Deconstructing Our Truthiness
Modernism mirrored the pre-modern “it-must-be-a-certain-way” paradigm. For cultural reasons, it had to be a certain way in order to relieve our needs. Where the pre-modern European outlook was certain of a religious way, its post-modern outlook was certain of a rational and empirical way, as viable alternatives to its loathed pre-modern irrationalities and arbitrary subjectivity.
A Western binary
A duality emerged in the Western mindset between common illusory perceptions and expert clarity of “the truth,” ripe for its evolving specialization of labor. This dichotomy was reified in Western philosophy with the application of Plate’s cave metaphor. In the process, the focus remained on formulating “must-be” responses to needs—ideological responses or otherwise—with less improvement in understanding the underlying needs themselves.
This duality also emerged between the collectivist approach in pre-modern Europe and its competing individualist approach in the modern era. Authority to redress social needs (i.e., external resources) through religious meaning were set parallel to the ego needs (i.e., internal resources) ostensibly served by capitalism, technology, and science. To viably compete, it-must-be “the truth” we unquestionably value.
As Hicks explains (2004, pp. 7-8): “Modern thinkers stress human autonomy and the human capacity for forming one’s own character—in contrast to the pre-modern emphasis upon dependence and original sin. Modern thinkers emphasize the individual, seeing the individual as the unit of reality, holding that the individual of value—in contrast to the pre-modernist, feudal subordination of the individual to higher political, social, or religious realities and authorities.”
This dichotomization of need-response opens a breach for an alternative view. Post-modernism steps in to question these must-be approaches, then finds our meanings trapped in our communication conventions. Everything, it appears, is merely conventional, is merely a social construction. “To say that everything is a social construction is to say that our linguistic practices are so bound up with our other social practices that our descriptions of nature, as well as ourselves, will always be a function of our social needs” (Rorty, 1999, p. 48).
Language is constructed relative to need, so our every communication intersects in some way with our individual and collective need experience. Effectively responding to such needs, I have encountered, occurs along a continuum from conformity to prevailing social norms to deviance from such norms—especially where norms our outmoded for changing conditions.
Using the Latin prefix for “on the same side,” cisconventionality speaks to our utilitarian compliance with sociocultural norms. Our response to needs is on the same side as the recent general response by others. With few exceptions, like astronauts, we are all cisconventional to the conventions of gravity.
Rigid cisconventionality can be slow to redressing changing needs. Modernism appears to have emerged in the sociopolitical vacuum created by pre-modern irresponsiveness to individual yearnings for freedom from the medieval collective. Before there is any must-be alternative, human need compels one to transcend or transgress these limiting conventions.
Using the Latin prefix for “on the opposite side,” transconventionality speaks to our utilitarian defiance of sociocultural norms. Our response to needs is on the opposite side as the recent general response by others. With few exceptions, like the so-called Luddites, we are all transconventional to the conventions of new tech.
The historically recent acceptance of same sex attraction and more recently the transgender phenomenon speaks to what was recently transconventional, but is becoming increasingly conventional. Our norms for sexuality and gender, like our past norms for religion and politics, seem to be stretching to accommodate the burgeoning human project. All our attempts to find “the truth” appear to be mere conventions to communicate not only our underlying experience of such needs but how to culturally respond to them.
Nature is no respecter of culture.
In rushing to respond to needs with a construct of “truth,” one can readily miss the grand scope of needs not adequately covered by such attention organizing conventions. Needs are never limited to our words for them, and they persist beyond our best constructs for them. Some needs compel transconventional responses.
One area I can see prompting transconventional responses is in our dichotomization between social and ego needs. In my approach to counseling I am sensitive to psychosocial equilibrium, to having relative equal access to internal as well as external resources to effectively resolve ongoing needs. In my view, not having such reliable internal and external resources result in what we construct as “illness”—as dis-ease.
Now that may not be “the truth,” but it is my truth. Its impact on need is to have the final say.
Hicks, S. (2004). Explaining postmodernism: Skepticism and socialism from Rousseau to Foucault. Milwaukee, WI: Scholargy Publishing. Chapter One: What postmodernism is (pp. 1-22).
Rorty, R. (1999). Philosophy and social hope. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam. Chapter Three: A world without substances or essences (pp. 47-71).