I continue being not well, and otherwise also as before, so I cannot do
much. Yesterday there was no Nederlog and today I continue a theme I
wrote about before in connection with ME, namely postmodernism. I
think this is quite relevant and important, so as to come to understand
the Wessely-school of psychiatry, that uses its methods, and to
understand why this pseudoscience could become so dominant in society and
politics, and namely over patients with ME/CFS in England (Wessely, White, Sharpe etc.),
the USA (Reeves, Holmes, Jones), and in Holland (Bleijenberg, Van der Meer):
postmodernism has corrupted and poisoned the standards and practices of
science, education, academia, politics and public discussion.
1. Introducing pomo
Morningstar shines bright light on postmodernism
The first section gives an overview of postmodernism aka
pomo with the help of my own writings and those in the Wikipedia and the
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, while the second section shines a
bright light on it by an engineer in a text that deserves wide reading and some comments.
1. Introducing pomo
I wrote about it before, and postmodernism is a large
topic, but very happily I have found a nice and interesting text that I
will quote from, comment on and link below, in which the topic of
postmodernism is very nicely and clearly analyzed, as I will show by
quoting, while also I'll make some additional explanatory points.
That treatment will be quite general, so I start with
some references to postmodernism. Here it is first as defined in my
Philosophical Dictionary, followed by a number of my texts in Nederlog of
Postmodernism: a.k.a. po-mo:
Fraudulent philosophy of fraudulent would-be scientists and would-be
philosophers who seek to make a career and get money and status by
pretending to emancipate others, and who insist "truth does not exist",
"truth is relative", "all moral norms are equally relative", "all men
are equal" (and usually in po-mo circles "but women are more equal than
... followed by considerably more text
Scientific Realism versus Postmodernism |
ME en postmodernisme
This is a clear tabular nine-fold distinction between the two. The second
is the original of the first in Dutch.
science, ME, research-funding and postmodernism
What has happened over the last two to three decades is
that post-modernism has mostly taken
over, and has politicized-moralized almost things, into democratic issues
of correctness, that also should be publicly discussed and decided in the
media or by governments or by NGOs or or by corporations, with the money
to manipulate the media, mostly on a public relations level for the
deceived public, and in networks of (semi-)political professional players
in committees behind the scenes.
Hence effectively, the politicians, bureaucrats, NGOs and
corporation have, largely through playing, paying and manipulating the
media, taken over the power in science and research from the scientists
and researchers, and for the most part force these to do what they want
researched and not researched, although always proper care is taken for a
good dose of pr and spin to deceive the public into thinking all has been
done for the best of reasons in the general interest, while this is
normally not the case, as in fact private, political or corporate
interests pay the piper to play the tunes that are most profitable for
them, while appearing digestible to the average - "The Democratic Majority" -
of The People.
On the postmodern falsifications in Wessely &
As will be explained below, the essence of postmodernism is abuse of
language and reason, and here I show quite clearly how Wessely and
McClure did this in an editorial about their negative XMRV-experiment.
Finally, in more general terms about postmodernism, here
are some links to Wikipedia-items and a Stanford Enc Phil article (as seen last today) with some
Postmodernism (postmodernistically presented on Wikipedia)
I quote its beginning:
Postmodernism is a tendency in contemporary culture
characterized by the rejection of
objective truth and
global cultural narrative. It emphasizes the role of
language, power relations, and motivations; in particular it
attacks the use of sharp classifications such as male versus
female, straight versus gay, white versus black, and imperial
versus colonial. Postmodernism has influenced many cultural
linguistics, architecture, visual arts, and music.
Postmodernist thought is an intentional departure from
modernist approaches that had previously been dominant. The term
"postmodernism" comes from its critique of the "modernist"
scientific mentality of objectivity and progress associated with
Warning: The links in the above are again seem mostly...
(postmodernistically presented in... the Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy, that is on the whole much better than this article).
I quote its beginning:
That postmodernism is indefinable is a truism. However, it can be
described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical
practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the
trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other
concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress,
epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.
The term “postmodernism” first entered the philosophical
lexicon in 1979, with the publication of The Postmodern
Condition by Jean-François Lyotard.
Followed by a lot more.
The Sokal-affair (Wikipedia)
The American physicist Sokal was not amused and produced a famous hoax:
He tricked the editors of a leading French postmodernistic journal to
accept utter nonsense.
The link gives text and background and many links.
Postmodernism disrobed (by Richard Dawkins)
Here one may learn a lot in a brief scope - and Dawkins will have none of it, but has nice
quotes, such as this most enlightening typical pomo bit:
We can clearly see that there is no bi-univocal correspondence
between linear signifying links or archi-writing, depending on
the author, and this multireferential, multi-dimensional machinic
catalysis. The symmetry of scale, the transversality, the pathic
non-discursive character of their expansion: all these dimensions
remove us from the logic of the excluded middle and reinforce us
in our dismissal of the ontological binarism we criticised
And also I must draw your attention, especially in the
context of Getting your Whee-whees cuddled - the French postmodernistic
psychiatric maitre penseur Lacan in full flight, caught by
Dawkins, and I for one would not at all be amazed if Wessely, White and
learned a lot from Lacan, notably what one can get away with and
what one get famous
with, since postmodernism ruined most of the universities.
Here is the postmodern equivalence of the square root of minus 1 and
the male organ:
They go on to quote the following remarkable piece of reasoning
Thus, by calculating that signification according to the
algebraic method used here, namely:
You don't have to be a mathematician to see that this is
ridiculous. It recalls the Aldous Huxley character who proved the
existence of God by dividing zero into a number, thereby deriving
the infinite. In a further piece of reasoning that is entirely
typical of the genre, Lacan goes on to conclude that the erectile
... is equivalent to the
of the signification produced above, of the jouissance that it
restores by the coefficient of its statement to the function of
lack of signifier (-1).
We do not need the mathematical expertise of Sokal and
Bricmont to assure us that the author of this stuff is a fake.
Perhaps he is genuine when he speaks of non-scientific subjects?
But a philosopher who is caught equating the erectile organ to
the square root of minus one has, for my money, blown his
credentials when it comes to things that I don't know
I have mentioned it before and here repeat my instructions for its use
from the last time I did:
Instructions for use, also for instantaneous
enlightenment and enduring bliss:
1. Click the link
2. Savour and Enjoy (save if useful for your coursework in clinical
3. Reload the page.
4. Savour and Enjoy (save if useful for your coursework in modern
5. Return to step 3.
This will give you infinite supplies of Crawleyesque,
Wesselite, Whiteish, Sharpeish prose.
Morningstar shines bright light on postmodernism
Now to the the text that shines a bright light on pomo:
I found it under
(Wikipedia), and indeed it is earlier than the Sokal-affair of 1994,
namely from 1991, and it didn't get to be an affair, but seemed to have
involved much laughter.
The link above leads you to all of it, and is much
recommended, but here follows a list of quotations in the order in which
they occur in the text, with my comments. I will indent Morningstar's
It starts thus:
This is the story of one computer professional's
explorations in the world of postmodern literary criticism. I'm a working
software engineer, not a student nor an academic nor a person with any
real background in the humanities. Consequently, I've approached the
whole subject with a somewhat different frame of mind than perhaps people
in the field are accustomed to. Being a vulgar engineer I'm allowed to
break a lot of the rules that people in the humanities usually have to
play by, since nobody expects an engineer to be literate. Ha. Anyway,
here is my tale.
Note that the year is 1991 and Morningstar is going to
make a presentation on a conference that motivated him in a particular
It was in turn stimulating, aggravating, fascinating and
infuriating, a breathtaking intellectual roller coaster ride unlike
anything else I've recently encountered in my professional life. My
last serious brush with the humanities in an academic context had been
in college, ten years earlier. The humanities appear to have
experienced a considerable amount of evolution (or perhaps more
accurately, genetic drift) since then.
I will leave most of that and some other matters out and
follow the main line of his argument only, while I should start by remarking
that postmodernism, to which Morningstar was entirely new and fresh
in 1991, was known to me since the 1970ies, first only in French
philosophy, then in leftist politics and movements (green, environmental,
feminist, gay), and then in the University of Amsterdam, where it soon
came to dominate the whole university, because of the way these were
governed, namely by students + staff since 1971, and in other
universities, also outside Holland, namely especially in the socalled soft and
literary sciences, and soon also in the media, at least in outline and
But Morningstar missed all that - and indeed it started
as a small movement or fashion in philosophy and lit.crit. studies, and
in France and Europe before it reached the US.
Back to Morningstar and his conference in 1991 in the the
postmodernism meanwhile had arrived and flourished quite a while,
basically - as we shall find out - because it is so very easy to make a
degree and career with in the soft science in the universities, that in
all Western countries were full to the brim with an ever greater
proportion of adolescents who wanted a university-degree without having
any interest or talent for real science, but who all were formally qualified to enter
university because pre-university education had been much levelled "so as
to give people more equal chances". (*)
Here is what Morningstar saw and heard, to his initial
People kept saying the most remarkable things using the most
remarkable language, which I found I needed to put down in writing
because the words would disappear from my brain within seconds if I
didn't. Are you familiar with the experience of having memories of your
dreams fade within a few minutes of waking? It was like that, and I
think for much the same reason. Dreams have a logic and structure all
their own, falling apart into unmemorable pieces that make no sense
when subjected to the scrutiny of the conscious mind. So it was with
many of the academics who got up to speak. The things they said were
largely incomprehensible. There was much talk about deconstruction and
signifiers and arguments about whether cyberspace was or was not
"narrative". There was much quotation from Baudrillard, Derrida, Lacan,
Lyotard, Saussure, and the like, every single word of which was
impenetrable. I'd never before had the experience of being quite this
baffled by things other people were saying. I've attended lectures on
quantum physics, group theory, cardiology, and contract law, all fields
about which I know nothing and all of which have their own specialized
jargon and notational conventions. None of those lectures were as
opaque as anything these academics said.
Quite so, and I judge on the basis of similar experiences. And the difference
is that in the other sciences - if contract law is a science, which it is
to a considerable extent - the lecturers are not trying to bullshit one,
and usually know at least what they are lecturing about.
Morningstar and his colleague had learned quite a lot on the first day
of the conference, at least terminologically and morally speaking, and
decided to adjust their presentation:
We retreated back to Palo Alto that evening for a quick rewrite. The
first order of business was to excise various little bits of
phraseology that we now realized were likely to be perceived as
Politically Incorrect. Mind you, the fundamental thesis of our
presentation was Politically Incorrect, but we wanted people to get
upset about the actual content rather than the form in which it was
presented. Then we set about attempting to add something that would be
an adequate response to the postmodern lit crit-speak we had been
inundated with that day. Since we had no idea what any of it meant (or
even if it actually meant anything at all), I simply cut-and-pasted
from my notes. The next day I stood up in front of the room and opened
our presentation with the following:
The essential paradigm of cyberspace is creating partially
situated identities out of actual or potential social reality in
terms of canonical forms of human contact, thus renormalizing the
phenomenology of narrative space and requiring the naturalization of
the intersubjective cognitive strategy, and thereby resolving the
dialectics of metaphorical thoughts, each problematic to the other,
collectively redefining and reifying the paradigm of the parable of
the model of the metaphor.
This bit of nonsense was constructed entirely out of things people
had actually said the day before, except for the last ten words or so
which are a pastiche of Danny Kaye's "flagon with the dragon" bit from
The Court Jester, contributed by our co-worker Gayle Pergamit,
who took great glee in the entire enterprise. Observing the audience
reaction was instructive. At first, various people started nodding
their heads in nods of profound understanding, though you could see
that their brain cells were beginning to strain a little. Then some of
the techies in the back of the room began to giggle. By the time I
finished, unable to get through the last line with a straight face, the
entire room was on the floor in hysterics, as by then even the most
obtuse English professor had caught on to the joke. With the
postmodernist lit crit shit thus defused, we went on with our actual
This must have been about the last time, for some ten or more years at
least. in which criticism - 'critique' is the pomo PC term, also
used as a verb - of
postmodernism was received with laughter by postmodernists, and in fact
the subject of postmodernism is a lot more serious than Morningstar seems
to have realized in 1991.
For postmodernism was and is about power and career and politics for
postmodernists, who generally are impostures, tricks, frauds, trying to
introduce non-scientific myths and nonsense in the universities instead
of science, for which nearly all postmodernists are not qualified, and in
which they are rarely interested, for they are interested foremost, after
their own power and career, in politics.
And as it happens postmodernism, that arose in French and German
universities, was much helped by
Marxism of the sixties and seventies,
for most Marxists found out that they could hold on to anything by being
postmodern about it, and that one could at the same time claim anything
and get away with it, while also seeming quite profound and deeply moral.
At this point, you may be quite interested: How to do this?
Morningstar has been there:
I can't claim to be an expert, but I feel I've reached the level of
a competent amateur. I think I can explain it. It turns out that
there's nothing to be afraid of.
We'll come to that in a moment, but first must pass by an unfortunate
misunderstanding of Morningstar, although he sees fairly sharply what is
In fact, one of the beliefs that seems to be characteristic of the
postmodernist mind set is the idea that politics and cleverness are the
basis for all judgments about quality or truth, regardless of the
subject matter or who is making the judgment. A work need not be right,
clear, original, or connected to anything outside the group. Indeed, it
looks to me like the vast bulk of literary criticism that is published
has other works of literary criticism as its principal subject, with
the occasional reference to the odd work of actual literature tossed in
for flavoring from time to time.
My point and difference with Morningstar is that this
"belief" is only "characteristic" of the more stupid "of the
postmodernist mind set", which indeed may be the majority of its
followers and readers, but is not "characteristic" of its leaders:
They know that they are playing O'Brien's language-games described by
Orwell in '1984' and that they are in fact themselves impostures, frauds,
paradies and travesties of real scientists, and
Whores of Reason,
just as Tony Blair knows quite well when and why he is lying and what for
(Tony's own interests, including the Labour Party). These persons are not
stupid: they are clever frauds making a career by deceiving the public.
But since these manner of things are impolite things to
say to start with, this is one more reason why postmodernists can get
away with it like the emperor without clothes: People are afraid to seem
to be impolite, to displease, to criticize, and especially to criticize such
apparently unmeasurably deep profondities of great moral bearing that is the usual
postmodern fare, for postmodernism is usually preached in the name of the needy: Feminists
interests, homosexuals interests, environmentalists interests and
anti-globalists concerns have all been adapted by postmodernism as tools
for furthering the careers of its proponents.
Now we get to Morningstar's fine analysis of
postmodernism, that starts with a fundamental observation I make bold:
The basic enterprise of contemporary literary
criticism is actually quite simple. It is based on the observation that
with a sufficient amount of clever handwaving and artful verbiage, you
can interpret any piece of writing as a statement about anything at all.
The broader movement that goes under the label "postmodernism"
generalizes this principle from writing to all forms of human activity,
though you have to be careful about applying this label, since a standard
postmodernist tactic for ducking criticism is to try to stir up
metaphysical confusion by questioning the very idea of labels and
And that's it: It's lawyers English; marketing language;
language designed to deceive; propaganda disguised as science of some
kind; mumbo-jumbo called "new insights of modern psychiatry" and so on.
Here is Morningstar's step by step instruction sequence
to learn to be A Real Postmodernist:
Deconstruction, in particular, is a fairly formulaic process that
hardly merits the commotion that it has generated. However, like hack
writers or television producers, academics will use a formula if it
does the job and they are not held to any higher standard (though
perhaps Derrida can legitimately claim some credit for originality in
inventing the formula in the first place). Just to clear up the
mystery, here is the formula, step-by-step:
Step 1 -- Select a work to be deconstructed. This is called a "text"
and is generally a piece of text, though it need not be. It is very
much within the lit crit mainstream to take something which is not text
and call it a text.
In fact, one can take anything at all, the more
scandalizing the better, often, and say anything at all about it,
provided one does it with lots of moral and intellectual pretension and
in forbidding jargon and grammar and not hindered by any desire to speak
the truth or respect the facts, for truths and facts themselves are texts
for interpretation rather than standards or ends.
In brief, the text or non-text can be anything at all:
Thus you want to pick your text with an eye to the
opportunities it will give you to be clever and convoluted, rather than
whether the text has anything important to say or there is anything
important to say about it. Generally speaking, obscure works are better
than well known ones, though an acceptable alternative is to choose a
text from the popular mass media, such as a Madonna video or the latest
Danielle Steele novel. The text can be of any length, from the complete
works of Louis L'Amour to a single sentence.
We are on the way:
Step 2 -- Decide what the text says. This can be whatever you want,
although of course in the case of a text which actually consists of
text it is easier if you pick something that it really does say. This
is called "reading".
Aka "interpretation", especially among philosophical and
would be philosophical postmodernists, who indeed call anything at all
said about anything at all "interpretation", and believe or pretend they
have said something of importance with it.
The brief guiding principle of pomo is: Everything is
textual; everything said about a text is interpretation; and anything
Step 3 -- Identify within the reading a distinction of some sort.
This can be either something which is described or referred to by the
text directly or it can be inferred from the presumed cultural context
of a hypothetical reader. It is a convention of the genre to choose a
duality, such as man/woman, good/evil, earth/sky, chocolate/vanilla,
I must remark here that, as before, I am not quoting all
of Morningstar's text.
Step 4 -- Convert your chosen distinction into a "hierarchical
opposition" by asserting that the text claims or presumes a particular
primacy, superiority, privilege or importance to one side or the other
of the distinction. Since it's pretty much arbitrary, you don't have to
give a justification for this assertion unless you feel like it.
We're almost there. Two important things to get here is
that postmodernists are very much preoccupied with power and sexuality
and related matters (gender, feminism, homosexuality), and that it helps
a lot to use a currently fashionable postmodernistic term. (A little
after 1991, "hegemony" became THE postmodern epitheton of the day, and
every other sentence in a fashionable pomo publication had two or three
occurrences of it.)
Step 5 -- Derive another reading of the text, one in
which it is interpreted as referring to itself. In particular, find a way
to read it as a statement which contradicts or undermines either the
original reading or the ordering of the hierarchical opposition (which
amounts to the same thing).
Sofar Morningstar's recipe is mostly mechanical. Here a
moment of creativity may enter, but since in principle anything goes, one
can say anything here, provided one does it in the proper jargon and
with PC moral claims. (For that is another pomo feature: In the end, the
justification is moral, as in "the end justify the means",
while "the end"
is always "emancipatory", which has the side-benefit that opponents of
postmodernists must be real baddies.)
Indeed, as he says
Fortunately, you have a wide range of intellectual tools at your
disposal, which the rules allow you to use in literary criticism even
though they would be frowned upon in engineering or the sciences. These
include appeals to authority (you can even cite obscure authorities
that nobody has heard of), reasoning from etymology, reasoning from
puns, and a variety of other word games. You are allowed to use the
word "problematic" as a noun. You are also allowed to pretend that the
works of Freud present a correct model of human psychology and the
works of Marx present a correct model of sociology and economics (it's
not clear to me whether practitioners in the field actually believe
Freud and Marx or if it's just a convention of the genre).
Fortunately, if not for my peace of mind, this last issue
is quite clear to me: The practitioners of Freudianism and Marxism, ever
since French and German postmodern academics understood that this allowed
them to say anything whatsoever and get away with it, while being praised
enthusiastically for one's moral attitudes and concerns ("emancipatory"),
have practised postmodernism, quite consciously also, and have achieved
much power with it, in universities, in schools, in education of any
kind, in politics ... it has been adopted everywhere, and in fact the
neo-conservative counter-revolution that started around 2000 again is
mostly postmodernistic in orientation and outlook, albeit that their
claimed ends differ. They are as relativistic, as prejudiced, and as much
spinning, astroturfing, posturing and propagandizing as their opponents,
with the same techniques and general outlook.
In fact, the reason that postmodernism is so popular is
that it combines the arts of propaganda and marketing and the powers
with the rhetorics of phony philosophers, the moral ideals of conmen, and
the moral pretense of the
and in fact reduces all questions, all problems, all science, all
reasoning, and all argument to
and majority-voting (**). For more see
Scientific Realism versus Postmodernism.
Back to Morningstar. In fact, the reader now knows almost
all there is to know to become a proficient and famous postmodernist,
except for one extra cherry on the cake:
Another minor point, by the way, is that we don't say that we
deconstruct the text but that the text deconstructs itself. This way it
looks less like we are making things up.
That's basically all there is to it, although there is an enormous
variety of stylistic complication that is added in practice.
Morningstar, it should be added, who evidently is a
really intelligent man, has taken the trouble to dive into
postmodernist literature and "explanations", as he explains in
his text, so indeed
he did know what he was talking about, though it is a pity he missed in
1991 the strong presence of postmodernism in much of academia, namely
wherever there is a soft science.
Being an intelligent man and having taken trouble to
understand, Morningstar has found something of some value
Buried in the muck, however, are a set of important and interesting
ideas: that in reading a work it is illuminating to consider the
contrast between what is said and what is not said, between what is
explicit and what is assumed, and that popular notions of truth and
value depend to a disturbingly high degree on the reader's credulity
and willingness to accept the text's own claims as to its validity.
I grant this - but with the qualifying remark that all of
this can found in far more sensible, clearer and better form outside
postmodernism, namely in good texts on rhetorics (there are some good
modern more or less logical studies in this) and in good literary
criticism, that these days belongs to days fairly long gone: Writers like
I.A. Richards ("Principles of Literary Criticism"), Ezra Pound
("ABC of Poetry"), and A. Quiller-Couch ("Art of Reading").
And unlike all postmodern writing, that is uniformly
ugly, nonsensical, pretensious, false and phony, the just mentioned books
are eminently readable and sensible.
Morningstar has a neat and fair if overly optimistic
summary judgment, that also seems mistaken to me in various ways. I put
the main insights, that I agree with, bold:
The Pseudo Politically Correct term that I would use to describe the
mind set of postmodernism is "epistemologically challenged": a
constitutional inability to adopt a reasonable way to tell the good
stuff from the bad stuff. The language and idea space of the field
have become so convoluted that they have confused even themselves. But
the tangle offers a safe refuge for the academics. It erects a wall
between them and the rest of the world. It immunizes them against
having to confront their own failings, since any genuine criticism can
simply be absorbed into the morass and made indistinguishable from all
the other verbiage. Intellectual tools that might help prune the
thicket are systematically ignored or discredited. This is why, for
example, science, psychology and economics are represented in the
literary world by theories that were abandoned by practicing
scientists, psychologists and economists fifty or a hundred years ago.
The field is absorbed in triviality.
Unlike Morningstar, I believe postmodernism's main
perpetrators have not much confused themselves: They knew they were
posturing and why, namely to get personally well-known and make a career,
and further the political interests of the groups they were interested
And discredited theories -
Psycho-Analysis - thus became again en vogue or got more powerful by
being restated postmodernistically: Postmodernism is a return to
pre-scientific reasoning, to propaganda and rhetorics, whether in the
name of emancipation, as with the postmodern feminist and gay movements
or whether in the name of "Evidence Based Science".
Here are Morningstar's concluding words:
It is clear to me that the humanities are not going to
emerge from the jungle on their own. I think that the task of outreach is
left to those of us who retain some connection, however tenuous, to what
we laughingly call reality. We have to go into the jungle after them and
rescue what we can. Just remember to hang on to your sense of humor and
don't let them intimidate you.
In fact, he would have been right if he had said instead
of or supplementary to "the humanities": "the humanities and
postmodernism, most existing nominal intellectuals, that is, those with
some degree of some university, are no longer intellectuals in any real
sense. The nominal intellectual elite of Western Europe and the
US consists of phonies:
Mandarins with an IQ of 115.
The only relief I can see is that most of
them also are too unintelligent to understand that the soft
science they believe to have been educated in is not really science at
P.S. Well... I seem to have been in a philosophical
mood. I wrote it because I liked the text I annotated, and as usual these days
will have to make corrections later. (Dutch readers may find my
Wat is (persoonlijke) beschaving?
-- October 17, 2010: Made some corrections.
P.P.S. It may be I have to stop Nederlog for a while. The reason
is that I am physically not well at all. I don't know yet, but if
there is no Nederlog, now you know the reason.