Explaining postmodernism
This week we're interviewing Professor Stephen Hicks. Stephen is a Canadian-American philosopher who teaches at Rockford University, where he also directs the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship. He is the author of two books: Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault argues that postmodernism is best understood as a rhetorical strategy of intellectuals and academics on the far left of the political spectrum developed in reaction to the failure of socialism and communism and Nietzsche and the Nazis, an examination of the ideological and philosophical roots of National Socialism, particularly how Nietzsche's ideas were used, and in some cases misused, by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis to justify their beliefs and practices.

Stephen maintains a personal website at stephenhicks.org

Join us live from 12pm EST (6pm CEST) for what promises to be a very interesting discussion.

Running Time: 01:36:59

Download: MP3

Here's the transcript of the show:

Niall: Hello and welcome to an episode of The Truth Perspective on the SOTT Radio Network. Today is Sunday July 23. I'm Niall Bradley. This is Joe Quinn.

Joe: Hi there.

Niall: And Harrison Koehli joins us also.

Harrison: Hello everyone.

Niall: This week we're delighted to be interviewing a special guest, Professor Stephen Hicks. Stephen is a Canadian-American philosopher who teaches at Rockford University, Illinois where he also directs the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship. He is the author of two books, that we know of, Explaining Postmodernism, Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, which argues that postmodernism is best understood as a rhetorical strategy of intellectuals and academics on the far left of the political spectrum, developed in reaction to the failures of socialism and communism.

His other book is Nietzsche and the Nazis, an Examination of the Ideological and philosophical Roots of National Socialism, particularly how Nietzsche's' ideas were used and in some cases misused by Adolph Hitler and the Nazis to justify their beliefs and practices. Stephen maintains a person website at stephenhicks.org. It's well worth checking out and where you'll find many resources including his books in audio form. He's on the line with us now. A very warm welcome to you Stephen.

Stephen: Hey, thanks a lot.

Niall: Okay. Rather than asking to explain the opening question "what is postmodernism?", after all that's the purpose of your book, which everyone should read by the way, perhaps instead you can explain why it's important for you that people should know about postmodernism.

Stephen: So the motivation question. Well, postmodernism is the most vigorous movement in the humanities and spilling over into the social sciences now for 30 or 40 years, depending on how you count. So it's having an enormous impact on how the humanities are taught, in many cases how the social sciences are taught at the university level. It has now also succeeded in training two generations of teachers who then teach millions of school kids each year, so you're seeing the impact on primary and high school education as well and then spill over into other cultural manifestations - movies, the art world and so on, even politics. So any large scale intellectually informed, well-organized movement that affects our intellectual and cultural life needs to be paid attention to.

And of course if you're disturbed by some of the manifestations of postmodernism then understanding where they came from is critical.

Joe: That's a very good reason I suppose. I agree, having looked into it, that it has spilled over to all these areas, as you say, in society over the past number of decades but most of the people in those various disciplines, in education and politics, etc., for example in education, most teachers or lecturers...

Niall: They never declare it.

Joe: They themselves I don't think know that they're teaching their particular discipline through a kind of lens of postmodernism. Would that be true to say? It's not something that is understood in that way or to that extent by most people, right?

Stephen: That's fair to say. Any movement always has at least two tiers of people. There are the strategists who think about the discipline or the movement at a principled high level and uniformly they know what's going on. They know what the other side of the debate is. They know what the positions are that they are arguing and they are guiding the discussion, guiding the reading lists, setting various agendas.

But then it's also true that you have any number of people who are professionals, and they're intelligent well-meaning people, but they're not necessarily intellectual or philosophical so they operate within the framework and if that's the dominant framework that they've been exposed to then they do learn it and internalize it. So if you talked to them they wouldn't necessarily know that they're doing a Foucault thing or Derrida thing. It would just be part of the atmosphere that they've grown up in.

Harrison: Well that's the impression that I get just looking in from the outside. I went to college and I studied music so there was no real ideological focus on any of the subjects that I was studying at the time; but then in the last few years watching the news and seeing what's going on at universities and particularly in what I guess you could call protest movements. I was really first introduced to it by watching the reaction to Jordan Peterson's statements in Canada, in Toronto and the reaction to him and other professors like him all over the States and also in Canada.

So the impression I get from all of that is that there is a very active and mobilized youth movement of a whole bunch of young people who are getting active, getting on the streets, shutting down lectures and guest visitors at universities and other venues and I'd almost say they're hyper-activists. And yet I don't get the impression that they themselves really know what is actually guiding them. But on the other hand you have the professors who you'd presume a lot of them would actually have read all of the material and know where they're coming from, know their history, know all the theoreticians and other scholars who have written the texts that have guided what they are doing.

There's one point in your book where you talk about after having gone through many of the philosophical developments that have led to the present, you talk about the emotions involved and how when all you're left with are postmodern theories and practices, you're left with a certain range of emotions that are at the root of some of those philosophers. My memory isn't great on them but I think you mention despair and guilt and nothingness. I was wondering if you could comment on the emotions that underlie some of those philosophical developments and how that might apply to the actual practice on the ground of these postmodern movements.

Stephen: Yeah, let's start with what you were talking about in the first part of your comment there. Obviously when we are thoughtful people that we care a lot about politics and economics and religion and all of the things that thoughtful, passionate people care about, when we engage in debates and we get challenged, our emotions are going to be provoked with what we think of as our high ideals, that we want to see them realized and then opposition positions are seen as a threat to the realization of those and we might see our opposition's position as leading to various highly destructive results and so on. So it's very natural for thoughtful people to become very passionate.

Now then the educational environment that one is raised in is decisive. So we think of the modernist approach to all of these issues. When we are educating young people we're going to say "Yes! These issues are important. It's important for you to think about them and it's important for you to be aware that everything is controversial in religion, politics, economics and so forth. So we're going to develop in you the intellectual tools to be able to think about very difficult issues, to be able to follow the give-and-take of argument, back and forth, to develop in you the psychological and the emotional resources to be willing to take criticism, to have the courage to be able to dish out criticism. The idea then is that all of this is in the service of our being able cooperatively to make progress in figuring out what the true positions are or what the best positions are.

Now if you think about education that way, then you're going to say independence of thought is critically important, reasoning is very important, being willing to put up with and constructively engage in the process of argument is critically important and then a whole range of social skills, a certain amount of civility, tolerance, courage to stand your own ground, open-mindedness and being willing to change your mind, all of these things will be part and parcel of the educational process.

So what we then find in what you're calling the hyper-activists now is a generation of people for whom that whole description I just gave has not been what their education has been about. So if two generations ago you have the deepest thinkers, the deepest intellectuals starting to be sceptical about truth, starting to be sceptical about the possibility of reason being efficacious or the idea that we can productively argue about things and be civil. If you become sceptical about all of that then you start to say "Okay, I'm a passionate person who has all of these strong commitments to various ideals but I don't think that truth and reason and argument is the way to go anymore. So what then do I do as an educator?

What do I do as a person? Instead what I'm left with is just my strong, passionate commitments and my goal is to assert those and then to the extent that I become a professor, then what I'm interested in is not cultivating independence of judgment and argument skills in my students. Instead I'm interested in converting them to my passionately held ideological framework and enlisting them in the cause so that they will then go out and be fellow activists in achieving those goals.

So then you end up with a generation of young people who really are not well informed. They don't know what the other side of the arguments are. They're not even necessarily intellectually articulate about what their own views are because they've never had to rationally examine them or contrast them to the alternatives. Instead what you have is young people who are passionate, as young people are, highly energetic and they have been pointed in a given direction and they simply follow that direction by any methods open to them. Unfortunately it's a dangerous situation to be in culturally.

Joe: Just talking about that hyper-activism that Harrison mentioned, we've seen this recently over the past year, for example with the anti-Trump movement in the US, but also in other movements in Western countries against for example, anti-G20 or G7 protests and a lot of these people, particularly the more militant aspects, seem to identify with the extreme left, and some of them maybe even describe themselves as Marxists or communists. That would tend to link them directly to a certain aspect of the postmodernist movement.

If you could just describe where that came from? I think it is in your book and also on some talks you given, how in the middle of the 20th century where Marxist economic theory had kind of fallen flat and how that led into postmodernism.

Stephen: Right. There are two questions in there. First I would say on the protest issue, I think in an open society, in any sort of democratic, republican society, that a healthy protest culture is and should be celebrated. So I'm almost always in favour, whether I agree with the cause or not, the fact that we have a culture where lots of people are following what's going on politically, following what's going on in international events and are finding ways to communicate their views and network with other people. And when they are upset about various things to do parades and various protest methods. That's all part and parcel of having a healthy, open, democratic republican society.

I'm in Canada right now, but in the United States they have a constitutional right to freedom of association and freedom of protest. That's a jealously guarded constitutional right. I think that's an awesome thing. I also would say when you have polarizing Presidents like President Trump is, and you have any number of international leaders who are in various degrees, anti-liberal or illiberal, that it's a natural and positive response for people to rise up and protest.

So you take something like the G7 or the G20 - my particular views are coming out - but here you've got a small number of international elitists who have the pretence that they are running the world's economies and we 7 or we 20 world leaders are going to make all of the decisions about how the political and economic environment is going to go. That's something that should be challenged on a fairly regular basis.

Now the tricky thing then is how you do that without undercutting the core of liberalism, that is to say "We're going to protest but we are going to do it peacefully and constructively" and when you find the the protestors, either a majority of them or an active minority of them are in fact not liberal, that they are using the protest venue as a vehicle for them to engage in violence, that's when you start to have a sickness. It's a dangerous precedent because then we know of course that the response is going to be in the name of security and order, that we have a higher police protest, a more militarized response to the protesters, we're going to limit the rights and ability of the protestors and then you are taking further steps away from having an open society.

Now the second part of your question was about the capture by the left and the far left and yeah, there's a long story that needs to be told there because one of the very interesting things about the first generation of postmodernists, all of them, 99.9% of them, several hundred intellectuals and strategists were coming out of the far left and they were disillusioned by the failures of the various kinds of leftwing projects and so postmodernism is in large part a political response strategy. So certainly we can and should talk about that more.

Joe: The postmodernist philosophers, the first ones, were to a large extent Marxist or affiliated with Marxist ideology and its positing of I suppose a utopian society, a workers' utopia and when that didn't happen, the predictions of Marxist economic theory didn't really pan out.

Stephen: Right.

Joe: In fact the opposite happened, right? Or almost the opposite happened, the poor didn't get poorer and the rich didn't get richer and it didn't work out. So surely that economic theory, Marxism and everything to do with it should have gone the way of the dodo. People should have accepted that okay, it's not working so let's leave it alone. But they seem to have transformed it or re-formed it into taking it to the next stage. "Well let's just take it down then. If it didn't fall all by itself, the capitalist economic theory didn't fall by itself, well then let's deconstruct it ourselves." Is that fair?

Stephen: Right. Yes, this takes us to one of the core arguments out of my book. I think there are four or five main variants on postmodernism but two of them are highly politicized and the politicization does come out of far left politics. So a little bit of the history is important and the biography of the leading postmodern intellectuals.

So if you think of someone like Michel Foucault who changed his mind and evolved in various directions over the course of his career, but in the early 1950s he was a member of the French communist party and was by and large, a true believer. He did break with the French communists in the 50s because they were following blindly, marching orders from Moscow and he found that too stultifying. But in the 1960s he did not go too far. He became a Maoist and was enamoured with the cultural revolution in China.

So here you have someone who is working heavily in a Marxist framework, at least in terms of his politics. Jacques Derrida explicitly says that his entire postmodern deconstructive literary project is motivated by a certain kind of Marxism, "in the spirit of Marxism" as he puts it. Jean-François Lyotard from whom we get the "no meta-narratives" phrase and the label "the postmodern condition", edited and published widely in Marxist and communist journals and so on.

So it's useful then to think that all of these guys who actually got their PhDs in philosophy, so the philosophical side, about language and epistemology that's important here. But in the 1950s all of them are young men in their 20s, very intelligent, very politically engaged and all of them are committed to far left politics. So it's worth realizing that in the 1950s there was a crisis that was going on in far left thought, particularly in classical Marxist thinking. Partly it was a matter of Marx and Engels one century before that had predicted that the communist revolution would come of its own accord, the capitalist society had to evolve in certain directions and it did seem by the 1950s that all those social science predictions were false. And as you mentioned, things were going in the opposite direction.

Instead of the number of poor people increasing, the number of poor people in capitalism had gone down dramatically. Instead of the middle class being squeezed out by the ruthless capitalist competition, the middle class had expanded rapidly. Instead of the number of rich people, millionaires and billionaires becoming smaller and smaller as a tinier group of people assumed control over the world's wealth. The number of millionaires was increasing, the number of billionaires was increasing.

So all of these allegedly social scientific predictions about how capitalism was going to develop, there was a century now of data showing that the opposite was happening. The workers were not oppressed and the revolutionaries saw the workers were all buying cars and putting air conditioners in their homes and watching television. The 50s were a pretty good decade that way.

At the same time, when you started to look more objectively at what was going on in the flagship socialist nations, the Marxist nations, of course in the 1920s and '30s everybody on the far left was just in love with the Soviet Union, all the fellow travellers went there and came back and gave glowing accounts of how awesome everything was. But by the 1950s that was really hard to maintain, because data was coming out about the difficult economic circumstances there. Data was coming out in lots of anecdotal stories about the persecution and the torture of dissidents. The gulag information was starting to trickle out. Of course this is before Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago was published a little bit later.

But still there was enough awareness that what was going on in the Soviet Union which was supposed to be this ideal humane indication of where Marxism was going to take the world, things were pretty ugly coming out of that. 1956 was probably the most important year. Khrushchev in his semi-secret speech revealed that all of the genocide under Stalin was true, tens of millions of people, horrible things happened to them. It was just nasty.

Also in 1956 Hungary which was a satellite Soviet state, you had students who were chafing under the very narrow ideological education that they were getting, workers finding it hard to put food on the table and look after their families. As a socialist satellite state of the Soviet Union it's supposed to be that the government there cares about the students, it cares about the workers. But what they did and then for the first time on international television, they sent in the troops and shot people. They sent in the tanks and killed people. They rounded up the leaders of the protests. Most of them were initially peaceful and tortured them and executed them.

All of this was a major blow to western Marxist intellectuals. It was a real eye opener. When they were looking at the capitalist West, You can make your complaints about lots of things going on in the capitalist west but it's not that bad. At the same time when you look at what's going on in the Soviet states, it really is awful. So what starts to happen in the 1950s is a realization by fellow travellers on the far left that that left strategy needs to be dramatically rethought. That's why the old left dies and by the 1960s we have a new left and it's principles and it's movements and strategy has evolved significantly. The important point then for postmodernism is that it's thinkers like Foucault and Derrida and Lyotard and others who are the ones who become the strategists and point the new direction out.

Joe: What was their new direction or how did they go about pointing out that new direction because Derrida is known as a deconstructionist in terms of language, etc. People can say "Well that's not so terrible. He's just dealing with epistemology" and stuff like that. But for me it seems that that opens the doorway to the kind of things that we're seeing today with the social justice warriors. All of the stuff around that seems to have opened the door to that so I don't think we can absolve Derrida and people like that of all blame in that sense.

Stephen: Alright, so your question, if I can reformulate it, I think this is true to the spirit of what you're saying, is Derrida is working in linguistic theory and deploying some heavy duty histomology, how can something so abstract and abstruse have political implications?

Joe: Right.

Stephen: Well one answer to that is to think negatively. If you take classical Marxist socialism, it says that it's scientific socialism, that is to say that it is true and there is a methodology that's a rational scientific methodology that's being deployed and that we are making predictions about how the world is going to go, based on the social scientific principles and that means that we should be able to put scientific theory to the test of empirical data. So we'll gather the data as social scientists do and we will use logic, reason and mathematics and all of those tools and statistics to test the scientific theory.

So the problem then is going to be, if you are a socialist in the 1950s and you are looking at the actual data and you're looking at the empirical results from the previous century's history, then you've got a very big problem, right? Because all of the empirical data shows that the capitalist nations are doing a lot better by economic indicators than the socialist nations are doing. At the theoretical level the arguments against socialist calculation and planning that's been developed by people like Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek who got the Nobel prize eventually, Milton Friedman and others, all of those arguments logically and rationally are very powerful.

So if you are then on the losing end of a scientific debate then you've got an intellectual challenge because to the extent that you're a scientist, in your epistemology you're going to say "Well look, the data matter. The empirical commitment matters.

I'm going to go with what the data shows." The willingness to enter into the give and take of argument and let the better argument prevail, is going to be the dominant principle in your thinking. But if you strongly believe and are committed to a theory and the data are going against it, the empirical results are going against it, the logic and the reason is going against it, then, to the extent that you actually are a social scientist, you will change your mind. You will say "Alright, I believe this theory but it doesn't fit the data. I have to reject the theory and find some other theory."

Now it's true that what you find in the 1950s and '60s is lots of people who when they were young were socialists and they were rational about their socialism and they thought that it was rational and when the data started to come in they said "Well, okay I guess socialism just can't be true. I need to change my mind." So they would drift to the middle politically or they would drift toward some sort of free market capitalism. But we also know that it's psychologically hard for people to change their minds on important normative commitments that they've made. Lots of people then want to say "Well if the data conflicts with my theory then to hell with data. If rationality seems to be conflicting with my normative ideals then I'm going to find a way to deny rationality.

So all of the deconstructive methods, those sceptical, relativized notions that language is indeterminate and can be subjectively manipulated into whatever or that any official language meaning is always a cover for a deeper, darker underlying meaning, all of those then allow you to say "Well if there's data or arguments or narratives that are conflicting with my normative commitments, well those are just narratives. That's just semantics. That doesn't necessarily mean anything that I need to pay attention to deeply and I can maintain then my normative commitment by some other means." So that's one route.

Joe: Right. And do you see a danger in what you just described? Do you see a danger in it spreading throughout society? Do you see a direct effect on society, a bad effect or a negative effect on society?

Stephen: Oh absolutely! All of these issues are hard. Philosophy is hard. Politics is hard. Understanding how economies work and what kind of principles should be in place to have a flourishing economy. Well meaning, highly intelligent people using the best social science methods and a commitment to reason can have lots and lots of arguments about that. But what we do know is that the only way we can make progress on those issues is by having lots and lots of smart people and lots and lots of research and lots of argument to winnow out the weaker theories and focus on the stronger theories and put those to the test.

If you then have a philosophical principle, commitment that says "We're not going to do that. We don't believe in empirical data anymore. We don't believe in rationality. We don't believe that the pursuit of truth is possible", then you're not going to try! And if you're not going to try then we're not going to make progress on those issues and instead what you are left with then is the idea well just believe whatever you want to believe because it pushes your normative value buttons and then we're going to have the very ugly social manifestations when everybody's just out activistly pushing their own value agendas on each other.

Niall: In universities today Stephen are the big names in postmodernism, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, are they still widely taught? Is it considered a branch of philosophy or has it been discarded by the wayside, at least theoretically?

Stephen: It's kind of a split decision here. The big names you just mentioned, two or maybe three generations ago now, all of them were using the state-of-the-art arguments that had been developed in philosophy; the philosophy of science, the philosophy of language, the epistemological theories and so on that had been developed in the '30s, '40s and so on. So in the '60s, '70s and '80s everybody who was well educated in the humanities, in the social sciences, was reading Foucault, Derrida and so on. But then of course what happens is in the next generation of professors and intellectuals, they write their own books extending those theories and modifying them in various ways and so Foucault, Derrida and the others start to become slightly historical figures. So instead of necessarily being read at the undergraduate level they will only be read at the graduate student level.

And then by the time we get into the third generation postmodernism people, even at the graduate school level, are typically less well educated. They're less interested in the history of their disciplines. They're less interested in engaging in the arguments on the other side. "So why do I need to read Foucault or Derrida or Rorty when they spend so much of their time arguing against what we now know to be these failed and discredited theories. I can just take the postmodern principles and apply them in a more contemporary fashion."

So what I have noticed among the younger PhDs that I interact with who are postmodernists, they are less well educated in the big names, so to speak. They've just internalized those principles and to some extent they just function as axioms in their thinking and they're more interested in applying them.

Niall: Why then is it so prevalent? This is what I don't understand. Why is it so prevalent in their assumptions if they're not even being directly indoctrinated with it?

Joe: Because they have been already I suppose as part of the cultural fabric?

Stephen: That's true. Maybe draw a religious analogy. If you take, say a denomination "Lutherans". In the upper mid-western part of the United States there are millions of Lutherans but how many of them have read Martin Luther in the original.

Joe: Right.

Stephen: Or Methodists. How many of them have read Wesley? Or Presbyterians and so forth. At a certain point those doctrines become internalized and popularized and the large number of people, even if they are serious in their religious commitments, they don't feel the need to go and read about the historical sources.

Harrison: You can kind of get a really vivid impression of the result of that by just going on Twitter. There's this Twitter user. I think they're called New Peer Review or something like that, but every day they post abstracts and quotes from papers published in all the social sciences and humanities journals and all from this postmodernist style. I think that's all you really need, to see where this all leads. Before the show we were mentioning Ernest Gellner who was an anthropologist who wrote a book Postmodernism, Reason and Religion. Several times in that little book he points out that the result of postmodernism is almost like speaking in tongues. The language is so obtuse and indecipherable.

Stephen: Sure.

Harrison: That it becomes almost a caricature of itself. He wrote that book twenty-something years ago and you look at it now and it's even worse, where you read these papers and they're just total nonsense. The way I see it is these authors, the so-called "scholars" have totally internalized the ideas, the root premises and assumptions, that then just inform everything that they write. You don't see any reference to any of the people that you've been talking about like Foucault or Derrida or any philosophers at any time.

It's all about the ideology and their jargon, the language they use. So it's all about intersectionality and gender and trans issues and feminism and patriarchy. There are all these big, abstract, vague ideas that then translate down into these written sentences that don't really say much at all because it's all just strange, indecipherable language. And it's just very strange for me to see that.

Stephen: Well there's a few things that are going on there. One is, in any writing or any mode of communications there are always two interrelated things, there's the content and there's the form or there is the subject and there is the method. Of course if you think that truth matters and that one needs to be rational and logical, then what that means on the style side is that you're going to describe for clarity and a ruthless consistency in your expression because you want to communicate the truth and give people the ability to find weaknesses in your position so you can change your formulation and make some progress that way.

But what that means is if you abandon truth as your goal then it's going to have methodological implications because then clarity and logicality in your mode of expression is no longer very important. If instead you substitute for any sort of objectivity the idea of a radical subjectivity, that what we call language is not reflective in any way on anything going on outside but is merely an expressive tool that we use, then what you do in your writing, if you take that medium, is you sit down and you just let the words pour out of you. Whether they make sense, whether they communicate anything to some other subject, really is of secondary importance.

Another element here is that it's an occupational hazard of academics that every academic disciplines develops its own jargon. So there's a technical language that people who are outside the discipline have a hard time following. But what happens in the second generation is that it does become formulaic, especially when you've got the second and third tier intellectuals, people who are pretty smart but not really that smart, learn to mimic the style and to drop the names that are necessary without having necessarily read them deeply. They know the catch phrases and the formulations that are in the approved lexicon and they will string them together and hope that something, so to speak, catches the eye of an editor or will stand out and go ahead.

Another element of it is that on the subjectivity, if part of your formal content of your view - and this brings in another element of postmodernism - if you stop thinking of people as individuals with their own minds and their own autonomy, as people who have a rational capacity but it's up to them to exercise it or not, with that individual responsibility and that your identity is the result of the decisions and choices that you make as an individual, if instead you substitute for that, the view that people are born into various social environmental circumstances and that they are more passively constructed by their social circumstances, here all of the idea of social construction, that your gender is constructed, that your ethnicity is constructed, that your class identity is constructed and so forth, and that a lot of the construction occurs through the medium of language - so there are different languages out there, each of which carves up the territory differently and you come to think in terms of the language that you are taught as a youth, then you stop thinking of people as individuals with their own autonomy.

But then you do see them as these intersection points where all of these different social forces happen to have converged. So you start to see yourself as a vehicle through which other social forces are working and not as an individual with your own ability to form your own identity in any significant way.

So at that point then you see yourself as a vehicle or as a conduit through which other social forces are flowing and the way of much of society works is through language, so you are a vehicle through which various linguistic units just flow and your job just is to slightly manage the flow and express the flow and that's what your authentic identity amounts to.

Harrison: And I think another aspect that goes along with that is that if you see yourself as socially constructed then you see others as socially constructed as well..

Stephen: Yes.

Harrison: There's a consequence to that because if you see other people just as this malleable group of "others", to borrow a phrase from the postmodernists maybe, and you cease seeing them as individuals, that leads to some consequences I think. Tell me if I'm wrong or not, but in your book you quote several of the older philosophers, kind of like the precursors to postmodernism, like Rousseau, and how in their politics, in what they've thought about how to bring about socialism or their version of what a utopian society should be. It was disturbing to me to listen in the audio book to some of their statements about just how little value they had for individuals or humans. It was "Well if a whole bunch of people need to die then there needs to be a reign of terror to clean out the old and bring in the new" which is essentially what happened...

Stephen: Absolutely.

Harrison: ...with the Soviets. Maybe you could just comment on that a bit, the kind of de-personalizing and basically not seeing others as humans.

Stephen: Absolutely. No, you're right. It affects how you see yourself and how you see other people. If you think of people as constructed by their social environments...Marxism comes out of a strong environmental determinist tradition. We could also ad that behaviourism in the middle part of the 20th century was one of the two leading psychological theories and that was Skinner's phrase Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Well there is no individual freedom. There is no individual dignity, and what we call the human being is totally a product of environmental determining conditioning forces.

So you put that together with the idea that the conditioning forces are social groups then what that means is when you see another person you see them only as a representative of that other group. You don't see that person as an individual. And so you don't treat that person as an individual. Instead you see that person just as an instantiation of a certain political ideology and if that political ideology is different from your political ideology then that's just a hated other group that's in conflict with my group and I just want to see it damaged or destroyed.

So you're then willing to do things to other individuals that you would never do if you saw other people as individuals with their own dignity, with their own autonomy that needs to be tolerated and that you need to deal with that person as a unique individual. So it's always a first step in social conflict that dehumanizing, where you start to see the "other" as an abstracted, less than fully human entity and that allows you to do more things.

The other side of that then is then of course if you see yourself as just a vehicle through which your group asserts its interests then that diminishes your responsibility. "I didn't make myself and it's not me that is doing these things and is responsible for these. I'm a vehicle through which my group is asserting its interests." In cliché fashion we say it's for the good of the cause and we're willing to set aside my individuality in order to achieve the cause. But there really is no individual responsibility because I'm not an autonomous individual anymore and so I can just do anything and I have a 'get out of jail free' card, morally speaking for anything that I do. It's for the good of my group and it's against a hated group so tolerance goes out the window. Civility goes out the window. The willingness to damage other people and the willingness easily to absolve oneself of things that you are doing is going to increase dramatically.

I'm reminded of, there's one very striking phrase in Rorty. It wasn't exactly in this context but he was saying that one of the things that does come out of postmodernism is what he called the ethnocentric predicament, that we're all born in a certain ethnic framework and to a large extent conditioned by it and really it's impossible for us to think outside of our group of orientation so that we really can't understand and take seriously people who are that different from us and conjoining that with another point which he says "Look, can't we do all sorts of horrible things? Yes maybe socialism has this terrible history of brutality and repression but we're just going to have to forget all of that and focus on the future."

So that very casual attitude toward moral responsibility, even in someone who's as moderate I would say, in his postmodernism as Richard Rorty is very close to the surface.

Joe: I suppose the flip side of that idea that everyone is just a construction of the environmental or cultural forces is that if you don't like your life, for example, or your conditions, then you can very easily claim that as oppression, that "I was created this way and if it's in the context of being oppressed, if I don't like my position in society then I can turn that into blaming the culture and blaming society and wanting to pull it down because I'm oppressed by it."

Stephen: Yes. Right. And if you are raised in a culture where you are taught that who you are and what happens to you in your life is not a matter of your choice, that you don't have the power and the agency to make yourself into what you want, then of course we're going to get more people ending up in that circumstance because they're not going to exert themselves as often. So yes, part and parcel of that will be that it's not your fault that you are the way you are, that it's a result of social forces beyond your control and it's then natural for people who are very frustrated to want to lash out in various ways and to latch onto ideologies that justify them lashing out in various ways and blaming other people for their circumstances. So it is a downward spiral.

Joe: It's gotten to the ridiculous situation where even white university students in the US for example, who, from a cultural creation point of view, had a lucky roll of the dice, who are quite well off, come from upper middle class families, those people are also complaining that they're effectively being oppressed because they were born into a fairly affluent family or section of society and that's oppression. That's also oppression.

Stephen: Yeah. So any circumstance that you're born into has its strengths and weaknesses, pluses and minuses but what we do get coming out of postmodernism is always an emphasis on the negative, on the critical. It also then becomes, to the extent that oppression and alienation and victimhood come to be the dominant elements in discourse, then people learn that that's the card that you have to play, so to speak, or that's the rhetorical strategy that you use to get noticed. So everybody jumps in on that, finding problems in their life and putting those forth as "I'm a victim in this way" and who can out-victim whom, is going to be the one that gets the most advantages.

Harrison: I want to change direction for just a minute here, going off on some of the ideas you've been saying and maybe widen the scope. Growing up it's almost a trope that you hear in education "Oh, what am I going to use math for? What am I going to use calculus for so what's the point in learning it?" Well I think there's often the same kind of attitude towards philosophy where the vast majority of the population would have no real idea of any of the major philosophers and their ideas and would just write it off as maybe a bunch of eggheads with thick glasses theorizing but with no real connection with the real world.

I don't necessarily think that's true but I think that may be a common conception. I don't know for sure. But I'm wondering if you can tell us why you think philosophy is important and how philosophy actually impacts the world, comes down to the lowest level of basic human life and affects the way humans interact with each other.

Stephen: There is a real issue here. Philosophy, by the nature of the discipline is very abstract and it's often a multi-step series of connections that one needs to make to see the practical implications of them. I think an analogy one could make is if you think about theoretical physics, the connection between theoretical physics and then applied physics, and then theoretical engineering and applied engineering, all the way down to the particular technological products that we all use to enhance our lives, we can all be end-users of various technological projects without understanding the engineering behind them, let alone the two or three generations ago of highly abstract mathematics and physics that made them possible. So the same thing I think is true of a lot of the very abstract debates in metaphysics and epistemology. Those debates were decided, say two generations ago, and it takes a couple of generations for their manifestations to come out.

There are a few ways of looking at this. One is of course to take big picture, historical data. There's obviously a difference between living in the United States in the 1950s and living in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. The United States is a product of a certain political culture. The formulation then of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, had been almost two centuries earlier. But behind the formulation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution was a widely shared set of philosophical views, most prominently those of John Locke, Algernon, Sidney and others. So the connections from the abstract theory of John Locke to two generations later, young, well-educated political revolutionaries, say of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson's generation who internalize those views and then mount a successful political revolution, who then set a very broad set of political principles in place in the Declaration and the Constitution. And then out of that you get a certain cultural manifestation.

You can trace then the case of the Soviet Union. You have a particular political and economic culture that had developed by the 1950s and the 1960s but that's very explicitly coming out of a generation earlier, young intellectual revolutionaries, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky and the others, all of whom were very well read and they had read classical Marxism. So they're reading Marx, they're reading Engels. They become true believers. They then mount a successful revolution and then put in place certain institutional practices that mean you live in a certain kind of political environment.

So from Marx to Lenin to the concrete results. From John Locke to Thomas Jefferson to the concrete results. You can say the same thing about the French Revolution. The leading Jacobins, Robespierre, Saint-Just, Anton, all of them were explicitly disciples of Jean-Jacques Rousseau; not so much Voltaire, not so much Diderot and the other French enlightenment thinkers, but explicitly the counter-enlightenment, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Robespierre carried Rousseau's social contract around with him all the time the way other people carry the bible around with them all the time. So from Rousseau to Robespierre to the political results, that's an obvious route.

Another example I would choose is the subject of one of my other books though but if you think about national socialism and Nazism, why did that have so much impact in central Europe in the early and middle decades of the 20th century? Then you start to read the intellectuals who were supporters of, and the architects of national socialist philosophy, people like Mohler, (Arthur Moeller) van den Bruck, Joseph Goebbels. We forget sometimes that Goebbels had a PhD and was a very widely read humanist scholar, Oswald Spengler and so forth. All of them were reading Nietzsche, Hegel and again, Marx, and saw themselves to a large extent as disciples of those philosophers, as developing a political philosophy that then the political activists, Hitler and others among them, are putting into practice.

So that's one way of doing it if you're interested in the connections in between philosophy and political history. But let me pause right there. We've been talking a lot and it's a very rich question Harrison that you're putting out. There's other things I could say as well.

Harrison: Well maybe I'll try to summarize a bit and then go in another different direction. So when you start with philosophers thinking about and formulating ideas about epistemology and metaphysics, the nature of being and the nature of knowledge, oftentimes when you go to the root of it you find some base principles or axioms that then inform the arguments and the conclusion. So then you get a group of people surrounding these philosophers who adopt these ideas and then those ideas get manifested in a certain form. The examples that you have given have been in mass political movements or political developments in certain nations and regions.

Then tying this back to something you said earlier about the different tiers, then you have the masses of people that will get behind a political movement that is informed by these premises and axioms that then just internalize them without necessarily being aware of who came up with the idea or even what the idea is and it just become a movement that's more action or emotionally based as opposed to intellectually informed.

Stephen: Absolutely, yeah.

Harrison: So there are consequences to ideas basically and to those basic beliefs and convictions about reality and humanity, who we are, what reality is and how that all works. So the way I want to lead this is, your book is focused on postmodernism so we can just narrow down the lens to this one issue and you trace it, but you trace it over something like 200 years or further back, going back all the way to Kant for example and Marx and Hegel and all these old philosophers that a lot of people haven't even heard about nowadays if you just talk to kids on the street.

It seems to be that the postmodernist conclusions about epistemology and metaphysics are more widely believed even among non-postmodernists; that is that we can't prove the objectivity of values or mathematics or the objectivity of the world. We don't know how to do that and so it seems to me that postmodernism almost seems like the logical result of the past several hundred years of philosophy. Can you correct me if I'm wrong? Is that the kind of philosophical consensus? That truth and reality are things that haven't been adequately or consistently defended?

Stephen: Yeah, that's a good question, a very deep one. I would say that philosophy was in a very sceptical position in the middle part of the 20th century. Not coincidentally, that's when postmodernism with its deep scepticism was being developed. The philosophy profession has I think moved on and while there's still obviously widespread debate about all of these fundamental principles, there's a lot more of the profession that is now much more optimistic about the possibility of objectivity and realism and much of philosophy is done on a realistic and rational basis where we're trying to figure out how the human mind works and so philosophers are working with cognitive scientists.

Or we do things on normative issues; it makes an objective difference to the life of the individual and the life of society if we have these normative principles as opposed to those normative principles and that we can find a grounding.

So there are a lot of philosophers who are modernist philosophers or, going back further, Aristotelian philosophers who think that even if we don't necessarily have it all worked out, that we're on the right track and making progress in figuring out some important philosophical truths about the world. But at the same time, within philosophy of course there are the traditional sceptical schools and subjectivist schools and so on, so the debate is engaged.

So most of the postmodernism I think you find outside of philosophy departments. Some departments like sociology, some anthropology departments, in many cases literature departments, some schools of legal philosophy, some elements of history and historiography have been taken over by postmodernism and of course the various special studies areas like women's studies and various ethnic and race studies groups. Many of those are captured by postmodernism.

I don't want to paint with too broad a brush and say that all of the humanities is postmodern. You need to drill down and look at different subsectors. But you're also then making a historical point that yes, this is all stuff that moves very slowly and because the issues are so abstract and so difficult in philosophy and in many cases it's a matter of a certain philosophical theory being promulgated and it will take a matter of two, three or four generations of argument before philosophers say "Okay, I guess that one didn't work out".

They trace it to its dead end so to speak and then they cast around for a generation or so waiting for a new overarching theory to be developed by some genius or other, and then they go to work on that one.

So back to Kant, at least in my book I start the story with Kant because I do think he is the most important philosopher of the last 250 years and he's been decisive in setting philosophy down a road that did end up in postmodernism.

Joe: You make that pretty clear in your book about Kant. In reference to the question that Harrison asked about how postmodern ideas have manifested in society or political or social movements and you mentioned the Russian Revolution and even the Nazis, should we be concerned about the current postmodernist movement, such as it is in that respect?

Stephen: Well absolutely, absolutely! I'm a university professor, so I do most of my social thinking about people in the 18 to 24 age group or so on and I'm dealing with motivated, intelligent kids for the most part. I think of them as kids now that I'm getting older but of course they're young adults. That is usually the point when young, energetic, thoughtful people who are ambitious in their lives formulate their philosophical outlook and that's the one that's going to be with them for the rest of their lives, usually. They're then going to become parents, many or most of them. Because they're university educated, they're going to become leaders in their professions so they'll have a significant cultural impact.

But if they are taught that there is no truth, that they're not really individuals, that they should just see other people and themselves as members of groups, if they don't believe in tolerance in a deep way, if they don't believe that through constructive argument we can make progress, well that's going to have some deleterious effect down the road. We'll have a very different culture at that point.

Joe: Okay, so no imminent revolutions.

Stephen: Well of course imminent revolutions are possible, if you're especially angry and adversarial and alienated and you go very far down the activist road to where you think only revolution is possible and that it has to be some sort of violent revolution. We do know that small groups of people like that have been successful in the past, mounting coups and putsches. So of course that could happen.

Joe: Is that the way you see it?

Stephen: Yeah that's right. It can happen so there's no way to predict that.

Harrison: Maybe we can go to a question from the chat room. Redfox gets this question, "Where does Stephen see postmodernism and its social influence heading in western society in the future?" We've kind of already answered that but if you have anything else to say on that Stephen, go ahead.

Stephen: Well my hope is that postmodernism will become a kind of ghetto, to some extent within the universities as postmodernism is most manifested in the humanities and some parts of the social sciences, not all areas there as well. But universities are typically populated by smart young people and postmodernism is now in its third generation and it does have a kind of same old, same old feeling about it. So I'm hoping that smart young people come in and say "Alright, I want to make a difference in the world but I'm not really ready to be as jaded and cynical as this, so I'm just going to avoid the extreme postmodernism.

I think another thing is that young people who come into universities, there is a grapevine that when they hear about various professors who are very ideological and only about training activists, they hear from other students and they avoid those classes. So the demographic numbers might go down and so there'll be fewer professors hired to teach those kinds of courses so there will be a self-correcting mechanism there.

I think also, especially on university campuses where you have the outright violence and nastiness that's going on, donors who in many cases write the big cheques are withholding significant amounts of funds and administrators then start to pay attention. A lot of administrators have been bending over backwards and being tolerant, sometimes to the point of being spineless in letting manifestations of postmodernism come out on campuses but many of them are just dollars and cents people so when a million dollar donor says "I'm not writing the million dollar cheque" they will learn the lesson and start to reform internally the universities.

So I think universities over the next 10 years will start to reform themselves. That might be overly optimistic but my sense is that's the direction that things will go. They'll self-reform. I think a lot of it is also going to be driven by technology. Young people have now many more options for self-education. There are lots of new educational platforms being developed so people will increasingly be able to avoid universities, particularly the bad and politicized universities and still get their good education and their certifications and then get on with their careers.
So that's to speak more narrowly about the listener's question about the university context so that's what I'd say.

Joe: Well I suppose we can hope. I suppose that would be the best outcome. Stephen we're going to wrap up and let you go. We don't want to keep you too long.

Stephen: Wonderful.

Joe: But thanks a million for coming and talking to us. It's been very informative, very interesting.

Stephen: For me too.

Joe: Your books are Explaining Postmodernism and Nietzsche and the Nazis. You have a website and both of those books are available on Amazon and on your website stephenhicks.org and you've got quite a few YouTube videos. I've watched a few of them and they're very informative so people should check those out.

Stephen: Alright, thanks for the advertisement.

Joe: Okay, no problem.

Stephen: Thanks for the discussion guys.

Niall: Thanks again, take care.

Harrison: Thank you Stephen.

Stephen: Have a good day.

Niall: Be safe. Bye-bye.

Joe: Alright. Well that was useful. It's always good to talk to someone who knows this inside out and back-to-front type of thing.

Niall: Yeah. And who's on the frontlines.

Joe: Yeah, it's not an easy job to be a philosopher in the first place because you're delving into all these theories of mind and what is truth and what isn't truth and especially if you have to wade through the postmodern philosophers, that is so much gobbledegook that it's just mind-bending. I feel sorry for any philosopher or aspiring philosopher who ever read any of those French philosophers, each of them either a paedophile or a paedophile supporter; to have to read anything they wrote with the expectation that there was any sense in it and actually trying to make sense of it when there was none there. The University of Cambridge had a ballot on May 16th of some year about whether Derrida should be allowed to go forward and receive an honorary degree and they basically turned around and said "No". Why? "Because his work does not meet accepted standards of clarity and rigor" to say the least!

They regard him as "making a career out of translating into the academic sphere tricks and gimmicks similar to those of the Dadaists or the concrete poets", the surrealists of the 1920 and 1930s in Europe like Picasso and - what do you call him, the moustachio man?

Harrison: Dali the surrealist.

Joe: Dali. More or less the same kind of thing.

Niall: He was exhumed recently and I'm not going to reanimate him.

Harrison: Oh god! His moustache was intact.

Joe: There's a bunch of others those Dadaist. Mostly they were artists and painters and did some writing as well. But they were known for things like jumping up in various Paris cafes for example with a bunch of people and one of them would just spontaneously jump up on a chair - this is actually what happened that was cited as an example. One of them jumped up on a chair in the middle of a café and said "I'm a lemon" and that was it, sat back down again.

So Derrida was being compared by Cambridge University to this kind of person. They said "Many French philosophers see in M. Derrida only cause for silent embarrassment, his antics having contributed significantly to the widespread impression that contemporary French philosophy is little more than an object of ridicule." They say, "Many have been willing to give M. Derrida the benefit of the doubt, insisting that language of such depth and difficulty of interpretation must hide deep and subtle thoughts indeed. When the effort is made to penetrate it, however, it becomes clear, to us at least, that, where coherent assertions are being made at all, these are either false or trivial." So that was from 20 or 30 academics...

Niall: In their letter of rejection.

Joe: In their letter of rejection.

Niall: They were wise to do so and yet the pernicious influence of just having had a platform back then was enough.

Joe: Well you asked earlier on why are these people even being discussed now, are they even being discussed in modern philosophy classes by modern philosophy students and Stephen said more or less, "No, not really". And you said "Why is it even an issue then? Why are these people even being talked about? Why are we talking about it?" The problem is that we're about 30 or 40 years too late. We've all been infected by this nihilistic, deliberately obtuse, convoluted nonsense, that where it makes any sense, doesn't make any sense either in that where they talk about a kind of subjectivity and there is no such thing as truth and metanarratives.

Niall: It's all relative.

Joe: Metanarratives they reject. Derrida was about the rejection of metanarratives, metanarratives being generally accepted truths, stuff like "the West is best". That's just a catchphrase but anything that was generally accepted in western culture as being true, they wanted to nitpick all of it, take it apart and find out the contradictions and what was false and then basically say "Well it's crap so there you go".

But many of the things that they attack and that are still being attacked today because of their influence, are things that many ordinary people in the West in particular and around the world, use to effectively navigate life, empirical truths that people rely on to navigate through life and that are useful, that work. And that's the question. Harrison, you mentioned earlier on...

Niall: "That may be your truth but it's not my truth.

Joe: Well screw you! It works! And don't pull it down because you're going to wreck everything if you go too far in that kind of nonsense. Sure, you can pinpoint a lie of a government her or how power and knowledge is abused or knowledge leading to power is abused here and there, but you don't deconstruct the entire system because there are billions of people who rely on that system, as bad as it may be, for their sanity and for navigating and for communicating. They start deconstructing their language, tell them that "All your language is so socially constructed anyway and it's so full of contradictions, you may as well say nothing, so stop talking to each other!"

Of course they would never go as far as to say that but that's their implication. You know I want to punch them all in the face.

Niall: You can't. They're dead.

Joe: So they're really annoying because they're so pernicious and evil these people. I'm not surprised that they were all paedophiles. What else is there to say about that? It's kind of part of the problem in the sense that - and we've talked amongst ourselves about this - that a lot of this philosophy or this "perspective" on life, this relativism and questioning truth and metanarratives and attacking the system and pointing out all the oppressions and stuff, what has been co opted into that movement is, for example, anti-imperialism. And that's something that we have been about for a long time, but just in and of itself, certainly not connected to broad postmodernism philosophy. But now you have to question - at least I have questioned - whether or not...

Niall: Or so we thought.

Joe: ...whether or not that was part of the infection of that movement. But I can safely discard that because there are basic moral tenets that go back long before any idea of postmodernism or any mainstream philosophy. Not to say that war should be abolished or it's absolutely unnecessary always, but that needless war, needless suffering is something that should be fought against, regardless.

It's an insidious part of the way they co opt things that are valuable to fight against, if you know what I mean, or exposing lies and they get sucked into and incorporated into this broad postmodernist philosophy and are ruined by it, by association.

Niall: Yeah. Here's another one. The basic concept isn't bad in itself, namely that - this is what the postmodernists would argue - "You're not part of that other culture so you are in no position to criticize it."

Joe: Right.

Niall: "In fact shut up. You can't say anything about it at all." That's taking something that is kind of true, namely in your criticism of it you keep in mind that it's not yours so you may not understand it. You may attempt to. But then they take it all the way to this extreme of ...

Joe: You have to adopt it. If you're going to say anything at all you have to go and live there, for example. That's what...

Niall: And it's produced this thing today where within the same culture where the shutdown argument in response to any criticism is "No. You can't say that because of your white privilege."

Joe: "Well you don't know me at all. You don't live in my skin therefore you cannot say anything about me. Shut up. Don't say a word. Only say nice things to me. Don't criticize me. Don't even say anything that's constructively critical to me, not because you're wrong but because I reject your ability to say anything about me because you don't know me at all so shut the hell up." This is snowflakery! It's complete snowflakery.

Ernest Gellner was an anthropologist and in his book Postmodernism, Reason and Religion he talks about postmodernism from the anthropological point of view and how it has infected and influenced anthropologists and the way they look at other people around the world and he said it's gotten to the point - or at least it had and probably has gotten worse since then back 20 or 30 years ago when he was writing the book - that western anthropologists, because of their inherent privilege as westerners and historical abuses of other, let's say African nations or Middle Eastern or wherever, other nations, that they cannot even pretend to be able to say anything about a culture. Even if they go there, by going there and looking at it, they're looking at it through a lens of imperialism, of supremacism, of racism, of discrimination, automatically, unbeknownst to themselves.

So anything they would write, even if they try to be just objective about it and write down what the tribe does, it's going to be infused with your discrimination and your supremacism and therefore it's rejected. So the only thing you have to do is just stand and stare at them and say "I'm not worthy to say anything about you because"...

Niall: Or to stand up in front of the tribe and say "I am a lemon".

Joe: Or stand up in front of the tribe and apologize, for historical grievances against them. That's the most you could do. But even then you might be offending them so you better shut the hell up. In fact just go home and leave those people alone and let all the social justice warriors go and live with the tribe or in the case of the Middle East, let ISIS brides go and extol the virtues of ISIS as a culture, which is what we've seen actually. People in American universities carrying ISIS flags and wearing burqas in support of ISIS.

Can we just press reset? Can we reboot? Or boot those people out of the university and into McDonald's or something? And earn a decent wage?

Niall: Harrison, any concluding thoughts?

Harrison: Well something that both of you said a few minutes ago, I want to expand on that a bit. When you look at all these conflicts, oftentimes it polarizes. You got the one and you've got the other side and the real tragedy I think is that even from the postmodern perspective, postmodernists get some things right. It might be a tiny kernel of a truth that then gets co opted and turned into something totally different.

Joe: Right.

Harrison: And so it's easy to get lost in the art...

Joe: There always is a kernel of truth.

Harrison: Right. So it just goes to show what Stephen was saying. From his perspective he was talking about the liberal republican democratic ideal and from the perspective of the individual and from objectivity and reason, that you have two opposing sides and then you actually have to talk with each other. You have to listen to the other person and hear what they're saying and then argue your point too. But a part of that process is being willing to admit that you might be wrong about something, in fact to approach the discussion as "Okay I might be wrong about something so I'm going to present my case as well as I can but I'm going to be willing to cede ground if the other person makes a case. But that becomes impossible with postmodernists because they won't listen to reason.

But then that can polarize on the opposite end too where nothing that the postmodernists say will be taken as credible at all. So when you look at a situation like anti-imperialism there are I think, definite grievances. The problem then becomes when you see those grievances through a certain lens. The problem with Marxism is that Marxism saw everything through an economic class lens and my thought at the moment is that that just simply isn't true. It's not the system that is the problem, that there are other factors that can infect any system. So when you're seeing a problem in a system you're not seeing the system itself as the problem, you're actually seeing an independent problem that isn't inherent in the system itself.

So if you have a capitalistic country, a capitalistic country can still do evil things but it's not necessarily the fault of capitalism per se. There are other factors involved. Ponerology gets into that I think. I don't know if ponerology is the be-all, end-all, but I think it answers a lot, that there's an individual psychological element in there where the influence of psychopaths and with a psychopathic world view, you can have a system that does generally well for the vast majority of the people living in that system, but when you have a portion of let's say the elite of that system or in the intelligence agencies for example, that then do their own thing in other countries, the vast majority of people and people involved in the system might not even be aware of it.

But then for people on the outside looking in, like in other countries, just see what's going on in that other country and then will blame this system, without an awareness that there might be an infection in that system that isn't inherent in the system itself. That's the way I see it at the moment. I think we ought to keep it in mind.

Joe: Yeah, it's an infection in the system and the danger is that someone will come along and whip people up to bring down the whole system and ruin it for everybody. If you've got an infestation of something, vermin, mosquitoes, or social justice warriors in your house, what you need to do is fumigate the house of the social justice warriors or the vermin. You don't knock the house down. So you identify the problem or if you've got rot or something, you do it in a rational way. But people don't like to be rational.

Niall: Yeah. You don't dynamite the house and blow it up.

Joe: Exactly. But these people when they add in their own emotional fuel, their own subjective emotional grievances to it well then that supercharges it and they want to bring down the whole system. Harrison during the interview you were saying about this whole question of the postmodernists "well you can't prove anything to be true. Truth is so elusive that you cannot prove that even mathematics or science that it's objectively true". It's such a lame, manipulative bullshit argument to say that "Well since human beings are kind of like filters, everything that we see or perceive is through our senses, therefore we don't apprehend the truth about anything because it's filtered through our senses. So anything we say about anything is by definition subjective and filtered, so we're not apprehending the truth, so no one can claim to have the truth". But it's not about claiming the empirical truth, absolute, universal truth of something. It's about what works for human society and for people, what works! It doesn't matter if it's true or not. It can be demonstrably untrue in some cases, from some completely objective point of view, but as long as it freakin' works and helps society to continue on and improve and keeps it on that track, well then it's true for all intents and purposes.

So that argument of "Ah, you can't say it's true" is like, are these six-year-old girls or something or boys? It's like silly little bratty arguments. And you're meant to actually take it seriously? Do they care about human society? Do the actually care about the welfare of human beings and what works and what doesn't?! Yeah, we live in a subjective world, but we have to get on with it. Let's make it as good as we can. Those philosophers should be kicked to the curb.

Harrison: Well one of the points Stephen makes at the very end of the book which I think is a really good one, is he talks about the three ways of looking at the motivations of postmodernists. One being that they actually believe in their own relativism which he discounts immediately because it would be impossible essentially for all these people to actually believe in relativism because they believe in their own position.

But then the second option that he gives is the Machiavellian interpretation where they're aware of all this. They're aware that their position is logically impossible and contradictory so what you're actually seeing is the use of language as a weapon.

Joe: Right.

Harrison: I think it was Foucault who actually said that, that language is a tool. All language is, is a power play essentially, a power tool.

Joe: They were accusing the establishment or the powers that be of doing that and in turn they do it themselves.

Harrison: Right. So I think that gets back to the ponerology angle where you look at the people that are setting the agenda and I can't really see any other way of seeing it, aside from seeing them as pathological to some degree. There's something wrong with the way these people think, that they will then do this. One of the primary descriptions of a psychopath is that they use instrumental violence, instrumental aggression. So this is aggression that is consciously or deliberately used as a means of manipulation and control. That's just the way psychopaths work and you don't find even with so-called anti-social personalities and people who are career criminals, you don't see them using instrumental aggression the same way. Their aggression is reactive. So they'll react emotionally.

But psychopaths are the ones that are conniving. They're very manipulative and precise in the way they use manipulation and aggression to manipulate and control other people.

Joe: And they do it with a smile.

Harrison: They do it with a smile and you see the same thing with the postmodernist philosophers. Now who knows if they're actually psychopath psychopaths. They may just be some kind of deranged schizoids that get lost in their own worldview and it's kind of twisted to begin with and they come up with these ideas that they can't even imagine actually being used, sadistic, murdering psychopaths would actually use them, but they're doing a similar thing just in a slightly different way on a different level. They're using their words, their ideas as weapons in this very underhanded, Machiavellian, sadistic way.

Niall: They obviously get thrills from it which why the write reams of stuff and enjoy seeing it perpetuated during their own lifetimes and here we are.

Harrison: They're like trolls, very sophisticated trolls.

Joe: Yeah. Well I think that's all we have to say about that.

Niall: Alright.

Joe: We're going to have a book burning.

Harrison: No! No book burnings!

Joe: No?

Niall: We have to keep them as case studies of what not to write.

Joe: Okay. That's it. Can I use them as target practice at least?

Harrison: Sure.

Joe: I'll shoot some holes in them and then I'll be able to say sorry.

Harrison: Then it'll be postmodern art and a representation of the holes in their argument.

Joe: Exactly.

Harrison: Even that's too symbolic.

Joe: Yeah. Alright.

Niall: Who are we interviewing next week Harrison? Are we? Wait, don't say who it is! Don't spoil it. Are we though?

Joe: No.

Harrison: Not that I know of, no. Unless we find someone. We'll see.

Joe: Alright Harrison.

Harrison: We're going to play the outro music so thanks everyone.

Joe: Thanks for listening guys. Hope you enjoyed the show. Thanks to Stephen and check out his book. It's a really good read. Have a good evening and see you next week.

Niall: Bye all.

Harrison: Take care.