Also, I think that Hicks over-estimates the importance and influence of university intellectuals outside of the campus. It is one of the defining aspects of capitalism that intellectuals did not need universities to support them.  Ayn Rand is the paradigm, perhaps, but was not alone.  Mark Twain did not teach at a university, either.  The markets for ideas were perhaps most clearly shown by the composers who could rent concert halls, hire orchestras, and sell tickets. 

The explosion of online communication pretty much opened up a huge new marketplace. 

It is quite likely that the only subsidies for university education come from corporate employers who require diplomas as a substitute for the scary requirements of independent judgment.

 

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I'm glad it was useful, and that you already had an entree into "pomo" through your studies, Michael. Postmodernism might look like a huge bunch of scrambled ideas to take in, from politics to epistemology to ethics, language and art, and now you say, into criminology, but the many premises, influences and threads are nicely gathered together by Hicks into a single catch-all one can begin to grasp and help identify some confusing activities of late . I think he's made himself a major authority on the subject. I believe we don't pay the over all concept enough attention in O'ist circles. It is real and it's serious and very bad.

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Mussolini and Kant on war and the sacrifice of individuals

96g/50/huch/5745/8In his 1932 The Doctrine of Fascism, Benito Mussolini quotes approvingly historianErnst Renan for his “pre-fascist intuitions”:

“The maxim that society exists only for the well-being and freedom of the individuals composing it does not seem to be in conformity with nature’s plans, which care only for the species and seem ready to sacrifice the individual.”

In his 1784 “Review of Herder,” Immanuel Kant wrote: “nature allows us to see nothing else than that it abandons individuals to complete destruction and only maintains the type.” (37/53)

And in “Idea for a Universal History with Cosmopolitan Intent” (1784), Kant wrote: “It appears that nature is utterly unconcerned that man live well, only that he bring himself to the point where his conduct makes him worthy of life and well-being.” (31/20)immanuel_kant_3

Also this from Kant’s “Speculative Beginning of Human History” (1786): “this path that for the species leads to progress from the worse to the better does not do so for the individual.” (53/115)

So: A connection from 18th-century philosopher Kant to 19th-century historian Renan to 20th-century politician Mussolini. It’s important to note that between Kant and Mussolini stand Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche, all of whom developed the sacrifice-individuals-to-improve-the-species theme.

Further, both Kant and Mussolini state approvingly that nature uses war to improve the species.

Here is Kant: “Man wills concord; but nature better knows what is good for the species: she wills discord.” (“Idea …” 32/21)

Kant again: “At the stage of culture at which the human race still stands, war is an indispensable means for bringing it to a still higher stage.” (“Speculative …” 58/121) Note the “indispensable.”

And again: “Thus, thanks be to nature for the incompatibility, for the distasteful, competitive vanity, for the insatiable desire to possess and also to rule. Without them, all of humanity’s excellent natural capacities would have lain eternally dormant.” (“Idea …” 32/21)mussolini-military

Now Mussolini: “Fascism does not, generally speaking, believe in the possibility or utility of perpetual peace. It therefore discards pacifism as a cloak for cowardly supine renunciation in contradistinction to self-sacrifice. War alone keys up all human energies to their maximum tension and sets the seal of nobility on those peoples who have the courage to face it.”

Again, between Kant and Mussolini were Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche, all of whom urged violence and war as necessary steps towards human progress.

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Ouch.

I actually have a PDF of this book, but haven't read it.  I sort of skimmed it, and scanned the index.  No references to Barth, Eco, Pynchon, or Wallace, so it's certainly not about Postmodern Literature, leading me to tune out. 

This guy's review reminds me of David Gordon's critique of Peikoff's The Ominous Parallels.  

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21 hours ago, 9thdoctor said:

Ouch.

I actually have a PDF of this book, but haven't read it.  I sort of skimmed it, and scanned the index.  No references to Barth, Eco, Pynchon, or Wallace, so it's certainly not about Postmodern Literature, leading me to tune out. 

This guy's review reminds me of David Gordon's critique of Peikoff's The Ominous Parallels.  

Ouch is right.

This criticism reminds me of my own of Hicks's sloppy dabblings into art history and aesthetics. He practices the exact methodology that he accuses postmodernists of advocating: Bring your own personal biases and grievances to reading a text, interpret it however you feel, and arrive at you predetermined conclusions, reality be damned.

My only complaint of this critic of Hicks's work is his valley girl upward-inflecting.

J

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The PDF is available for free here:

http://www.stephenhicks.org/explaining-postmodernism/

Notice on the cover there's a rogues gallery named, including Popper.  But checking the index, there's only one reference to Popper in the entire book:

The biggest names in the philosophy of science - Otto Neurath, Karl Popper, Norwood Hanson, Paul Feyerabend, Thomas Kuhn, and W.V.O. Quine - despite wide variations in their versions of analytic philosophy - all argued that our theories largely dictate what we will see.

Say what? 

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2 hours ago, 9thdoctor said:

The PDF is available for free here:

http://www.stephenhicks.org/explaining-postmodernism/

Notice on the cover there's a rogues gallery named, including Popper.  But checking the index, there's only one reference to Popper in the entire book:

The biggest names in the philosophy of science - Otto Neurath, Karl Popper, Norwood Hanson, Paul Feyerabend, Thomas Kuhn, and W.V.O. Quine - despite wide variations in their versions of analytic philosophy - all argued that our theories largely dictate what we will see.

Say what? 

Yeah, when reading Hicks, I experience a lot of "HUH?!! WTF?!!! ARE YOU JOKING?!!!"

Amateur hour. Sloppy and imprecise. Wrongheaded and embarrassing.

J

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I just saw the first 13 minutes of that critique and I didn't like it.

It's not because I agree or disagree with the points Hicks or the critic made. Frankly, I need to do more reading about post-modernism (and philosophers in general) before I can say anything deep about them. But, right now, my backstage interest and time are consumed with fiction writing and fiction writing theory, methods, and so forth. So that is for another day.

But I can talk intelligently about something from experience. I didn't like the critique because I kept seeing a mistake (or intentional switcharoonie) happening over and over that I have become weary of from debating gotcha arguers. Hicks was presenting his overview of different philosophers and ideas from his own framework, that is, from a Randian framework. The critic kept taking him to task for not using the framework of the philosophers themselves.

For example, Hicks lumped some feminists in with post-modernism who were not avowed post-modernists. To someone like me, it's clear he was talking about categorizing them according to his own standards according to an idea he was putting forth, that is his frame, not according to their frame or the frame of an encyclopedia article writer. The critic said (I paraphrase): See? Gotcha! The women were not post-modernists. One even wrote an article criticizing post-modernism.

An analogy is in order to clarify this process. Modern people consider slavery bad and evil. People in antiquity considered it normal. Modern people think the very fact that others owned slaves, even in antiquity, was evil. Back then, those who treated their slaves poorly were considered evil and those who treated them well virtuous. I can agree or disagree with the idea of judging slavery through a modern lens and not the lens of the ancients, but I am not going to fully understand what a modern person is saying if I ignore his frame and bash him for not agreeing with details using a different ancient frame, a frame he was aware of and never intended to use. 

Hicks talked about thinkers who presented ideas of collectivism versus altruism, and individualism. It's obvious to me these terms have Rand written all over them. Of course, up to this point in the video, the critic didn't even notice. Regardless, I seriously doubt Hicks was saying Locke formally used Rand's jargon or something like that. He was essentially saying, "Look behind the words of these thinkers and you will find certain concepts in the subtexts, like collectivism versus altruism, like individualism, and so on." And he would be pegging that to an Objectivist framework and Objectivist jargon.

The gotcha critic had a field day with this. "Locke never said such and such," and on and on. "Gotchaaaaa!"

In everyday jargon, if both were to talk with each other and stick to their points, it would be fair to say they were talking past each other. And this is a perfect way to have a discussion without substance.

My point with gotcha arguers is that, at least in the case of this critic, he didn't make even a minimal effort to see the frame and method Hicks was using. All he wanted to do was show how Hicks was wrong according to frames and standards Hicks did not and did not want to use. Then crow, "Gotcha!"

On the other side of this, Rand-based intellectuals make the same goddam error. Rand herself did. Except they compounded the error by preaching.

Once I became aware of this process, let's call it the frame switcharoonie, these kinds of gotcha displays by Rand's critics, and displays of preaching by Rand-based intellectuals, became boring to me. I want to see the ideas, weigh them, see if I agree with them, and, mostly, see if any of them enrich my life. I don't care who wins some snarky pseudo-competition.

When one side or the other commits excesses that lead to false attributions, which almost always happens, I would fully agree with him if he said, "I agree with you about the general subtext meaning Thinker X from your frame, but you claimed Thinker X said, formally espoused, and intended Idea A. Well here's where he didn't do that, not even in the subtext." Then give example. That's reasonable.

But these people never do that. They only say, "I'm right and you're wrong. Gotcha!" (Or on the Randian side, "I'm right and you're wrong, irrational scumbag." :) )

Or even worse, they feign being reasonable, while "I'm right and you're wrong and that makes me a better person than you," is their entire subtext all of the time. These are the most tiresome.

To be fair to Hick's critic, I might check out some of his videos where he defends post-modernism. He's obviously intelligent and I want to see this issue through his frame. My gut tells me he will do a good job of communicating it.

Also, he did call Hicks out on double-checking his attributions and quotes. What I heard sounded right, but I haven't double-checked anything so I'm not going to say this with certainty. However, I have seen Rand-oriented intellectuals massively screw this part up. In general, being sloppy with quotes and attributions is an ingrained bad habit of the Objectivist subculture. This is a bad habit where I have to police myself, even today. In the early days, I sure as hell had it. It took a lot of hard work to break it. I wonder if this is caused by imitating Rand's rhetorical mannerisms... I think in my case, this was the root.

Michael

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8 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

I just saw the first 13 minutes of that critique and I didn't like it.

It's not because I agree or disagree with the points Hicks or the critic made. Frankly, I need to do more reading about post-modernism (and philosophers in general) before I can say anything deep about them. But, right now, my backstage interest and time are consumed with fiction writing and fiction writing theory, methods, and so forth. So that is for another day.

But I can talk intelligently about something from experience. I didn't like the critique because I kept seeing a mistake (or intentional switcharoonie) happening over and over that I have become weary of from debating gotcha arguers. Hicks was presenting his overview of different philosophers and ideas from his own framework, that is, from a Randian framework. The critic kept taking him to task for not using the framework of the philosophers themselves.

For example, Hicks lumped some feminists in with post-modernism who were not avowed post-modernists. To someone like me, it's clear he was talking about categorizing them according to his own standards according to an idea he was putting forth, that is his frame, not according to their frame or the frame of an encyclopedia article writer. The critic said (I paraphrase): See? Gotcha! The women were not post-modernists. One even wrote an article criticizing post-modernism.

An analogy is in order to clarify this process. Modern people consider slavery bad and evil. People in antiquity considered it normal. Modern people think the very fact that others owned slaves, even in antiquity, was evil. Back then, those who treated their slaves poorly were considered evil and those who treated them well virtuous. I can agree or disagree with the idea of judging slavery through a modern lens and not the lens of the ancients, but I am not going to fully understand what a modern person is saying if I ignore his frame and bash him for not agreeing with details using a different ancient frame, a frame he was aware of and never intended to use. 

Hicks talked about thinkers who presented ideas of collectivism versus altruism, and individualism. It's obvious to me these terms have Rand written all over them. Of course, up to this point in the video, the critic didn't even notice. Regardless, I seriously doubt Hicks was saying Locke formally used Rand's jargon or something like that. He was essentially saying, "Look behind the words of these thinkers and you will find certain concepts in the subtexts, like collectivism versus altruism, like individualism, and so on." And he would be pegging that to an Objectivist framework and Objectivist jargon.

The gotcha critic had a field day with this. "Locke never said such and such," and on and on. "Gotchaaaaa!"

In everyday jargon, if both were to talk with each other and stick to their points, it would be fair to say they were talking past each other. And this is a perfect way to have a discussion without substance.

My point with gotcha arguers is that, at least in the case of this critic, he didn't make even a minimal effort to see the frame and method Hicks was using. All he wanted to do was show how Hicks was wrong according to frames and standards Hicks did not and did not want to use. Then crow, "Gotcha!"

On the other side of this, Rand-based intellectuals make the same goddam error. Rand herself did. Except they compounded the error by preaching.

Once I became aware of this process, let's call it the frame switcharoonie, these kinds of gotcha displays by Rand's critics, and displays of preaching by Rand-based intellectuals, became boring to me. I want to see the ideas, weigh them, see if I agree with them, and, mostly, see if any of them enrich my life. I don't care who wins some snarky pseudo-competition.

When one side or the other commits excesses that lead to false attributions, which almost always happens, I would fully agree with him if he said, "I agree with you about the general subtext meaning Thinker X from your frame, but you claimed Thinker X said, formally espoused, and intended Idea A. Well here's where he didn't do that, not even in the subtext." Then give example. That's reasonable.

But these people never do that. They only say, "I'm right and you're wrong. Gotcha!" (Or on the Randian side, "I'm right and you're wrong, irrational scumbag." :) )

Or even worse, they feign being reasonable, while "I'm right and you're wrong and that makes me a better person than you," is their entire subtext all of the time. These are the most tiresome.

To be fair to Hick's critic, I might check out some of his videos where he defends post-modernism. He's obviously intelligent and I want to see this issue through his frame. My gut tells me he will do a good job of communicating it.

Also, he did call Hicks out on double-checking his attributions and quotes. What I heard sounded right, but I haven't double-checked anything so I'm not going to say this with certainty. However, I have seen Rand-oriented intellectuals massively screw this part up. In general, being sloppy with quotes and attributions is an ingrained bad habit of the Objectivist subculture. This is a bad habit where I have to police myself, even today. In the early days, I sure as hell had it. It took a lot of hard work to break it. I wonder if this is caused by imitating Rand's rhetorical mannerisms... I think in my case, this was the root.

Michael

The section that you watched is indeed about misattributions of quotes, etc., but that's just the beginning. Farther in, it gets more serious and identifies Hicks's misattributions of the positions advocated by philosophers and their motives and goals. Perhaps the critic should have began with the biggest blunders first, but he chose to follow the structure of the book

Anyway, I know you agree, MSK, that it's not acceptable when others do it to Rand -- when they claim that she supported something that she actually opposed -- so I think it's only fair to apply the exact same standard to Hicks's criticisms of other philosophers. He does falsely claim that they held beliefs that they did not.

I myself have confronted Hicks with proof of his falsehoods in the area of art and aesthetics. He did not respond to the substance, but attacked my character and banned me from his blog.

It's what you call putting the normative before the cognitive. It's the act of going into research with the mindset of vindicating Rand, regardless of whether or not her judgments of others were mistaken, and then misreading/misunderstanding everything that one reads, and arriving at the predetermined conclusion.

J

 

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16 minutes ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Jonathan,

I'll try to see the rest of the video, but, for me, listening to that dude's gotcha way of arguing these days is like chewing on double-edged razor blades.

:) 

Michael

I get it. And often times that gotcha style intentionally ignores context which explains where the target of his gotcha was coming from, and is therefore unfair. But, generally, this dude is on target. Hicks's work is tainted by his Randian Objecti-goggles and his sloppy scholarship. He just seems to interpret things how he wishes or feels, and doesn't seem to have any curiosity to verify if he has understood things correctly. He trusts other Rand-zealots opinions and interpretations, also without bringing any critical thinking to the task. He totally blocks out informed criticism -- I've experienced that firsthand.

Which isn't to say that I think that postmodernism, or anything else that Hicks attacks, is good or valid. I just don't get into the straw man mindset. I can't appreciate or identify with someone who gets so much wrong, and is so hellbent on attacking that he can't properly identify what he is attacking or why. Hicks gets everything so twisted around that he is the one who is exhibits the mindset that he claims that the postmodernists advocate: He interprets texts however he wishes to interpret them so that he can condemn the author.

J

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Jonathan,

I once got into a kerfuffle with George Smith over a religious historian named David Barton. George embedded a video by a lady who purported to debunk Barton in everything, apparently including being born :) , but all she did was this gotcha crap, reams and reams of it, much of which was taking things out of context with total avoidance of the Principle of Charity. The opposite, in fact. Snark and gotcha, snark and gotcha. Her name was Chris Rodda.

I've noticed that, for people in general, when a snark and gotcha argument comes up and this defends their own beliefs, they just don't see the rhetorical method, although at other times, they would not only see it, they would object to it. For example, think of how the Objectivist fundies embraced James Valliant's book against the Brandens. There was no real substance to that book other than snark and gotcha, most of which was out of context. (With the exception of Rand's own journal entries.) But the fundies lapped it up, especially Valliant's misinterpretations. Even though I disagree with many of the fundies, I also acknowledge that there are many intelligent people among them. So I think this blindness to rhetoric is a human condition, an inbuilt cognitive bias that is a kissing cousin to confirmation bias.

Anyway, George and I were going at each other over David Barton and Chris Rodda. I got to the point where I started laughing although you couldn't tell from the posts. That's one of the drawbacks of forum writing. Who can see anyone through a computer monitor? I mean George and I were arguing over nothing important to either of us and the nastiness of the posts started making it look like we hated each other. At one point I cracked up. I couldn't even remember the arguments about Barton that Rodda presented that George agreed with. :) 

So I ended the topic with a story I made up on the spot. George even apologized for the hostility after reading it. I think he got a laugh, too. :) (You can click the crooked arrow on the top right of the quote below and it will take you to the thread where you can read everything I'm talking about.)

On 3/5/2012 at 12:00 AM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

I'm stranded on a desert island. Hopeless situation. I might never get rescued and I've been here over three years.

My pet rat died last month and I didn't train a new one. I'm tired of training rats for pets, anyway, It's just I get so damn lonely I've got to have contact with some form of friendly life.

Wait...

What's that in the horizon? It looks like a ship.

I'll be damned, It is! It is! It is!

I watch in growing anticipation and frantically start waving my arms. I'm yelling as it approaches.

Finally I see them lower a small boat with some men on it. They have seen me and they are coming for me!

Hurrah!

The tears stream down my face. They take me on the boat and we go to the ship. I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

I talk a little to the captain. He gives me a funny look and suddenly his men lead me to a small room that serves as quarters. They say they will take me back to civilization, but I must do a task first and a person will be down to see me shortly. They leave abruptly, smiling oddly.

I'm starting to feel uneasy. Something isn't right. Why the mystery?

I hear a knock. In walks a man with a laptop computer. He asks if I have ever heard of David Barton.

I say I think he's a religious historian or something. The man tells me i must watch a video. He puts the laptop on the table and turns it on. The video is of a woman named Chris Rodda. The man tells me I must watch the whole thing.

It is awful. The lady is a duckbill platypus on a sacred mission. Then the man says there is another to see. It is awful, too. He asks again what I think of David Barton. I say the woman doesn't like him much and he says that isn't good enough. There are another forty videos by her I have to see and they will explain the true David Barton to me.

I don't know what this has to do with rescuing me, but when I say I don't want to watch any more sucky videos, the man gets really angry. He says I am an ungrateful swine. He says I really don't understand anything about David Barton and I need to let Chris Rodda tell me all about that liar.

So I watch another ten videos. It is torture and I am turning into a nervous wreck. This is worse than that hurricane that hit the island last year.

The man asks again what I think about David Barton. I ask David who? And why does that Rodda woman sound like a sniggering buzzsaw? That does not please him and he says after those forty videos, he has a fresh batch coming. And I have to watch all of them until I can tell him for sure who David Barton is.

I give a lunatic cry, knock the man over and fly out the door. I run up the stairs to the deck and, without hesitation, jump overboard. I'm crying like a madman. Anything but another video of that Rodda woman!

I swim back to the island. As I come ashore, exhausted, I see a small young rat scurrying up in front of me. Hello, young friend, I think. I'm going to call you... hmmmmm...

George...

I like it.

I know he will be my best pet of all the others.

Life on this island is not so bad, after all.

That was in 2012. It looks like I haven't liked that snark and gotcha method of arguing for a long time.

:) 

Michael

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4 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

I swim back to the island. As I come ashore, exhausted, I see a small young rat scurrying up in front of me. Hello, young friend, I think. I'm going to call you... hmmmmm...

George...

I like it.

I know he will be my best pet of all the others.

Life on this island is not so bad, after all.

17 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

In general, being sloppy with quotes and attributions is an ingrained bad habit of the Objectivist subculture.

As in, "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds"? 

It sounds like Hicks did the equivalent to a quote from Foucault. 

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