Thursday, 22 September 2011

Expanding ‘Explaining Postmodernism’


Here’s a new re-issue of a recent book, an important bo0k, an essential book—this expanded second edition of which offers even more philosophical self-defence than the first. Allow me to just quote what I said about the first edition, which itself went through ten printings in the seven years since its release, and all of which I would only say again (but in much pithier fashion) about this new Expanded Edition:

This [small] book should be in every student's backpack. In the post-modern intellectual battleground in which each student find himself submerged - and sometimes drowning - this book offers essential intellectual self-defence for every student who still cares to think. No matter if you already know every answer to all the sundry irrationalities you face every day - herewith is a comprehensive summary of your intellectual enemy that for the first time clearly and comprehensively puts each of the post-modern heroes in their place.
    Why is that so important? Well, what do you feel when you watch a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis? You watch it greet the sun, spread its wings and almost give thanks to existence for its rebirth. Imagine then another human being gleefully stamping their boot on that reborn butterfly, smilingly stamping the life out of it. Such is the situation in many places of academe. This book gives a defence to the fragile butterfly of the intellect.
    One of the worst periods of my own life was spent at Auckland's Architecture School where I found myself being taught by intelligent human beings, many of whom seemed somehow intent on using that intelligence to snuff out young students' sense of certainty and their joy in learning about ideas and creating great art. I watched as many students became either irrational automatons emulating the noises made by these lecturers, or gave up in disgust - often questioning themselves and their own ability. They were crushed. That situation was not unique to my own alma mater - it pertains to nearly every grove of academia in the Western world. This book explains the mentality of scum who earn a pay-cheque by gleefully crushing impressionable young minds, and the strategies they employ to do it.
    The book is a "great but very scary read." Written like an adventure story, it guides the reader confidently and clearly through the intellectual history of the last three-hundred years in order to explain why the `new intellectual age' we find ourselves in is in most respects a toxic Age of Crap.
    My only gripe is that the adventure story does not end with a happy ending - although Ayn Rand and the Objectivist antidote to this intellectual poison are implicitly present on every page, where I expected their explicit appearance at the conclusion Stephen delivers only the truism that "what is still needed is a refutation of these [post-modern] historical premises, and an identification and defense of the alternatives to them."   
    Here would have been an obvious opportunity to send the reader to cleaner Objectivist pastures elsewhere in which this work is being done. A recommended reading list would have been a welcome addition - perhaps he intends to set up such a thing online? *
    In any case, as with the recommendations given by others, this is "not a book review but a flat-out endorsement." In many respects Stephen's book is a much-needed update of Rand's essay "For the New Intellectual” but this time expanded and with footnotes - it is like seeing the `director's cut' of Rand's earlier essay. It is that good.
    Buy one for a student today. You might just save their life.

Buy it at Amazon in either Kindle or hard cover.  Or, if you really are a poor student, read the first edition online in PDF at the author’s website.

NB: The expanded edition also includes Hicks’ essays Free Speech and Postmodernism and From Modern to Postmodern Art: Why Art Became Ugly. Images of the art works discussed and referred to in the latter essay are available at a dedicated page at his website.

* A recommended reading list?  Here’s one. And here’s another.


  1. Defense against postmodernism doesn't come cheap....

  2. Just ten bucks on your Kindle, Berend, for this expanded edition.

    Or seven bucks for the previous paperback edition.

    Or read it all free online. :-)

  3. Robert Winefield22 Sep 2011, 15:25:00

    Done. Now if only I could buy some time to read the thing...

    Must break free from academia. It's not the shitty pay or even the long hours. It's the moaning you get when they get handed a bill for materials and equipment.

    I wish someone would explain Pythagoras's theorem for the economics of invention.

  4. Why is Karl Popper listed on the front cover? Popper was no postmodernist: he held that objective truth exists and that by error correction we can get closer to it. Also his books contain trenchant criticism of post-modernists like Wittgenstein (who once brandished a poker at Popper).

    Looking at the original edition of Hicks' book, the only criticism I can see of Popper is of his point that all evidence is theory laden. Hicks thinks that such indirect theory-laden contact with reality traps us in a subjective world.

    He is wrong.

    And he seems not to have carefully read Rand. For Rand appreciated that we have no direct contact with reality and that all sense data must be interpreted ("his mind must identify the things that he perceives-that is the day of his birth as a thinker and scientist").

    Ultimately all evidence and sense data is just local electrical crackles in the brain. It requires many layers of interpretation to know what those crackles mean. Much of that interpretation becomes automatic leading to the illusion that we have direct contact with reality.

    That all evidence is theory-laden does not trap us in a subjective world because we are capable of improving our interpretations when we notice errors. That leads to progress whereby we get closer to the truth.

    There are many egregious misrepresentations of both Popper and Rand out there. Most people do not get them right. Hicks needs to improve his scholarship.

  5. Brian: I see what you're saying, but you're in danger of falling into the postmodernist trap. Both our "brain crackles" agree that if we jump up, we will fall down. That's reality. There's no room for interpretation there. There's plenty of room for questioning WHY it is so, but not that it IS so. This is where Popper failed. He does belong in that camp.

    Please point out if I'm missing something.

  6. Thanks a million for the link(s) Peter!

    I read the first edition online in PDF at the author’s website and I found it a fascinating and readable explanation of postmodernism.

    What got from it, in essence, is that postmodernist thought asserts that there is no such thing as objective truth and that all things are simply interpretations which depend on one's gender, culture (or race) and class (or wealth). Thus, the world is simply a subjective construct with no ultimate truths or values. Is that it?

    If I am correct in this summation, then this goes a long way to explaining how stupid religions such as Climate Change, Gender Studies and Sustainabilty have got their rotting tentacles wrapped around our society.

  7. @Greig:

    > Both our "brain crackles" agree that if we jump up, we will fall down. That's reality. There's no room for interpretation there.

    You can be wrong that you are jumping up or falling down or that you will fall when you jump. Ever had a dream where you thought you were falling? Or jumped with a rocket pack on your back? Or jumped on the ISS (where falling feels like being stationary)?

    Knowing that you will fall when you jump depends on contextual explanations that you hold about the world. You did not acquire those explanations automatically: you learnt them. Your explanations of jumping and falling contain a lot of truthlikeness (otherwise you would be dead) but they are not perfect. In the right contexts, gaps in your knowledge would be revealed and you would learn from those. So there is always room for improvement.

    > There's plenty of room for questioning WHY it is so, but not that it IS so.

    Without explanations you cannot know what is so. It is sense data interpreted in the light of those explanations that tell you you will fall (or not) after jumping.

    > This is where Popper failed. He does belong in that camp.

    Where exactly did Popper fail? He does not deny there is a truth of the matter about jumping and falling. He says that we can be mistaken about what the truth is. He also says that all knowledge can be improved and the way we improve it is by error correction. Rand says pretty much the same things:

    Live and act within the limit of your knowledge and keep expanding it to the limit of your life. Redeem your mind from the hockshops of authority. Accept the fact that you are not omniscient, but playing a zombie will not give you omniscience—that your mind is fallible, but becoming mindless will not make you infallible—that an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error. In place of your dream of an omniscient automaton, accept the fact that any knowledge man acquires is acquired by his own will and effort, and that that is his distinction in the universe, that is his nature, his morality, his glory.

    I don't think you want to call Rand a postmodernist. Like Popper, she was an optimist and a fallibilist.

  8. Brian: Fair points all. I figured you'd take my analogy on face vlaue though and just assume we were jumping on Earth, in a wakeful state. :)

    I still disagree that you can't know what is so without explanation. If you and I are jumping, in the same room, for the rest of our lives, we will continually fall after each jump. This is so. It would be so whether we knew why or not. It's absolutely right to question reality and test it at every opportunity. All I am saying is that getting into the postmodern bullshit way of thinking about the world is dangerous and erodes reason. I think we agree on that.

    I concede the rest of your points.


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