Postmodern Generation #1

I am leaving on Thursday for a ten-day trip to Myanmar to do some teaching at a sister school there. I have been to Myanmar twice before, but it has been nearly ten years since by last visit. This has caused me to wonder what it will be like. My impression of Myanmar is frozen in time, and it has surely progressed. For example, its technology will be better, and I will likely be surprised. Also, the diplomatic relationships between the USA and Myanmar have improved considerably, so I am interested to see how that is manifested to everyday guys like me who are making a visit.

All that is to say that I have also been pondering parallel changes here in America. Ten years ago, everyone was saying that we were entering the postmodern world, but no one really knew what that was or what it would be like in the future. I wrote an article on “Postmodern Ethics” about seven years ago and tried to lay out the contours of postmodernity as I saw them at the time. I was right on some things, but not on others.

In 2012, the postmodern world is still struggling against the ghosts of the modern agenda and modernity’s ways of thinking. Yet the college students of today know nothing except a postmodern world. This country’s 18-year-olds don’t really even remember the Clinton presidency, which was certainly a transitional time in politics, and included many shifts toward a postmodern outlook. They live on the far side of that.

I have been struck by some of the aspects of this in the current presidential campaign, and I am trying to understand this from an college student’s perspective. (BTW: I do not intend to use this blog for political agendas, so I will keep my comments non-partisan). I have been struck several times the past few months about the comment that “Candidate So-n-So” is the “smartest man in the room.” I have heard this multiple times, used to describe several persons from various political viewpoints. But what does this mean? What does it mean to be the “smartest person in the room?”

There is an old joke about five people who were on a plane flight together. They were the pilot, the President of the United States, the Smartest Man in the World, an elderly woman, and a college student. In mid-flight, the pilot opened the door of the cockpit and said with terror in his voice, “The plane is going down, so put on a parachute and jump! I’ll show you how.” The pilot grabbed a parachute from the pile, strapped it on, opened the plane’s door, and took the leap. After his departure, the four people left were startled to notice there were only three parachutes left in the pile. The President immediately grabbed one, and, claiming that the free world needed him, he jumped. Then the Smartest Man in the World gave a little speech to the old woman and the college student, saying, “There are other smart people, but no one in the world is as smart as I am. The world needs me as much as the President, so I must take one of these parachutes and save myself.” So he jumped, too. This left the college student and the old woman apparently needing to choose between themselves for the last parachute. But, before the woman could say anything, the college student gave her a mischievous smile and said, “Don’t worry, ma’am, there are two parachutes left. The Smartest Man in the World just jumped with my backpack strapped on.”

How does this apply to postmodernity and being the smartest man in the room? Check back in a day or two and I will explain.

Mark Krause

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