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:
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.