The Problem with Post-Modernists

Warning: I’m not planning to do a detailed academic analysis on Post Modernist philosophy itself, this are my views (or rant) on my personal blog, because I’m tired of reading this nonsense on a daily basis.

ETA since I got a few negative comments: Again, I can’t emphasize this enough – don’t take this as a critique of post-modernism itself, which was never my intention. 

pomo social construct

Last month, a blog was posted in CNN about a white woman who visited India and had horrible experience with sexual harassment over here. This was met by outrage from many parts, some having victim blaming overtones. Myself as a guy who lives in India, and most feminists I know of, found it very relatable and not even slightly hard to believe. That’s hardly the point. The point is, when a woman, regardless of her background, ethnicity or race, narrates her experience in India, deserves to be heard and understood. You can’t just go on to blame her or ask her to mince the words just because you are offended. And there was no reason to either, she was very polite and did not attempt to paint all Indian men by the same brush. This has been already discussed at IHM’s blog, you can read it there.

Coming to the central point, postmodernism. I have never been impressed by postmodernist philosophy in general (I have respect, but although I don’t want to imply that their entire field is obsolete without proper exploration on my part, needless to say the sort of nonsense from many postmodernists is getting far too much for me to tolerate. Alan Sokal did a good take-down on the anti-intellectualism that plagues postmodernist philosophy in his book “Fashionable Nonsense, but that is not again my central point. This blog is to discuss about how some post-modernists get it so wrong, you can’t sometimes even tell the difference between a post modernist and a misogynist. And when that happens, you’re doing it wrong. Period.

1. Victim Blaming

This was posted on a tumblr, and was posted in relation to the RoseChasm article I mentioned:

shitpomossay1

Post-modernist nonsense exhibit 1: Victim Blaming

“Yet another deeply obnoxious, racist, classist and douchey, white woman’s account of her experience in India. […] There are ways to tell this story without being colonizing, white supremacist piss hole. Find that way or shut the fuck up.”

I saw absolutely nothing generalizing or unbelievable about her account. Why should a woman watch her mouth to stroke your post modernist sensibilities to narrate her terrible experience of sexual harassment? And what’s worse, this is riddled with personal attacks towards her. Yes, it is important that woman of color be heard, absolutely. How does that make this venomous personal attack on a person who faced sexual harassment okay? So extending the same reasoning, should non-dalit women be allowed to speak in India? Would you say the same shit to them? This is just downright misogynist douchebaggery. Oh no, we have to take everything as white savior complex, completely ignore the fact that this was a victim narrating her personal experience.  Just write a post-modernist guideline that women ought to follow from now on to speak of their personal experiences, I’m sure they would be very grateful for that.

This is the worst form of post-modernism, which is, in my view, anti-feminist and misogynist.  And this runs so deep down, where being offended  and having an us vs them mentality is good enough to rant on about anything.

2. Cultural reappropriation

shitpomossay2

PoMo exhibit 2: Racism

Now we come to the so called ‘cultural appropriation’ issue, in this case apparently the burning issue seems to be: “Should you wear a Bindi?” First of all, for all the things Po-mos say about racism, this post is ironically racist and such a sweeping generalization. Not all desi woman who wear bind wear them “cheap ugly looking desi chappals” – in fact many women who wear bindi probably from middle-upper middle class. And many of the women who do so themselves use these fairness creams. That is just the colorism they have internalized, and unfortunately confirm to. It’s an amazing leap of logic that you just made there.

And I am thankful that people from the west don’t make a fuss out of all this “cultural re-appropriation”, because we do that ourselves, if you are even aware of that. We’re not some monolithic group that wear “cheap ugly desi chappals” along with bindis. Bollywood actresses wear bindis. Upper class and caste women wear bindis.  I haven’t seen many Indians getting ‘hurt‘ in India because some white women wore a bindi here, and we’re a very sensitive bunch when it comes down to religious and cultural sentiments. But regardless, being offended is not good enough reason to refrain from doing anything. Because especially living in India, I know very well how that is used to shut down any debate. If you offend any religious sentiments, you’re screwed. And that has worked out great for us, as you can see. You may find it silly, or you may not like it, but that does not make it inherently racist. That is just irrational prejudice, nothing else.

3.  Savior Complex and Western Allies

This is a more sensitive issue, and I hope I get the nuances right here. I agree that racism in the west is not a trivial issue to this date, and I get that white savior complex might well exist and be very prevalent. But here is something many people just annoyingly go overboard with again:

PoMo exhibit 2: White Savior Complex

PoMo exhibit 3: Savior Complex

Now here comes the oft repeated phrase: “we do not need saving“. I repeatedly hear this, that “we do not need saving” strawman. What is the point of this? I mean I could say that to any activist. That “women don’t need saving” or “LGBT people don’t need saving” – and you would rightly call bullshit on that. Homophobia is terribly prevalent in Islamic communities, that’s just a reality. And I don’t see how accepting that is a problem – and I would go so far to say that acknowledging the problem exists and is widespread is the first step.

Progressive Muslims (reformists) are still in the minority, and they’re mostly the ones who are vocal about LGBT activism. So yes, allies are important. At least in my view. This kind of broad and unhelpful rhetoric just negatively affects LGBT activism in Muslim communities. And I’m just pointing out Muslim communities in this specific case, that applies to a broader context too. And it’s hard to tell if it’s a satire or real thing (spoiler alert: it is real) when you say things like “”We” are not helpless objects for you to (hyper)sexualize and prey upon with your colonial gazes.” – seriously?

Yes stereotypes are bad, and should be done away with. I appreciate that. But how about some nuance? Or being more specific and conflating strawman arguments with genuine issues that should not be brushed under the rug? I love how “hyper sexualization by colonial gazes” is an acceptable statement, but criticism of veil as a form of sexualization is “orientalist and offensive“.

And I could go on. This is just me talking from a feminist perspective and me randomly choosing a few examples to present a case.

When you yourself engage in black and white thinking whilst criticizing black and white thinking, that’s the epitome of irony. Issues in the so called “third world countries” are that bad. Ignoring that because you’re “offended” is just counter productive. And it’s not just white people, anyone who doesn’t confirm to this absurd and irrational west bashing, and black and white thinking are subject of this nonsense as well. Recently I had the misfortune to read this horrible article attacking Tehmina Kazi, Director of British Muslims for Secular Muslims, for pointing out the irrational anti-west sentiment and pointing out the obvious denialism from this crowd. And not to mention the obvious Taliban apologia or rationalizations (blame it all on the west!) these usual articles come with.

So bottom line, for all your criticism of the “west” and “white savior complex”, just stop with turning a blind eye to the very important issues that people in so called “third world” face because it “offends” you. That’s erasure of people’s experiences and reality denial. And that hurts the activism in these countries more than anything.

End of rant.

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12 responses to “The Problem with Post-Modernists

  1. Loved this post and strongly agree with, “So bottom line, for all your criticism of the “west” and “white savior complex”, just stop with turning a blind eye to the very important issues that people in so called “third world” face because it “offends” you. That’s erasure of people’s experiences and reality denial. And that hurts the activism in these countries more than anything.”

  2. Pingback: An Open letter to Guardian | Indian Male Feminist

  3. 1. Whereas I’m totally cool with non-Indian people not only wearing Sari and bindis but also partaking in Indian culture, I can see why White people wearing Native American headdresses or grills or whatever is not cool with Native Americans or Black people. I mean, the Colonists practically exterminated tribals and took all their land, and now they’re randomly grabbing stuff from their culture? Not cool.

    2. Can’t someone acknowledge that problems exist and also not want to be “saved”? Basically, I don’t think criticizing white savior complex necessarily precludes turning a blind eye to existing issues. “We don’t want to be saved” doesn’t mean “We don’t have problems”, it means, “We are capable of solving our own problems and if you want to help us, do so on our terms”. A lot of this came up during the release of Slumdog Millionaire. People lost their marbles over how it portrays India badly, and how it got an Oscar for precisely this reason, and I was like… hello? People in India actually live like that, and you have no right to erase their experiences.

    PS: Have you seen a Tumblr called “Your Fave is Problematic”? They are constantly criticizing celebrities for misappropriating the bindi and alta. If you want material for another blog post, check it out, and be sure to take some blood pressure medication beforehand 😀

    • 1. I can “see” that reasoning, but I personally disagree with that reasoning. Invoking historical baggage would be kind of guilty by association reasoning. However you can object to blackface and such on ethical grounds – reaffirming stereotypes and prejudice against an oppressed group and so on. So I happens to agree with them, but again for different reasons.
      2. Absolutely, with you. The “saving” part is mostly a strawman that I can’t stand – it’s the same “feminists treat women as weaklings” rhetoric packaged in a different context IMO. Speaking of oppression or serious issues doesn’t imply that we are consider them to be “weak” or “needs saving” – total reasoning fail + strawman.

      Ugh, I’ve seen it. Their posts on Cumberbatch, John Green etc. are total *facepalm* material. When Cumberbatch talked about class-typing in Britain, they brought up lack of POC representation in British media to dismiss his argument? WTF? Have really low tolerance for such stupidity, personally.

      • 1. See, what happened to Blacks and Native Americans is pretty different from what happened to Indians. For those ethnic groups in the USA, their culture represents an attempt to preserve their humanity in the face of continuing discrimination. For Indians in India, it’s no longer like that. So, whereas blackface and redface are wrong, I don’t find white people in sarees and bindis that wrong. Maybe it’s because I’ve hung out with a lot of people you’d *call* white who are really into Indian Classical Music. Maybe it’s because I don’t give a hoot about “Indian culture”.

        2. Yes, now it’s not a “saving people thing” when people in the 1st world talk about 3rd world problems, but remember Rudyard Kipling and his “white man’s burden”? God, what an obnoxious dude. Even if that phase is over, his legacy will always be there, and you can’t blame people for being suspicious, and people in the 1st world who are interested in being allies to 3rd world-ers do have to make an effort to allay those suspicions.

        PS: Oh man, you found the Benedict Cumberbatch and John Green posts, too? Those are the ones I facepalm at the most 😀 Thank you for the Wikipedia link, I also thought it was stupid of them to dump an (albeit serious) issue on someone who isn’t related to it in anyway. And dude, John Green has a freaking college Major in Islam. If any white YA writer is allowed to have a character who says “kafir” in his book, it’s him. Also, they’re ragging on Shakira for her VMA’s performance… except that it was choreographed by Farah Khan. That’s such an epic problematization fail 😀

    • The problem is that the white people in USA today are not colonists. They are citizens who happen to be white. Their ancestors were colonists and murderers but there is nothing you can do about it because those people are dead and gone. The people who live today want an integrated society and there is no harm in them incorporating things from Native American culture.

  4. Post modernism has been abused to ridiculous level. Lovely post and I especially like the way you linked POMO with the Rosechasm episode.

    Another issue I hate is cultural relativism. The moment someone points out issues like Burqa for eg., people rush out to claim how it is feminist and how it is wrong to critique it as it is rooted in a specific culture. I read a ridiculous post from a very reputable sociological blog- that compared female genital mutilation in Africa with plastic surgery in western world. It is as if people are super scared to pass any judgement on other cultures, fearing it would make them seem racist.

  5. I have no idea what post-modernism means, but I agree with all your points. I am irritated with all three phenomena. Frankly speaking, it’s western women who claim they don’t want to interfere in a culture that makes it a norm to suppress their women because they are ‘tolerant’ people infuriate me. There are also westerners who have deigned to tell me ‘arranged marriages aren’t bad’. Well then, let me arrange one for you! I’ve also been told that ‘Muslim women don’t need anyone to speak up for them’. Yes, because they are so freely able to talk about their problems, innit?

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali articulates it all so beautifully in her book, Infidel. She asks if freedom is only meant for white women and I would also like to ask the same question.

    • Hey Fem,
      Take it as a rant, I’m not dismissing post-modernist philosophy entirely as I haven’t done much background reading on it myself. Although my individual critiques still stand as an independent point, and these are not something I get far and in between. It really is annoying and counter productive, at least in my view.

      As for Ayaan, appreciate her struggles and have respect for her struggles as WOC, but I’m not a fan for her siding with neo-cons and her criticism of Islam being far from constructive.

      Nice to see you here BTW 🙂

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