5 things that make you metamodern

The basic stage theory proposed here is: modernist -> postmodernist -> metamodernist. So don’t skip past postmodernism, because you will end up with a cheap, empty tin version of metamodernism. This goes especially for so-called integralists who have no or almost no conception of the glory of postmodernism.

First of all, any true metamodernist must also be a postmodernist. If you do not understand and depart from the postmodern critique of knowledge, science, philosophy, art and consciousness, you cannot really claim to be metamodern. If you have a general disliking of all things postmodern, guess what, you cannot be metamodern.

This being said, metamodernists are quite different from postmodernists. Here’s a list of five key insights that make you metamodern – given that you are also/already postmodern.

“The wisdom is, just because something makes you feel bad, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”

1) An awareness of allergies

An allergy is an uncontrolled negative emotional response towards some idea or person. It’s the gut-wrenching feeling that a person you dislike provokes in you, or the feeling of anger and discontent certain ideas or concepts can spawn.

We all have these emotions, but the metamodernist has developed its mind (what researchers call metacognition) to keep these allergies in check, so as not to let them pollute the capability to make objective judgments and fair analysis. The wisdom is, just because something makes you feel bad, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

It’s not your feeling towards something that makes it right or wrong, no, determining the truth and value of something must be based on careful analysis. The trick is to know when your brain is bullshitting you, often one’s emotions will seduce reason to construct truths that correspond with that intuitive feeling. That’s ok if it’ll lead you towards good arguments, but you need to be aware that, that’s what’s going on – that your brain is biased and your emotions don’t tell the whole truth.

To be aware of your emotion’s impact on the way you’re thinking is a personal development stage towards a metamodern mindset. Don’t bullshit yourself; become aware of your emotions. For example, if you react negatively towards certain words, you have an allergy. Let’s try a few out:

White males,
Justin Bieber.

If you suddenly get the impulse to explain why any of these words refer to something inherently bad, then you have an allergy. If you understand this point, that you are being subjected to an automatic allergic response, the allergy loses some its power over your thought structures. You can reclaim responsibility for your own mind, your own thoughts, and your own truth. Because all of these examples are neutral terms referring to a great host of phenomena that can be considered both good and bad, then you’ve made the first step towards metamodern thinking.

“If you’re allergic to the concepts of development and progress, and you honestly believes everything keeps getting worse, then you’re probably postmodern.”

2) A belief in development and progress

The metamodern mind believes in progress and sees the concept of ‘development’ as a way of enriching an otherwise one-dimensional analysis of change.

The metamodern way of thinking is a reaction to the postmodern relativistic dogma that progress was an illusion and that all you can say is that things change, not that any kind of development takes place. It is not a return to modernistic uncritical praise of technological progress and belief that all development is good, but an attempt at redefining what appropriate progress entails, based on the postmodern critique, but without throwing out the hope that we can develop things for the better.

If you’re allergic to the concepts of development and progress, and you honestly believe everything keeps getting worse, then you’re probably postmodern. If you get irritated every time someone points out the drawbacks and potential harms of new technological developments, then you’re probably a good ole’ modernist. However, if you understand that all development has pros and cons, but that progress is inevitable and in the long run ultimately is a good thing, that cultural progress goes along technological change, and that it is your own personal responsibility to see to it that we as humanity get the most out of it, then you’re well on your way to become metamodern.

3) An understanding of hierarchies

The notion of development is a good model to perceive the past and form the future. Hierarchy is the needed framework to order entities into coherent systems and meaningful narratives. If you think all hierarchies are bad, then you’re probably postmodern, if you think we should just make away with them all, then you’re guilty of something we call game denial. If you think you can justify your own privileged status in the social hierarchy, then you’re a guilty of what we call game acceptance which is just as bad.

Hierarchies are all around us. People are more complex than frogs; animals are more complex than rocks. Industrial societies more advanced than hunter gatherers, modern physics is more enlightened than dogmatic religion. And feminism is more in tune with current societal needs than Nazism.

There are hierarchies according to complexity, which is not to say that more complexity necessarily is better. But there are also things that can be ordered according to their ethical validity. Love is better than hate. Parental leave is better than child murder. If you’re a relativist and believe no such thing can be determined, then you’re probably postmodern, but then you cannot even justify that, that claim of yours should be more valid than another.

Metamodernism reintroduces hierarchies as a unit of analysis as a reaction against the postmodern relativistic attitude that all hierarchies are bad. But it is not a return to the old arbitrary dominator hierarchies (race, class, privilege, gender) that postmodernism acted against. The metamodern mind however, attempts to reorder reality according to non-arbitrary and well-founded hierarchies according to complexity and ethical value, by including the higher ethics discovered within postmodernism and beyond.

Why are hierarchies a sound unit of analysis? Well, not only can they tell us what’s better and what’s worse. They can also answer many of our current puzzles that the flatland perspective of postmodernism cannot solve. Many conflicts are between different stages of development: Religion vs. science. Autocracy vs. Democracy. Conservative vs. liberals. Postmodernism vs. everyone else. If we understand that people of opposing beliefs aren’t just wrong, but think according to certain stages of development, with different validity claims than our own; if we understand these stages – then we can more easily understand why we don’t agree and thus become more capable at solving conflicts.

“…the great objective of Metamodernism [is] to erect a new grand narrative by combining all known knowledge and wisdom, well aware that it is a never ending endeavor and that the only achievable synthesis is a proto-synthesis, forever subjected to critique and never without flaws.”

4) Aiming at reconstruction

A mantra of Metamodernism is that: Reconstruction must follow deconstruction. Where the postmodern mind restlessly aims at deconstructing the world of signs, the metamodern has grown tired of this endeavor and takes on the task of reconstructing our symbolic universe and reconnecting it to other aspects of reality.

The metamodernist stands in the smoking ruins of modernity’s once almighty grand narrative of rational thought, demolished by the superior forces of postmodernity, left to be rebuilt by posterior generations. This is the great objective of Metamodernism, to erect a new grand narrative by combining all known knowledge and wisdom, well aware that it is a never ending endeavor and that the only achievable synthesis is a proto-synthesis, forever subjected to critique and never without flaws.

The metamodern mind is never content with mere anti-thesis. The metamodernist gets no satisfaction from only describing the world, when actual explanations are just beyond the horizon. What is, is just as interesting as what isn’t. To the metamodern mind, saying what you actually believe to be the truth is of greater importance. This is different from the postmodern cowardice of explaining why others are wrong. The metamodern mind has the courage to be vulnerable by making mistakes and reach faulty conclusions.

5) Thinking ‘both-and’

The crucial tool to erect a new grand narrative is the ‘both-and’ thinking. It is not just taking the best from modernity and postmodernity, or finding a middle ground between these two poles, nor is it the ability to reach a compromise. No, it is the ability to synthesize apparent opposites and from theses and anti-theses construct new syntheses.

This is a way of transcending the apparent paradoxes not yet to reach satisfying answers by modernists and postmodernists. Objective science or subjective hermeneutics? Both-and. Heritage or environment? Both-and. Biological determinism or cultural adaptation? Both-and. Matter or spirit? Both-and, baby-doll. Wholes or parts, wholeparts!

If you feel certain that things are mostly determined by physical laws and biological genetic conditions, then you’re a science obsessed modernist; if you on the other hand consider everything to be just social constructs, then you’re a blazing postmodern. Both positions bear seeds of truth, but only the metamodern mind knows how to construct feasible syntheses and understands the intimate relationship between both exterior and interior conditions, physical and social variables. That we are 100% biological animals and 100% culturally adapted beings, not 50/50.

If you shake your head and think “it’s both-and dammit!”, whenever discussions come to a full stop due to opposing opinions lack of reaching common ground, then you’re probably metamodern. And to that I congratulate you; you’re a rare breed and you’ll probably enjoy this blog.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.


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34 thoughts on “5 things that make you metamodern

  1. now this is too obvious and too predictable to be the new paradigm. what actually you propose – ol’fashioned Hegel dialetics: modern- thesis, postmodern- antithesis, “metamodern” -sythethis. very sane (this is NOT a COMPLIMENT)
    but hey, we miss something.
    what is it we miss here?

    am i wrong or does really new cultural paradigm MEANS a step off the road – a step (a misstep usually) to the dimesion that was not considered possible all the way long before. and the reason is often in the cultural transformation. and the cultural transformations are often result from technics transformation. tv was important for postmodern world

    so for now we should pay more attention to anonymus

    1. Hello kerd,

      I am not really claiming novelty here, just pointing out some important perspectives.

      In all seriousness, a lot of people are provoked by a list like this, finding it bewildering rather than obvious. Combining Hegelian dialectics with postmodern deconstructionism is probably a good start for a new paradigm. And if you look at the ideological and political production of Metamoderna, you will find that it is generally not matched by the more postmodern intellectuals on the Left.

      But it’s not 100 % Hegelian. Hegel believed that his stages were literally true. What I propose here is proto-synthesis, remaning well aware that each new synthesis is also a social construction and an imperfect narrative about progress. This means that we can play with visions of the future, be both left and right, both radical and conservative, etc. The Hegelians divided into Left and Right and took these projects much more literally.

  2. Interesting and well written text. Have long wondered what the next step away from postmodernism would be. And off course it cant be stretched any further. We need to look backwards in a pitch angle. Maybe Metamodernism is the answer.

    1. I hope this – being Metamodern – is not considered The Answer by theorists behind the concept. In my view, that shouldn’t be the aim of thinking Metamodern. Rather, it should be about a kind of radical openess.

    1. Dear Derrida. As you are probably aware, for deconstruction to begin at all, one must engage with the text on its own premises. This you have failed to do in particular comment. Keep writing, though!

      1. Lol. The best answer to an obvious troll comment and still giving him another chance to answer for the win/win. You are the master.

  3. This seems to me way more just a platform for promoting social change than an actual attempt to engage with the world in a philosophically new way. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it just feels disingenuous to come out as promoting a new philosophical system and actually just saying “acknowledge the existence of the patriarchy”, as it were.

    1. Hi Bobby,

      Each social platform for change has one or several philosophical systems attached to them, philosophical engines. I personally am not really aware of any social movement that is truly metamodern in the sense described here. I we achieve “just” that, I would be very proud and satisfied.

  4. One thing strikes me as a bit dangerous here. The part about hierarchies and in particular “stages of development”. I guess you would say I tend towards the post-modern way of thinking here with a cautious, and humble, respect for the possibility of being wrong. For example I wouldn’t put science against religion as stages of development. I find no basis in neither framework that necessarily puts one in conflict with, or for that matter, subsuming, the other. Both have conflicting artifacts and memes, but mostly also accept that any interpretation is just that, interpretation of our current best understanding of things. Science, and it’s interpretation, may, on average, tend to produce seemingly better suited prescriptions for how to live our lives than religion does, at least according to empirical evidence. However, can we really be confident that any seeming conflict between science and religion can be resolved by simply labeling one as less developed, and infer truth from that? It’s an assumption I do use to simply analysis, but I’m not ready to call it anything else than a simplification.

    To be clear religion was an example. The thing that worries me is the simplification. The possible shortcut of just labeling conclusions as less developed invites not only simplification, but also, by putting us in the more flattering position of being developed, and the conflicting opinion in a less flattering position, gives more power to various cognitive biases to cloud our judgement. With a strong enough rhetoric maybe replace it entirely with the kind of group think that, in the end, produces great harm on the world.

    1. Hi John!

      According to stage theory research religion and faith are themselves categories that can be de described in terms of development, where distinct stages are identifiable. Feel free to check out e.g. James Folwer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fowler%27s_stages_of_faith_development

      Similar structures of scientific reasoning and methods have been described by Michael Lamport Commons.

      But I share your concern. There are certainly risks with opening the Pandora’s box that is studies of hierarchical development. It is important to underscore that developmental stages are themselves theoretical constructs and always can and will reflect and reproduce different interests and ideologies.

      About religion and science I would tend to agree with you. Even if I would insist on a developmental difference between e.g. modern empiricism/method and e.g. fundamentalist versions of belief-based thinking.

      1. I would think that if a staged model of faith is applicable to religious beliefs it should also be applicable to beliefs in scientific theories, or conjectures fro that matter. It can readily be observed in the popular medias reporting that “scientists have discovered” that “we used to believe, but now we know” while the scientists, arguable equipped with a more developed faith in scientific theories, would describe things like “seems to indicate a correlation” or “gives plausibility for this new theory as a useful instrument of understanding out world”.

        Then again the thing that makes me wary of the staged model of faith is how it, for example, could be applied to understanding radical religious interpretations. According the staged model I guess we could describe the individuals supporting or following such interpenetration as “Stage 3”. It it would make sense, the only way I can understand how an individual can commit the kind of atrocities we can see in the news is to entirely ignore the internal conflict it must trigger and give in to the authority of the religious interpretation.

        And this may very well be true, from a human psychological point of view, but doesn’t really answer the question: Are they right? It seems to me that they take as a fundamental axiom that they are, and should be, acting according to the literal commands as given directly from God, and that any attempt to “interpret” these commands is to question God.

        Now, even if I choose to believe that they are wrong in their fundamental axiom I can’t really support that stance in evidence, it is simply my belief. I could of course flatter myself and say that my belief, is more nuanced and thus more developed. But still, I could very well be wrong, maybe it is the case that there is a God, and that we should put our personal convictions aside in blind faith for some reason. Maybe stage 3 belief is the “correct” thing to do.

        So yes, a staged model might give some insight into human belief systems, but is a good instrument for deriving policy decisions?

        1. Again, good comments.

          Stage theories defintely have dangers and seductions – and need to be scientifically, analytically and politically scrutinized as all other theories.

          Following thinkers like Ken Wilber I would say that you don’t necessarily reach “truth” by higher stage. The world is radically constructed. Stage theories are there for, among other things, to help us rank and evaluate different forms of truth claims. The higher stages should “include and transcend” the lower ones to be constructive. For instance, a traditional religious belief may have a claim to universality. Scientific method simply expands that search for universality.

          About policy decisions I can only answer yes. It is very useful, because it is helpful to understanding behavior and people’s life worlds in a non-judgemental fashion. Again, however, powerful and useful things are always dangerous and come with risks.

      2. You are a modernist here Hanzi, that’s for close to certain.
        While its true that religion gave birth to science it is perfectly possible to understand religion as a post-rationalist moral imperative. For example, we find no capability to understand the idea of redemption within human rights discourse and have to return to religious ethics to get a handle on it.

  5. The ‘Aiming at reconstruction’ section reminds me of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Jokes aside, I was wondering if Allergies are are only associated with negativity. Could an overwhelming positive view of something be considered an Allergy?

    1. Yes, you are right. The positive side of allergies are infatuations or fetishes. Note however, that having allergies and fetishes is OK and partly useful, because they activate and animate us.

  6. What would you say then to the relativism found in Hinduism and Indian Thought then? In India, there are people who have no single common belief or rule and who believe in rebirth due to karmic deeds. Indians worship animals and plants and humans. Some groups prefer one thought and others prefer another thought. All groups, with opposing thoughts, argue but coexist. The acceptance of all sides and all points of view. Different rules for different people. Different rules depending on the context; Indian thought is a combination of contextual and a-contextual. Every idea needs to be located in a particular space or time (the contextual), otherwise they make no sense. For example, the famed avatar of Vishnu, Ram, belongs to Ramayana and likewise, Krishna belongs to Mahabharata; one cannot simply mix and match the two. There is also a consistent pattern between the contexts (the a-contextual). Thus the idea of dharma, the notion that humans can transcend animal instincts and overpower the law of the jungle, or matsya nyaya. Knowing this theme is prevalent in both the epics; in the Ramayana, Ravan behaves like an alpha male while in Mahabharata, the Kauravas behave like alpha males, clinging to other people’s wives in one case and other people’s land in the other. Ram and Krishna are different from each other – one upholds rules and one breaks them. Yet, they are similar to each other – they uphold dharma.
    There is a pattern beneath the apparent cacophony. However, metamodernism seems to speaks of inter-subjectivity and often assumes subjectivity as fixed. Thus, there is “my truth” and “your truth” and I may respect your truth and you may respect my truth. But there is no concept of expanding truths: not of being influenced by other truths, but of expanding our own frameworks of understanding to accommodate myriad subjectivities around us.

  7. I think that all isms in art are always connected to a western world. Metamodernism is no exception. When Picasso copied African masks, known in France as a junk from their colonies, he wasn’t concerned with its spirituality, just a form he became famous for. When you look at Mali Gwandusu figures of mother and child, you will stay without breath, considering the form, and then again, considering the spiritual aspect. If you would compare those masterpieces of unknown primitives to, for example, Gauguin’s wood work for sale for millions, you will end up with a joke, but also an answer where the synthesis of “both” could lie. Western rationalism is still not ready for reconstruction. Did its deconstruction even started?

  8. This article is trying to tell me that for thinking metamodern you first need to understand hierarchies. But one human can’t understand hierarchies, you can’t even entirely understand it with multiple people. Since everybody has another view of the world, everybody also has ‘little spots’ and ‘big spots’ in their worldview. In which ‘little spots’ are things they know exist and are given a clear spot among other things. ‘Big spots’, however are things that are so important in that particular person’s worldview they are both extremely developed buildings as they are rivers, streaming through all they know of the world. To make a proper hierarchy of what’s important we need the worldview of every person in the world on paper and use them as layers so we can see what ‘spots’ are better developed. So now we can’t understand hierarchies, all we can do is accept them.

  9. I don’t believe in Metamodernism. I don’t believe in any of that kind of thing.
    We don’t have enough recoil to spot what’s after Post-Modernism.

  10. I would say this “MetaModerna” is probably right, but it seriously lacks depth. What you simply have done is followed the hegelian pattern and synthesized the next step; which is all fine I guess but this work will not be the the work that will attract and convince people to “level up” to MetaModerna.

    I mostly agree with all of it, there are however some qualms. First I think the reaction towards Postmodernism will be far greater than towards modernism, although both will be corrected.

    I think therefore that of all ideas I’ve read about the ‘next philosophical paradigm’ that Jordan B Peterson holds the most intersting one. He presents an idea that mostly checks out according to your 5 points; although he has extremly more critique towards postmodernism than implied here. I recommend reading or watching his works. He currently offers his classes online on Youtube. His work is called Maps Of Meaning.

  11. Good stuff….

    Do you think that the postmodern stage has a reconstructive level within itself…prior to plunging into a more integrative and holistic level? Or, does it seem entirely deconstructive? It’s clear that when we pass through the postmodern stage we naturally want to deconstruct modernity and traditional aspects of life. It’s also clear to me that we can overdo that at times and dismantle useful structures and systems in the process (from those earlier stages). Perhaps Europe is going through this phase now.

    Is there a point in our postmodern
    passage where we become more reconstructive…in effect, valuing those earlier levels and making active, constructive use of them? Or, does that very ability mean that we are simply outgrowing postmodern as a developmental stage?

    I am thinking about the Spiral Dynamics levels of development.

    Kind Regards,

    Jason Gosnell

    1. Good question… For convenience’s sake, we can think of the postmodern stage as deconstructive, but as you say the stages are of course only vague terms to encircle a wider array of inter-connected patterns of mind, culture, behavior and so on. Hence, you can find reconstructive projects within the larger deconstructive project of postmodernism, yes.

  12. Very well said. This post makes me think our world views are much more alike than not. I wonder in your intro you refer to “so-called integralists” which I take to mean you do not have a very high opinion of what I’ve referred to in my writing as “the Integral Establishment” or “Wilburites” to describe the more dogmatic devotees. I myself came into Post-Postmodernism (Integral, Metamodernism or whatever) through that route but have in years since taken a much more critical view of Wilbur. However I do think very highly of Claire Graves’ Spiral Dynamics Development model, and especially in the way it allows for agentic/communal (i.e. right/left) expressions in each developmental wave. I have been focusing on this idea of agentic/communal bias (and overcoming it) lately as I think that bias, more than anything else, really consistently colors how we see the world, and there is evidence even that there is a biological/epigenetic factor involved in this bias which is also fascinating.

    1. Actually I do like Wilber, and a lot of the Wilberians too. It’s just that we need to move on and address some of the child sicknesses of that body of thought and its corresponding movement. I share your interest in Left/Right biases, which I feel are important to understand if we are to achieve some kind of political metamodernism.

    1. A good start is “The Listening Society” — you’ll find plenty more references there, depending on your areas of interest.

  13. Would having an opinion (strong or otherwise) about whether modern or postmodern ideas deserve more criticism be inconsistent with metamodernism?

    Does the question miss the point?

    1. Hello Bennie,

      No it’s a great question. But of course, I have to give a boring answer: it’s contextual. Any metameme (modernism, postmodernism, etc.) has an infinite potential for mistakes and pathologies, and hence they can require criticism again and again in novel ways. The idea is to strategically and responsibly bridge and critique when needed.

  14. I really like the sudden return of hierarchies as an accepted part of discourse. But I can’t seem to grasp your examples. You cannot state that love is preferable to hate since these two emotions have a different purpose. Hate exists to provoke hostility towards perceived threats where as love exists to provoke hospitality towards likeminded people as well as people one has preference for. A tool can only compared with another tool in so far both attempt at fullfilling the same purpose. Nazism is a spiritual supplement towards politics where as feminism is a tool to extract resources(As you might have guessed I’m not the biggest fan of either). Both don’t solve societal needs unless you first determine what, who and how society is. Also “privilege” as a concept is illogical; it is natural that society orders it self into various castes. This development cannot be stopped nor can the effects of it be mitigated. For society to be levelled towards “equality” there first needs to be an established elite that benefits from said “equality”, or the results of it. Why else would said elite attempt to change the social structure. The sole existence of an elite is enough to proof inherent inequality in human capability. The concept of “privilige” is a mechanism of elites to stir up conflict between low and middle class, so they can reign unchallenged.

  15. 1) Your logic regarding “allergies” is circular. You frame allergies as irrational emotional responses that result in an inability to “determining the truth and value of something”. That is completely backwards. I have an aversion to certain concepts because I have already evaluated them objectively and determined their value was lacking.