Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Why Conservative Christians don't know how to negotiate

I was going to post on the looming Senate showdown, and how it stems from a failure of the President to have the Senate- the full Senate- advise him on potential nominees, rather than simply give an unconstitutional "consent only" as the radical Republicans want.

But instead, I go over to Carter's place, and mirabile dictu, there's a weird syncrhonicity in his superficially very different topic, raising the same old same old stalking horses against postmodernism...

I can’t recall ever meeting a true postmodernist. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met two people who could define the term in the same way. Ask a philosopher, an artist, an English major, an emergent church leader, and the pizza delivery girl how postmodernism differs from modernity. Assuming they can do more than stare blankly in befuddlement at the question, the responses will likely be at complete variance from one another.

Well, first of all, I can talk about modernism...

The deliberate departure from tradition and the use of innovative forms of expression that distinguish many styles in the arts and literature of the 20th century.

And a simple definition of postmodernism:

Of or relating to art, architecture, or literature that reacts against earlier modernist principles, as by reintroducing traditional or classical elements of style or by carrying modernist styles or practices to extremes...

Now here I need an obligatory Carter snippet or two...

All of the talk about a “hermeneutic of suspicion” and metanarratives, though, merely obfuscates the obvious: nothing substantially different has occurred...

That's probably all the Carter I need today...

Ok, folks, listen up: postmodernism is a very useful to real life. The techniques of deconstruction - which actually go back to Plato- can be found in a variety of Western philosophy, but their everyday application has been called something else by marketers, negotiators, aribtrators, lawyers, and people just trying to get along in this crazy mixed up world.

There's more...

Read Herb Cohen's "You Can Negotiate Anything," and you are reading a text on how to deconstruct for fun and profit and peace. Professional and theoretical negotiators have recognized this similarity (look around here long enough and the utility of deconstruction become quite obvious). Negotiation, in theory and practice, is nothing but postmodernism/deconstruction. It is about subverting fixed metanarratives because the alternative is often getting lots of people dead.

Ditto for real marketing: one has to subvert narratives to disrupt existing markets. Toddlers using VCRs subvert the intentions of the human factors engineers who designed their interfaces. Good human factors engineers can either utilize the toddlers' narrative to make better household devices, or simply ignore them, and imperil their company's market share.

The iPod subverts the narrative of Clear Channel.

So, as a practical matter, deconstruction is very useful.

Derrida saw this, too, evidently. It's those who are opposed to win-win agreements, who are opposed to the nuts-and-bolts practicality of peace-making, who are opposed to liberating markets ethically that have a knee-jerk reaction to "postmodernism."

As much of negotiation theory is really applied deconstruction, it is no surprise that those most opposed to useful negotiation are also those that see the least value in postmodernism. They are also those most likely to be eaten alive in the global economy.

Indeed fundamentalists and evangelicals are opposed to postmodernism for one simple reason: it is a threat to their market share, and anything that threatens their market share is a threat to their own faith, odd as it may seem.

But, like everything else, they don't quite practice what they preach: the modern evangelical service is nothing but a subversion of the traditional Christian religion, actually, both in form and in content. It is a subversion of traditional Christian experience with, um, capitalism.

But this knee-jerk reaction to postmodernism explains the Senate showdown over the filibuster: if there is power distributed (the power of the Senate to advise on nominees, and the check on failure to advise being the filibuster), the distribution has to be subverted, but the language can't reveal that subversion of power.

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