Surviving Metamodernism, Part II

Identifying the meta-metanarrative.

In the weeks since writing Part I of Surviving Metamodernism, the world has changed. Like many Americans, I was first ambivalent about Donald J. Trump's second impeachment and then riveted by the House impeachment managers' performance. The slick presentations, supercut videos, and tweet-sized recriminations led the media to praise Rep. Jamie Raskin and the House team's performance as much as the factual basis for their respective arguments. 

Instead of following up my previous post with another weekly as promised, I took some time to digest and meditate on the trial's implications for this post. Are the people around DJT still the most influential purveyors of metamodern communications? Clearly, yes, even when taking into account his team’s jaw-droppingly bad lawyering. Even with the imbalance of competency and production value, and the overwhelming evidence on the impeachment managers' side, the outcome was preordained. However, nothing in the last four weeks requires us to update what I intend to illustrate below.

Identifying the Meta-metanarrative

Metamodern communication characteristically relies on a multi-layered narrative. Because of this, it’s often challenging to identify the meta-metanarrative. Adding to the complexity, it may be the case that one narrative is supported or undermined by multiple meta-narratives or meta-metanarratives. Complexity is characteristic of metamodernity. That’s why it feels so destabilizing and will continue to do so until we develop the intellectual faculties to identify and deconstruct them in realtime.

In the example below, I attempt to use you-know-whose metamodern narrative to help us identify the components. You should be able to do this with any narrative. You don't have to agree with the statements below to benefit from the simplicity of the example and recognize the validity of the structure. I realize these statements may be polarizing, but that makes them all the more apt as an example. So, if I’ve done this right, you should understand the components, even if you can’t explain why. Here goes.

  • Narrative: Donald Trump is a crook, a cheat, a demagogue.

  • Metanarrative: The media has always hated me (Donald Trump) and is fake, so you can't trust them.

  • Meta-metanarrative: Our society elevates those that succeed financially even when done so in an amoral or unjust manner. 

For clarity, we can turn to Seth Abramson:

“We sometimes treat as heroes those who cheat on their taxes or find ways around government regulation to make money… So while Donald Trump may be hurting on the narrative, the metanarrative has already been constructed by him and he lives in a country that has a meta-metanarrative about trying to make as much money as possible no matter how you do it, that benefits him too.“ - Seth Abramson, Proof

The example above illustrates the imperviousness of the metanarrative to the narrative because of the meta-metanarrative. It doesn't matter how many "facts" mainstream media uncovers if a recipient doesn’t trust the mainstream media, and by the way, who cares if what they are saying is true? You've got to do what you've got to do to make money. He's successful. He has more money than me, so he must be doing something right. 

A Template

Credibility isn't credible because the people who say you're credible aren't credible, and by the way, where has all your credibility gotten us anyway?

Besides the basic structure of a metamodern narrative (narrative, metanarrative, meta-metanarrative), we can take away three other learnings from the preceding concept. 

  1. Metamodern narratives can be used to justify anything.

  2. Metamodern narratives are unique to each society, culture, and value system.

  3. Metamodern narratives do not require objective truth as a prerequisite for wide adoption or dissemination.

More Examples 

For more fun, replace the first instance of the word credibility in the above equation with anything you like. The outcome is the same. 

Doctors aren't credible because the people who say they’re credible aren't credible, and by the way, where has all this credibility gotten us anyway?

Pastors aren't credible because the people who say they’re credible aren't credible, and by the way, where has all this credibility gotten us anyway?

Foreign policy isn't credible...

Vaccines aren't credible...

Democracy isn't credible...

Metamodernism Acts as an Accelerant for Grievance Politics

As you can see by my choice of examples, Metamodernism is uniquely susceptible to the machinations of grievance politics. This is partly due to the deconstructive nature of the preceding epoch, postmodernism, but more so due to the choose your own adventure-ism of the structured metamodern narrative. Because of the unique multi-layered characteristic of metamodern communication, what is left unsaid is as important as what is said. The recipient of the narrative must be allowed to fill that blank with their grievance.


"What has all of your credibility gotten us anyway?" 


I can't find a job.

My life doesn’t feel stable even though I'm working three jobs.

Everything feels stagnant like me. 

The world is full of famine and disease.

My debts are insurmountable.

I’ve lost my home.

It’s hard to find love.

It’s hard to find meaning in my life or my work.

I make lots of money, but I'm still depressed.

I can’t find a daycare.

I’m worried about my kids.

Defeating a Meta-metanarrative

It’s not currently clear how we defeat a metanarrative. It seems likely that a requirement of any solution will be its ability to defeat (solve for?) the foundational layer in the narrative. In the template, the foundational layer is represented by the fragment: Where has credibility gotten us anyway? 

In the examples above, you’ll recognize the foundational layer as a token populist concept that undermines the credibility of elites by pointing out that liberalism has left too many people behind.

The challenge inherent in defeating a metamodern narrative is that once the meta-metanarrative has taken hold, it can be challenging to dislodge. The meta-metanarrative’s seeds may have been sown over a generation and molded for a decade or more.

One solution proposed by Lene Rachel Andersen, who you’ll remember from my previous note, sounds unconvincing, if not outright defeatist.

"Since the increase in complexity in the world around us is exponential, and exponential developments, particularly several exponential developments simultaneously, make it impossible to make concrete predictions about the future, we need to be able to stand firm and confident in the whirlwind of unpredictability... As the world goes exponentially fast up the ladder of complexity, we need to have an inner moral compass that can keep us safe." - Lene Rachel Andersen in Metamodernity: Meaning and Hope in a Complex World.

Let morality guide us?

Morality is subjective.

Solving the metamodern problem. Next time.