Last year, Helen Pluckrose and I dedicated most of our time to writing a book about how “activist scholarship” has risen to prominence and created societal conditions that threaten to rip our societies apart. Our goal was to document and explain these academic developments as fairly as possible while still making clear how they have equipped a certain kind of social critique, commentary, and activists with the philosophy of postmodernism.
You don’t need to know much about postmodernism to understand why this is a big problem. In fact, you only need to know two key ideas: postmodern philosophy is radically skeptical that objective truth exists and can even approximately be known, and it forwards the competing view that knowledge is just an assertion of politics by other means. That is, the key of postmodernism as a social philosophy is that whether a claim is true or not doesn’t matter and misses the point. All that matters is how that claim can be used politically.
The development of this divorce from the truth, political turn to everything, and ruthless approach to social critique present in “critical theories” is how we arrived at this literally riotous, almost incomprehensible moment in history. So, it matters.
And there is an answer: being principled. Taking a principled stand for truth, depoliticizing, and encouraging fairness and honesty in place of ruthless social critique can defuse this moment and defeat the problem that has created it.
In the last chapter of our forthcoming book, which is called Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity―and Why This Harms Everybody, Helen and I wanted to provide and explain an alternative to both “critical theory”-style critiques and postmodern radical skepticism. We then ended that final chapter—and our book—with a few examples of simple statements of principled opposition people can easily make that take us away from making everything about race, gender, and identity.
In light of the present turmoil, we’re happy to show you this as an excerpt from our book: an example of a principled statement of opposition to the ideology beneath the present mayhem. The statement below applies to the postmodern critical theory called Critical Race Theory, which deals with ideas of race and racism and is covered in great detail in Chapter 5 of Cynical Theories. It reads as follows:
We affirm that racism remains a problem in society and needs to be addressed.
We deny that critical race Theory and intersectionality provide the most useful tools to do so, since we believe that racial issues are best solved through the most rigorous analyses possible.
We contend that racism is defined as prejudiced attitudes and discriminatory behavior against individuals or groups on the grounds of race and can be successfully addressed as such.
We deny that racism is hard-baked into society via discourses, that it is unavoidable and present in every interaction to be discovered and called out, and that this is part of a ubiquitous systemic problem that is everywhere, always, and all-pervasive.
We deny that the best way to deal with racism is by restoring social significance to racial categories and radically heightening their salience.
We contend that each individual can choose not to hold racist views and should be expected to do so, that racism is declining over time and becoming rarer, that we can and should see one another as humans first and members of certain races second, that issues of race are best dealt with by being honest about racialized experiences, while still working towards shared goals and a common vision, and that the principle of not discriminating by race should be universally upheld.
We believe making and committing to statements like this can start to make a difference that can walk our societies back from the edge and are glad to share them. We’re grateful to everyone who gives them thought. We’re also grateful to people who will take them up as a template for moving forward together toward building a more unified community. If you agree, feel free to say so in the comments below!
Cynical Theories will be available on August 25, 2020, at the latest, and is currently available for pre-order here. Excerpt provided with permission by the authors and Pitchstone Publishing.