I have defined postmodernism as a particular perspective in which we never abandon the consciousness that life is an interpretational journey. A postmodern is someone whom, given his exposure to a multitude of world-views, has acquired this peculiar consciousness and hence takes a “softer” stance vis-à-vis his own beliefs. We postmoderns, as anybody else does, have beliefs, aspirations and have an use for the words "true" and "false". The only difference is that in thinking or speaking as such, we never abandon the consciousness that those beliefs, those aspirations and those truths are always susceptible to be changed, always. Why is it so? Why are we so “soft” in relation to our beliefs? As I have argued before, this consciousness is the historical result of living in multicultural, plural and democratic societies where we are constantly exposed via the media (television, internet, advertizing, political propaganda), via our globalized economic reality and via massive migratory movements to the infinite variety of individual appropriations of the human experience. It just happens that this is our framework, and so our minds react negatively to any enterprise that wants to fixate what things really are once and for all.
Now, given this understanding of the postmodern condition, it is not surprising that we postmoderns are constantly viewed as trapped within an inescapable relativism or some form of anarchy. This perception is a complete misunderstanding of the postmodern perspective itself. Let me begin with what the accusers have gotten right. It is correct that we postmoderns are against a conception of “truth” understood as the idea or verbal expression of what things really are. For the reasons I mentioned above, this whole idea of “truth” as fixation –-as grasping an ultimate reality– is shocking to our plural condition. In this sense, “truth” for us is not the name of those representations or propositions that get what things really are, because –-for a variety of reasons- this is a project we have abandoned.
On the contrary, what we postmoderns call “truth” are a series of beliefs that --given the rules of the game of each one’s world-view– satisfy the conditions we have established socially for something to be true. For something to be true, there’s got to be conditions for it to be true, and those conditions are always established socially within a shared vocabulary or way-of-life. Within those rules we have established, things are indeed true, there is no relativism or anarchy about it. What we postmoderns have realized is that the framework wherein something is or is not truth is always changing and adapting to produce systems of “truths” that will better equip us to cope with our always changing historical conditions. In this sense, we postmoderns are pragmatic, but not pragmatic about discrete instances of truth, pragmatic about the rules we establish as a society and that circumscribe the limits wherein something is or is not regarded as “true”.
The rules of the games we play in life codify what is and what is not regarded as “true”. Even in science, ---where we are supposed to let the facts speak for themselves- there are rules of what is and what is not accepted as a valid scientific argument and these rules have clearly changed across time and place. “Truth” is then contingent and dependant on our historical context but at the same time codified and verifiable within the particular boundaries of a specific world-view, language-game or shared vocabulary. This double nature of the postmodern experience of “truth” is what our critics fail to grasp. They think that once we open the door to contingency and history and deny “truth’s” absolute value, we become inescapable preys of relativism; how little faith they have in men’s ability to build sense and establish rules even if there is no other purpose in them than to guide and enhance our collective human experience. If there is no absolute truth –-they ask- what is the point of acting in such-and-such way? Well, the point is precisely that we need to stay alive (with or without absolute truth) and as such, we need to agree on the best plan to do so and lay down its rules.
This is precisely why we postmoderns are more worried about freedom and politics than about finding what things really are. We are convinced that the best way to come up with the finest plans to align our historical conditions with our human existence depend on opening up the conversation to as many participants as possible. If the rules of the game are to be established collectively, lets give the floor to as many participants as we can and let everyone participate in the social (and ever-going) construction of what passes for true. To quote the beautiful words of Richard Rorty: lets “take care of freedom and truth will take of itself”.
To me, Wikipedia is the living realization of Rorty's dictum and the paradigmatic example of the postmodern experience of “truth”. The more we expand and open the participation in the conversation, the better results we get in building our collective experience of “truth” and the better we become at dealing with shared preoccupations. Wikipedia is a dynamic organism that exposes how changes in historical conditions coupled with ample participation can give rise to new interpretations on what is and what is not regarded as true. The internet opens the doors to realize a fully dialogical community and “truth” exposes as never before its conversational, community-driven and adaptive nature.
The incredible value of Wikipedia is not its content; it’s the example it is setting regarding the conversational nature of “truth”, or in other words, its participation as an active breeder of the postmodern perspective. For us postmoderns, more importantly than finding what things really are is bringing about a society conscious of the changing and conversational nature of truth; only a society that frees itself from it’s own “truths” can really be called a free one, and to me, that society is yet to be realized.