Applied Postmodernism

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= concept developed and applied by Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay to explain the emergence of Group Identity Theory


by Helen Pluckrose, James A. Lindsay and Mike Nayna:

"Evergreen College had been poisoned internally by a steady diet of Social Justice scholarship that has been distilled into a form that is user-friendly for activists. We have referred to the substance of this diet as applied postmodernism, and it incorporates intersectional feminism and critical race theory, particularly feminist and critical race epistemology.

Within the applied postmodern conception of society, society has been constructed in the service of dominant groups by their having created and perpetuated discourses—ways of speaking about things—that exist to marginalize people of color and particularly women of color, both actively and passively. That is, applied postmodernists believe the way we know what is true and the way society works has been artificially constructed by the talk of white people, including how we produce and communicate knowledge. Moreover, this social construction was, is, and always will be unless the activists can remake society.

The outlook is not optimistic from within these critical theories, for not only does the dominant social construction of society allow dominant (white and male) people to oppress people of color, especially women of color, but it also prevents them from even knowing they are doing so. Feminist epistemologist Kristie Dotson, for example, has developed a complicated philosophical explanation for the intractability of this problem with her concept of irreducible epistemic oppression. She insists that the systems by which we produce and share knowledge are designed to exclude those of marginalized groups from full participation and access, and this problem is necessarily unsolvable from within the system itself. In application, this requires breaking the system. Video footage from Evergreen has emerged of a student yelling “Higher education wasn’t meant for black people.” These were not the words of an angry and confused young student but a meme derived from the complicated philosophy they are being taught in the classrooms.

A shocking amount of applied postmodern scholarly effort goes into exploring why this would be the case, and it all reads like conspiracy theory. Charles Mills, for instance, insists white people have a racial contract in which they conspire to keep people of color down by the way they talk about things. José Medina claims white people suffer from active epistemic ignorance, which they need to counter by listening and becoming aware of their limitations. Barbara Applebaum tells us white innocence is the selfish motivation for white people refusing to see their own white complicity by practicing white ignorance (which she sometimes calls white ignore-ance). Alison Bailey says that to disagree is to engage in privilege-preserving epistemic pushback, and claims that the key motivation for resistance is to preserve one’s privilege.

As noted, critical race education specialist Robin DiAngelo has provided the most potent tool for articulating the most insidious method for how it perpetuates itself—white fragility. Recall the talk given by DiAngelo, shown in Part One of Nayna’s documentary, in which she says that no white person can avoid being socialized into racism and that in order to combat it, we have to be able to see it. True to the application of this theory, in Part Two, shown here, Weinstein describes having to defend himself against accusations of racism not only from the main activist on the faculty, but from the provost, who has simply accepted that all white people must be racist.

More shocking still, to ask for evidence of this systemic and universal racism of white people is itself problematic. As the students of Evergreen shout at Bret, they don’t need evidence of racism because they live it every day—thus, a request for evidence denies the reality of their lived experience and is construed as further racism. If he were to accept their claims instead and then ask them to share this lived experience with him, however, he would commit what Nora Berenstein calls epistemic exploitation. This occurs any time oppressed people are oppressed again by being expected to explain and justify their experiences of oppression, which is believed to benefit primarily the dominant. We see all of this in Nayna’s documentary as it is put into practice, revealing how the Social Justice scholarship has underwritten the activism that has overtaken Evergreen’s students and faculty.

As should be clear, the assertion at the center of the meltdown of Evergreen—that white people are all racist and need to be brought to see this, confess and work to dismantle it—has been diligently rendered unfalsifiable in the Social Justice scholarship. That is, there is no test that a white person could pass to prove that she isn’t racist. This, as Heather Heying rightly points out in the film, is one reason that these critical theorists are so eager to take out the sciences, which rely upon hypothesis testing and falsifiability." (