Fighting Change Philosophically: Postman’s Loving Resistance Fighter

Since closing my martial arts academy, I’ve found various ways to stay on the mat, including visiting other gyms and helping coach my daughter’s middle school wrestling team. It’s been a bit of a change of pace from teaching several nights a week, but I have enjoyed the different atmospheres.

I’ve also pondered my title, the philosophical fighter, in light of the recent changes in my life. I am still largely philosophical, and I still train on occasion. But has my identity changed, and if so, how?

You may have noticed a thread running across my work that illustrates not just a martial artist or philosopher, but a culture critic as well. That influence is directly tied to Neil Postman, the teacher and writer with which I most closely align in philosophy. His work inspired much of my recent scholarship and several of my posts.

Postman saw himself as a culture critic and helped create the field of Media Ecology, along with such scholars as Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, and Lance Strate. He condemned what modern technology and media were doing to our humanity and advocated for better education to help people overcome the impact of modern media on their lives. Postman argued that we need to be loving resistance fighters, a term that I both embrace and see aligned with my notion of a philosophical fighter. My point here is to describe Postman’s loving resistance fighter and what it takes to become one.

Postman wrote in his book, Technopoly, “Anyone who practices the art of cultural criticism must endure being asked, What is the solution to the problems you describe?” You can’t just criticize without offering solutions. That would be complaining.

Tenacious Hope

In light of the need for solutions, Postman’s loving resistance fighter embraces a tenacious hope despite the “confusion, errors, and stupidities you see around you.” By tenacious hope, I mean a will to overcome while also acknowledging the limits a person has to work within. Tenacious hope is not blind optimism but its opposite. I borrow the term from the work of Ronald Arnett, who saw it as a means of making things happen instead of just hoping they will. Think of Viktor Frankl, who survived the Nazi concentration camps, or the philosophical fighter pilot, William James Stockdale, who survived several years in a Vietnam POW camp. Both have written about how the optimists were some of the first to die in the camps because they hoped things would get better without trying to live within their limits. Part of being a resistance fighter is surviving the battle and being obstinate in the face of adversity.

Techno-Skepticism

Second, a loving resistance fighter “understands that technology must never be accepted as part of the natural order of things, that every technology… carries with it a program, an agenda, and a philosophy that may or may not be life-enhancing and that therefore require scrutiny, criticism, and control.”

Modern media and technology’s power over us often goes unnoticed because we believe they bring mostly positive benefits. Postman argued that all technological change is a Faustian bargain with both positive and negative effects. The positives are often immediate, pleasureful, and amusing. But while taking time to manifest, the negatives have dire consequences for our humanity and culture. Thus, a loving resistance fighter would be a techno-skeptic and resist the willingness of many today to adopt new technology without regard for the consequences.

Historical Orientation

Third, a loving resistance fighter would read and study history, for as Cicero put it, “to remain ignorant of things that happened before you were born is to remain a child.” In Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, many humans and animals forgot their history and later assumed that things were the way they had always been. Postman saw every discipline taught in schools as a form of history. If students don’t learn about the founders, the pioneers, and the thinkers in their various disciplines, they may end up asking the same questions that have already been asked. Or worse still, they may believe that the current knowledge is the “truth” and not the culmination of numerous shifts in beliefs and commonly held ideas. Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is an excellent example of this phenomenon.

Crap Detection

Fourth, a loving resistance fighter would have a healthy, working crap detector. This means not accepting statements, publications, propaganda, advertisements, etc., at face value. It means building in hesitation and skepticism. By pausing to question not only what you hear or see, but also your perceptions and thoughts about what you see or hear, you can see that so much of our modern world is smoke and mirrors, what Daniel Boorstin called pseudo-events. Online environments and social media platforms are nothing more than avatars and fake communities. The lives we portray on them are not real. A crap detector helps us see through the façade.

Humanism

A final element Postman believed a loving resistance fighter needed more than anything was love. There is no point in fighting for a cause if the point of it is to eradicate the other side instead of finding a way forward together. Accepting our differences and various cultures means finding a way to love and embrace alterity. Destroying the enemy is not the goal of loving resistance, for Pogo once said, “I have seen the enemy, and he is us.” We live on Spaceship Earth, and there are no passengers, only crew (thanks, Bucky Fuller and Marshall McLuhan, for the inspiration). We can resist while also tenaciously hoping for a future of unity.

A loving resistance fighter would be endowed with these traits to combat what Postman called the spirit of technology, which prioritizes efficiency, speed, and accuracy. The reason to fight these technological motives is because they are precisely anti-human. The interactions of humans are often muddy, hazy, and constantly changing. Human relations take time, effort, and intention to be effective. Technology dispenses with those items to be more efficient, faster, and with the least amount of resistance possible. Therein lies the need for Postman’s loving resistance fighter, a title I think pairs well with my identity as a philosophical fighter.

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