Deconstructing the Deconstruction- Postmodernism’s Effect on US Politics

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Written by Eric Lough

Postmodernism, as it reluctantly likes to be defined as, focuses on the deconstruction of “truths” while trying show the importance of knowledge in power relationships. The goal of the Postmodernists seek to deconstruct society’s labels.

Michel Foucalt, 20th century philosopher, the father of postmodernism, emphasized personal identity over societal identity by choosing subjective reality over objective reality.This means what someone believes to be true is the truth. In Postmodernist beliefs, truth is subjective and specific to the individual; Letting someone decide what is “true” for them rather than allowing labels developed by society to dictate their reality.

The idea behind Postmodernism is there is no such thing as universal truths. It is hard to define because Postmodernist do not believe in labels and see them as oppressive. Throughout societies in history, labels can, and have, been used in order to oppress and deprive citizens’ of their rights based on labels.

Foucault, due to his beliefs, never personally recognized the labels given to his thought. He regarded knowledge and fact but as a form of societal control. Foucalt thought knowledge was used for power in order to oppress. Commonly, he saw definitions and labels as forces used by those with power to subjugate those without power. Foucalt is credited with generating a lot of the ideology behind Queer and Feminist theory commonly found in the Humanitarian and Social Science courses on college campuses in western education.

As of late, these philosophies have gained support from college administrators as student groups push harder for social change. Postmodernism has bled into more “black and white” fields, such as mathematics and science; making it hard for teachers to properly teach this cut and dry course material without fear of coming off as an intolerant bigot.     

You would have to be living under a rock not to notice a social shift in america towards these ideals. Social issues have begun to polarize Americans into groups unless they entirely agree with a secular stance. Labels are undoubtedly being deconstructed especially on college campuses.

The growth of this ideology has sparked both parties to action. All sides pandering to their demographic. Student groups and college administrators have used Postmodernist rhetoric for an acquisition of power and funding. Democrats and Republicans have been caught gripping to key issues; taking clear sides on hot topic social issues in an effort to gather funding and support.

Many Conservatives ideals like the classical idea of a family are challenged when Postmodernist ideas suggest labels like family, mom, dad are all left up to interpretation as well as systems of oppression. Conservatives, in general believe a society is best when orderly and efficient. Change is often inefficient. This is why Conservatives are usually apprehensive to social change recognized by government. Especially when most of ideals behind Postmodernist beliefs contradict with a large group of the Republican voter base. Fundamentally, the Conservative reaction to the Postmodernist shift in America among the Left should have been expected since the ideals directly tear down a host of Republican ideals. Both the Left and Right have increased in radicalism as America becomes more polarized from social issues.

Democrats have also “identified” with identity politics. In the 21st century, the Democratic party has tried to display itself as the political party for social change. Obama’s campaign slogan in 2008 was “Change.”. The adoption of Postmodernism by the Left is only natural since such a large portion of Democratic voters agree labels are generally bad- just social constructs.

Many on the far-left have agreed the rejection of Postmodernist beliefs in itself is an act of oppression. In some situations, the freedom to choose not to subscribe to Postmodernist ideals justifies violence among the radicalized left. America is the place of peaceful discourse in order to create social change. Though then hypocritically, the radical left often groups people to justify physical force over peaceful discourse at rallies and protests.  

On the contrary, Republicans believe labels are good. Society needs a way of grouping things and people. Labels do serve a benefit to better organize groups making communication much easier. Republicans fear the deconstruction of language and labels will harm America since it does make things much more ill defined. Republicans turn to ideological and religious arguments when pondering their “truths” and whether or not identity politics should be recognized by government.

Ultimately each side agrees to disagree, but not constructively.

Democrats believe the deconstruction of labels is good. Labels can create barriers between people and have been used negatively in the past. Governments have wielded this power to deny citizen’s rights based on prejudice which sets a dangerous social precedent. Socially as well as politically, Democrats align themselves with common Postmodernist views. The use of government funds often justified by and for hundreds of subjective ideals.

Labels are good and bad. As a society, people need common terms to communicate with. Communicating is hard enough and if both parties cannot agree on common terms; it is almost impossible. The ability to agree on terms is also hard.

For example, If two people cannot agree on common terms to organize a file cabinet; the file cabinet will never get organized.

Since communication is often fuzzy, societies must understand people need the ability to freely express themselves truthfully; not an easy task. This is why the First Amendment exists; communicating is hard and people are often bad at it. The breakdown of communication often distills into violence, especially when each side is happy to feel threatened by the existence of the other. Examples of this can be seen all over America at protests and rallies.

Remembering communication is difficult in times of heightened emotion but vital for a civil society to operate peacefully.

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