Postmodernism is Dead! Long Live Holism!

Friday, 4 November 2011

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.

So.

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

So.

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.

My Dad Died

Saturday, 19 February 2011

My dad died awhile back, on Wednesday, 19 January 2011. He was di­ag­nosed with lung can­cer in the lat­ter half of 2010, had a lung re­moved, and then de­vel­oped an un­treat­able in­fec­tion.

Don’t smoke, peo­ple.

The Past

Here’s the thing: shame though it may be, for me, my dad died one sum­mer af­ter­noon about 17 years ago. As a 13 year-old, I jumped out of the 1970 Pontiac GTO (that I helped him re­store) on Western Avenue & 18th Street in Connersville, Indiana. He was yelling about how he was go­ing to beat the hell out of me when we got to his home. My fa­ther died dur­ing the ter­ror of those min­utes in the car, while I fever­ishly weighed the op­tions on how best to pro­tect my­self. I never drive past the ram­shackle house halfway down that block with­out re­mem­ber­ing.

At first it wasn’t like he’d died, but grew into death as the years rolled by. Throughout high school and ta­per­ing off in col­lege there were awk­ward in­stances at cross-coun­try meets, cards wish­ing me Happy Birthday & the like. I was un­able to rec­on­cile the man he ap­peared to be in pub­lic (which seemed an act to me) with the man who once spent an en­tire day of vis­i­ta­tion dri­ving me around in his van and yelling at me & my mom for mak­ing his other chil­dren bas­tards in the eyes of the Catholic Church. I was un­able to rec­on­cile the man who said he wanted to be a part of my life with the man who fought tooth & nail to avoid con­tribut­ing to my up­bring­ing & ed­u­ca­tion.

He was eas­ier to for­get as those at­tempts at in­ter­ac­tion came fewer and far­ther be­tween. Once I started my blog, I knew he read it, he left strange, stilted com­ments from time to time, but by then it was easy to just see these as com­ing from one more stranger among the bunch. The awk­ward at­tempts to com­mu­ni­cate with me via the oc­ca­sional card, email for­wards, blog com­ments & prox­ies were the my fa­ther could do. I think he had a per­ma­nent vic­tim men­tal­ity. This al­lowed him to twist the wrongs he did to oth­ers into wrongs done unto him. There is no need to ad­mit mis­takes or ask for for­give­ness (two things I never heard or saw him do) when one is the chronic vic­tim. Repeat the spin enough and oth­ers will be­lieve it, re­peat it long enough and you’ll start to be­lieve it your­self.

In high school, one of my teach­ers (and a one­time friend of my fa­ther) had a talk with me about his aborted re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther . He con­fided in me that his one re­gret in life was that he didn’t make peace with his fa­ther when he had the chance. I wasn’t any­where near a place where I could have done that when I was given that ad­vice, but it has al­ways stuck with me. I fre­quently thought about con­tact­ing my fa­ther, but con­tin­u­ally put it off, some­times through my own re­luc­tance, but some­times that de­ci­sion was re­in­forced through the ac­tions of peo­ple close to him. I’ve re­ceived hate-filled emails through the years, most long-since deleted, but here’s a re­cent sam­ple, from a com­plete stranger:

Hey, can I be any clearer now? Do I have your at­ten­tion? I know Don has kept in touch with you and let you know what is go­ing on, but I dont know if you seem to un­der­stand the sever­ity of this sit­u­a­tion. Are you re­ally that shal­low that you are go­ing to al­low your own fa­ther, who gave you life, to go through this surgery, that he may or may NOT live through, and never let him meet his grand­son? You are a sick, pa­thetic ex­cuse for a per­son and you have no feel­ings. My kids are so hurt by this. He is their grandpa and they love him and he treats them won­der­ful and they dont judge him by mis­takes he has made in the past. I am cry­ing on a nightly ba­sis and pray­ing to God that he makes it through and you cant even reach out to him in his time of need. He is not even my fa­ther, but he has treated me like a daugther since the day we met.…..You should be ASHAMED of your­self. Every year that man has bought Christmas presents for you and they have just piled up in a closet in his and my moms house be­cause you never had the guts to show up. BEMAN ADAM and let your boy meet his grand­fa­ther. Stop run­ning. You are go­ing to re­gret this de­ci­sion for the rest of your life if he dosnt make it through the surgery. Please make peace. Your dad wants to be a fa­ther to you and ALWAYS has. Sorry your mom ru­ined that for you but your old enough to make your own de­ci­sions now. Be the adult and face him and let him know you give a damn. He loves you with all of his heart and it makes me sick the way he aches to meet his grand­son and wants to see you. You make me SICK. You so de­serve an ass beatin!!!! I wish we could have been friends or fam­ily but you re­fused to let that hap­pen and I tried to give you the benifit of the doubt over the years and keep my opin­ion of you to my­self but se­ri­ously, how do you look at your­self in the mir­ror every­day? ????

Do the right thing for your son Adam. Stop be­ing self­ish and think­ing about your­self. The world dosnt re­volved around you. Are you old enough to un­der­stand that yet???

MAN UP BOY.…MAN UP!!!!!!!

Whenever I thought that rec­on­cil­i­a­tion was a pos­si­bil­ity I would re­ceive a re­minder of the un­healthy en­vi­ron­ment I’d been de­lib­er­ately avoid­ing. I’ve never felt the need to ac­cept that neg­a­tiv­ity into my life.

Things could have been much dif­fer­ent these past 17 years if at any point in that time I had got­ten the sense from him that he had changed in any way, but that never hap­pened. In some ways, I’m still that scared 13 year-old boy when think­ing of my fa­ther, and I think my fa­ther was never able to see me as more than the scared 13 year-old boy he didn’t un­der­stand. Not only did I never get an in­di­ca­tion from him that he had changed, but bits and drib­bles of ru­mor made their way to me through a va­ri­ety of sources that con­firmed my sus­pi­cions. Once my son was born, I started hear­ing from peo­ple that he would show folks a pic­ture of Abraham and tell them “That’s as close as I’m ever go­ing to get to meet­ing him.” I think the only way he knew to get at­ten­tion from oth­ers was to ma­nip­u­late them into giv­ing him what he wanted.

For 17 years there have been things that I’ve needed to dis­cuss with my fa­ther; now I will no longer have a chance to do so. It might be cow­ardice on my part for never hav­ing at­tempted to make those tough con­ver­sa­tions hap­pen, and I think I bear a small amount of re­spon­si­bil­ity (the same re­spon­si­bil­ity any per­son has for re­solv­ing un­fin­ished busi­ness with an­other) for not hav­ing con­tacted him once I was ma­ture enough to know my own mind, but a greater re­spon­si­bil­ity lay upon him to seek amends with me. Not once in the 17 years of our es­trange­ment did he ap­proach me forth­rightly, con­tritely or non-ma­nip­u­la­tively. The ap­proaches were al­ways oblique, con­de­scend­ing, re­tarded, as if he could not no­tice the gi­ant red flag of his abuse. I don’t know, maybe he couldn’t see it. Nothing could be eas­ier than to spread blame around; the fact re­mains that the sit­u­a­tion will al­ways re­main a sad one. It’s a shame; es­pe­cially since I for­gave my fa­ther years ago. However, for­give­ness is only pro­duc­tive when it is shared with some­one who seeks it; and for­giv­ing some­one for an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship does not re­quire main­te­nance of that re­la­tion­ship. I made my peace with him, but he never gave him­self the chance to find out.

For 17 years I didn’t want the grow­ing pile of Christmas presents in his closet, I wanted my fa­ther to re­spect him­self, our re­la­tion­ship, and me enough to say that he was sorry.

A lot of buried bit­ter­ness per­co­lated to the top in this sec­tion. I’ve known about it and rec­og­nized it for years, and since I’ve done that, along with know­ing and rec­og­niz­ing other dan­ger­ous emo­tions and prob­a­bil­i­ties that are my in­her­i­tance from my dad, I’ve been able to chan­nel them into pro­duc­tive en­ergy, to­wards my­self, my son, my kith & kin. And bit­ter­ness is a pas­sive emo­tion; I bore and bear my fa­ther no ill will; I was sad­dened to hear of his can­cer and de­cline in the same way I would be sad­dened by hear­ing that news about any per­son that I know.

The Future

Because I’ve lived over half my life with­out a fa­ther, I’ve had to learn most of what it means to be a man on my own. That’s both a hin­drance and a help; a hin­drance be­cause I’ve had no con­sis­tent pres­ence to set an ex­am­ple or of­fer guid­ance, a help be­cause that very lack of pres­ence has forced me to work hard at defin­ing man­hood for my­self, and I feel that I’ve reached an un­der­stand­ing that I would have been in­ca­pable of if I hadn’t had to do the work my­self. The learn­ing process be­gan with sim­ple things, like teach­ing my­self to shave, but has ex­panded and mor­phed through­out the years into some­thing as com­plex as a phi­los­o­phy for my ac­tions & de­ci­sions as a fa­ther. There will al­ways be holes in the foun­da­tion, but that just means I need to change the metaphor for man­hood from a struc­tural one into a pro­gres­sive one; it’s a jour­ney, not a house. A jour­ney changes, a house set­tles.

Because of my father’s dis­ap­point­ment that I wasn’t the boy he wanted me to be, I’ve learned the op­po­site of his ex­am­ple: to ac­cept that what I want has noth­ing to do with what is. I’ve learned that the im­po­si­tion of will is less pow­er­ful than run­ning wa­ter. Instead of beat­ing on a wall and get­ting nowhere, flow around it and move be­yond. The dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing stub­born & be­ing im­placa­ble.

I’ve been blessed to have sur­ro­gate fa­ther fig­ures through­out the years, not the least of which have been my un­cles. They have al­ways been there with the right ad­vice — right when I need it. I haven’t gone through this alone, and though I’ve done my best in this post to stick to the core and key (my fa­ther, for­give­ness, my­self) of this many-ten­ta­cled in­ter­per­sonal con­flict, there is much more that could be said. For my part, I think I’ve shared what has been most im­por­tant to me. It is nice to fi­nally lay the bur­den down.

The whole par­a­digm I’ve been talk­ing about and work­ing through is a sad and com­plex sit­u­a­tion. This story could have been about re­pen­tence, for­give­ness and heal­ing; so what I mourn most is what the last 17 years could have been if things had been dif­fer­ent. One thing I do know, my fu­ture will be dif­fer­ent; I’ve got my rea­sons and I’ve got the mo­ti­va­tion.