Post-Modernism Has Destroyed the Bridge to Rationality

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David Chapman:

"In the 1970s and 1980s, the best postmodern/poststructural thinkers presented meta-rational views, based on their thorough understanding of systematic rationality. This first generation of postmodern teachers had a complete “classical education” in the humanities; they mastered the Western intellectual tradition before coming to understand its limitations.

Deconstructive postmodernism, their critique of stage 4 modernism/systematicity/rationality, is the basis of the contemporary university humanities curriculum. This is a disaster. The critique is largely correct; but, as Kegan observed, to teach it to young adults is harmful. Few university students have consolidated rationality. Essentially none are ready to move beyond it. Pointing out its defects makes their developmental task more difficult.

You cannot understand what is wrong with rationalism until you are capable of being rational. You cannot go beyond rationality until after you can use it reliably. You cannot become meta to systems you do not appreciate and do not understand how to deploy. You cannot move from stage 3 to stage 5 without passing through stage.

In fact, even most teachers of postmodern theory don’t understand it. Unfortunately, the postmodern pioneers chose to write in obfuscatory riddles. Their insights were difficult enough to understand without that. Few followers could extract the insights. Most teachers are second-generation professors who didn’t understand pomo when it was new, and third-generation ones who were mainly taught dumbed-down second-generation “pseudo-pomo.”

They were never taught to think, and can’t. What they learned was to imitate the founders’ appalling rhetorical style. They even learned to not think—because thinking would lead to questioning the nonsense, which would get you ejected from pomodom. Consequently, most contemporary pomo writing is—as everyone admits—incoherent blather, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. That’s “pseudo-pomo.”

At this point, many humanities professors cannot take even a rational, stage 4 stance; they were not taught to think. Lacking that, they cannot critique rationalism accurately. They could not possibly transmit stage 5 meta-rationality to their students now.


Still worse, pseudo-pomo misunderstands the postmodern critique simply as “all systems are wicked, false ideologies invented by the powerful as means of oppression, and must be destroyed.”3

Unfortunately, “critical theory” has so far failed to produce a broad, positive, clear and practical meta-rational vision. With nothing beyond the discredited stage 4 to look forward to, it is mostly no longer possible for humanities majors to develop a rational, systematic self. Nor can they participate effectively in a rational, systematic culture and society. At best, if they do somehow make it to stage 4, deconstructive postmodernism can only push them on into the ultra-relativist nihilism of 4.5. In that abyss, you realize rationality is not the answer, but can see no alternative. There is essentially no support available for the further transition to stage 5.4

This scares me. Up until the 1980s, a university humanities department did teach you how to think—and it was the standard education for the ruling class. Since then, it has taught you not to think. What happens as people trained in postmodern anti-thought move increasingly into positions of power? Without an appreciation for administrative and technical rationality—much less the ability to deploy them personally—how can they lead governments, corporations, universities, churches, or NGOs?

Recently, major institutions seem increasingly willing to abandon systemic logic: rationality, rule of law, and procedural justice. Such systems lost credibility decades ago, and are under increasing cultural/political attack from the pomo-educated. But for now they are critical to maintaining civilization. Someone has to keep the machinery running. Until we can build a fluid, meta-rational stage 5 society, destroying stage 4 institutions means everyone will die. (Not to be alarmist or anything.)

Building a bridge to stage 5 may be critical to keeping the bridge to stage 4 open. Because the postmodern critique is correct, it’s intellectually indefensible to insist on rationality as The Way and The Truth and The Light. To make stage 4 palatable, it has to be clear that it is not the final destination." (


David Chapman:

"Kegan describes three stages of adult development (numbered 3, 4, and 5). We could call them pre-rational, rational, and meta-rational. These stages are distinctive, internally consistent, relatively-well-functioning modes for organizing one’s thinking, one’s self, and one’s relationships. They might be described as “islands of psychological stability.” To progress from one island to the next, you must cross a heaving sea of psychological confusion, in which the previous mode no longer seems functional, but you cannot yet operate in the next mode reliably. These stage transitions are emotionally and cognitively difficult, and typically take several years, during which one may think, feel, and act inconsistently.

Ideally, a society and culture provides “bridges” of support from one stage to the next. To some extent, ours does. However, Kegan pointed out that we have allowed the bridge from stage 3 to 4 to fall into disrepair. We are not adequately teaching young adults how to be rational, systematic, or modern. This is the central theme of his In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life.

This problem seems to have only gotten worse in the two decades since he wrote that. That is what makes me fear civilizational collapse. Keeping modern institutions operating requires cognitively modern, rational operators. We may be destroying the conditions necessary to produce them." (