Why I am Not a Postmodernist
Edward R. Friedlander, M.D.

I'm an honest doctor. I have chosen science over prejudice, health over disease, opportunity over slavery, and love and kindness over mean-minded make-believe.

There was a time when people were openly grateful to scientists and physicians who dedicated their lives to making us healthier and happier. There was a time when it was fashionable to express appreciation for the system of government and the practice of dispassionate inquiry which have brought us the unparalleled health, freedom, and prosperity which we enjoy today.

There was a time when people thought that a proposition was "valid" or "true" if, and only if, it ultimately squared with the observable world around us.

There was a time when people thought that respecting the beliefs and experiences of others, even when they differed from your own, was the mark of an educated, decent person.

There was a time when people thought it was right to judge each person by what he or she had done as an individual, rather than for their race, skin color, ancestry, religion, gender, sexual preference, or anything else.

There was a time when people enjoyed discovering how much we all have in common, and how most of us wanted the same things despite the superficial differences. There was even a time when we thought the best way to overcome misunderstanding, prejudice, and hate was by means of reason, common sense, clear-thinking, and good-will.

We called this being scientific. We called this being rational. We called this being enlightened. W e called this being liberal.

We called this being modern.

I am concerned here only with the use of the word "postmodernism" as it usually gets used in rhetoric, not with its use in real epistemology.

Real postmodernism is a thoughtful study of the limits of scientific inquiry, the origins and perpetuation of unreasonable prejudices, and the ambiguities of language. Even though I am not a professional philosopher, I appreciate real postmodernism as far as I'm able to understand it.

By contrast...

Here is my collection of "postmodernism" links from the "Net."

Postmodern Culture. In the 1990's, it was the principal site, and a good place to start. There is even a search engine. It's no longer public. See NOTE 1.

Postmodernism by Michael Fegan. [Link is now down.] "Postmodernism calls into question enlightenment values such as rationality, truth, and progress, arguing that these merely serve to secure the monolithic structure of modern capitalistic society by concealing or excluding any forces that might challenge its cultural dominance."

Link is fiinally down (2011). Technoculture. Joseph Dumit's review of another writer's essay. "The Actors are Cyborgs, Nature is Coyote, and the Geography is Elsewhere." This is the first site I found which mentioned Sandra Harding, whose book "The Science Question in Feminism" accused Einstein's relativity of being gender-biased, and called Newton's "Principia" a "rape manual."

Postmodernism and Health: [link is now down] "The body of the patient is inscribed by discourses of professional 'care' as well as by pain and suffering." The author takes psychiatry at its most unscientific as the prototype for scientific medicine.

Chantal Mouffe [link is now down.] She is against democracy, and is the editor of "Gramsci and Marxist Theory", "Deconstruction and Pragmatism", and so forth. When this page went up, the link was to a review of her 1992 book, in which she envisioned a postmodernist future dominated by minority group identities and minority group grievances. "The book represents not just a discussion of the concept of democratic citizenship, but the epitaph for it." Now down, we learn from her current site that "she is currently elaborating a non-rationalist approach to political theory."

Stanford Humanities Review 4(1): Link is now down. Nobel laureate Herbert Simon thinks that great literature is about the common experiences and concerns of all human beings. Professor Simon also cites scientific work that he thinks shows that humans do, indeed, all have certain understandings in common. Here are the postmodernists' outraged responses, accusing Professor Simon of massive ignorance, bigotry and heartlessness. See NOTE 5.

"Anything Goes". Link is now down. Paul Fayerabend and his friends complain about scientific theories being counter-intuitive, people who ask for "clarity, precision, objectivity, and truth" are "impoverishing [history] in order to please their lower instincts", "scientific theories are only justified by their own standards and not by some objective criteria", the impossibility of predicting weather accurately (ever heard of "chaos theory", Paul?), "let's talk about Galileo's politics again", etc., etc.

Michel Foucault A man who denied being a postmodernist, but who typifies the mind-set, especially when he told Noam Chomsky that such ideas as responsibility, sensitivity, justice, and law are merely "tokens of ideology" that completely lacked legitimacy. His ideas about the nature of love (i.e., it is about dominance and sex) cost him his life. Foucault at his best focuses on now-historical sub-science (lots of GOOD examples from old-fashioned psychiatry) being misrepresented as knowledge by cliques seeking political advantage. Unfortunately, Foucault and his followers have generalized this to genuine (empirical, experimental) science. His prescription is radical skepticism. Mine is free and honest inquiry.

Contemporary Philosophy, Critical Thought, and Postmodern Thought. Philosophy links from U. of Colorado.

Postmodern Nausea. "In time's absence what is new renews nothing; what is present is not contemporary; what is present presents nothing, but represents itself and belongs henceforth and always to return. It isn't, but comes back again." -- Derrida. The background of this site is a sketch of the large intestine, perhaps for the obvious reason. Link is now down

Radical Afrocentrism: "Socrates and Cleopatra were black". "The ancient Egyptians were black like Malcolm X, flew in gliders and had psychic powers". "Melanin is a superconductor", etc., etc.). You'll find this stuff persuasive if and only if "truth is whatever your grievance-group says it is." This is typical of "postmodernist" changing the ground-rules of rational inquiry. David Muhammad's speech at Harvard. "A Brief History of Afrocentric Scholarship": "As can be discerned from this brief paper, Afrocentrism is not a new movement promoted by egomaniacal pseudoscientists." Lavishes praise on Yosef ben-Jochannan, whose made the famous claim that Aristotle stole his works from the black people's library at Alexandria, which was not even built until after Aristotle's death. Asked by Mary Lefkowitz about this, "Dr. ben-Jochannan was unable to answer the question, and said that he resented the tone of the inquiry." ("Out of Egypt", cited below). Professor Lefkowitz's subsequent scholarly examination of the claim that Greek philosophy came from Egypt has been "deconstructed" to make her a "racist". "Beethoven was black": The Marxist Review of Books had a discussion of this; the link is now down.

Postmodernism: The Drinking Game

Danny Yee, a real scientist, on postmodernism: "In general, when 'postmodernism' is restricted to literary criticism and cultural studies, it is a lot more reasonable."

"How to Deconstruct Almost Anything" by Chip Morningstar. His joyful hoax, in which he delivered meaningless gibberish to a "cultural studies" audience and met with approval and agreement.

"How to Speak and Write Postmodern". Also here. "At some point someone may actually ask you what you're talking about. This risk faces all those who would speak postmodern and must be carefully avoided."

L'Isle de Gilligan -- Parody

Random Post-Modernist Essay Generator Writes postmodernist double-talk using a computer-algorithm. Compare its productions to the stuff at "Postmodern Culture".

It's a fact. People want to believe lies that make them feel intellectually and spiritually superior to others.

At its best, contemporary postmodernism is a reaction against all the stupid people who pretend to have answers to everything ("meta-narratives"). Science, rightly used, does the same thing.

In its more typical forms, contemporary postmodernism is a sustained attack on the three hopes of the "modern" era:

·  the "modernist" hope that we could use rigorous and disciplined study to understand nature, and use the new knowledge for our common benefit;

·  the "modernist" hope that people from different backgrounds and cultures could live together in a democratic society, enjoying economic and personal freedom;

·  the "modernist" hope that people around the world could discover our common ground, and overcome hatred, prejudice, or misunderstanding; and that sharing our literature and other works of art would help us do this.

The "postmodern" university gurus talk about the "dead white males" who produced the canon of literature that we have treasured over the centuries as cruel, oppressive, stupid, and deeply wrong-headed. But a fair reading of the classics -- even before the enlightenment -- will reveal a huge range of ideas -- many of them far ahead of their times -- about the rights of minorities, women, and the poor. There are many deeply sympathetic portrayals of LGBT culture and people, and appeals both for religious tolerance and religious skepticism. And no culture other than the much-maligned "European" (including America and Australia/New Zealand) has ever made a systematic effort to understand and value the other cultures of the world. Anyone who tells you otherwise is taking an obviously false political stance to deceive you.

Literature is interesting and helpful mostly because it portrays the ambiguities of life. Derrida's "discovery" that there are "multiple meanings in every text, even unknown to the author" should come as no surprise to any thinking human being -- the only thing that is surprising is that he and so many others went on to talk about this in reams of unintelligible jargon.

Science, at it is, or should be, practiced, is the serious business of looking at the world of nature as it really is, taking elaborate precautions against self-deception and one's own prejudices. As such, it has proved its power again and again. Like it or not, we owe our health and longevity to the public-health initiatives and therapeutic techniques which scientific knowledge has given us. Like it or not, our planet sustains six billion people only because of scientific agriculture. Like it or not, the postmodernists can post their stuff on the "Net" only because of our much-hated "technology".

Postmodernism grew out of literary criticism and the focus on the ambiguities of language. I understand how this applies to the language of literature, advertising, and propaganda. I understand all too well how this applies to the "knowledge" of sub-sciences like sociology, psychology (outside some narrow lab applications), and education, where real experiments are (regrettably) almost impossible, successful theories are (regrettably) few or nonexistent, and where ideology and politics dominate in the public arena and do tremendous harm. (I'll stand by this controversial statement, and believe that most readers who bring their own real-life experience will agree. In fact, I've received appreciative notes from academic psychologists and students of culture who deplore the misapplication of their subjects by ideologues. Here, I'm with Michel Foucault completely, and my own god-awful experiences with "expert" after "expert" underlies much of my appreciation for this great thinker.) And works of literature are not produced or read in a social or cultural vacuum. The latter is the focus of today's literary criticism at its most intriguing.

Language is not transparent, and one must choose one's words carefully for the sake of clarity. And I am at a loss to understand how the language of science ("centimeter", "oxygen", "hemoglobin", "six") and fundamental human experience ("This is blue", "I itch", "I feel cold") shares this indeterminacy.

Postmodernists complain that science is a cultural prejudice, and/or a tool invented by the current elite to maintain power, and/or only one "way of knowing" among many, with no special privilege. For postmodernists, science is "discourse", one system among many, maintained by a closed community as a means of holding onto power, and ultimately referential only to itself.

No reasonable person would deny that politics and the profit-motive do influence what science studies, and who gets to use the laboratories. But it seems to me that the feature of real-world science which distinguishes it from other forms of description is rigorous measurement and the experimental method, which we can apply to atoms, to the galactic radiation, to our bodies, and to the medical techniques of indigenous peoples. All scientific knowledge is tentative, and scientific statements are judged by their predictive value. (Postmodernists themselves sometimes say, "What's true is what works.") As scientists look at nature, science corrects itself over time, and all scientists thrive on finding flaws in one another's works. Like it or not, science works. Superstition doesn't.

More seriously, postmodernists blame science for Hitler's atrocities and the other evils perpetrated against humankind. This is noxious falsehood. Every tyrant uses the language of science (who doesn't, nowadays?) But oppression happens and continues because people choose to believe (or pretend to believe) ugly lies. If anything will free us from this, it's knowledge of the world as it really is. And if my own experience has taught me anything, it's that reason, not make-believe, is the best way of dealing with the real evils of our world. After all, it was superior science and understanding, translated into superior military power, that gave the free world the victory over Hitler.

We still hear a great deal today about "multiculturalism" and "relative values". But everybody that I know, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or religion, seems to want the same basic things. This begins with health, reasonable personal liberty and security, and a reasonable chance to have one's initiative rewarded. Postmodernists talk about being "dehumanized" by science and technology. If they really believed this, they would trade their academic positions for the lives of subsistence farmers in the world's poor nations, or (if they could) the short, sickly, miserable lives of chattel-serfs in the ages "before technocracy". There they will discover that what people want isn't "cultural integrity" or "multicultural sensitivity", but health, food, safety, and a reasonable opportunity to choose one's own course through life. Those who would deny them these basic human needs aren't the scientists. It is the tyrants and ideologues of the right and the left.

Of course, it's silly to believe that science gives ultimate answers about our place in the cosmos, or what things mean, or what's right and wrong. But as far as I can tell, the best way to make a good decision is to understand a situation as it really is, and the best way to do mischief is to choose make-believe instead.

I believe the material to which I've linked this page speaks for itself, even though it is written in a peculiar doublespeak that is hard for the uninitiated to understand. Postmodernist writings consist largely of effusive praise for each other's works, and obvious appeals to the prejudices of their liberal audience. Since the constituency is liberals, there is a preoccupation with how wealth and opportunities are to be redistributed by the government, and the question of how wealth and opportunities are produced and defended gets ignored. A satirical website [now down] about the postmodernist work ethic is a blank page.

The more recent writings are less hostile to science itself. There are even writers at the "Postmodern Culture" site who look to popular science writers to buttress postmodernism's attack on the supposed monolithic ideology of classical science. Harvard's paleontologist, Dr. Gould, is a favorite; unlike the creationists of the 1980's, the postmodernists who take Dr. Gould as an authority seem to really want to understand him. Alongside this are the totally-discredited Duesberg claims about the cause of AIDS. In between are various environmentalist and social-science polemics papers. You'll need to decide on their merit; it's interesting to see postmodernists using the evidence of empirical science after all, when it suits them.

As a visitor to "Postmodern Culture" who worked hard at literary criticism as a college undergraduate, I'm struck by the lack of internal self-criticism at the site. In college, I examined empirical evidence to decide whether Milton really drew on particular neoplatonists in creating his "Chaos" scene, whether John the Baptist was a conscious forerunner of Jesus, whether the Wellhausen hypothesis of the origin of Deuteronomy was true, and what Shakespeare was trying to tell us in "Antony and Cleopatra". I examined the ideas of others, compared them with the facts of the real world, and had the same done to me. As a scientist-physician, I have thrived on finding the errors in others' work. By contrast, the world of postmodernism shows the same lack of internal criticism that I've come to expect from pseudoscientists and charlatans of all stripes.

Somebody has to say "No!" to all this. So far as I can tell, I'm the first person on the "Net" to do so in an accessible way.

If you are a postmodernist, I'm fully in support of your appreciation for your neighbor's culture, your concern about the future of our planet, and your care for people who are genuinely oppressed. I enjoy the great diversity of humankind, in our food, our dress, our music, our literature, our sexuality, and our forms of spiritual expression.

I am only asking you to reconsider (1) whether empirical science should have a privileged place in your thinking about how the world of nature really is, and (2) whether western-style democracy isn't the best way of getting what you and your neighbors really want. And if you love books as I do, ask yourself (3) whether some passage in literature has touched you in a special way, reaching something in you that is universal to humankind, something "beyond the text", beyond all cultural prejudice.

Especially, look at the world around you. Most scientists, most white people, most men, and most European-Americans, are good, sensible people who care about the world in which we live. Science isn't a conspiracy of power-hungry monsters against the human race. The real enemy is superstition, ignorance, and silly lies. And if you live in America, Canada, Australia/New Zealand, or Western Europe, most people in the world would gladly trade places with you.

Learn about the world as it really is. Health and friendship!

NOTE 1. Postmodernists typically cite Hitler's atrocities and the evil A-bombing of Japan as the prototypical outcomes of science and technology. ("Genocide! Mass murder! Let's talk about the death camps again!") I used the search engine to find the references to Stalin. Peter Baker [another Postmodern Culture link now down], who is against "liberal democracy", speaks admiringly of an old French "analysis that seriously attempts to contextualize Stalin's violence by comparison to the violence present in liberal democracies", and explains that this "shows a need to understand the argument for liberal democracy within a specifically postwar historical context." Neil Larsen [another Postmodern Culture link now down], notes that "postmodern philosophy normally refrains from open anti-communism, preferring to pay lip service to 'socialism' even while making the necessary obeisances to the demonologies of 'Stalin' may make it appear as some sort of a 'left' option." No kidding, Neil. Noam Chomsky [another Postmodern Culture link now down], (no postmodernist, at this site) mentions Stalin and his "bureaucracy" as bad Marxists, not left-wing enough. [Link is now down]: Eric Petersen presents a history of dialectical materialism. Marxism is "a guide to human liberation by social revolution.... (d) Stalinism turned dialectical materialism into an authoritarian state religion. (e) Mao used dialectical materialism to justify Stalinist politics in China. (f) Trotsky used dialectical materialism to misunderstand Stalin's counter-revolution." And so forth. PMC-Talk [another Postmodern Culture link now down], archives contain a single flame, from a Professor Kessler, about folks such as Sartre who fell for Stalinism; he also has the insight to call Lysenkoism "nonsense". Continuing, Kessler [another Postmodern Culture link now down], mentions Stalin's paranoia and his one-time sparring partner Norman Miller asks for "some pm words on such matters as Stalin's murders and even more the bloody complicity of most of the left in these events." The only contributor to take up the challenge said he didn't know which was worse, right-wing tyrants or left-wing tyrants, and was too preoccupied with his own liberal agenda to care. wonders whether Stalin's rejection of "modern art" influenced Tom Wolfe. The bottom line is, despite all the postmodern rhetoric about "genocide", and "mass murder" in modern times, one could read the entire contents of the principal postmodernist site and never learn that Stalin the Communist killed a single person.

The word gratitude appears only a few times at the Postmodern Culture site, and never with respect to science, medicine, or democracy. First, a reviewer of "Schindler's List" [another Postmodern Culture link now down], talks about how appropriate the gratitude shown to Oscar Schindler was. Nearby, you can find "The Fairy Tale of The Just War" [another Postmodern Culture link now down], ("The hero receives acclaim, along with the gratitude of the victim and the community.") So how do you think the free world finally overcame Hitler? Apparently, gratitude is a virtue or a fairy-tale, depending on whether the postmodernists like (Schindler) or dislike (the free world) the recipient.

NOTE 2. It is obvious to me that people who are willfully deceiving the public stay off the Internet. Pseudoscience targeted to exploit blacks ("melanin science", "the Portland Baseline Essays") has almost completely disappeared from the 'net. (See Gross & Levitt "Higher Superstition", Johns Hopkins 1994 for a review of the "Baseline Essays" author's falsified credentials; despite his claim to be a distinguished research scientist, he reportedly has no education past high school, and no record of scientific publication.) American Federation of Teachers president Albert Shanker says "It uses pseudoscience to promote a political agenda. At the same time, it cheats students of a chance to find out what real science is like, and it deprives them of a foundation on which to build future learning. This would be bad news for any of our youngsters; it is criminal for poor, minority students." Revisionist Discoveries by Anti-Racist Historians (link now down) quotes the Baseline Essays: "Afrika was the epitome of civilizations in times when western Europe lived in a state of savagery and barbarity featuring filth, sexual disease, incest, homosexuality, bestiality, and anarchy."

NOTE 3. These are the folks who spent a million dollars of tax money to generate learning objectives for American History. The resulting document did not mention George Washington as our first president, mentioned Abraham Lincoln only as a speechmaker, and was utterly silent on America's contribution to science (no mention of Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright Brothers, or what they did). Yet there were nineteen separate references to McCarthyism, and reverse racial, class, and gender prejudices permeate the work. Check out the main site and its links yourself. The influence of postmodernist pseudo-epistemology is obvious. In a site from CT state which is now down. a participant cites thermodynamics against "individualism", and quantum theory "indeterminacy" to explain why it's not worthwhile mentioning the individual heroes and achievements for which most of us are proud and grateful.

NOTE 4. There was one essay here (now down) on the relationship between the Chilean astronomers and Pinochet's brutal repression of the people who brought about Chile's catastrophic experiment with Marxism, many of whom sought a Castro-style communist state in Chile. The author considers Chile's observatories to be collaborators in Pinochet's human-rights violations merely for remaining open ("the ideological indifference of scientific value-neutrality"), and frames an analogy between astronomy and torture: "Astrophysics, which itself is a will to pure fatuity, compels the universe to confess its secrets." (NOTE: I'll stand by my assessment of Allende as a well-intentioned man. After his disastrous seizure of the assets of the American corporations and his defiance of his own Congress and the subsequent constitutional crisis, he lost control of his own Left. A civil war and possible left-wing tyranny were averted at an awful human cost. This is a tragedy which needs to be retold. Like me, Allende was a pathologist with a social conscience.)

NOTE 5. Typical is the incident reviewed by Mark Turner [link is down]. When cognitive scientists discover, based on their experiments, that human beings everywhere agree on the meaning of "This is blue", the postmodernist reply is that "human beings are a recent invention, a wrinkle in our knowledge that will inevitably be displaced as new wrinkles arise." (Mark Turner's written me, 1/1/97 to point out that he's describing the postmodernists, and is himself a cognitive scientist. Shoulda been obvious... Sorry, Mark! Thanks for speaking out for understanding and reason.) Also typical is Suvir Kaul [link down], apparently thinks that the purpose of literary criticism is to promote partisan positions in the struggle for world ideological domination, and thereby solve "the problems of racism, sexism, economic inequality, and lack of equal opportunity."

NOTE 6: "Whether you're talking about the manifestations of universal reason in the final solution of the Holocaust or you're talking about the manifestation of universal reason in nuclear arms, there seems to be something inherently violent here." The authors are not the first members of the religious right to: (1) assert that Hitler's atrocities are the logical outcome of the Enlightenment and the triumph of science; (2) claim to champion the poor and oppressed against evil, secular science and technology; (3) claim that science etc. pretends to have answers to everything ("...the assumption by means of universal reason that Western culture has the truth, and that necessarily marginalizes..."). But these two are apparently the first to identify as "Postmodern" their familiar right-wing overstatement of the limits of rational inquiry. And while I appreciate your Christian zeal, gentlemen, your statements are on a level with the creationist ("neck of the giraffe") material elsewhere on your server. The root of tyranny, lawlessness, over-population, racial hatreds, world hunger, avoidable disease, and rank stupidity isn't "universal reason" or "meta-narratives" or "modernism". It's something inherent in human nature. Mainstream Christians like myself still talk about sin.

E-Mail to: scalpel_blade@yahoo.com

No texting or chat messages, please. Ordinary e-mails are welcome.

To date (12-20-97), I have received over 170 expressions of strong support and encouragement from academicians and students, one polite reminder from a real philosopher that "postmodernism" is also the name of one of the two major schools of contemporary epistemology (this correspondent regrets the use of the word by "English departments" to express "angst-laden Marxism"), one obscenity-laced personal characterization (too much truth here, Karen?), a very long attack on my character from two graduate students in philosophy (I have a "boring personality" and am "enslaved to modernist thinking"), one complaint from a research scientist that he did not understand what I was saying about Stalin, a remark from a Finnish sociologist that my page was "highly offensive" without further explanation, a reminder from a professor in Germany that Stalin joined the free world in overcoming Hitler, a few angry folks who accused me of being stupid and pretending to have answers to everything, one ideologue who insisted vehemently there was no basis whatever for preferring one "way of knowing" over another (he did not answer my inquiry about whether he'd go to a dentist or a Christian Science practitioner if he got a toothache), two correspondents who (as it turned out) agreed both with my appreciation of "postmodernism at its best" and rejected its imbecilities, two notes from Bill Clearlake ("Beethoven was black. There, I've said it."), and no attempt at any other kind of reply from any postmodernist. If postmodernism were true, I would think that somebody would (by now) have told me how to deconstruct "six", "hemoglobin", and "I itch".

The most interesting anecdote so far came from a doctoral student in the humanities, who asked to remain anonymous: "I have just gone through a huge battle in my 'supposed' doctoral seminar [at a major university], where I pointed out some of the fallacious logic in Postmodernist rhetoric. The professor, ___ ___, a PM author, could only respond with 'F--- you.' A very literate thing to say... ". Joshua Hersh, one of the students, described his own course at Ohio State University. "This one is called 'Values, Science and Technology in a Global Perspective.' We learn about things like the particle physicist's subculture in which their particle beams represent a phallic symbol. We also learn about how all science is socially influenced and knowledge does not really exist (epistemological relativism). Finally, we learn that the people in the class that have bad vision are cyborgs because they augment their vision with eyeglasses."

I also ran (Jan. 15, 1996) a MEDLINE literature search for "feminist theory". I found 52 references. Of these, 50 were postmodern-style rhetoric, ranging from common-sense-common decency stuff to the familiar we-hate-men stuff. There was a large representation from the nursing literature, including an exhortation to "include feminist theory as a major component of the nursing curriculum." Only two were empirical studies, both of sexual violence. In each case, the predictions of "feminist theory" turned out to be totally wrong. Try it yourself; there's MEDLINE links nearby. In science, any "theory" which has, even once, failed to show predictive value must be modified or discarded. That's the key difference between science and politics.

The conservative anti-science, anti-empirical, anti-common-sense movement is every bit as vigorous and nasty as its liberal counterpart. These people have not (yet?) discovered postmodernism as a rhetorical device. I'd welcome your suggested titles for a essay to stand as a counterpart this one.

Other people who are happy not to be postmodernists, either:

·  Alan D. Sokal, a physicist at NYU, perpetrated the now-famous hoax on "Social Text", which published his nonsense article ("quantum gravity has implications for 'political goals and strategies'"). Read about it in Newsweek, June 3, 1996. Dr. Sokal explains, "The editors were oblivious to the articles illogic. [Their] acceptance of [it] exemplifies the intellectual arrogance of Theory -- postmodern literary theory." A Norman Levitt (math, Rutgers) is also quoted: "The left has lost itself in a lot of crummy theory and bad philosophy. Science studies is not the only realm where this occurs, but it's the one in which people's predilection to make asses of themselves is easily exposed." Dr. Sokal continues, "I could throw their language around even though I didn't know what it means. Which suggests to me that maybe it doesn't mean anything." Welcome to the club, Alan!

Richard Dawkins -- "Postmodernism Disrobed." Highly recommended. "Suppose you are an intellectual imposter with nothing to say, but with strong ambitions to succeed in academic life...." Published in Nature 9 July 1998, vol 39, pp 141-3.

·  Postmodernism Disrobed: E=mc2 is sexist because it gives "privilege" to the speed of light. Link is now down.

·  The Nation ran "Pomolotov Cocktail", a comment on Dr. Sokal's hoax from "The Nation". Even genuine liberals are disgusted by postmodernism. Welcome to the club, Katha!

Dr. Sokol's famous hoax happened about two years after my page went up.

·  A workbook for Evangelicals, including a section on "Assessing Postmodernism" which one does not have to be Christian to appreciate. It is VERY refreshing to hear an Evangelical say of postmodernists, "They exaggerate the difficulties involved in scientific objectivity and neutrality." Highly recommended.


Link is now down: Camille Paglia, LesBiGay activist. "Culture is an achievement made more in opposition to nature than in concert with it. Nature is not the pretty innocence of Greenpeace agitprop or Bambi... Culture requires overcoming nature, creating a human realm apart from the natural, that provides a context and the hubris to paint, write novels or songs, fall in love, die for one's beliefs.... If we are whatever we say we are..., if our freedom consists in constructing an identity all our own, if there is no larger historical continuity, then it is tempting to define ourselves to serve only our immediate interests." Nicely put.

·  Postmodernism in Daily Life Christian (Evangelical Protestant) site summarizes postmodernism as pseudoscience and goofball left-wing politics justifying itself by a radical skepticism. It's pleasant to see these people (apparently soft-creationists) with a generally good overall understanding and appreciation for "western science".

·  Postmodernity [was at Brown U., link is now down]: "Whereas modernity was characterized by creativity and production, energy and meaning, the postmodern world signals the death of these values." From liberal Brown, even!

·  Barbara Ehrenreich in "The Nation", not noted for being conservative. "No sooner had the word 'experiment' passed her lips than the hands shot up. Audience members pointed out that the experimental method is the brainchild of white Victorian males. Ellsworth agreed that white Victorian males had done their share of damage in the world but noted that, nonetheless, their efforts had led to the discovery of DNA. This short-lived dialogue between paradigms ground to a halt with the retort: 'You believe in DNA?'... This climate of intolerance, often imposed by scholars associated with the left, ill suits an academic tradition rhetorically committed to human freedom. What's worse, it provides intellectual backdrop for a political outlook that sees no real basis for common ground among humans of different sexes, races and cultures."

·  Link is now down: Lee Campbell, Ph.D. on the postmodernist hostility to science. Quotes anti-science postmodernist Paul Feyerabend's complaint that "he is still not permitted to demand that his children learn magic rather than science in school."

·  Ohio Board of Regents [link is now down]: "There is one component of today's university life (by no means the major component) that springs from campus thought and behavior, and not from the larger external marketplace. In this component there are extremes of political correctness and ideological faddishness such as relativism or deconstructionism, espousing the belief that no such thing as truth exists -- only how you perceive it. Try setting up a system of fiscal support for universities under that ideology."

·  Mary Lefkowitz on Afrocentrism [link is now down]. "Bernal argues that Greek philosophy was "massively borrowed" form Egypt, others have alleged that Aristotle stole his philosophy form the library in Alexandria (even though the library was only built after his death), and that Socrates and Cleopatra were black. These contentions, and others like them, are apparently being taught as truth in a course on 'Africans in Antiquity' at Wellesley College. When I mentioned to the then-dean of Wellesley that there was no evidence to back these claims, she assured me that the instructor of the Africans in Antiquity course had his view of ancient history and I had mine. Another colleague insisted that the issue was unimportant."

·  Radical Afrocentrism. Ibrahim Sundiata, an Afrocentrist who tries to regain credibility by urging his colleagues to be truthful; The "Beethoven was black" sites have mostly disappeared from the 'web (there was this incident at Stanford...); I'll let you find the remaining few yourself.

·  Jonn J. Reilly (link is now down) -- Review of "The Higher Superstition"

·  Lynn Cheney -- the former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities (!) -- on why "culture" no longer makes sense. Lots on the National History Standards.

·  Eric Walker -- see his page on R A Lafferty

·  Frank Kermode was among my favorites when I was at Brown

·  Bad writing contest -- journal Philosophy and Literature

·  Vaclev Havel, president of the Czech republic and hero of the liberation from Soviet domination, on "The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World". Urges people to set aside both cultural differences and the reliance on "modern" institutions. "The Declaration of Independence states that the Creator gave man the right to liberty. It seems man can realize that liberty only if he does not forget the One who endowed him with it."

The Sisters of Mercy. "Postmodernism finds itself in a vicious circle of cynicism and disappointment. It has no hope to break the circle; it doesn't admit to knowing what's beyond the circle. If that's a 'reasonable' acceptance of the fact that so many citizens are ignorant of the past and have no immediate prospect of a better future, then the Sisters reserve the right to be unreasonable. And angry. Anyway, postmodernism doesn't offer you the kind of fun which satisfies. The Sisters just might."

Michael Brannigan, from the Center for the Study of Ethics, La Roche College, Pittsburgh PA, writes (Health Care Analysis 8: 321, 2000): "If postmodernism is losing its grip, it may well be due to its cognitive nihilism, that is, its thesis regarding the corruptibility of objective standards. This thesis cannot be either verified or non-verified. It cannot be refuted on its own terms. In this way, postmodernism self-destructs since it forecloses dialogue and debate in incessant swirls of question-begging. Moreover, the consequences of applying this postmodernist thesis to ethics in healthcare are especially pernicious when it precludes the ability to make legitimate cross-cultural moral judgments about the plight of Hindu widows, or of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban movement, of or young girls and women subjected to female circumcision."

Mike Adams: "Someone once told me that an idea that fails repeatedly might just be wrong. Why can't seemingly educated people abandon such obviously wrong ideas?"

Michel Foucalt -- New Criterion, 1993. Ultimately, he denied love and kindness both in society and in individual relationships.

Michel Foucault -- New Criterion. "What can we say about Foucault’s conclusions, inseparable from his long anti-Enlightenment campaign? We know very well what alternatives are left by the dismissal of representative democracy and investigative science. They abound in the history of suf- ferings that Foucault chose either to overlook or blithely to prefer, for others, to the horrors of positivist regulation. Should our medical establishment revert, then, to the methods of a Swaziland “healer”—practices that are, in context, probably no less intrusive than our own? The wrenching tragedy is that Foucault, a probing and compendious intellect both inevitable and necessary in the postmodern debate, saw his own productivity cut short, his life ended in 1984 at the age of fifty-seven, by a virus which will be conquered only through the very procedures he most despised. Patient interviews, blood tests, prophylactic measures, laboratory experimentation, drug trials, contagion studies, sexual continence -- these are the, on balance, not so terrible price we must now pay for public safety and personal health. No shaman’s chant, no casting of bones will cure AIDS."

Paula Simons, National Post, 1999, on the Bad Writing Contest. "Then there's the current fashion in literary theory, inspired by French intellectuals like Barthes and Foucault. Stripped of bafflegab, their ideas are simple enough. You can't really understand a novel, a painting, a film, or a history text, unless you take into account the social and political context in which it was created. You can't just look at rhyme scheme or brush technique. You have to ask how sex, culture, money, power and ideology have influenced, both the artist's work, and your own reaction to it. True. No one writes, or reads, in a cultural vacuum. But many academics have become so obsessed with cultural analysis, they've stopped writing about, or teaching about, the culture itself."

On May 23, 2005, I received an e-mail which I very much appreciated.

Hi Dr. Friedlander. My name is ____ ____. I'm a second year medical student at the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine. I found your website while searching for some pathology info for the upcoming COMLEX. While looking around I found your article regarding postmodernism. My undergraduate majors were English and Philosophy, with my senior honors thesis dealing with postmodern literary theory (specifically with revisionist history in literature).

Anyway, since leaving undergrad I have often thought of my education in postmodernism (and relativism by default) and wondered, honestly, how I could have been so involved in that idea. As you bring up, it is now hard for me to rationalize the ideas of linguistic relativism prevalent throughout the philosophy. I wish I could remember the specific piece, but I remember an article by Derrida or maybe Robert Detweiler(I believe that's his name... He was at Emory for years) about the lack of certainty in language. The whole point (and I think this gets to the belief that science is based on ambiguities) was that when I say "tree" you might picture a fir or a beech or an oak, while I might picture a pine or cedar. So when you say "anemia" you might mean a specific range of values, while others might just imagine someone with a Hgb of 7. The point of all of this is to say that as I've moved from my philosophical background to one of science, I have come to realize that the postmodern argument is really just an intellectual exercise. It's not applicable or relevant because if it was, communication would fail. Communication might be relative in symbol, but only in things that lack strict definitions like the word "tree" or "air". Things like "oxygen" have specific definitions that eliminate the possibility of interpretation... You either know what an oxygen molecule is with its attributes or you don't. Science (medicine specifically) is not relative. When you say "liver" I picture a normal liver. When you say "cirrhotic liver" I have a good idea of what you mean. Medicine, in my limited experience so far, is about learning the definitions so that relativism in symbol is minimized and ideally eliminated. The point of looking at a thousand normal eardrums first is so that you know that a diseased one is different when you see it.

Noam Chomsky, 2003, on Foucault. "If something can be said simply, say it simply, so that the carpenter next door can understand you. Anything that is at all well understood about human affairs is pretty simple. "

Mark McIntyre, philosophy professor

Paul V. Hartman -- from the far right, but clearly right about postmodernism. "These are the truly disenchanted: coagulated in the academy after having been rejected in the real world, they continue their search for a nihilistic nirvana."

Relativism -- why postmodern relativism is nutty. Scott Harrison, a real philosopher.

Postmodernist Semantics and the Practical Lobster Farmer -- spoof. "In the mid-1970s a generation of French intellectuals, now household names, decided that Marxism had become a bit dull and so cast around for another obscurantist theory to prove their intellectual superiority to the rest of civilisation."

My cyberfriend, Ron Pratt, is a blogger who addresses postmodernism.

    Click here to read about the American Anthropology Association's decision to strip the word "science" from its Long Term Plan
    Click here: On the postmodernist attack on reason, from right and left
    Click here On the absurdity of postmodernist attacks on Enlightenment modernism
    Click here On the good that postmodernism has done for lit crit, and the bad it has done to our regard for truth
James Franklin -- "New Criterion" book review of Richard Brown's book on social construction.

The Science Wars—didn’t they blow over like the bird flu crisis and global cooling? In the 1990s, several books such as Paul Gross and Norman Levitt’s The Higher Superstition and Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont’s Intellectual Impostures exposed some exceptionally crazy claims about science that were rampant in the humanities circles loosely called “postmodernist.” Science, the postmodernists claimed, was “socially constructed,” in the sense that its claims were the outcome of political pressures rather than the result of rational evaluation of evidence. The critics of the postmodernists demonstrated how badly they had understood science and predicted grave consequences if nothing was done about the threat. The postmodernists ignored the challenge and kept producing the same dense academese as before, while occupying the same tenured chairs. Scientists remained blissfully unaware of the dispute and publish the same research as always. Now Richard Brown, a mathematician of mature years at the University of Alabama, has looked over the wall at what the humanities “experts” are saying about science and mathematics and is shocked all over again. Quite rightly, and he has produced a readable, well-argued, and often funny (though shockingly proofread) book about the horrors over the way. But should we care enough to pack our bags for another dispiriting traipse through the twists and turns of this intellectual hall of mirrors? It depends what we care about. If our main interest is the health of science, then there is probably no need to waste our time. The postmodernists’ attacks have washed off science like water off a duck’s back, as they should have, and funding to science does not appear to have been noticeably affected. Science can look after itself. So can professional disciplines like engineering, medicine, business studies, and law, which saw attacks in a similar vein but have not changed noticeably in response to them. If we care about the state of the humanities, things are otherwise. The humanities are where civilization reflects on itself and where it is going, so what happens there sets the tone of thought for the present and even more for the future. It is crucial how young people are inducted into the tradition of culture, so rottenness at the core of what the young encounter in the humanities at universities is of grave concern. What they encounter is, all too often, something like "Privilege, Possibility, and Perversion: Rethinking the Study of Early Modern Sexuality," a 2006 paper in the Journal of Modern History which Brown chooses for its typicality. That is, it is a very standard work on a typical humanities topic, unrelated to science. In the course of setting the scene, however, the fifth sentence on the first page says “[the variability in the study of sex], combined with the poststructuralist efforts of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and others, further undermined claims for scientific truth and objective reality.” The text immediately moves on to other matters. The author plainly believes that the audience will take the demise of scientific truth and objective reality to be a truism, long established and without need of further justification. (There is a footnote to the sentence, which merely lists several whole books by Derrida and Foucault.) The very smugness and casualness of the reference indicates the depth of corruption in the humanities, and reveals the plight of any countersuggestible student who begins to wonder, “Might there be something in claims for scientific truth and objective reality after all?

Postmodernist Judith Butler won a "bad writing prize" for her sentence:

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

She replied that in order to remedy social evils, it's necessary to go beyond comprehensible language that might appeal to common sense.

Stephen K. Roney's essay Postmodernist Prose and George Orwell quotes Orwell (himself a both Marxist and proponent of intellectual freedom):

Pretentious diction and technical sounding words “give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements.” Hence, it is a rhetorical trick; a way for bad ideas to hide. As such, it retards the discourse, on whatever subject.

New York Times -- on how the postmodernists no longer control the Modern Language Association meeting.

Also absent or sparsely represented are the topics that in previous years dominated the meeting and identified the avant garde — multiculturalism, postmodernism, deconstruction, post-colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, racialism, feminism, queer theory, theory in general.

Jacques Derrida -- obituary by the New York Times

Mr. Derrida was known as the father of deconstruction, the method of inquiry that asserted that all writing was full of confusion and contradiction, and that the author's intent could not overcome the inherent contradictions of language itself, robbing texts - whether literature, history or philosophy - of truthfulness, absolute meaning and permanence....

Literary critics broke texts into isolated passages and phrases to find hidden meanings. Advocates of feminism, gay rights, and third-world causes embraced the method as an instrument to reveal the prejudices and inconsistencies of Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Freud and other "dead white male" icons of Western culture....

His presentation fired up young professors who were in search of a new intellectual movement to call their own. In a Los Angeles Times Magazine article in 1991, Mr. Stephens, the journalism professor, wrote: "He gave literature professors a special gift: a chance to confront - not as mere second-rate philosophers, not as mere interpreters of novelists, but as full-fledged explorers in their own right - the most profound paradoxes of Western thought." "If they really read, if they stared intently enough at the metaphors," he went on, "literature professors, from the comfort of their own easy chairs, could reveal the hollowness of the basic assumptions that lie behind all our writings." Other critics found it disturbing that obscure academics could presume to denigrate a Sophocles, Voltaire or Tolstoy by seeking out cultural biases and inexact language in their masterpieces.

Derrida -- Some Conversation in Memoriam

Of Jacques Derrida, of Saussure, or Lacan, there is little to say because they are determinedly incomprehensible. My son is taking a course in critical theory at Colby and it turns out to be largely Derrida et al. I tried reading his text, full of Jaques [Derrida], and the jargon is so densely packed and so arbitrary in its intent and construction, that my wife and I found entire paragraphs unreadable. Try this: Frost's Stopping By Woods contains a criticism of capitalism. The speaker is clearly trespassing. One may arrive at these conclusions only by adopting the absolute postmodern position, that the poem and the poet are entirely separate entities, that once the poem is written, the poet's intent and the poem's context are entirely irrelevant. It becomes clear, then, if one adopts this position, that virtually any translation of any poem is possible, because nothing limits the most radical reading.

There is no limit to the precious and exclusive world conjured up by Europeans because their world is so thoroughly decadent that the extreme and the bizarre are immediately given credence by virtue of these very qualities.

God, I love critics! What would they do if they ever had to work? Or had to defend their propositions with their necks?

Noam Chomsky -- why he is not a postmodernist.

Derrida Obituary Deconstructed -- Hilarious

"Is postmodernism finally on its deathbed?" 2003

The world looked at through the eyes of critical realism is vastly different from that seen through the eyes of postmodernism — for a start, there is a single world again — but there is more to the matter than an irrational leap from one view to the other. For critical realism begins with the awareness that the postmodernist project is fatally flawed.... It is hard to give an overview of the major postmodernist tenets without seeming to fall into parody. All knowledge, scientific knowledge included, is held to be socially constructed through and through. Science is therefore merely one story among others. The world we know is one that is constructed by human discourses, giving us not so much truths as ‘truth-effects’ which may or may not be pragmatically useful. From this point of view, epistemologically speaking, a scientific text is understood as being on a par with a literary text. Further, given that for Derrida language is a self-referential system, all communication is reduced to the model of an avant-garde poem in which all meaning is indefinitely deferred.... A denial of realism can take two forms: the first is to accept the possibility of there being an objective reality but to deny that we are in a position to have knowledge of it; the second — more typically postmodern — is to see reality as entirely composed of our discourses about it.... Critical realism, then, rescues us from the postmodernist nightmare and restores us to reality. We cannot manage without a concept of truth. There is (as most of us thought all along) a pre-existing external reality about which it is the job of science to tell us. True, we must be cautious about claims to objective reality, alert to ideological distortions, and aware that the world is a messier, more complicated place than the accounts of physicists would suggest. This does not mean that such claims cannot plausibly be made. A central plank of critical realism is that science can no longer be considered as just another myth or story....

The Straight Dope -- "What is semiotics useful for?"

Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam. Bruno Latour, the French sociologist of science who once said Ramses II could not have died of tuberculosis because the tubercle bacillus had not been discovered until 1882, comes to his senses, questions the fundamental assumptions on which he had based his career, and turns his back on "critique". "Do you see why it feels so good to be a 'critical mind'? You're always right!" Thank you, Professor Latour. Highly recommended.

Anthropology and the Rhetorical Reproduction of Postmodernism -- Albert Doja. Finally an academician has the courage to brave political correctness and show that Derrida was a mud-slinger and liar.

In a now much-read critique, Derrida claimed to show the weakness and the supposed contradictions of Lévi-Strauss’s interpretation of writing and his characterization of modern industrial society by the pathology of written communication. Lévi-Strauss is tweaked however for everything at odds with what is normally understood as Lévi-Straussian analysis. It is my contention in this article to argue that, by misconstruing Lévi-Strauss’s actual theoretical and epistemological contribution to general knowledge, Derrida’s reading of Tristes Tropiques is exemplary and influential in that it joins together all the essential didactic elements of ‘deconstructionist’ criticism, and seems to be what exactly ‘lit-crit’ deconstructionism is all about, which in the last analysis turns into an arrogant scholastics that only ignorance or deliberate misinformation could allow.

The Shrink from Hell -- Lacan

Future historians trying to account for the institutionalised fraud that goes under the name of ‘Theory’ will surely accord a central place to the influence of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. He is one of the fattest spiders at the heart of the web of muddled not-quite-thinkable-thoughts and evidence-free assertions of limitless scope which practitioners of theorrhoea have woven into their version of the humanities. Much of the dogma central to contemporary Theory came from him: that the signifier dominates over the signified; that the world of words creates the world of things; that the ‘I’ is a fiction based upon an Oedipalised negotiation of the transition from mirror to symbolic stages; and so on.

Critical Theory -- answers.com

The most criticized weakness of critical theory is its failure to engage in what many writers would regard as genuine ethical or political argument: only very rarely do critical theorists offer reasoned alternatives to capitalism, democracy, or ‘positivist’ science, which are among their most frequent targets. Nor do they clarify what would count as acceptable criteria for the resolution of such arguments. -- Lincoln Allison
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Real philosophers. See how much you can figure out. "Rhetoric" means slinging mud rather than reasoning. "Intersubjective communication" means different people really trying to understand each other. "The paradox of self-referentiality" is a real problem in real philosophy -- words do depend on each other, but it would seem to be a fallacy to say that we cannot use them to communicate with each other about the world.

That postmodernists openly respond to Habermas is due to the fact that he takes postmodernism seriously and does not, like other critics, reject it as mere nonsense.

Life is not a dream -- review of two books criticizing social construction.

What ever happened to reason? -- postmodernism as irrational, intolerant, left-wing political correctness. "By offering reams of gobbledybgook, the deconstructionist is able to fortify his all-important assumption: that meaning is impossible."

Skeptical Discourse Analysis for Non-Linguists -- Dominic Lukes. Written "to dissuade educators from doing discourse analysis."

Don't trust anything that says it's a semiotic analysis. Semiosis means simply the act of using something as a sign to represent something else -- in other words, it means almost nothing.

Critical analysis recognizes the political dimensions of discourse (mostly to do with power relations). It takes a specific political stance -- namely that of liberation and tries to achieve that through uncovering "hidden" or "opaque" meanings in text. Critical analysis is NOT a method and does not come with a method. Critical analysis IS a stance, a point of view and has nothing to do with being critical of what one reads or even critical thinking.

I used to try to read [postmodern] journals. Life is too short. There is too much to do in the real world with real teachers in real schools to worry about methodological quarrels or to waste time decoding unintelligible, jargon-ridden prose to reach (if one is lucky) a conclusion that is often so transparently partisan as to be worthless.

Politics and Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell

To anyone who still cherishes the hope that man is a more or less rational animal, the success of this farrago of nonsense [i.e., Hegel's philosophy] must be astonishing.

Still very much worth reading in its entirety. Liberal democracy and real science are based on careful and unbiased observations. They are complicated and difficult, and our knowledge of how things work can change over time. Most people, especially the young, want easy, wrong answers instead.

Deconstructing the Gettysburg Address

We always knew that deconstruction is far from neutral or value-free; on the contrary, with its strategy of reversing oppositions and dismantling hierarchies, deconstruction fosters some of the worst excesses of political correctness. The real lesson is the sobering one about the atmosphere on campuses today, where a civil war is going on-a peculiarly low and mean-spirited species of ideological warfare in which epithets like stink bombs are hurled around wantonly and nobody does very much about the alarming, the truly terrifying ignorance that is rampant across our land. For the really sad thing is that the righteous students indoctrinated in deconstructive jive couldn't tell the Gettysburg Address from a Pennsylvania zip code.


    The thing about critical theory and other such nonsense is that there's usually just enough truth in the stuff to provide a kind of plausible deniability. This allows them to run a kind of bait-and-switch: among themselves, or when convincing poor, unsuspecting undergraduates to take their classes and major in the dreck, the pompous, technical-sounding language and outlandish claims are advertised as a bold, radical new way of understanding life, the universe and everything. But when challenged to make sense of their nonsense, they can say "oh, hai, all that means is, um, that (e.g.) stupidity can be caused by enviornmental factors."

    It's really sad. Critical theory is largely bullshit, and it's seductive bullshit. Kids are sucked into it when they're young and stupid, and then...well, if they're lucky or smart, they may only waste a few credits on it. But it's a tragedy that many kids major in this crap...or go to graduate school in it.

    And it's not just the opportunity costs--not just the fact that those credits could be better spent on almost any other subject. It's not a mere waste of time; studying this stuff actually makes you stupid. It replaces your ordinary, passable-if-not-excellent habits of reasoning with habits of reasoning that are disastrously awful. It teaches people to spew out word salad, prose with a thin veneer of sense...it can produce in the reader a vague feeling that something is being said...but normally either nothing is really being said at all, or what is being said is false, or, if true, it is unimportant.

Joseph Hoffman on the search for truth in the humanities, specifically the humanist (as opposed to the religious) tradition. The author had the responsibility of setting things right after a goofball Jungian left behind "a patchwork of courses that looked very much like any religious-studies program". "Interrogate" now means to try to get at the truth -- a good, constructive thing, and a contrast with the radical skepticism of postmodernism.

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