Friday, April 11, 2008

Our first post-modernist President?

For some time now I have been mystified by the allure of Barack Obama. I get that he’s attractive and articulate. But I’ve been waiting for his rhetoric of change and hope to be backed up by something more than words. So far it has not.

As far as I can tell, here is the rhetorical argument Obama makes for his candidacy:

“Yes we can!” We can what?
“Hope!” Hope for what?
“Change?” What kind of change?
“Change we can believe in!”

There’s nothing there. The logic is circular, at best. Truth is, the pitch isn’t a logical argument in the slightest – it’s entirely emotional.

The few times Obama has talked specifically about policy, he’s trotted out the most mundane, goody-bag list of government program proposals that have been standard faire in Democrat political circles for decades.

If that is the change he is selling as something that will unite people, he better stop being specific.

So I’ve been wondering when would his legions of supporters start to look under the hood of their shiny new sportscar and see the 1200CC four cylinder motor. But that hasn’t yet happened.

I think I now know why.

Obama is inspiring millions of young voters, kids who are mostly a decade or less out of school. For the last 15 or so years in the public schools have been striving to teach “critical thinking skills.”

What’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, just what is “critical thinking?” They never really do define it, and believe me, I have asked dozens of educrats what they mean when they use the phrase.

In classical education, kids are taught logic. Logical thinking is the “grammar” of rhetoric. Any argument, any educated thought process, has its basis in the fundamentals of logic. Without logic, there is no rationality.

So why would the public schools not want to teach logical thinking? What do they mean by critical thinking, anyway.

If you really drill down and investigate the origins of the phrase, it comes from the post-modernism “critical theory” movement that has been all the rage for literature and history professors in our universities for a couple decades.

“Critical theory” throws logic out the window. It assumes, as its point of departure, that any text, any argument, any event, has no independent meaning other than what is perceived by the recipient. So when analyzing literature, critical theory assumes that it is futile try to understand what the author is driving at, because that does not matter. What matters is what the text means to the reader, and in arriving at that meaning, there are no logical boundaries. It can mean anything the reader wants it to mean.

I know that sounds crazy, but it is true. And this is the philosophical underpinning of what our kids have been taught about “critical thinking skills” in public school. What matters is how they feel about something, not what that thing actually means.

An example of how this philosophy has wiggled its way into our popular and legal culture, just look at sexual harassment policies and laws. Many state explicitly that what matters is not what the accused harasser intended by his actions, but how those actions made the victim feel.

So how does this apply to Barack Obama? Millions of young voters spent their formative years being steeped in this “critical theory” nonsense. Barack Obama makes them feel hopeful. They have been trained to elevate these feelings over and above any logical impulse they might have to analyze them.

So they simply do not subject Obama’s inspirational words to any logical test to see if they make sense. They have been trained not to. His words mean only what they want them to – no more and no less.

So, will Obama be our first post-modernist President? Could be.


Anonymous said...

Wow, I never really thought of it that way.

I know Obama is a bullshit artist, but I never really made the connection to post-modernism.

Anonymous said...

All this "emotional interpretation" stuff Rob mentioned is exactly true. Modern theories you hear in school or the media about thinking are all about making choices cause they "feel right." They don't want us to stop and consider logic.

They are creating a generation of impulsive and selfish decision makers.