Some Reflections on the Postmodern Moment Now Past

Warning Millennials about the perils of postmodernism is kind of like warning them of the perils of laser discs. That ship has sailed, and the discussion probably does more to date the one giving the warning than anything else.


That is not to say that postmodernism has not left a legacy that has shaped the cultural and intellectual climate in which Millennials live and think. A broad ambivalence towards the authority of institutions, in an era of increased proliferation of institutions claiming authority.*


*Note, for example, that YouTube's corporate policy has a bigger impact on intellectual property use in the US than actual courts and law. And an appreciation of the performative effect of words, not always directly connected to their meaning, still abounds.


Postmodernism, at one level, simply served as the canary in the coal mine for Western intellectuals that an era of hyper-connectivity and Durkheimian differentiation was on the horizon. But, like laser discs, it completely failed to be the platform through which we came to understand this new reality.


Postmodernism cleared the air, and opened up new possibilities and questions that Millennials are now exploring. In particular: How identity relates to knowing. How communication is always a function of context. And how to navigate a diffuse institutional landscape.


Postmodernism, at one level, uprooted a lot of thinking from the institutional, cultural, and historical moorings that kept things stable. Now, in the new millennium, the task is to find one's roots again. Through explorations of personal history, reimagining old institutions and institutional arrangements, and forming new modes of community.


With this in mind the insistence on diversity isn't an untethered, ambivalent acceptance of everything. It is a function of the new and diffuse institutional landscape, which is uncertain about the authority of older institutions. It is a function of the need to navigate identity and knowing. And it is a function of the attempt to communicate across contextual divides of historical, and cultural separation (and I should add sub-cultural).


Indeed, it is the attempt to find again some moorings. But in a new world.


*Note, for example, that YouTube's policy has a greater effect on intellectual property use in the US than actual courts and law.