Block 2 “Postmodern tools: The Baby in the Bathwater” (1 Oct — 31 Dec, 2015)
Why you don’t have to be a Postmodernist to make great use of their tools
Discipline: Philosophy / Critical Theory
Block Lead: Matt Strohmeyer
The legendary Air Force fighter pilot and disruptive thinker John Boyd is very possibly the first post-modern military strategist. Though many military thinkers might want to disown such a qualification, Boyd certainly did not and his (very few) writings continue to grow in influence. While it’s not readily obvious why the often-inaccessible ideas of postmodernism are relevant for those striving for strategic genius, hopefully this block of readings will prove very insightful to that end. The Boyd scholar Frans Osigna highlights three key ideas in postmodern thought that influenced Boyd’s later thoughts: deconstruction, discourses, and structuration. These three concepts, originating from Derrida, Leotard, and Gidden (respectively) offer a great foundation for understanding why any strategist who wants to cultivate an ability to think asymmetrically should appreciate postmodernism.
Deconstruction describes the idea that we must “deconstruct” ourselves to truly understand our own perspectives. Without this effort, we are unable to divorce ourselves from our own biases and consistently constrain our thought, even without realizing it.
Discourses refers to the fact that empirical (pure fact) observation only tells half the real story. While we typically gravitate towards objective data, this data necessarily exists within a narrative (discourse) and if we do not recognize and acknowledge this narrative, we will often fail to understand the real driving forces in any environment.
Structuration states that all ideas exist within strong, established (think bureaucratic) systems. Because of this, these prevalent ideas are very difficult to change (if change is possible at all). If we want to effect change, we need to recognize that you can’t redirect the titanic in a day and that new ideas can only be effectively implemented in the long term. Small changes within the existing system are the most effective course of action.
Block two of 30 pages seeks to draw out the most salient (and applicable) ideas in postmodern thought. I will readily admit that many of the ancillary arguments presented in these readings might run counter to your political preferences — resist the urge to discount these ideas at first glance: there is a great deal of good that can be gleaned from these readings. Several of these texts are very difficult to digest (Deleuze, Guattari, and Connolly in particular) but they are well worth the effort.