Mr. Smartypants’s Inadvertent Guide to Postmodernism, Part Two

Folks, I just got up.  I slept like a rock for, what?  Ten hours?  Good lord.  It’s a good thing I didn’t try this yesterday.  Anyway, envy me my four-day weekend.

So, where were we?  We were about to talk about bridges and signs and other roadside accouterments in honor of my engineering readers.  Y’all know what a metaphor is, right?  A metaphor is when you say that something is like something else in order to make its essence more clear.

Let’s say that I wanted to express to you how cute I think Kleinheider is, but also get at how I think his fundamental way of moving through the world is deeply troubling.  I could use a simile–Kleinheider is like prickly pear ice cream, prickles included–or a metaphor–Kleinheider is a cool prickly pear ice cream cone on a hot summer’s day.  But the point is that he’s actually not literally ice cream.  He’s not even literally like ice cream.  But there’s something about him I don’t quite know how to put into words that exactly get at it, so instead, I take some steps back and say, is there something very unlike Kleinheider that will bridge the gap between what I feel about him and who he is?

Just like a real bridge isn’t made out of the river banks it’s trying to connect, but steel or brick or wood instead, a metaphor is something foreign we bring into the gap between what’s there in front of us and how we feel about it so that we can speak about it.

But it’s deeper than that.  Do you know Magritte’s famous painting, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe“?  As you can see, it’s a painting of a pipe, with the sentence “This is not a pipe” written at the bottom.  Just think about this for a second.  It’s not a pipe.  It’s a picture of a pipe.

This seems both obvious and a trivial point, but it’s actually an important point of understanding postmodern thought.  Take this word–cat–for instance.  That is not, obviously, a cat.  We might, to use a metaphor, call it a sign that points you towards the cat.  Or we might go farther and point out that it’s a sign that points you towards an idea of a cat.  It might be a specific cat for one of you or a general idea of a cat for another of you.  But “cat” is not a sign that points to something external that has four legs and a tail and a bad attitude.  “Cat” points to something internal, an idea you have about what a cat is.

And, of course, everyone has a different internal idea about what cat is.

So, follow me here.

Since everyone has her own internal landscape that is different from everyone else’s, there’s a way in which a great deal of our world is not “objective” reality–out there real stuff–but reality filtered through our unique internal landscapes.  In fact, some would argue–like Baudrillard–that we don’t even see objective reality at all, but only our internal landscapes projected onto it, because we understand the world around us through language.

AND so the language we use is created by our need to describe the world in ways that make sense to us while at the same time the language we use describes the world in ways that makes sense to us–even if those ways are not objectively true.

Let’s turn to Mr. Smartypants, now, who says–

Building rapport with people makes them let their guard down more easily. I’ve used the car dealer as the perfect example before. They want to get you a cola and sit and chat so you will drop your guard. The auto dealership is the perfect laboratory for all of this stuff. It has the deception on the part of the salesmen and the breaking down of the defenses of the buyer.

Now, let’s think carefully about the wisdom Mr. Smartypants is hitting us with.  Here’s what he’s saying–We don’t buy cars that often; it’s a process that isn’t very familiar to us.  The car dealer knows this and exploits it.  The car dealer gets that he can control how we make sense of our experiences.  We usually associate receiving gifts–like the cola–and friendly chatter–like the small talk–as being signs that indicate that a person has good intentions towards us.  This association is so deeply ingrained in most of us that it seems ordinary, natural, just the way things are.  And so it’s very hard to keep in mind that the car dealer actually doesn’t have good intentions towards us.  He might not have bad intentions towards us, in all fairness, but he’s trying to make a sale, and in order to do that, he’s willing to exploit how we make sense of our experiences.

So, let’s go back to the exchange later on in the comments between Mr. Smartypants and the Wayward Boy Scout.

Sarcastro says, “One of the problems we are having with the boys in Gitmo and Iraq is we don’t have anything they want.”

Exador says,

Not entirely true, if we weren’t such pussies.
Some good examples of things they might want:

1) A koran.
2) Some time out of the pig fat bath.
3) Some time with the Judas Priest soundtrack off.
4) Food other than bacon and menstrual blood.

You get the idea.

Sarcastro counters with

That’s like the difference between wanting some soft and moist female companionship and wanting the dick out of your ass.

The former is something you genuinely desire and the latter is something you desire to stop. This involves a subtlety that I wouldn’t expect an engineer to understand.

Do you see what’s going on here?  Do you see why Sarcastro’s approach is so much more insidious in some ways than Exador’s?  Exador says, “Here’s how they view the world.  If we want to hit them where they hurt, we have to use the things that offend them.  That’ll show them.”  But what Sarcastro advocates is fucking with their worldview, fucking with how they create and understand reality.

Exador’s approach happens in a framework they can understand and defend themselves against (or, if they can’t, their failure can also be understood by others who share their framework).  Sarcastro’s approach works because it dismantles their framework and replaces it with one that is more aminable to the needs of the interrogator.  Exador advocates fucking with them.  Sarcastro advocates fucking with how they order the world.

Could Sarcastro be any more postmodern?  I just don’t see how.


13 thoughts on “Mr. Smartypants’s Inadvertent Guide to Postmodernism, Part Two

  1. >> And, of course, everyone has a different internal idea about what cat is.A bundle of non-hypo-allergenic evil, with sharp, fast claws and a cute little button nose.

  2. Boy am I glad I didn’t get goat-roped into that speech until far enough that most of your readers would have given up.Let’s keep in mind that my point was predicated on Sarcastro’s condition that "we don’t have anything they want."(And a desire to counter whatever Sarcastro said)To go with your car dealer analogy, if the car dealer realizes that you have no money, what is the point of getting you a coke?

  3. Since postmodernism is, at its root, no more than practical cynicism, I’d say that Sarcastro is probably the king of reactionary postmodernism.Not that that’s a bad thing…

  4. My understanding of Postmodern thought (at least as it applies to art, which may not be relevant to this conversation) is that anything goes with anything. If that simplistic definition applies, then a coke would, indeed, go with diabetes.

  5. Wrong! I married her for her looks. Her intellect was both a blessing and a curse that I’ve grown to cherish and despise.

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