From innocuous roots in late 1940s postmodernism has spread like a steady but relentless virus. For its practitioners it has become a kind of consensus of absolution from having to measure personal (or peer group) standards against the achievements of genuine pioneers past and present. It has changed the essential currents of self-expression from outbound character-individualism to inbound caricature-identity.
Postmodern culture has calcified an implicit lack of higher ambition (and talent) into a consensus assault on individual merit, patiently but systematically building a citation-legitimised exclusion of all forms of creative non-conformity; a paradise for patient, banal credentialism. The postmodern networks of weaponised influence are both cynical and smart, directing the most merciless attacks on the most dangerous of targets: original genius in art, disruptive uncompromising creativity in science. If these trends continue unchecked – and there’s no sign of organized resistance – the culture war will soon reach a catastrophic and possibly irreparable coda.
POSTMODERNIST MODUS OPERANDI
Networks of mediocre but tenured gatekeepers consolidate and perpetuate ingroup power by ensuring institutions are closed to and purged of outliers and unorthodox thinking. Successive generations of committed, well-trained advocates have spread out from a college faculty, patiently but mercilessly infiltrating and perverting old, new and social media, political offices from street to civic to federal level, key corporate departments (like human resources). Resistance by prejudice is disorganised and doomed. Resistance by principle is atomized into isolated voices easily silenced. Postmodernism was once a dubious but honest niche in literary academia. It has become a deeply entrenched behemoth, growing in dominance and gorging itself on appropriated cultural, academic, sociopolitical and intellectual life in a dozen “enlightened” countries. Self-regulating, robust by taking over bricks-and-mortar institutions, agile by dint of wirearchy structure organised by ideology in controlled conditions, fed by a bottomless well of intellectual vanity, professional and personal self-interest; and, nowadays, under the surface but motivating every ambitious manoeuvre, there’s a genuine cold-blooded taste for power.
ORIGIN OF THE POSTMODERNIST POISON
Perhaps it’s an inevitable phase in the adolescence of universal suffrage, facing off the freedom to choose passive subjugation to predictable self-indulgence against the unpredictable dynamic world of science and progress. The former is the fantasy domain of the many, the latter a reality dominated by the few. We can’t all understand the calculus of relativity or the complex nuance of Shakespeare. Postmodernism has expanded precisely because it serves as a simpatico doctrine of the many. In a nutshell, that’s its temptation but, unless we want Western society to reverse itself blithely into terminal decline, it’s a temptation we need to expose and eradicate. Urgently.
Individuals aspiring to creative genius will largely fall short of that standard. Some, like intelligent university professors, will have the critical thinking necessary to see this failure as their own, to recognise in themselves personal shortcomings or, most telling, an insurmountable lack of talent. How could these scholars, accustomed to success, reconcile falling short of genius when it’s the thing they worship more than any other human characteristic? Postmodernism became the answer. It was the means to an end, and it has served successive generations of post-war career academics – and their students. Just as the Nazis had bastardised Nietzsche to justify Aryan eugenics, the early postmodernists corrupted Heidegger’s rollback of temporal ontology (as the defining way to think about the world) to legitimise a rejection of the significance of all individual human beings, genius included, in the creative process. The poison entered the veins of post-war academia.
“Reality is neither the subject nor the object of true art which creates its own special reality having nothing to do with the average ‘reality’ perceived by the communal eye.“ – Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire (1962)
POSTMODERNISM MUTATES TO ACADEMIC EPIDEMIC
In the years after the second world war, societies in great flux demobilized into an altered citizen spirit. Postmodernism was not at first a pervasive dogma. It incubated in the universities as a convergence of genuinely blue sky sociology studying conditions in the immediate aftermath of war with philosophy turned introspective in search of meaning in a post-industrial relativistic universe. Philosophy and sociology might have kept themselves uncorrupted were it not for the arts faculties – far more numerous and influential in an everyday sense – having been caught between a Joycean rock and a Woolfish hard place. Postmodernism calcified into a cross-faculty movement that’s been consolidating power ever since. Vladimir Nabokov, the most famous emigre after Einstein, warned us what was going to happen in his greatest work, Pale Fire.
Career academics, their fragile conceits needing a system of protection against the genius of modernism, were driven to postmodernist ideas which they quickly and self-servingly appropriated. Back in the 1950s “Beat” poetry was emerging in Columbia University and it clashes almost immediately with the academic authorities. Colleges closed ranks to dispossess the new wave. Some version of this dichotomy played out in a hundred academies: tenured professors in the halls, modernist genius in portraits on their walls, the vital individuals who might’ve been their natural successors shut out, excluded, forced outside the institutions.
Battle lines were rapidly arranged. Postmodernism formalised into the armour chosen by the academy. The shut out was successful and it didn’t take long for the new ideology to spread.
The early motivation of academics may have been wrong, but to counteract the poison we mustn’t see it as an incomprehensible weakness of character. Perhaps if it had admitted a little nuance – like humility – the future would have been different. It wasn’t able to do this, however. Committed to a reductive perversion of an intellectual relativism, quick to define the opposition in counter cultural terms, increasingly partnered with state expediency, things only got worse. The next generations of academics were well-organised cherry-picked successors, greedy for authority but trained to play by the rules. Professional iconoclasts, some in pursuit of misguided but sincere notions of democratising the academy, established hostility to received wisdom and acted – in teams – to bring to heel outlier excellence. What began as a movement contained within a handful of university faculties marched forth like a new religion.
Postmodernism is particularly pernicious, once sufficiently widespread, because it gives faithful advocates a multipurpose toolkit designed perfectly for its continued spread and consolidation of degraded culture. The toolkit is subtle and subject specific, cynical and utilitarian, honed – ironically – by thousands of extremely clever social engineers, the most effective personnel of corporate academia. It covers jargon and linguistics, provides litmus tests to gauge friends and enemies, divide-and-conquer transformation of universities into safe zones promising accreditation and widespread publicity so long as there’s no gainsay of postmodernism’s unwritten rules. Like in a masonic lodge, would-be employees of current postmodernist doctrine (and goals) receive informal schooling in identifying one another and formal education in suitable, utilitarian techniques.
“…for better or worse, it is the commentator who has the last word.“ – Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire (1962)
POSTMODERNISM ALLIES WITH NEOLIBERAL FREEMASONRY
Post-modernism cross-pollinated into the outside world through successive waves of graduates to colonise mainstream media. Its spread and tenacity is testimony to a lasting human appeal. Temptation to succumb to one’s worst instincts, when the alternative is complex, difficult and uncertain, will follow a person throughout their career. It’ll remain readily at hand should an academic or artist or media hold-out go through periods of self-doubt or crises of confidence. Taken as a movement, this system of pressure and solution builds to an inevitable coda: the choice between principled, independent hardship alone and acceptance, plenty and security in the welcoming club. From the universities to the mainstream, neoliberal economics became the vehicle for postmodernist pragmatism that needed no guns and cudgels to exert pressure and achieve its ends.
With a few exceptions, it had been left to America to take the lead in cutting edge academic and cultural continuity from the 1950s until as late as the 1970s. A diaspora of talent from Europe had bolstered its indigenous faculties before the Second World War, and this continued once it was over. The professionalisation of American universities as a vocational training rather than a nurturing of autonomous intellectuals brought market forces into the global academy as never before. Europe and now East Asia may no longer be behind North America, but the parochial dollars-and-cents ambitions of the baby boomer period have impressed deeply on the institutions. Postmodernism was and is the mechanism of delivery, free market neoliberalism the lubricating economics, knowledge serving consumerism the marketing ambition of its moving parts.
But why is this particular club so bad? Isn’t postmodern neoliberalism better than communism or totalitarian fascism, for instance? Couldn’t postmodernist principles be liberating for young minds stifled by the straightjacket canon of past generations? These questions could have been debated until the 1980s, though even then the postmodern authorities were children of diminished progenitors. Sadly, the nature of the temptation offered by today’s postmodernism is too strong for most to resist. Early postmodernists began as pale fire apologists, cowed by the very proximate challenge of modernist genius. The later gatekeepers were schooled from the outset to see the world through a lens predefined to obscure past genius – strip individuals through group identity conflations – and focus increasingly on well-branded more up-to-date alternatives that looked right and received official accreditation but were stripped clean of any off-narrative ambiguity.
Half a century later the postmodernist network is well established throughout the world, organised in a macrostructure that resembles – more than anything else – the cooperative imam-led cells of Islam than any prior cultural movement. The academy has been locked in a stranglehold in the same way as certain industries were dominated by secret freemason lodges. Outsiders, outliers and would-be rebels can be pinpointed and delegitimized with remarkable precision, without compromising any individual mason. Moreover, there’s no need to instruct how to exculpate rebels as late as the time of their actual rebellion. Everyone in the lodge has the toolkit and already knows how to use it against objectionable targets, singling out early signs of trouble and reacting to quell problems long before any public manifestation.
“… just as early industrial capitalism moved the focus of existence from being to having, post-industrial [mass media] culture has moved that focus from having to appearing.” – Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (1967)
TRUTH IS LIES – LOVE IS HATE – PEACE IS WAR – PLENTY IS STARVATION
Nowadays, cultural conformity has aligned with conservatism to appropriate tradition, hardened to the task by inevitable periods of counter cultural push-back. Converted to the tenets of postmodern anti-individualism, the institutions have been ready from early on, to defend against any flash of genius threatening to be a legitimate successor of those modernist luminaries e.g. Jack Kerouac and the beats, Tennessee Williams and the Southern renaissance, James Baldwin and the civil rights movement. Individuals like these were corralled onto the front line and forced into confrontations with authority having been tarred with the counter culture brush and therefore singled out as a threat. The postmodernist arsenal learned to aim using those first waves of targets. The insidious schism between the academy and the individual was transposed onto a global narrative of culture versus counter culture that’s been polarising ever since.
The battle for the hearts and minds of the many academic institutions and plethora of media outlets, print, radio, television, film was irreparably divisive by the end of the 1960s. Vietnam, hippy anti-nationalism and student protests against corporate consumerism (e.g. the Situationists, the Weather Underground) brought the power of the state into direct conflict with the individual. The timing was fortuitous and an ideological conflict already well developed within the universities made post modernists natural and instructive bedfellows for those pushing the agenda of state authority. Both saw their chance: to permanently marginalise dissenters, including untrustworthy writers and auteurs and non-conformist professors; to train subsequent generations properly as ‘good’ future citizens, to nip any discord in the bud. Worst of all, anyone slipping through the net and presuming to exhibit genius out of context became a threat to the mainstream social order, same as those early ‘rebels’, subject to a takedown by every means available in the formidable state sanctioned postmodernist playbook.
“The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.” – Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
“DEATH OF THE AUTHOR” GOES MAINSTREAM
Roland Barthes, French philosopher and literary critic, provided the seminal concept that allowed postmodernism’s craven iconoclasm to market itself into mainstream culture. His 1962 work Le Mort d’Auteur “Death of the Author” gave credibility to the academy’s anti-individual disdain of virtuosity in art, letting them claim the hard-won life-works of artists and scientists without having to acknowledge those responsible; and this evade the challenge of their implicit high standards. Celebrity was permissible, even desirable, but was not allowed to be a democracy of talent. There would be a risk of making influential off-narrative platforms if it boiled down to a meritocracy ‘won’ by genius and hard work. This couldn’t happen. Personal contributions had to be aggregated into group identity unless the individual was a signed up member of the academy. Barthes and other misrepresented thinkers were tailored to meet these necessary terms.
The #metoo phenomenon is the latest diseased manifestation of the postmodernist toolkit. It was born of feminism and a genuinely authentic attack on misogyny and endemic patriarchy, turned into another way to bring down experts and excellence unwilling to conform to the postmodern dictates of entrenched groupthink – in this case selected by and aimed at dominating anything involving gender.
There are islands of resistance to postmodernism dotted around the academy, media and mainstream culture. There remain leftover schools of thought, created out of sincere, useful ideas and not seeking to feed the growing monolith, like structuralism, post-structuralism and deconstruction. These more authentic strains in philosophy and literary theory went through their own smaller conflicts and in most cases ended defeated or compromised by the powers-that-be. Leading lights like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, Noam Chomsky were marginalised in plain site, separated from the mainstream of the academy into esoteric ‘special’ departments — a standard measure in the postmodernist manual when dealing with intransigent voices grown too noisy to gag or too marketable to de-platform off the public stage.
“What the public wants is the image of passion, not passion itself.” – Roland Barthes, Mythologies (1957)
The most expedient aspects of post-structuralism and, increasingly, any new idea cropping up in academic circles, are identified fast then, notwithstanding having to deal with those stubborn individuals refusing to bend knee, censored of anything off-narrative and brought into the postmodernist mainstream. Post-structuralism was cannibalised into one of the most insidious movements of the latter culture war years: identity politics.
Feminism, civil rights, the fight against homophobia, legitimate movements all but in the hands of postmodern spin doctors were twisted to serve different goals and increase the firepower of the academy and its allies, the ambitious arbiters of culture. In fact, these particular appropriations have been the most significant criminal abuses of the postmodernist cabal.
The appropriation of feminism, sexuality and race should be a practical warning of the ultimate bankruptcy of postmodern ideology. Exceptional women or great gay artists or genius who happen to be non-white aren’t freed from the shackles of traditional racist, homophobic white male-privilege, to aspire to whatever greatness might be attained by their individual unfettered potential. Instead, this potential is cut away, just as it is with any other presumption of genius, not by legislated prejudice but by the infinitely more subtle methods of the neoliberal postmodern toolkit.
“I didn’t fight to get women out from behind vacuum cleaners to get them onto the board of Hoover.” – Germaine Greer (1939-)
Women are demeaned, reduced to mere ciphers, gays are flatlined and remade as icons, all face no substance. Black writers, worst of all, are forced to be poster boys and poster girls, ring-fenced into representing only a narrow race-brand identity that’s more loathsome an apartheid than any township ghetto because it’s intellectual and cultural rather than just a segregation of wealth and physical space.
Stereotypes that never represented reality become lowest common denominator polytypes on which an identity is anchored, and against which anyone presuming to be part of the group must be judged. Transgender communism is one such corollary of identity politics: children forced into binary choices because they’ve shown a certain preference, transgender adults tied to levels of ‘worth’ defined only by the extremes a person will go to fit the ‘trans’ identity monolith.
Crossover regions where multiple postmodern identities must reach consensus to occupy unchallenged are seamlessly integrated into their respective groupthink politics and, even here the difference between an authentic movement and an identity political oppression using divide and conquer is clear: mark the considered responses of genuine feminists like Germaine Greer versus the misrepresentation and standard teardown tactics of self-appointed transgender leaders.
At best the new oppression is coercive rather than violent, but great art and science is often inspired by oppression. It’s certainly always created by distinctive individuals and to be deprived of these outliers is to make mediocre currency of great potential. It’s ironic that the casualties of this battle are the very people those advocating identity politics pay lip service to be freeing and defending.
“Great spirits have always encountered the most violent opposition from mediocre minds.“ – Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
DOES “DEATH OF THE AUTEUR” PANDEMIC END?
From innocent beginnings in the late 1940s, through first and second generation consolidation, postmodernism in the 21st century has evolved into a freemasonry of entrenched anti-intellectual mob legitimacy. It is positioned in the mainstream, confident and on the attack. It has appropriated a dozen counter-cultures, rebranding and often inverting their original good, turning them into cultural sticks to beat society and stand-out individuals into submission. Feminism was perverted by gender politics, anti-misogyny into #metoo, anti-homophobia into queer theory, the civil rights movement sullied by affirmative action, free speech constrained by political correctness.
Postmodernism has become ubiquitous, unarguably legitimate as it bears the stamp of academy credibility. It continues to spread, from the institutions through society, by brigades of well-taught neo-masonic graduates. These days there’s only one line of defence against the self-serving end-game society continues to be driven towards and it must come from the independent individual.
“The bastard form of mass culture is humiliated repetition… always new books, new programs, new films, news items, but always the same meaning.” – Roland Barthes (1915-1980)
The individual is problematic, however. Disorganised, unusual, independent, mostly atomised and often contrarian, the individual presents a disunited self-centred front – easy target for patient groupthinkers – but it’s the only other game in town. Complete victory for the postmodernist cabal will mean a society without genius, truth subjugated to expediency, cookie cutter people disallowed individuality and defined instead by a group identity that’s tantamount to living caricature. It’ll become a safe zone so widespread it looks the same as obsolescence and no-one left will be sufficiently ‘woke’ to notice.
Postmodernist generations pass the latest literary, linguistic and philosophical theory – especially in the early years schools of thought coming out of France and Germany – through the prism of democratised merit and everyman relativism to construct an effective popular legitimacy serving the conceits of the tenured academy and their progeny. The career academic and journalist has an ever-evolving arsenal fit for the destruction of reputations and the exculpation of non-conforming genius. The success of this “death of the author” spin, cloaked in the complex language of post-structuralism and other extant obfuscating theory, gave the postmodernists a commanding position by the end of the 1960s. This hegemony expressed itself into mainstream culture through successive waves of graduates. Its advance towards total eclipse has not once been checked.
The strength of the postmodernist academy comes in having bound itself hand in glove with state authority, underpinning its propaganda by an intellectual neoliberalism sold to the prospective members and the general public as responding to the vocational demands of the free market. Anything of substance seeking to thwart the academy or the increasingly polarising state narrative can be tarred with the ‘counter culture’ brush, ornery youth ever the frontline victims (e.g. the beat generation, hippies, gender fluid glams, punks, crusties, environmentalists, libertarians, pacifists, new atheists, trolls, intellectual dark web personalities, etc). Soon anything off-narrative will be subject to the same process of rapid marginalisation (in the case of individuals) and appropriation (in the case of movements).
“I believe in the value of the book, which keeps something irreplaceable, and in the necessity of fighting to secure its respect.” – Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)
What little resistance remained in the arts faculties was picked off in the post-Vietnam decades, neoliberalism and consumer capitalism became natural bedfellows with postmodernism in a way that solidified in the 80s. Entrenched interests integrated branding in the 90s and their rule sets became received wisdom — unquestioned, presumed part of the natural order — by the millennium. Small wonder this cynical cultural regulation adapted quickly to take hold of the internet as soon as it blew up. The ring-fencing of social media, turning it into a vehicle for population control with clever echo chamber isolation of contrarian thinkers, is a paradigm of adaptive big society power in action.
As any historian will affirm, there was no way postmodernist culture would allow itself to be challenged by changes to the dynamics of society. Vigilant, pro-active and anti-individual to the marrow, the mainstream must remain committed to proven methodologies. This is the state of society in 2018. Outliers must be kept away from the public; and through technology this becomes possible, despite the interconnected nature of the online world. No genius can be allowed to turn a platform into a pedestal. No expert can be given credible authority over truth, however many facts might be marshalled in support.
The rotten core of the postmodernist movement has remained throughout, and these days it’s forced to great lengths to prosecute absolute authority over its chosen territories. Methods have become more ruthless and its corrosive impact on Western culture grows more extreme each year. Today it weaponises such awful characteristics as toxic envy, blind outrage and endemic narcissism. Mediocrity has been branded synonymous with common sense, conformity trained by an intellectual communism whose prime directive is the denial of individual free thought. Power dynamics are abused daily, inverting expertise to a sin, spinning traditions of excellence as oppressive patriarchy, individuality subsumed – whether you like it or not – into a ‘know your place’ identity politics. Outsiders, and transgressors in particular, face dire potentially lifelong consequences.
“The petit-bourgeois is a man unable to imagine the Other. If he comes face to face with him, he blinds himself, ignores and denies him, or else transforms him into himself.” – Roland Barthes, Mythologies (1957)
The postmodernist end-game is achieved by default, using a mix of populism and passive aggression. There can be leaders in the postmodern paradigm state, but these must be caricatures, salaried celebrities or pliable accidents of ethnicity. What used to be meritocracy is turned into a lottery – and lottery is an easier sell to a public convinced of its own worth and conveniently conditioned against critical thinking and inconvenient self-examination.
Death of the author – the pro-active exclusion of individual genius – postmodernism wed with neoliberal identity politics results in an everyday life lived as if it was a reality show – authenticity kept ever at arms length – and it’s an easy fit with slogans of democracy and disempowering parables inculcating universal median values. Ironically, equality itself has become a twisted principle: not so much equality of outcome, which is commonly and correctly singled out as impossibly injudicious, but more disastrously an equality of process. It’s nothing less than a cultural coma.
The whole warped system is delivered efficiently through, appropriately enough, exploitation of the very worst of human traits: vanity, egoism, outrage and opinion over tolerance and complex nuance. It’s a recipe for mediocrity, a disconnection with centuries of intellectual and cultural tradition that may never be restored. At worst, it’s dictatorship by the mob imposed by kangaroo courts of public opinion, a descent into intellectual and cultural barbarism. In this multifarious world, if we accept the broad sweep of modern history as a symbiosis of the enlightenment West and the utilitarian East, the former is at risk of becoming permanently obsolete.
“…new liberalism’s antipathy to superior statesmen and to human excellence is peculiarly zealous, parochial, and antiphilosophic.” – Robert Faulkner (The Case for Greatness, 2008)
We’re quick to call out the authoritarian nightmare of a dystopian East when we hear about China and its surveillance state – social media scorecards for a billion citizens – but the West is heading for worse. At least China gets productivity and hive-triumphs, some of which are genuinely creating prosperity.
The postmodern culture of regulated consensus mediocrity – defanged of personal challenge – is a creeping death to the Enlightenment lineage and the Anglo-American West will increasingly fall behind, economically and culturally. In some ways, the worst possible outcome would be the West deciding to prioritise economics by emulating the authoritarian groupthink Chinese model. Changing the economic model may succeed in matching China’s closely controlled society and profitable deployment of labour; but at what cost?
Postmodern power dynamics – ruling elite plutocrats, ring-fenced by credential consensus middle class stripped of outliers and unpredictable individual heterodoxies, served by a vast disempowered wage-slave class – is a short step to the centralised, totalitarian Chinese model. The temptation is a real one and no doubt possible steps to transform universal suffrage democracy into unitary absolute governance will already be under discussion in the Western corridors of power.
UPPER CLASS, MIDDLE CLASS, WORKING CLASS
For the last few hundred years, since the Renaissance laid the foundations of the Enlightenment, the lineage of brutal feudalism in Europe (and its progeny in the Americas) has been forced to cede power to new traditions of self-determination, science, objectivity, education, suffrage, art and literature, rule of law, respect for individualism and individual liberty. By the 19th-century the industrious middle class was economically, politically, socially and culturally dominant.
The feudal heritage was not eradicated, however. The historical ambition of aristocracy was marginalised, at home, upper class energies diverted instead to foreign affairs: its violence in the greed of colonialism, its privilege in the pursuit of inhuman mercantilism (including slave trading, plantation profiteering, import export shipping) and its entitlement in the cruel “let them eat cake” exploitation of the nascent working class.
Until recently, the so-called “Western” meritocracies had allowed a diversity of creative talent to flourish, evolving institutions to educate and integrate the burgeoning middle class population. The best minds were launched into research universities, industry, the ‘professions’ and the highest echelons of governance.
Who could argue against the past 300 years of world-changing explosion of human-made science, technology and creativity? And wasn’t Anglo-American and European hegemony incontrovertible proof of the education-freedom-equity paradigm.
We, the scions of education-freedom-equity, take the middle class paradigm for granted, as a question long since settled, supported by every rational analysis of the evidence. But is that true? Consider two key groups outside the independent, politically empowered middle class: the neo-feudal upper class and the labourer working class.
From its inception, the middle class has opposed the unaccountable plunder practices of the feudal class and its progeny, including supporting abolitionism, opposing wars over territory, legislating against unregulated plutocracy capitalism. Aristocracy – the upper class – was once an absolute authority and power sharing with the middle class was a necessary evil. Middle class expertise, influence and dominance of institutions gave the feudal progeny no choice but to cooperate. Not always happily.
On the other side of the coin, the middle class tends to bear the brunt of popular proletariat resentment, educated elite liberalism perceived as antithetical to working class traditions of conservatism, patriotic jingo, serf-peasant heritage.
The upper class is typically too far removed from the daily struggle of citizen lives and too mythologised, too blended with national identity to be blamed for the crimes of capital exploitation against organised labour. Managers, technocrats, civil servants, politicians: more proximate targets. By the early 20th-century, middle class signifiers themselves had become antipathetic to lumpen self-identity; and not without some justification.
The glorious vision of autonomous, individual education-freedom-equity was never universal. The middle class became pre-eminent, transformed society in every conceivable way, expanded institutions to consolidate meritocracy over aristocracy, established well-defined expertise paths to life-career success; and then proceeded to exclude the majority – the labouring classes – from their paradigm. Economic reality for millions transformed from agricultural serfdom to industrial wage-slavery, but poverty in a hovel is no different to poverty in a slum.
Without economic or social support from the ruling caste, and in lieu of cultural solidarity between the non-landowner classes, the working class was left to Dunning-Kruger anti-intellectual superstitions, rejecting the ‘clubs’ that had already refused to let them join and instead becoming subsumed by a plethora of subcultures of least resistance: demagoguery, alcoholism, faddish fashions, violent penny dreadfuls, fascism, mob-communism, ethnonationalism, placebo mass media, religious fundamentalism, upper class and celebrity worship, destructive greed, and of course conditioned bigotry against otherness that, since the start of the 21st-century, has been intensified, polarised and balkanised by lowest common denominator social media.
The egalitarian message of middle class meritocracy is turned into a condescending hypocrisy by the former’s exclusion of lower class social mobility. Where once it may have been possible for the different layers of class division inherited from pre-industrial feudalism to be broken down by an expanding, improving, evolving democracy – as a rising tide is allowed to raise all boats – the reality was a missed opportunity and an abandoned majority. With a few notable exceptions, the history of “Western” meritocracy has been a timeline of exacerbating class separatism. The middle class as an enemy of the worker was inculcated into early 19th-century political awakenings because how could it not have been? The same enemy had to be integrated into the expectations of late 19th-century unions. Its verity was demonstrated by countless 19th and 20th-century battles over basic rights between workers and “management”.
The failure of meritocracy to be inclusive, its obsession with winner-loser materialism and the deep-rooted division of privileged upper class, merit monopolising middle class, and the brutalised anti-knowledge, anti-individual working class was (and continues to be) a perfect incubator for postmodernism’s early proliferation, a natural engine for its proliferation from university to workplace to political power.
Middle class society is the host of what’s become a parasite postmodernism and it is middle class stranglehold on power and progress, through meritocracy and individual (albeit selective) autonomy, hollowed out by postmodernist forces.
What does this mean, for contemporary and future class cultural dynamics?
Middle class eroded, weakened, debased and overborne by mediocrity entrenched by consensus credentialism. Upper class taking advantage of new opportunities to retake power, corrupting the credentials, capturing the consensus and reversing society back towards authoritarian oligarchy. Working class alienated from middle class aspirations, disinterested in knowledge, psychologically tenderised by decades of processed plenty and coddling media, trained to respond to celebrity and spectacle; ripe for mobilisation.
“Western” culture faces an existential threat. The natural focus of revitalised oligarchy (neo-feudal lineage and billionaires) will be on restoring a monopoly on power by subordinating the middle class. To force this outcome requires a takedown of non-conforming, uncompromising exponents of education-freedom-equity – in other words, individuals not yet silenced by postmodernist consensus interests – and it’s to such an end the working class mobilisation directed by corrupted postmodern enablers will be directed.
Not only middle class elimination a threat to free society but successful eradication of individual merit autonomy by totalitarian ruling nepotism risks snuffing out any future potential for renaissance of education-freedom-equity. Enlightenment, democracy, independence, human rights and free-thinking genius will be a few centuries blip on the long timeline of homo sapiens history.
ENDPOINT OF POSTMODERN SOCIETY
Anglo-American culture, in particular, has a history of safeguarding original thought, nurturing reactionary genius in the face of the docile Judeo-Christian mainstream. All of this is at risk if the postmodernist social order achieves complete victory.
Soon enough the voices of protest and their cries of “Shakespeare” “Socrates” “Rimbaud” “Tchaikovsky” “Bacon” “Bacon” “Newton” “Mozart” “Jefferson” “Darwin” “Sartre” “Dumas” “Einstein” “Eliot” “King” “Kant” “Clemens” “Keynes” “Tesla” “Feynman” “Proust” “Goethe” “Johnson” “Bronte” “Curie” “Nietzsche” “Fellini” “Marx” “Locke” “Penrose” “Kerouac” “Kafka” “Orwell” “Swift” “Dostoevsky” “Lincoln” “Voltaire” “Aristotle” “Chaucer” “Boccaccio” “ Blake” “Poe” “Davis” “Liebniz” “Dante” “Dali” “Gallileo” “Milton” “Ali” “Ibsen” “Michelangelo” “Shelley” “Heidegger” “Rilke” “Freud” “Fermi” “Marlowe” “O’Neal” “Gogol” “da Vinci” “Auden” “Thoreau” “Tolkien” “Turing” “Rodin” “Turner” “Jung” “Picasso” “Kusturica” “Chomsky” will die away.
What remains, in a postmodern society inoculated against rebels and outliers, is science debased into corporate-government data collection, trapped in the straitjacket of credential consensus; creativity, ephemeral and repetitive, subordinated to the dictates of propaganda, trivial cash grabs and crowd control; and the hubbub of a vast disenchanted, disenfranchised, disempowered precariat class on a brainless roller-coaster of outrage highs and confusion lows. Despite the noise, the society will be nothing more than a cultural silence.
The momentum of endemic ignorance becomes irreversible if left unchallenged. Without the free flow of artistry, individuality and unfettered genius, there will be no challenge. The banal trinity of proletariat, bureaucrat and plutocrat will be society most closely resembling a bacteria colony, pervasive, perpetuating and silent. This is the logical endpoint of postmodern corporatism and though its inertia may run through multiple generations – whether it’s slowly ossifying or rapidly exhausting the ecosystem, or both – the silent culture has only one possible denouement: irrelevance, in the bigger picture of human history, and extinction.
“There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah.”
Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)
Short Modernist Bibliography (English translations):
- Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce (1916)
- Ulysses, James Joyce (1922)
- Jacob’s Room, Virginia Woolf (1922)
- Public Opinion, Walter Lippman (1922)
- The Waves, Virginia Woolf (1927)
- To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf (1931)
- The World As I See It, Albert Einstein (1949)
- Mythologies, Roland Barthes (1957)
- Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov (1962)
- Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan (1964)
- The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord (1964)
- The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer (1970)
- Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky and Edward S Herman (1988)
- The Whole Woman, Germaine Greer (1999)
- Speech and Phenomena, Jacques Derrida (1967)
- Death of the Author, Roland Barthes (1967)
- The Pleasure Of The Text, Roland Barthes (1973)
- Of Grammatology, Jacques Derrida (1976)
- The Semantic Challenge, Roland Barthes (1985)
- The History of Madness, The Birth of the Clinic, The Order of Things, Michel Foucault (1961, 1963, 1966)
- Atomised, The Map and the Territory, Michel Houllebecq (1998, 2010)
- The Death of the Liberal Class, Chris Hedges (2005)
- Hate Inc, Matt Taibbi (2016)
- Permanent Record, Edward Snowden (2011)