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Frequent commenter MD has posted an interesting account of the views of Jacques Lyotard, a prominent postmodernist, on knowledge in postindustrial society. It’s an interesting situation Lyotard describes, one that seems to me more hyper- than post- modern and industrial. The basic idea, I suppose, is that man is rational and social. It follows that society operates in accordance with the way knowledge is formed and conversely. What counts as knowledge today is therefore mostly formed, in line with the currently preferred forms of social functioning, by a rationalized bureaucratic process (“expertise”) combined with global markets (fashions, information media and other entertainment) and the activities of various spin and pressure groups allied with bureaucratic and commercial interests, like the feminists who got rid of Larry Summers at Harvard.

MD comments on the situation at some length. Here are a few consequences that strike me:

  1. Individual human life is now thought to become rational only through identification with the global technocratic order, which is considered the sole situs of knowledge. So we act rationally, or so it is thought, only when we act as careerists, aspiring elite consumers, and PC supporters of the suppression of nonrationalized institutions such as family and particular culture. If you have a hot job, eat arugula salads and are perhaps a bit to the left of the New York Times editorial page, you’re leading the perfect life.
  2. A technocratic order has no outside because it denies the transcendent. Philosophizing therefore becomes a matter of abstracting a bit from the current configuration of the technocratic order and reshuffling the elements somewhat to see what happens. Sci fi is therefore the form speculative thought now takes. Geek culture is no accident. It turns out to be the destiny and culmination of Western thought. From Greek to geek.
  3. The situation is obviously ridiculous. Industrialized knowledge isn’t really knowledge, and we do have lives and those lives have basic aspects that can’t be fully integrated with the technocratic order. To put the point in marketing terms, the current organization of what counts as knowledge leaves an enormous hole in product space. For my own part it seems to me the Catholic Church has quite a future, if only because it has the most rational and comprehensive way of dealing with the personal and transcendent aspects of life that “knowledge” now leaves totally out of consideration. Invest now and get in on the ground floor before the motu proprio comes out!

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