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I Cannot Trust Post-Modern Conservatives

A preface, please: I know that “post-modern” is often used as a dogwhistle to refer to Jewish culture. I promise I don’t mean it in that sense. As you read the text, I hope you appreciate the irony that I’m asking you to, on this small matter, take me at my word.

A lot of people don’t realize that they don’t believe anything. This is, in contemporary society, if not inherently, significantly more of a problem among the post-modern conservative members of my society, so that’s where this critique will focus. However, it seems to apply to some extent to nearly everyone who is a post-modernist or unknowing adherrent to such an ideology, so if you don’t identify as a conservative or moderate, don’t necessarily assume this text isn’t going to criticize you as well.

This is vague but not hypothetical: I share an opinion in a public forum: the type and tone of criticism people are sharing for something else seems unwarranted. I think their tone is caused by other beliefs they aren’t saying. Maybe they’re prejudiced against the creator of the something else, or scared that it threatens the type of society they enjoy.

Examples might be how critical people were of Katie Bouman receiving credit for her work on the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration that occurred this spring, since she only did part of the work, or of the ability to choose non-heterosexual relationships as the player-character in some computer games, since that forces queer propaganda onto the player.

I said this wasn’t exclusive to post-modern conservatives. Other examples might be lambasting an open-source project for typos in its documentation since that makes it less usable, or complaining about how a new bus stop may delay your commute.

As I said, I share then an opinion criticizing the severity and focus of these criticisms. Are these things really problems, or are the complainers just homophobic misogynists and privileged classists?

The common response to my opinion is then along the lines of: “Just take me at my word. If I say it’s because she didn’t do enough work, that’s what I mean. If I say it’s because I think it’s propaganda, that’s what I mean. If I say it’s because buses make me late for work, that’s the end of it. Stop looking for some bigger reason; we’re speaking in plain English; it’s not that deep. Why can’t you take me at my word?

(At this point I’m going to stop stretching to include liberal post-modernism in this text, as it really isn’t relevant given the contemporary severity of post-modern conservativism.)

Why can’t I take them at their word? Their words would have to show some consistency. Here’s some softballs, based on other related opinions put forth by the same communities:

Moving past the established examples:


There is a common response at this point, not just from the original critics and the critics of my response, but from nearly everyone: “Maybe these arguments are coming from different people. Conservativism, even the niche of post-modern such, isn’t a homogenous group.”

That’s fair. Let’s assume these contradictions aren’t contradictions, but are coming from different people in the same group.

But this begs the question: these are fundamentally different beliefs. How did these very different people come to be in the same group?

One commonality is that both elements of this group feel so strongly about these beliefs that they actively seek out people like me to disagree with… and are almost never found disagreeing with each other. Yet, one of them thinks that anything funded with taxes is evil communism, and the other thinks spending less money on the military is un-American. Those are explicitly contradictory beliefs, and yet it is my criticism of either one’s honesty that draws more attention.

Another commonality is that both elements, if given breadth and depth to discuss their opinions, will express the opinion of the other. I can’t prove this commonality, but to quote pop culture, search your heart, you know it to be true: if you let either flavor of post-modern conservative share their views for long enough, you’ll have time to hear them advocate for strict regulations of healthcare, sharp on the heels of a cry for deregulation of industry.

There is, again, a common response at this point: “But what about post-modernists outside the conservative spectrum?” That is, “but the left does it too!” I personally think that’s a false equivalence, but more importantly, it’s irrelevant. I want to stick to this here: I’m trying to explain why I can’t take post-modern conservatives (or any post-modernist) at their word:

They can’t tell me what they actually believe.

I don’t take them at their word, because I can’t piece together a coherent set of beliefs from the things they say. There’s two reasons for that. Either the person I’m talking to genuinely doesn’t have a coherent set of beliefs, or they’re lying.

When someone’s opinions about what’s true change like that during the course of a conversation, it doesn’t come off as honest conversation. It comes off as a sort of game, where I’m the opposing player, and anyone else who disagrees with me is on their team.

So their team is not formed so much around taking a position, as much as claiming to believe in whatever would need to be true to “win” our disagreement.

There’s a further complication and commonality between these two elements of the post-modern conservative movement: they will accept and deny a belief in the same breath, as long as they know you believe it, for real.

For example, safe spaces are silly, but supremacists need spaces they can feel safe. Or, systemic oppression is a fantasy, but white culture is being oppressed.

This self-contained doublespeak comes with a very loaded implication: I can’t prove they don’t believe anything.

Again, we’re no closer to having some sort of coherent “word” to take them at. There has been, so far, no sincere statement of belief, since no statement of belief stands without the support of some earlier contradictory opinion. Beliefs, to this point, are just pieces to move around a gameboard so that their beliefs can be more right than mine.

Why can’t post-modern conservatives express what they believe? As I said, there’s two reasons behind it. Either they don’t have a coherent world-view, or they’re lying. Let’s explore the latter.

Pretending I could get a post-modern conservative to answer the question, “What do you actually believe in,” without it being some cylical nonsense or a misdirection to someone else’s beliefs, I think I know what they’d say.

What does it matter what I believe? I’m right regardless.”

I keep saying “post-modern conservativism” here, and I’d like to define a core part of what belonging to that group means: it means that truth is subjective. This is a fine notion for philosophy class, but when applied, unexamined, to one’s entire belief structure, can be dangerous.

A lot of people believe things, like “systemic oppression is real,” or “the sky is blue.” They think that these things would be true even if everyone else thought they were false - and importantly, that even if they believed it was false, it wouldn’t change the nature of what is actually true. I might believe the sky to be a shade of pink; the truth is it’s blue.

Post-modern conservativism relies on the truth being immaterial and irrelevant. I have my facts, and they have their “alternative facts.” Who’s facts are true? No one can say.

From the post-modern conservative position, what they believe has no bearing on their rhetoric or argument, which is from the position that truth - objective, material truth - does not exist. Whoever wins the argument decides that the color of the sky or the existence of oppression, regardless of what is happening in reality. Reality, to the post-modern conservative, has no bearing on truth.

This is the core commonality between the elements of the group: there is no expectation of honesty or truth in what they say: it is not indicative of their beliefs.

I can’t know whether they mean what they say, or whether they’re just pretending they mean what they say to continue the debate. The Internet, with its ability to remove identity and moderation from the conversation, exacerbates this problem phenomenonally. There is no longer any expectation of parity or respect in a discussion. Put one way, on the Internet no one knows you’re a dog; put another, on the Internet, no one knows you’re one person operating ten accounts; put another, on the Internet no one knows you don’t genuinely mean what you say. Even the most honest communicators are doing so under a system that favors anonymity and lack of moderation, and so favors the pointed removal of material truth.

This requires, in order for to have a voice online, I be:

This sort of contradictory rebelliousness - extremism, in another word - is a common part of youth, but most communities curtail the most egregious outbursts of it. No one’s going to let you sit at the adult table for the holidays if you tell jokes involving slurs.

But the Internet has allowed the establishment of communities that don’t do anything to curtail such extremism. Communities where there’s no risk of embarassment, because no one knows you’re not a dog. Communities where having such views is actively rewarded, because you are most able to win debates, which, in a place without identity or belief, is the only thing left. In fact, in communities like this, having firm beliefs reduces your ability to debate, and even if you did have honest beliefs, everyone would assume they were insincere, anyway.

This isn’t limited to the Internet - it’s important to emphasize I think there’s nothing special about the Internet against other forms of literacy. But what the Internet has allowed is there to be very large spaces where this occurs, and I think this is contaminating the ability of otherwise conscientious people to conduct reasonable discourse.

With someone’s sincerity open to interpretation, their intent is meaningless. Not only is the material truth - the color of the sky - no longer meaningful, but the subjective truth - do they mean what they say - has lost its meaning.

Is the person speaking being sincere? If their facts support me, yes, otherwise, I can’t tell, they might be having a laugh. Whatever I’m able to view as the facts can change to support my current opinion. What’s true? Whatever’s useful.

This reasoning, as irrational as it is, is highly effective in debate, which is why I think so many post-modernists then apply it to their own beliefs. What do they believe? Whatever’s useful. Beliefs aren’t binding; they can always change their belief later. Not the fit the material facts, but to fit the situation.

I see this a lot. People will say something, and then decide it was a joke if it gets a negative response. Or honestly more common, they’ll state that they “expressed themselves poorly,” or “didn’t accurately convey what they meant,” when what they’re saying now is an explicit contradiction of the earlier claim.

And usually their original claim and weird contradicting apologetic defense of it are both just assumptions. The person who presented them assumed them, thought they’re probably clever enough, and that their assumption was right.

But this means when I prove their claim wrong, they can just say, “whatever,” because: they didn’t know what they were talking about; it was just an assumption. They don’t actually believe what they’re saying. And what’s more, I’m the fool for thinking they might. And beside, none of this can be true, it’s just our opinions, so what’s being said, specifically, doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that the discussion continues. It’s rewarding for them, the same way it’s rewarding for anyone whose worldview has the coherence of a split atom.

This is it; our answer. Why can’t I take post-modern conservatives at their word?

They don’t actually believe what they’re saying.

When they make these arguments, it is predicated on the subjectiveness of material truth and the irrelevance of genuine belief. /They don’t actually believe what they’re saying./*

I’m going to repeat it one more time just for good measure: They don’t give a shit whether what they’re saying is true or not, because it’s not what they believe.

Here’s how to prove that, it’s really easy:

If they cared about the truth, they would look it up.

So, post-modern conservatives believe in nothing.

There’s an extreme irony here, that really, to me, underlines the depth of the lack of belief among post-modern conservatives. They have a saying, “reals before feels,” or “facts don’t care about your feelings.” Basically, the left is based around morality, and reality doesn’t care about what’s moral. A fine critique, on its own. But the thing is… they really mean what they say.

They’re telling you: in their world view, the facts, the material truth, doesn’t care about what you feel or believe to be true. It’s dictated by whatever was said last, which in turn is dictated by winnning a debate, which in turn is dicated by plain old superiority.

It’s ironic that the alignment of the political spectrum which self-identifies as rational, reasonable, and logical, has no basis for having a belief beyond self-interested egotism. They view logic not as a process of critical thinking, but an innate quality that an idea might have, the same way a cow might have spots. Being rational isn’t the application a complex set of skills, but something they just are.

Rational people don’t argue things they don’t believe, so if a post-modern conservative is arguing something, they must believe it… ignoring my claim that they don’t know what they believe, for the moment. Rational people don’t believe in falsehoods, so whatever they believe must be true.

They speak from the assumption they’re right, because they’re assuming they’re rational, and so that any later beliefs they claim must also be rational.

If I let yourself stay focused on their arguments, instead of the rhetoric, before long they’ve made so many contradictory claims that some must get past, and they get to spread their version of the truth while I cling to my reality like a liferaft.

But if I assume the framework that they don’t actually have any beliefs, I’ll have much more useful conversations. If I enter conversations with post-modernists - of any sort - with the belief that they don’t mean anything they’re saying and, given enough conversation they will fundamentally contradict themselves, I can conduct the conversation with much greater fitness.

There’s a shortcoming here though: at this point I’ve only addressed that post-modern conservatives don’t believe in anything. I haven’t said why they don’t believe in anything. The common statement, believed by most, is that they just like upsetting liberals.

Why is it always liberals?

It’s just as easy to upset a conservative as a liberal in my experience, if not easier. Why only go after liberals?

There’s a pretty obvious answer: they actually do have beliefs, and it’s that the kyriarchy is good: that white supremacist, imperialist, classist, patriarchial society is good. But they don’t - they honestly don’t - know that they believe these things.

A huge chunk of post-modern rhetoric exists to maintain ignorance of one’s own beliefs. It was intended as a sort of healthy skepticism of conviction, but has been rapidly warped into a, “eh, I don’t know what I believe because facts change and the world is complicated.”

Which would be fine… if these people weren’t going around lying about the Nazis who want to kill marginalized people, and saying the real problem is women with short hair.

Most people assume their morality more than they understand it. They have the grade-school basics: don’t steal, don’t cause violence, and post-modern conservativism runs contradictory to these morals.

So they’re forced to rationalize these contradictions - they’re not racist, they just don’t think felons should vote. (Rationalize here being, they are intrinisically rationally people, so anything they think is rational.)

As post-modern conservativism has become more openly radical, bridging the gap between basic morality and those beliefs has become more difficult, even for the innately logical. It’s hard to say you think violence is wrong when you’re advocating federal agents go around the country separating children from their families, or arguing about the semantics of “concentration camps.”

So rather than sticking to any one of those beliefs, the conservative drifts between them until the conversation is either overwhelmed with their “facts,” and they’ve said something the other party is willing to try and debate them on, or claim, they don’t believe in anything, they’re just doing it for the fun of debate, or to make the world worse. There’s no room for the improvement of their beliefs, since those aren’t involved in the conversation. The only thing they’re working toward is improving their rhetoric, and rhetoric for rhetoric’s sake is a disrespectful self-indulgence when the folk who’s rhetoric they’re defending are putting up concentration camps.

So, why don’t I take conservatives at their word? In my experience, they are:

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