The Self-Righteousness Compulsion (2)
The Encyclopedia Britannica top-level definition of postmodernism is:
Postmodernism … in Western philosophy, a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power.
The same article goes on to explain the postmodern view of “truth.”
2. The descriptive and explanatory statements of scientists and historians can, in principle, be objectively true or false. The postmodern denial of this viewpoint—which follows from the rejection of an objective natural reality—is sometimes expressed by saying that there is no such thing as Truth.
The destructive consequences of this philosophy are obvious and can hardly be overstated. Given that “political and economic power” is the only remaining value and that there “is no such thing as Truth,” then there is nothing wrong with the use of deceit or the talking of contradictory positions in the pursuit of raw power.
So, postmodernism has created the conditions by which identity politics can prosper.
The postmodernists built on the Marxist ideology, Peterson said. “They started to play a sleight of hand, and instead of pitting the proletariat, the working class, against the bourgeois, they started to pit the oppressed against the oppressor. That opened up the avenue to identifying any number of groups as oppressed and oppressor and to continue the same narrative under a different name.”
“It was no longer specifically about economics,” he said. “It was about power. And everything to the postmodernists is about power. And that’s actually why they’re so dangerous, because if you’re engaged in a discussion with someone who believes in nothing but power, all they are motivated to do is to accrue all the power to them, because what else is there?” he said. “There’s no logic, there’s no investigation, there’s no negotiation, there’s no dialogue, there’s no discussion, there’s no meeting of minds and consensus. There’s power.”
What we see here is the emergence of a dominant organizing ideology built of the rejection of truth and the embrace of power at all costs. This elite cohort doesn’t consider itself to be “righteous” because they conform to any objective standard of morality. Rather, they are “righteous” because they have, by any and all means necessary, occupied positions of power in our civilization. They have made it absolutely clear that they will utilize any and all means possible to safeguard and extend that power. Thus, they are “righteous” because they have achieved the power to crush anyone who dares to challenge them.
Can there be any less fit a foundation upon which to base the moral life of a civilization?
2. Social Media Enabled Mobs
I have also previously discussed this phenomenon within context of the gay-marriage debate. However what is observed for this specific case is clearly applicable to our general political discourse.
The tragic fact is that almost every person with exposure to the public square lives in fear of being targeted by the social justice mob. One group that is particularly terrorized by this mob are the public “intellectuals” (Jonathan Kay on the tyranny of Twitter: How mob censure is changing the intellectual landscape).
… you will find intellectuals who have made extraordinary financial sacrifices to pursue their artistic or activist passions, and whose entire livelihood hinges on a thin patchwork of government grants, modest book advances, sessional teaching contracts, and honoraria from small journals, websites and magazines. Just one wrong Tweet or misplaced open-letter signature can send these people back to a life working for Uber or foodora.
The following excerpt provides an accurate summary of the environment that has been created social media’s mobs.
Their behavior is so insane, their on-command ability to jump on anyone or anything who deviates from the now-current party line so absolute, their arguments so ridiculous, it took me a while to realize what they’re doing is the equivalent of Mao’s brigades of aggressive young people fanning out to rural areas to teach the peasants how to think and what to do.
Our colleges and universities are purposefully creating hordes of these cultural revolution goons … tragic credentialed, entitled lives with no actual useful skills but masters of personal and civilizational destruction. These hordes of social justice warriors have conquered much of our mass media and social networks (including the private companies that deliver them).
Even people living generally non-public lives fear that they could be, for mysterious reasons, singled out and viciously attacked by this mob. Small business owners who offer services to the general public are particularly vulnerable.
And so, we come to the crux of our current predicament, that being the increasing inhumanity in our supposed pursuit of social good (as profoundly explained by Dr. McClay).
The presence of vast amounts of unacknowledged sin in a culture, a culture full to the brim with its own hubristic sense of world-conquering power and agency but lacking any effectual means of achieving redemption for all the unacknowledged sin that accompanies such power: This is surely a moral crisis in the making …. The rituals of scapegoating, of public humiliation and shaming, of multiplying morally impermissible utterances and sentiments and punishing them with disproportionate severity, are visibly on the increase in our public life. They are not merely signs of intolerance or incivility, but of a deeper moral disorder, an Unbehagen that cannot be willed away by the psychoanalytic trick of pretending that it does not exist.
While these social justice mobs are comprised by a small percentage of the population their weaponization of social media multiplies their power many times over. Given this threat people have become increasingly protective of their public “self-righteousness” persona, either by aggressively identifying with the mob’s current talking points or by retreating into sullen, fearful silence. Both of these responses are detrimental to an understanding of human righteousness that leads to a proper mix of humility and responsibility.