My talk at Mere Simulacrity was an attempt to provide a unified theory of postmodernism in the culture. What I wanted to do was to show how the yeast of postmodern philosophy had worked its way through the bread of wester culture and transformed it.

I begin my talk with a theory of teaching. My theory is a modification of Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational domains. Bloom’s Taxonomy says there are three domains of education:

  1. Cognitive
  2. Affective
  3. Psychomotor

To do a full explanation of how Bloom et al theorized the cognitive and affective domains is not possible here, so I will do a very brief explanation.[1]

The cognitive domain is the domain of Reason, memory, knowledge, analysis, evaluation, etc. In other words, this is the domain of intellectual thought. It is where the reason, theorize, analyze and engage in logical, reasoned, analytical thought.

The affective domain is the domain of feeling, emotion, intuition, values, and attitude. This domain is not so much concerned with who we obtain and reason about propositional knowledge about the external world, but rather is much more oriented to what we might colloquially call “the human element.” That is, this focuses on our internal orientation towards things in terms of how we feel about things, what we value, and our attitude towards things.

The third Domain, the Psycho-motor domain was not theorized at the time because, according to Bloom and his colleagues “Although we recognize the existence of this domain, we find so little done about it in secondary schools or colleges, that we do not believe the development of a classification of these objectives would be very useful at present.”[2]

I think there is a major flaw in this taxonomy and so I modified it, and used my modification as a sort of roadmap for how I was going to walk us through the postmodern world.[3]

I think there are actually two levels that Bloom’s taxonomy does not appear to recognize. The first is a level of thinking and learning that operates at the level of “sense making” which is where we attempt to make sense of the world around us. The level of sensemaking is the level at which we try to take all the knowledge, concepts, ideas, truths, theories, feelings, values, attitudes, and experiences that we have and try to make sense of the world.

Such things as desires and intentions function at the level of what I call in my talk the “practical application” level of learning. At this level we form desires, wants, goals, and intentions with respect to the way we would like the world (or some feature of it) to be, and then we act on those desires and intentions. This is the level of action where we go out and act on our beliefs and try to operate in the world in way that allows us to change it in way that we think are worth the effort.

My purpose in laying out this schema in my talks was to provide a framework for both how to teach a concept while at the same time providing a framework for my talk. I think that when we discuss anything we deal with that thing at the four stages that I have outlined.

We do our analysis at Stage 1 using reason, logic, rationality, evidence, debate, and argumentation. This is usually done at the academic level. We then discuss the thing at stage 2 where we deal with, feeling, attitude, values, morals and so fourth. This is often done using the arts, drama, and the discussion of experiences. We then move to stage 3 where we seek to make coherent sense of the world (or some feature of it). Finally, we move to stage 4 where we look at practical application of the first three stages and try to determine how we are going to act in the world.

In discussing postmodernism I wanted to discuss it at those four stages both because that is an effective way to teach and because it gives me an opportunity to demonstrate the way postmodernism operates in all the ways we think about ideas and the world.

On to the argument.

1. Postmodern Philosophy

I began my explanation of postmodernism by referencing the work of the French Postmodern philosopher Jean Baudrillard. [5]

Marni Gauthier has written that “As Jean Baudrillard and others note, postmodernity is said to be a culture of fragmentary sensations, eclectic nostalgia, disposable simulacra, and promiscuous superficiality, in which the traditionally valued qualities of depth, coherence, meaning, originality, and authenticity are evacuated or dissolved amid the random swirl of empty signals.”[6]

Baudrillard is going to argue that as our lives become ever more saturated with signs, symbols, messages, advertising, and technology, we are going to be captivated and dazzled and seduced by the system of signs, symbols and technology to the point that reality is going to disappear for us. As we play in the system of signs, signifiers, symbols and language, let’s call it the matrix, we are going to be going through ever faster cycles of communication, education, creation, destruction, and recreation and it’s going to get to the point where we are going to hit escape velocity from reality. What is real and what is not real is going to become indecipherable for us. We are going to lose touch with the real, authentic world. The result is that we end up in a world where all the symbols and signs reference only each other, and no longer refer to anything “real.”

The next Philosopher id discuss is Jacques Derrida. Derrida’s Philosophy is very difficult to read and understand, so I took the strategy of explaining what his philosophy was taken to mean, which ideas from his philosophy came to prominence, and how his philosophy is used.

As I read Derrida, there are no objective interpretations of either language or the world. Both the world, and any description of the world, can be interpreted and understood in a nearly infinite number of ways, and there is no objective way to decide which descriptions are objectively correct, and which interpretation of those descriptions is objectively correct. This means that on Derrida’s view there are no final, complete, objective, universal, absolute interpretation that we can call the “correct” interpretation. Everything can be interpreted and reinterpreted endlessly.[7]

Finally, we get to our last thinker Michel Foucault.

The idea that got taken from Foucault’s work is that truth is not “a description of the world which corresponds to reality.” Rather what is true is matter of who gets to decide what is true, and how the get to decide what is true. In other words, there are certain people in society who are given the privilege of getting to decide what is true because they have the validity, credibility, legitimacy, social status, and trust that is required to be believed, and thus the things they say are “true” are then accepted as “true” by the society at large. On the postmodern view, a statement becomes “true” because the people in society with the power to decide what is true have said a thing is true. Whether a claim actually matches the world is not what matters. The only way claim X gets to have the status of “true” is when the people in society who have the power to decide what is true have chosen to say that claim X is “true.”

The catch here is that the postmodern person will assert that the people who decide what is true have their own hidden agendas, ulterior motives, cultural biases, and self-interest. As such, the agendas, motives, biases and self interest of those who decide what is true warps their judgement such that when they decide what is true they do so in a way that serves their own interests. Those who decide what is true have their judgment warped by social conditions, ignorance, biases, and self interest

To oversimplify the matter for the sake of brevity, the postmodern person thinks that knowledge and power are two features of the same object, and these two features mutually reinforce each other. The people who have power get to decide which social process is used to decide what counts as knowledge and truth, and the people seen as having knowledge and truth are given additional power. The people who have the power to decide what is true use that privilege to increase their power, to benefit themselves, to serve their own interests, to maintain their social position, and to increase their social status, social prestige, and clout.

The result of all of this is three-fold

We live in a hyper real world where we are inundated with signs and symbols and where we are surrounded by things that are the strawberry Slurpee version of the real thing

There is no objective frame of reference from which to interpret either language or the world, and there is no lynch pin, and no immovable pillar which serves and a fixed point by which anything else can be defined and interpreted.

And finally, truth is no a matter of making statements which correspond to reality, truth is a matter of who has the power to decide which ideas, concepts, arguments and claims get elevated to the status of “truth.” And of course, all the people who decide what is true have their judgment warped by their own biases, ignorance, thirst for power, and their own self interest, and are going to decide what is true on the basis of what benefits them and reinforces their own status, clout, prestige and social position.

In order to get a grasp on what the results of postmodernism are like, I used some examples from George Carlin. Carlin would have entirely rejected my politics, but one of the jokes he uses is perfect to illustrate postmodernism.[8] I used a modification of one of his jokes as follows:

Imagine you are in your car, and the car next to you begins to move, and for a split second you’re not sure whether or not sure whether it’s the car next to you that’s moving or if your car is moving. So, you tap the break, but the car next to you is still moving. Now, what do you do? You look around for a mountain, or a tree, or a light-post, or a building, and try to find something that doesn’t move so you can figure out if your car is stopped or not.

Imagine you are in your car, and the car next to you begins to move, and for a split second you’re not sure whether or not sure whether it’s the car next to you that’s moving or if your car is moving. So, you hit the break, but the car next to you is still moving. This time imagine that you look around for a building or light post, or tree or mountain so you can figure out if you are moving, and imagine that the building is moving too. Imagine if the mountain, tree, light-post, and building are all moving. Imagine that everything around you is moving and you can’t get your bearings, you get dizzy, and you become disoriented

That’s postmodernism.

Nothing is fixed, nothing is stable, nothing is settled.

there are no immoveable pillars, there are no absolutes, there are no eternal truths, there is no absolute meaning in language, there are no metaphysical lynchpins, no absolute frame of reference. In postmodernism everything moves. Meaning constantly changes, truth is ever shifting, perspectives are constantly altering, knowledge is ever changing, morals are ethereal and subject to whim, and nothing has any objective absolute universal fixed meaning. And when you try to catch your bearings there are no immovable foundations for you to lean on to catch your conceptual bearings in the postmodern world.

This is the philosophical situation in America.

2. The cultural situation

For this section of my talk I used the work of Daniel Yankelovich. Yankelovich wrote a book in 1981 where he argued that America is going through a massive cultural shift.[9] I chose to read from an issue of psychology which contained an excerpt of what would become a chapter in that book. Yankelovich claims that we have moved away from a culture of self sacrifice, where we get out meaning from meeting our moral duties and obligations, to a culture of self-fulfilment where we get our meaning from the expressive elements of life and engaging in our own self-expression.

This is a move away from finding our life’s meaning and purpose from meeting objective obligations and fulfilling moral duties, to finding meaning and purpose in the expression of our subjective feelings, desires, goals, values, and beliefs.[10]

This mirrors the shift discussed in the philosophical situation in that we have moved away from objective standards to subjective standards. In the philosophical situations we go from objective standards for interpretations, epistemology, and truth to subjective standards for interpretation, epistemology, and truth. In the Cultural situation we move from an objective basis of meaning and purpose to a subjective basis for meaning and purpose.

3. Hermeneutical tribes.

As we have seen, we are trapped in a world of subjectivity in which everything is a matter of interpretation, and in which there is no objective standpoint from which to view the world, no fixed point of reference, and no objective standards of truth, and this means that what we are left with is a world competing interpretations as people try to make sense of the world.

When something big happens, the Iraq war, the trump presidency, the election of Joe Biden, the war in Ukraine, each of these tribes goes about interpreting those events according to the worldview, MORAL values, and frame of reference of that particular tribe. For every event that happens there is the conservative interpretation, a liberal interpretation, a woke interpretation, an America first interpretation, and so on and so fourth. Every social, cultural, religious, and political tribe will have their own interpretation of the MEANING of every major event that fits together with their moral worldview.

The point here is that there is not agreed upon set of objective standards which we use to determine the truth with respect to what is going on, no agreed upon set of objective set of standards to determine how to interpret those events, and no agreed upon set of objective moral standards by which to determine what the moral course of actions is. Rather we have a postmodern world where all the standards are subjective, and the various tribes fight as they seek to have their worldview be the one through which various events are interpreted.

Every tribe wants their worldview to be the view through which the worlds is interpreted and understood, and they want their understanding of the world to become culturally dominant.

4. Clown world

This portion of my talk was about clown world. The term “Clown World” is a term that comes from the internet. It is a meme-level description of the nihilistic absurdity that emerges in a postmodern world. In a world where there are no objective standards for knowledge, truth, morality, values, and interpretation we get a sea of disjointed and contradictory assertions. The result is a set of shifting standards and shifting meanings which ends up in utter incoherence. This ends up in utter social incoherence as everyone attempts to express their subjective wants, values, and preferences as they embark on their voyage of self-discovery.

I have heard it said that we live in extremely stupid times. There is no objective standard for truth, no objective standard for what is meaningful, no objective standard for what constitutes a good life, no objective standard for what is beautiful, for how kid should be raised, for what counts as competence or merit. In such a situation it can be nearly impossible to construct a coherent and meaningful life.

I use an example from C.S. Lewis to discuss what happens when the objective points of reference we use to navigate the world disappear. Lewis uses the example of a ship that needs to stay afloat, avoid running into other ships, and have a destination to get to.[11] My contention is that we no longer know how to keep ourselves afloat, how to avoid running into each other, and we have no final destination. We are, in effect, culturally, socially, and spiritually lost and adrift on a sea of postmodernism.

5. Conclusion

What do we do? My brief suggestion is a simple one.

One of the things that postmodern philosophy did, particularly via Derrida, was to attack the Logos.

The logos, for those who don’t know is defined by Encyclopedia Britannica as “in ancient Greek philosophy and early Christian theology, the divine reason implicit in the cosmos, ordering it and giving it form and meaning.”[12]

The logos is thought to be an eternal, objective, and unchanging truth, which exists eternally, and can be discovered and known by anyone who seeks it. The logos is the thing around which the universe is organized. The logos is what make the universe intelligible and which gives it objective meaning.

In John Chapter 1, when John says “in the beginning was the word” the term that we translate as “word” is actually the Greek word LOGOS. John was arguing his case by saying that he, like the Greek philosophers, accepted that there was a logos, a divine principle of reason implicit in the cosmos” around which the world was organized and which gave it meaning. This is an ancient idea, and it is one which we need to recover if we are going to be able to get through the postmodern age.

We can’t step back from postmodernism, and it cannot be avoided; we need to get through it. And the first step of getting through it is the return of the logos to prominence and centrality in western civilization.




[1] Benjamin S. Bloom, Editor. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. Hanbook 1, Cognitive Domain. (Longmans, Green and Co LTD, 1956) p.7

[2] Benjamin S. Bloom, Editor. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. Hanbook 1, Cognitive Domain. (Longmans, Green and Co LTD, 1956) p.7-8

[3] Until recently I used Bloom’s taxonomy as a way to set up the framework for how I would teach and explain my ideas (for example, I used it here: However, I have since become convinced that it is not up to the task of accurately capturing all of the ways that humans learn and think. As such, I have reconfigured it in order to form a framework for the ways that I explain things.

[5] Jean Baudrillard, Simularca and Simulation. (University of Michigan Press, 1994).

[6] Marni Gauthier, Amnesia and Redress in Contemporary American Fiction: Counterhistory (American Literature Readings in the Twenty-first Century). (Palgrave MacMillian, 2011) p.30

[7] Jacques Derrida, of Grammatology (Corrected Edition). Translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997)

[8] (2:45, 3:13, 5:08,)

[9] Daniel Yankelovich, New Rules, Searching for Self-fulfillment in a World Turned Upside Down. Random House, 1981.

[10] Daniel Yankelovich, New Rules in American Life: Searching For Self-fulfillment in a World Turned Upside Down. Excerpts from Psychology Today, April 1981.

[11] C. S. LEWIS, Mere Christianity (A revised and amplified edition with a new introduction of the three books Broadcast Talks, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality). (HarperCollins E-books) p.71-73

[12] Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “logos”. Encyclopedia Britannica,


The audio version of this presentation is available on Soundcloud, Google PodcastsApple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher.

Additional episodes of Mere Simulacrity may be viewed here.

Michael Young
Michael Young is an expert in postmodernism and critical theory and is a visiting fellow at the Center for Renewing America. “Wokal_distance” is Young’s intellectual and creative project.

One Comment to: Breaking the Spell of the Postmodern World | Michael Young

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    February 9th, 2023

    Jacques Derrida’s différance is an idea introduced by Derrida. It’s a pun on “difference” and “deferment”. Derrida uses the idea to explain linguistic meaning. Every word is defined by other words. But to drill down to the ‘meaning’ we have to reference each individual word in the (say dictionary) definition to find that meaning. Then we have to drill down to each of the words which define each drilled down word. Ad infinitum. Implying an endless deferment of meaning.

    This was important at the time, 1967, because French intellectuals had gone through a decade, or so, of Structuralism. Structuralism was a way of looking at how systems worked as a totality. Much of Structuralism came from the Structural Linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure. French thinkers were using Structural Linguistics as an analogy, or template, for how lots of things worked. But Structuralism had a massive flaw – it did not explain how things changed! Derrida did that by ‘subverting’ meaning. So Derrida could call himself a Poststructuralist now!

    The problem with this is: Derrida’s wromg. In Wittgenstein’s later philosophy he argued that words are tools that we use to play different “games”, not intended, of course, in a literal sense, but more as “patterns of intention”. A statement such as “you never help me around the house” is not a request for concrete examples of help provided – i.e. a “stating the facts game” – but is a “confort and reassurance seeking game”. Working out which kind of game the other is involved in is key to good communication, says De Botton. Our understanding of ourselves depends on the words of others, on languages that have developed publically and communally over many centuries, before we were born. Words are in some way, therefore, “public tools for the understanding of private life.”

    So the meaning of: “you never help me around the house” can’t be explained by drilling down to the meaning of each word in the sentence (by applying différance). One must understand the intention and totality of the phrase.


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