Crossing the Postmodern Divide: 1981-1990
By the 1980s the United States had reached what philosopher Albert Borgman calls a "postmodern divide."1 Beliefs and behaviors of modern times yielded to new beliefs and behaviors. A framework calling attention to contrasts between modern and postmodern beliefs and behaviors, admittedly stated in extreme terms, helps us understand the changes.
In modern times, progress was an overriding goal. On the post- modern side of the divide, progress is not always seen as attainable or even desirable. Sometimes we pay too high a price for it, as when it destroys the environment. The belief that reason leads to the best solutions to problems has yielded to notions that decisions should be made in one's heart as well as in one's head. Where science was seen as the way to truth, other avenues became plausible. The certainties of modern times have been matched by a tolerance for ambiguities.
In postmodern times, the need for unilateral control by people "in charge" has diminished and relationships have become bilateral and multilateral. We see this in jobs as well as in relations between husbands and wives, parents and children, teachers and students. Appreciation for predictability has been joined by respect for randomness. In modern times, coherence was the ideal. In postmodern times, chaos came to be accepted as normal. Indeed, a book on management by Tom Peters published in 1987 bore the title Thriving on Chaos. In modern times, responsibilities and commitments were meant to be honored. In postmodern times--well, maybe, maybe not; whimsy and indifference have their place.