Postmodernism 5 - Society

Posted with permission from Sunesis. Read the series.

How does a postmodern mindset affect the way we live? Its effects upon art, literature, and architecture are, to a great extent, merely “interesting.” We can ignore the postmodernism in these areas without it affecting how we live. When postmodernism changes the society in which we live, however, we take notice.

There is a great interest in multiculturalism in the postmodern mindset. An American family drives their Japanese car to a Mexican restaurant, returns to their English Tudor house, watches a western on TV and listens to African music on their Chinese stereo system. By doing so, they believe that they are experiencing a variety of “cultures.” We believe that we live in a global smorgasbord. However, is eating a burrito at Taco Bell really a Mexican experience? Does driving a Japanese car give me any cultural understanding of Japan? Are we truly multicultural, or do we simply skim the surface of other cultures like a tourist on a ten-day tour of Africa?

Modernism emphasized unity. Society was homogenized. Immigrants to America became Americans, without an attached prefix. National chains replaced home-grown businesses (the McWorlding of society). Malls and office buildings all took on the same look. For most of the 20th century, there were three television networks and they were pretty much the same.

Postmodernism, on the other hand, seeks to segment society. Cable TV has hundreds of channels and the technology exists for thousands more, and today even cable today has lost its appeal with the potential for unlimited options via other venues. “Broad”casting had turned into “narrow”casting. There is one sense in which this is positive. At least now, with the rebroadcasting of old TV classics on some channels and numerous specialized program types on others, there is something a believer can watch. The modernist deplores this, for the three similar TV channels turned everyone into the Cleavers or the Waltons. Now people can watch TV for hours without stepping outside their narrow slice of culture.

Modernism placed plastic facades on downtown buildings to make them all look modern and up-to-date. Postmoderns are removing the facades and restoring the buildings to their former splendor. Sameness is giving way to uniqueness, and many of us probably applaud this new look.

The concept of uniqueness, however, has its downside. “Civil Rights” now extend to unique groups instead of the society as a whole: Indians, Hispanics, Asians, women, children, the handicapped, Vietnam veterans, Afghanistan and Iraq veterans, AIDS victims, LBGTs, and the list goes on. When the Greatest Generation (with their modern mindset) came home from World War II, the vast majority of them just went back to their lives, their jobs, their families and friends. Certainly there were the wounded, but few of them were interested in becoming a unique group—they were just Americans doing what every other American would do when called on to serve America. In the postmodern mindset, however, every group demands special treatment from everyone else—and it’s usually the taxpayer (who seems to somehow not have made it to a privileged group) that pays the redress.

Multiculturalism furthers this segmentation of society. America has always been multicultural, but there has also been a metaculture, an overarching American society that took precedence. Under the modern mindset, people in America were Americans. They may have spoken of their ethnic heritage, but they were first and foremost American. Ethnic festivals and restaurants abounded, but the immigrants cultivated a new identity as “Americans,” chose to speak English, and developed the American way of life. E pluribus unum was believed and practiced.

Today many American public schools celebrate Cinco de Mayo (Mexico’s independence day!). American history books have been “purged” of their “mythology” and the “truth” of slavery, Indian massacres, robber baron capitalists, unjust wars, and the subjugation of women has been emphasized. Several years ago Clarence Thomas was criticized for not “thinking black.” When a hispanic killed a black man and was acquitted, the culture roared in opposition. When blacks kill a blacks, no one says anything. While part of America remembered 9/11 and the slaughter of innocent civilians, school children in some American public schools were required to write an essay from the perspective of a Muslim on why it was good that American was attacked. You are treated differently depending on what group you happen to belong to.

If we are wholly determined by our culture, as emphasized in postmodernism, and if we are locked in our “prison house of language” (which is culturally determined), then we have no choice but to withdraw into our group “cultures.” The rejection of absolutes calls for the rejection of a meta-society. In other words, there is no longer, for the postmodernist, an American ideal or the American dream.

There is an upside to all this. Christianity has the best basis for a true multiculturalism, an appreciation for cultural distinctiveness united by the knowledge of a universal commonality in Christ. The church has expanded to untold cultures with a common result—the salvation of the lost, the sanctification of the saved, and the development of a Christian subculture in the midst of numerous other cultures.

[node:bio/larry-oats body]

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Keith Robertsson's picture

Sorry, but I have problems with anglophones who make statements like this:

Today many American public schools celebrate Cinco de Mayo (Mexico’s independence day!).

It insults our brethren from south of the Rio Bravo\Rio Grande.  It only takes a bit of wiki-fu to find out Mexican Independence Day is September 16.  I first read the factoid on a calendar from a Mexican restaurant 30 plus years ago.

In Mexico, the Cinco de Mayo is a regional celebration on par with Patriots' Day in Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Maine.  Though celebrated since the 1860s, it broke out of the Mexican-American community in the '80s with financing by the Mexican beer companies.

My bottom is Cinco de Mayo celebrations are no more divisive than those day celebrated other immigrant communities St. Patrick's Day (Irish), Columbus Day (Italian), Lunar New Year (Chinese), and Cherry Blossom Festival (Japanese).  Unless of course, the celebrations fall into the hands of those with a separatist political agenda.  Which is not the norm.  For the most part, it's a festive day of mariachi, carne asada and beer.

 

pvawter's picture

Keith,
doesn't your clarification only strengthen his point that the so-called multiculturalism of the postmodern really ignores the greater culture it claims to admire, and embraces politically correct elements of foreign cultures that have been stripped of their original significance? Instead of truly appreciating our differences and coming to a greater understanding of one another, we pretend that we understand each other and forcefully exclude any meaningful discussion of our unique heritage.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Cinco de Mayo celebrations are no more divisive than those day celebrated other immigrant communities St. Patrick's Day (Irish), Columbus Day (Italian), Lunar New Year (Chinese), and Cherry Blossom Festival (Japanese).

There is no claim in the piece that these celebrations are divisive. Rather than arguing that these events cause division, the essay cites them as examples of division that is pursued instead of the pursuit of national unity. It is an interesting phenomenon that these celebrations occur in US government schools.

Personally, I think cultural fragmentation is unavoidable in our times. Cultures cohere when there is a shared worldview/religious perspective, a core of principles and values. I don't think that, as a nation, we have that anymore. What's seems to be special about postmodernism is the attitude that cultural cohesion is unimportant, that conflicting sets of basic values and principles can/should peacefully coexist. It's very comfortable with contradiction.

Keith Robertsson's picture

Yeup.  It just gets my goat when some well meaning Anglo makes a howler like Dr. Oats' as I pointed out.

pvawter wrote:
Keith, doesn't your clarification only strengthen his point that the so-called multiculturalism of the postmodern really ignores the greater culture it claims to admire, and embraces politically correct elements of foreign cultures that have been stripped of their original significance? Instead of truly appreciating our differences and coming to a greater understanding of one another, we pretend that we understand each other and forcefully exclude any meaningful discussion of our unique heritage.

Rob Fall's picture

Aaron, I don't know about your part of the world.  But in mine, Columbus Day and St. Patrick's have been celebrated for close to a hundred years.  Does someone know when Chicago started to turn the Chicago River green on St. P's?

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Cinco de Mayo celebrations are no more divisive than those day celebrated other immigrant communities St. Patrick's Day (Irish), Columbus Day (Italian), Lunar New Year (Chinese), and Cherry Blossom Festival (Japanese).

There is no claim in the piece that these celebrations are divisive. Rather than arguing that these events cause division, the essay cites them as examples of division that is pursued instead of the pursuit of national unity. It is an interesting phenomenon that these celebrations occur in US government schools.

Personally, I think cultural fragmentation is unavoidable in our times. Cultures cohere when there is a shared worldview/religious perspective, a core of principles and values. I don't think that, as a nation, we have that anymore. What's seems to be special about postmodernism is the attitude that cultural cohesion is unimportant, that conflicting sets of basic values and principles can/should peacefully coexist. It's very comfortable with contradiction.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Ben Howard's picture

I'm sorry, but I don't buy Dr. Oats' history at all.  Immigrants here to the U.S. did not assimilate quite as neatly as what is implied by this article.  What about Chinatown in cities such as New York (both Manhattan and Queens), San Francisco, Los Angeles, and even formerly San Diego?  How about Little Tokyo or Korea Town in Los Angeles or any of the little ethnic communities in numerous areas of NYC?  The ethnic diversity (multiculturalism) while not always easy to deal with in the United States is what makes us up as a nation, and I would contend that it is only modern day Neo Conservatives that have this notion that we all got along hunky dory and assimilated into some "American" culture 100 years ago that we don't do now.  

 

I live on a street where more than half the people speak Spanish as a primary language, and I like it!  If you have ever traveled outside of the U.S., you will find that many other countries have several languages spoken within their borders and numerous distinct cultures.  Singapore is one of the most amazing countries in the world and enclosed in their geographically small (especially compared to the U.S.) borders, you have an Arab section, Indian section, traditional Malay everywhere, along with the Chinese influence.  It does not make them a weaker and more divided country.  It makes them stronger with all those cultures and influences that makes Singapore what it is.  And yes, all those languages are spoken along with the official language of English.  

 

I would say that in this case, just because something happens to have been adopted by Postmodernists as a rallying point does not make it a bad thing - multiculturalism is one of those things.  The United States is truly a melting pot, but within that pot are large identifiable chunks of food that each look and taste different and don't melt into an indistinguishable mush, but all together they make up the unique cultural blend that becomes the United States of America!

JobK's picture

If it isn't, then this whole article needs to be rewritten to reflect, you know, reality. Case in point: narrowcasting has always existed. Ever heard of Ebony Magazine? It was founded in 1945. Movies made and marketed to specific racial/ethnic groups have existed since at least the 1920s. Radio stations targeted towards certain communities came around that same time too. But the whole "narrowcasting versus broadcasting" thing only became an issue when neo-conservatives started complaining about the existence of Black Entertainment Television in the 1990s. 

Postmodernism, modernism ... what matters is dealing with facts and reality and not seeing the world as one chooses to. Unity and homogenization certainly wasn't being emphasized back when more than a few fundamentalist and evangelical preachers promoted the idea that interracial marriage was a sin (one example among many). 

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

christian cerna's picture

A melting pot doesn't make a country stronger. The most important unifying factor in a nation is the religion of its people, followed by its traditions. The nation has never been as divided as it is now. We have so many differing views on religion, politics, morals, traditions, laws, etc.

christian cerna's picture

Multiculturalism is a relatively new idea created by people who want to destroy the nation. Notice that it is always the Anglo nations that must be willing to give up it's sovereignty and culture. If other countries and cultures take over our country it's called multiculturalism. But if Anglo people take over a country, it's called an invasion. 

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