PARTICIPATING IN THE MARATHON DEBATE ABOUT WHETHER THE POSTMODERNISM HAS COME AS THE VIABLE ALTERNATIVE TO MODERNISM
MA (Sociology/Anthropology), 1st Year
Central Department of SA, TU, Kirtipur
Modernism vs Postmodernism: An Overview
Post modernism has been in discourse all over the world in the past few decades. While the thinkers of both the modern and post-modern schools have engaged in a tough battle of ideas, the topic has been able to draw the attention of people and scholars across the spectra of social life. The ideas in both schools, especially in the post-modernist one have been so diverse and often bizarre that the discourse no longer remains the one with linear arguments and their counterarguments. A spectrum of opinions exists on both the sides as the extreme ones on one side vehemently oppose those on the other side. Few 'moderate' thinkers who argue that the two virtues coexist in the contemporary world have been drawing flaks from both the camps.
The extremists in the camp PM i.e. Post modern, argue that we are long past the modern era with propositions of modernity being no longer able to explain the phenomena of the present day. Those in the camp M i.e. Modern, argue that the ideas promoted as the alternative to the Modern social theory are the mere bizarre attempts to challenge a rational world devoted to welfare of everyone. The more ominous allegations against post-modern theories and theorists state that they are the much needed distraction thrown at the confused intellectuals so that the brazen neo-imperial loot of the third world resources by the MNCs and 'core' nations can be hidden. Especially the Post modern repudiation of the relevance of studying history is thought to be the most prominent effort of the former empires to obfuscate their crimes against humanity they committed in the annexed land not long before.
First we will cursorily examine the main points that differentiate the new virtue of Postmodernism from its predecessor Modernism through this table adapted from wikipedia.org.
• Using rational, scientific, logical means to know the world. Optimism that we can understand and control an objective world POSTMODERNISM
• A reaction against rationalism, scientism, or objectivity of modernism.
• There is an absolute, universal truth that we can understand through rationalism and logic. • There is no universal truth. Rationality by itself does not help us truly understand the world.
• Humans are material machines. We live in a purely physical world. Nothing exists beyond what our senses perceive. • Suspicious of such dogmatic claims to knowledge.
• history as a "narrative of what happened" with a point of view and cultural/ideological interests. • Postmodern historians and philosophers question the representation of history and cultural identities: history as "what 'really' happened" is from one group's point of view
• Faith in "Depth" (meaning, value, content, how things work) over "Surface" (appearances, the superficial, how we use things). • Attention to play of surfaces, images, things mean what we make them mean, no concern for "depth" but with how things look and respond
• "disenchantment with material truth and search for abstract truth." • "There is no universal truth, abstract or otherwise."
• Faith in the "real" beyond media and representations; authenticity of "originals" • Hyper-reality, image saturation, simulacra seem more powerful than the "real"; images and texts with no prior "original".
"As seen on TV" and "as seen on MTV" are more powerful than unmediated experience.
• Mastery and progress Historical development; past affects present and future. Universalizing Linear (like a novel) Works of art, science are windows to the truth. • "Localizing", pluralizing Non-linear (like the Web) Works of art, science are only texts, can only be understood in themselves.
• Symbols & meaning: hammer and sickle = world communism
• Symbols drained of meaning: hammer and sickle in advertising (e.g., beer commercials)
• Sense of unified, centered self; "individualism," unified identity.
• Sense of fragmentation and decentered self; multiple, conflicting identities.
• Interpretation of a text; there is an ultimate meaning hidden inside master literature • Non-interpretation of a text; there is no ultimate meaning, instead meaning emerges from what the audience brings to the text
Avoiding this plethora of alien terms that characterize the contemporary discourse on the topic, I'll first give an analogy in layman's terms to the rise of post modernism. In the later part of the article, I'll examine some of the prominent arguments of the postmodernists.
There is a happy and content family of seven people: a man, his wife, two each of their sons and daughters and a daughter-in-law. The parent couple is modestly educated but highly devoted to the education of their children. A perfect harmony in the family has been the thing of jealousy for the neighbors. Their family values are often talked about and tried to mimic by others. They have a modest income enough for an honorable existence in the locality. And they have a reasonably good number of relatives with good relations.
The father is the head of the family. He has the unquestionable authority over everyone in the family and no one dares fire a question back at him. He has set the duty and responsibility of everyone in the family and no one requires reminding them repeatedly. He plans, the others implement under his supervision. He asks and everyone is ready with the answer. The single agenda of everyone in the family is the prosperity of the family with continued harmony. The family is at the centre of the community. The man, let's name him Mr. M, is the leader of the community and he has got the unstated authority in the village as no one in the village dares question his judgment. All this has brought him a reputation that he values the most. Many others wish to be like him but simply cannot.
One day, suddenly a rumor spreads that the family is about to migrate to the city where the eldest son of Mr. M has been working as a highly placed government employee. Most of the people in the village are shocked while only few of them become genuinely upbeat. The rumors turn to reality when, one day, the family leaves with Mr. M flowing the tears most.
Five years later, the other shocking news spreads. The younger daughter of Mr. M had committed suicide. She was scheduled to be married after a week but was found hanging from the ceiling one morning. Not long after, people began to gossip that the youngest son of Mr. M had turned to abusing drugs and was inside the notorious street gang of drug abusers in the city. Mr. M was no longer the head of the family that was now headed by his eldest son, Mr. P. The old values of the family were now upside down, the daughter-in-law would now dictate what the elderly couple was to do. Mr. M was in constant conflict with his eldest son about the other son who, he still hoped, would improve to normality once again. For Mr. P, the brother was nothing more than a smear in the honor of the family who deserved being removed from the picture, not placated or rescued which was sure to cost him a portion of his earnings.
The process of fragmentation was now in full swing and the old happy and content family of Mr. M had eventually degenerated leaving a family ravaged by discontent, disharmony and a pervasive gloom. The parents had been a source of constant annoyance for Mr. P who began to see them as the link between the prosperous and civilized family of himself (including his children by now) and the devastated and criminal life of his brother.
During an assembly in the village from where Mr. M had migrated, suddenly the topic of the degeneration of the respected family arose. People began to hypothesize the cause of the unexpected twist in the fate of the family. Most agreed that the migration of the family along with the reversal of the role inside the family was behind the tragedy. The evils of the life in a large city were then condemned and people competed with one another in praising the life in the village and the value system in the family. Many argued that the values were fast eroding even inside the village and many other families were also destined to the same fate. The elderly predicted the collapse of the new system that valued money more than anything.
After few days, Mr. PP, the younger son of Mr. M suddenly appeared in the village and everyone was forced to greet and welcome him even though unwillingly. They had heard a lot about him and were thus scared but nothing was apparently wrong except that he used to stare at nothing for long time. His behavior was more normal than expected and eventually the villagers grew less skeptical about his intention and soon he became like the usual member of the community. He would have eventually been declared recovered from whatever problem he had except for one thing. That was his odd and eccentric arguments about the prevailing system and values. He argued: The society was full of idiocy and hypocrisy. No one was honest, everyone was a potential criminal. No one would hesitate to commit a crime if he/she were not scared of the punishment. This world is thus full of the cowards who play the role of a sane and civilized person not because they are so from inside but merely because they cannot afford to cross the barriers set by equally idiot state institutions. And a family is the best organization of the worst things where everyone pretends to understand the other because that is what is needed to keep a family intact. The family exists not for mutual welfare of everyone but for competition to coax and coerce each other in which those who win survive and get honor while those who lose are either dead or are thrown away.
He further argued that the old system of family values was long dead and what remains is the sheer mockery of the values. The system teaches to indoctrinate the young with norms of dubious significance that have never once led to the welfare of everyone. And you are forced to internalize and repress whatever grievance you have, not ever to express them. You are bound with so many norms and obligations you never know you are a free creature with a scope to exploit your potential independently. He declared that he was not bothered a bit about the fate his sister met with. She was one of the luckiest people who could hear and obey the voice from inside in this wretched world of hypocrites. What better is it for him now that he did not commit the suicide out of cowardice? Isn't it far better to die well than to live so unwell?
Soon Mr. PP began to preach his ideas to whoever came in front. His malice towards the prevailing norms in the society increased with time and he started to bitterly criticize people for their role in every other event in the village. He also started to draw a regular crowd around him in the evenings where he played the role of a leader much needed to the crowd of frustrated section of the society. His pessimism about the society and its irreversible wretchedness increased over time and he would praise anyone news about whose suicide would come, as the honest and brave person in the history. He would insightfully elaborate how he stumbled from one obstacle to another in his journey to abusing the drugs where he 'found solace' though not permanently. He would almost cry while explaining how harassed he was while telling his problems with his brother and father in the early stage. That was what forced him to avoid expressing the emotions to anybody else.
The atmosphere turned gloomier than ever when he started the agonizing tale of his sister. She had the ambition, unlike himself, to become a great person. She was good at studies too. She had messed things up when she started an affair with a boy younger and less educated than herself. She was dead sure about the refusal of the relationship by the 'autocrats at home' and attempted to run away with the boy. Unfortunately she was found before it was 'too late', captured, brought home, imprisoned and all set to get married with other reputed and educated gentleman when this all broke her limits of tolerance. His brother, Mr. P rebuked him badly when he tried to side with his sister in the issue as he was sympathetic to the young boy too who had loved his sister. As his sister departed from this world, he turned into unrestricted drug abuse that had been only occasional till that time.
What he found there in company with the other young men with different backgrounds but similar problems, was the endless sequence of misery and frustration that could be only interrupted by use of the drugs, not terminated. The world was again the same wretched place once the effect of the drug waned. People were similarly hostile and few psychiatrists whom he met for a couple of times were far more hostile than the ordinary people. He repeatedly told that he would treat the patients far better than the psychiatrists. They tended to sink him further deep in the marsh of this unholy world.
One day, someone asked him what the solution of the problems that he was piling up so enthusiastically was. " That is where everyone is fucked, in searching the answer for every question and solution to every problem. Can't we just exist beside the problems enjoying as much as we can? The sanctimonious bastards have created the obsession among the people to seek the answers, solutions and the justifications none of which really exist in the real world. This is how they can enjoy the name, fame and wealth while the whole population suffers the agony for decades praising those bastards who created the innumerable barriers aimed at human freedom."
While many thought the prospect of avoiding the quest for the solution of the problems absurd, others found it to be a wonderful thing for people in this problem-ridden world. After all, what has come out of the generations long struggle to solve the problems? The outcome has been dismal if not terrible. The attempts at confronting the problems has only multiplied them. Those who promised a radical change in the state of affairs, e.g. the communists had now either vanished or metamorphosed into opportunist status quoists. And the alternative provided by Mr. PP was also not that bad, after all: We should simply concede the inability to combat the problems and adjust ourselves with them. Instead of combating them, can't we make a peaceful and struggle-free existence with the problems, most of which are of our own making?
Interpretations of the story: How the Modernists differ with the Postmodernists
The post modernists prefer to follow the fates of Mr. PP and his sister to explain how the established values have lost their validity. None of the traditional requirements for producing healthy and productive adult person like rearing a child in good home environment, giving him/her a good education, infusing moral values during the teenage years and providing with a suitable job in the adulthood appears to be lacking in this case. Still the eventual outcome has been entirely unanticipated. The family bonds that are so strong initially in the family of Mr. M lie in tatters at the end. The means with which Mr. M used to exercise his authority while running the family become defunct later. His haplessness at the end, exemplified by his inability to even talk about Mr. PP as his son in front of Mr. P, is at stark contrast with his absolute authority at the beginning of the story.
At the end, there is little that Mr. M can hope for. Mr. PP has already declared the same. And there remains Mr. P: the cocktail of the old and the new. His new family is governed now with the principles approximately same to the old family headed by his father. He commands the authority now and others have to comply him. He plans and has got the ability to censure the plans of anybody else in the family. Yet the similarities are nothing compared to the differences between these chronologically separated families. First, the relation between Mr. P and his wife is not same as that between his parents. The bond between the two is far weaker than that of his parents as the option of divorce is open for them in case something is wrong. The fact that Mrs. P earns a substantial amount makes the later option more viable which could be barely imagined for mother of Mr. P. Second, Mr. P now deals with the outer world with caution, and trusts few people surrounding him and is acutely aware of the harm that they can do to him. 'Altruism' no longer remains the doubtlessly sacred thing as for the generation of his father. The respect and fame now no longer come from how selflessly you act for the welfare of others. It is now the matter of spending wisely for the publicity with careful use of the media that you become famous and respected. Fear was the last thing that Mr. M harbored during his heyday in the countryside and imagined the world to be in his grip. Mr. P is, however, quite apprehensive to retain whatever he has gained without drawing attention of the enemies that are so ubiquitous.
Third, Mr. P is barely anxious for the future of anyone other than his own, his wife's and children's. He is ready to see the life of his brother destroyed so long as that does not fetter his own prosperity and well-being. In the same circumstances, his father would have done anything to bring such a 'deviator' back to the track of morality. Mr. P has however, rationalized the fate of his brother as the eventual outcome of the behavior he adopted from the early age. 'There are innumerable persons like that, who can take the responsibility of all? If the state and other relevant institutions abstain from performing their duty, why should we take the trouble?' This is how Mr. P argues.
At least, that is how the post modernists diagnose and prognosticate the problems and the fate of the family. Such family, they argue, at least partially represents the reality of many other families which do not replicate the complete trend but show more subtle disintegration and degeneration. The speed of degeneration may not be that swift, but this characterizes every other family. The increasing alienation of the new generation from the established norms and the resulting discontent and frustration can be accounted for by this phenomenon only, they argue. It is only in the extreme cases where the apparent manifestations like suicide occur. Otherwise everything appears calm even though a disaster is brewing beneath the surface.
The modernists, however, refuse this interpretation of the events and attitudes. First, emergence of characters like Mr. PP and his sister is the matter of exception and their fate can not be generalized for the population. The hype about the fate of these two people obscures the reality in which thousands of ordinary people live their ordinary lives and bear an ordinary death. The trend of such incidents may well be in incline, the number of people who indulge in drug abuse or those who commit suicide may well double over ten years, but that still remains a small proportion of the population about which we talk in formulating the generalizations.
Second, the things Mr. PP preaches to the villagers may be well impressing and fascinating for many. They may even admire him for his courage to break the barriers of conventional values. That, however, forms a little part of their lives. They eventually go back to home to accept the usual roles in the family and to perform usual household chores. Their intention is to utilize the leisure time rather than to change something in the life. The more they applaud him in the gatherings, the more they mock his ideas when he is not near. The nihilism found in the speeches of Mr. PP is the most absurd thing for them because they have seen good things happen after the bad ones as every crisis does not lead to a disaster. They may have sympathy to Mr. PP and his sister for their dismal fate, but they can not justify it as the acceptable outcome of whatever turbulence the family went through.
Third, the family values, though evolved and distorted, have not disappeared across the generation. One who earns still determines where to spend the money; the dependents are now similarly incapable of making any major decision. The children of Mr. P are being reared in a way remarkably similar to their parents though more money has to be spent for their education. Mr. P can not deal with the same indifference when it comes to his children as he has done with his brother. The relationship among the family members has changed but not completely reversed.
Shifting attention from a Tree to the Bush: Tale of an Elephant and the blind Men
It can be debated how much the above example represents the ongoing discourse on post modernism. This may well be one of the many ramifications of the discourse. The illustration might have been far from brilliant and the presentation clumsy. The same phenomenon could have been described in a better way. The point is, however, how the new trends in social thinking emerge when the existing values fail to adequately explain the bizarre events. The new explanations to the existing phenomenon often arouse a sense of discovery and the pride of dismantling the dogmas. They effectively try to illustrate how the prevailing phenomena can not be understood and explained within the limits of 'conventional' thinking. The new ideas are thus grasped with enthusiasm and multitudes of thinkers in the history have given birth to new ideas and discovered better and ingenious ways to dealing with the prevalent problems.
The question now is: Has the era of Modernism as the prime notion to explain and solve the problems of the contemporary world been over making it necessary to search the alternative? The question that arises coupled with this one is: Has Post modernism come as the viable alternative to the supposedly incumbent modernism? Here lies the crux of the discourse.
There is a famous tale of five blind men arguing about what an elephant is really like. While it was like a wall for one man touching the belly, it was nothing but a thick rope for one who caught the tail. This analogy may well be ridiculous if I compare the discourse on post modernism with this tale. With cautious modification, however, this can serve us in an interesting way.
The world is an elephant with uniformly distributed heterogeneity all over. Ever since the early age of which we little know, there has existed a disparity among the human beings. Some powerful, others powerless; some rich, others poor; some rulers, others ruled, this is how they have been divided. The dynamics of the interaction among the people has variably changed over the centuries, but only in the outline. The core of the disparity has merely transformed into new form: less visible but equally intense than the predecessor. The wealth has thus been unevenly distributed among the people in different territories. The power structure is consequently vertical with some parts of the world exercising more power and privilege than the others. While some parts of the world are progressing in terms of health, education, longevity, per capita income and so forth, the others are regressing. These developments while combined with the cultural differences that were diverse from the outset, have produced the world where the societies from one part resemble little to the same in the other part. If there is anything shared by every other part of the world, it is the heterogeneity within that particular part.
The overwhelming discrepancy among different parts of the world has given way to a diversity in the social thinking and theorizing. The immediate surroundings of the theorists have inevitably impacted on the way they formulate the theories. Once again there exists a disparity on the extent to which the works of the theorists get recognized by the larger world. The conclusions drawn by the thinkers in the privileged part of the world are swiftly publicized and easily flow to the under-privileged part of the world. The reverse flow of the ideas and theories is quite difficult if not impossible.
The world is thus a large elephant which can be viewed differently by different people depending on which part on the body they happen to be situated and how far beyond their grasp they dare view. Thus it is no wonder that the battle of ideas has been so rough between the modernists and the post modernists. They are essentially two world views that are perceived and envisioned by two categories of people. The rival theorists may well live and work in the same place physically, but the components of the large picture they choose to elaborate and uncover are diametrically opposite.
The vital question now is: between the two broad theories of modernism and post modernism, which one depicts the larger part of the picture? Which one can help us better in dissecting the plethora of problems among us and seeking the solution? Which one helps us better to understand the problems that have eluded our attempts to understand them till now? Is one of them so brilliant and relevant as to cast doubt on the need for existence of the other one? In a nutshell, which one of these can frown more so as to see the larger part of the elephant helping uncover the shape of the elephant closest to the real shape possible?
This is where there is the real significance of argument taking one side or the other in the marathon debate. At least, that is what I think.
Jean Baudrillard as the prime Postmodernist and his arguments
Let's take the prototype of extreme Postmodern social theory: Jean Baudrillard. Few of his prominent ideas can be briefly mentioned as: 1) the contemporary society is no longer dominated by production, but rather by the media, cybernetic models and steering systems, computers, information processing, entertainment and knowledge industries and so forth. The objective has been shifted from exploitation and profit to domination by these signs and the systems that produce them. 2) The distinction between the signs and reality has 'imploded'. i. e. the explosions of productive systems, of commodities, of technologies and so on of the modern society have been replaced by such implosions in the post modern world. 3) The post modern world is characterized by the simulations, i.e. reproductions of objects and events, making it difficult to tell the real from those things that simulate the real. For example, 'the dissolution of TV into life and dissolution of life into TV. Eventually the simulations become predominant. 4) Hyperreality: The media cease to be the mirror of reality, they become the reality, or even more than that reality e.g. the infomercials. Eventually, what is real comes to be subordinated and ultimately dissolves altogether, leaving in the end, no more reality but only the Hyperreality. 5) A massive and catastrophic revolution in the culture: He sees masses as a black hole that absorbs all meaning, information, communication, messages and so on thereby rendering them meaningless. Indifference, apathy and inertia are all good terms to describe masses saturated with media signs, simulacra and Hyperreality. The masses are not seen as manipulated by the media, but rather the media are forced to supply their escalating demands for objects and spectacles. In a sense, society itself is imploding into the black hole that is the masses.
According to Kellner, Baudrillard sees the contemporary society as a death culture, with death being the paradigm of all social exclusion and discrimination.
The above propositions are no longer alien and incomprehensible for those of us who have seen the charisma of the things like television, especially after the all-embracing sweep of what is called the wave of globalization. We have seen the power of the media to create and manipulate the facts. We have seen the rumors and half-truths predate the truth. We have also seen the discourse move away from the question of domination and exploitation of one group of people by the other to something else. The exponential growth and advancement of the information and entertainment industry has had the major implications in the way we live and shape our cultures. A worldwide trend of increasing gloom and pessimism in the people's attitude towards the future can not be ruled out though it cannot be verified either.
Talking about the argument of Baudrillard that we have listed first in the above adaptation, we can take an example. Drinking Coca cola no longer means simply quenching thirst, that can be done by drinking plain water. Even drinking the beverage of same composition but with different name does not mean the same thing. That is because the sign or symbol of 'Coca cola' as the beverage of particular kind has been internalized by the subject through the experience of drinking it earlier and the daily advertisements that capture his imagination. The satisfaction of drinking Coca cola cannot thus be achieved by drinking anything other than itself, whatever the composition and the quality. This seems to be why Baudrillard argues 'The objective has been shifted from exploitation and profit to domination by these signs and the systems that produce them.'
'The signs and the systems that produce them' have dominated the culture worldwide. So far so good. The major flaw (Let's name it FLAW 1 in Baudrillard's arguments) in the argument is, however, firmly entrenched in the same sentence. The domination by the signs has never excluded the 'exploitation and profit', rather complemented, facilitated and multiplied the later. There can be nothing more absurd than thinking the promotion of the brand 'Coca cola' as synonymous with 'satisfaction' as free from the intention to profit and exploit. There exists, indeed, a vicious cycle in which the signs generate more profit and vice versa. This is what has been characterizing the latest spurt of what has been spuriously termed globalization. Any product to be launched now has to go through the rigorous process of imprinting the sign of that product in the minds of people first. That is done through the profligate spending in advertisements that force people to make an image of the product before it is actually manufactured. But, hasn't this all been going on for greater profit and more efficient exploitation of the masses? It is ridiculous to imagine that the investors spend such a huge proportion of their investment in advertising their products to merely make the impressions on people and not with an intention to profit.
FLAW 2 comes in the argument that we have listed second in the above adaptation. The dictionary meaning of 'implosion' is 'to burst or explode and collapse into the centre'. The contention that the distinction between the signs and reality has imploded can be argued variably depending on which among the innumerable signs in the contemporary society are to be taken into consideration. This has, however, never replaced the explosion of the productive systems, the commodities, the technologies characteristic of the modern society. At best, both may be coexisting. But the sequence of producing new commodities with potential to a renewed wave of profit and exploitation is endless. Decades have passed since Baudrillard created ripples in sociological thinking by publishing a series of books and articles, but the trend of 'exploding commodities and technologies' has remained unfettered. Once again the drive for profit and exploitation is what lies behind this trend.
FLAW 3: The simulations may now be increasingly penetrating the remoter parts of the world with the advent of the technologies like the TV and computers. This would be, however, hasty generalization to state that the simulations have dominated the reality in the larger world. A significant proportion of the world population is still oblivious to the existence of things like a TV and a Computer. Even where the simulations have played role in people's interaction with the world, that is not quite uniform. We cannot simply generalize the outcomes of an observation in an urban society in Europe or North America.
FLAW 4: The tendency of the mainstream media throughout the world may well have been towards promoting the 'Hyperreality'. That is indeed what is being increasingly felt. But that is not the whole picture of the media. There are media outlets that are confronting the 'Hyperrealists' head on with their far saner and more realistic contents. The drive of the 'unconventional' or 'atypical' or 'rebel' media outlets is increasingly challenging the profit-driven media industry that has done so much to discredit the media itself. The process of subordinating the 'real' is well on track for long, but that has been facing stiff resistance from the outset and it will be naïve to conclude that the Hyperreality has simply replaced the reality.
Most absurd of all, there is FLAW 5 in the argument of Baudrillard that lumps the people into a homogenous entity of masses that is nothing but a black hole that absorbs all meaning, information, communication, messages and so on thereby rendering them meaningless. I wonder if there is any territory in the world whose population can be kept so bluntly in such a category. To generalize the statement for the masses anywhere in the world is well beyond absurdity though I never know the exact term. The combined effect of all the above flaws is that indifference, apathy and inertia come to overwhelm all the other virtues that the people possess in Baudrillard's analysis. This viewpoint is characteristic of the postmodernists who do not bother to explore the dynamic conflicts among the different categories of people that make it impossible to make such generalizations about the 'masses'.
The story of the Family, The Tale of the Elephant and The theory of Postmodernism: The Interrelationship
Coming to our old analogy with the world of an elephant and the blind men, Baudrillard appears to be one who catches the tail of the elephant and loudly proclaims that an elephant was like a rope. He profusely argues how he has got the exact measurement of the size of the elephant that barely fits in the space between his thumb and middle finger opposed to each other. He elaborates how the elephant is floating in the air and how difficult it is to pull it down to the ground. He describes the minute details about how numerous and closely placed are the appendages of the elephant, i.e. the hairs. He argues how the elephant lacks the different organs like the eyes, nose, mouth, anus and genital structures unlike the men and theorizes that every part of the elephant is capable of every function like a primitive organism.
That is where the arguments of our Mr. PP in the story approximately fit. The others in the story find it difficult to buy his arguments and mock him in his absence because they can see the larger part of the elephant.
The whole picture of the elephant is, however, beyond the vision of any single person, as one who focuses the front misses the back and vice versa. People argue, often violently about what was the complete shape of the elephant. The thinkers and scholars see beyond what the ordinary people can see and thus make the generalizations.
An important limitation of the analogy is that the imaginary elephant representing the world is far more obscure with far more heterogeneity and totally lacks the static nature that the elephant has got. It is constantly evolving with the new structures and functions replacing the old ones. Every time a bout of accelerated change occurs, a cluster of thinkers with new vision sprouts to explain the new phenomenon. They proceed with their work while endorsing the arguments of few of their predecessors while rejecting those of others and infusing some of their own ingenious ideas to the discourse.
That is how the social sciences have been advancing themselves. The Modernism-Postmodernism debate is also one part of them. Postmodernism is still far from an all-encompassing theory to explain every other phenomenon in the world. The virtue of Modernism might have lost some of its momentum thus lagging behind the real-time developments in the world and the deficits are being increasingly prominent. That is where the thinkers of the Poststructuralist and Postmodernist creeds have been maneuvering. This, however, never means that Modernism as the dominant theory to describe the contemporary world has ceased to be relevant. This also does not mean that the postmodern social theory needs same attention as Modernism.
To sum up, the debate will go on for long time to come creating outrage and acrimony on both sides. A constructive engagement on both the sides is, however, bound to be fruitful by helping us to elucidate more and more parts of the elusive elephant making it possible to work out the approximate shape of the same. That will help us to answer some of the difficult questions of our time and solve some of the difficult problems in the contemporary world.