I have become quite fond of a show on Netflix called The Repair Shop, which originally aired on the BBC in the UK. The Repair Shop exists on the property of the Weald and Downland Living Museum in West Sussex,i where a group of craftspeople have come together to fix treasured antiques of all sorts. The idea is to overcome the modern throw away culture. In any given episode someone might bring in an heirloom clock or a piece of furniture or a toy from their (or their parent’s) childhood that has seen better days. The artisans at The Repair Shop will then go about doing full, and frankly amazing, restorations of the thing. There is something beautiful about how lovingly these craftspeople bring these things back to life and how much joy it brings their owners to see their heirlooms restored.
I wonder sometimes what our culture will leave behind for our children and grand children. I cannot see my kids passing down our Ikea hutch to their kids. Our culture excels at creating things that we can throw away and hopefully recycle. Throwing things away is easy, especially when a newer, better version of the same thing is three clicks and one credit card transaction away.
In transitioning away from modernism, postmodern philosophers decided that what made modernism tick was no longer of value and as such decided to throw it away. In their defense there were a lot of underlying things about modernism that were wrong. There were a lot of people being held down by philosophies built on ideas that would prop up only a chosen few. Unfortunately in the process of cleaning up the bits of culture and philosophy that were rotten they chose to throw away the whole thing all at once.
In many ways I find the paths that postmodernist have chosen superior to their corresponding modernist paths. But I find it hard to swallow the choice to throw the baby out with the bathwater in the way that many postmodernist have. When I am interviewing new developers for positions at work I always ask a question that goes something like, “given a bug in a piece of legacy code, how do you choose whether to fix the bug or scrap the code and rewrite it from scratch?” I am looking for a thought process that is circumspect enough to see that scrapping that piece of code would have effects outside of itself and an ability to weigh out the pros and cons of that decision versus the time it would take to fix it. Unfortunately, I feel like a lot of postmodernism has chosen to simply scrap things without any consideration on the effects of the action.
I wonder if there is actually a happy middle between where the postmodern deconstructionist went and the Enlightenment ideals they are trying to deconstruct. Yes, there are groups who are oppressed or under represented because of the way the Enlightenment structured things. But not everything about the Enlightenment was terrible and in need of complete reconstruction. Could we find the place where, like the artisans of The Repair Shop, we deconstruct the bits that are rotten and replace them with new bits that are not rotten rather than throwing the whole thing out and starting over? The opposing sides would say no, but for the rest of us we have an opportunity to do that very thing. Will we choose to do the hard work of fixing the rotten bits or simply chuck it and start over?