Thursday, August 27, 2009

talking, 5

I did better in chess that Friday, tying with Wayne for the highest scores in our blitz games. All of the normal five were there, along with one other who joined in, and so Wayne and I split the few dollars, and some of mine went straight into the LoMo's till for a mocha cappuccino.

This week, I brought along my laptop (pretty basic PC model, a bit above the cheapest priced, but not near to the nicer ones that cost more), and saw the Gus had his, too (much nicer Mac, I saw with a twinge of envy), and he had his open and on when I joined him. It took me a bit to get situated, and our conversation began as I was doing so.

One note: I'm not sure how to refer to the author here, so in order to keep from simply refering to "the author", I'll call him M.

"How far did you get in the book?" I asked.

"A bit further, think I'm a bit over half-way finished with it. How about you?"

"Read it through."


"My evenings are pretty free."

"I was a bit busy. Plus, I wanted to look up a few people mentioned in the book."

"Ah, research. Good, good, I did the same thing, but more on the author."

"Kind of did that, too, but then I started looking at a few other things. Guess I took that route."

"Learn anything?"

"Don't know. He mentioned some names somewhere in the first few chapters, people like Polanyi, Derrida, Rorty, some others. I had heard of some of them, somewhere, maybe in one of my classes, though we didn't go into them much."

"Interesting. What have you learned."

"That it's some pretty heady stuff. Give me a week or two more, before I tell you much about what they thought."

"Ok. If I may suggest, I think I have something from the book we can discuss."

"Really? What is that?"

"I guess I should say, a couple or three things." My computer was on but not quite ready to be used, so I fished the book from where I had put it in the computer's carry case, and flipped for a few second to find the correct spot. "Ah, here it is. It's pretty early on. The...what should we call him...?"


"Not the guy writing the story, so to speak, but the one who is kind of teaching him."

"Oh, the foreigner with the nickname from the popular movies. Do you think that's an accident?"


"Just a thought I had. He tries to pass it off as nothing that the man, I guess he's a kind of sage..."

"Sage! Good name! I was thinking guru, but that seemed a bit new-agey."

"Ok, sage it is, then. Anyway, The author of the book is a white guy, and I guess he kind of represents the guy telling the story, at least in some way."

"The story-teller is kind of like how he was, and the sage is more like how he is now."

"Yeah. But the sage, he's this islander-like guy, he's not white like you and me. And then he has the acronym-like nickname, which is the same nickname of the hero in those really popular sci-fi movie with the cool action sequences. And he seems to be doing to the hero of the book as the guy in the movie starts doing, leading people out of their old life into one that is, well, real. Into the rabbit hole, so to speak."

"I can see that. I like those movies. Keep another thing in mind, though, that the nickname means 'new', so it would fit the overall theme of the book for him to have that name, though it's a pretty transparent thing." I opened the first few pages of the book. "And the book came out a couple of years after the movie, so if it's a coincidence, it's a rather odd one."

"And the guy's race and nationality?"

"I don't know. Why does it bother you?"

"I don't think it bothers me, but, well, it just struck me as odd."


"Well, it's like this. I was reading what he was saying, and started wondering about it. But then, I caught myself feeling strange about it, because I wasn't questioning the writer, but someone else, this character, and he's not much like the author at all. It's like some kind of politically correct guilt trip came on me for questioning the words of someone of another race."

I took a sip of my drink, more to ponder what he was saying then anything else. "I would like to get back to a part of what you're saying a bit later, but your reaction to M voicing his current views through a man of another race is a fascinating one. Why do you think he did that?"

"I don't know. He's a white guy, as far as I know the philosophers he mention are all Europeans or Americans, but in the book the sage of postmodernity is of another race. It's not really all that unlikely, I guess, but my reaction to it seemed strange, like it was wrong for me to question him, like if I did so I was leaving myself open to being called a racist because I didn't just accept everything he was saying."

"Do you think that was the author was trying to do, set up something like a trap?"

"Well, that's a pretty serious charge, I would guess. But isn't it done in politics? I mean, I see these campaign ads about some issue, like local economy, and we're shown someone who gets on and tells us how the person running for office brought a factory to the town which brought jobs and money to them. Or something I remember from a year or so ago, some kind of health care legislation, and there was some controversy over it, and the side for it had some ads where a child comes on and tells us that if that bill is rejected and he gets sick, then he and others like him would die because they wouldn't be able to get help."

"I remember that."

"Now, the kid was, what, ten or eleven years old. Do we really expect a kid that age to understand legislation and health care and such? But some people did question the claims in the ad, and those who made it tried to make it seem as if those who did question it were greedy evil jerks who didn't care about children's health and well-being, when in reality they were saying the legislation was simply bad legislation, and the ad and it's claims were simply ridiculous, even manipulative."

"You've given this a bit of thought, I guess."

"Well, yes, a little. I hope I've explained it well to you."

"I think I get what you're saying. But to be honest, I don't know if that's what M was trying to do. It's possible, but it's only supposition. I haven't seen anything that really says that in the book."

"If that's what he was doing, though, it would kind of give it away if he did state it so bluntly."

"Maybe, but an argument from silence isn't really an argument. No, while what you said may be something to wary of, I don't think we can get away with saying M was trying to be so manipulative, at least not yet. I'd rather stick with what he said plainly enough through the characters, especially the sage, and it seems we can find enough in those to make this discussion a good one."

"Yeah, guess so. So, what did you find?"

I turned to my computer, and opened a rich text file. "Remember in the first real discussion between the preacher and the sage, and the sage starts talking about Modernity and Postmodernity, and to help with what he's saying he gives a list of some things that he says characterize Modernity."

"Yeah, I remember that."

"Here they are." I turned my computer towards Gus, and showed him the list of things from the book. He looked through the book quickly, and nodded when he saw that I had them right (though he also pointed out that I had one word spelled wrong, which I fixed with haste and a bit of embarrassment).

“Anyway, I thought a bit about those thing, and kind of questioned a few of them."

"Well, he does say that he's using broad strokes, that it's an oversimplification."

"Yes, he does, but what does that mean?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, think about it. If, as he says, those who taught him would be most disapproving of his 'gross oversimplification', then why should we be happy with it? Is it such a 'gross oversimplification' that it is in reality not how thing really were, or are not really such strong characteristic of that age?"

"I noticed that, and it did seem a little strange."

"Look at one of them. He says that one aspect of Modernity was conquest. I'll not doubt that conquests did take place in that time, but is that something that necessarily marks that period over others? Look at the ancient world, and all of the conquerors and empires of that time--Persian, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, and in other parts of the word Chinese and the Mongolian Empire. I suppose one could point out the Incas and Aztecs in the western hemisphere. Not to mention Israel's conquest of the Promised Land and all of their wars over it.

"Understand, I'm not saying that conquests didn't happen in the Modern era, only that it's not something that marked it as different from those before it, and I doubt it will be different if we assume there really is a Postmodern era."

"You think postmoderns will be conquerors, just like moderns?"

"Yes, because human nature hasn't changed. Any conquests may be different. I think it will take the form more of legislation and international pressure then of armed force, though even that will have to be there in order to make the pressure felt.

"Really, what is the United Nations but the latest attempt to conqueror the world? While they may not use much force to do so, they do try to use various kinds of pressures and resolutions in order to make countries fall in line with their agenda. In that way, perhaps the Postmodern era will be marked by what has to be one of the most grand schemes of conquest that mankind has so far developed."

"I...I don't know. Sorry, but the UN has never impressed me. Nothing seems easier to ignore then a UN resolution."

"It's not a perfect scheme, I know, but I think there is something to it. Whether it will be the UN or something after it is, I guess, debatable, but I do think the UN is the current embodiment of the attempt."

I sat back, starting to feel drained. "I think some of these others can be questioned, too. His statements about the arts in the 'objectivity' section seem strange, considering that this era was also the era of Shakespeare, Bach, Beethoven, Picasso, van Gogh, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, and many others who did great things in the arts. And did any Modern believe more in absolute truth then an Old Testament prophet who came before the people to tell them a message that God had given him to give to them, knowing they would not accept it and likely harm him sooner or later? Where any Moderns more commit to analysis then such Greeks as Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Pythagoras? Were any more committed to debunking their opponents as Socrates?"

"He may have had a point with some of those characteristics, yes. Maybe with individualism, or Protestantism. It's an interesting list, but not one I think to be accept unquestioningly."

"I agree."

"But you did read the chapter after that, correct?"

"I should have, yes. I read a bit after that, too."

"Did you notice anything about that next chapter?"

"Let's see..." Gus looked over the pages in what was a rather short chapter. "It's him writing some journal entries. There are some things here that I thought were a bit of a stretch."

"There is something I noticed, too. Not in what he's writing, but in what he's not writing."

"An argument from silence?"

I laughed a little. "In a way, I guess. What I did notice was that the preacher isn't wrestling with whether or not what the sage said in their first meeting is true or not, but he's wrestling with what it means since the sage is right. What I mean is, he's gone from hearing what the sage said to accepting it almost without any questions of if he's right."

"Are you sure? Like I said, I haven't finished the book yet, but I do remember him questioning the sage, and at one point even getting almost violent with him."

"Yes, but what kinds of questions does he ask, and what kinds of issues does he wrestle with and find difficult? Look at the first journal entry he put in, one that happens the morning after. There is no questioning of the truth of the sage's claim, only of what their truth means to religion. In other words, he goes from, let's say Day 1, getting a brief history lesson about modernity and postmodernity, to the next day suddenly critiquing all of the beliefs in various kinds of churches. Quite a jump, I would think, from one day to the next."

"It's a work of fiction. Yeah, that's a bit unrealistic. I guess that could be seen as a bit of a hiccup."

"True, but look at it from the point of view of what you said earlier. You had a hard time questioning the sage, you thought because of his race and ethnic make-up. But the pastor character doesn't question him, either. He rather quickly goes beyond that to trying to understand how things will change since what the sage says is true."

"And your point is that we should question whether what the sage said is true or not?"

"Well, that's where we've started. I think we've raised some good objections to some of what he said, both in regards to the past and to his ideas of things now being 'post' those supposed modern characteristics. We aren't post-conquest, we're doing conquest in a different way. We're not post-critical, we're simply trying to silence those who disagree with us through various indirect means--the Fairness Act, having courts decide who should be allowed to present scientific evidence in classrooms, obvious journalistic media biases in regards to being for certain things and against others, and even such things as smoking bans which restrict a business' ability to set their own policies. We've not post-analytical, not by a long shot. We're not post-secularism, if anything secularism is very strong now. We're not post-objectivity, the postmodern's are just as certain of the rightness of their positions as any pre-postmoderns, but their kind of 'commitment to uncertainty' seems more like a blind behind which they hide their own core of objective truths."

"Quite an insight there."

"It's not my fault." I smiled a bit sheepishly. "Like I said, I did some online research of this author, and of the movement he's in. I found a podcast of a man talking about one of M's other books, I think it's a sequel to this one, with the same characters in it. The speaker pointed out that in the other book the sage was treated almost like a prophet, in that nothing he said is questioned. People ask him questions, yes, but they accept what he says without question. When I heard that, I wondered if it was true of this book, too, and at least in these two chapters we've been talking about, it was. I noticed that the preacher went from getting his first lesson in postmodernity to accepting what the sage told him without going through any kind of serious questioning stage of what the sage said. If he had, he may not have jumped in so quickly."

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