People’s sense of identity today is often thinner than a Victoria’s Secret model. Instead of the age old idea of using reason, common sense, and common ground to navigate conflicts of ideas, many think that the individual is just part of whatever group identity he aligns with. Postmodern theory even suggests that there is no common ground between group identities; all communication is lost in translation between groups. People are locked into their own psycho-socio-political-sexual-religious lenses and cannot escape. All we can do, supposedly, is coddle each other’s emotions and affirm each other’s chosen ways of life. Suffice it to say that this notion is self-contradictory and won’t help anyone bridge difficult cultural divides.
This notion that we are locked into a group identity and cannot get out is scarier than being trapped in a dream with Freddy Kruger. Think about it. If we are stuck in our own ways of thinking and cannot get out, then there is no point to ever attempting to change anyone’s mind. If it’s true, then you can’t change my mind about this topic, nor can I you. The group-think idea is also self-refuting. If it’s true that communication is locked within groups, then it is also false because this idea too is just another culturally bound idea. It’s like writing on the mirror “this sentence is a lie” with bright red lipstick. It may look sexy, but it just contradicts itself. If no groups can communicate, then we cannot even agree that no groups can communicate. We are left in the end with utter silence.
If no groups can communicate, then we cannot even agree that no groups can communicate.
Postmodern theory also leads to the quest for power. It’s just like the Lord Voldemort said to Harry Potter, “there is no good or evil, there is only power.” If the postmodern theory of truth is true (note the irony) then there can never be good things such as tolerance or peace. Because we are locked in our group identities, we are always confused by one another, and what we are left with is the struggle for power. Life begins to look more like a Monster Truck rally than an ordered or moral universe. In this theory, there is no pursuit of truth or virtue; we are left with students shouting down guest speakers that they don’t like. It’s more like a world resembling the movie Idiocracy. And let’s face it. We’re almost there.
It’s more like a world resembling the movie Idiocracy. And let’s face it. We’re almost there.
But another way this theory affects us is the facile and condescending quest to silence people from speaking about groups they are not involved in. So for example, some people start to squirm if we talk about policies in Islamic countries in a mildly negative light. The idea is that unless we are a part of a group, we can’t speak critically of them. Another strange example is when men claim ignorance about the issue of abortion because they are “not a woman,” as if it is only women would are allowed to have an opinion. But, you see, none of this follows if we are in fact not locked into our own group identities after all. We are influenced by cultural backgrounds, but that doesn’t mean we are determined by them. Sensitivity is needed, not silence.
Sensitivity is needed, not silence.
So while it is important to realize how our culture colors our view of the world, to make that into a barrier to truth yields an idiocracy in which none can speak publicly on anything of importance. If we are trapped into our group’s perspective, it leads to the quest for pure power, the dissolution of virtue, and the censoring of factual information about any group you do not belong to. So for all these reasons, we should chuck this theory out the window along with its brackish and filthy bilge-water. At the same time, let’s not forget that we are culturally and emotionally influenced creatures. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has argued that our reason and emotion are like a rider on an elephant. Reason is the rider. Emotion is the elephant. Emotion, influenced by our cultural backgrounds, is much stronger than reason. But that doesn’t mean we can;t train our riders and our elephants to function better together. With a well-trained rider and elephant, we won’t censure people for speaking of others just because they hold different group identities.