The Meta- Turn has Come Full Circle
If you’re unaware of the new paradigm, you may be in the wrong conversation. Metamodernism is one of the broadest and most important ideas out there, and is a core concept of this think tank, The Abs-Tract Organization. I summarize metamodernism as a new cultural, political, scientific, and social movement representing a post-ideological, open source, globally responsive, paradox resolving, grand narrative. It is the discourse meant to replace postmodernism, and it can’t come soon enough.
Update, July 2019: For a thorough map of the field, see Metamodernism: A Literature List.
The concept of metamodernism has achieved a fair deal of exposure and legitimacy intellectually, but it is still a niche movement largely outside academia. Details will continue to unfold as the paradigm refines itself — not a lot of academics are even aware of it. The first use of metamodernism dates back to the 1970s, but has scant and scattered usage until it was primarily developed in 2009-2011 by Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker (of http://www.metamodernism.com), Luke Turner in his 8-point Metamodern Manifesto (2011) and Metamodernism: A Brief Introduction (2015), and has many other influential proponents such as Hanzi Freinacht of Metamoderna, and Seth Abramson (10 principles, 5 more princples).
According to them, metamodernism is basically defined as the oscillation between modern and postmodern modes, the rapid dialectic of which creates a new synthetic discourse, and its manifestation is then largely tracked through art and culture. Functionally, metamodernism is getting straight to the point, or attempting to do so, to address the meta-crisis. There can be nothing beyond metamodernism; it is a totalizing ideology in the best sense possible, because it implies building permanent peace and sustainability based on conciliating between past, present, and future. I go “Beyond” metamodernism to suggest the particular meaning of “meta-” that I am leading with, to go beyond the Dutch School of metamodernism which defines meta- as “between” and “after” postmodernism.
Edit: as of June 1st, 2019, I have added the 4 Part series Missing Metamodernism, where I discuss untapped sources from the 1990s. Everything in this “Beyond” article still applies, but metamodernism is retconned by this prior history, adding depth to its meaning.
→ Part 1: Missing Metamodernism (revisionist account, hypermodernism)
→ Part 2: Borgmannian Metamodernism (communitarianism, human tech)
→ Part 3: Gonzálezean Metamodernism (liberation theology, anti-colonialism)
→ Part 4: Black Metamodernism (social justice, afro-futurism)
This is it; metamodernism could evolve to be a superordinate philosophical framework based on the post-2000 historical and cultural moment, and our last chance to abstract (/to model) the truth of the world to emancipate humanity from its own matrix-like culture and systemic entropy. One way or another, it will come to define the 21st century.
We are all human, sharing one planet; this is the broad truth that ‘washes out’ our social and cultural distinctions. We now live in a metamodern age, but this does not mean metamodernism is currently winning in the war of ideas (it’s not). We concurrently live in an anti-intellectual time. For metamodernism to win, a public discourse must make sense, and stop reverting to tribal politics. There can not be contention over fundamental scientific and humanist truths, as there are. Metamodernism implies sincere commitment to consensus and depoliticization, among other things. This table gives a hint of some precursors to a metamodern turn:
Metamodernism emerges more prominently in the dynamic space of ‘post-post-modernism’, the faulty placeholder which spawned from postmodernism, which of course stemmed from modernism. Thus, there is a certain historical trajectory to take into account, and to truly understand meta-(anything), one must in some way graduate through the previous paradigms of thought.
“The basic stage theory proposed here is: modernist -> postmodernist -> metamodernist. So don’t skip past postmodernism, because you will end up with a cheap, empty tin version of metamodernism. This goes especially for so-called integralists who have no or almost no conception of the glory of postmodernism.” 5 Things that make you metamodern, Hanzi Freinacht
One of the simplest most vital aspects, considered the mantra by Hanzi Freinacht, is that metamodernism is the reconstruction that follows the deconstruction of postmodernism. This, I think, should be enough to want to dive headlong into the new philosophy, but deconstruction is still the prerequisite. What follows is a brief overview of the relation of metamodernism to TATO and abstraction.
By way of introduction, metamodernist Seth Abramson outlines 15 principles to clarify and distinguish it from postmodernism.
“Metamodernism is variously called a cultural paradigm, a cultural philosophy, a structure of feeling, and a system of logic. All these phrases really mean is that, like its predecessor’s modernism and postmodernism, metamodernism is a particular lens for thinking about the self, language, culture, and meaning — really, about everything.” — Seth Abramson, Attorney; Assistant Professor at University of New Hampshire [Source].
- Negotiation between modernism and postmodernism.
- Dialogue over dialectics.
- Paradox transcendence.
- The collapse of distances.
- Multiple subjectivities.
- Simultaneity and generative ambiguity.
- A cautiously optimistic response to metanarratives.
- Reconstruction instead of deconstruction.
- Engagement instead of exhibitionism.
- Effect as well as affect.
- Walllessness and borderlessness.
- Flexible intertextuality.
There is a lot to consider here, but I want to move along to abstraction. Abramson’s principles do not explicitly factor in the concept of abstraction, although he does at one point mention that “the idea that metamodernism eliminates the walls and boundaries between literal and abstract structures is an important one to the paradigm.”[Source] Abstraction is a concept independent of any paradigm or era, but metamodernism provides a new context and new tools to enable abstraction by an order of magnitude.
For a great introduction to metamodernism listen to Hanzi Freinacht’s debut (Sept. 22, 2017) interview (1h30m) below on his book The Listening Society. You can read my review of Hanzi’s book here. His second book, Nordic Ideology, was published in June 2019 and is much more sociological. What I call the Nordic School of metamodernism (vis-a-vis Hanzi) is not a monolith but extends to the broad conversation and community he has fostered, including Tomas Bjorkman’s metamodern vision and many others.
Hanzi Freinacht (Metamoderna) [engl.]
The philosopher Hanzi Freinacht is the author of the new book 'The listening society'. We are talking about the…
As of late 2016, the emergent progressive social movement behind Bernie Sanders — arguably a metamodern expression — was suppressed by the bipolar two-party system in the US presidential election. As I have argued in my post True Colors: The Real Faces of Politics, Bernie Sanders is a metamodern politician, or at least represents a metamodern political consciousness and movement, and his defeat was the failure of American society to learn the lesson at hand. The result was the election of the nightmarish-cartoonish wildcard Donald Trump. This scenario was perfectly anticipated, in abstract terms, by Rolling Stone as of 2013.
“This latest episode in the endless Republican reality show is not chiefly about the incompetence and incessant squabbling of ideologues and petty politicians, although it’s that, too. Nor is it the outcome of the intense partisan polarization that has thrown Washington into gridlock, as if the problem is abstract partisanship itself, with Democrats and Republicans equally at fault. Least of all is it about rescuing the economy from the Democrats’ profligate deficit spending, as Republicans claim — not with the deficit shrinking to its lowest level since the financial disaster of 2008 and with the outlook improving. This crisis is about nothing other than the Republican Party — its radicalization, its stunning lack of leadership and its disregard for the Constitution.” [Source], Republican Extremism and the Lessons of History, Rolling Stone, Oct 2013.
The polarization of elites and masses is at a new breaking point, and metamodernism strives for the peaceful release of tension compelled by a broad consensus on truth, and to overturn the status-quo that is blocking that truth. While the inconclusive character of postmodernism was figuratively a ‘work-in-progress’, metamodernism is explicitly working on progress, pledged to the reconstruction of society.
In policy terms, metamodernism necessarily represents simply what ‘needs to be done’ to solve the global crisis: social transformation to a permaculture ecology, a steady state economy, and the empowerment of secular humanist global civil society. The definitive policy objectives include: clean energy, demilitarization, universal basic income, universal health care/ drug legalization, universal education, human rights, and so on… TATO’s abstract objective is thus to normalize functional socialism (socialized healthcare, education, etc), not to mention put war out of business. The great irony is ‘why haven’t we done it yet?’ Here is what it would look like, according to Metamoderna.org:
“A metamodern society is one where the problems of modernity have been solved: a society where we are no longer alienated, that no longer has excessive inequalities, and is ecologically sustainable. The metamodern society is possible to achieve; it constitutes a higher stage of development of society. But it is no utopia in the sense that no problems are present. As humanity approaches this developmental stage, new problems emerge, many of which are yet to be known.” [Metamoderna.org]
In order to get there, we need radical ideas to the radical problems we face. There are practical policy solutions on offer which I’ve argued fall under metamodernism, such as Bunzl and Duffell’s The SIMPOL solution.
Our focus on abstraction is particularly possible and useful now because of, as opposed to 20 years ago, the advent of metamodernism (prescience) and the emergence of big data (omniscience). Foresight and insight are the gifts of abstraction. The combination of the recent cultural shifts in epistemology (for better or worse) and power of the internet spell out a clear opportunity for better abstraction and knowledge representation.
Social enterprise must now reclaim its own data from ‘commercial sociology’ (ie. Facebook), and steer away from predictive models of reality, to prescriptive and normative models about a sustainable society. TATO does not ask ‘who will win [the presidency],’ but ‘who should win?’; Who is the right figurehead and leader for optimal social and political justice? More importantly, who is not the right leader? How can the public be better informed? Etc… Nevertheless we did predict who would win as well (Trump over Clinton), which went counter to the predictive metrics of the day.
The premise of Artificial Intelligence is also entirely dependent on abstraction. Thus, it is very crucial to have a meta- think tank organization dedicated to the abstraction as a science, that is also concerned with superordinate issues. We have the tools to reconstruct the world from the fragments of postmodernism, but in order to do so we must be able to resolve social issues conclusively at the discursive level, so our tools are not used against us. However, big data has been tied up with commercial sociology, which is instrumental rather than critical. That means our personal data is being trafficked by corporations in order to exploit us for their own ends.
To return to abstraction, it is proposed as a metamodern epistemology; a way of knowing and conceptualizing universal truth with social justice.
“[we] have identified a very promising niche in trying to position metamodernities as a post- poststructuralist state, in that the major issue with poststructural approaches is that they fall into what I refer to as the ‘Derrida Trap’ — that is, that deconstruction on its own is necessarily a pointless task. Unless you re-assemble whatever you have deconstructed into a ‘better’ version, then it leads you to nowhere except mindless relativism. This means that most poststructural approaches to real-world problems never seem to offer any form of practical solution — the simple example of that being in terms of urban planning. Post-structuralists have long lambasted the work of Le Corbusier, the ‘broken windows’ theory, and the Chicago School, among others, for being based upon a series of assumptions and uneven power structures that commit all manner of sins — but crucially, after all these critiques, there are very few practical alternatives to urban planning suggested by poststructuralists. They have done half a job in many ways — deconstructed the problematic assumptions of modernism, but offered no practical alternative. So in that sense there is a promising vein of thought that sets out where the think tank is in intellectual terms.” — Adrian Smith, TATO analyst.
The Meta- Turn
The prefix “meta-” (variously denoting change, beyond, above, etc.) has many vital uses that coalesce with the advent of metamodernity. The concepts of “metacognition” (thinking about thinking) and “metanoia” (to change one’s mind) are central to intellectual revolution. “Meta-analysis” reveals unknown common truths across conceptually related studies, providing a ‘big picture’ perspective and quality control. The study of “metaphysics” as social humanism reclaims it as a ‘philosophy of first principles,’ and highlights the distinction between physical and social science. Marx’s notion of “metabolic rift” theorizes the entropy of ecological and social systems under capitalism, granting us the necessary foresight to prevent such dehumanizing decay.
As a novel enterprise, TATO aims to be a “meta-” think tank to apply these sorts of insights, helping to coordinate epistemic communities and solving fundamental contradictions at an abstract level. Many conventional think tanks are demonstrably partial and have been increasingly corporatized under neoliberalism, undermining their function as progenitors of objective thought. Our role is in part to compel corporate social responsibility in the marketplace of ideas, with a program of capitalist “absolution” as a system-wide process of truth and reconciliation.
For a great cinematic introduction to metamodernism with respect to art and culture, watch this video:
For the thesis that metamodernism is a value paradigm over and above modernity and postmodernity, see this video:
The Abs-Tract Organization is a nascent research network, highlighting the utility of abstraction as a critical perspective and knowledge representation framework.
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