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.
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.