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COLUMN: Postmodern Cynicism and Social Justice
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COLUMN: Postmodern Cynicism and Social Justice

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I once had a discussion with a colleague. I pointed out there was some good research on our topic. She rejected the research and presented in its place her opinion. I didn’t notice until later that my colleague made no distinction between research findings and opinions.

They, to her, were one and the same.

We are currently undergoing a period in which what a person says, or even implies, can result in intellectual, social, and sometimes physical assault. Dissent is not tolerated. Pointing out that the concept of social justice is a perversion, for example, is met with astonishment and hostility.

It is difficult to make a nuanced argument in a column limited to 500 words, but there is a foundational philosophy undergirding all of this.

The commonality is a mishmash of postmodern philosophies that began to take hold in the universities about 50 years ago.

The end result is characterized by a philosophy that has merit if restricted by common sense, but which has become an absolutist dogma falsely claiming to be reality. According to this view, there is no objective truth, only societal realities created by systems of power and the interaction of hierarchical groups.

All truth, science, knowledge, and morality are created through interactions between those who possess privilege and power. Truth and morality are not the result of objective investigation or experience, but are socially constructed.

Hence the importance of group identification, as in identity politics, and the insistent seriousness of statements that appear to be some type of joke. If gender, for example, is a societal construct imposed by anti-misogynistic philosophy, it does not violate logic (or reality) to insist that physical sex differences are unrelated to gender.

Insisting an entire race is unworthy of respect and even evil is not racist because words like “racism” have no meaning outside of that imposed on society by the powerful. Language does not reflect any objective reality.

This is a narrative of extreme skepticism.

Conservatives talk about the Constitution and positive aspects of America and its history. All of that is rejected, along with Christianity and any science or code of ethics that does not conform to dogma. Marx stated that his system would abolish all truths, all religion, and all morality, and would act in contradiction to all historical experience.

All of this is a very dark and cynical view of humanity and posits that all other existing societal and power systems are inherently flawed and even evil. Consequently, there is no neutral reality.

Hence, opposition to the correct dogma is evil and must be restrained by whatever means necessary.

Social justice activism treats dogma as reality. It is not about justice. It is about group membership and the elimination of groups and ideas rejected by postmodern intellectuals.

The young people on the streets think revolution is romantic, other groups are simply being used as cannon fodder. Most are unaware of the nihilistic and cynical, and ultimately suicidal, philosophy that undergirds their actions.

Dennis Clayson is a retired marketing professor at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect those of the University of Northern Iowa.

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