The stars of my RSS feed and podcast app have been quite agitated lately; most of the agitation has come from one source: Renegade Thaddeus Russell.

Thaddeus recently appeared on the Joe Rogan show and essentially claimed that no one is born “male” or “female”.  A quick glance at the YouTube comments for that episode will suffice to get a sense of the audience’s opinion of Thaddeus… it’s not pretty.

Come to think of it, I thought Thaddeus was pretty; pretty crazy that is.  How can the author of a remarkable book like the Renegade History of the United States argue that tables and chairs don’t really exist?   This was a big problem for me.  I respect Thaddeus’ intellect, but just like Joe Rogan and many thousands of other netizens, I just couldn’t understand, and therefore couldn’t respect, his perspective.  Not without a certain amount of irony, Thaddeus offers a label to identify the origin of his weird ideology: post-modernism.

Identity Politics

That caused even more cognitive dissonance in my brain.  Post-modernism!?  Isn’t that the philosophy of identity politics and social-justice warriors?  At that point, I’m totally confused and my head is starting to hurt.  That’s when Thaddeus drops another bomb: on the School Sucks podcast, he informs us that post-modernism is the most natural philosophical companion of Liberty.  I was floored.

I’ve been a liberty activist for nearly 20 years.  I know a lot of voluntaryists, anarchists, libertarians, abolitionists, and friends of various other denominations of Liberty.  There are many ways to define Liberty, but my favorite is inspired by Herber Spencer: “Liberty is the right to ignore the state”.   Sprinkle a little common sense from Lysander Spooner, and a bit of theory from Murray Rothbard and you can paint a pretty accurate profile of my politics.

What about Ayn Rand?  She is a very polarizing figure of the 20th century to be sure.  For me, Ayn Rand was an introduction to Individualism; the idea that individuals matter more than collectives.  Her Objectivist philosophy empowered me: the world is real (Realism) and it can be understood through reason.  With these tools in my mind, my journey along the road of Liberty was a very exciting one.  How can you reason against the philosophy of reason?  A=A.  Liberty made sense.

Thaddeus in Middle-Earth??

Enters Renegade Thaddeus Russell.

Thaddeus has been talking to Libertarians about post-modernism and not one of them seem to understand him.  I certainly didn’t; but I had to understand.  So I thought: “what else don’t I understand?” (Turns out to be a lot!) What other area of intellectual inquiry has caused seemingly irreconcilable differences of opinion among highly intelligent people?

In 1905, Albert Einstein wrote a paper that would become the basis for an entirely new way to understand our universe.  This was not his work on Relativity.  Relativity had yet to challenge the prevailing Classical (Newtonian) view of our world; yet Einstein had already planted the seed that was to challenge his own theory of Relativity and give rise to Quantum Mechanics.  Einstein himself would debate other physicists and struggle for the rest of his life with some of the irreconcilable differences between his own Relativistic and Quantum theories.

Among the irreconcilable and often seemingly impossible brain-twisters implied by Quantum Theory is one known as the “Uncertainty Principle“.  The Uncertainty Principle refers to our inability to know for certain the status of two complementary but different attributes of a particle.  For example, if you know the momentum of a particle (how fast it is traveling), you cannot know its precise position;  if instead you decide to measure its position, you cannot know with precision where it came from.  This weird phenomenon is built-in to the fabric of reality.  It is illogical to want to know both attributes at the same time.

So… A=A as long as I don’t know the value of B!?  Reality doesn’t seem to make as much sense as Ayn Rand.  Wait… That makes no sense at all!  Could Ayn Rand be wrong?

Objectivism doesn’t have to be wrong.   Classical, Relativistic, and Quantum theories are all very different interpretations of our universe, each providing valuable insights and tools to manipulate the reality around us.   These very real, very scientific, and very useful theories about how our universe works are also very incompatible with one another.  That’s why Einstein couldn’t make sense of it; “God doesn’t play dice” and all that.  Do you want to send a satellite in orbit? Classical dynamics is your friend.  Wanna take pictures of deep space? Pick up that Relativity book.  Super-conductivity will take you in the realms of Quantum Mechanics.

Why can’t we just all get along?

Objectivism and other forms of Realism look at reality as an external object to be studied and understood.  This is a powerfully liberating tool that allowed me to categorize and make sense of the world around me.  Objectivism, as a tool, that can be used to promote Liberty, just as much as it is also used to attack it.

Post-Modernism looks at reality as an internal manifestation; whatever may exist “out there”, our only means of awareness, understanding, and discourse about “it” can only ever truly be a dialogue about “its” reflection in our own minds.  Post-Modernism is a powerfully liberating tool that allows me to challenge the categories that others could impose on me.

It makes no sense to attempt to explain Post-Modernism with an Objectivist mindset, just like it makes no sense to attempt to explain Quantum Mechanics using a Classical framework.  Instead, we need to realize that these are different tools for different purposes.  Each theory has over-lapses and contradictions towards the other.  Each theory can be used and mis-used.

So… am I a man?

I was born with a penis and my breasts have never served any real purpose I can figure out.  The Objectivist in me is satisfied with this; I’ve learned (I was trained) and accepted to refer to myself as a “man” or “homme” (in french).  This is a useful category for certain things, but it remains just that: a category.  Further inquiry by Objectivists would require observation of the subject to determine other characteristics often shared by other people categorized as “man”.

The Post-Modernist separates (deconstructs?) these observations from the subject.  The Post-Modernist’s focus is on the mental representation of the subject.  One of the advantages of the post-modern mindset is that it allows us to question and break down the category “man”.  Do every “man” have a penis?  Is a man with breasts still a man?  If even one exception ever existed in the history of humanity, doesn’t that break the category entirely?  (just like a single exception to a “law” of physics would confirm that the “law” is inaccurate or incomplete).

Whether I chose to identify as a man is up to me (see Jake Desyllas’s The Voluntary Life podcast on “Imaginary Teams” for an excellent exploration of this statement).  Post-modern philosophy gives me that freedom.  I understand that others may objectify me and observe that I share many characteristics with other men.  That “objective” conclusion would be reasonable and, more often than not, accurate.  However, as long as the Objectivist in us understand that there will always be exceptions to every category, there is no reason to reject any of these two great ways to make sense of our experiences.  Knowledge is elastic; we never fully understand.

Einstein, with his great mind focused on Relativistic explanations of the universe, could not accept the contradictions required by Quantum interpretations.  None of these theories are complete.  None of these theories are perfect.  In our intellectual pursuits, we continue to hunt for a Grand Unified Theory of Everything.  In the meantime, until we find this perfect theory, I will celebrate the fact that Objectivism and Post-Modernism are both great complementary tools.  These mental tools provide us with perspectives that increase our understanding of the roots of tyranny.

Armed with both Realist and Post-Modern understanding of our universe, we can better promote the ideals of Peace, Love, and Liberty.