philosophy, postmodernism, metamodernism, left-wing

Plan D: Is Metamodernism the Answer to Postmodernism?

Can Metamodernism, based in the exchange and continual revision of ideas, offer an alternative to the cultural problems of postmodernism and relativism?

Previous articles have discussed the negative tendencies exhibited by the modern left and some of the reasons why we need a new left. Now it’s time to reflect on more positive elements, a viable alternative to the problematic postmodernism. Many see such a solution in the philosophy of Metamodernism.

In recent years there has been a small but increasingly organised left-wing opposition to postmodernism and cultural relativism. With luck, skill and determination, this could coalesce into the movement we desperately need.

We can describe this new approach as having a ‘Metamodern’ philosophy, meaning ‘beyond Modernism.’ In this period, there will be a mass of conflicting beliefs and approaches, as there should be. This article will focus on the most interesting and hopeful elements as I see them.

What is Metamodernism?

First of all, Metamodernism accepts the universal truth of an existence external to ourselves. Without this, all knowledge is meaningless. If what we think creates the world, then we don’t have to learn, because our perceptions will become reality. In this case, we may as well continue to believe in a universe with continuity, history, and independent operation, because if it does not already exist, we will imagine it into existence regardless.

Metamodernism is also turning a page on the old debate over the human ability to understand the world around us. It may have been difficult for earlier philosophers to understand how the brain creates simulations, or models, of objects and mechanisms. Fortunately, we now have a direct analogy in the form of computer programming.

philosophy, metamodernism, postmodernism, left-wing

“Metamodernism is also turning a page on the old debate over the human ability to understand the world around us”

The hardware we use is not precisely comparable to a human brain, but recent developments in artificial neural networks show that we can create programmes that learn to categorise and sort images. Physics engines can approximate the movement of physical objects under gravity, without having to come close to representing the workings of individual atoms, in the same way that we can recall objects accurately enough to remember them, but not necessarily every detail.

This analogy can help us understand the distinction between the impact of nature and nurture on the mind. The human body, producing primitive signals such as emotions and instincts, can be thought of as hardware. Our personalities, on the other hand, are the software.

Hardware is mostly permanent, though it is malleable in some ways, whereas software is malleable, though it too may contain some permanent elements. Our senses are inputs, of course, but all other signals from the body are inputs, too. It is up to the conscious mind to process those inputs and produce a sensible output – just like an artificial neural network does.

Striking a balance: individuality, impulses, and improvement

Not only can this help us understand humanity, it can help us improve as individuals as well. For example, if we are careful and methodical, we can plan our meals in order to obtain healthy levels of nutrients we need to thrive. Even at such a healthy standard, however, we may continue to feel hungry. But obeying this signal and continuing to eat would be a mistake; we can process this signal and determine it to be erroneous.

To obey our instincts, to give in to our urges against rational thought, is to discard one of the greatest gifts evolution has given us: the ability to determine, for ourselves, how to process the information our brains receive.

“To obey our instincts, to give in to our urges against rational thought, is to discard one of the greatest gifts evolution has given us: the ability to determine, for ourselves, how to process the information our brains receive”

Of course, just as foolish would be to suppress or ignore these signals without at least fully investigating their origins. For example, humans are social creatures and the vast majority of us desire companionship. In this case, regardless of what our goals in life may be, it would be foolish to isolate ourselves entirely from others given the potential psychological repercussions.

Rather than deny our natures, we should instead seek the healthiest methods of managing our desires, impulses, and natural tendencies. Metamodernism, therefore, understands that criticising the individual choices of others can be necessary for the advancement of humanity, regardless of whether those choices impact the world around them or not.

If we aim to end authoritarianism, we must approach freedom as responsible adults, not petulant teenagers. If we are prepared to declare ‘no gods, no masters’, then we must each be our own god and our own master.

‘Everything is a social construct’–really?

Although partially unshackled from instinctive action, our conscious minds are still dependent on sensory input. Our perception of the universe will therefore always be limited by the finite time and space which we occupy. No mortal being can fully comprehend reality, since we can only ever see a small part of it at a time. It is our perspective that is relative, not the universe itself.

philosophy, left-wing, postmodernism, metamodernism

“It is our perspective that is relative, not the universe itself”

The task of the Metamodern analyst, scientist, or philosopher, therefore, is not to reveal a fundamental truth about the universe, but to improve upon the models we use. We must acknowledge that categorisation is a human behaviour that is necessary to understand a complicated world, and thus reject a simple dichotomy between what is real and what is a social construct. Everything is a social construct; the only question is whether that construct improves or diminishes our ability to make practical sense of the world.

Metamodernism recognises the patterns and systems that govern the movements and behaviours of people, but also understand that an individual is far more complex than the sum of interactions between a few of these systems. Dismissing or judging a person without understanding anything more than the social groups into which these individuals fall is a deeply flawed and dangerous approach.

“Dismissing or judging a person without understanding anything more than the social groups into which these individuals fall is a deeply flawed and dangerous approach”

In the modern world, we must rely continually on the judgements and conclusions of others. When we accept a ride in a car from another person, we are trusting that person with our life. Not only that, but the designers of the car, the other drivers on the road, the urban planners who laid out the roads, and so on.

When our trust in other people becomes shaken, it can impact our ability to navigate, literally and metaphorically, through the world. Politics is becoming increasingly about choosing between two apparently comparable sources of evidence, each claiming the opposite. The side we end up on is, therefore, determined by whom we trust.

The real meaning of the Enlightenment

Metamodernism cautiously seeks reliable sources of information and doesn’t shy away from conflicting viewpoints if they can offer unique or interesting perspectives. If we can establish networks of trustworthy individuals and organisations, we can compensate for our limited perspectives by exploring multiple angles.

Ideas develop and spread according to the size of the networks in which people operate. The Earth contains billions of people, and the more we connect those people together in a healthy and productive fashion, the more accurate our understanding of the universe should become.

philosophy, left-wing, postmodernism, metamodernism

“The Earth contains billions of people, and the more we connect those people together in a healthy and productive fashion, the more accurate our understanding of the universe should become”

The power of democracy only becomes truly apparent when people share and discuss their views with each other. Imagine an election more like an academic examination. Each ‘voter’, upon stepping into their booth, rather than being asked to pick between the red team or blue team, is instead asked to solve a simple algebraic equation. Could you do it? Could the average person do it? Depending on the difficulty of the question, the possibility of a correct answer winning the majority of the vote may be very slim.

Now imagine people were told what the question was going to be in advance, and were allowed to confer with each other. Answering the question would become trivial for anyone who was prepared to listen to a trustworthy source.

Metamodernism sees itself as the latest part of a global, historical struggle to discern truth from error and justice from injustice. Rather than believing the Enlightenment to be the sole province of rich, white European men, Metamodernists conceive of a greater Enlightenment that connects philosophers, radicals, and iconoclasts from every century and every corner of the globe.

Enlightenment is a direction, not a destination, and anyone who believes he or she has achieved it is most assuredly going the wrong way. Every egalitarian movement thus far in history has failed because we did not yet understand how to resist tyranny and how to mobilise to prevent it from emerging within ourselves. We must give this past struggle meaning by learning from mistakes and doing better this time.

“Enlightenment is a direction, not a destination, and anyone who believes he or she has achieved it is most assuredly going the wrong way”

Once we have been armed with the understanding of our own limitations Metamodernism supplies us, we can begin to construct a new basis for moving towards freedom and equality.

This will be the topic of my next article.

About Dan Fisher

Check Also

Between Fear and Freedom: How Sexual Harassment is Forcing Us to Choose Sides

From Hitchens' niqab scenario to Murray's bleak predictions for a sexless future, has sexual harassment forced us to choose between freedom and fear?

8 comments

  1. This is really interesting – I’ve been worried for a long time about how to combat the circular logic and faulty morality of Postmodernism. Thank you.

  2. This is a very helpful piece, and provides an optimistic roadmap for how the left might productively proceed. Just a few thoughts. “Everything is a social construct; the only question is whether that construct improves or diminishes our ability to make practical sense of the world.” This statement seems to make two opposing assumptions: 1 that everything is a construct, and 2 that there is a world (a real world) to which these social constructs may or may not approximate, and presumably some ‘constructs’ do this better than others? Perhaps a useful way forward might be to distinguish the coherence theory of truth from the correspondence theory. The correspondence assumes a real world independent of human minds, and also acknowledges that various paradigms, theories or constructs/models can be tested for their practical usefulness at any given time in history. This allows for scientific falsification, empiricism, and an interdisciplinary, inclusive search for the truth ABOUT a real world.

  3. This is a very interesting article. However the movement of metamodernism is based on a straw man and generalised perception of what postmodernism is. Often deconstruction theory is lumped together with postmodernism, however many deconstructionists have not denied an external truth, but instead have claimed discourse cannot obtain it. Derrida, for example, has never claimed (or needed to claim) that there is no external truth outside of perception.

    Another issue – not all approaches classed under postmodernism posit the relativism metamodernism assumes of it. And some postmodernisms do what metamodernism claims it is able to do without some of the latter’s clumsy presuppositions and flawed analogies (the computer / brain analogy is old and highly flawed).

  4. Nice thinking! I think you’re taking a step towards an -ism which is easier to define than postmodernism, and that’s certainly something we might need for the discussion to move forward.

    I just want to point out that there is not really anything new in your thinking that can replace postmodernism; many postmodern thinkers would probably agree with your thought. This is not a synthesis of postmodernism.

    But postmodernism is still such an I’ll defined train of thought so this could be the start of something new.

  5. Finally! My thoughts from 2012-2013 came to reality and someone had the guts to write about it. I have always talked about metamodernism in some classes when I was studying philosophy but nobody, not even myself, took it seriously. To answer the question you have to search if postmodernism. Personally, I have always doubted the profoundness of postmodernistic culture.

    For instance, romanian writer Mircea Cărtărescu is considered to be a valuable postmodernist writer, but there’s a lack of profound feelings in his work. Metamodernism should be oriented beyond the surface. Postmodernism lacked credibility in terms of popularity. Maybe metamodernism will help postmodernism to have a valuable place within the popular culture. Hard to say and to be honest, hard to believe.

    Anyway, I believe every great philosophical idea from the past will have a meta in the future. Maybe I am bit crazy, but am I the only who thinks metaromantism sounds really cool? Or who knows, maybe it’s about time that some crazy philosopher should try to invent a new cultural era, but given the materialistic we are all living in, it’s highly unlikely for that to ever happen.

    P.S. I have just found out your site and I’ll be a constant follower from now on. Cheers and keep up with the good work.

  6. Why the name ‘meta-modernism’? The notion ‘post-modernism’ was chosen to achieve exactly the same goal, i would argue, as your approach: to criticize the big narratives of modernity. one central idea of that modernity is enlightenment as it was thought of by white, male europeans. you now criticize postmodernism as one of those onesided narratives. For some of those thinkers rightfully so, i think.
    But Critical Theory for instance was always sceptic of the ‘postmodernist movement’ and tried to approach the divide of social constructionism and realism as well as the problematic notion of justice (you do not explicate what ou mean with justice either, nor do you reflect that it could be one of those big narratives thought of by white, male and rich europeans) with dialectical thinking, to show they are interwoven. And at the same time critical theorists criticize the problematic sides of enlightenment, while pushing the emancipatory sides forward. That of course, for them, is only possible in a cirique of capitalism as well. Therefore your call for the search for the ‘healthiest methods of managing our desires, impulses, and natural tendencies’ sounds awfully like a dogma of biopolitic capitalism (yes, i used foucaults notion. but hey, postmodernism/poststructuralism is not all bad).
    Maybe it would be wise to first look around, what other approaches try to think about the same problems, before putting forward a call for ‘metamodernism’ and by that, opening up to the same problematic meander some of the ‘post’-modernists have lost themselves in.

  7. Hi everyone, first of all I’d like to say I’m very grateful to the attention my article has received from the philosophy community, and I really appreciate both the positive and the constructive comments. However, I’d like to address some issues.

    First of all, I want to be clear that my understanding of postmodernism, which you can read in my previous article in this series, is not derived primarily from philosophers themselves but by the political and social phenomena that can loosely be grouped under the term. Just as you can understand that ‘postmodernism’ might mean something different in the art and architecture worlds, hopefully you can understand it means something slightly different here than what you might be used to within philosophy.

    If I were to discuss Marxism, for example, I would only be interested in Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and so on insofar as they are interpreted by modern Marxists. What would be important to me is how Marxism is practised in the world.

    Secondly, throughout this series, I’ve received more criticism for what I’ve left out than for what I’ve actually mentioned. I can understand the frustration from people who are particularly interested in one element or another, but you have to bear in mind this is the third article in a series which will end somewhere in the double digits.

    Finally, if you simply want to state your opinion on the article, that’s fine, you can do so here, and I’m not going to engage in a defence or argue with your interpretation. But if you want to discuss any of it with me and others, you can join me in our forums. I’ve created a thread specifically for this series which you can find here: https://conatusnews.com/forums/topic/plan-d-discussion-thread/

Leave a Comment