Simulate This

Mick Hartley commented on a review of Postmodern Psychoanalysis Observed yesterday. The review says some odd things.

A key tenet of postmodernism is that both internal and external reality are social constructions, reflecting (among other things) an individual’s cultural background, his language and his past and present experience. In the empirical setting, postmodernism has led to a resurgence of constructivist research and an emphasis on cultural relativism in any discourse.

Tenet. A key tenet. What is a tenet, anyway? Just kind of like an attitude? A hunch? A wild surmise? An ‘as if’? A sillybuggers idea that you know isn’t true but like to mess around with anyway? Something you like to say to make people roll their eyes and ask to see your travel papers? My Concise Oxford says it’s a principle, dogma, doctrine. Yeah, dogma – that fits. Because really – external reality is a social construction? Just like that? The objections to that are too obvious to be worth making – along the lines of ‘Okay, let’s see you jump off that building then.’ (Dawkins made the familiar observation about social constructionists at 30,000 feet.)

It may be that what the reviewer means, and what some postmodernists mean, is that our ideas or knowledge or beliefs about external reality are social constructions – but then they really need to say that, don’t they. And it may also be that the reviewer and some postmodernists mean that external reality itself is a social construction – in which case they’re barking mad and not worth reading. And a third possibility is that they mean the first but say the second in order to confound and mislead the general public, in which case they’re posing irresponsible frauds and still less worth reading.

In clinical setting, postmodernism has led to greater focus on narrative truth and skepticism regarding the relevance of objective research methods to all important psychological and psychopathological issues.

Oh, has it. Has it indeed. How very convenient. Skepticism regarding the relevance of ‘objective’ research methods – because subjective, i.e. evidence-free hunch-based inner-knowledge-driven ‘research methods’ are so much better. Because ‘narrative truth’ i.e. whatever story anyone feels like telling is so much better than plain old non-adjectival truth. Narrative truth, story truth, fun truth, what I like to say truth, ego-puffing truth, dramatic truth, exciting truth, colourful truth – all so much better than the plain unadorned kind. Hooray for postmodernism.

So to Baudrillard.

All of our values are simulated. What is freedom? We have a choice between buying one car or buying another car? It’s a simulation of freedom.

Really!? Is it! Nothing to do with – oh, let’s see – the freedom to talk to other people, even strangers, even people of (breathe deeply now, stay calm) the opposite sex? The freedom to work? The freedom to walk about in the world? The freedom to go to school, even to university, even to graduate school or law school or medical school? The freedom to read? The freedom to write? The freedom to say ‘No’ to a marriage to someone one doesn’t want to be married to? The freedom to walk around in the world with one’s entire head even including the face and the whole of the neck naked and unclothed and bare? The freedom to write poetry? The freedom to have a book of poetry published? The freedom to write a book of poetry and have it published and succeed and win a prize? The freedom to write a book of poetry and have it published and succeed and win a prize and not be murdered for it? Is that a simulation? I don’t know – I have all those freedoms, myself, and I have to say I don’t regard them as simulations. I might, if I didn’t know there are other people in the world – women, actually – who don’t have all those freedoms – who don’t in fact have any of them, not one – and who end up as bleeding heaps of flesh as a result – but I do know that, so I don’t.

So I think Baudrillard is a damn fool for saying that. (It looks as if the interviewer thought so too. Good on her.)

26 Responses to “Simulate This”