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Deconstructing Deconstructionism
FrontPageMagazine.com ^ | 28 November 2001 | By Robert Locke

Posted on 11/28/2001 4:13:52 AM PST by shrinkermd

ONE OF THE GREAT ASSETS of the academic left is its ability to invent and teach a synthesis, a systematic distillation of leftism into a convenient package. Once mastered, this synthesis can be relied upon to give the adherent a left-wing analysis of anything from Strategic Missile Defense to poetry. Marxism once fulfilled this role for a great many, but for the past 15 years or so, the ascendant school of sophistry has been deconstructionism. So it’s worth getting a grip on how this philosophical con-game works and why it’s false.

Deconstructionism originally came from France in the ‘70s. It is also known as poststructuralism, but don’t ask what structuralism was, as it was no better. It is based on the proposition that the apparently real world is in fact a vast social construct and that the way to knowledge lies in taking apart in one’s mind this thing society has built. Taken to its logical conclusion, it supposes that there is at the end of the day no actual reality, just a series of appearances stitched together by social constructs into what we all agree to call reality. But not agree voluntarily, for society has (this is the leftist bit) an oppressive structure, so we are pressured to agree to that version of reality which pleases the people in charge. (If you specialize in studying this pressure, you are a member of the Michel Foucault school of deconstructionism.)

One of the clearest signs that deconstructionism is a con is that it is invariably expressed in the most complicated possible language, not the clearest, a sure sign that the writer is trying to sound clever rather than convey information. The summary I have just given would take months to extract from the average deconstructionist. The effort required to glean the actual meaning from their spaghetti tangles of run-on sentences, larded with a standard repertoire of tortured constructions and verbal tics, is a kind of hazing ritual required for initiation into the deconstructionist illuminati.

They have a number of these standard verbal tics by which they can be recognized. Gratuitous plurals are one, as in "homosexualities," a favorite term intended to convey the great insight that not all homosexuals are alike. But not even Jerry Falwell thinks this! When I saw the home decorating section of the New York Times Sunday Magazine headlined "domesticities" a few months ago, I knew for sure that some deconstructionist young pup had finally made it to the editorial chair.

The deconstructionist account differs from the Marxist one in that, while Marx believed that what we think is a product of our role in the economic system, deconstructionism prides itself on recognizing that there are lots of other systems besides economics forcing us to think this way and that. But in practice, it is very easy to write deconstructionist analysis that just harps on the economic angle, so much of deconstructionism is just cultural Marxism. Cultural Marxism (what Tom Wolfe calls Rococo Marxism) is to be distinguished from ordinary Marxism, which is about revolutions and socialism and boring things like that. Cultural Marxism is way too cool for that. It is popular with hip young academics who have read Solzhenitsyn, seen the Berlin Wall come down, like shopping at Crate & Barrel, but still want a philosophy that will distance them from bourgeois society and all those tasteless squares. (The sight of Marxists worrying about tastelessness would have reduced Lenin to a fit of giggles, but that’s another issue.) Cultural Marxism enables one to simultaneously sneer at popular culture, satisfying one’s elitist impulses, while taking a populist attitude towards it, because pop culture isn’t the fault of the populace but of the Big Bad Bourgeoisie, or in a more sophisticated formulation, of the system of which the BBB is the leading element. So Marxism tends to be a toy that deconstructionists pick up and put down at will. (If you emphasize the way in which the system has a mind of its own that is bigger than the BBB who run it, you are a member of the Hardt-Negri school, as epitomized by their wildly popular new book Empire.)

You may wonder how left-wing all this is, if these people are busy critiquing our consciousness of reality rather than trying to overthrow the state or achieve equality. In fact, some deconstructionists are apolitical, and serious leftists have been known to complain about this. They accuse the deconstructionists of playing abstract intellectual games while there is revolutionary work to be done. Intelligent leftists like Alan Sokal, a card-carrying Sandalista physicist at New York University, have belligerently attacked deconstructionism because it leads, if taken seriously, to the conclusion that leftism is just another social construct to be deconstructed. It seems leftist to start with, but it eventually devours itself. The deconstructionists ran afoul of him by straying into what can only be described as the literary criticism of physics, an endeavor which ended up making physics as much a rat’s nest of opinion as the most gaseous poetry criticism. He got a parody of deconstructionist analysis, "The Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," published in a deconstructionist magazine, Social Text, without telling them it was a parody just to prove how stupid this all is.

Deconstructionism is obsessed with finding contradictions in our socially-constructed picture of reality. It takes these contradictions as proving that reality is a social construct, because if our picture were actually true, it wouldn’t contradict. (Marxists say that contradictions in the organization of our economic system produce these contradictions in our thinking and that the process of working out these economic contradictions will eventually work out the intellectual ones.) Deconstructionists who devote themselves to ferreting out how deeply these philosophical wrinkles are embedded in the structures of thought belong to the Jacques Derrida school. Martin Heidegger (a Nazi party member and author of books with titles like What is a Thing?) makes his appearance here as the grandmaster of ferreting out deep metaphysical contradictions in our structures of thought.

All this make you dizzy? It’s supposed to. Deconstructionists believe in something called the decentered subject, which is basically what you get when you treat the human self as just another social construct. Try thinking about yourself this way. See what I mean?

Deconstructionists think that they are the first people in the history of the world to see things correctly. But they aren’t even the first people to see things the way they see them. The Greek sophists that Plato jousted with 2,500 years ago held essentially their views; see Plato’s dialogue Gorgias. Michel Foucault (the bald Frenchman who died of AIDS) thought he was the first person to figure out that social order is maintained not just through "hard" coercion like the police but through an intricate web of "soft" coercions that make us behave through the pressures of conformity and culture. But does any precocious eighth grader not grasp this intuitively?

The central trick, the key sleight-of-hand, that makes deconstructionism plausible enough to fool people into believing it is this: gather up all the attributes of reality that are confusing, uncertain, controversial, or paradoxical, and claim that all of reality is this way. But the existence of gray areas does not refute the existence of black and white. Most of reality is very solid, even if there are margins that are not.

Deconstructionism’s love of social constructionism creates a disdain for nature. Deconstructionists have a notoriously nerdy (this is really what it is, sorry) view of sex because they are obliged to insist that all social differences are social conventions with no basis in nature. I have heard them come dangerously close, when verbally barreling on so fast they don’t have time to stop, to saying that physical sexual differences are a social construct.

Deconstructionism is notorious for lynching philosophical straw men. They love to pounce on other thinkers and say, "Aha! There you have an Enlightenment Assumption," meaning a dubious idea from the eighteenth century. But the Enlightenment was 200 years ago, and I have yet to see any dubious idea thus pilloried that people actually believe today, except for those that are baldly true.

One of the ironies of deconstructionism is that while it is obsessed with the idea of social constructs, it knows very little about actual construction of anything. I cannot help observing that the Empire State Building is manifestly a social construct, in that it was constructed by a society. This does not seem to result in its being any less real. Does it not follow, if the world is a social construct, that what we have constructed, exists?

One of the sad things about deconstructionism as a philosophy is that, to their credit, America’s actual philosophy departments in the universities aren’t very interested in it and tend not to teach it. Deconstructionism is big in English, anthropology, and anything else that studies culture, but not in philosophy itself. (You can verify this in the online course catalogue of your local college.) The reason, of course, is that if one is fully explicit about it as a philosophy, its problems very quickly come to the surface and it looks stupid. You have to expound it bit by bit, never getting down to brass tacks or showing the whole thing at once, for it to seem plausible. Only in the subjective thickets of the English department can it thrive, much as Marxism lives on there after having died in the Economics departments. Someone needs to tell the English departments of America to butt out of other people’s disciplines that they don’t understand.

One of the most comical things one can do with deconstructionism is apply it to itself. For example, one favorite deconstructionist idea is that, to put it bluntly, words have no meaning. (They call this the infinite play of the signifier.) I like to ask them whether they think this applies to tenure contracts, specifically theirs. Or to the writing on their paycheck. If you are in college or know someone who is, try asking this question, or try having it asked, to a professor who believes in this stuff. I am collecting responses to be published in a future article.

It has been said that Deconstructionism is the opiate of an obsolete intellectual class. Non-technical intellectuals, having deliberately rejected their natural role of inculcating our cultural heritage into the next generation, have nothing to do and are frustrated at seeing that all the rewards for intellectual activity in our society flow to the technical intelligentsia and the producers of mass culture. Since they don’t value our heritage as heritage, they have only two sources of satisfaction left: corrupting the young and feeling smarter than everyone else. Deconstructionism is perfect for corrupting the young because it is the ideal way to systematize the general cynicism and disrespect for authority that are the natural condition of contemporary college youth. It raises to the level of a philosophical system the intuition that everything grown-ups do is a fraud. It is the metaphysics of Holden Caulfield. It enables the practitioner to tell himself that he is among the privileged group of insiders who know that the Wizard of Oz is behind the curtain.

This is wonderful stuff to contemplate in a café in Berkeley or Cambridge with a cup of cappuccino in one hand. It suggests a whole philosophy of life, a certain attitude, even a lifestyle. It was once remarked that deconstructionist women all seem to wear no makeup and their hair tightly pulled back to embody the astringent zeal of deconstructionism and its refusal to be taken in by the surface prettiness of culture. I’m not sure this is true, but deconstructionists’ apartments tend to be decorated with a lot of ironically vulgar things, like corny advertisements, suggesting that this object could only be here because, although worthless in its own right, its owner enjoys knowing the secret mechanism that produces it and laughs at the peasants who fall for this stuff naively. It could be my imagination, but I think I perceive the biggest vogue for deconstructionism among people who have moved to the great centers of culture from the to them hopeless heartland and whose desire to be members of the culture club is greatest. The sort of people who actually find it thrilling, rather than oddly without point, to find concepts of nosebleed levels of esotericism littering ordinary comic novels like David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. It’s a wonder they haven’t perfected a secret handshake.

Deconstructionism is essential to the Left because the proposition that there is no real world is the only remaining way to save the manifold absurdities of liberalism. Forests have been leveled and careers spent in mastering this cult; their investment in it is enormous and they can ill-afford its discrediting. Conservatives must become more philosophic and undertake deliberate acts of intellectual aggression on the abstract plane. We are being attacked there, for heaven’s sake, so it’s time to fight back, particularly since our own philosophic heritage is more than strong enough to beat it. We must constantly reiterate that the intellectually-advanced opposition does not believe in a real world and that they teach this nonsense to impressionable young people. We must deprive them of the intellectual prestige of being sophisticated and of the credibility with this public that this produces. We must deprive liberal academics of their status as privileged arbiters of our culture. This really is a battle we can win if we will but make it an issue.

Note: Click here for an article about the way deconstructionism has attracted the favorable attention of some evangelical Christians for the weak reason that it deconstructs a few modern shibboleths they despise. If this is a trend, it must stop right now. I can imagine no more certain way to guarantee the intellectual suicide of Christianity in this country than to infect it with this nonsense. Under deconstructionist assumptions, Christianity is just another social construct, not the revealed truth. No amount of intellectual squirming can evade this conclusion, which is entailed by the fundamental principles of this philosophy. If sin and salvation are social constructs, God has nothing to do with them. If God is a social construct, there is no reason to worship Him.

Robert Locke resides in New York City. You can e-mail him at lockerobert@hotmail.com. Others of his articles may be found on vdare.com and robertlocke.com.


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Nietsche said about the same thing. "There is no realiy, just a number of realities."
1 posted on 11/28/2001 4:13:52 AM PST by shrinkermd
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To: shrinkermd
Too much polemical gobbledegook.
2 posted on 11/28/2001 4:16:35 AM PST by Gimlet
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To: Gimlet
Too much polemical gobbledegook.

In the article, or in deconstructionism?- I thought the article was spot on, except I think deconstructionism is passe now...

3 posted on 11/28/2001 4:30:44 AM PST by fourdeuce82d
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To: shrinkermd
Thank you for posting this article. I have a friend who writes books on modern philosophy and its impact on the Christian faith. I am planning to email him this article later on today.
4 posted on 11/28/2001 4:36:48 AM PST by Fantasywriter
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To: shrinkermd
Sheeesh! I had to write several papers about the deconstruction of music in graduate school.
Also a couple on hermeneutics. Such gobbledy-gook. And the funny thing was that,
even though I had no idea what the heck I was writing about, I got "A's" on all of them.

Giant waste of time.

5 posted on 11/28/2001 4:37:50 AM PST by EggsAckley
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To: shrinkermd; betty boop
Good and necessary post, shrinkermd.

bb, you'll like this one. :)

6 posted on 11/28/2001 4:52:44 AM PST by logos
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To: shrinkermd
(the bald Frenchman who died of AIDS)

I saw that. Ionesco, wasn't it?

Action Precedes Thought.

Societies have always done the same things. They acquire food, build shelter, invent weapons, and develop a social structure to raise children. Afterwards, they make up reasons why they do it.

7 posted on 11/28/2001 4:57:26 AM PST by monkey
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To: shrinkermd
Bump
8 posted on 11/28/2001 5:32:58 AM PST by Ben Ficklin
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To: shrinkermd
Great article. I spent a semester in graduate school in English at a supposedly excellent university, after getting an undergraduate degree in accounting and several years in the business world (mid-eighties). In fact, I attended a guest lecture by the great Jacques Derrida. After a while, I couldn't focus on the speaker-- I was too busy looking around and studying the faces of my fellow attendees, trying to figure out what they were thinking. I felt like the little kid at the parade-- the only one willing to yell out the truth that the emperor was wearing NO CLOTHES. Only one student other than myself was willing to notice that, and we just sat there and giggled to each other like grade-schoolers. :)
9 posted on 11/28/2001 6:47:03 AM PST by walden
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To: shrinkermd
One of the ironies of Deconstructionism is that while it is obsessed with the idea of social constructs, it knows very little about actual construction of anything.

How very true!

One of the casual tests I always apply to determine whether I'm dealing with an intellectually serious person is whether they are attempting to build a workable... well, a workable anything. Far too often people claiming to be intellectual (Deconstructionists are only the latest) only aim at tearing down the work of others.

It takes more maturity, wisdom and virtue to be able to construct something than it does to tear it down. The most brilliant and whithering criticism in the end produces nothing. A society with this as its' highest goal becomes becomes a wasteland.

That's not to say there is no role or purpose to criticism. But it should be a means to some greater end. Not an end in itself.

10 posted on 11/28/2001 6:55:57 AM PST by Snuffington
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To: shrinkermd
BUMP
11 posted on 11/28/2001 7:02:23 AM PST by Aurelius
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To: fourdeuce82d
"I think deconstructionism is passe now..."

Well, thank goodness for small favors. Or....is it being replaced by something possibly even WORSE (though what could be worse, I can't imagine).

12 posted on 11/28/2001 7:04:51 AM PST by Irene Adler
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To: shrinkermd
Thank you for posting this article. I strongly commend the author for being willing to slog through a huge amount of academic sludge to tease out whatever meaning deconstruction actually has. I have watched more and more of this nihilistic, evil tripe creep into humanities courses on campus.

It is depressing how many people are truly impressed with total pernicious nonsens and how many people will sign onto it and repeat it endlessly if they are rewarded for doing so. The clintonistas just LOVE this stuff. It's so easy to use it to obscure what they really intend to do (line their own pockets and increase their power at everybody else's expense).

13 posted on 11/28/2001 7:11:24 AM PST by Irene Adler
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To: shrinkermd
Odd that he totally left out their calling everything a "text" as their standard verbal tic...it's even more of a warning flag than weird plurals like "homosexualities."
14 posted on 11/28/2001 7:34:17 AM PST by John H K
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To: shrinkermd
Whatever one may think of Michel Foucault's personal eccentricities, he was a brilliant scholar and thinker and his works cannot be dismissed as being devoid of valuable and original insights (in my opinion, that is). He sometimes shows the obstruseness that the writer speaks of. For example, "Archeology of knowledge" is hopeless, but "Civilization and madness" and "Discipline and punish" are quite readable and worth reading.

One of his principle themes, which might be summarized "Truth is what those in power say it is", may, as the writer says, appear as a truism to some, but it is something that deserves to be taken much more seriously than it is. Ask youself, for example, why do you believe that Timothy McVeigh was responsible for the OKC bombing? Do you know the crucial pieces of evidence* which resulted in the determination of his guilt, or do you just take the word of the government and the media. We need a lot less such uncritical acceptance and a lot more skepticism in such matters.

*It is my claim that what was presented at the trial falls far short of providing "proof beyond a reasonable doubt".

15 posted on 11/28/2001 8:36:36 AM PST by Aurelius
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To: Mercuria; diotima; sheltonmac; Askel5; DoughtyOne; tex-oma; A.J.Armitage; x; Campion Moore Boru...
bump
16 posted on 11/28/2001 10:45:12 AM PST by ouroboros
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To: ouroboros
How Platonic.

I theeenk I 'gree wit da arthur, butt two meny dam big wirds.

17 posted on 11/28/2001 10:53:57 AM PST by LSJohn
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To: Aurelius
We need a lot less such uncritical acceptance and a lot more skepticism in such matters.

What're you, a communist . . . a traitor . . . a rag-head lover . . . worse yet, a liberdopian?

You should trust FBI, CIA, NSA, ATF, DEA, IRS, EPA, the media and GW 100% -- they're only there to help you.

18 posted on 11/28/2001 10:58:28 AM PST by LSJohn
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To: shrinkermd
Deconstructing my car at the Detroit airport

Good for a laugh

19 posted on 11/28/2001 11:02:49 AM PST by Nick Danger
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To: Aurelius
We need a lot less such uncritical acceptance and a lot more skepticism in such matters.

But why do you uncritically accept that these are the matters you should be interested in?

20 posted on 11/28/2001 11:02:56 AM PST by monkey
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To: fourdeuce82d
I thought the article was spot on, except I think deconstructionism is passe now...

Nah. It's alive and well -- along with Marxism. Visit your local univerity English department for a healthy serving of either.

21 posted on 11/28/2001 11:10:01 AM PST by Exigence
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To: EggsAckley
And the funny thing was that, even though I had no idea what the heck I was writing about, I got "A's" on all of them.

Sh... that's the secret. Nobody really understand deconstructionism. It's like a secret society.

22 posted on 11/28/2001 11:12:08 AM PST by Exigence
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To: Aurelius
*It is my claim that what was presented at the trial falls far short of providing "proof beyond a reasonable doubt".

Of course, that is really only an academic point (pun intended) since:

A) McVeigh admitted it.

B) He's beyond reviving at this point.

23 posted on 11/28/2001 11:14:54 AM PST by Exigence
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To: Exigence
Sh... that's the secret. Nobody really understand deconstructionism. It's like a secret society.

LOL! The funniest part was that, I don't think even the professors understood it.
They just used some egghead books and told us to figure it out. It was the theory du jour.

24 posted on 11/28/2001 11:25:19 AM PST by EggsAckley
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To: Aurelius
One of his principle themes, which might be summarized "Truth is what those in power say it is", may, as the writer says, appear as a truism to some, but it is something that deserves to be taken much more seriously than it is. Ask youself, for example, why do you believe that Timothy McVeigh was responsible for the OKC bombing? Do you know the crucial pieces of evidence* which resulted in the determination of his guilt, or do you just take the word of the government and the media.

This is the type of word-play that gives deconstructionism and other pseudo-philosophies the bad name they deserve.

Because something is widely believed does not make it "true."

And calling it "truth" does not make it "truth."

Remember the old joke: If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a horse have?

Answer: Four, because calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg!

Take your hypothetical. If we grant your premise that the government manages to convince a large number of people that a "lie" is "true," it is stll a lie or a falsehood.

It is just a widely-believed falsehood. It is not magically promoted to truth, by the number of people who believe it.

(Granted, in everyday life we tend to take what is widely believed as the "truth.")

One evaluates any empirical claim by the evidence for and against it.

Unfortunately, how many people believe something (a "democratic" epistemology) is a poor guide to its truthfulness.

To conflate "truth" with what is widely believed only adds confusion, not clarity to the process/argumemt.

25 posted on 11/28/2001 11:25:29 AM PST by DrNo
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To: All
Excellent piece, Bump.

I am an Engllish major grad (1997) and the last professor I had was the only one willing to say this, adding that English Literature in American colleges is dead due to this garbage, (as well as most of the classic Liberal Arts.)

I try to argue the fact to my liberal friends that at the logical end of postmodern thought, there is no reality, let alone meaning, but, true to form, they are lost on feeling superior to everything and everyone, and ironically, all thinking the same, therefore being bigger conformists than those they seek to disdain.

My capacity to mete out such true logic and rational thought I think, is constantly seen as a threat by them (not to mention my love of America, guns and fine whiskey.) This article puts the finger on my constant frustration with the left.

26 posted on 11/28/2001 11:27:29 AM PST by dk88
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To: Exigence
"A) McVeigh admitted it."

So we are told.

As for his being beyond revival, I assign to that a higher degree of probability. On the grounds that,if, as some suggest, he was a government op, playing a role as part of the cover-up and expecting to be injected with a harmless soporific, he probably wouldn't have been. An interesting sidelight to that theory is the concommitant explanation of the disappearance of Shandra Levy. She worked for the prison bureau and was involved with media presence at the execution (which took place just after her disappearance). It has been suggested that she somehow stumbled on what was going on ahnd was disappeared for that reason. Gay Condit is reported to be a strong (but not very vocal) supporter of thet theory.

27 posted on 11/28/2001 11:31:10 AM PST by Aurelius
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To: shrinkermd
One of the clearest signs that deconstructionism is a con is that it is invariably expressed in the most complicated possible language, not the clearest, a sure sign that the writer is trying to sound clever rather than convey information.

The older I get, the crazier the world gets, and the more I like John Wayne: straight shooting, short sentences with words I don't have to look up, and a simple grrr! for folks who insist on overcomplicating everything.

28 posted on 11/28/2001 11:36:32 AM PST by meadsjn
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To: meadsjn
Someone, I believe it was the philosopher (and very clear writer )Walter Kaufmann, classified three possible reactions to obscure philosophical writing. One is simply to dismiss it as so much babble, another is to assume because it is so difficult to understand, it must be deep. The third, found only among professional philosophers, is to persist, over a long time, to try to understand the material, only to finally realize it is empty of content or says only superficial things. But by that time the philosopher has invested so much of his career that he can't afford to reveal what he has learned.
29 posted on 11/28/2001 11:48:35 AM PST by Aurelius
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To: shrinkermd
Great article -- thanks for posting it.
30 posted on 11/28/2001 12:02:42 PM PST by Silly
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To: Aurelius
One is simply to dismiss it as so much babble,

Whoa -- stop right there.

31 posted on 11/28/2001 12:29:13 PM PST by meadsjn
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To: DrNo
I'd like to respond, not argumentativly, but will require some time for thought.
32 posted on 11/28/2001 12:36:14 PM PST by Aurelius
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To: shrinkermd
So Marxism tends to be a toy that deconstructionists pick up and put down at will. (If you emphasize the way in which the system has a mind of its own that is bigger than the BBB who run it, you are a member of the Hardt-Negri school, as epitomized by their wildly popular new book Empire.)

Antonio Negri is a member of the Italian Red Brigade, and still serving time for his role in the assassination of a major party leader.(See Here) Terrorism is, in some ways, practical deconstructionism.

I don't quite understand Mr. Locke's aversion to David Foster Wallace. I quite enjoyed his Infinite Jest, albeit when I was a naiive freshman. Perhaps a re-reading is in order.

33 posted on 11/28/2001 12:45:05 PM PST by Dumb_Ox
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To: logos; shrinkermd; cornelis; Phaedrus; beckett; Romulus; LSJohn; zog
One of the ironies of deconstructionism is that while it is obsessed with the idea of social constructs, it knows very little about actual construction of anything.

Ah! More of the glories of France....

Deconstructionists inherit directly from philosophes such as August Comte.

According to Comte, there are three phases through which the human mind has passed in history: the theological, the metaphysical, and the positivist. The second is an “improvement” on the first, and the third is the “final improvement” of the first two. Then history just stops.

Of Comte's "philosophy," Voegelin writes: “Man has passed through the theological and metaphysical phases in order to arrive at the present [positivist] state in which he ‘considers nothing but the facts themselves’ as well as ‘their normal relations of succession and similitude.’ The establishment of facts and laws is what we call the explanation of phenomena; questions with regard to causes do not belong in positive science…. ‘Our intellectual activity is sufficiently excited by the hope of discovering the laws of phenomena, by the simple desire of confirming or invalidating a theory.’ In brief: the problems of the spirit and of the interpretation of the universe through a metaphysical system will disappear if you forget about them. Comte’s positive philosophy is in its most intimate essence an invitation, and even a demand, to forget the life of the spirit and the bios theoretikos [Aristotle’s life of the mind, of speculative thought, especially in regard to the consideration of fundamental causes]…. Why should we forget such questions as those of Leibnitz: ‘Why is there something, why not nothing?’ and 'Why is this something as it is?’ We should forget them because Comte is a man whose intellectual desires do not go beyond confirmation or invalidation of a theory; and more profoundly, because he is afraid of having desires beyond this restrictive field…. A deep-seated impotence compels him to surround himself within the walls of phenomena and to deny himself the least curiosity with regard to the freedom beyond the walls of this prison.

“…If Comte had done nothing but lock himself up in his existence as in a prison, he would not have become a figure of historical importance. His impotence, however, was accompanied by a tremendous will to power. He did not want to leave his prison, but he wanted to dominate the world outside. The two desires apparently cannot both be satisfied at the same time. Nevertheless, Comte found the solution: mankind must be locked up in the prison too, and since a normal growth would not fit into such confinement, man must cripple himself in the same manner as Comte; and when he has acquired the impotence of Comte but not his will to power, we will be fit to enter the positive age as [Comte’s] follower. [bold added]

“…We have discussed the monadic character of Comte’s meditation and the enlargement of the monadic process to reduce the history of mankind to an immanent evolution of the monad of humanity. Once humanity is caught in the prison, we see Comte further at work in judging mankind and determining who belongs truly in it and who has to be cast out into the limbo of eternal oblivion; and we see him creating the institutions that will for all time prevent religious and metaphysical miscreants from disturbing the anxieties and opposing the will to power of Comte and his clergy.”

As in the case of the Deconstructionists, there's a whole lot more than a "social attitude" involved here. Voegelin's analysis of the Comtean mind strikes me as profound, penetrating. He terms this sort of positivist exercise "pneumatopathology" -- what the Greeks called nosos, a disease of the psyche or soul....

Anyhoot, the thought has occurred to me that we have quite a few "positivists" here at FR. They shall be nameless, however.

Thank you for the excellent post, shrinkermd; and to you, logos, for flagging me to it. All my best -- bb.

34 posted on 11/28/2001 12:48:51 PM PST by betty boop
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To: logos; shrinkermd; cornelis; Phaedrus; beckett; Romulus; LSJohn; zog
One of the ironies of deconstructionism is that while it is obsessed with the idea of social constructs, it knows very little about actual construction of anything.

Ah! More of the glories of France....

Deconstructionists inherit directly from philosophes such as Auguste Comte.

According to Comte, there are three phases through which the human mind has passed in history: the theological, the metaphysical, and the positivist. The second is an “improvement” on the first, and the third is the “final improvement” of the first two. Then history just stops.

Of Comte's "philosophy," Voegelin writes: “Man has passed through the theological and metaphysical phases in order to arrive at the present [positivist] state in which he ‘considers nothing but the facts themselves’ as well as ‘their normal relations of succession and similitude.’ The establishment of facts and laws is what we call the explanation of phenomena; questions with regard to causes do not belong in positive science…. ‘Our intellectual activity is sufficiently excited by the hope of discovering the laws of phenomena, by the simple desire of confirming or invalidating a theory.’ In brief: the problems of the spirit and of the interpretation of the universe through a metaphysical system will disappear if you forget about them. Comte’s positive philosophy is in its most intimate essence an invitation, and even a demand, to forget the life of the spirit and the bios theoretikos [Aristotle’s life of the mind, of speculative thought, especially in regard to the consideration of fundamental causes]…. Why should we forget such questions as those of Leibnitz: ‘Why is there something, why not nothing?’ and 'Why is this something as it is?’ We should forget them because Comte is a man whose intellectual desires do not go beyond confirmation or invalidation of a theory; and more profoundly, because he is afraid of having desires beyond this restrictive field…. A deep-seated impotence compels him to surround himself within the walls of phenomena and to deny himself the least curiosity with regard to the freedom beyond the walls of this prison.

“…If Comte had done nothing but lock himself up in his existence as in a prison, he would not have become a figure of historical importance. His impotence, however, was accompanied by a tremendous will to power. He did not want to leave his prison, but he wanted to dominate the world outside. The two desires apparently cannot both be satisfied at the same time. Nevertheless, Comte found the solution: mankind must be locked up in the prison too, and since a normal growth would not fit into such confinement, man must cripple himself in the same manner as Comte; and when he has acquired the impotence of Comte but not his will to power, we will be fit to enter the positive age as [Comte’s] follower. [bold added]

“…We have discussed the monadic character of Comte’s meditation and the enlargement of the monadic process to reduce the history of mankind to an immanent evolution of the monad of humanity. Once humanity is caught in the prison, we see Comte further at work in judging mankind and determining who belongs truly in it and who has to be cast out into the limbo of eternal oblivion; and we see him creating the institutions that will for all time prevent religious and metaphysical miscreants from disturbing the anxieties and opposing the will to power of Comte and his clergy.”

As in the case of the Deconstructionists, there's a whole lot more than a "social attitude" involved here. Voegelin's analysis of the Comtean mind strikes me as profound, penetrating. He regards this sort of positivist exercise as a symptom of a "pneumatopathological" state -- what the Greeks called nosos, a disease of the psyche or soul....

Anyhoot, the thought has occurred to me that we have quite a few "positivists" here at FR. They shall be nameless, however.

Thank you for the excellent post, shrinkermd; and to you, logos, for flagging me to it. All my best -- bb.

35 posted on 11/28/2001 12:51:23 PM PST by betty boop
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To: betty boop; All
Sorry for the double post, kids. The system bit me.
36 posted on 11/28/2001 12:53:28 PM PST by betty boop
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To: shrinkermd
A succinct overview of a suicidal and destructive philosophy.

Psst. The fairy-tale world of the leftists is defenseless against ridicule.

Pass it on...

37 posted on 11/28/2001 12:56:31 PM PST by Interesting Times
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To: Interesting Times
Psst. The fairy-tale world of the leftists is defenseless against ridicule.

As some wise wag once said: "One horse laugh is worth a thousand syllogisms!"

38 posted on 11/28/2001 1:09:14 PM PST by DrNo
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To: shrinkermd
A worthy critique.
39 posted on 11/28/2001 1:21:55 PM PST by headsonpikes
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To: shrinkermd
Nietsche said about the same thing. "There is no realiy, just a number of realities."

Do you happen to remember in which of his works he said that? Please let me know if you do.

40 posted on 11/28/2001 1:24:37 PM PST by TopQuark
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To: shrinkermd
Nietsche said about the same thing. "There is no realiy, just a number of realities."

Oh, really?

41 posted on 11/28/2001 1:31:57 PM PST by IronJack
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To: Dumb_Ox
Are you planning to read Empire? I almost feel forced into reading it since it's getting so much press.
42 posted on 11/28/2001 1:35:39 PM PST by beckett
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To: betty boop
Robert Locke: We must deprive liberal academics of their status as privileged arbiters of our culture.

Hear! Hear!

43 posted on 11/28/2001 1:37:44 PM PST by beckett
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To: shrinkermd
It always amazes me that pretentious philosophers use the very tools they condemn to articulate their position. As in this case, in which no meaning attaches to words ("the infinite play of the signifier"), yet they use words to convince people of the rectitude of their thoughts. Even more abstract, if they truly deconstruct existence, then they have to deconstruct the products of existence, for example, logic. They cannot then argue logically that their philosophy makes any more sense than any other view, since logic is a meaningless construct itself.

Having tied themselves into rhetorical knots, they then try to rescue their argument by casting aloof judgments and falling back on the oldest practice extant -- superiority of numbers. Believing in anything is an obsolete construct, and you're not hip if you cling to those old notions.

In fact, a lot of this claptrap is retreaded Existentialism (if you don't mind an obsolete construct) or Nihilism with a fresh coat of paint.

44 posted on 11/28/2001 1:38:02 PM PST by IronJack
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To: fourdeuce82d
The gobbledegook is first (and foremost) in the theory and then in the article that is necessary to deconstruct deconstructionism. It is a vicious cycle!
45 posted on 11/28/2001 1:38:34 PM PST by Gimlet
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To: Snuffington
It takes more maturity, wisdom and virtue to be able to construct something than it does to tear it down. The most brilliant and whithering criticism in the end produces nothing. A society with this as its' highest goal becomes becomes a wasteland.

That's not to say there is no role or purpose to criticism. But it should be a means to some greater end. Not an end in itself. So nicely put!

I encountered postmodernism in one of graduate social science courses witout knowing what it was (as I learned later, they do that all the time: sneak into some field and hijack it; it's the only way since they failed to present themselves as philosophers). At first, there was a sustained attack on positivism that was a complete nonsense: having heard and misunderstood a few words of 18th-century physics in high school, they falsely impute to science some qualities and proceeed to criticise that nonexisting attribute. After succesfully defending the scientific method and trying to end on a good note, I asked: "Suppose it is true that positivism as the basis for scientific method is completely flawed, what should I use instead when conducting a survey or perfoming any other measurement?" I'll never forget the instructor's spirited exclamation: "I don't know; you tell me!"

As you said earlier, a couple of hours of dismantling everything that works to some degree --- in hard sciences to a great degree! --- was the end in itself. I could not anderstand the feeling at the time, but I left that discussion longing to take a shower.

46 posted on 11/28/2001 1:42:44 PM PST by TopQuark
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To: DrNo
"All truth goes through three stages.
First it is ridiculed.
Then it is violently opposed.
Finally, it is accepted as self-evident."
(Schopenhauer)
47 posted on 11/28/2001 2:14:08 PM PST by B4Ranch
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To: Aurelius
The third, found only among professional philosophers, is to persist, over a long time, to try to understand the material, only to finally realize it is empty of content or says only superficial things.

Apropos of your observation about "empty content," here is an award winning sentence from a few years back by UC Berkeley Prof. Judith Butler, queer theorist and poststrucuralist extraordinaire. The award wasn't one she expected however. She received it in a Bad Writing Contest for the "ugliest, most stylistically awful sentence found in a scholarly book or article..."

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the questions of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural tonalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

The runner-up was the University of Chicago's Homhi Bhabha, who produced this remarkable sentence in his book Locations of Culture:

If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate efforts to 'normalize' formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.

Amazing stuff, isn't it? Why would any author think that such obscure cant is content-rich rather than content-barren. Butler and Bhabha come from the postmodern wing of the academy, where, as Locke notes above, adherents have displayed an affinity for contorted syntax, a love of neologisms, and a weakness for the bizarre notion that to deconstruct linguistic categories is to reconstruct society.

48 posted on 11/28/2001 2:16:55 PM PST by beckett
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To: TopQuark; IronJack
"Nietsche said about the same thing. "There is no realiy, just a number of realities."

Do you happen to remember in which of his works he said that? Please let me know if you do.

Tom Wolfe also quotes this on page 13 of "Hooking Up" A national bestseller of 2000. The first few chapters are outstanding, but the rest is a filler.

49 posted on 11/28/2001 3:10:25 PM PST by shrinkermd
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To: betty boop; IronJack; Becket; Dumb_Ox; Noumenon
As in the case of the Deconstructionists, there's a whole lot more than a "social attitude" involved here. Voegelin's analysis of the Comtean mind strikes me as profound, penetrating. He regards this sort of positivist exercise as a symptom of a "pneumatopathological" state -- what the Greeks called nosos, a disease of the psyche or soul....

Well, I don't know about all that, bb, but I do believe there is much more involved here than academic niche building.

Nor am I attempting to construct some grand conspiracy, either; however, I would point out that one of the guiding principles of psychological warfare is that if you wish to change the behavior of a people, you first change their language. For example, you might stop talking about "personal responsibility" and instead begin talking about "self-actualization," substituting the second for the first. Once you're successful, not only have you changed the patois of the natives, as it were, you've also subtly changed how they think about their own actions. No longer do they feel personally responsible for "doing good" and avoiding "doing bad," as they did when "personal responsibility" was a common concept; now, under "self-actualization" they are beginning to look for ways to make themselves "feel better about themselves" - and if you've managed to throw in "triangulation" and other cute little "post-modernisms," if it happens that they don't feel better about themselves, it's always the fault of someone else.

And thus is a society changed.

Yes, it's easily debunked here in placed like FR, and on most college campuses and in most philosophy departments, but put into effect "among the masses" by people qualified to conduct psyops maneuvers, it's another kettle of fish alltogether.

50 posted on 11/28/2001 3:51:18 PM PST by logos
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