Postmodernism. Yes. I know what you’re thinking. “Ugh. Isn’t that one of those pretentious ‘Ivory Tower’ words?” Yes and no. Yes, it is. But, no, it also isn’t just that. Unfortunately, postmodernism has become an obnoxious and terrifyingly real phenomenon in our everyday world. So, what exactly is “postmodernism”?
There are many definitions and explanations you can find from all different sources. French philosophers such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Jean-Francois Lyotard are often accredited with popularizing the term. The central definition for postmodernism, though, is “intellectual skepticism towards ‘grand’ or ‘meta’ narratives.” So, for example, if everyone collectively believes that the story of human history is one of gradual progress, a postmodernist will call that claim into question.
Self-referentiality, moral relativism, irony, eclecticism, irreverence, and pluralism all characterize the postmodern outlook1,2,3. Postmodernists frequently reject objective notions, such as hierarchies, categorization, the “universal validity” of binary oppositions, and stable identities1,2,3. They think scientific (epistemic) certainty is fallacious, they are sensitive when it comes to the role of ideology in maintaining political power, and they believe that there are an infinite number of ways of interpreting reality1,4. Postmodernists also cast doubt on the relationship between language/literature and truth.
All those characteristics do fit the more “academic” idea of the notion. But postmodernism has long since leapt from the parapets of the Ivory Tower. In the practical world, postmodernism can be summed up through various simple sound-bytes: “The truth is relative.” “That’s just your opinion.” “Alternative facts.”
Postmodernism in that sense isn’t a dangerous phenomenon because it adheres to any one particular social or political belief. It’s dangerous because it muddies up reality as we know it. It criticizes the importance of valuing the objective truth. The one quote from 1984 that everyone practically knows by heart (even if they’ve never read the book) is the whole “2+2=5” one, and it’s the most fitting quote. Think of all the major topics that characterize the world of the 2020s: gun control, Covid-19, presidential elections, Ukraine, gender identity, vaccines, mask-wearing, body positivity, climate change, and, well…you get the point.
All those topics in one way or another carry with them an alarming volume of lies and/or half-truths. I suppose it all depends on who you ask, but that’s exactly the point. Whatever truths there are to be understood about gender identity, gun control, Covid-19, or whatever else, they should be understood regardless of which truths someone wants to accept or which truths are most convenient.
Social media is of course one big factor. Our ancient proclivity for confirmation bias is another. But, somewhere in this midst, a large swathe of society decided that “relative truth” was a normal, permissible thing. If one group, for instance, says that climate change is an elaborate hoax and the other says it’s an imminent crisis, then they’re both entitled to their own versions of reality. Well…no…they are both entitled to their own opinions, but opinions are obviously not facts, and they’re not entitled to their own facts.
The truth is whatever the truth is regardless of how convenient or not it is to accept it. Whether or not- to paraphrase Jack Nicholson’s famous quote from A Few Good Men- “we can handle the truth,” the truth eventually avails itself to all of us. The chicken comes home to roost. Many troubling ideas have pervaded our public discourse in recent years…the kind of ideas that are troubling not because they have an ideological slant, but because their ideological slant has been made the number one priority (even at the expense of reality). Was the 2020 U.S. election fraudulent? Can men give birth? How many genders are there? Can people switch sexes? Did China invent the “climate crisis”? Does mathematics promote white supremacy?
None of the truthful answers to any of those questions signal any allegiance to a particular ideology or group/team (or, by contrast, any sort of racism or other forms of bigotry) …which is what most of us would’ve sensibly concluded 10-20 years ago. The truthful answers are just that…the truthful answers. Nowadays, I’m not so certain. People may “cancel” or dismiss you for saying that…no…as a matter of fact, the 2020 election was free and fair, only women can give birth, there are only two genders (although there is a great deal of range between the two), people can switch genders but not sexes, no one “made up” climate change, and mathematics is just a logical abstract discipline (and has absolutely nothing to do with race relations).
Some exceptions do occur. The famous “Blue/Yellow Dress” and “Yonny/Laurel” memes proved our senses are strangely fallible in ways we may not even be aware of, but they’re not so flawed that we can just abandon reality altogether. Postmodernism is altogether terrifying and anxiety-provoking when it becomes a part of our experiential lives.
You think reality is just whatever lens you view it through? See how useful that belief is when the bridges collapse. Imagine being on the Titanic immediately after it struck the iceberg. No one knows exactly what happened, but then the crew states that the ship will sink. In our modern era, half the people would believe the crew and the other half would write them off as elitists (and write the whole incident itself off as a hoax). Or maybe people would interpret the whole predicament through the lens of feminism…capitalism…racism…gender identity…liberalism…conservatism…and so on.
All those lenses would soon fade. That’s what gravity, death, and the undeniable nature of pain does to us. It yanks us back into a single framework of perception. There may be an infinite number of ways of interpreting reality, but there are not an infinite number of valid ways of doing so. Some lead to survival, joy, growth, order, and peace. Many others lead to pain, destruction, death, and despair. Postmodernism thus is an intriguing academic exercise, but it’s a nightmare to make part of our everyday world!
 Duignan, Brian. “Postmodernism”. Britannica.com. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
 “postmodernism”. American Heritage Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2019. Archived from the original on 15 June 2018. Retrieved 5 May 2019 – via AHDictionary.com. Of or relating to an intellectual stance often marked by eclecticism and irony and tending to reject the universal validity of such principles as hierarchy, binary opposition, categorization, and stable identity.
 Bauman, Zygmunt (1992). Intimations of postmodernity. London New York: Routledge. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-415-06750-8.
 Aylesworth, Gary (5 February 2015) [1st pub. 2005]. “Postmodernism”. In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. sep-postmodernism (Spring 2015 ed.). Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. Retrieved 12 May 2019.