Postmodernism is Dead! Long Live Holism!

I’ve nev­er liked post­mod­ernism and I’ve been wait­ing quite some time for the next organ­ic, era-bound, arbi­trar­i­ly-assigned “-ism” to show up. I’ve final­ly noticed it, and I expect oth­er folks have as well. I don’t know if it has a name yet, but I’ve arbi­trar­i­ly assigned it with the han­dle Holism.

First, Postmodernism

Since, philo­soph­i­cal­ly speak­ing, post­mod­ernism acts with inher­ent sus­pi­cion toward mean­ing, under­stand­ing, and epis­te­mol­o­gy, the nat­ur­al result of decon­struc­tion is a lack of mean­ing and under­stand­ing, and a dis­re­gard for epis­te­mol­o­gy. Post­mod­ernism used to be the idea that you could under­stand some­thing bet­ter if you took it apart. It still is, aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly speak­ing. But pop­u­lar­ly, it has has become the idea the idea that you don’t need to under­stand some­thing if you can take it apart. Every­thing can be sub­ject­ed to spin, mean­ing is fun­gi­ble.

In this way, every thing, every method of know­ing or ounce of mean­ing becomes fun­gi­ble, spinnable, and capa­ble of being dis­re­gard­ed. Of course, all of this was pos­si­ble before post­mod­ernism, but the cher­ry on top is that post­mod­ernism basi­cal­ly legit­imizes and encour­ages this sort of disin­gen­u­ous­ness.

This has so intrud­ed upon every bit of mod­ern liv­ing that it has result­ed in a steady unsteady­ing of mean­ing as a con­cept. No things have mean­ing. Hey­ho, nihilism. We are adrift. Before post­moder­ni­ty, we would nav­i­gate by the stars. Now we lis­ten to peo­ple dis­cuss what nagi­va­tion and stars real­ly mean. Now we look so close­ly at a pointil­list paint­ing that we see only dots. We used to step back and see a field of wild­flow­ers. What hap­pens when you take apart a radio? You get pieces of a radio and no music. By it’s very nature, post­mod­ernism is decon­struc­tive, not con­struc­tive. I’m quite delib­er­ate­ly avoid­ing bandy­ing words about, here. These spe­cif­ic words mat­ter. A philo­soph­i­cal pur­suit that is inter­est­ed in tak­ing things apart rather than putting things togeth­er is mas­tur­ba­to­ry.


We’ve been stuck in this mas­tur­ba­to­ry realm of post­mod­ernism for decades; we’ve for­got­ten about mean­ing and neglect­ed to teach oth­ers how to derive mean­ing on their own, about the neces­si­ty of a long view, dia­logue, inter­ac­tion and shar­ing of ideas with each oth­er. Instead the goal is to be the best one at talk­ing past whomev­er we’re talk­ing past. We are sur­round­ed by unnat­ur­al food prod­ucts that are assem­bled rather than grown or hus­band­ed. We decon­struct nat­ur­al habi­tats to extrude their fun­da­men­tal parts, and then dump the unwant­ed fun­da­men­tal parts, or their processed residues back into nat­ur­al habi­tats. We cre­ate artis­tic state­ments that are so abstract or iron­ic that they are impos­si­ble to pen­e­trate. We cre­ate tele­vi­sion shows that are com­plete­ly script­ed and call it real­i­ty. We only like things iron­i­cal­ly, because sin­cer­i­ty ascribes mean­ing toward what we hold dear. We have a dem­a­gog­ic “news” pro­gram said to be a “No Spin Zone”, which, as disin­gen­u­ous as the name is, admits to the per­va­sive­ness of spin (the fun­gi­bil­i­ty of mean­ing) in all aspects of our infor­ma­tion con­sump­tion. We cre­ate strange and fan­ci­ful finan­cial instru­ments and eco­nom­ic mod­els that have no mean­ing when sub­ject­ed to the slight­est exam­i­na­tion and that, when they fall apart, ruin the lives of every­one except the magi­cians who made them. If any­thing, the burst­ing of the hous­ing bub­ble proved the bank­rupt­cy of post­mod­ern action. The fun­gi­bil­i­ty of mean­ing means that peo­ple has no mean­ing.

Now, Holism


The reac­tion to this dearth of mean­ing is Holism. Just as Post­mod­ernism was a reac­tion to Mod­ernism, Holism is a reac­tion to Post­mod­ernism. The Holists live in the bombed-out rub­ble of the post­mod­ern land­scape, pick­ing up any puz­zling but like­ly chunks of jet­sam they come across and try­ing to cob­ble togeth­er some sort of mean­ing out of it all. Any item, song, phi­los­o­phy, skill, eth­ic, eco­nom­ic mode or moral code is just as use­ful as any oth­er for con­struct­ing mean­ing in this space. This isn’t an inno­cent igno­rance; there is knowl­edge about what caused this, and an imme­di­ate and inter­nal­ized rejec­tion of engage­ment with the meth­ods that cre­at­ed the rub­ble. Holists are con­cerned with sin­cer­i­ty, and rather than regard­ing all things with some lev­el of sus­pi­cion, the default is to keep an open mind, to pro­vide the ben­e­fit of doubt, rather than its detri­ment. (The ben­e­fit is doubt­ing your own assump­tions. The detri­ment is not lis­ten­ing to oth­ers’.) Because of this open-mind­ed­ness, these ersatz mean­ings are able to accrete into some­thing greater than the sum of its parts and sur­pris­ing­ly impen­e­tra­ble to decon­struc­tion.

The #occu­py move­ment is the man­i­fes­ta­tion of Holism that first made me notice what was going on.  It is an ersatz boat that floats. It is an accre­tion of var­i­ous mean­ings around a theme they all hold in com­mon: “Post­mod­ern politi­co-cap­i­tal­ist eco­nom­ics has said we aren’t. Here we are.” The basic refusal of occu­pa­dos to engage with post­mod­ernists on post­mod­ern terms result­ed in the ini­tial “mean­ing­less move­ment” media spin. Media is not capa­ble of defin­ing a gestalt. They’ve lost the knack. The occu­pa­do-holist voice says to post­mod­ernists (par­tic­u­lar­ly bankers & politi­cians): “We’re not talk­ing to you, because when you say things, you don’t mean them.” Where “mean” here exists both in its nor­mal usage and in the epis­te­mo­log­i­cal terms described above. Occu­pa­dos know that post­mod­ernists speak from the wrong side of their mouths.

Holists are urban farm­ers and whole foods folks, peo­ple who want to engage in nutri­tion on a fun­da­men­tal lev­el. Holists are green folks, who see the neces­si­ty and ben­e­fit of pre­serv­ing nat­ur­al order. Holists cre­ate art and craft from scrap out of a need to cre­ate. Holists have game & craft nights, bike rides and potlucks instead of watch­ing TV. Holists find sin­cer­i­ty to be more ful­fill­ing than irony. Holists share among them­selves and work with alter­nate eco­nom­ic mod­els because they don’t have faith in tra­di­tion­al means. (And, often enough they don’t have the mon­ey or the means in the first place).

So. What? (-ism)

Holism appears to be a move­ment by those who have noth­ing to cre­ate some­thing of mean­ing. “Noth­ing” is defined in as broad or spe­cif­ic terms as you care. Holists don’t care what terms you use. Holists are not focused on talk or artic­u­la­tion so much as action and cre­ation. I arbi­trar­i­ly assigned the name of Holism, because these peo­ple are con­cerned with all the gestalts that have been neglect­ed due to decades of post­mod­ernism. Holism takes it all in and accepts, where­as post­mod­ernism took it all apart and reject­ed even the pieces. Though post­mod­ernists said the paint­ing was just a bunch of dots, the wild­flow­ers were still there. Just because the radio is in pieces doesn’t mean you can’t make your own music out of the parts.