Summit Lecture Series: Ideas Have Context

Summit Lecture Series: Ideas Have Context July 15, 2021

Ideas Have Context

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John Stonestreet: We’ve been taught to kind of take and pick and choose and break this stuff apart. By the way being calm, it doesn’t come from the scripture, it comes from guys like Derrida. Derrida has taught an entire culture how to read and it’s kind of pulled us out of being able to find any sort of meaning or anything like that. Okay. So that’s what we mean when we say we have to understand postmodernism as a worldview. But we also need to understand postmodernism as something else. Remember I said … fill in the blank … ideas have what? Consequences and… What else? Victims. What? Victims Victims, good. What else? Definitions. Definitions. What else? Histories. Histories. Yep. And what else? Let me give you another one. Ready? Ideas have contexts. There are some contexts, there are some cultural context in which certain ideas have an awful lot of power, have an awful lot of influence, right? Postmodernism is one of those cultural ideas. So we need to understand postmodernism, not just as a worldview, but also as a cultural mood. It is a kind of the mood our culture is in, just like people get moody, so do cultures. So let me illustrate this. There’s a lot of ways to talk about this, but we’ll start by just comparing the most popular, important television show of the 1980s. What’s the most popular, important television show in the 1980s? The Brady Bunch. The Brady Bunch. No, that was the fifties. Andy Griffin. I think that was the forties. I think that was like before there was TV. Andy Griffin, this is like, this is painful that you guys are saying this. MacGyver. MacGyver? I said popular. Seinfeld. What? Seinfeld. Seinfeld? Wrong decade. But thank you for not making it black and white. That 70s Show. That 70s Show? That was like last year. Yeah. What? Oh my gosh. You guys are killing me. Saved by the bell. Saved by the bell. I said important. Yeah. Thank you. The Cosby Show. How many guys have seen…? This was the number one show for almost every year of the entire decade, right? How many of you guys have watched at least one episode of The Cosby Show in your life. Okay. Good. All right now. Let’s compare that with the most… What’s the most popular… Friends was the most popular show of the 90s, but the most important show. What do I mean by this? It is because historians of television, because for some reason we have these, say that shows prior to the 90s, look like The Cosby Show and shows since the 90s look more like this show. Any guesses?Ideas Have Context Seinfeld. Seinfeld, otherwise known as the show about nothing. How many of you guys have seen at least one episode of Seinfeld. Okay. A bunch of sinners. Okay, great. Now, these are very different shows. What’s interesting is, that literally these were one decade apart. This one ended that one began. Okay. In fact, they are on the same network, very, very different shows. How were these two shows different? What do you think? The Cosby Show is about family. Seinfeld is about friends. Yeah. The Cosby Show is about family. Seinfeld is about friends. Let me take that just a little bit further. Cause that’s really, really important. In Cosby Show family, was it portrayed positively or negatively? Positively. Very well. In fact, it was the solution, right? There was a problem, it was going to get solved where? In the family. In Seinfeld family wasn’t the solution, family was most often the… What? You remember George’s dad? There was the problem and so there was a view of this. Now this is just one of three traditional social institutions. Family is one of them. What are the other two kind of big social institutions, home, church and state. Home, church and state, there is others but those are the three biggest. Whenever you saw anything related to home, church or state portrayed in The Cosby Show, it was always positive. When you saw a pastor, when you saw a police officer or a judge, something that identified with those institutions, it was treated positively. What about when you saw those three things or any of those three things in Seinfeld? Were they treated with respect or disrespect? Disrespect. All right. Here’s the next one? Ready? Number three. Traditional institutions are broken. Traditional institutions are broken. One thing you might say is they can’t be trusted. Of course, there’s a reason to think this because right around this time, the divorce rate is skyrocketing. Government goes through scandals. I mean, there is all kind of things that have happened in the last several decades that make us think that these traditional institutions upon which we thought we could rely no longer are things that we can trust. Right. So we always have to be questioning authority, questioning authority, questioning authority, and that’s where it comes from. Okay. What else? The Cosby Show and Seinfeld. What other differences do you see? Come on. Really? Yeah. The other was family-friendly and the other was definitely not. Yeah. Okay. That’s kind of what we just talked about. Almost family-friendly one treated it well, one was not. Yeah. What else? The Cosby Show taught us morals. There was clear moral lines in Cosby Show, right? Yeah. I mean, there was right and wrong. And if you broke the rules, you got punished and that sort of stuff. Were there a clear lines of right and wrong in Seinfeld? [inaudible 00:05:30] You never saw it? Aren’t you spiritual? So the question is… How many of you guys saw an episode of Seinfeld? What was… He’s like “Yeah that was”. We need to separate you two. So, what was right and wrong in Seinfeld? What ended up being right and wrong in Seinfeld? Cause this is by the way is another quote and another characteristic? I think it’s mostly about loyalty. [inaudible 00:05:53] So it has something to do with communities. It wasn’t just personal, but it was like… You know? Yeah? But then like, right or wrong, they were always like sleeping with other people and everything and… Stealing the rye bread from old ladies. That was pretty funny. They always argue. They did argue back and forth. Did they ever land on a clear moral principle? Never. Never. Okay. So here it is, and this is actually a quote from a post-modern thinker named Richard Rorty, R O R T Y. Here’s what he said “Right and wrong, is whatever I get away with.” In other words, whatever my culture lets me get away with, whatever my tribe lets me get away with, whatever my community lets me get away with. Right and wrong is whatever I get away with. Now, obviously that’s not a form of moral absolutism. That’s a form of moral what? Relativism. Yep. Okay. What else? Difference between Seinfeld and Cosby Show? How many of you guys saw at least one episode of the Cosby show again. If you saw one episode, you’ve pretty much seen them all. I may not mean that, it was creative and it kept changing, but every episode was pretty much similar. Right. There was a crisis or a conflict like Theo cheated on a test or Rudy was hiding in a cupboard or something like that. Right. And then there was conflict in 30 minutes later, there was what, resolution, just like in your house where all the problems get fixed in 30 minutes. You know how it works. In other words, each episode, there was resolution to conflict. Did anything ever get resolved in Seinfeld? Was there conflict? Yes. Was there ever a resolution? No. Here’s the next one, number whatever we’re on because numbers are relative anyway. Okay. Resolution is an illusion. Resolution is an illusion. Now, along the lines with this resolution, we watch, if you watch The Cosby Show the whole series, like I grew up on this, I watched it. We grew up with these kids and we watched them grow up. We watched them get married and we watched them go to college. We watched them have babies. Usually all kind of in the right order of things. We watched them make progress. Who made progress in Seinfeld? I think they made regress. You know what I mean? Like I think, I don’t think they grew up. They kind of grew down. That’s the next thing and this is a very important one. If there is no big story, then also not only is resolution is an illusion, but progress is an illusion. This is very important in ways that are far more significant than an episode of Seinfeld because this really shapes kind of gut-level man on the street understanding of economics. Okay. Now here’s what I mean by this. There’s kind of two theories of economics. One is, is that there’s a fixed set of resources, right? And that fixed set of resources has to be shared and distributed evenly among the people in the population. The other is, is that there’s a fixed set of resources and people can bring in ingenuity and, and business models and so on. And that fixed set of resources can get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and more people can have more things right now, the idea of resolution being an illusion or progress being in illusion. You hear this kind of in this kind of common language. See if you can fill in the blank on this one. If somebody won that means somebody else must have what… lost. If the rich got richer, it’s because the poor got what, poor. That’s this idea it’s called, ready, it’s called a zero sum game. What we mean by a zero sum game is, basically, if somebody gets rich, if somebody gets wealthy, if somebody gets ahead, if somebody gets ahead, it’s because they push somebody else., what? Down. All right. This is a whole understanding of economics. That shapes, particularly by the way, Gen Xers like me and Millennials like you, that we think that there’s no solution that can actually lift all ships, that can actually make everything sort of better. Let me just ask you this, has abject poverty around the world. And let me tell you what I mean by abject poverty, abject poverty means you actually cannot access resources. You’re in danger of like dying. That’s not the same thing as poverty in the U.S. Poverty in the U.S. is mainly relative poverty. In other words, some poor people are poor as opposed to the rich, but most of them are rich compared to the poor around the world. Right? So the poor in America usually have air conditioning and flat screen TVs. Okay. Now, not always. I’m not saying that’s in all the cases, but in general, below the poverty line, you can still afford an awful lot of things that make you live better than royalty would have lived in other cultures at other times.

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