Leading into the Future VII: Constructivism and Postmodernism
The dualistic frames of both conservatives and liberals no longer hold up—the world is changing to a more constructive perspective. Many shifts in the basic values and perspectives of our society often are first conveyed either in the games and inventions of children or in the products of poets, philosophers and fools. In the case of the social construction of reality, the highly regarded American poet, Wallace Stevens wrote about the importance of social fictions many years ago:
The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction and that you believe in it willingly.
The social philosopher Ernest Becker wrote similarly of the fragile nature of man’s fictions—specifically regarding freedom:
Man’s freedom is a fabricated freedom and he pays a price for it. He must at all times defend the utter fragility of his delicately constituted fiction, deny its artificiality. . . . Man’s fictions are not superfluous creations that could be “put aside” so that the “more serious” business of life could continue.
The new, constructivist perspective has been accelerated by several other contemporary social scientists who have written about the social construction of reality—notably Berger and Luckmann —and by feminists who have written about unique ways in which many women and some men become knowledgeable about their world. The new constructivism has also been aided by the emergence of a critical perspective on absolute knowledge in the physical sciences, this culminating in the establishment of chaos and complexity theory.
One of the earliest and most articulate scientific spokesmen for this constructivist perspective was Michael Polanyi who wrote of the problem associated with the act of attending to and attending from any phenomenon. We can never attend to that from which we are attending. The base of our perception must always remain hidden from our perception. For instance, the traditional psychoanalyst would have us believe that each of us is likely to perceive people we are attracted to partially through the lenses of our past relationship with parenting figures. The analysts would suggest that we must attend back to our experiences, feelings and attitudes regarding our parents if we are to understand our current intimate relationships. Polanyi would suggest that this introspection might be of value, but he would note that we must attend to our parental relationships through yet another set of lenses. These lenses might have been crafted by the culture in which we live or perhaps even (as Jung suggested) by collectively held and unconscious archetypes. Then we must ask about the lenses we are using to attend to these cultural or archetypal phenomena.