Of things indeterminate

/ 10:04 AM May 11, 2011

In the old “modern” days it was the style to resolve all issues proposed especially in writing. If the Maker wrote an essay, for instance, about the Reproductive Health (RH) bill you would expect that by the end of the essay he would have resolved the issue if not completely then at least to a major extent and/or you would at least know his stand. The Maker thanks his God for post-modernism or as it is sometimes called, the “contemporary style.” Post modernism proposes the validity of non-resolution or indeterminacy as a good ending for any sort of writing from essays to short stories to screen plays to performance art, etc.

About the only thing the Maker can think of that would not work well with an indeterminate ending is the food recipe. But even that assertion might still be open to contest. One can never tell. For it is a fact of history that as soon as someone claims something cannot be done, more often than not someone will come along who will try to do it. And there have been many cases when they succeeded.


Modernism was driven by a number of “projects.” These included industrialization, capitalism, democratic or representational government and the emancipation of the individual. These projects were seen as universally for the good. This claim held that aesthetics and truth were universal. This means that if a thing was aesthetically pleasing for someone who viewed it with “disinterested” judgment then the thing ought to be aesthetically pleasing for all, or universally. There was, of course, the problem of “disinterested” judgment, but it was a problem easily resolved by the philosopher Immanuel Kant.

Is the human person capable of disinterested judgment or are all human judgment inevitably driven by greed and self-service? If the latter, then the truth cannot be possible. For if all human judgment results from greed and self-service then all human assertions cannot have a claim to truth. For the truth to exist humans must be capable of disinterested judgment. This does not mean all human judgment is disinterested. It simply means that humans are capable of distancing themselves from a question and thereby resolve every question one way or the other but always on the side of truth.


These arguments are easy enough to understand. They have come to define “modern” civilizations and systems as we see them today. All judicial and legislative systems of representative governments are modernist structures premised on the claim that disinterested judgement is possible. Indeed, it is upon this capacity that we build the ordering of contemporary society.

Post-modernism is not of course in polar opposition to this premise. But it does cite the dangers this premise holds. In history, the universality of truth may be and has been used to rationalize imperialism and the destruction of weaker cultures. When the modern Spanish and later the Americans came to colonize us, they came by the premise that they were advanced civilizations with the higher claim to truth and God. The indigenous practices were native, indian, primitive and superstitious. The local wear were indecent. It was their manifest destiny to convert, educate, civilize and, in current parlance, make over. The local cultures stood little chance of survival.

The modernist premise of universality is especially dangerous in contemporary times. One would have thought that modernism would do away with prejudice and religious fanaticism but in practice it has only served to fuel it. For if only one universal truth was possible, then only one God can be true. And this is sufficient reason to displace and whenever possible erase another person’s God. But how can this be possible unless through terroristic wars such as we are seeing now all over the world?

Who is the real terrorist? Islam or Christianity? Who is finally right? The people for or against the RH bill? These are all irresolvable questions. The fundamentalist modernists would disagree. They would have sought a universal resolution to these things at the level of mores and intellect. The post-modernist on the other hand would say everything is indeterminate. Everything is a story with an open-ended conclusion. Failing anything else and if we want peace, then let’s just put it to a vote. The voting will not, of course, end in finding out the truth about things. Voting has little to do with that. But it will at least determine what most people believe. For those who have a native aversion to war, that is enough. After all, life is only a continuing story of questions answered by other questions without end until we say, not as a statement of truth but as a humble acceptance of human limits, the end.

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