The Post-Modernist Swindle

I get the impression that post-modernists make two moves with regard to what I call frameworks of interpretation.

1. Let us agree that no framework of interpretation can be demonstrated conclusively to be correct.

2. Let us proceed to rely on a framework of interpretation that explains all social phenomena in terms of the concepts of race, gender, privilege, and power.

The first proposition denies that there can be such a thing as science. I disagree when it comes to the natural sciences. As I see it, using the atomic theory to interpret chemical reactions, using Newton’s laws to interpret the behavior of large bodies, and using evolution to interpret the characteristics of plants and animals is valuable enough that we can treat those frameworks as truth.

However, I agree when it comes to social phenomena. I would say that economics, sociology, social psychology, and the study of politics are disciplines, but not sciences. They are disciplines in that it is better to be informed about the literature than to be uninformed about it, but they are not sciences, because there are relatively few propositions that can be tested conclusively.

But proceeding to (2) is a brave swindle. With (1), you have said that you believe in disarmament. With (2), you have brandished your favorite pistol.

If students were alert to the swindle, they would demand that the post-modernists recognize that the race-gender-privilege-power framework is just one imperfect framework among many that might be used. It should have to contend on a level playing field with other frameworks.

In my new book, I elaborate on the concept of frameworks of interpretation.

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6 Responses to The Post-Modernist Swindle

  1. Adam says:

    Do you have any specific thinkers you have read in mind?

  2. Handle says:

    In law school there is moot court, occasionally put on before ones peers, and even sometimes subject to their judgment as in an Oxford debate. I would like to see most fuzzy and interpretive intellectual disciplines – especially history – taught in this adversarial manner. The party who must play the contrarian / heretorodox devil’s advocate should be at least somewhat insulated from public approbrium given he or she has no choice, but properly incentivized in terms of the grade being mostly dependent on how vigorously and thoroughly he or she advocated for the position, i.e. no taking the fall and putting up a fake fight, or else it’s akin to malpractice and insufficient assistance of counsel. Perhaps the set of norms related to the legal profession which make it difficult or improper to criticize an attorney for vigorously defending even a particularly odious client, can be encouraged to apply in this setting too to avoid the typical ‘no platforming’ tactics of the censoring mob.

  3. blink says:

    Well said.

    If anything, I see “if students were alert to…” as overly charitable and optimistic. Here, “…cared to notice…” might be more accurate; the elephant is hiding in plain sight. Instead, students are complicit in the swindle.

    • Andrew' says:

      Students do not have a free hand. They are paying people to educate them. They have to signal allegiance or be cast out.

  4. rukn says:

    I think the charitable reading of post-modernism, at least at its inception, would be your proposition 1 and:

    2′. Let us study how all of the frameworks of interpretation we do have emerged out of and developed in conditions governed by certain race, gender, class, and power relations and so are little more than instantiations of and justifications for those relations.

    In practice, however, that’s not how things worked out (or to the extent they did, they focused mostly on the second–and in my opinion, weaker–half of 2′).

  5. Noah Silbert says:

    Do you know when your book on specialization and trade is going to be published? I’m eager to read it, and since you mentioned it here, I thought I’d ask…

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