The Marketplace of Ideas


Chapter 10 of Cynical Theories (2020) brings us to the conclusion of this important book. In the competitive marketplace of ideas, good, valuable, successful ideas like liberalism, capitalism and science rise to the level of knowledge.  Bad, faddish, false ideas like Social Justice Theory are fake knowledge – they hide from the marketplace of ideas.  Pluckrose and Lindsay masterfully exposes the proponents of these ideas for what they are –> WRONG.

Postmodern Theory and liberalism are opposites.  Liberalism is a self-correcting, knowledge producing system of reason and evidence.  Postmodernism is the antithesis because of its conspicuous unwillingness to engage in debate and “cancel” anyone attempting to engage its ideas as white fragility or privilege preserving.  Critical Theory is bad, not just because it’s wrong/immoral (it is) but also because it attempts to cheat by avoiding the marketplace – it hides from the light of reason and evidence like a scattering cockroach.

I’m not exaggerating; well, maybe a little.  The authors do have respect for the concerns, goals and motivation behind Social Justice but whole heartedly reject its applied turn.  They lament the radical skepticism, nihilism and destructive cynicism attacking human Enlightenment (liberalism, rationalism and empiricism).  They highlight what is considered knowledge and truth and what is not.   The book, Kindly Inquisitors:  The New Attacks on Free Thought (1992) articulates liberalism’s contribution to the “reality industry”.  Liberal science referees conflicting claims to truth using two principles:  1) no one gets final say; and 2) no one has personal authority over knowledge (there is no racial or sexual knowledge, there’s just knowledge).  We have freedom of belief and speech, but NOT freedom of knowledge.  You are free to believe anything you wish and argue for anything you want, but to claim that such beliefs are knowledge and demand that they be respected as such is bullshit.  It’s wrong to coddle humans by censoring certain ideas believed to cause psychological pain or “epistemic violence”.  Historically oppressed groups get no special consideration in the battle for truth – everyone competes in the same marketplace of ideas – best ideas win. 

The fundamental tenants of postmodernism go up in flames:

Knowledge is a social construct – no it’s not!

Discourse is merely the wielding of power – no it’s not!

Categories must be blurred because of oppression – nope.

Language is power and must be tightly restricted – nope.

Knowledge depends on culture – nope.

Group identity is the only thing that matters – nope.

Lindsay and Pluckrose warn that Social Justice thought is like gasoline on the identity politics fire of the extreme Right.  Arguing that it is acceptable to be prejudiced against white people, men, heterosexual or cisgender people does not go over well with the far Right.  It emboldens and enrages them.

They conclude the book with an important legal principle – secularism (separation of Church and State) – no matter how certain you may be that you are in possession of the truth, you have no right to impose your belief.  We all have the inalienable right to reject the moral mandates of any ideology without blame.  The belief that knowledge is just a cultural construct used to enforce power can be submitted to the marketplace of ideas.  Social Justice thought should not be censored or ignored – it must be engaged and defeated in the marketplace of ideas so it can die a natural death.  Let us arm ourselves with War Chest awareness that these “ideas are demonstrably bad, ethically incoherent and cannot withstand scrutiny without imploding and disappearing in a puff of contradictions”.

Finally, throughout this project I have scanned for push back on the book.  There’s not much and its pretty tepid – for example:

If the authors are combatants in the culture wars – they are freedom fighters – Rambos of reason lighting up the dark, weak warriors of the tyrannical Social Justice Left. 

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Appetite for Destruction


Chapter 9 of Cynical Theories (2020) is Social Justice in Action.  The most awful thing about Social Justice Theory is not just that it’s wrong and unworkable; it’s also terribly immoral and destructive.  And its proponents openly acknowledge their appetite for destruction.   Ideas have consequences.  Bad, destructive ideas have bad, destructive consequences.  The authors give many examples of people being “cancelled” for not towing the identity politics line.

As racist, sexist and homophobic discourse and attitudes continue to decline, academics are forced to dig deeper and deeper into readings of situations and texts to come up with increasingly complicated Theoretical arguments that supposedly detect them.  The absurd catastrophizing of allegedly bigoted attitudes visciously destroys careers and reputations.  The culture of victimhood is built on lies.  It is erected on a deceptive foundation of malevolent postmodern thought and the Great Untruths that we explored in The Coddling of the American Mind (2018) here from 11/27/18 to 12/31/18.  Books like that and Cynical Theories are essential to understanding truth and reality. There’s a big difference between public policy preferences and the mistakes/immoral errors of Theory.

The last section of this Chapter is “Theory Always Looks Good on Paper”.  That’s the way bad theories play out – they sound like good ideas at first but, like communism, fail miserably because of human hubris and fallibility.  Social Justice Theory, like religions, is a metanarrative (an overarching, inflexible interpretation of the world).  Liberalism and science, on the other hand, are not.  They write:

Liberalism and science are systems – not just neat little theories – because they are self-skeptical rather than self-certain, by design.  This is a reasoned – not a radical – skepticism.  They put the empirical first, rather than the theoretical.  They are self-correcting.  Liberal systems like regulated capitalism, republican democracy and science resolve conflicts by subjecting human economies, societies, and knowledge production to evolutionary processes that – over time, and with persistent effort – produce reliable…true statements about the world.

The dangerous thing about Theory is that it not only fails to correspond to reality but also actively seeks destruction.  Instead of trying to explain how the world could and should work, it wants to tear it all apart, right down to the foundation.  The original post-modernists were devastated by the collapse of communism, not only the millions that suffered and died because of it, but also because of the idea’s obvious failure to stand up against history, evidence, logic and reason.   Radical skepticism seeks to dismantle, deconstruct and disrupt reality and truth.  This nasty mind virus has now infected non-academic thought and the only vaccine/antibody is to call it out for what it is, engage it directly.  More on that next week.

Rigorous criticisms of Social Justice Theory are not new and these authors are not the only ones to see what’s going on.  If you have any doubt, refer to these volumes:

Fashionable Nonsense:  Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science (1997)

Challenging Postmodernism Philosophy and the Politics of Truth (2003)

Understanding Postmodernism:  Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (2004)

Theory’s Empire:  An Anthology of Dissent (2005)

Fear of Knowledge:  Against Relativism and Constructionism (2006)

Fools, Frauds and Firebrands:  Thinkers of the New Left (2015)

The Diversity Delusion:  How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture (2018)

The Parasitic Mind:  How Infectious Ideas Are Killing Common Sense (2020)

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Conceited Coercive Collectivists


Chapter 8 of Cynical Theories (2020), Social Justice Scholarship and Thought, reveals an alien enemy consuming academia and mainstream media.  The authors deploy a Star Trek reference – The Borg as analogous to Social Justice thought – it is not subject to reason….Resistance is futile.  You will be assimilated.  Fortunately, our War Chest starship is at a safe distance from this menace.  Not so for university professors (and PhD students, like the one who wrote that “take down” of Chapter 8 article I cited last week*), woke corporate executives and journalists – they have already been assimilated.  Disagreement with Theory is not allowed.  Dissenters will be ignored or targeted for cancelation.

Reality, in their view, is profoundly problematic and must be constantly analyzed, condemned and dismantled.  Theory is obsessed with knowledge (epistemology), so a slew of new terms were simply invented.  Epistemic                    – fill in the blank:  Epistemic… injustice/violence/oppression/freedom/exploitation, etc.  The purpose of their obsession with “ways of knowing” is to circumvent the more rigorous thinking that stands in the way of their ideological aims.  That is why you cannot question it.  Science and reason are the cultural property of white, western men and are therefore unjustly privileged and cannot be used to discredit Social Justice Theory.  Legitimate disagreement is not an option.

That’s an enormous, insurmountable problem for Social Justice thought.  It cannot be engaged with other than on its own inflexible terms.  Disagreement is simply deemed a failure to engage correctly or dubbed a moral shortcoming. This close mindedness and unwillingness to accept any disagreement and authoritarian will to force a Social Justice conception and moral imperative on others is disturbing.  These thinkers are conceited in their priest like certainty of their own rightness; coercive in their attempts to re-educate and shut down anyone who disagrees; and collectivist in their evil efforts to infect other minds and subsume everyone into a Borg like hive mind collective.

Theory is completely unfalsifiable and indefeasible in its disregard for realty.  It’s like a new religion actively hostile to reason, falsification, disconfirmation or disagreement of any kind. 

Next week, we see the noxious appetite for destruction in the proponents of these bad ideas.

* Hoadley –Brill’s article tries to argue that Pluckrose and Lindsay are wrong, specifically in Chapter 8, but his article is really just interpretive quibbling with other writers they cite to make their point -> Thou Shall Not Disagree with Theory!  He accuses them of equivocating two words:  denial and disagreement.  Denial means dismissing without engaging the ideas, whereas disagreement requires engagement.  Social Justice thinkers believe those who disagrees with them “deny” Theory because they have not sufficiently engaged it.  Having defined the only legitimate form of disagreement as putting more effort into understanding it (read agree), they label dissent as denial by refusing to engage – …resistance is indeed futile.  If they’re cherry picking ideas from other scholars (look at the Wikipedia page on Cynical Theories), Chapter 8 is a truck load of cherries being dumped on the heads of Social Justice scholars.  Arrogant false certitude seems to be a recurring theme in Leftist thought.

Here’s a better article that supports the conclusions in Chapter 8 and points out the appetite for destruction that we’ll get to next week in Chapter 9:

(may have to Google it a bit to get around the paywall)

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Intersecting Grids of Oppressive Power

Chapter 7 of Cynical Theories (2020) presents a fifth and final grievance study field and also the most ridiculous – Disability and Fat Studies.  Power is not just top-down oppression in Theory.  It’s a Foucauldian grid of intersecting forms of oppression that defines everyone’s existence. People are unfairly disempowered or empowered by being in or out of one or more of the 5 intersecting aggrieved identities.  In my case, I am supposedly unjustly all powerful because I wield them all:

  1. Western moral values and reason
  2. Heterosexual Male
  3. White
  4. Cisgender (I didn’t even know that that word meant until recently, which tells you  how out of touch I am with my privilege)
  5. Healthy mind and body

It’s silly to assert that a person wields unfair oppressive power simply by being in the above categories.  And it is just as silly to define a human’s essence as their location on a grid of oppression.  Everyone has some advantages in life (good family, health, strong work ethic and moral values, luck) and some disadvantages (bad family, mental or physical impairments, poor cultural values, lazy work ethic and yes, unfair discrimination).  Making everybody either helpless victims or evil oppressors is sad worldview that helps no one.

Academics would angrily disagree with me because my non-marginalized identity does not give me the right to engage in this discourse – master’s house and tools and all.  I only have a white, masculinist way of knowing and being in the world; whereas those belonging to one or more of the 5 marginalized groups have special access to the Truth because only members in those categories can have insight into both dominance and their own oppression.

We’ve moved from analysis of discrimination of people based on immutable characteristics (race, gender, sex, sexual orientation [you cannot say sexual preference anymore]) to one that is clearly changeable by behavior (obesity).  Gay pride is one thing.  Blind pride or fat pride something entirely different.  The disability and fat studies scholarship in Chapter 7 is so out of touch with reality that there is no need to describe it here.  It’s insane; not just a fetishism of the underdog, it’s applied postmodernism gone berserk.   Of course we want the disabled and obese to have better lives.  The line of thinking that puts them on a grid of oppression is well-intentioned but dismal failure.

Throughout this project I have scanned the internet for any pushback or criticism objecting to Pluckrose and Lindsay calling out academia on all of this.  Here’s an article specifically targeting Chapter 8:

We’ll tear into Chapter 8 next Tuesday and see why the authors’ points remain valid notwithstanding that article’s attempt to defend Social Justice nonsense.

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Circular Firing Squad of “Increased Sophistication”

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.

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Whiteness as Property

Chapter 5 of Cynical Theories (2020) explains Critical Race Theory.  The intentionally obscure language in the last two grievance fields (postcolonial and queer theories) is conspicuously absent from Critical Race Theory because this one begins with the study of law.  Even though the ideas are legally insidious, they are easier to understand.  Did you know that Whiteness is property?  I’ve been studying property law and advising clients on it for decades and I’d never heard of this until endnote 24 of this chapter*.

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is very different from the civil rights movement that advocates for universal human rights.  It’s radical, militant activism.  It makes EVERYTHING about race and openly pushes for historical revisionism – a dismal worldview that denies that any moral progress on race relations has been made since the Jim Crow era.  CRT aggressively asserts that racism is everywhere and always present, persistently working against black people for the benefit of white people.  It holds that Western philosophy and reason unfairly disadvantages racial minorities and rejects meritocracy and liberalism.  It’s really bad, which is why it was banned by the federal government last month.

The only way to be a virtuous person under CRT is to admit that racism is everywhere at all times, masked by the egalitarian false-promise of liberalism, and to forever seek out prejudicial power imbalances and pick at them.  You cannot just be not racist.  You are either racist or forced to be anti-racist.  CRT is overtly racist itself.  It ascribes profound failures of morals and character to people simply for being white.  The authors write: 

We are told that racism is embedded in culture and that we cannot escape it.  We hear that white people are inherently racist.  We are told that racism is “prejudice plus power”, therefore, only white people can be racist.  We are informed that only people of color can talk about racism, that white people need to just listen, and that they don’t have the “racial stamina” to engage it.  We hear that not seeing people in terms of their race (being color-blind) is, in fact, racist and an attempt to ignore the pervasive racism that dominates society and perpetuates white privilege.

Stay away from the bad, coercive, racist ideas in CRT.  Whiteness is not property.  The only people that think that it is are out-of-touch, leftist academics.  Treating everyone with fairness and dignity is a noble goal; CRT is a terrible means of trying to accomplish that goal.

Next week, we move from an academic field that tells me I’m a bad person with unjust property because I’m white, to a field of study that tells me I’m a bad person because I’m a cisgender, heterosexual male.

* These links may explain why.  Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a simulated reality and the programmer keeps creating absurd people in high places throwing out preposterous ideas just to see how I’ll react.  Unbelievable.  Look at this nonsense:

This explains why the absurdity is happening now:

And the Grumpy Economist illuminates how War Chests of assets and awareness shield us from “shove-it-down-throats” leftists:

Finally, this is amusing to those shaking their heads at the vast sea of stupidity that is our realty:

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Queer Eye for a Straight Guy


Chapter 4 of Cynical Theories (2020) brings us to a second grievance studies field – Queer Theory.  It’s difficult to grasp this chapter because the ideas are so irrational.  In order to see and understand the world through a Queer Theory eye, we must perform some pretty fancy mental gymnastics to reach their desired conclusion -> the queer eye is oppressed!  Theory is obscure by design, valuing incoherence and illogic as features, not bugs.  Queer Theory is therefore mostly, but not entirely, unreasonable.     

The philosophy of Michel Foucault (1926-1984) is important to understanding this nonsense.  His famous book The Order of Things (1966) asserts that knowledge is the construction of categories, which varies wildly over cultures and time.  Foucault’s idea for The Order of Things came from his reading an ancient Chinese encyclopedia and laughing out loud at its dividing animals into the following categories: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off ‘look like flies’.

That bizarre taxonomy makes no sense, right?  Well, it made sense to the ancient Chinese.  Every age has unconscious assumptions about how the world is ordered.  We all possess ways of thinking and seeing that make other ways impossible.  Foucault saw language as creating knowledge, which changes radically over time.  You see where they’re going?  If categories and labels change over time and cultures, then male-female, gay-straight, masculine-feminine are arbitrary and infinitely malleable. The only reason those categories exists is because language subjugates those who do not fit neatly into categories created by powerful oppressors.

Queer Theory thinkers are pathologically obsessed with power and language and they, quite remarkably, freely admit this.  They know Theory is goofy – contradictory and irrational – but push it anyway because they see themselves as laudable heroes – freeing the oppressed, helping the weak and curbing unjust power.  But problematizing everything into a grievance is a slippery slope that leads to circular reasoning. 

They openly assert that sex, gender and sexuality are social constructs, not because it’s true, but because it is easier to politicize them and demand change if they are social constructs than if they are biological.  They insist on rejecting biology and fully embracing the idea that sex has been constructed on an unjust hierarchy, even though they acknowledge that it would be much easier to accept what is far more likely to be true – that different sexualities exist naturally and that some of them have been unfairly discriminated against.

Queer Theory insists that reality is entirely created by language that privileges the masculine and “compulsory heterosexuality”.  The idea that gender is wholly socially constructed is a claim so ridiculous that it requires much Theorizing to make it seem believable.  The mere existence of coherent, stable categories like woman is oppressive.  We must accept all perspectives at once, even when they are mutually contradictory and incoherent, and not attempt to make rational sense of anything.  The contradictions themselves are politically valuable because they make the thinking behind the desired activism very difficult to understand and thus difficult to criticize.

The authors conclude the chapter by pointing out that Queer Theory is not only false but also damaging to the people it purports to help.  It is dismissive of reality, anti-scientific and incomprehensible by design.

Next week, we get to the most vehemently controversial, politically ferocious topic of our time:  Critical Race Theory.

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Ideas Unfolding in Real time

I was waiting in the car for my wife to run into Buffalo Wild Wings to pick up dinner for the family on 9/22/20 and saw a breaking story on a new Executive Order.  It surprisingly addressed many of the philosophical notions we’re currently working through with the book Cynical Theories (2020).  On 10/6/20 The Grumpy Economist wrote a post on that Executive Order, which mentions Argonne National Labs, located just a few miles from my home and office:

Cochrane (a brilliant resource on why wealth re-distribution is stupid and immoral) cites one of our authors, Helen Pluckrose, who posted an article on 10/1/20 that asks Is Critical Race Theory Racists? 

Also, check out the Joe Rogan podcast with author James Lindsay. Stay tuned – this stuff is rapidly unfolding in real time. It will profoundly impact the future of intellectual discourse, knowledge and anti-knowledge (what we’re studying now).  You will not hear about it on mainstream media, only on blogs and other non-Critical Theory tainted forums.  Talk to y’all Tuesday.

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Chapter 3 of Cynical Theories (2020) begins our guided tour through 5 academic fields of grievance studies.   A grievance is a real or imagined wrong or cause for complaint, especially unfair treatment.  As we’ll see, all of these fields begin with an actual wrong (imperialism, homophobia, racism, sexism) and then theorize that those historical wrongs never went away and can never ever be fully ameliorated. 

The first grievance we get to his Post-Colonial Theory.   For thousands of years human civilization was characterized by brutal colonialism.  But then it gradually became less and less morally tenable.  It went away.  But Theory still clings to and exaggerates the harmful psychological impact it had – the systematic denial of the humanity of colonized people – the erasure of people’s identity being subordinated to a conqueror.

How we speak, they say, constructs knowledge so powerful groups in society therefore get to direct discourse and define what constitutes knowledge.  Knowledge, in this view, is not found but made.  “Epistemic violence” is done to the colonized when their knowledge and status as knowers is marginalized by the dominant discourse.  Language is just another power play of the culturally privileged.  Actual cultural conquest ceased long ago.  Theorists write as though past experience produced an indelible imprint upon how people discuss and view issues.  They contend therefore that we must devalue white Western ways of knowing – everything is problematized and traditional knowledge is dismissed as oppressive.  The goals for these thinkers are to:  1) decolonize everything; and 2) achieve “research justice” (judge scholarship by the identity of its producer not by its rigor or quality – trash ideas from white, male, heterosexual writers).

This is a terrible direction in which to try and shove human thinking.  It doesn’t help anybody.  The disparagement of science and reason as merely Western ways of knowing impedes technological progress in third world countries.  Postcolonial claims are not only factually wrong, morally vacant and patronizing; they are also negligent and dangerous.  Cramming subjective “lived experience” over the top of objective reason is irrational, but you can’t argue with these “scholars”.  Pluckrose and Lindsay write:  “Because they view knowledge and ethics as cultural constructs perpetuated in language, postcolonial Theorists can be extremely difficult to discuss disagreements with.  Evidence and reasoned arguments are understood Theoretically as Western constructs and are therefore considered invalid or even oppressive.  Those who disagree with postcolonial Theory are seen as confirming the Theory and as defending racists, colonialist, or imperialist attitudes for their own benefit and to shut out the viewpoints of others.”

It’s ridiculous that they have to point out the absurdity of all this.  There is no white, male way of thinking – there’s just thinking – objective thinking; not subjective/everything is relative/there is no truth thinking, just real, objective true knowledge.   Here are two articles on the tyranny of subjectivity and danger of degrading objectivity:

Happy Columbus Day from The Estate Planning War Chest.

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Opinion – Belief – Knowledge

Before resuming our current project, the book Cynical Theories (2020), I’d like to clarify that this is not an opinion blog.  Anyone reacting to its contents with The Dude’s – “that’s just like, your opinion, man” should beware, it’s not.  And even if it is ‘opinion’ – it’s not mine; it’s that of much smarter, eminently more aware minds than mine, both historical and living – like Tyler Cowen, Jonathan Haidt and Steven Pinker.  Here’s a great article:

The following from it informs these Twitter mob, woke, cancel culture, crazy times:

The correct response to the cancellers is not simply to say that they should respect free speech.  Rather, one must say to them that you are attacking people for stating things which are true, while you are stating things which are false.

While certain fields and disciplines continue to seek truth, it is simply time we accepted that many do not, and are committed first and foremost to a false view of the world.  Instead of engaging with such people, what those in the press and outside the academy should do is focus on marginalizing the unhealthy parts of the academy that have been  conquered by [bullshit].

Large swaths of the academy may deserve to be ignored or even mocked, but in other fields, in think tanks and newspapers, and on blogs…. real debate and the search for truth continue.

And, so, here we are.

Mainstream media and so many in our universities suffer from false, agenda driven worldviews without realizing the logical errors and biases afflicting their thinking.

Blogger Mark Manson recently elaborated on obstacles to a thinker/writer’s quest for truth:

Back at it Tuesday. 

As blogger Scott Alexander puts it:  Epistemic status –> high confidence.  We’re after truth and knowledge here, not beliefs or opinions, man.

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