The Zetetic Blade
Slicing through the veil of postmodernism and entering metamodernity
When words cease to cling close to things, kingdoms fall, empires wane and diminish.
— Ezra Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska
Postmodernism is the weaponization of philosophy.
It’s time we found a weapon of our own.
I. - POSTMODERNISM AS WEAPON
The progressive academy has pulled a bait-and-switch, advertising relativism, pluralism, and skepticism while actually establishing an absolute belief system that tolerates no dissent.
The regime advances anti-authoritarian arguments while consolidating authority; diversity while centering a single ideology; tolerance while breeding self-loathing.
Why is this corrosion allowed to continue? Because we have been unable to transcend postmodernity, a political paradigm masquerading as a philosophical conviction, disguised behind endless layers of theory.
Postmodernism is a 20th-century movement that, while lacking in a definitive formulation or thesis, emphasizes subjectivism, the contingent relationship of truth to power, and a skepticism of reason more broadly.
To understand postmodernism, we are perhaps best served by surveying its characteristics in its various philosophical, literary, artistic, and political forms over the last century. Jason Josephson Storm provides a useful overview (in a book to which this essay is indebted):
Skeptical dogmas of all sorts proliferated. Doubt was praised over understanding. Truth was said to be a sham. Knowledge was nothing more than power. Philosophical problems were recast as problems of language, but then language itself became a problem. Communication was rendered suspect. Translation was believed impossible. Scholars became skeptical about the capacity of the word to reflect the world. As epistemological issues multiplied, they banished values from the human sciences, arguing that ethics were incompatible with objective scholarly inquiry or moral relativism. But ethical negativity also prospered in academic moralizing, if now primarily expressed in terms of disparagement and condemnation.
- Jason Ānanda Josephson Storm, Metamodernism: The Future of Theory
This is all, of course, twisted, neurotic, destructive, and ridiculous. Man cannot live without convictions and cannot act without reference to reality.
But the deeper truth is that postmodernism was never intended to be an absolute rejection of values. In fact, if one searches for the roots of this sprawling theory, one discovers that postmodernism is fundamentally an emancipatory political project, largely developed and sustained outside the field of formal philosophy.
Building on the precedent of the blurring of literature and philosophy in existentialism, thinkers that belonged to feminist studies, ethnic studies, and sexual liberation movements contributed as much to the evolution of postmodernism as more formal philosophers like the post-structuralists.
Given the radical aspirations of the gay, feminist, and anti-colonialist movements, it should come as no surprise that they demanded much more than doubt. They had their own dogmas, their own certainties, which they barely concealed behind their dense ‘philosophical’ theories.
Storm provides a survey of these absolute assertions:
Essentialism is a kind of violence… Knowledge is just an expression of power. Power is domination. No truth claims can be grounded. There are no facts, only interpretations. Every perspective is equally legitimate. All knowledge is relative to an individual’s standpoint. If a term or concept was formulated in a colonial context, it must be false, and deploying it is a kind of violence. Classification is a form of conceptual imperialism. All binaries are violent hierarchies… Language determines thought. Being is always already before language. Philosophy is phallocentric or logocentric. Logic is merely the codification of heteronormative, white, male thinking. There are no more metanarratives. History is over. Knowledge is impossible.
These unfounded claims are, of course, ripe for attack.
But our response cannot be entirely reactionary. The rational universalism that the postmodernists deconstructed was an Enlightenment idea that will not survive the post-Enlightenment age. We should not rely on it or attempt to revive it.
There is no going back. We must go forward. We must go through.
II. - PIERCING THE VEIL
Postmodernism contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. It is a philosophy of negation; to destroy it, we must radicalize that negation, turn it inwards, and bring about a negation of negation. Storm describes it thus: “Like a snake devouring its own tail, the very (in)coherence of postmodernism as false unity can be productively disrupted, shattered and disaggregated.”
Instead of shying from skepticism, we must wield that skepticism in an uncompromising form. It must be turned against every one of the progressive dogmas listed above. As they fall, one by one, we will see that postmodernism is not an overly skeptical philosophy - it is not skeptical enough.
I will not need to convince my readers that progressive dogmas are susceptible to doubt. You know that they fall easily, and you’re well versed in arguments that demonstrate the incoherence of the ‘critical theory’ agenda.
Indeed, our new hyper-postmodernist position is particularly useful in deconstructing the false ‘sciences’ that the managerial state has established (‘social science’, ‘political science’, etc.) as these are the most guilty of attempting to build objective and universal political programmes (‘sciences’) on unreliable foundations.
In radicalizing the deconstructive narrative of postmodernism, we can transgress the artificial and monolithic disciplines, and return to a world of free and independent scholarship.
III. - RETURN TO TRUTH
Our skepticism cannot devolve into nihilism. Once the postmodern project has devoured itself, we must transcend it, and not go down with the ship.
The danger is that in discovering how good it feels to occupy the role of the critic, especially in its ironic and playful online form, we risk habituation and addiction to that role. The progressive matrix is so total that it is indeed tempting to dive into epistemic anarchy and attempt to burn everything down.
But destruction is a strategy, not an end in itself. We can’t forget our purpose, which is to actualize the good. We must not become stranded on the plane of postmodernity; we must push through, back to knowledge.
How, then, will our relationship with truth survive a programme of radical and relentless doubt?
The first thing to recognise is that our fundamental conceptions of what constitutes truth are confused. Just as it is impossible to achieve absolute doubt (postmodernism) it is inhuman to achieve absolute certainty. Any worldview that sets this divine standard as the definition for our knowledge is flawed.
Our senses are fallible. They are limited to touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste, all of which can be deceived: dreams, simulations, hallucinations, misinterpretations. And who knows what dimensions of existence fall outside the narrow range of the five physical senses? Our logic may be flawed or incomplete, even in seemingly well understood domains.
If we define knowledge as a standard that can only be reached once absolute certainty is achieved, then our project is doomed from the start by a category error. It fails to understand what we are and what we need.
Instead, our conception of knowledge and meaning must embrace our humanity, and not deny it. To be human is to perpetually entertain both knowledge and doubt as harmonious constants. This is a philosophy in life, not a philosophy divorced from life.
How, then, can we accept the impossibility of certainty and reject the postmodernist dogmas? Are the two philosophies not one and the same?
No. We are accepting that a) human knowledge is not the same as infallible access to absolute truth; and that b) the postmodern dogmas are patently false even on their own merits, and do not even carry the appearance of truth.
The crucial insight is that accepting this human concept of truth does not mean that all propositions are equally true or equally dubious. Different positions are more or less coherent and more or less supported by evidence.
Arguments that advocate for total and inescapable skepticism are usually sustained on dubious thought experiments (i.e. the infamous ‘brain in a vat’) which although impossible to absolutely disprove are nevertheless unlikely to have any correspondence to reality. Our way, however, does not require us to insist on their binary categorization into being definitively True or definitely False; sufficient doubt suffices to reject them as false. This is the only human way, since no one lives and acts like they actually believe these nihilist arguments, including those who advance them.
Instead, our humble, human connection with knowledge - based not on access to absolutes but on an ongoing process of skeptical seeking, which Storm calls ‘Zeteticism’1 - means that we can know something which we concede may fall short of a divine standard of knowledge. Thus we should continue to be open to doubt. Storm draws parallels to Japanese philosopher Tanabe Hajime (田辺元)’s work, Zangedō to shite no tetsugaku (‘Philosophy as a Way of Repentance’):
…Tanabe argues that philosophy is broken, but that it is not enough to repudiate all of the work philosophy has done and can do, since the act of philosophizing is both flawed and necessary. This means that what we need is a philosophy in spite of itself, a philosophy of “other-power” which can only appear when it relinquishes its own autonomy or investment in “autonomous reason.” This is a philosophy for the “unknowing.”
With zeteticism as our practice, we move beyond the false certainty of modernism and the corrosive skepticism of postmodernism into metamodernity. This is a new world-understanding that does not seek to categorise existence into universal and totalizing theories, but - accepting our human limitations - allows us to cautiously build and accumulate truth, and to pursue existence in the light of that truth.
Metamodernism will be an era of competing understandings of truth; but that does not equate to the relativism of postmodernity. Metamodernism allows for the possibility of an absolute Truth, but, skeptical that we can capture that Truth entirely, acknowledges that our different assertions will be more or less true. Our task as zeteticists will be to come as close to the Truth as possible, and to form the truest existence possible.
Recognizing the ultimate fallibility of the human truths we hold, we need not insist that others conform to our world-understanding. Instead, we can seek truth alongside those whose values we accept. Thus, the zetetic approach to metamodernity is a paradigm for the independent (dissident) community: neither universalist not nihilist, but particularist and alive.
IV. - ONWARDS
The destruction of the tyranny of theory, which invokes layers and layers of convoluted ‘logic’ in the pursuit of an inhuman goal, creates space for the return of belief, experience, wisdom, archetype, authority, values, and tradition.
These are guides that we will need as we strive towards truth, and they will be invaluable in cutting through the falsehoods which we must discard. Crucially, we can employ these perennial sources without being regressive and pretending that modernity never happened.
In fact, this zeteticism will only grow more powerful as the symptoms of the poison of postmodernity continue to become more acute. As our opponents degrade physically and spiritually, and it becomes undeniable that their path leads away from Truth and therefore from life, the need to turn elsewhere intensifies.
Metamodernism heralds the return of joy. One of the things that made the 2016 Online Right so fun was the discovery of the pleasure of post-ironic attacks on the postmodern establishment - which might be called ‘ironic attacks on irony culture’.
This is what made the Trump campaign so energetic and engaging. Rather than advocating for a dead conservatism, he met the postmodern establishment on its own terms, dropping pretences of traditional respectability. He negated the negative by both revelling in the establishment’s hypocrisy (‘Avoiding taxes? That’s what smart people do’) while also earnestly invoking a higher vision of America (‘Make America Great Again’).
His message went through postmodernity. By giving conservatives a frame with which to acknowledge, participate in, and transcend the nihilist moment, rather than to shy away from it, he provided an incredible psychic release, and as a consequence generated tremendous energy.
I think we can feel that mirth and power again.
To have gathered from the air a live tradition
or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame
This is not vanity.
— Ezra Pound, Canto LXXXI
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Johann has a well-developed aesthetic sense, with an appreciation for the aristocratic, as he revealed in this essay on Slytherins and Sonnenrads:
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“Zetetic. ze-’tet-ik, adj or n (Greek zetetikos, from zeteein to seek). Proceeding by inquiry; a search or investigation; a skeptical seeker of knowledge”