Could the IS spell the end of postmodernism?

Posted: March 17, 2015 by J in General
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14105347421961_700Seems to me the so-called ‘Islamic State’ is having wide-reaching effects on our society. One of them is to undermine the world-view called ‘postmodernism’ which is so popular especially among our university-classes and inner city dwellers. Here’s how.

At the heart of the postmodern worldview is the idea that everyone has their own story, their own voice. Each of these stories is valid and deserves a hearing. The thing postmodernists (PMs) detest is when one story attempts to dominate another, whether to silence it or to absorb it in some way, resulting in a loss of diversity. For postmodernism, diversity is the ultimate good. The worst thing of all is the ‘metanarrative’, an overarching story which claims to interpret life more generally, with all its little local stories included. A metanarrative is a tool of repression and coercion by which the vocal can control the rest. Think of ’empire’ or ‘progress’ as examples.

With other Islamic terrorist groups its been easy for PMs to write them off for pushing a dangerous metanarrative. But the notable thing about the IS is how local it is. These guys have a vision to set up an Islamic state in the territories of Iraq and Syria, and impose a certain kind of medieval administration there, to the glory of their god. They’re telling a story that’s tied to a particular patch of land.

And the story is utterly abhorrent to westerners like me. Involving as it does invasion, murder, theft, rape, forced marriage, punitive amputations, beheadings, destruction of ancient artifacts etc.

So, the question is, what resources does the postmodernist have at her disposal to deal with this situation? We are not willing to just sit by in silence and watch it happen. So then a critique is required. The PMs of the West find themselves using their own voice to condemn the voice of the IS, their own story to judge the IS’s story.

It seems not all stories are equal after all. Not even all local stories. It is true that this reality has confronted us many times, but seldom in so forceful a way as it does now. For now we feel compelled to say that this story is evil and has no place among humanity. This story must be smashed and silenced. And we are ready to act out our judgement using planes and bombs, to actively seek the destruction of the IS story and of the people who live it. And here is Obama, PM hero, actually dropping the bombs.

The fact that this is not a global metanarrative we are attacking is emphasised by the geography of the thing: the West is bombing one small patch of land in the Middle East, which is home for the objectionable story. It’s a very local matter. This is one bit of diversity which is not a good thing.

What resources do you need, to judge someone’s story? You need a higher level story, from which you can look down. You need a story that has more weight or truth about it than the other one. It’s one thing to say ‘I don’t much like your story’, but if you’re going to go dropping bombs on the storytellers, you need more than that. You need to be standing somewhere solid, on ground that is uncontestable. You need something that gives you the right to actively silence that voice.

You need a metanarrative.

There are very few PMs speaking out against Western military action in Syria and Iraq. It is widely felt that this action is justified and necessary. But we have seen that the resources needed for such a stance strike at the heart of postmodernism.

My point is not, “see how inconsistent PMs are!”. Who can throw the first stone there? No, my point is to consider the spiritual shift involved for the PMs of the West, as we try to deal with the threat posed by the IS. We are morphing into people who hold to a story that is big enough to condemn and silence certain narratives we judge to be a threat. Perhaps we have always held to such a story secretly. But now, after 40 years hidden it is back out in the open. We are publically shedding our postmodernism, under the pressure of this strange new phenomenon, the IS. IS is pushing us to a place where we rely more and more on metanarrative to do and say the things we feel are needed.

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