Category Archive 'Must Read Article'

12 Sep 2020

At Root, It’s a Technique For Denying Reality

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Helen Dale’s review of Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay’s Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity in The Critic is a Must-Read item analyzing the real content of the Critical Theory rubbish that has recently come to dominate the American intellectual establishment.

At one point in Winnie-The-Pooh, Pooh and Piglet start to follow footprints in the snow. The pair think they belong to a creature called a “Woozle”. The tracks keep multiplying, and the two become increasingly confused, until — finally — Christopher Robin explains they’ve been following their own tracks in circles around a tree, and that Woozles aren’t real.

These days, if you go to university to read humanities and some social sciences — notably psychology and sociology — you’ll find yourself retracing Pooh and Piglet’s steps, hunting for Woozles that aren’t there.

You will encounter radical scepticism about whether objective knowledge or truth is obtainable, along with a commitment to the notion that real things — like sex and race — are culturally constructed. Your lecturers will impress upon you the idea that society is formed into identity-based hierarchies and knowledge is an effect of power. Your position on a league-table of oppressed identities determine what can be known and how it is known. If you disagree you will at least be marked down, and sometimes formally disciplined. Worse, there is no Christopher Robin to save you. It’s Woozles all the way down, and don’t you dare dissent. …

The shift from “it’s immoral to tell another culture’s story” to “it’s impossible to tell another culture’s story, but in any case, one shouldn’t try for moral reasons” is part of a process Pluckrose and Lindsay describe as “reification”, which emerged after I’d left the ivory tower and commenced moving companies around and drafting commercial leases for a living. Once reified, postmodern abstractions about the world are treated as though they are real things, and accorded the status of empirical truth. Contemporary social justice activism thus sees theory as reality, as though it were gravity or cell division or the atomic structure of uranium.

The correspondence theory of truth holds that objective truth exists and we can learn something about it through evidence and reason. That is, things are knowable and we gain reliable information about them when our beliefs align with reality. It’s termed “the correspondence theory of truth” because a statement is considered true when it corresponds with reality and false when it doesn’t. Reality, of course, is the thing that does not change regardless of what you believe.

While advanced civilisations going back to classical antiquity employed this reasoning in selected areas (Ancient Rome to civil engineering and law, for example, or Medieval China to public administration), it’s only since the Enlightenment that it’s been applied consistently to nearly everything, at least in developed countries. It forms the foundation of modern scientific and administrative progress and accounts in large part for the safety and material comfort we now enjoy.

Reified “Theory” is no more and no less than a rejection of the correspondence theory of truth. There are no universal truths and no objective reality, only narratives expressed in discourses and language that reflect one group’s power over another. Science has no claim on objectivity, because science itself is a cultural construct, created out of power differentials, and ordered by straight white males. There are no arguments, merely identity showdowns; the most oppressed always wins.

And, because language makes the world, attempts by scholars in other disciplines and from across the political spectrum to do what I did and falsify Theory’s empirical claims are met not with reasoned debate but an accusation that those individuals are harming the oppressed or silencing the marginalised, because all someone higher up the hierarchical food chain is supposed to do when confronted by someone lower down is listen. That’s the point of telling people to “check their privilege” before they open their mouths.

RTWT

11 Jul 2020

Our Own Cultural Revolution

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For Helen Andrews the last straw was the faculty and staff of Washington & Lee University voting to remove Lee’s name from the college.

Here we arrive at the question at the heart of the statue debate: Are people constrained by any duties, any external obligations at all, or is everything always up for negotiation? Are we free to choose which heroes we want to celebrate and then equally free to choose again differently tomorrow?

Heredity is one source of unchosen obligations. It was very much in mind when Americans were debating how to handle reconciliation after the Civil War. How could we possibly strike a balance between asking Southerners to swear allegiance to the Union, which was vitally necessary, and forcing them to spit on the graves of their fathers and brothers, which was morally unthinkable to ask from any but an abjectly conquered foe? Amazingly, America succeeded in bringing the South into the country again, but only because we did exactly that: struck a balance.

History is another source of unchosen obligations, one more powerful in many ways than heredity. To be loyal to the United States means being loyal to its history. You can’t treat America like a conquered province, the way the crowds defacing Winston Churchill are treating London. Lee and Sumner were both very stubborn men, which made them superficially similar, but the difference was that for Lee the ultimate arbiter of his conduct was external whereas Sumner recognized no higher judge than himself. Acknowledging unchosen obligations means accepting that some things about America, like its history, aren’t yours to change at will — which is good, because stable and unchanging things are what Americans can unite behind.

The left has a counteroffer to this. We can heal all our divisions, they say, if you will only join with us in rallying behind our revised list of heroes. But that would mean consenting to make your position on your country’s history infinitely changeable, and infinitely changeable at the whim of someone other than yourself. Because, of course, the right side of history we’re all uniting under will be different again tomorrow, and you won’t be on the committee that decides what it is. Nothing is fixed; no principles stand firm. You will be like Sumner, a man in whom nothing can be relied upon except his sense of his own self-righteousness.

To live like that, you must either have an unshakeable sense of yourself, as the egotist Sumner did, or else no sense of yourself at all. There are some political systems that prefer their citizens to be infinitely malleable with no bedrock sense of self, but they are not democratic ones.

I used to side with the people who wanted to tear down all Confederate monuments. If Southern gentility means anything, I thought, it means not causing gratuitous offense. It means being willing to accept that a statue might mean one thing to us but something different to our fellow citizens, to whom we have an obligation to be considerate. I took people at their word when they said, we don’t hate the South, we just want you to celebrate what’s best about it, not what’s worst.

That gave them too much credit. In truth, they don’t want to celebrate anything about the South, or America, or the past. Everything falls short of their Year Zero standards. Considering the absolutism of their ideology, perhaps I should have seen this coming. Others did. Either way, Confederates are in the rear-view mirror now and Washington and Jefferson are the ones up for condemnation.

The left argues that name changes and statue topplings are a way for people and institutions to demonstrate their commitment to real change. But at this point, it is not ordinary Americans who need to demonstrate their good faith to the left. It is the statue-topplers who need to convince us that they are genuinely committed to pluralism and not, as their actions would suggest, just sparing some statues temporarily while they bide their time to wait and see what they can get away with tomorrow.

RTWT

They are so very small and the men whose memory they want to efface are so very great. Nothing the Left does can possibly touch General Lee.


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