Plural Realities

Plural Realities

Postmodernism and it’s impact on the fitness industry


Postmodernism is a philosophical school of thought and is notoriously hard to define. This is because the concept of postmodernism is applied to many different aspects of culture as well as being used to define an epoch in time. People affected by postmodernism usually have many different views and beliefs which make it a heuristic nightmare. Lecturer Daniel Palmer wrote, when asking a student to define what postmodernism meant; a student replied “it’s when you put everything in quotation marks.” I think this is simultaneously witty — and makes the point. Postmodernists believe words such as “truth” “facts” “reality” to be completely relative and without objectivity. Objective truth is a non starter in a postmodernist worldview which inevitably leads to an indulgence in cultural relativism. I am of the opinion that absolute truth is an illusion, however there is undoubtedly a hierarchical value system which can be placed on claims and we can be maximally certain about things.

Facts, for example, are at one end of the continuum in which we can be maximally certain, whilst at the other there is fabrication, of which we can be minimally certain. Truth — to the postmodernist — cannot be defined therefore there is no objective or moral system which is better than any other. Viewed through the lens of today’s culture postmodernism seems to disdain, more than anything else, hierarchical systems. Postmodernists see hierarchy as a power system which only erodes our culture and political systems. Of course, this translates perfectly to the notion of relative truth — all claims are on an equal playing field! A rejection of hierarchy is not only enervating but it also potentially poses some serious obstacles to how our society functions. You see, we cannot destroy hierarchical systems without too destroying value systems, as value systems are — by definition — hierarchies. We imbue everything we do with some sort of value ranking; this enables us to prioritize tasks, to favour one choice over anther, to distinguish between right and wrong, or to establish ethical certainty. To give you an example of how this school of thought goes beyond the pale ethically, we can look at the notion of cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is the notion held by many anthropologists, and inevitably postmodernists, which states that cultures can be viewed through their own lenses. This means that whether something is morally, ethically, or behaviourally right or wrong is dependent on the culture. For example, in extremist Islamic cultures woman are viewed as second class citizens and are subjugated by being poorly educated and by not being afforded the same rights as the males. A cultural relativist, and a postmodernist, would say that we cannot judge this as objectively wrong — that this is their culture. This notion, in my opinion, is morally reprehensible and I would invite the cultural relativist, if he really believes what he purports, to send his daughter off to one of these countries for a year foreign exchange; after all, there would be nothing wrong with the treatment she would receive during her visit. In fact, it may even be morally correct for the denizens to subjugate his daughter — on his own account.

Postmodernism and Fitness

So how does all this translate to the fitness industry and how the hell is it relevant to your progress and your gains. Well this school of thought, of course, spells disaster for methodological naturalism in which the scientific method is based. Science, being the main tool for which we get reliable knowledge in the fitness industry, is of course vital to the industry’s effective operation. Due to its focus on rigor, its commitment to the mitigation of human biases, and demonstrable effectiveness — we have placed science at the summit of the hierarchy of truth. Postmodernists seek to pull this hierarchy down so that all claims can share an equal space at the table. Now this is not pie in the sky rhetoric, with the global consumption of social media these ideas spread like intellectual contagions. This idea, in particular, is spreading at an astounding pace and we now have personalities such as David Wolfe and Gwyneth Paltrow, who are making health claims which require an esoteric knowledge, promulgating ideas which are being received by the public as if they have the same credibility as genuine, perspicacious, and evidence based experts. We have hard working, competent, and erudite people having their work discredited by people who believe, through a google search, that they — in fact — know better. Social media has acted like a force-multiplier for this ideology and one of the greatest impacts has been felt by the medical community with the anti-vaccination movement. With the inception of the vaccination we have, arguably, the greatest medical breakthrough in history which, is now being undermined by a large group of predominantly middle-class privileged mothers who have decided the entirety of the medical community are no better informed than anyone else. This movement has gained incredible traction and is a great example of how postmodernism can potentially threaten what is widely considered an immutable fact. The Netflix documentary The Magic Pill is an example of how we, in the fitness industry, could find ourselves exposed to the intellectual contagion. In the documentary the celebrity chef Pete Evans makes outlandish — and more importantly unsubstantiated — claims such as changing to the paleo diet can mitigate the symptoms of diseases such as Autism and cancer! Using arguments from authority, by having physicians bolster his claim, laypeople could easily find themselves fooled by his hyperbolic rhetoric. The President of the Australian Medical Association compared it to the documentary Vaxxed and said the two were competing “in the awards for the film least likely to contribute to public health.”

What can we do to protect ourselves against this?

Ultimately, it is down to you to understand the difference between a good source of information and a bad one. You need to understand why some sources are good and why some are bad. You need to be sceptical of all claims and educate yourself in methods of differentiating between good information and bad. Remember that we all have biases, which we need to correct for, that make us view information through a distorted lens. We know that we are more likely to accept information which agrees with our pre-existing notions — this is called confirmation bias. Good quality sources usually have tell tail signs such as regulatory bodies, policies, or procedures which ensure that the information given is true and are held to account when it is not. There are resources out there such as Snopes, factcheck, politifact, and fullfact which you can use to filter claims on the go however, some claims will require deeper research. All the information on the internet is not equal however it is being presented to you as if it were. So where ever you get your information — especially if it’s fits into your worldview — make sure it has been objectively substantiated. Do not allow yourself to become complicit in the propagation of misinformation.

Written By

Aidan Doherty

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