Continued from part 1:
The excesses and tortuous intellectual posturings of many postmodern philosophers created a backlash, both within the fields of philosophy and social science, and in the disciplines that were being targeted by the postmodernists and poststructuralists. In the “anything goes” atmosphere of postmodern thought, a lot of pretty loopy ideas gained ground and were supported in many cases by people wielding the twin weapons of faux intellectualism and truly awful writing.
In this explosion of chaotic ideas, bad writing, and uncareful thinking, a new narrative about science was created. This narrative was deeply conflicted, because it simultaneously labeled science as a human-created elite enterprise that was an integral creator of injustice, and it glorified certain sciences, especially quantum physics, as proof of the awesome truth of postmodern — and prescientific — ideas. It got pretty damned wild up in there, I gotta say.
For instance, the idea that quantum physics proves the existence of things like ghosts, past lives, energy healing, and gods is something that arose from within the tumult of postmodern writings about science. As you can imagine, this made many actual physicists pretty angry, because the people writing about quantum physics had no training in physics whatsoever. One physicist did something to challenge the nonsense.
Some people called it the Sokal Affair, but since there was no sex or champagne, I call it a hoax instead Continue reading
“That’s just cultural relativism,” he spat angrily as we walked through his neighborhood. I became very quiet but continued walking next to him, not knowing what to say next. It was early 2004, and I had just left behind my entire career as a psychic healer and returned to college. He was a psychologist and skeptic who had invited me up to his home for a weekend, and we had been having a lovely, intense, intellectually liberating time up until that moment. I had clearly stepped over a line….
I was shocked by his disgust, which was the kind you hear when some people say “welfare queen” or “bible thumper.” What I understood him to mean was that cultural relativism leads to making excuses for everything and never holding anyone or anything to a firm standard. So when I said to him that skeptics seemed very similar to evangelicals, except they had a different point of view to sell – or that within my New Age culture, judgment was considered extremely rude and therefore wasn’t used, my skeptical friend spat out the words “cultural relativism.”
He didn’t like skeptics being compared to religious fanatics, and he didn’t like me making what he saw as excuses for New Age people who didn’t use their judgment. He also said something dismissive about postmodernism, but I didn’t know what that meant and was too embarrassed to ask. I thought he was talking about cubist art or something.
We finished our walk and found more happy topics. After that weekend, I returned to college to find out what the hell cultural relativism and postmodernism were. If they could make my friend this angry, they must have been very bad ideas indeed.
Except that they weren’t
Strangely, when I started to study cultural relativism, I couldn’t find anything bad about it — at all. Cultural relativism is actually a ground-breaking, scientific way to observe human cultures. Continue reading