Monday, February 9, 2015

Postmodernism and Third World Progressive Movements

Aren’t you exaggerating the problems caused by Postmodernism? Isn’t it really kind of harmless? Defenders of Postmodernism might argue this.

Actually, no, I do not think so. The evidence strongly suggests it has had very bad effects on Third World progressive movements and social activism.

First, let us consider what (a younger!) Chomsky says in the video below about Postmodernism and the Third World.

So is there other evidence to back this up? Yes, we need only look at Nanda (1998).

Meera Nanda is an Indian historian and philosopher of science.

She points out that the postmodernist idea of “ethnoscience” – that the science that emerged from the West is only one “discourse” amongst many “discourses” and that are all are equally valid – makes for some extraordinarily anti-progressive and reactionary movements in the developing world, which do much to retard social progress and even harm people.

This, Nanda points out, can be seen in India. In fact, the ethnoscientific and cultural relativist ideas of postmodernism actually empower local traditional conservatives and religious fanatics and allow them to complain that criticisms of their attitudes to women or society as “ethnocentric” and “imperialistic” (Nanda 1998: 287).

Nanda points to utterly horrifying examples. A well-known Postmodernist has declared that mass vaccination in India against smallpox is an “affront to the local custom of variolation, which included inoculation with human smallpox matter accompanied by prayers to the goddess of smallpox” (Nanda 1998: 291). But all the evidence shows that this traditional method is “10 times more likely to actually cause the disease as compared to the modern vaccine” (Nanda 1998: 291). Effective vaccination based on Western medicine, so the Postmodernists claim, is just a “Western logocentric mode of thought” (Nanda 1998: 291).

Nanda relates how native Hindu nationalist and religious fundamentalist movements use the ideas of Postmodernism to defend village sorcerers against modern scientific medicine (Nanda 1998: 292).

One Indian political psychologist and social theorist Ashis Nandy has drawn on postmodernism and postcolonialism to defend some – shall we say? – eyebrow-raising ideas:
“True ‘patriots’ like Nandy have not even spared those who protested a recent incidence of widow immolation (sati), branding them as modernized Westernized elites who denigrate authentic folk practices (Nandy 1988). Not surprisingly, such nativist, antimodernist ideas have found a sympathetic audience among right‐wing Hindu fundamentalist parties (Nanda 1997b).”
This should send chills down your spine. It is the logical culmination – whether Postmodernists believe in logic or not – of saying there is no truth, no objective morality, and that all cultural “discourses” are equally valid.

Nanda, M. 1998. “The Epistemic Charity of the Social Constructivist Critics of Science and why the Third World should refuse the Offer,” in N. Koertge (ed.), A House Built on Sand: Exposing Postmodernist Myths about Science. Oxford University Press, New York. 286–311.

1 comment:

  1. I think most people unfamiliar with postmodernist ideas think of those ideas as "liberal". In fact, postmodernism as discussed in yesterday's post, is really "illiberal" and nothing but a power play through intellectual bullying.

    By reducing every idea to a personal opinion—and therefore equivalent to all other opinions, since postmodernists deny any means for distinguishing better quality opinions from worse—postmodernists reduce intellectual activity to a cynical manipulation. As you point out, these sorts of arguments only favor those who seek to undermine rational arguments and evidence. Often, these people seeks to establish their own power. Stanislav Andreski raised similar arguments about the effects of poor quality social science research in his excellent book The Social Sciences as Sorcery.

    And we can't forget how this nonsense is polluting our own world. Graduates from the best universities who have no grounding in the science and mathematics also succumb to postmodern ideas in various guises as well as directly. They go on to make policy and write books and articles that are widely read. I've found this especially true in education research, which is destroying our public schools.