Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Postmodersnist Themes

by Alan S. Cajes 

I am auditing a course on Intercultural and Inter-religious Dialogue (Theo 248.2) at the Loyola School of Theology. A good friend, Fr. Albert Alejo, S.J., Ph.D., teaches the course. The first meeting of the class reminded me of the postmodernist outlook that I have imbibed as a researcher. The key concepts of this outlook include the following: “difference,” “tolerance,” “contextualism,” “relativism,” “dialogue,” and “defiance.”

. The term “difference” comes from the Latin word differo, which means to bring apart. If everything is different, then everything is separate, distinct, and distinguishable. The concept of difference has wide implications in the various areas of human life, i.e., the economic, social, cultural, and political aspects. It implies, for instance, that an economic, cultural or political system that works in one country may not work in another given the difference of people's experiences as shaped by the categories of space and time. In particular, it does not follow that since the presidential system of government works quite well in the United States of America, then, it should work well in the Philippines. 

. Difference leads to the idea of “tolerance”, which is to recognize and respect the unique condition of reality in general. In practical terms, tolerance means, for example, respect to other cultures. In the Philippine setting, there are various local cultures that co-exist with one another, although such relationship is not always harmonious and peaceful. Cultural co-existence means the existence of various and different cultural communities that tolerate each other's presence.[1]

. Context may be defined as the parts or relevant circumstances that surround a text, which is understood, in a general way, as anything that can be interpreted. Context gives meaning to a text; hence, textual interpretation becomes possible by understanding the text’s context. Polygamy, for example, could be right or wrong depending on its context; it is unacceptable within the context of the Catholicism, but acceptable within the context of Islam.

Relativism. Relativism assumes that meaning should not be considered in relation to a universal or transcendental standard or logos because such logos presupposes identity and fails to account the contextual dimension of meaning. Meaning is relative to the interpreter and the context of the text being interpreted. This implies that there are different meanings of a text, instead of one, and that each interpretation of meaning is legitimate. Relativism, together with difference, is related to the idea of non-commensurability, which “involves a radical notion of non-comparability, and the unacceptability of imposing one set of cultural norms over another.”

Dialogue. Under a condition characterized by difference, contextualism, relativism and tolerance, the only viable way of maintaining social and political order is not through the totalizing power or authority of the state but though the spirit of dialogue, negotiation and cooperation. Dialogue is not a communication among non-equals. It is a communication premised on differences. It is a process of coming to understand the positions of each party to a dialogue using the rule of consensus. It is a dialogue through words and words are contextual. The purpose of dialogue is not to win over the positions behind the words, but to fuse the horizons of the dialoging positions.

. The attitude of postmodernism is active opposition against authority, because authority is perceived as a product of logocentrism or totalization, which is a violation of the notion of difference. Postmodernism rejects grand or totalizing narratives and since the state is one of the grand narratives, postmodernists defy the authority of the state.

[1]Following this train of thought, the colonization of the Philippines by the Spaniards and the Americans violate the notion of tolerance. The foreigners operated on the basis of identity, which presupposes that everyone is similar and shares the same nature. This notion led to their desire to impose uniformity on the natives, with uniformity based on the identity of the occupants. They made the Filipinos think the way they thought, act the way they behaved, put on clothes the way they dressed, speak the way they spoke, build houses the way they built their own, etc. Colonization was totalization. It sought to make Filipinos uniform and identical both in internal and external manifestations. It prevented tolerance of the differences among the various cultural communities in the country.