In October, we held a conference in London, speaking from the Gladstone Library in the National Liberal Club in order to Speak Truth to Social Justice. Among the speakers and panelists that day was Helen Pluckrose. Her objective in this talk was to explain what is meant by the term “Social Justice” by the movement that pushes most vocally for it in today’s society and to show how it is understood as a movement of radical identity politics, political correctness, and postmodern epistemology.
In her talk, she develops the definition of “Social Justice” as it is used in the academic literature in this tradition, explains its connections to identity politics and the political correctness movement, and then shows the relevance of the original postmodernists to this Theory in some detail. She does this to elegantly describe the progression of these ideas from Theory to activism to the streets by describing how these ideas originated, evolved, and were built upon by successive generations of Theorists leading up to those who have become famous names even outside of the scholarly world today: for examples, Peggy McIntosh, Barbara Applebaum, and Robin DiAngelo. She wraps up by explaining how this newest generation of Theorists simplified the highly abstract ideas of their predecessors and made it far clearer and easier to understand so that it could, as we now see all around us, eventually go mainstream.
Join her for an engaging talk on the intellectual history and development of what we now call Critical Social Justice.
The audio version of this presentation is available on Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher.
5:58-6:12: “Technology was advancing rapidly and a vibrant youth culture was forming. Ideologically, liberal activism in the form of the civil rights movement, feminism, and gay pride were in full flow as at the same time an angry and radical new left was mobilizing.”
I was there. In the middle of it. In Bloomington, Indiana, arguably the most radically left college town in the Midwest. And okay,it’s kind of true. A lot of it is. Of course, “gay pride” wouldn’t actually be called that for years or decades yet, but the biggest thing wrong with Helen’s depiction is that the anger of “radical new left” was really mostly just for show. It was mostly “performative”, as people say now. Vibrant as things truly were in many respects, we still were, in my strongly held opinion, total frauds when it came to putting our money where our mouths were.
It became clear as soon as Vietnam ended, the Beatles broke up and more and more people graduated, got jobs and moved into “real life”: we, The Counter-Culture, did in fact resolve to always keep our hair at least sort of long, continue to smoke pot, probably, and always, always, always vote only for Democrats. We’d put philodendrons on our desks and “change they system from within”, we told each other. But that’s about as far as it went.
It’s really no wonder Grace Slick finally blurted out disgustedly “Revolution?! *What* revolution?” I can’t source that with the search engines of my choice but I know I heard her say it.
Popular music – one of the leading indicators of our vibrancy – one which had for at least a decade become by any measure nothing short of mind-blowing in terms of quality, depth, diversity and originality, exuberantly dove like the fraternity boy in “Breaking Away” off a towering limestone cliff of “purely amazing” into an ennui-filled quarry of trite.
Pot went to over 30 freaking bucks a lid. National Lampoon quit being funny. Wilson Pickett did a disco album. Logic and proportion had fallen sloppy dead. It was over.
Fabulous thought-provoking and rather frightening content. At the very end, Helen makes reference to her talk that afternoon. I’ve searched high and low but cannot find audio, video or a transcript of that talk. Can some kind soul please help by pointing me to it?
In my search I looked at the venue’s own web site and found this banner appear on my screen after a few seconds: https://cloudup.com/c3E3qlm1edA I thought that might amuse someone.
I found Helen’s lecture to be incredibly boring – a collection of cliches.
It was also completely lacking in any kind of humor .
That having been said there is zero causal connection between any of the writings of the dreaded POMO writers that she refers to and the current obviously dreadful state of politics and culture, especially in the USA.
Meanwhile what is the principal culturally formative influence in todays world? And has been so for well over 60 years now.
TV of course.
Is anyone familiar with the song Little Boxes (made out of ticky-tacky, all the same) by Malvina Reynolds. Such was/is the inevitable outcome of TV brain washing.
Everybody “faithfully” tuned and anchored to the nightly 6 o’clock “news” , especially the advertisements.
Modern consumer “culture” is effectively a cargo cult. The big bright shiny shopping malls of this now everywhere cult. The advertising industry provides the “call to prayer” informing all of the faithful consumers of the newest and latest bright colorful cargo. Come and get your “communion” wafer, this is a limited once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – come and get it now.
But nobody ever mentions where all this bright-shiny stuff comes from. Or the relentless environmental destruction involved in creating it. Or the human blood-sweat-and-tears too. Or the mountains of throw “away” waste created by it.
There is of course no “away” because someone else has to deal with what is casually thrown away.
TV is first and foremost a very powerful form of collective brain-washing, of creating a collective trance state from which there is no escape. This was the theme of the superb movie The Trueman Show starring Jim Carrey.
It is TV that has very effectively done a long destructive march through every aspect of human culture – especially in the USA where TV and screen “culture” rules.
Probably the best analysis of the effect of both TV and now screen “culture” has been given by Nicholas Carr in his book The Shallows – check out his Rough Type website.
T S Eliot wrote his rightfully famous poem The Wasteland in the early 1920’s. One hundred years later the human cultural situation is much much worse by many degrees.
You mention there is zero causal connection between the pomo founders and the status of things today. I can’t verify or validate that claim but I don’t see exactly how it matters. Marx only wrote about socialism but didn’t actually ever create a socialist/communist society. Yet to understand what led to those societies, it’s useful to identify Marx’s writings as an important marker in history. To argue he never “caused” those societies seems like a non-sequitur. But maybe that’s exactly what you’re saying.
In a nutshell, postmodernism heralds an age of relativism in, not just philosophy, but media and academia. There is no ‘truth’ to discover; because truth only has meaning when it’s for all of us. But that would be the ‘truth’ of power-discourse! We’d be putting a hole in our own boat! It becomes the job of activists to make the new truths. To construct them. Easiest way to do that is to cancel everyone who disagrees with CSJT. CSJT is postmodernism’s true child because CSJT is relativism applied to politics.
Wait a minute, how can we construct new truths when we believe in no truths? The simple answer is: Foucault was wrong. The postmodernists are wrong. Truth is not the movement of power. It is part of a search for meaning. So the answer to my question is ‘they do it hypocritically’. One pretends truth is part of the language of power; but behave as if there are still truths. Language and discourse can have it no other way. Truth is really part of the movement of discourse towards understanding. The attempt to see truth as power is a power-play to stop honest discourse.
Foucault is wrong I agree Mark, a philosopher during the postmodern period (Baudrillard) wrote a book called Forget Foucault.
My point here is that we dislike the current situation because the status is to not accept open conversation And debate. Yes postmodernism has roots in the subjective nature of interpretation and perception and there are valid points to be had. If you are a believer in objective truth, you have to be able to interact with others that do not hold the same interpretation or perspective as you. I have yet to interact with someone who sincerely claimed all truth was relative, but there is a truth to this sentiment because truth may not be subjective or relative, but every different human has a vast array of interpretation and perception of what this truth is.
It is similar to a conservative dismissing socialism because Nazis claimed to be socialist or an atheist dismissing Christianity because people did things wrongly under the name of Christianity. I try to understand the spirit of a belief without dismissing the entire concept. It is very difficult for me to understand how someone could be Muslim because the belief seems to hold concepts that encourage violence in a way I disagree with. But I also, know of those that do not have that interpretation and they believe in peace. Now their belief could be based on their perception of objective reality and be entirely opposite of your personal conclusions, it it does not seem wise to dismiss their belief.
I don’t believe there is anyone out there claiming to be a postmodernist, but rather oddly influenced by philosophers during that time period in a 26th degree fashion. The real root of the problem is not postmodernism but something along the lines of “absence of love” or “behavior of hate”. You can shit on POmO all you want, my point is that it seems to be a similar behavior to SJW’s and other close minded individuals.
*my point is that shitting on Pomo is a similar behavior to those trying to shut down conversation.
This does not mean that I accept all beliefs as valid, although I do try to validate most sincere belief and come to an understanding. I don’t think a effective conversation is going to happen if you go to some white kid in the protest and tell him “YOUR ACTIONS ARE INFLUENCED BY A POSTMODERN PHILOSOPHY HEAVILY ORIENTED IN RELATIVIST PHILOSOPHY AND ARE WRONG!”
Analogy: Imagine how a liberal reacts to learning someone they know voted for Trump. This is what shitting on Pomo seems like to me.
*I can not edit and my last sentiment read incorrectly I feel. I meant to articulate that I respect this site and the people on it and believe they do intend to hear, respect and validate others beliefs even if it was not their own and to have a discussion on the disagreements. This is the reason for my post, that I do not understand certain points being made.
Helen is great! Always excited to see a talk/interview with her or an article by her.
I feel a few things were glossed over philosophically and a few assumptions were implied that I am curious about.
First: philosophically speaking, what does it mean to believe in objective reality? I may be wrong, but it seemed that an implication was made that postmodern is and was ineffective because it has a subjective ethos and that modernism was good because it believed in objective truth. As a young boy, I was arguing my parents that the Bible was not objective absolute truth and now I am disagreeing with intellectual circles about objective truth. Philosophy and narratives have been so twisted that I am upsetting everyone here. People keep rebelling against each other’s ideology but it is the same core structure they are using. Postpostmodernism may be claiming subjective/relativism but that is not what they are practicing. It seems odd to dismiss a philosophy because it is relativist and bolster your own because it is objective. There is no such thing as relativist morality, if you are personally using this term to describe your own philosophy it is a contradiction and if you are using it to describe another’s philosophy, it is a pejorative. There is no such thing as objective morality, if you are using this term to describe your own morality it is believing your ideas are the correct ones and that others are incorrect based upon a standard of your own personal design. This is a much larger philosophical conversation I agree and it brings me to my next point.
Why is Postmodernism used as a scapegoat? I am not a postmodernist myself (I thought postmodernism referred to a period of time where certain intellectual patterns occurred) and I am not a postmodern apologist. But from concepts I have read in the postmodern era (primarily Baudrillard) I felt the thought experiments were very needed and useful. Just as it was pointed out in the video, current PMer’s are not even practicing the core principals of the original PMer’s and it is something else. But instead of it being a hijacking, it is referred to as an “evolution”. That seems like a similar argument to say that the Crusades was an evolution of Jesus’s teachings or that eugenics in Nazi Germany was an evolution of science. Why is it not questioned, what the positive donations PM had to positive changes in society? Most often, the race and sex inequality were and are based on “objective truths” and PM may have had a hand in people questioning what it is they believe. I would not claim that PM should be the end of the road in trying to create a new more equal/fair system, but this tool used correctly will be needed.
Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Postmodernism does not bring about the destruction of reasonable conversation, people do. Is someone about to tell me what the objective absolute reality is? I do try to seek this, but I do not claim to have or know it myself. I would like to live in a world where we search for it together, but am skeptical when someone is trying to tell me that they have it. I am not claiming that the lecture intended to tell me absolute truth, but felt that it was odd that it dismissed (or appeared to) postmodernism for questioning this. And being that, it seems this site is based on the opposite ethos and that it is important and necessary to interact with, engage, entertain, and seek to listen to another’s point of view because we do not have the objective absolute truth, but we are all searching g together.
1. “Philosophically speaking, what does it mean to believe in objective reality?”
It means one believes that a representation of something can be honest and true. Obviously not always; but such representations are possible. In order to enable such true representations one needs rules of social interaction and debate. Remember that stuff? I’m talking: open debate, opposition to censorship, freedom of speech, the right to criticise bad ideas, honest debate (avoiding logical fallacies and dishonesty) …
2. “Postmodernism may be claiming subjective/relativism but that is not what they are practicing”
Good point. That’s because they were wrong. So we live in a bizarre world where CSJTs claim discourse is corrupt; but in our daily lives we act as it we believe supermarkets sell us healthy food and doctors (even white male doctors) keep us healthy for good reasons.
3. “Why is Postmodernism used as a scapegoat?”
Pomo is effectively the modern legitimization of relativism. This relativism is now occupying media and politics at least as much as academia. I’m not a relativist. I believe that for practical purposes (to stay alive in the world, to live my life fully, …) there are true discourses. I also support the advances from the Age of reason aimed to further truth: free speech, good rules for honest debate, human rights and opposition to censorship. People who risk this stuff are barbarians.
Justin Todd, I agree. There seems to be a subtle guilty-by-association judgement against PoMo or, perhaps, a dogmatic attachment to objectivism.
Justin, you mention you seek objective absolute reality and do not claim to have or know it yourself. You imply that others must share your state of Unknowing and are skeptical of others claiming to Know It. I suggest this stance is derivative of Postmoderism.
A core principle of Philosophy has always been to question “What is Truth and how do we know it”. Through the ages, different suggestions have been made as to how to Know Truth. Modernism suggested Truth is objective and it could be obtained through a scientific methodology. Postmodernism suggested Truth is subjective and therefore can not be found with a scientific methodology.
Your skepticism of anyone claiming to know objective truth must be founded in a skepticism that objective truth can be known (Postmodernism), specifically by scientific methodologies.
PS I read your skepticism as being a persistent foundational principle rather than a circumstantial occurrence. For instance, I’m skeptical of anything unfamiliar but readily accept something as truth if it’s been proven with Modern methodologies even if it claims to be Objective Absolute Truth. I understand your skepticism to come from the very fact it claims to be Objective Absolute Truth whether it provides “Proof” or not. I see this two paradigms as distinctly Modern vs Postmodern.