Cynical Theories

Cynical Theories

How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity-and Why This Harms Everybody

Book - 2020
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Wall Street Journal , USA Today , and Publishers Weekly Bestseller!

Times, Sunday Times, and Financial Times Book-of-the-Year Selection!

Have you heard that language is violence and that science is sexist? Have you read that certain people shouldn't practice yoga or cook Chinese food? Or been told that being obese is healthy, that there is no such thing as biological sex, or that only white people can be racist? Are you confused by these ideas, and do you wonder how they have managed so quickly to challenge the very logic of Western society?

In this probing and intrepid volume, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay document the evolution of the dogma that informs these ideas, from its coarse origins in French postmodernism to its refinement within activist academic fields. Today this dogma is recognizable as much by its effects, such as cancel culture and social-media dogpiles, as by its tenets, which are all too often embraced as axiomatic in mainstream media: knowledge is a social construct; science and reason are tools of oppression; all human interactions are sites of oppressive power play; and language is dangerous. As Pluckrose and Lindsay warn, the unchecked proliferation of these anti-Enlightenment beliefs present a threat not only to liberal democracy but also to modernity itself.

While acknowledging the need to challenge the complacency of those who think a just society has been fully achieved, Pluckrose and Lindsay break down how this often-radical activist scholarship does far more harm than good, not least to those marginalized communities it claims to champion. They also detail its alarmingly inconsistent and illiberal ethics. Only through a proper understanding of the evolution of these ideas, they conclude, can those who value science, reason, and consistently liberal ethics successfully challenge this harmful and authoritarian orthodoxy--in the academy, in culture, and beyond.

Publisher: Durham : Pitchstone Publishing, 2020.
Edition: First Edition.
ISBN: 9781634312028
1634312023
Branch Call Number: 149.97 PLUCKROS
Characteristics: 351 pages ; 24 cm
Additional Contributors: Lindsay, James - Author

Opinion

From Library Staff

This book is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the dysfunctional academic foundations underlying modern Social Justice movements. -Aaron, IT Coordinator


From the critics


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s
StarGladiator
Apr 26, 2021

I look forward to reading this and find the name-calling clown from Chicago -- a k a "Homicide Town"-- hilarious; always go for the name calling, dearie, instead of intelligient criticism!
Experience? Attacks against people and property.
Intelligence? Fans of psychopath Bill Gates love to cite his perfect score on the SAT----WRONG!!!
Gates received a perfect score on the non-verbal or math section. (800 out of 1600, his total score, if I recall correctly was 1400, below my score, therefore by Chi-critic's specious thinking, I am far more qualified! Also received a perfect score on the old CEEBs' Math Aptitude Exam, placing me in the smallest minority in North America.)
I was in military intel during the time of Mao's bloody Cultural Revolution and recognize the same now in America. (Any not agreeing with her are racists and anti-Semites ---- now where have we heard this millions of times before, Xi Jinping???)

s
Swimmer54321
Apr 24, 2021

Really great book for those who are not familiar with Postmodernism and Critical Theories. Lays a compelling case for why Classical Liberalism is a superior way to solve society's problems of racism, women's rights, etc.

a
Awsisco
Apr 05, 2021

Why do people review this book when it's clear they have no background in philosophy (much like the authors) and don't understand the arguments? Could it be because books like this are fashionable nonsense that appeals to the knee-jerk reactionary sensibilities of Western cryptofascists, racist populists, and neo-Nazis? This book is basically a longwinded dogwhistle at "cultural Marxism" and a longstanding anti-Semitic trope.

White conservatives have always wanted a fashionable, pseudo-intellectual veneer for their regressive ideology, this is just another example.

2
21288004246712
Mar 12, 2021

bit of a slog, but worth the effort

b
baldand
Dec 21, 2020

This book is well worth reading even if it has been overlavishly praised by a number of reviewers. Douglas Murray and Ayaan Hirsi Ali are both big fans of the book. It is ironic that the authors, who wear their liberalism on their sleeve, have written a book that seems to appeal mainly to conservative readers on the right, myself included. The liberals, and in Canada the Liberals, are the people who are most likely to invoke in one way or another the applied post-modernism theories, including postcolonial theory, queer theory, critical race theory, intersectionality, fourth-wave feminism and gender studies. Former Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes channeled critical race theory when she tweeted: “Check your [white] privilege and be quiet” when former Conservative MP Maxime Bernier objected to funds allocated in the budget to a national anti-racism plan.
The authors note that in spite of their differences, all of the applied post-modernism theories tend to blur categories. This is perhaps most obvious in gender studies, where we are supposed to believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that there are a multitude of sexes. This, as Canadian sex researcher Debra Soh noted, is wrong. Even the very small part of the population that is intersex can mostly be classified as male or female based on their gametes. All three of the runners who forced Ottawa Lions runner Melissa Bishop into fourth place in the Olympic women’s 800-m final at Rio were probably males based on this definition of male and female. Strangely, the book has very little to say about intersex people and transgendered females in women’s sport, although they are poised to basically destroy women’s sport at the elite level.
One would make a mistake in ignoring the footnotes, which often include nuggets the writers seem afraid to put in the text proper. We are told (p.395) that: “Despite the relatively minor cultural differences between different countries and sects, we all share a single human culture, grounded in a universal human nature.” Is this really the case? If you went from North Dakota to North Korea, wouldn’t you be more struck by the differences than the similarities? Again, we are told: “It [Theory] could also leave us at the mercy of nationalists and right-wing populists, who pose an even greater threat to liberalism.” Got that? The radical feminist who believes Newton’s Principia Mathematica is a rape manual or the gender theorist who wants to normalize pedophilia aren’t really such a threat to liberalism as Donald Trump or Viktor Orbán! God save us from liberalism, if that is the case.
At the time of writing this review it appears that President Trump, who sensibly promised to remove Critical Race Theory from federal government training programs, will be denied a second term by Joe Biden, who wants to let small children decide their gender. If this happens, it will be a huge victory for applied post-modernism; it will be a big step in the wrong direction for America and the world.

n
nrizkalla
Dec 18, 2020

A brilliant book which exposes the fallacy of the theoretical background of the post-modern movement and how it is harming our societies.

b
Boych2018
Nov 11, 2020

Lindsay and Pluckrose present a detailed history of, and thinking behind, various Critical Theories. They explain why it is fashionable nonsense. They spare no detail and the book is a grind to read. This book provides clear insight on the insanity that has taken over the West.

b
baldand
Nov 10, 2020

This book is well worth reading even if it has been overlavishly praised by a number of reviewers. Douglas Murray and Ayaan Hirsi Ali are both big fans of the book. It is ironic that the authors, who wear their liberalism on their sleeve, have written a book that seems to appeal mainly to conservative readers on the right, myself included. The liberals, and in Canada the Liberals, are the people who are most likely to invoke in one way or another the applied post-modernism theories, including postcolonial theory, queer theory, critical race theory, intersectionality, fourth-wave feminism and gender studies. Former Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes channeled critical race theory when she tweeted: “Check your [white] privilege and be quiet” when former Conservative MP Maxime Bernier objected to funds allocated in the budget to a national anti-racism plan.
The authors note that in spite of their differences, all of the applied post-modernism theories tend to blur categories. This is perhaps most obvious in gender studies, where we are supposed to believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that there are a multitude of sexes. This, as Canadian sex researcher Debra Soh noted, is wrong. Even the very small part of the population that is intersex can mostly be classified as male or female based on their gametes. All three of the runners who forced Ottawa Lions runner Melissa Bishop into fourth place in the Olympic women’s 800-m final at Rio were probably males based on this definition of male and female. Strangely, the book has very little to say about intersex people and transgendered females in women’s sport, although they are poised to basically destroy women’s sport at the elite level.
One would make a mistake in ignoring the footnotes, which often include nuggets the writers seem afraid to put in the text proper. We are told (p.395) that: “Despite the relatively minor cultural differences between different countries and sects, we all share a single human culture, grounded in a universal human nature.” Is this really the case? If you went from North Dakota to North Korea, wouldn’t you be more struck by the differences than the similarities? Again, we are told: “It [Theory] could also leave us at the mercy of nationalists and right-wing populists, who pose an even greater threat to liberalism.” Got that? The radical feminist who believes Newton’s Principia Mathematica is a rape manual or the gender theorist who wants to normalize pedophilia aren’t really such a threat to liberalism as Donald Trump or Viktor Orbán! God save us from liberalism, if that is the case.
At the time of writing this review it appears that President Trump, who sensibly promised to remove Critical Race Theory from federal government training programs, will be denied a second term by Joe Biden, who wants to let small children decide their gender. If this happens, it will be a huge victory for applied post-modernism; it will be a big step in the wrong direction for America and the world.

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