Postmodernist’s Dilemma

debating-pair1I was all ready for a full-bore, knock-down-drag-out. The reason was that I was expecting a visit from Skids Grofsky. I still have no explanation for why the two of us are friends. All we do is argue about things that, in general, cannot be proven. We don’t seem to have anything in common other than our enthusiasm for verbal fencing. But so far no physical altercations have occurred during our visits.

Skids showed up at ten o’clock. He was dressed for battle in grey chinos and a cream-colored polo shirt. As I poured his coffee, he sat down and commented on the drizzly weather outside as if that were the reason he had come. Finally, he launched it:

“So what’s the name of the game today, my friend? I see you’ve been reading up.” Skids indicated a stack of books on the table. “You’re no doubt telling yourself, ‘today’s the day I will get my friend to think like I do.'”

“Is that why you think I invite you for coffee?”

“It seems to be. You always exert such energy trying to persuade me that you’re right.”

“And you don’t? Anyway, it’s not about me being right, it’s about the validity of my beliefs.”

“What’s the difference?”

“You don’t even know, do you? What do you think all those millions of people are arguing about out there? About who’s right? All this is some kind of popularity contest? There’s something a lot deeper at stake. Doesn’t at least part of you desire to know what the truth is?”

“Spoken like a true fundamentalist. What would you say if I told you that truth is a mirage used to entice the brainless masses to conform to Establishment directives.”

“I would say you’re regurgitating the standard postmodernist claptrap―which you defend with the same tooth-and-nail ferocity you say I employ. Let me ask you a question. Do you exist?”

Skids laughed. “I know where you’re going with this, but yes.”

“But you say that there is no truth. It’s all a matter of individual perspective, right? So that makes you an illusion. You think you exist, but if I deny it, by my own proclamation I can make you disappear.”

“That’s silliness.”

“You took the words right out of my mouth. But let’s get back to this idea that truth is the proverbial carrot on the stick. You don’t believe that there is truth?”

“If there is truth, it is higher and deeper than anything humans discuss. All bets are off when it comes to religion, morality―all the controversial subjects.”

“Is gravity controversial?”

Skids paused, and his eyes sparkled. “You’re trying to trap me.” He shook his index finger at me. “You don’t really think there’s some bridge between the physical and the spiritual, do you?”

“Just answer the question. Is gravity real? Is there an immutable set of laws that govern gravity, regardless of the individuals involved?”

“Not necessarily. It may be that we just haven’t seen an exception to the rule.”

“You don’t really believe that. You’re trying to dodge the blow. Are you telling me that you recognize no parallel between the realms of the tangible and the intangible? Haven’t you ever noticed the tendency of people to develop scars on their bodies and on their psyches as well? Talk to a doctor sometime. You’ll learn about a medical term called “stress shielding” that describes how a broken bone will heal improperly if it is not subjected to a moderate amount of stress while the repair is forming. Sound a little like coddling parents and the amoebas they call their kids?”

“You’re rambling. Let’s talk about physical laws. Just how immutable are they? Have you ever read about those freaks who walk on white-hot coals and don’t even get singed feet? It’s been documented. Or the Orientals who pierce their flesh with blades and don’t even bleed?”

“I think there are explanations for those phenomena. We just don’t possess all the facts.”

“How convenient.”

“No, wait a second. You’re not off the hook. You’re trying to win this argument by implying that the physical laws aren’t immutable after all. But you can’t support that assertion, can you? All of science and technology, all the disciplines of higher learning, are based on discovering and manipulating those physical laws. Some fields, such as the social sciences, are based on intangible realities that appear to be as reliable as physical ones. You should sit in a psychology class sometime.”

“Are you telling me that just because a bunch of stuffed shirts are telling us they found some unchanging universal tendencies out there, that we have to believe it? Were you there when they were doing their experiments? How do you know they aren’t fudging the numbers?”

“There’s something called ‘replication.’ It’s what keeps scientists honest.”

“So how do you know the ones doing the replications are honest? What if it’s all politics? Science is supposed to be about observation and description.”

“I don’t see you doing much observation sitting in that chair. But you are moving your mouth quite a bit.”

“The same can be said of you.”

“Come on, let’s cut the barbs here. I’m sure we’ve both done our share of studying. The point is that you seem to reject everything you can’t personally prove through direct observation.”

“What else is there? Once you start to trust, you set yourself up to get filched by every snake-oil salesman in the world. Besides, this whole business of finding cause-and-effect relationships is as self-serving as you can get. People want to believe in permanence. Who wouldn’t want a Sugar Daddy in the sky?”

“I smell a little sour grapes here. Someone once said, ‘Truth is a blanket that leaves your feet cold.’ If you can’t have your king-size down comforter, you’re just going to forget it, is that it?”

people_arguing“How did we get on the subject of blankets? We seem to agree that an objective truth can’t be proven. The only thing we can count on is what we experience. So you believe what you want to believe, and I’ll stick to my own conclusions.”

“You don’t want to say it, do you? Of course, it’s a cliché by now: what’s true for you isn’t necessarily what’s true for me. Right?”

“You said it, not me.”

“Yes, but I don’t believe it. You seem to.”

“I wouldn’t exactly put it that way, but yes, for lack of a better description, that is what I believe.”

“So what I believe is equally as valid as what you believe?”

Skids seemed reluctant to speak. But eventually he nodded. “Yes.”

“In other words, what’s true for me is true for me, and what’s true for you is true for you?”

“Didn’t I just say that?”

“Okay. So what if my truth is that your truth is a lie?”

Thomas PaineSkids said nothing for a minute or two. He just opened his mouth and closed it again. Then, giving me a furious look, he got up and left without a word.

I haven’t seen him for several weeks.

With thanks to Charlie Williams

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About Douglas Abbott

I am a freelance writer by trade, philosopher and comedian by accident of birth. I am an assiduous observer of humanity and endlessly fascinated with people, the common elements that make us human, what motivates people and the fingerprint of God in all of us. I enjoy exploring the universe in my search for meaning, beauty and friendship. My writing is an extension of all these things and something I did for fun long before I ever got paid. My hope is that the reader will find in this portfolio a pleasing and inspiring literary hodgepodge. Good reading!
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One Response to Postmodernist’s Dilemma

  1. Auntie Sarah says:

    Love the new format but it made me do a double-take! The Story, of course, very good as always. I think I’d seen it earlier with out the illustrations. Both presentations are edifying. I sense good stuff coming out of your personal hard drive!!

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