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Blogchains In English Passwords

Passwords: 1

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Passwords

If you ever need an example to explain why we need to be careful about the concepts and words we’re using, postmodernism is the one you’re looking for. Not sure if it’s just because of my academic background or the type of people consciously misusing the term but every time I see someone using postmodernism without even knowing what it really means causes some serious emotional reactions.

There are two sides of this bastardization of postmodernism and blaming everything they deemed wrong to it. Both comes from the similar “not even trying to understand what it means” attitude —and aims for a similar goal— but comes from totally different groups.

First one is quite famous, the new generation of right-wing figures all over the world claiming postmodernism —or cultural marxism, or postmodern neomarxism or critical theory or reified postmodernism…— first corrupted the academy and now they’re corrupting the society. Everything would be much better if postmodernism was gone.

I don’t think I have to go too deep into this side of the argument because it’s already discussed way too much. And there’s nothing useful in any of those people’s arguments —only the good old right finding a new way to blame the left.

Another side is somewhat new and usually comes from more “centrist, liberal” types. This group either focuses on “cancel culture” discourse and blames critical theory for it or comes from post-truth literature, blaming postmodernist academics for causing all of it.

This side, especially the post-truth ones, more problematic because not just they’re practically taking the same side with the above group but doing that while distancing themselves from everything and claiming postmodernist woke culture and radical right-wing groups and openly lying politicians into the same basket. They only do that because they’re willfully ignorant about the concept and the literature behind it and it’s also the easiest way to solve all of their problems. For example:

Yet the authors summarize their analysis of Social Justice scholarship by proclaiming it treats the principle that “objective truth does not exist and knowledge is socially constructed and a product of culture” as “The Truth, tolerates no dissent, and expects everyone to agree or be ‘cancelled.’” For those of us who have carefully read the literature, Pluckrose and Lindsay’s discussion of reified postmodernism in academic philosophy looks much more like incendiary fan fiction than scholarly analysis.

Books and articles like this —which turns postmodernism into a boogeyman they’ve imagined— are popping up more and more. Another example can be Lee McIntyre’s book ”Post-Truth” and its chapter on postmodernism. 

The Chapter goes into great lengths to find proofs to blame post-truth to postmodernism but meanwhile shows how the author doesn’t even understand what Foucault or Derrida actually says or how it actually makes the connection. McIntyre proudly claims that “postmodernism is the father of post-truth” because Mike Cernovic said he studied postmodernist theory in college and there are signs of influence in the works of an intelligent design defender Phillip Johnson. 

The chapter, just like the similar chapter in Ralph Keyes’ book Post-Truth Era, doesn’t really explain what postmodernism is or who those postmodernists are. Most of the time random names put into the category, even Heidegger can be a postmodernist according to McIntyre. They just cherry-pick people and quotes to make sure the evil postmodernism they imagined fits into the narrative. It’s especially sad because the rest of the books criticize people for doing the same thing.

(Just to make it clear, the whole Sokal affair or its copycat version is not even worth spending time here. One is an article sent to a journal without a peer review process and other published in a pay-to-publish scam. If those “burns” shows anything, it’s the academic publishing ecosystem is a trash fire.)


At this point, I think it’s time to explain what postmodernism actually is and how it should be understood. 

If I have to make it simple, postmodern is not an ideology or a philosophical position but a concept to define the current conditions. Basically, postmodernism is dealing with the philosophical problems and issues with the modern era and what it brought. You’re not defending a position but defining and explaining a problem. What this means is basically when “postmodernist philosophers” talk about a condition or make an observation, they’re not taking sides with it but basically saying that “this is something that’s already here, I’m helping you to see it”. 

I think the main cause of the intentional misrepresentation comes from here. Both groups I’ve talked above are fully aware of the fact that these theorists and philosophers making these problems crystal clear and creating holes in their political narratives. Both fascists, conservatives and neoliberals actually benefit from these problems and fully aware that once people start to see it, their stories will fall apart.

This is why they choose to blame people who point out those problems, instead of accepting there are problems. It’s especially easy because ideas and thinkers they return are the ones claiming everything is perfect, or they have the perfect theory to explain everything. If you say that “they’re wrong”, congratulations you just become a postmodernist.

Let’s make it even more clear with an example. Think of someone who lives in a house with worn out and poorly made roof and windows. They watch the weather report in the evening, meteorologist warns about a heavy rain tomorrow. They’re overconfident about themselves and their house, so they don’t think that’s a problem. Next day, rain starts and the house is flooded. But instead of finding the source of the problem and fixing it, they blame the “rainist” for saying that it’s going to rain tomorrow.

This is basically how we should understand the people who blame “postmodernists” for the problems we’re seeing everywhere. They don’t actually understand what those philosophers are saying but only using them to absolve themselves from any responsibility. 

This also means that talking about a position called postmodernism or being a postmodernist doesn’t even make sense. Just like you can’t call a meteorologist a “rainist”, you can’t call a philosopher working on postmodern a postmodernist. It’s a concept to analyze and understand the current conditions we’re in and the problems we face. You can’t be someone siding with a problem, especially if your main goal is to solve that problem.

Categories
In English İnternet Notları | Notes From Internet Not Defteri | Notebook

The Need for Private Digital Places

Today Jay Owens wrote a really good Twitter thread on the problems of blaming private social places like Facebook and WhatsApp groups for everything.

Which already explains so many of those problems but I want to focus on two specific sides of it. One of them is the fact that those who claim that private groups are causing the fake news/extremism/everything wrong with the internet are not aware of the privilege they’re living in. Thinking that we can fix everything if we make it public can easily traced back to early 2010s anti-privacy argument “I have nothing to hide.” Most of these people never been in a situation which they needed a safe and/or private space to talk and discuss about their world views and ideas and it clearly shows.

Also thinking that we can solve everything if all of these groups are public (which because of my MA thesis I read similar arguments a lot), means that we can track and analyze what everyone is talking and detect the ones causing the problem early. Which is not just a really bad remake of Minority Report but also taking the side of the surveillance capitalism and one of the main reasons behind these problems.

Which brings me back to the recent discussion in Turkey related to “evil social media”. As a tradition we’re now discussing once again how to control these platforms and people doing evil things online from the government’s perspective. Which boils down to several options such as:

  • Track everything and everyone
  • Make platforms delete everything government doesn’t like
  • Ban all of them
  • And my personal favorite (and this is real), make a law forcing everyone to enter these platforms with their national ID numbers.

If you’re one of those people who’s against the private channels and groups, you should think that these are all amazing ideas, except banning them. But most of the people writing those pieces would think these proposals are authoritarian, anti freedom of speech etc. Because that’s what they actually are.

So let me just ask, how do you think that making everything public will solve these problems you’re aiming to solve? Do you really think that all of these are happening just because it’s private, or what you really want is some authority to control everything people are doing online? If it’s the first one, you should do some actual research about those issues you’re dealing with and then start writing only after that. And if it’s the latter, thanks for helping many governments around the world to feel like they’re doing the right thing by surveilling and censoring their people all the time.

Aside from the fact that forcing every conversation into public and making it available to surveillance and censorship, this whole argument just dismissed many of the real reasons behind the current problems we’re facing online. I know those people will probably won’t change their minds or think about these issues in a more nuanced way because, like Jay said, no one wants to publish those. Who has time to think about the complex problems in a nuanced way when you can blame one thing and get the clicks.


There’s also another problem with this approach to private groups. Thinking that people only go to private places because they want somewhere to spread their “dark” ideas is just dismissed the problems platforms causing. Just think about how algorithmic timelines, forced interactions, surveillance based ads and economic models, context collapse and doomscrolling affects people.

While all of these happening, it’s more than normal for people to look for a place which they can have more control over. A Facebook group which includes only the people interested in a specific topic, WhatsApp groups for family/friends/neighbors, locking their social media accounts, returning to newsletters and blogs to have a conversation about the topics you want with only the people interested in it. Even Discord just recently changed their branding because there is a big wave of people who creates channels to talk about things other than gaming.

It’s clear that whatever is motivating people to be more private online is something much bigger than any scapegoating attempt we see. It’s also getting more and more clear that people want more control on their digital interactions and want private spaces to talk about things which they want to keep inside a smaller group. If people who can’t (or don’t want to) fully understand what is really going on will have the power to influence how to act on this, I don’t think anything good will come out of it.