Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity--And Why This Harms Everybody Hardcover – 6 September 2020
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- ISBN-10 : 1634312023
- ISBN-13 : 978-1634312028
- Hardcover : 296 pages
- Product Dimensions : 15.24 x 2.54 x 22.86 cm
- Publisher : Pitchstone Publishing (6 September 2020)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: 5,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
"Cynical Theories is a brilliant book, offering an incisive and much needed critique of the cult of social justice. The authors painstakingly trace its origins in postmodernism and, in doing so, expose the ways in which a once fashionable coterie of theorists infiltrated the mainstream with catastrophic consequences for liberalism, equality, and free speech."
--Andrew Doyle, creator of Titania McGrath
"If you want to know the philosophy behind cancel culture and why it is so creepy, get this book. Then, give it to your friends and family."
--Ayaan Hirsi Ali, human rights activist
"In this important and timely book, Pluckrose and Lindsay trace the intellectual origins of today's Social Justice crusaders. With clear prose and a fair-minded spirit, they argue forcefully that struggles for social justice are strongest when they are founded on respect for evidence, reason, and free and open debate. They deplore the harm that closed-minded Social Justice ideologues are doing to the cause of social justice (lower-case), and they offer practical strategies for doing better."
--Alan Sokal, Professor of Mathematics, University College London, and coauthor of Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science
"Many people are nonplussed 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."
--Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of Enlightenment Now
"A fascinating and mandatory guide to understanding the culture war. Meticulously researched and impeccably written, Cynical Theories offers explanations as to how we got here and the best solutions going forward."
--Debra Soh, PhD, sex neuroscientist and author of The End of Gender
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Top review from Australia
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Are you “woke”? Have you been “red pilled” into recognising that we live in a Matrix called “the white supremacist patriarchy”?
The problem with such grand explanatory frameworks of interpretation for the world is that they lend themselves to our natural tendency toward confirmation bias. It is easy to find evidence for such an interpretation. It is all around us, just as it tends to be pretty easy to find evidence for a conspiracy theory. The way to assess the accuracy of any theory is to sincerely attempt to falsify it - to prove it wrong. The more we try to do that and fail, the stronger the credibility of the theory.
Critical Social Justice Theory, the field of scholarship which underlies the cultural expressions we label “woke”, is founded on the assumption that any inequality of outcome for groups who have historically been discriminated against can be accounted for by systemic oppression, a continuing form of universal prejudice pervading our society, particularly as expressed through language, i.e. “discourse”. This is just as unfalsifiable as the existence of that other omnipresent and invisible entity - God. If someone acts in a bigoted way, that’s evidence of systemic racism. If they don’t, that’s because they benefit more by hiding their racist feelings.
This worldview reduces the complexity of human social interaction to simple formulas. A person’s situation is to be understood by their membership of identity groups. Each group is then seen to be in a more or less advantaged position. The fact that we are all individuals with a unique mix of talents and challenges can be lost. The answer to improving society is to change the discourses (eliminate “problematic” terms and invent new ones), to educate or re-educate (i.e. indoctrinate) and get the “enlightened” into positions of power.
They are not wrong that discourse can oppress. Just ask anyone who has had a malicious lie spread about them. And there are examples from both past and present where religious or political systems of discourse have oppressed populations. But this is really an argument against rather than for their approach. If the idea were to open up greater opportunities for the expression of diverging discourses, or to test belief systems against objective data taken from science, that would make sense. But to try to install one’s own discourse while discouraging that of others, is to more or less guarantee that it will become a source of oppression.
As Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay argue, we already have a strategy for improving society, and it is the one which brought us the end of slavery, the establishment of universal suffrage, the dismantling of colonialism, the end to racial segregation, the legalisation of homosexuality and the banning of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, sexuality, disability, etc. That strategy is liberalism - the belief in democracy, reason, free speech and science. This allows us to target problems specifically, come to understand them through reason and research, and rally the support to make the necessary changes. It doesn’t require us to adopt a shared dogmatic way of interpreting the world. And if we have a divergent viewpoint, it doesn’t punish us as heretics.
While the Critical Social Justice Theory worldview may be unfalsifiable, we can see evidence against it from observing whether it has a positive or negative effect on the behaviour of those who adopt it. It doesn’t seem unfair to say that a tree which produces rotten fruit is not a healthy tree.
Cynical Theories is an indispensable book for anyone navigating the troubled waters we find ourselves in as a society. We’re a little like Odysseus sailing between the Scylla and the Charybdis. We need to steer away from the whirlpool of “woke” madness which could tear our society apart, but we mustn’t pull so far over to the other side that we lose the ship of liberalism to the snapping mouths of rightwing authoritarianism. This is the beauty of what Pluckrose and Lindsay have achieved with this book. It empowers us with a deep understanding of the “woke” mindset and how it evolved, while exuding a calm, sane and generous spirit. There is always a danger that we might take a reactionary approach which mirrors those we have set ourselves to resist. On the contrary, the authors take an approach which is in stark contrast to the cynical, ungenerous and aggressive zealots of “wokeness”. This book is an act of love towards the “enemy”. The authors have listened and understood and provided that which is most necessary for the wellbeing of those whose ideology they oppose.
Top reviews from other countries
This book gives a detailed history of the movement to destroy liberal principles and replace them with Wokeness. It makes what is happening on our streets make sense. It explains the absurdity of things like the videos going around as I write this, of restaurant patrons being harassed by thugs screaming in their faces and demanding that they make a show of obedience and fealty to the mob.
The authors are two of the trio who successfully published multiple academic papers in the various fields I'm referring to (the ones I had to take three mandatory courses in to get my degree)--the ones they call "grievance studies." They know their stuff to the point that they successfully won awards while posing as true believers in this religion.
This book will get tons of 1 star reviews from academics who feel entitled to make up problems or write autoethnographies (that's literally personal essays where they spout how oppressed they feel by the racial dynamics of the staff at Starbucks and other inanities) and get taxpayer-funded jobs for life. Don't believe it. Read the book for yourself. Have the courage to examine thoughts you may not agree with and see if they hold up.
It explains in great detail how Post-modern Theory mutated into the Applied Post-modern Theory we see active in society today. As well as how different factions like Applied Critical Race Theory or Applied Postcolonial Theory attempt to achieve their goals.
This is a must-read for anyone who wants to push back against the radical left.