Chapter 6 of Cynical Theories (2020) presents the 4th strain of the postmodern mind virus – Feminism and Gender Studies. There has been a recent radical change in women’s studies away from the pursuit of equal rights to an “increasingly sophisticated” approach called intersectionality. And it’s not good. It is “grating, fractious, and incomprehensible. It appears to operate like a kind of circular firing squad, continually undermining itself over petty differences and grievances”. This unfortunate paradigm shift discards logic, law and economics and replaces them with the accusation that all discourse is oppressive. Objective truth is unobtainable because knowledge is tied to power and both are tied to the discourse that is alleged to create, maintain and legitimize dominance and oppression.
By infusing LGBTQ perspectives into traditional feminism we see an intractably complicated and oppressive society. Intersectional theory is an entirely new way to understand power dynamics and allows academics to repurpose their failing theoretical models into something that is less falsifiable. How and why can all these smart professors be so wrong? The authors answer:
We often observe this kind of shift to a more “sophisticated” and nebulous model when people are highly personally and ideologically committed to a theoretical approach that is clearly failing. This phenomenon was first describe by Leon Festinger, in his study of UFO cults, and led to the development of the concept of cognitive dissonance. Festinger observed that highly committed cultists did not abandon their belief when the prediction of the cult failed to manifest – when the UFO never came. Instead, cultist resolved this undeniable contradiction by claiming the event had occurred, but in some unfalsifiable way. (God decided to spare them).
Gender Studies is now a sprawling field attempting to address a complex and unruly collection of identities by constantly looking for problems to complain about until they’re found. As the different letters of the LGBTQ world circle around a vilified straight, white male, they end up firing at each other. Comedian Dave Chappelle did a funny bit on the “alphabet people”:
The authors conclude that the “increasingly sophisticated” new Theory is actually overly simplistic – everything is problematic somehow, because of power dynamics based on identity. The attempt to make everything intersectional, to focus relentlessly on a simplistic concept of societal privilege, rooted overwhelmingly in identity results in a highly muddled, Theoretical, and abstract analysis that makes it impossible to reach any conclusion other than that straight white men are unfairly privileged and need to repent and get out of everyone else’s way.
Next week, we arrive at the fifth and final (and dumbest) strain of the mind virus that infected our universities and may be spreading – Disability and Fat Studies.