Gonzálezean Metamodernism

Post-colonialism, Alter-globalization, and Liberation Theology

Brent Cooper
Jun 1 · 15 min read

*this article is Part 3/X, with Borgmannian Metamodernism (2/X) and Black Metamodernism (4/X). They include new discoveries in metamodern discourse and substantially retcon the history of the term, introduced here in Missing Metamodernism. Whereas in a series of articles in 2015 Seth Abramson put forth a spirited intervention on behalf of Mas’ud Zavarzadeh’s metamodernism (circa 1975), I pose a similar injunction to the discourse. This puts metamodernism into yet another frame of abstraction in consideration of it as an evolving paradigm. For a more cursory overview of metamodernism and links to my other writings on it, see “Beyond Metamodernism”.

Another lost chapter in the history of metamodern theories was authored by Justo L. González, titled “Metamodern Aliens in Postmodern Jerusalem”, in the edited volume Hispanic/ Latino Theology: Challenge and Promise (1996). Though it’s been cited by Seth Abramson once, barely so, as described in Part 1, Gonzalez is still generally unknown and the chapter provides a rich vein of philosophy and praxis for metamodernism. I argue for its convergence with metamodernism and inclusing in other projects, movements, and theories.

Like Borgmann in New Worlds, New Technologies, New Issues (1992), it also appears González did not continue use of the term, nor did it spread much in the future. It is a one-off, a Hail Mary pass that no one caught. Yet, also like with Borgmann’s, González’ chapter is prescient and contributes a great deal to the metamodern discourse. It takes a critical position of both modernism and postmodernism, and offers the novel category of metamodernism to explain a specific anomaly; in this case, how Hispanics in the United States were, as victims of colonialism and neocolonialism, excluded from both modernism and postmodernism. Insofar as postmodernism aligns with secularism and deconstructs religion, post-colonial liberation theology (the union of catholicism and social justice) is proposed as a metamodern alternative to postmodernism.

In the introduction to the book, Introduction: Aliens in the Promise Land, by Fernando F. Segovia, latinos in the United States are described as aliens in the “promise land,” with the surreality and superficiality of the american dream plainly thrust upon them, giving them both despair and hope. This sets up the idea of ‘aliens’ which is also explicit in the title of Gonzalez’ chapter. This version of metamodernism speaks, or rather listens, to alterity, the subaltern, to the forces of alterglobalization. Alterglobalization is noted as a factor in the Dutch school’s periodizing forces of metamodernity, but the connection to this source is missed, and vice-versa.

Segovia describes how a new voice of liberation has emerged in the West, “forged in the United States” and “its closest analogue is undoubtedly black theology” which preceded it. This new liberation theology speaks to Hispanic Americans, and it is what makes González consider them metamodern agents in a decadent postmodern world. Interestingly, Justo L. González is also, like Borgmann, a Christian but not a dogmatic one. In some sense, they are attuned to the post-secular spirituality that metamodernism promises, and it is this nuance that puts them beyond the reach of the New Atheists and Intellectual Dark Web types. In Missing Metamodernism, I outlined some ways in which Borgmann and González are similar, but their theories of metamodernism are also quite divergent in some respects, which this article will reveal.

Introduction to González

The chapter by González is considerably shorter than that of Borgmann, but it is nonetheless a potent gesture in its own right. In his intro, González observes how postmodernity caused the proliferation of different theologies (of secularity, process, liberation, hope, play, ethnic, feminist…). Concurrently, today, we are facing another end and fragmentation; the limits of modernity. The time of his writing (1996) roughly marked the first true emergence of the end of colonialism as well as North Altantic exceptionalism. González was writing from the moment between paradigms, between crises, with the Cold War bipolarity left behind and the (unforeseen) War on Terror hiding around the corner. As we have seen, the US would try to (re-)assert its hegemony in the 21st century, despite the reality of domestic decay amidst a multi-polar world settling it; a categorical mistake that formed the entire premise of the classic satirical film Team America: World Police (2004).

“Critique of Modernity”

“…we have seen the demise of orthodox state socialism, and we are also witnessing an acute crisis in its capitalistic counterpart.” — González, Metamodern Aliens in Postmodern Jerusalem (1996)

Contrary to the simplistic Cold War narrative of capitalism triumphing over socialism, we see that both are in crises. This is something we are acutely explicitly aware of in the metamodern mindset, but González saw the source code much earlier, and named it. Though he was inspired by the moon landing, he later had an awakening about how it was the end of a dream rather than the start of a new one. Contemporary efforts to colonize other worlds (the moon, asteroids, Mars) may claim to do so in the service of humanity, but more realistically it is a type of escapism to avoid solving problems here on earth.

“Ours is a time of limits. We are learning that the earth has ecological limits and that we trespass on those at our own peril. We are learning that there are limits to economic growth. The current generation of American youth will be the first in a long time not to reach higher economic levels than the previous generation. Politicians might still say that this is the result of bad economic policy and that the trend could be reversed with proper management.” — González, Metamodern Aliens in Postmodern Jerusalem (1996)

González affirmed a basic truth the many would still deny today; that we’re screwed if we don’t have a paradigm shift. Here he also forecasted the emergence of the precariat class around the world, particularly disaffecting the millennial generation. The limits of reason and modernity should not come as a surprise, as he cites Jose Ortega y Gasset’s warning about said limits over half a century ago, and the observation that reason is a belief structure like religion, albeit a more accurate one but still imperfect, such that it could outcompete religion. Recognition of these changes and limits mark the worldview of postmodernity.

“Critique of Postmodernity”

González cites Zymunt Bauman’s description of modernity as a self-deception, concealing its own parochiality, and that postmodernity knows better. González protests, however, as Lyotard considers the postmodern condition an outcome of modernity that is only a concern only for the most developed societies. Furthermore, González claims “that Lyotard’s definition of the postmodern may very well serve as a sort of “Cold War weapon” of neocolonialism.” It is ironic, he argues, that even though postmodernism is skeptical of progress, for many postmodern scholars and critics, including Lyotard, the modern notion of “development” is still accepted despite serving “as the ideological grounding for the colonial enterprise.”

“Cornel West, for instance, has underscored the contradiction between postmodernity’s “demystification of European cultural predominance” and the fact that “ironically, most First World reflections on ‘postmodernism’ remain rather parochial and provincial — that is, narrowly Eurocentric.” — González, Metamodern Aliens in Postmodern Jerusalem (1996)

From the perspective of the Third World (in ’90s vernacular) and minorities in the developed world, postmodernism does not live up to its claim to a revolutionary paradigm; rather, it is transitional, provisional, still limited and exclusive. This is an insightful criticism that speaks to a gaping hole not just in postmodernism, but being reproduced in Dutch metamodernism today; the lack of a truly subversive and radically emancipatory agenda; one that can parse the shortfalls of both modernism and postmodernism, into a global ethos and praxis. Cornel West is a tacit metamodernist here, but the discourse suffer without unity and solidarity around the new named paradigm.

Given the critique of modernity and postmodernity, the colonial subject is drawn to both for emancipation. The modern values of liberty and equality still appeal to those denied such basic rights. But it is also a trap, as it leads to postmodernity, another sort of trap. Moreover, for whatever postmodernity offers, “marginalized people have been practicing [it] all along — and been dubbed “backward” for it.” González cites Linda Hutcheon’s description of inclusive ‘both/and’ thinking, paradox, and irony as core features of postmodernism, which oppressed subjects already knew. Nevertheless, for that we must thank our postmodern interlocutors for bravely declaring modernity over, he argues, but;

“At the same time, however, a hermeneutic of suspicion leads us to wonder what hidden agendas lie behind the postmodern critique of modernity. And as soon as we pose this question the suspicion arises that postmodernity may function as a way to keep power in the same — or similar — hands that have held it throughout modernity.” — González, Metamodern Aliens in Postmodern Jerusalem (1996)

González rejoices with postmodernists critical excavations of the contradictions of modernity, and “[y]et the centers of power remain the same and stubbornly cling to their power.” And this strikes to the heart of my own metamodernism and critique; the fact that substantively nothing has changed since becoming aware of the meta-crisis in the 1970s. The centers of power create a new metanarrative of no metanarrative at all, or merely reboot old ones as they see fit. “In such a world, no new metanarrative will have the power to change the status-quo,” and so the modern structures remain.

Postmodernism has not fulfilled it’s destiny — or rather its destiny was to reach diminishing returns and metamorphose into metamodernism. Metamodernism is to become actionable, to become the systems change that is inevitable. The world has progressed in piecemeal, incrementalist, fashion. But this process has also been slowly killing us, as it fails to address the many root causes. This is where Hispanics part company with postmodernity, González writes, for, as victims of modernity, they already held a kind of communitarianism that was beyond modernity. The position imposed on them compelled a reading of religion that was both sincere and ironic. They maintained faith in the face of its supposed irrationality; they beheld a kind of new sincerity, if you will, way before it was cool.

“Furthermore, to the degree that postmodernity is the rediscovery of the radical, irreducible otherness of the other, it can be argued, as David Tracy does, that postmodernity may lead the path away from “religion” as a general abstraction and back toward a theology that takes seriously the otherness of revelation and recovers the prophetic core of the Judeo-Christian tradition.” — González, Metamodern Aliens in Postmodern Jerusalem (1996)

Thus, postmodernism is not a dead-end, but rather a path through to the next paradigm. Secularism leads to post-secularism, which is a re-integration of spirituality with the rational, while we should avoid relapses into fundamentalism. This last quote seems to anticipate both Jordan Peterson’s borderline paleoconservative quest to affirm Judeo-Christian values across the world, as well as abstract theologies (such as Syntheism) that strive re-establish the direct connection with the divine all the same. However, a distinction can be made that Syntheism is more a chemical liberation theology (psychedelic aided), whereas González is advocating a political liberation theology (via faith). As for Peterson, I would argue (and have), his revealed truth is profoundly tainted with anti-intellectual dogma, amounting to little more than an affirmation of modernity. His mysticism is only refreshing to those who aren’t aware it’s already been done, and better than his stale repackaging.

“Metamodernity”

“It is for these reasons that, when referring to those whom modernity mar- ginalized, I prefer the term “metamodern” rather than “postmodern.” This is not just a matter of substituting a Greek for a Latin prefix. Although the two do coincide in many of their meanings, “meta” also has the connotation of “beyond,” and it is in that sense that I employ it here.” — González, Metamodern Aliens in Postmodern Jerusalem (1996)

González reminds us that Hispanics/ latinos in the US and abroad were colonial subjects, objects of modernization, whose metanarratives were suppressed and destroyed in the name of progress. That is why they already possess postmodern instincts and go beyond them. In this sense also and of liberation theology, Martin Luther King Jr. is an examplar of metamodernism. In a contemporary sense, but with an equally tacit but perhaps less explicit liberation theology, AOC is an embodied actor of Gonzálean metamodernism, as a young female minority leader of a new progressive coalition. Pragmatic idealism is back with a playful vengeance, it would seem.

“We are those who must still believe in the metanarrative that justice shall prevail and the crooked will be made straight.” — González, Metamodern Aliens in Postmodern Jerusalem (1996)

This is why González is so relevant now, and why it strengthens our reading of metamodernism. Metamodernism is not just what a handful of white millennial yuppies in Europe say it is, no offence, especially when we weren’t even aware of Borgmann and González that came before them. It is necessarily a much grander project, one that González distilled the presence of, always poking through, but finally saw coming of age in the twilight of neoimperialism.

What I mean by “metamodern” is similar to what Stephen Slemon means by “post-colonial” when he writes that “post-modernist theory and post-colonial criticism have remained more or less separate in their strategies and their foundational assumptions.”… Thus, while a postmodern approach would discount the authority of all texts and all metanarratives, a metamodern or “post-colonial” approach would insist on the authority of certain texts that serve to pry open the structures of power created by modernity and allowed to continue standing unchallenged by postmodernity.” — González, Metamodern Aliens in Postmodern Jerusalem (1996)

Though I would counter here simply to say the structures of modernity weren’t left “unchallenged,” but rather postmodernity was neutered by neoliberalism and capitalist realism. We have to keep that in the mind in the current culture war, where hating on postmodernism is so normalized and fashionable. Postmodernity doesn’t simply stand idly by, but rather exhausts its deconstructive powers on critique, which is then co-opted and restrained by the capitalist order. Metamodernism is a way to go beyond that.

González argues that the Hispanic reading of the Bible retains more mystery and hope of the open-ended activity of “God.” This includes a less deterministic and yet more teleological view of time as well; one that invites us to participate in changing it:

“In the mechanist modern worldviews, the past controls both the present and the future; in the metamodern worldview, the future pulls the present toward itself… If the future is in control, life must be constantly open to surprise, to astonishment, to real and radical revolution.” — González, Metamodern Aliens in Postmodern Jerusalem (1996)

In this sense, his metamodernism also has a novel historicity that seems to parallel the Dutch school’s ‘multi-tensed’ version. The Hispanic reading of the Bible, one of “abiding astonishment,” referring to Buber’s phrase, means “a reading that seeks to empower those whom modernity disempowers and that therefore instinctively sees the weaknesses in modernity itself.” For Walter Breuggemann, this can lead to a “sociology of wonder” that occurs not in technocrats and rationalists, but rather;

“…in the midst of oral expression, in simpler social units, among those who yearn for and receive miracle, who live by gift since they have little else by which to live, and who are sustained only by slippage (mystery) and gaps in the dominant system of power.” — Brueggemann (1991) in González, Metamodern Aliens in Postmodern Jerusalem (1996)

“We can read with such “abiding astonishment” precisely because we are “aliens in the promised land”; because modernity excludes us; because postmodernity trivializes our struggles and our hopes, because we are metamodern aliens even in postmodern Jerusalem.” —González, Metamodern Aliens in Postmodern Jerusalem (1996)

Not to undercut this metamodern reading but rather to add to it, this seems very akin to a gnostic reading, reading between the lines, extracting the mystical truth. This is something anyone can access, in theory, so it is not exclusively Hispanic, but should have the same emancipatory ends. González adds that “we are well aware of the geographical and cultural distances that stand between us and the original writers and readers.”

Metamodernity allows us both to claim our identity and to identify with those who in the past were surprised by God — just as we expect to be!” — González, Metamodern Aliens in Postmodern Jerusalem (1996)

Where Are We Now?

On The Michael Brooks Show #81, he speaks with Joshua Khan, executive director of the Wildfire Project, about strategies for organizing. In this clip, Brooks and Joshua Kahn ‘thread the spiritual and material’ to avoid the false promises of new ageism and orthodox religion. Magical thinking can be toxic, but there are powerful experiences to be gained through meditation, psychedelics, “or even spirituality that’s anchored in movements like Liberation Theology.” Michael cites Gramsci’s powerful letters from prison, urging his son (and all of us) about the importance of studying history and expanding care to all people. This type of “overriding empathy” is grounded by the minority of people who take religious devotion seriously, but in activism, not the mainstream regressive ways religion goes awry. Michael asks, “is the bridge to these indigenous understandings?”

Kahn gives two answers:

Track 1: “Movements can’t win if you don’t have a north star…movements historically that are the most successful are rooted in communities that are able to draw on a deeper longer arc and trajectory of resilience… [maybe that’s] liberation theology.” — Joshua Kahn (04:10)

Track 2: “…religious institutions are social block. Y’know, Dr. King wasn’t a great leader just because he gave a great speech. He organized the black church and engaged institutions and were able to mobilize the congregations of those institutions so that they built a sense of identity and saying, in that case, I am a Christian, therefore, I am a fighter for civil rights.” — Joshua Kahn (04:45)

This is liberation theology in practice. For me it strikes at the hypocrisy of organized religion that can’t fulfill its simple self-identification with the divine; it is phony lip-service and gate-keeping to God, that far-right Christian fundamentalist politics actually represent the opposite of compassion; they are anti-Christian. Brooks and Kahn go on to unpack what it means to ‘sit with contradiction’ and to ‘surrender in order to find agency’ — things that are hard to do with just ideology. They say deeper substance is needed;

“and it’s also necessary for building an actual healthy emotional culture, because theoretically if we’re trying to generate a prototype of what we want the world to look like, I mean, I certainly don’t want the world to look like left-wing Twitter…” — Michael Brooks (6:41)

Later in the episode, in this clip, a caller phoned in just to thank them for talking about liberation theology and ‘right relationship’, requesting that they make more content addressing the importance of emotional intelligence in movement work.

The caller asks for resources for engaging in dialogue, for being emotionally intelligent, relating online and face to face, “almost like the lifestyle stuff that you see folks in the [Intellectual] Dark Web] just talking about in a really horrible way, but from a leftist perspective.” Brooks interjects: “Right. I don’t want them to own that space [of meaning and relating].”

Joshua Kahn then suggests George Lakey, another leading figure related to our problematique. In George Lakey speaks about “How We Win” (part 1/2). He explains how he was a part of the civil rights movement in the 60s and is calling for (and predicting) the same now; calling for a “movement of movements.” He refers to the Nordic model of socialism a lot (and wrote another book called Viking Economics) so it dovetails with Nordic metamodernism in this sense, but also that of González. Lakey says societies go through transformations at peak polarization, and could go either way so we must be careful but bold. He calls for direct action, but very targeted at elites (not like blocking bridges in downtown London). He says the “conflict resolution” field needs to play a crucial role in transitions, which for me recalls the need for what Schmachtenberger calls omni-win dynamics.

In these ways liberation theology connects the contemporary new left movements with the metamodernism of González. It gives us a broader purpose and stronger faith in our activism. It prepares us for the imminent (and immanent) systems change that is upon us, that we are making happen.

Conclusion

Gonzálean metamodernism opens another door of possibility for our burgeoning discourse and movement. For González, the metamodern disposition is as if to say ‘yeah, no shit’ to the presumptuous innovations of modernity and postmodernity — ‘we already knew that before you colonized us.’ Liberation theology is a topic and emancipatory force that speaks to the needs of the present moment on pressing matters of faith and of justice. It addresses the hemorrhaging wounds of neoliberalism and neocolonialism, and enables greater organizing of activist movements. It is the spiritual salve and intellectual toolkit we need to get us through the current crisis bottleneck. Between the scarce papertrail left by Borgmann and González, there is a vast horizon of metamodernism hitherto unexplored, and an alternate history unrealized. Now is the time, to use metamodern historicity to change the past, so that we may save our future.

→ Read Part 1: Missing Metamodernism
→ Read Part 2: Borgmannian Metamodernism
→ Read Part 4: Black Metamodernism


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The Abs-Tract Organization

A Metamodern Think Tank for Global Civil Society and Absolute Social Philosophy, based on new insights in "abstraction."

Brent Cooper

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Political sociologist by training, mystic by nature, rebel by choice. Executive Director of The Abs-Tract Organization. #pointbeing #abstract

The Abs-Tract Organization

A Metamodern Think Tank for Global Civil Society and Absolute Social Philosophy, based on new insights in "abstraction."