Going Down the Rabbit Hole: My Encounter with a Postmodernist

If you are not familiar with the phrase, “down the rabbit hole,” it comes from the 19th Century Lewis Carroll book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Young Alice goes down a rabbit hole and experiences a world that is upside down, inside out, and awfully confusing. According to Google, the phrase has come to “refer to a bizarre, confusing, or nonsensical situation or environment, typically one from which it is difficult to extricate oneself.” I was reminded of the world down the rabbit hole as I was recently having a conversation with a quintessential postmodernist.

The best description of a postmodernist comes from a phrase that would be perfectly at home down the rabbit hole: “That’s true for you, but not for me.” We could call this the triumph of the subjective, which fits perfectly in an iEverything world. In this world, an objective reality that exists outside of our perceptions, feelings, desires, thoughts doesn’t really exist. The only thing that counts is what we think. In contrast, when we speak of “objective reality” we assert that things that exist in reality (physical things, or ideas like truth, goodness, and beauty) have an existence or nature apart from our thoughts about them. In other words, our thoughts don’t determine the nature of the things.

For thousands of years of Western history, such an assertion would have been axiomatic and accepted by any sentient person. No more. To the vast majority of our neighbors, their assessment of something is granted an authority to them simply because it is their assessment! I’ve heard this called “the sovereign self.” What the self determines is all powerful, and not to be questioned. If we do question the self’s assessment, we experience something more slippery than an ice rink. C.S. Lewis warned of the pernicious nature of such thinking in his book The Abolition of Man back in the 1940s. I experienced it first hand the other night.

I recently spent hours around a fire pit trying to convince someone that the concept of something being true for one person and not another is absurd. At points you could see the wheels turning in my interlocutors head, as if what I was saying actually made sense. For example, we would agree that an item, say a ball, that exists outside of us has certain properties regardless of how we perceive it. Yet over and over again, like the proverbial Pavlovian dog, he would go right back to asserting that we could never see or agree on the ball that is actually there. Alice’s Wonderland has nothing on postmodern Western culture.

One scene in Carroll’s book came to mind as I was trying to counter this nonsense. Alice gets into an argument while not trying to argue (I know how she felt) with a certain egg looking creature:

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

Humpty understands postmodernism perfectly well. If meaning is just what we make it, then might makes right. But as I argued in my last post, reality doesn’t work that way and it will eventually have the last laugh.

In my next post I’m going to share something I wish I’d said as we discussed morality.