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PoMo Zombies: Ideology, Grand Meta-Narrative, and Pragmatism

June 19, 2012

I call your attention to a long article in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education “Is America Philosophical?” by Carlin Romano which concludes:

In the post-positivist, post-cold-war, pan-Google era in which we live, America the Philosophical can be seen as a coruscating achievement in the pragmatist project that’s been unfolding for centuries.

Similarly, in HuffPo “Zombies Fighting Over Who Is Right: A Nightmare on Main Street” by William Grassie:

The world needs realistic and modest vision of a better life, not a perfect life.

This requires that we be grounded in a common reality, if not necessarily in agreement about what it all means. We have such a foundation in the grand scientific metanarrative of the universe and us — what we call Big History — so that our competing religions, ideologies and utopic visions are grounded and debated within the shared reality of our global technological civilization. The positive functions of ideology and utopia — as integration and social imagination — must be made explicit but also tempered by our understanding of the distortion and escapism involved. In such a way, we may hope to become pragmatic visionaries…

The great American philosophers (ie Dewey, Pierce, Rorty) and their lust for pragmatism always makes me personally a bit nauseated; which is not to say I am against their project. Perhaps it is similar to the existential nausea Satre described or that Cory Booker expressed about Obama campaign tactics of “vampire” attacks on ‘private equity’.

The pragmatists insist we share a common reality. But if we pragmatism is just another ideology, it is fair to question the value of the assumed premise. Yes we can speak as if we share a world, but it is also clear that our meanings can be incompatible and contradictory. It remains an open question whether pragmatism can resolve all these dualist controversies. When it can, it frequently resorts (relies and defers) to external markers of power (control and influence).

Pragmatism eschews ontological questions but zombies unveil them.

America may be a raging achievement in the pragmatist project but from a continental philosophy, PoMo French Theory perspective, isn’t that project horribly empty? And given the Haitian root, isn’t zombie ever so French. Which is of course also seems the proper context for revolutionary questions of person-hood and rights of man.

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