You’re not metamodern before you understand this. Part 2: Proto-Synthesis

This is the second post regarding the major objectives of metamodernism. The first, on the political stance of Game Change, was a political follow-up on the post ‘5 things that make you metamodern’. This post will introduce the major underlying philosophical concept behind the metamodern project: Proto-Synthesis.

The Philosophical Goal of Metamodernism: Proto-Synthesis

The major overarching intellectual goal of metamodernism is the attempt to construct a unified overview of all knowledge in a cosmological context, a grand narrative of everything – while knowing full and well that the synthesis produced can never be final or absolute.

“The mantra of Metamodernism is: Reconstruction must follow deconstruction.”


The mantra of Metamodernism is: Reconstruction must follow deconstruction. This is to be seen as a reaction against the postmodern aim of deconstructing everything. But Metamodernism is not the same as modernity. The grand project of modernity was based on the belief that given enough time, rational thought and careful objective analysis, science would reveal the secrets of existence. Metamodernists are aware that creating a new grand narrative of the world is a never ending endeavor and only Proto-Synthesis is achievable.

The grand narrative of Metamodernism can be described as a meta-narrative, a modern mythos of creation. Metamodernists are aware of the postmodern insight that knowledge can only be transferred through narratives. Metamodernism is concerned with creating a meaningful creation myth for our time. The message is stated in mythic form; it is not to be taken as absolute truth. Metamodernists strive towards the most comprehensive narrative presently available, but do so through the study of both large and miniscule phenomena combining the modernist grande histoire with the anti-narrative and petite histoire of postmodernism.

Where modernism was concerned with design, postmodernism emphasized chance. Metamodernism includes both of these perspectives and perceives the world as emergent phenomena and patterns of self-organization. It studies how remarkably unlikely events and processes happen despite the odds. How many factors come together and self-organize into new, more complex orders. Instead of only looking at what’s present (like the modernists), or the absent (like the postmodernists), metamodernists emphazise the process and have a keen eye for emergence.

The grand intellectual aim of Metamodernism is to order reality into coherent and hierarchically organized, interdependent patterns, thus creating a new map of reality, but without mistaking the map for reality. The postmodern insight, that we are just dealing with models or representations of reality, but not reality itself, should be kept intact. What is not postmodern about it is the lack of irony and complete sincerity in this apparently impossible endeavor.

“Metamodernism includes many of the substantial wisdoms of postmodernity.”

Transcending postmodernism

Metamodernists agree with postmodernists that there is no possibility of a creation myth to be neutral, since all knowledge arises from a relationship between a knower and an object of knowledge. But the metamodernist does not agree that we should just relax and give up on metanarratives after realizing that all of our ideas about the world were merely constructions of the mind reflected by the discourse of our surroundings.

Metamodernism includes many of the substantial wisdoms of postmodernity, but at the same time transcends this paradigm without being reactionary. With ‘reactionary’ I mean turning against postmodernity, refusing its insights by going back to the perspectives preceding it.

Since our knowledge about the world can only consist of narratives, structures of the mind, I say: Let us construct the best available narrative of our age! It is not enough to continue making new differentiations, to notice differences and contrasts and contradictions. We must pick up the pieces of our fragmented world and build a new narrative – but not by going back and do what was done before everything got deconstructed.

“Metamodernism has a ‘non-oops’ explanation of creation – shit doesn’t ‘just’ happen.”

A holarchical view of autopoesis

As metamodernists we see the value in at least trying to see the world as a whole, as an interconnected place. The holistic perspective of metamodernism, that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, points towards a new synthesis: Where modernism was intrinsically hierarchical in its ontology, postmodernism reacted against this by being unreservedly anarchical. Metamodernism’s approach could be classified as holarchical, showing that there is a structure out there in what seemingly appears to be chaotic. But the chaotic is structured along the lines of complexity. We see structures wherein all parts retain their autonomy while at the same time remaining parts of a greater whole.

Metamodernism has a ‘non-oops’ explanation of creation – shit doesn’t ‘just’ happen. This goes beyond both postmodernity’s view of randomness, but also modernity’s mechanic and non-teleological view on things. Metamodernism’s explanation model can be described as ‘autopoesis’, or with a simpler word ‘self-organization’. Things happen because of immanent features, i.e. not due to some kind of transcendental dualism (present in modernity as well as Western pre-modernity). But this immanence is both random and structured. Development of nature, of human society, of psychology, has directions; it has directionality. Metamodernists sense and explore the directionalities of an evolving hypercomplex, self-conscious, self-organizing, interconnected reality. We thereby explore ourselves, because we know that we are expressions of this same reality.

At the hypercomplex heart of existence lie patterns. These patters manifest themselves through human beings, through their agency, development and culture.

Modern science was partly successful by a continuing process of differentiation. By this we mean reducing the world to its smallest, most easy comprehensible parts. This was developed further with postmodernism, where language, science and logic themselves increasingly became subjects of critical analysis and inquiry. Differentiation became even more pronounced in postmodernism. Postmodernism sought to chop reality down to even finer pieces by ripping the formerly assumed, coherent neutral observer apart. But as a society, culture and a philosophical community, we have come to the end of the road here. If we wish to go beyond this impasse, if we truly want to develop a new paradigm, we have to work with developing a new meta-narrative.

Such a narrative that can only be a Proto-Synthesis. We connect all that we know and create a story. But we know that it’s just a story. However, we prefer it to no story at all. And we will both love it and fight for it and try to challenge it, evolve it and tear it down.

The first quality of a metamodern mind is its ability to productively handle paradox. Proto-Synthesis is the first and foremost paradox to handle.

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


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5 thoughts on “You’re not metamodern before you understand this. Part 2: Proto-Synthesis

  1. Hi Hanzi

    A few mixed points

    1. Individually: human beings as “story-telling animals”:

    I like the Phrase. The Human mind likes stories and keeps producing some all along. About the world, about “itself”: someone’s life story etc.

    While it’s good to see how the Constructs are made, emerge etc, while it’s good to know it’s just an emergence and not reality, it’s not really meaningful or even healthy to reject the process!
    Especially if some parts of our cousciousness/unconscious believe in these stories:)

    Better watching them for what they are as pretending not to have them!
    Most people believe in their self- narrative. Even the hardest postmodernist.

    => Well, the production of narratives is “normal” maybe unavoidable. So what?
    Let’s have fun with them.

    2. Society: popular postmodern culture is full of meta-narratives!

    If postmodern academia deconstructs Stories, popular “postmodern” culture is quick to fill the void ! 🙂

    Illuminatis, chem trails, aliens, Maya calenders, “Secrets” to build the reality of your ego’s dreams… God, what for huge narratives!

    Since postmodern academia deserted the meta-narrative field, anyone can produce the wildest narrative on its own and believe it uncritically. Basically you just need to find someone ready to reinforce your story 🙂
    Isn’t it a Reverse side of postmodernism.

    => 🙂 since people are looking for orientation anyway, the Metamodernist goal is very meaningful.
    It’s not reality, but it’s much better than “anything goes”

    3. Meta-physically:

    Very cautious here – see use and abuse of Quantuum physics and quantuum Metaphysics – so you may Sort out much better what makes sense in this.

    Still: while sub-atomary processes are not determined anymore, they are not arbitrary either. Deconstructing what was believed to be material Building blocks of physical reality is not the end of the story 🙂 There are still beautiful patterns to investigate.

  2. Solve et Coagula could be one simplistic old interpretation of this concept from the alchemical treatise.

    Interesting work.