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Who is the Radical?
Q: What should we do about radical postmodernists?
Are they radicals? Possibly. We would first have to agree about whom specifically we were discussing — but in the meantime, perhaps my favorite time, let us apologetically sidestep your question and take a few moments to problematize the notion of radical.
I heard that Paul Watson (legendary founder of the Sea Shepherd Society) once described hisfamous anti-whaling navy as consisting of "conservatives in a radical society." Very intriguing.
If huge changes are occurring… is it radical or more conversative to propose opposing them with changes at a similar scale?
Should you be judged as “radical” relative to the scale of the problems (e.g. radical society) OR by comparison to typical solutions (Paul Watson is dangerously immoderate in his response)?
Many spiritual teachers, of course, have proposed that revolutions and reformations in our consciousness, while potentially good, will never touch the root of our separative egotism and suffering — and so a radical shift of context is needed. While that is not the subject of this short quasi-article, it seems important that we keep the notion of context in our minds when trying to adjudicate radicality. These are plural and relativistic matters. Running at full speed while everyone else saunters may or may not be radical — depending on whether or not a hungry predator is in close pursuit.
Personally, I would consider it excessively radical to propose combatting public depression by mandating that a pharmaceutical corporation put anti-depressant chemicals in all our drinking water. But, on the other hand, if the duly-elected local fire chief suggested that my blazing house fire should be dealt with by tried-and-true moderate incrementalism — cost-effectively putting out 10% of the flames the first year, increasing that 15% the second year… — I would have to consider him as a radical ally of the inferno even though he probably feels himself to be quite well-intentionated and reasonable.
And in the context (sic) of developmental integrative pluralism, we often consider contexts in terms of the emergent worldspaces that different socio-cognitive operating systems inhabit and evoke. Our platform of perception, cognition & instinct largely determines the entities, scale, tempo and types of problems of which are behavioraly aware. Although there are many patterns that our intellect and verbal mind can nominally recognize, we do not feel the reality of all these facts. So these developmental contexts or “paradigms” or “epistemes” of “cultural codes” describe how we live and respond — not merely what we recognize and discuss.
For example, I live in a very small village. Our people have been throwing trash in the river weekly for generations and it simply vanishes. None of our ancestors lived to see any problematic results. Today I know through news reports that trash, collecting over centuries, is now massively disrupting the lives of villages that are hundreds of miles downstream. I know this. I get it. There is a larger context in time and space. But I don’t change my daily activities. It just doesn’t feel real enough.
It hasn’t entered my “behaviorally recognized” worldspace.
And, interestingly, each world will tend to view its predecessor and its successor as irrationally immoderate and misguided. A well-educated person with what we might call modern instincts has a high likelihood of feeling that both premodern & postmodern behavioral proposals — while possibly well-intentioned — are dangerously unfeasible risks to all progress and virtue.
After all — the traditionalists want to use coercion to indoctrinate all children with mythology and the postmodernists are so worried about race, gender and deconstruction that they are willing to throw away all science, logic and sensible progress. Aren’t they? It’s debatable.
People with postmodern instincts, perhaps embodied in Paul Watson’s comment quoted earlier, may hold precisely this same view about the system of modernity. Excessive. Inhumane. Radical.
If I examine the national economy over the last century it might look at though there has been a steady growth of information access, (“median”) GDP per capita, etc. However if we broaden out to the whole planetary situation of civilization and ecology studied along diverse qualitative trajectories in a context of thousands or millions of years it may look as if we are simply racing toward an unprecedented and imminent catastrophe whose losses may cancel out all modern gains. The scope of the worldspace is pertinent in making these evaluations.
Scope also includes rates of change. Most of us do not have a visceral sense of the reality of rates-of-change. We kind of get algebra… but calculus is murky.
SCENARIO. I am building a house and making steady progress. A pesky and villainous badger is digging beneath my building site. He starts small and I simply fill it back in. However he doubles the number inches he digs each week. And he’s breeding. After several months of construction work I can be proud of my efforts — pointing to successful incremental improvement. However, because his rate of change is different than mine, there will soon be a critical failure. The record of steady improvement is very impressive at the steady rate — and almost comically useless when contrasted to the accelerating rate. The whole notion of virtue, success, efficiency and radicality is altered by the range of patterns that are behaviorally incoporated.
In 20th century North American English we had the phrase “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” This was to reminds us about the serious gap that can emerge between the scale of our solution-activities and the scale of the unfolding problems. There are many situations in which is not true that “every little bit helps.”
In those situations, would it be radical or moderate to undertake a huge project urgently?
Regardless of meta-progressive quibbles about “who counts as an actual postmodernist?” we should all keep in mind that our casual, intuitive and scholary sense of which proposals are radical must be viewed in the context of both the interplay of socio-cognitive operating systems AND the context of how solutions are related to problems at different scales and tempos.