Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Postmodern Politics

It has been a while since I have tried to view political behavior through the lens of postmodern thinking; but the latest round of rationalist frustration with the recent behavior of President George W. Bush (much of which keeps him ahead of the pack in Chutzpah of the Week awards) has led me to revisit this point of view. My interest in postmodernisms was also revived by the chapter on organizational culture that Linda Smircich and Marta B. Calás prepared for the first edition of The Handbook of Organizational Communication. This chapter offered one of the best characterizations of the postmodern condition that I have seen for some time:

Postmodernism is resistance, not opposition. Opposition substitutes one notion of “truth” with an incompatible alternative—for example, advocating one paradigm over another. The postmodern notion of resistance, in contrast, suspects and defers acceptance of any notion of “truth.” Resistance means questioning the possibility of attaining truth with the view that the “possibility of attaining truth” is itself an idea, which results from an historical event where “truth or falsity” became a dominant style of thinking (Foucault, 1976; Hacking, 1982; Rorty, 1979). It involves deconstruction (Derrida, 1974), as in suspecting, taking apart, or deferring resolution (not as in destruction) of our taken-for-granted modes of thinking.

If we try to interpret this in a political context, then it would be fair to say that Bill Clinton was our first postmodern President (demonstrated best when he tried to fend off a question about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky by questioning the semantics of “is"); but, in the grand scheme of things, President Bush has revealed himself as a master of resistance. I doubt that any of us will ever know his true mental acuity and the extent to which his persona is a well-crafted act (the postmodern triumph of rhetoric over logic); but he has built up a flock of faithful followers (too much talk about literature makes me alliterative) around this idea that the wisdom of the heart is more important than the “possibility of attaining truth.” Bush seems to appreciate (even if only intuitively) the power of the socially constructed reality; and he and his cronies have mastered the art of getting our society to construct that reality in the image they (i.e. the Bush league) want. Like it or not, that image has nothing to do with eliminating ignorance through rational practices. Welcome to the twenty-first century!

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