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:

https://www.dailywire.com/news/sf-board-of-education-commissioner-merit-is-an-inherently-racist-construct-designed-and-centered-on-white-supremacist-framing

This explains why the absurdity is happening now:

https://quillette.com/2020/10/14/slack-wars-corporate-americas-woke-insurgency/

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

https://johnhcochrane.blogspot.com/2020/10/understanding-left.html#more

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

https://www.greaterwrong.com/posts/BHqzGLNyQHjDXhEc8/is-stupidity-expanding-some-hypotheses

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Queer Eye for a Straight Guy

QueerEye

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:

https://johnhcochrane.blogspot.com/2020/10/on-re-education-programs.html

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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Colonialism

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:

https://markmanson.net/cognitive-biases-that-make-us-terrible

https://markmanson.net/logical-fallacies

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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Mind Virus

Pluckrose and Lindsay have done humanity a great service.  They located, isolated and thoroughly analyzed a virus that has infected human thinking.  Chapter 2 of Cynical Theories (2020) is Applied Postmodernism.  They write that postmodern ideas are:

…a kind of fast-evolving virus.  Its original and purest form was unsustainable:  it tore its hosts apart and destroyed itself.  It could not spread from the academy to the general population because it was so difficult to grasp and so seemingly removed from social realities.  In its evolved form, it spread, leaping the “species” gap from academics to activists to everyday people, as it became increasingly graspable and actionable and therefore more contagious.

Postmodernism took an applied turn for the worse, undergoing a moral mutation, twisting beliefs about the rights and wrongs of power and privilege.  This new, virulent infection of mind and morality is called Social Justice or just “Theory”.  It mutated descriptive knowledge into something highly prescriptive, an abrupt shift from is to ought – and a forcible, destructive ought at that.  Social Justice scholarship tries to make teaching a political act, and only one type of politics is acceptable – identity politics.

The authors are not speculating.  They cite plenty of evidence that these surprising and worrying changes are not the result of a hidden agenda.  The agenda is open and explicit and always has been.  For example, they point to an academic paper that likens women’s studies to HIV, advocating that it spread its version of feminism like an immune-suppressing virus, using students-turned-activists as carriers.

These developments are confusing and alarming but fortunately most people are not “radical cultural constructivists, with postmodern conceptions of society and a commitment to intersectional understanding of Social Justice.”  Many are, however, susceptible to this nasty mind virus because it seems to offer the appearance of deep explanations to complicated problems.  Theory has morphed from obscure academic ideas into what many falsely believe to be general “wisdom” about how the world works.

This illiberal, anti-reason virus can only be combated with honest discourse, which is not permitted by Theory.  Questioning or denying Social Justice precepts is not allowed.  As a recent reviewer of their book notes:

the sheer impertinence of challenging any newly discovered manifestation of systemic racism or heteronormativity would just be an attempt to re-assert the white heteronormative power trip inherent in the use of appeals to fact, evidence, or logic.

Pluckrose and Lindsay’s suggested approach is akin to preaching to the choir: people who understand and appreciate freedom of speech and the societal and legal pre-requisites for human rights already get it. Those assimilated into Theory will not.

Theory was born in the postmodern tradition in which there was no truth but has long since mutated into the central idea that the only truth is the existence of power imbalance in society and language and the victimization that results from that imbalance. That truth may not be questioned. Theory has no methodology to test or correct itself. By definition, it cannot care about reality external to language and socially constructed knowledge. It mimics the familiar language of human rights and justice but necessarily rejects the notion of our common humanity or the existence of an individual in whom those rights inhere. Only identities are real because that is how power interacts with us.

You would have better luck arguing with a bot.

https://ricochet.com/804564/book-review-cynical-theories-by-pluckrose-lindsay/

You cannot argue with or convince a Social Justice activist infected with this mind virus that they are wrong.  You can only pity their false understanding of the world and defend against the forcible imposition of their bad ideas.  Next week, we begin a plunge into 5 strains of the virus – specific applied Theories, one by one over the next 5 weeks.

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Postmodernism

This is a sculpture in Italy by the same leftist artist who duct taped a banana to a wall, took a picture of it and then sold it as a masterpiece for $120,000.  It’s what you get when try reasoning with a postmodernist.  Postmodern nonsense infected art before it seeped into philosophy.  Here’s what happened to human thinking:

Chapter 1 of Cynical Theories (2020) traces the 1960s roots of this pathological development in human thought that has infested art, philosophy, literature and politics.  Postmodernism is difficult to define (on purpose) because it is intentionally deceptive and designed to be disruptive.  Defining it is hard, not because the ideas are complex or difficult to understand, rather, it’s slimy and slippery because proponents twist and mutate central tenants in attempts to “change the world” (i.e. destroy classic Western Civilization and seize power for themselves).

There is no authoritative definition of postmodernism but the authors start with this:

Postmodernism is a movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintain political and economic power.

They then try to identify two pernicious principles and four troubling themes that we will see again and again as we move through their book.

  1. Postmodern Knowledge – radical skepticism about whether objective knowledge or truth is even possible.
  2. Postmodern Politics – society is just systems of power and hierarchies, which decide what humans know and how.

Language and power are everything – truth is nothing because all claims to truth are just socially constructed.  Reality is what leftists say it is – and this shall be imposed upon you.  The four disturbing themes that follow the above two principles are:

  1. The blurring of boundaries
  2. The power and danger of language
  3. Cultural relativism
  4. The loss of the individual and the universal

Criticisms of postmodern thought are diverse and vast because it is really just meaningless promotion of obscurantism (deliberately presenting information in an imprecise and abstruse manner in order to forestall further inquiry and understanding).  There is no reasoning with postmodernists – replies to reasoned criticism are just a cynical, arrogant F— U, like that sculpture. 

Although postmodernist continue to muddy the intellectual waters, books like Cynical Theories expose it for what it is.  Our two authors were part of the grievance studies hoax affairs that roiled academia, shining more light on leftist nonsense.  Read about the Sokal Affair and Sokal Squared. 

Roger Scruton sums it up this way:  “A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ‘merely relative,’ is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.”

Next Tuesday, we take a turn for the worst – applied postmodernism.

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The Master’s House

Pluckrose and Lindsay begin Cynical Theories (2020) by anticipating criticism from leftist academics.  Some will accuse them of being racist right wingers (which they are clearly not).  Others will derisively assert that the authors are deluded by a white, male, Western, heterosexual construction of knowledge.  “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”, their critics will argue.


The master’s tools are reason, logic, science and liberalism, which have built the incredibly sturdy, majestic house of Western Civilization – it’s not perfect, but we’re extremely lucky to live in it.  Postmodern philosophy tries to tear down our house but realizes it cannot do this with the “tools” of liberalism (democracy, universal human rights, legal equality for all, freedom of expression, respect for the value of viewpoint diversity and honest debate, respect for evidence and reason).  It’s a good house.  The only problem is that there has been limited access to it – that doesn’t mean we should tear it all down.  “Equal access to rubble is not a worthy goal”, they write.  So, let’s embark on a journey through bad ideas threatening to destroy our very very very fine house.  


The first two chapters explore the origins of wrong postmodern thinking:

Chapter 1 – Postmodernism

Chapter 2 – Postmodernism’s Applied Turn

The next five focus on specific fields of grievance studies:

Chapter 3 – Postcolonial Theory

Chapter 4 – Queer Theory

Chapter 5 – Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality

Chapter 6 – Feminisms and Gender Studies

Chapter 7 – Disability and Fat Studies

The last three chapters explore the evolution of these ideas and presents the book’s conclusion:

Chapter 8 – Social Justice Scholarship and Thought

Chapter 9 – Social Justice in Action

Chapter 10 – An Alternative to the Ideology of Social Justice


It’s shockingly clear that none of these ideas are new.  The authors cite countless articulations of the shameless intellectual bankruptcy of postmodernism.  For example, endnote 22 in Chapter 1 points to Stephen R. C. Hicks’ book Understanding Postmodernism:  Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (2004).  It details the outrageous ideological pivots and the abandonment of truth in leftist thinking.


Another, older pounding of postmodernism is on pgs. 395-410 of Richard Tarnas’ The Passion of the Western Mind (1991).  I remain astonished that supposedly smart people continue to push this crap even as the wrongness of it all keeps getting exposed.  Recall that we worked through “The Three Great Untruths” in The Coddling of the American Mind (2018) here from 11/27/18 to 12/31/18.  Cynical Theories (2020) arrives at the importance of that book in Chapter 9.  We’ll be there in 9 weeks.  Next Tuesday, we enter Chapter 1 – where in the world did postmodern ideas come from?

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Phony Knowledge – Fake Morality

Cynical

Our next War Chest project is the impeccably well-researched new book Cynical Theories – How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity – and Why This Harms Everybody (2020) by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay.  They have succinctly exposed the terrible errors and immorality of post-modern philosophy.  I’ve been trying to do that here for years.  I wrote on 1/29/19 why Leftist Philosophy is Bad.  On 12/14/18 my post was Deflecting Leftist Losers and on 8/15/18 I wrote of The Unstable Paradox of Progressive Thought.  This new book ought to finally put the issue to rest – it won’t


Why not?  Well, because my and the authors’ points are “deeply subversive of opinions and beliefs to which many highly intelligent and well-informed people are wedded, and without which the world would perhaps be unendurable for them”, wrote Edward Banfield.  “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”, wrote Upton Sinclair.  It’s incredibly difficult to communicate with or understand the cancel culture left.  We shall nonetheless embark on a profound exploration of power, language and knowledge.


Steven Pinker explained in Enlightenment Now (2018) that opposing reason is, by definition, unreasonable – but the post-modernist credo remains that reason is just a pretext to exert power, reality is socially constructed.  Pinker notes on the back of Cynical Theories – people are bewildered by the “surge of wokery, social justice warfare, intersectionality, and identity politics that has spilled out of academia and inundated other spheres of life.  Where did it come from?  What ideas are behind it?  This book exposes the surprisingly shallow intellectual roots of the movements that appear to be engulfing our culture”.  Kevin D. Williams writes that social justice is a vague and infinitely plastic concept, which is the point.  A nebulous moral mandate in the hands of people with armies and police at their disposal is one of the most dangerous things in the world.


Buckle your cognitive flak jacket and let’s watch these authors obliterate the postmodern nonsense that has infected our world like a nasty virus.  It will be fun to watch the academic left (about the only kind there is), who are pathologically obsessed with power, get destroyed by our War Chest weapons of reality, morality and reason.

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