The postmodern turn started as a reaction against the dogmatic rationalism of the Enlightenment. Recent history has shown us that some sort of reaction to modernity was necessary. Dogma has a tendency to lead to violence, as absolute certainty removes any reason we might have to be cautious about remaking the world. Any obstacle can be removed if we have no reason for self-doubt. Hence, the 20th century and its horrors.
But things have gotten out of hand. We have veered back toward dogmatism, except that now the dogma is postmodern, somehow. “Postmodern dogma” is an oxymoron, but it’s what passes for critical engagement nowadays in fields like Gender Studies and Sociology.
It would probably be a good idea for me to define my terms. People who adhere to the postmodern dogma tend to dispense with this important task, making it easier for them to force their ideas on people by force, instead of through reason. It would be irresponsible for me to do the same.
By “postmodernism,” I refer to the general attitude of skepticism towards modernism that became the dominant force in the intellectual milieu of our universities in the 20th century. Postmodern philosophers have criticized the modern quest for absolute certainty, emphasizing the inescapability of perspective. They’ve also pointed out that we’re not always doing what we think we’re doing. For instance, on the surface a political philosopher may be trying to construct a purely rational political system, but who ever tries to construct such a system without giving himself disproportionate power to impose his will on others? Our rational thinking is influenced by all kinds of pre-rational drives and desires, some of which might prove quite dangerous.
Postmodern dogma is a perversion of what I have just described as postmodernism. It’s a hypocritical form of postmodernism, as it doesn’t evenly apply its principles to all people or to all ideas. Dogmatic postmodernists attribute all kinds of nefarious motives, conscious and unconscious, to those who disagree with them on anything, while never once questioning their own motives. The degree to which you identify with “marginalized groups” determines the extent to which you can avoid criticism. I suppose the idea is that people who are oppressed are automatically innocent and morally pure.
Of course, oppressed peoples are not automatically innocent or morally pure. There is no reason that we shouldn’t expect the philosophy purveyed by postmodern dogmatists to have the same kind of selfish motivations that often hide beneath more rationalistic philosophies. Indeed, it is clear to me that there is a class of people who benefit significantly from the creation of a dogmatic postmodern feedback loop in academia and society at large, namely, “scholars” in disciplines like gender studies, queer theory, sociology, etc.
A good deal of what goes on in these disciplines (and others) is good for nothing. Eighty-two percent of humanities papers are never cited. Not once. Universities still buy journals filled with these useless papers. The “scholars” who write them still get paid, and in the meantime, they get to corrupt the minds of idealistic young people so that they reproduce the exact same ideological drivel that fills the uncited papers.
If this were a closed system, there might not be such a huge problem. Sure, it would be a waste of money and intellectual capacity to fund work that consists of making false claims dressed up with pseudo-intellectual nonsense. But at least the harms would mostly be contained. Alas, this is not the case. Postmodern dogmatism has a foothold in society, not just in academia. This is because the goal of postmodern dogmatism is to remake the world, and not just to interpret it (Cf. Marx). Gender studies programs (and others like them) produce “activists” who organize protests and regurgitate their postmodern word salad all over the internet and other media.
The antidote to postmodern dogmatism (and dogmatism in general) consists of intellectual humility and critical thinking. If we were just willing to acknowledge that not everything is what it seems, then maybe we’d stop ourselves before accusing everyone to the right of Bernie Sanders of being a fascist. If we were to really examine the claims of postmodern dogmatists, it would be obvious that they’re wrong. Speech is not violence. There are biological differences between men and women. It is not the case that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted while in college. The people who claim the contrary will invariably be unable to give you grounds for believing them; all they have been taught to do is beg the question.
The best we can do is be critical of postmodern dogmatism wherever we see it. Encourage budding dogmatists to question their presuppositions and the motives of those who hold to their ideology. Apply the same methods that they so exactingly apply to capitalism, liberalism, and Christianity to socialism, progressivism, and social constructionist views of gender. With any luck, they will see that their views are contradictory and revise them.
There needs to be a barrage of criticism from all sides directed toward the dogmatic postmodernism that has become so fashionable as of late. It is an intellectual virus that we need to utterly destroy. If we refrain from doing so in order to avoid the wrath of so-called activists and gender scholars, then we are cowards. Indeed, you might say that we are complicit in a system of intellectual decay if we do not actively seek to dismantle the system. I’m comfortable using this language because the system is not being dismantled by force, but by reasoned argument. This is not a call to arms, but a call to think clearly and speak freely in the hopes that our thoughts might make the world better, rather than worse.