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POSTMODERNISM AND THE GIAN GASTONE DE MEDICI CODA

INTRODUCTION

From innocuous roots in late 1940s postmodernism has spread like a steady but relentless virus. For its practitioners it has become a kind of consensus of absolution from having to measure personal (or peer group) standards against the achievements of genuine pioneers past and present. It has changed the essential currents of self-expression from outbound character-individualism to inbound caricature-identity.

Postmodern culture has calcified an endemic lack of higher ambition (and talent) into a consensus assault on individual merit, patiently but systematically building a citation-legitimised exclusion of all forms of creative non-conformity; a paradise for patient, banal credentialism. Worse yet, the postmodern networks of influence have been weaponised by smart, cynical political powerbrokers, united by common cause against their most dangerous of common enemies: disruptive genius in art, original creativity in science, uncompromising honesty in the public square. If these trends continue unchecked – and there’s no sign of organised resistance – the culture war will soon reach a catastrophic and possibly irreparable coda.

POSTMODERNIST MODUS OPERANDI

Cartels of mediocre but tenured gatekeepers have consolidated ingroup power by ensuring institutions are purged of outlier, unorthodox thinkers. Successive generations of committed, well-trained advocates have spread out from college faculties armed with credential access passes to everywhere, patiently but mercilessly infiltrating and then perverting the key infrastructure points of civil society: old, new and social media, political offices from street to civic to federal level, key corporate departments like human resources. It has proven difficult to resist and there’s no coherent strategy to fight back. Resistance by prejudice is disorganised and therefore doomed. Resistance by principle is atomised, reduced to isolated voices easily silenced by faux-outraged mobs.

Postmodernism was once a dubious but honest niche in literary academia. It has grown into a behemoth arbiter of social and cultural currency. Its command of peer review is almost absolute. It has gorged itself on decades of appropriated academic, sociopolitical and intellectual life in a dozen “enlightened” countries. Internally self-regulating, robust from having taken root in a thousand bricks-and-mortar institutions, agile by dint of having evolved a wirearchy structure honed by ideology winnowed in petri dish academia, fed by a bottomless well of intellectual vanity and professional personal self-interest. Nowadays, under the surface but motivating every manoeuvre of its exponent army, the postmodern monopoly is a genuine, ambitious, cold-blooded taste for power.

Perhaps an inevitable phase in the development of societies with universal suffrage is the face off between passive public subjugation in return for predictable self-indulgence and the perennially unpredictable, potentially brutal dynamism of free individual science, art and progress. The former is fantasy – in the long term – but short-term it can be the safety-in-numbers domain of the many. The latter is reality with diversity of outcome, dominated by elite practitioners because – sad to say – we can’t all understand the calculus of relativity or write the complex nuance of Shakespeare.

Postmodernism expands precisely because it serves as a practical doctrine of the many. In a nutshell, postmodernism’s temptation to the majority is its legitimisation of the safe choices that shield the fragile by neutering the strong. It aggregates by extirpating the elite instead of elevating the everyman and unless we want Western society to cannibalise itself – to decapitate excellence – to foment a state of terminal decline, it’s a temptation we need to expose and resist. Urgently.

Reality is neither the subject nor the object of true art which creates its own special reality having nothing to do with the average ‘reality’ perceived by the communal eye.Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire (1962)

PHONEY CULTURE WAR

Postmodernism was and is the mechanism for delivering culture war into the superstructure of society, lubricating the moving parts of professional commercialism and driven by the familiar economic ambition of centralised neoliberalism. Credentialed knowledge workers, trained in service of extant power structures, populate an expanded management class and profit, or more specifically, corporate stakeholder profit, drives the marketing business of culture’s moving parts. All in all it’s a confluence of complimentary forces; if your vision of society is corporate, culturally statist, consumerist and centralised power.

But why is this particular paradigm so bad? Isn’t postmodern neoliberalism better than communism or totalitarian fascism, for instance? Couldn’t postmodernist principles be liberating for young minds stifled by the straightjacket of past generations?

Sadly, the nature of the temptation offered by postmodernism is too strong, too ubiquitous for most to resist. Postmodernists began as pale fire apologists but quickly gained confidence as their collective command over the canon and the dispensing of credentials grew towards monopoly. Gatekeepers were schooled early to see the world through a lens predefined to obfuscate past genius – to strip out the contribution of independent individuals through techniques like group identity conflation and self-serving stakeholder valuations – and focus instead on well-branded well-marketed officially accredited options that looked progressive but conformed to postmodern appropriation.

MANUFACTURED ASSENT

Half a century after its introduction the postmodernist network is well established throughout the world, organised in a macrostructure that resembles – more than anything else – the cooperative imam-led cells of Islam than a typical cultural movement. The academy is locked down in the same way as industries become dominated by secret freemason lodges. Outsiders, disloyal outliers, challenges to orthodoxy, and would-be rebels can be pinpointed, isolated and delegitimised with remarkable precision; often without compromising any individual mason academic.

New ideas cropping up in academic or institutional circles are identified fast and then – notwithstanding the cutting away of any stubborn individuals refusing to bend knee – censored of anything off-narrative and repurposed and rebranded into the mainstream, duly incorporated into the credential consensus.

Moreover, on the odd occasion a higher placed non-conformist rebels against the official consensus there’s no need to instruct postmodernists how to react. Everyone in the ‘lodge’ has both the motivation and the training to use the ‘cancel’ toolkit of the day. Most of the time the consensus is kept pure long beforehand, problematic individuals warned, censured and then – if necessary – extirpated long before their profile reaches the public eye.

Civil rights – the most significant sociocultural movement of the latter half of the 20th-century – had been defanged as a genuinely disruptive force in 60s. It had been corporatised in the 70s and weaponised against itself in the 80s and 90s using postmodernised critical race theory parsed into neoliberal identity politics. By the neoliberal 1990s, postmodernist thinking had established a dominant influence over the institutional and professional engines of culture and, having proliferated the influence networks necessary for an aggressive policing of universal credential loyalty, the stage was set for a corporate-academic capture of the non-corporate public square. Postmodernism was ready to lay siege to the mainstream.

The past twenty years have borne witness to this siege: an unholy alliance of capital and culture is engaged in a project of long-term power and wealth acquisition. Central to this is the purging of disruptive outlier non-conformity and to this end, we are living through a postmodern culture war on individualism, an opportunistic death of the author writ large in the intersectional attack vectors of race, gender, sexuality and, most recently, a novel corporatisation of climate science environmentalism.

21st CENTURY SHIT SHOW

Postmodernism in the 21st century is a freemasonry of entrenched credentialism. It’s anti-intellectual and anti-exceptionalist except within the narrow hierarchy of its own internal verities. It has positioned itself at most of the gatekeeper waypoints between professional expertise and the mainstream: university, law offices, town halls, media, public health, legislature civil service, corporate boardrooms, financial advisors, etc. Its proponents are confident and, since convergence with neoliberal imperative in the 1990s, the professional postmodernist has been on the attack.

Over the years, thanks to roots throughout academia, postmodernism’s monopoly on official knowledge has already appropriated a dozen so-called counter-culture movements, cleansing them of non-conformity (especially non-conformists individual actors) and repurposing their original tenets to serve the corporate neoliberal agenda. As the drug-addled drug-dealer says in the film Withnail and I: “They’re selling hippie wigs in Woolworths.

Consider the unholy cocktail of modern manufactured consent. Techniques perfected in postmodern universities trained on intellectual deconstruction devolving Modernism into mediocrity without losing academic authority over credential legitimacy; and practical methodologies of advertising and marketing expertise honed in corporate, media and political hothouses; and since the millennium, adding internet networking and artificial intelligence technology delivered through monopolistic platforms surveilling every human on the planet.

Is it any wonder cultural challenge is turned to serve the knowledge oligarchy? Feminism was perverted by gender politics, anti-misogyny by #metoo, anti-homophobia corrupted by bastardised queer theory, the civil rights movement and critical race theory undercut by affirmative action, undermined by woke fascism, free speech first softened up by so-called political correctness and then kneecapped by aggressive censorship, deplatforming and cancellation. All on brand, all on the moral high ground, all superficially working in the name of the movements; all ultimately merely serving the needs of rich over poor, powerful over powerless, expert professionals over ignorant cannon fodder.

To paraphrase the great Martin Luther King: it’s a complete shit show.

“… just as early industrial capitalism moved the focus of existence from being to having, post-industrial [mass media] culture has moved that focus from having to appearing.”Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (1967)

EAST VERSUS WEST

We’re quick, in the entitled privileged West, to cry authoritarian nightmare when we hear about China and its surveillance state, horrified by tales of a billion lives defined by social media scorecards, but the trajectory of our homegrown culture war may be leading to a far worse, far more destructive dystopia. At least China gets productivity and hive-triumphs in return for its bargain with autocracy. Some of its technocracy seems to be genuinely creating prosperity out of poverty, none of it necessarily permanent for the Chinese people of future.

The postmodern culture of corporate credentialed mediocrity – disconnected from history, absent intellectual diversity, purged of potential genius as compulsory for graduating the ubiquitous academy – is a creeping death to the Enlightenment lineage. Its professional groupthink verities are poison to the fertile soil of innovation, which is the source of all progress. Unchecked, the Anglo-American West will inevitably fall behind, economically and culturally. It is happening already. With existential threats to climate, the environment, energy crises, corporate technocracy and financial meltdown growing with each passing year, it’s a civilisation house of cards heading for a fall.

The worst possible response to impending catastrophe, however, would be the West deciding to perpetuate the postmodernist culture war and instead prioritise economics by emulating China’s brutalist groupthink model. Even if a change to the West’s economic trajectory succeeded in matching China’s tightly regulated servant society – most likely by empowering corporations to maximise exploitation of labour – the cost to public liberty and to long-term culture will be unimaginable.

The postmodern power dynamics of ruling elite plutocrats, ring-fenced by credential consensus professionals managing a wider society purged of individual heterodoxies and served by a vast disempowered wage-slave proletariat, is no better than centralised, totalitarian Chinese national socialism. Moreover, the temptation for the plutocrats to legislate corporate democracy into a unitary absolute government will be hard to resist. Add the potential of technocratic control mechanisms to the plutocrat-professional corporate arsenal and it may be already under discussion in the Western corridors of power.

“…new liberalism’s antipathy to superior statesmen and to human excellence is peculiarly zealous, parochial, and antiphilosophic.” Robert Faulkner (The Case for Greatness, 2008)

GIAN GASTONE DE MEDICI CODA

Anglo-American culture, in particular, has a history of safeguarding original thought, nurturing reactionary genius in the face of the docile Judeo-Christian mainstream. All of this is at risk.

Soon enough the voices of protest and their cries of Shakespeare” “Socrates” “Rimbaud” “Tchaikovsky” “Bacon” “Bacon” “Newton” “Mozart” “Jefferson” “Darwin” “Sartre” “Dumas” “Einstein” “Eliot” “King” “Kant” “Clemens” “Keynes” “Tesla” “Feynman” “Proust” “Goethe” “Johnson” “Bronte” “Curie” “Nietzsche” “Fellini” “Marx” “Locke” “Penrose” “Kerouac” “Kafka” “Orwell” “Swift” “Dostoevsky” “Lincoln” “Voltaire” “Aristotle” “Chaucer” “Boccaccio” “ Blake” “Poe” “Davis” “Liebniz” “Dante” “Dali” “Gallileo” “Milton” “Ali” “Ibsen” “Michelangelo” “Shelley” “Heidegger” “Rilke” “Freud” “Fermi” “Marlowe” “O’Neal” “Gogol” “da Vinci” “Auden” “Thoreau” “Tolkien” “Turing” “Rodin” “Turner” “Jung” “Picasso” “Kusturica” “Chomskywill die away.

What remains, in a postmodern-neoliberal corporate society fully inoculated against rebels and genius, is science debased into orthodoxy data collection, trapped in the straitjacket of layer after layer of credential consensus. Creativity, similarly degraded, is only repetitive ephemera, subordinated to the lottery of trivial trending cash grabs and crowd control. It will be a society of rich rulers, professional managers and the deafening hubbub of a vast disenfranchised, disempowered, brutalised precariat class on a brainless roller-coaster of outrage highs and confusion lows. Despite the noise, the society will be nothing more than a cultural silence.

The momentum of such endemic ignorance will become irreversible if left unchallenged. There will be no safeguarding of high culture by the ruling elites. Without the free flow of artistry, individuality and unfettered genius, there will be no challenge, no great leaps forward. It will be a Gian Gastone de’ Medici coda for the Western Enlightenment.

At best the banal trinity of proletariat, bureaucrat and plutocrat most closely resembles a bacteria colony: pervasive, perpetual and culturally silent. This is the endpoint of postmodern-neoliberal corporatism and though it may take a few more generations to perfect the technology and though its cannibal inertia may run through multiple subsequent generations – ossifying and exhausting the ecosystem – there can be only one possible denouement: irrelevance, in the bigger picture of human history, and then extinction.

“There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah.”
Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)

Modernist Bibliography

Postmodernist Bibliography

Neomodernist Bibliography



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