Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Why I don't like modernity

Try as you might, one cannot so easily gid of one's biases, as the previous blog entry "Why I Like Modernity" so aptly demonstrates. For example, I suspect that if a person of color or a woman were to read the comment below, they in all likelihood could tell that it was written by a white male.

Why? White men don't have to think about race or gender. White men generally can move from one "neighborhood" to the next without worrying about transgressing racial boundaries. (Try doing this as an African American motorist in any major city or suburb.) To not perceive racial or gender biases is in itself a bias -- a bias of the privileged, I might add.

Secondly, philosophically speaking, I don't like modernity's pretensions toward an "unbiased" future, and, by implication, that "bias" is always ontologically undesirable. Hidden underneath modernity's own "bias" is a larger truth claim: Modern science, and by extension, the scientific method, is devoid of any a priori biases and therefore is epistemologically superior to the metaphysical claims of religious worldviews. Many scientists or other devotees of modernity don't subscribe to this precept, of course, but this kind of discourse is found in logical positivism, scientific materialism, and other intellectual systems that date back to the nineteenth century, or even earlier during the so-called Enlightenment.

From a postmodern perspective, "bias" isn't bad; it is an inescapable part of the human condition.

Here's my own bias: Traces of this modernist discourse crop up here in this blog (and others) where Christianity, for example, is often reduced to a cheap caricature which serves as a polemical straw man for political critiques of the Republican and evangelical right. Don't get me wrong: As a card-carrying leftist, I believe the Christian Right ought to be challenged at every step, but not at the expense of treating Christianity as if were solely in service to Pat Robertson and the Intelligent Design movement. Christianity -- even Christianity in America -- is far too complex for that. Any graduate level course in church history or theology at a major university or seminary would demonstrate that.

I'm not suggesting that most lefty bloggers are guilty of this type of reductive caricature, or if they are, it is done with malicious intent. But just as white people don't have to think about race, secular-minded lefties often don't see the built-in biases that structure their worldview. Instead of anti-racism classes, mabye they ought to take a sensitivity class. What if they learned, for example, that the seventeenth century scientific revolution owed an intellectual debt to...*gasp*...medieval scholasticism? Or that the "science vs. religion" polarity is not a reality unto itself but entirely dependent on a specific historical (and uniquely Western) context?

Maybe then biases can be put into a perspective that fosters more understanding than animosity and distrust.