Thursday, May 11, 2017

After Postmodernism: Epistemological Ecosystems

The economy is an epistemological ecosystem. It is not the only one, but the kind of knowledge created through the unimpeded price system makes it a very efficient and effective one. Some epistemological ecosystems--such as art, literature, philanthropy, philosophy, and others--suffer from the ambiguities inherent in reputation as the primary medium of value-exchange. Science works better than these with its peer review, but is still not quite as efficient and effective as is money-mediated trade. Technological innovation participates in the economy precisely because its winners and losers are chosen through the price mechanism. That fact also makes technological innovation effective, efficient, and wealth-producing.

All of these are knowledge-producing activities. To refuse to trade therefore means one is purposefully trying to remain ignorant, and to make sure that others too remain ignorant. Reducing trade--whether through trade barriers, wage and/or price controls, taxes, and so on--increases ignorance. We cannot know what would be the best use of raw materials, capital, capital goods, or human capital any time prices are distorted. Price distortions not only include the list above, but also include subsidies, regulations, and monetary inflation/deflation (real inflation/deflation, on the other hand, communicated information more accurately).

Insofar as postmodernism is a kind of radically skeptical epistemology, denying the existence of an objective reality (or at least an objective social reality), insisting that all knowledge is merely constructed and can therefore be deconstructed, denying any sort of human nature, and therefore that knowledge itself is impossible, we can see that postmodernism is an active denial of the very existence of epistemological ecosystems. It is not that it's not true that there is an element of knowledge-production (or else how could one even have an epistemological ecosystem), but rather that for there to be an ecosystem of any sort, there has to be foundational organisms to interact with each other and co-evolve. The ecological equivalent would be for postmodernists to deny the existence of organisms or species because there is evolution.

If knowledge-production is in one sense impossible, and in another sense nothing but imposition of power/power-relations (another postmodern claim), then any sort of structure is as valid as any other sort of structure. What matters, if knowledge is nothing more than the imposition of the powerful on the non-powerful, is who has power. We can begin to understand pretty much every postmodernist position from that perspective.

If free markets are simply ways business people create power relations that benefit themselves at the expense of others, and business people are bad (for some reason or other that seems to involve "greed"--never mind that postmodernists are also supposed to be radically skeptical of moral "facts" as well, meaning we could just say "greed is good" and accept that for just as much or little reason as anything else), then we need a system that benefits some other group of people instead. The most popular are the victim classes--which seems to somehow include something like 90% of the world's population--as those who somehow properly deserve the reins of power. It all thus becomes a bunch of arbitrary choices being made by self-appointed secular saints who are all somehow right-thinking, even though if they were consistent with their own postmodern epistemology, there could not be any such thing as right-thinking.

If knowledge truly were power, I'd be President now and not Donald Trump. Those who hold power in our governments around the world are the surest falsification of postmodern epistemology possible. But postmodernism means never having to say you're wrong.

The understanding that there are in fact epistemological ecosystems helps us retain the insights of postmodernism while evolving well beyond their nihilistic conclusions. It's not a choice between structuralism and poststructualism, but both simultaneously. It's not a choice between The Truth and radical skepticism, but rather truth as a strange attractor, with truth statements coming closer or moving a bit away, but always circling, circling--and often generating more truth attractors. This is how all ecosystems--natural or epistemological--exist over space and time. Yes, we create knowledge, but that doesn't mean the knowledge we create isn't true. Yes, there is socially constructed knowledge--which makes that knowledge useful rather than denying its existence--but that doesn't mean that there aren't facts in the world which we must live with, by, in, and through.

What comes after postmodernism? It's already been around for a while. Epistemological ecosystems is what comes after postmodernism. Given that people like Hayek and Michael Polanyi developed this idea, it's a bit ironic that the postmodernists were already behind the times when they came up with their ideas, since their replacement was already being developed before they even came on the scene.

Post a Comment