Hammers and Crowbars
Methinks the Tutor has mistaken a crowbar for a hammer. Deconstruction is not morally constructive. While advertised as a magnifying glass, I will freely admit it becomes more like a funhouse mirror when employed by some. However, by ripping apart a house that was already coming apart at every nail, it opens up the possibility of a more defensible postmodern ethics. That hammer is being carefully swung by people like Zigmunt Baumann. He cautions against considering the topic (postmodernity) as a resource for its own explanation: “to describe a prevalent behavior does not mean making a moral statement: the two procedures are as different in postmodern times as they used to be in pre-postmodern” (Postmodern Ethics 3).
Once the shaky foundation is exposed, only then can we begin to examine the nature of injustice. Baumann suggests, at least as I read him, that a world built upon the ideas of “pure evil” or “pure good” simply cannot be moral. Every moral choice is filled with aporia, not certainty. Accepting this is the first step towards becoming moral. Morality cannot be dictated, or legislated—it must be negotiated. And it must confront the possibility that man is neither inherently good nor evil. Man is inherently ambivalent to moral choice. Unlike the crowbar approach of de Man and the first wave of theorists, Bauman offers a hammer:
The humankind-wide moral unity is thinkable, if at all, not as the end-product of globalizing the domain of political powers with ethical pretensions, but as the utopian horizon of deconstructing the “without us the deluge” claims of nation-states, nations-in-search-of-the-state, traditional communities, and communities-in-search-of-a-tradition, tribes and neo-tribes, as well as their appointed spokesmen and prophets; as the remote (and, so be it, utopian) prospect of the emancipation of the autonomous moral self and vindication of its moral responsibility; as a prospect of the self facing up, without being tempted to escape, to the inherent and incurable ambivalence in which that responsibility casts it and which is already its fate, still waiting to be recast into its destiny. (15)
Some theorists and philosophers have argued that morality is an obsolete concept (both modern and postmodern). Some haven’t. The satiric reduction that places them all as a hammer with no anvil, ignores that though postmodernism is filled with tools of dubious utility, some of these tools may shore up a sagging moral foundation by ripping away the dead wood.