Enchantment, bias and power


As I think of it, postmodernism is about * bias*, only it does not call it bias because "bias" puts it down, makes it sound as though we can get outside our "bias", makes it sound as though we can escape the biasing effects of language to construct an accurate, objective picture of the world.

The postmodern has come to believe that the very language we use to describe our world "objectively" shapes our experience of it, even shapes what there is. In fact, language continuously processes and modifies what there is. It cannot do otherwise. We tend not to notice this because modernity traps us in the concept of "objectivity" -- making us think we can get outside our context. Modernity enchants us with the pretence that we are ever objective.

But we can sometimes become disenchanted with a local area of our enchantment. This is what postmodernism means by "deconstruction". To deconstruct a traditional concept means to see how we had been enchanted by the term, thinking it gave us an inert objective label for describing the world.

I believe that many people on this list have experienced this deconstruction, or disenchantment, with pathologizing language. We have noticed, for example, that the DSM terms themselves have an effect on what we see, then what we do, and then what there is to see, then what we do about that. In the simplest model, if you tell a child that she is stupid, and then treat her as stupid, she can make her be more stupid, cause people to treat her more stupid. Calling a person schizophrenic, or criminal, or even beautiful, is not a bland descriptive, "objective" statement. It has an impact on what is -- and that impact is not simple, as the postmodern sees it, is not simple.

Can you see how this kind of talk leads people outside postmodernism to think postmodernism says that there is no reality? And that, at the same time, this is not quite what postmodernism is saying?

Becoming more postmodern means recognising this ambiguous nature of the world that is our human context, noticing how we colonise people to join with us in a certain definition of the world, how we market our ideas. It also means learning to think in terms of deconstruction, deconstructing our own views, and sometimes our patients views, as when a patient is self-blaming in a crippling way.

But this is just something in the back of a postmodern's mind, something to think about when the world doesn't seem to be working. Mostly the postmodern remains, for better or worse, enchanted with the illusions of modernity.

Lois Shawver, September 1996