Master Narratives of Postmodernity
by Adam Naphta
What is a Master Narrative?
The master narrative of postmodernity is the proclamation that we have overcome all master narratives. As with all forms of relativism, the central claim inevitably ends up refuting itself. In asserting that there are no universal truths one finds himself asserting just that, a universal truth. In asserting the non-existence of any and all master narratives one has constructed a master narrative. So then, we can easily ignore any notion of the non-existence of master narratives in postmodernity. It is evident that the assertion of such a claim reveals one of the central master narratives. Then we should ask the following: what are the master narratives of postmodernity? These are the background narratives that shape discourse and standards of rationality.
We will elucidate these master narratives so that we can i) better understand the narratives that shape the unarticulated background world of moderns and ii) to be wary of conforming ourselves to these narratives. Know thy enemy’s mythos. I won’t attempt to refute any of these narratives in this article. Each narrative has its body of literature refuting it. I’ll put in parentheses next to each sentence authors addressing these narratives.
The Master Narratives of Postmodernity
These narratives, as far as I have gathered, are the following set of propositions.
- Religion fell at the hands of modern science. (Charles Taylor)
- Science accepts, and has proven, a form of neo-Darwinian materialism. (Thomas Nagel, David Berlinski)
- Ethics are emotive and subjective in nature. (Alasdair Macintyre)
- All cultures exist to produce consumable content. (Theodore Adorno, Christopher Lasch)
- Monogamy and marriage are sexual repression. (Lasch, Roger Scruton)
- Humans have no inherent purpose tied to their being. (Alasdair Macintyre, Aristotle)
- We have no reason to fear the other.
These narratives inform every piece of deductive argument made by the majority of modern secular people in the west. One should understand these as unstated premises to every argument they make. Far too often a periphery of thought is not arguing with the deductive argument of their opponent, but rather with the narratives that structure their entire worldview.
The Web of Belief
If you have noticed, I have written on a few of these subjects. It should be said that a lot of these narratives reenforce and reference each other. For example, narrative 6 is used frequently to express the truth of 4,5, and 3. Narrative 6 is also propped up by narratives 1,2 and 3. These opinions are not each themselves deductively demonstrated conclusions from a certain body of evidence. They are master narratives, therefore they function as premises and not conclusions. They are stories told to justify actions. Speak to a modern man about why he continues his hedonistic existence and he will give you some combination of narratives 1,2,3 and 6 to justify his actions. For example, he will deduce from 2 that we are animals and that we should therefore live like dogs chasing pleasure.
Another example, narrative 5 posits a theoretical entity named ‘sexual repression.’ Evidence for a neutrino exists only insofar as we have a theoretical framework of the standard model to posit its existence and behavior. Narrative 5 imposes a research paradigm in which theoretical entities such as sexual repression are posited to have such existence. Narrative 5 then justifies a large set of continuing paradigms by its theoretical commitment to the entity of sexual repression. Phenomena of odd sexual behavior and sexual frustration are used as evidence in its favor. It should be obvious to anyone that narrative 5 is a primary premise in the arguments of almost all modern sexual deviants. It is as useful and as needed as an understanding of elementary particles in physics. It is a first principle.
I could continue, but I trust we all have come across these statements before. I only wish to point out that they are narratives of postmodernity and not conclusions of postmodernity. We are not a post-narrative world. We have instead replaced our myths.