On Postmodernism

As suggested in a previous essay, the apex and perhaps the climax of social life is the partaking in what is known as “The Great Game.” After everything else has become hackneyed and redundant, one resorts to playing “The Great Game” because the adrenaline rush associated with all other thrills eventually wears off. As the Quran states, the life of this world is nothing but a game and a pastime. But even the meaning and essence of “The Great Game,” as with everything else, becomes a matter of deconstruction in the current epoch of human history, known as the postmodern era. Thus, the prevailing philosophy of this current epoch of history is known as “postmodernism.” To have an understanding of postmodernism – or poststructuralism – means having an understanding of the present social context in the world, which in turn sheds light on current events.

Postmodernism is also associated with what is known as the “cyborg era” due to the rise of the internet and technology. Focusing on politics and understanding how it is central to the creation of law and the promotion of ethics as Machiavelli did in the past leads to an exploration of the human mind, which in the Western tradition becomes the provenance of Freud. As a result of his personal experiences in dealing with the Western mind, Freud’s theory of the mind is one that is based on the theory of “original sin” that in turn manifests into a character based on secrecy, lies, fear, insecurity, hypersexuality, and aggression. Central to Freud’s theory of cognitive behavior were the conditions known as “infantile sexuality” and “The Oedipus Complex.” After a deconstruction of the Freudian mind and thus the meaning of what constitutes the life of man, one is left with assessing nothing but the instinctual drive for power.

However, since meaning equates to power in the postmodern era, one who is devoid of power by logic becomes devoid of meaning. As Epicurus said: “There is no law; there is only power.” But due to a postmodern context in which all meaning and essence is lost, it follows that all power is lost given that meaning equates to power. As the Quran states, all power belongs to God. Arguably, the meaning and essence that is lost is love. Cornel West argued that the crises facing humanity are the result of what he called a “love deficit.” Moreover, the anthropocentric basis of the predominant Western discourse known as liberalism is undermined, thus leading to the demise of classic liberal discourse. James Traub, an expert on liberalism, suggests that certain pivotal events such as the global financial crisis of 2008 in the postmodern era led to loss of faith in liberal discourse as a means for human progress: “Modern liberalism depended on the expectation of an ever-brighter future; the economic and psychological foundation of the faith had just crumbled.”

Liberalism still lingers on as a discourse and an ontological state in the international system, along with Populism, Marxism, and Religion. But with the demise of liberal discourse and an uptick in populist discourse that may put different societies on a war path against one another, the main alternatives to a liberal discourse in demise are socialism and religion. The postmodern era, as a result, equates to the biblical “latter days” espoused by the Christian faith. Postmodern thinkers, however, have largely espoused Marxism as a discourse given the fact that the political context is based on the war between what Odd Arne Westad called “the haves versus the have nots,” thus leading to the instability we see in societies like America. It has been stated that values shape the interests of a society, and interests in turn shape policy. But given that values and interests are now shaped by power in a postmodern environment, policy becomes one of global hegemony, and the objective becomes one of preserving power and prestige.

But due to the proliferation of information and knowledge through the internet and technology, there is now greater access to power for ordinary people, which in turn leads to the aforementioned diminution and fragmentation of power. Thus, politics largely becomes a futile enterprise, which in turn explains the brokenness of political systems everywhere. According to Yuval Noah Harari, power is now shifting from “natural selection” to “intelligent design,” which suggests that science and technology will completely transform the meaning of existence in the years to come. Yet, the thoughts, words, and actions of human beings in a postmodern environment are never original. All thoughts, words, and actions are a reconstruction and representation of past ideas, words, and actions. Even the “Trump Doctrine,” with its core tenets of deal-making, tax cuts, and deregulation, is largely a form of détente that previously played out before the end of the Cold War given the diminution of American power in the 21st century. Yet pundits and talking heads in the mainstream media consider the “Trump Doctrine” to be an aberration from the norm.

But as mentioned before, what is central to postmodernism once Derrida’s “deconstruction” is employed is nothing other than the drive for power. As Foucault said:

“I believe one’s point of reference should not be to the great model of language and signs, but to that of war and battle. The history which bears and determines us has the form of a war rather than that of language: relations of power, not relations of meaning. History has no ‘meaning,’ though this is not to say that it is absurd or incoherent.”

When reflecting on his past work, Foucault adds: “When I think back now, I ask myself what else it was that I was talking about, in Madness and Civilization or The Birth of the Clinic, but power?”

Due to the dire situation of power in the postmodern context, religion has decided to vest power into a messianic figure that arises in the postmodern era. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, this figure is known as “The Messiah.” The Hindu tradition calls this figure “Kalki.” In the Islamic tradition, this figure is recognized as “Al-Mahdi.” In the Islamic tradition, power has shifted from the Islamic institution known as the “Caliphate” (Khilafat) to what is known as the “Imamate” (Imamat).

The final caliphate in what appears to constitute the chronology of Islamic political history is the Ottoman Caliphate, which the British abolished in 1924. The first Caliphate in the chronology of Islamic political history is that of Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, which was established soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD. From the time of Abu Bakr As-Siddiq’s caliphate beginning in 632 AD until the fall of the final Islamic caliphate in 1924, there appears to have been a steady decline in the power of the caliphate since the beginning of the political activity of Ali Ibn Abi-Talib, who was both the cousin and the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. In fact, the Nahjul-Balagha, which appears to be the summation of Imam Ali’s public sermons and letters, was inspired mainly by Imam Ali’s reaction to the corruption that appears to have festered within the Islamic community during his lifetime.

The caliphate system of power ultimately collapsed due to the recurring failures of human governance as well as the natural phenomenon of Aristotelian generation and corruption. Thus, the only hope left for divinely inspired governance and leadership in the world comes from notions of Imamate, or Imamat, the culmination of which will occur with the appearance of Al-Mahdi, whom the Shi’a believe is the twelfth and final Imam (or leader) along the genealogy of the Prophet Muhammad and his closest male relative, Ali Ibn Abi-Talib. The fact that the Shi’a believe Imam Mahdi exists despite almost 1400 years since his supposed occultation is a testament to the importance of miracles in Islamic belief. The reason why the Mahdi exists is because miracles exist, according to Shi’a logic.

There are elements of the Sunni sect who believe that the Mahdi will be a man of Afghan origin who will emerge in the postmodern era. Based on the Sunni narrative, the Mahdi will introduce the “Zakat” system of charity to the Western world and as a result war and poverty will diminish significantly. According to the Shi’a scholar and mystic Abd-al Karim al-Jili, the Mahdi will be a cosmopolitan figure and someone with ample wealth who will address the issue of human corruption stemming from satanic influences. Even in the realist tradition of international relations, it is believed that anarchy and chaos will persist until there is a leader who addresses this systemic flaw and helps mitigate the anarchy and chaos that is prevalent in the international system.

The saving grace of the Islamic community stems from the fact that both the Sunni and Shi’a believe in the coming of a Mahdi, or savior, despite their differences over virtually all other issues. The issue of Al-Mahdi is also the most talked about issue between both the Sunni and Shi’a sects of Islam. According to Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr, in a book titled An Inquiry Concerning Al-Mahdi, there are over 6,000 narrations, or hadith, in relation to the issue of Al-Mahdi between the two sects. No other issue in the Islamic tradition commands that amount of discussion. Furthermore, Al-Sadr wrote that: “Mahdism is the most genuine and fundamental Islamic belief, which even a person with a limited knowledge of Islam will surely accept.”

Thus, the issue of Al-Mahdi and where it stands vis-à-vis the intellectual and political climate of the postmodern era is an issue that is largely lost in mainstream thought with the except of highly esoteric thought traditions in the world. Whether the concept of the Mahdi is based on fact or fiction is ultimately a matter of belief rather than conjecture. Nevertheless, the desire for a leader who can salvage a human existence predicated on love in a postmodern environment devoid of love and obsessed with power is quite profound at this particular moment in history. Whether “happiness is prophecy” in the words of Al-Farabi is something that will hopefully be verified by the trajectory of human history.

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