Monday, February 09, 2004

Why I Have Trouble Talking About Postmodernism, aka It's Gotten Too Big To Make Sense

Ahhhh, postmodernism. It seems like every time I start talking about it again, it's morphed (at least in my mind) into something different. Maybe it would be healthy for someone to historically delineate the differences between relativism and PM. I can't do that. So let's do something else.

While I would agree that those in the blue collar or agricultural fields might be more open to PM "experiences, means of communication, and different perspectives", than those of, say 50 years ago, I would contend that there is still a large percentage of people who still see the world in very black & white terms, in absolutes rather than degrees.

I would point to Bush's approval ratings concerning the war in Iraq to get a general picture regarding the issue. Bush has repeatedly stated that he sees war in Iraq as a very black and white issue. The US is right, and Hussein is/was wrong. There is no in between for him. Regardless of whether or not this is true, recent polls still show Bush's approval rating on the war still somewhere between 47-54%. Granted this is only one litmus test you could use, but it does say that nearly half of Americans agree with Bush that we are absolutely right to be there.

Most of this support doesn't come from urban areas or the coasts, but from the midwest and the south. These are still conservative bastions, prone to modern thought (or pre-modern thought?) on right/wrong absolutes, usually disregarding anything that smacks of relativism. If there is an experiential current in some of the areas (PM’s "experiences, means of communication, and different perspectives”), there are a variety of reasons why these are not due to PM thought.

One is that rural areas have always been more likely to be community based, rather than individualistic. Another is that religious life has always been through experience rather than reason in most of these areas. Rural areas never got over the Great Awakening’s emphasis on spiritual conversion, and never converted to the modern conversion-emphasis on reasonable faith. This is why the Charismatic movement started in rural areas and not urban areas – it was simply an extension of 17th/18th century conversion-experience evangelism. Still another reason is that story has always been a more prominent in rural areas as a means of communication.

I guess what I mean to say is that the mind-set in rural America is not so much a post-modern one, because that would imply that they had first bought into a modern one. But the fact is that their mind-set is perhaps more pre-modern than anything. They hold to moral absolutes, but have some similarities with the PM mindset as far as communication styles and values go. However, it’s not fair to characterize them with PM because they never held to the modern mind-set in the first place. These folks will be the first to react against abuses of PM, and already have (much of the greatest reaction against 9/11 came from less urbanized areas; the more cautionary reaction took place in urban locals). This was precisely because rural communities were more prone to see the issue as black/white (“they were at fault”) rather than varying shades of gray (“we should share some of the blame”).

That’s more than I was planning to say, so I guess Jake’s last-last post will have to wait until tomorrow. I hope this made sense, living in super-duper rural America has just taught me that PM isn't an issue (yet?) in many places in America. It's just that, even though rural communities might not be getting into the PM debate, they do shape religious opinion by donating to certain parachurch organizations. The also shape public policy opinion because of their voting power (carrying the south gets presidents elected). Even though they aren't very vocal on the issue, they still have a lot of power in shaping American thought for those two reasons.


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