Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Obama as Postmodernist - Jonah Goldberg Hits On a Key Point
Look, whether you are an Obamaniac or some one who thinks that Obama is a lightweight, you need to look at what he says (come on...he hasn’t really done anything, so we are left with his words, in much the same way that Lincoln, who of course had done somethings, but it was his words that we was judged by).
What does it mean to have a postmodernist presidential candidate in a day and age when we are engaged with cultures that range from the postmodern to the pre-modern and everything else in between.
First...read Jonah’s brilliant piece at USA Today: http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2008/08/obama-the-postm.html#more
Again, regardless of your feelings for Obama, look at Jonah’s argument (btw, if you have not read or listened to Liberal Fascism, you must read it along with the other must read of the past few years, Amity Schlaes’s The Forgotten Man on the truth about the New Deal. For a recap on some of it, go to http://www.hillsdale.edu/news/imprimis/archive/issue.asp?year=2007&month=09 and read her speec at Hillsdale College or her website, http://www.amityschlaes.com)
Jonah starts off his article with a discussion of Obama’s view of sin. Now, of course, we don’t really talk about sin in politics (or even, in religion) these days. But look at more detail at what Obama and Goldberg say:
Asked to define sin, Barack Obama replied that sin is “being out of alignment with my values.” Statements such as this have caused many people to wonder whether Obama has a God complex or is hopelessly arrogant. For the record, sin isn’t being out of alignment with your own values (if it were, Hannibal Lecter wouldn’t be a sinner because his values hold that it’s OK to eat people) nor is it being out of alignment with Obama’s — unless he really is our Savior.
This becomes an issue because in a world where dictators and rogue regimes believe their own rhetoric, in places like Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, Zimbabwe, Sudan, North Korea, China and elsewhere, this view of sin will seriously get in they of tough engagement.
Jonah makes the point that postmodernism was, at first at least, an academic circle exercise to dethrone DWEMs (for the uniitiated, DWEMs are Dead White European Males - you know, Plato, Shakespeare, Goethe, Luther, Newton, Pascal and the like). Of course, the softer and less cogent (which is saying something because postmodernism is far from cogent) version now fills our culture, as the philosophical pluralism that undergirds our education system and the genuine embrace of “I’m okay, your okay” ethics combines with our nature libertarianism (by which I mean here, the loss of an understanding that while giving the right of individual human beings to “do what they want,” which for the most part we can all agree on, misses the impact of society on the individual, because each individual is intricately tied to society, even the UnaBomber, and, especially in a culture where tolerance means not “leave alone” but given equal or greater status in government, media, and education, the “do what you want” becomes “honour me for doing what you consider reprehensible").
I have been writing on and speaking on postmodernism since the late 1990s, and I admit at first I was, if not a fan of the movement, at least friendly towards it. As someone whose Evangelical and Catholic faith has caused me to take very serious the words of God on justice, mercy, and righteousness, I appreciated that we were bringing to the fore the untold stories (or at least unnoticed) of some of the atrocities towards Native Americans, the Armenian Genocide, and the like. But a funny thing happened on the way to postmodernism’s concern for justice.
When there is no set meaning of sin, of evil, of wrong, then justice really becomes the tool only of the victor, be it the victor on the battlefield, the ballot box, or the newspaper page. Think for a second of what we have done to American English programs in colleges and universities. In the name of justice we have “killed” Shakespeare and replaced him with Maya Angelou and other hacks (sorry, but the first person who can tell me without looking up not only something meaningful she has ever written AND WHAT IT MEANT, please come to our house for a free dozen cookies). So now thousands of American youths are deprived hearing the greatest lines of the English speaking world, lines that have ingrained themselves in popular culture, and thus leave them as lesser people. How is that justice?
But the real issue comes in when we look at our world. Recently the would-be genocidal leader of the Bosnian Serbs was captured. His name is Radovan Karadzic.
Karadzic is a hero to the Bosnian Serbs (and to many Serbs in general). According to Obama’s doctrine of sin, he is clean, white a snow. According the postmodern mantra, he may in fact be the victim here, as his people, an ethnic minority among a people who would be, in the after-glow of post-communism, be seeking to re-establish their claims. So why then is he on trial in the Hague? Should not Senator Obama be asking for his release and inviting him to come to America?
And what about Kim Il Jong?
And what about President Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir of Sudan
oh, and of course, the dear Robert Mugabe, “President” of what is left of Zimbabwe.
You see, in the name of justice, postmodernism loses any real ground on which to say “Never Again.” It can only speak airy words that use the forms of great words - justice, compassion, human dignity and the like - but in true postmodern fashion, these words mean nothing, nothing other than what the hearer believe they mean. And so the likes of Jong, al-Bashir, Mugabe and Karadzic can interpret them to warrant all that they have done and do.
And what, as Jonah points out, do promises then mean? Look, I readily admit that I am a Christian and a theologian. The great promises of the Bible keep me waging the good fight (Sorry for the military term there) for goodness, beauty, justice, righteousness and healing. I know that my redeemer lives and that a day is coming when “the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4) The promise means something and I am willing to stake my life on it, work for justice and goodness for others when, if the promise is, well, just words, I am truly wasting my time and should be out there looking for number one.
Obama has said all sorts of things in the past two years. There are times when I think he is speaking right to me, saying what I want to hear, and I am ready to buy the button and get an Obama tattoo on my body. But then he speaks other words, to other people, words that convey his promise to them and which means as a promise to them as well as to me. But they contradict...not just each other but the stands, votes, and actions of his previous life. So what am I to do? Do I vote for him because the promises mean this or that to me? Or do I stop…
And here is where I think both Jonah and the polling are on to something. People are stopping because they think that Obama is “dangerous.” Not merely in the “he is going to get us (or at least Israel) killed.” But dangerous in the sense that they have no real idea of where he would lead the country. As a good postmodernist he has no core soul, not set of beliefs that guide him to say, “This far and no further.” While he is clearly a far Left progressive, even that is not ultimately helpful, because there is no core there. To have a core, an unchangeable set of principles that guide all that he is and does, well, that would be anti-post-modernist. And, Jonah is right, he is most certainly a postmodernist first and foremost.
So, we face a dangerous choice as voters. Obama could very well end up being the greatest President of all time. Or the worst of all-time. And it is not merely the events that will shape him. He himself is constantly changing, constantly up in the air. Most people who are postmodernist don’t live that way in their real life (that is why academics are more prone to postmodernity, because academia is not real life). It does not work. So, the question is, can it work in the most powerful and dangerous job in the world?