Behind all the medical and economic realities that COVID-19 has imposed on us is another development with great potential. People in this decaying postmodern era are beginning to have to think again.
Naturally, all along, we have thought we thought … and we did. We thought all sorts of thoughts, profound and paltry. But the virus has exposed how we think in ways we haven’t thought about for a long time.
First, a little background. Postmodernism began as a protest against modernism. Modernism had brought us Art Deco, jazz, nuclear fission, Fascism, penicillin, and “1984” in 1948. Postmodernism worried that we were being manipulated by giant puppeteers who control us by powerful narratives. “Those stories are lies,” Foucault told us. “You are the only legitimate story-teller of your life story.” So we went to Woodstock, found joy in sexual freedom, overcame syndicated TV, and ate what we wanted without a care about “what is good for you.” This heedless freedom came at a cost: the loss of critical thinking. Instead, we have preferences based primarily on affiliations. Our social attachments are terribly important to us. In the serene center of consensus we are secure. Whatever disturbs this consensus needs to be kept away. And thanks to Information Technology it can be.
Now comes the virus threatening us. Postmodernist responses emerged immediately. The over-riding postmodern reaction is to protest, especially to protest whatever disturbs the domain we, ourselves, inhabit. Postmodernists that we are, we intuit our core belief system (without naming it), shared with our group, and we look for the giant puppeteer who is invading our zone. That’s what postmodernists do.
COVID-19 is a virus but the narrative we need to understand it is what we look for. Groups have agreed among themselves, (1) the puppeteer is fake because the story of the viral threat is a hoax; (2) the puppeteer is a charlatan trying to subject us to a medical panic in order to sell medicine; (3) the puppeteer(s) are frauds bent on creating panic to undermine the economy of the world and replace the former puppeteers with new ones; (4) the puppeteer(s) are tyrants using this medical situation to strengthen their power; (5) the puppeteers don’t know squat and we can ignore them; (6) the puppeteers have expanded the effects of the epidemic in order to kill off as many as possible of those outside their group; (7) the puppeteer has stubbornly stuck to a script even after the audience has lost interest and gone for refreshments.
Now we are being driven to think again.
We are being forced by our circumstances to think critically, to evaluate how we are doing our thinking, and to admit that knee-jerk reactions are not thoughtful.
The immense numbers of dead and sick and the encroaching illness have cracked the bunkers into which we have retreated. Undeniable reality is no longer simple. It is impossible to attribute the cause of the pandemic to a fake narrative. Medical science has gained increased respect, complex and methodical though it is. The power of governments to promote the common welfare, if they want to, is being recognized and people are getting aroused. Angry defensiveness and magical incantations are essentially ineffective against a powerful, mindless protein. Liberty is a different realm of discourse from epidemiology.
Stubbornly entrenching ourselves inside the opinion stockade of our affiliates is not working. When that mental strategy stops working postmodernism is done for.
[Thanks to Christians in Chiang Mai, Thailand for distributing free meals at the height of the COVID-19 crisis. Thanks for the picture.]
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.