Group Identity Theory as Reverse Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

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Helen Pluckrose:

"Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt described this entire method as a form of reverse Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT teaches people not to catastrophize and not to read negative meanings into everything. This decreases anxiety and improves one’s functioning in the world. Applied Post-modernism trains people to do precisely the opposite. It cannot help but increase anxiety and decrease ability to function. Lukianoff and Haidt provide much evidence that that is what’s happening. A similar pattern has emerged within feminism where again everything is seen in terms of a system of Patriarchy which hides beneath a benign surface. The job of the feminists is to detect it. Going through life in order to direct it detects ways in which men are belittling you is unlikely to lead to female empowerment. Teaching young women that society is hostile to them is probably not going to increase women’s engagement with the public sphere. One way in which the Post-modern understanding of hidden power structures works in society, is to see everything in terms of a scale. I’m sure some of you have seen some of those pictures of pyramids where at the bottom you’ve got asking a woman for coffee or complimenting her and at the top is rape and murder because this is understood as one big system of patriarchal rape culture—the manifestations of it of last and becoming increasingly torturous. This is largely to do with what’s been happening in scholarship over the last thirty years since the initiation and diversification of various types of theory.

When a system of scholarship is closed to external critique—as these theories generally have been—and when evidence and reason are not required in the first place, a body of work can quickly become quite deranged. What has happened over the last thirty years is that concepts have been built upon concepts leading to a towering mountain of theory, none of which has ever born much relation to reality.

One scholar writes a paper arguing for the existence of white privilege, Peggy McIntosh. She makes some good points, but she claims that simply being white confers great benefits on an individual without any consideration of class or wealth issues. This idea catches on in Critical Race Theory build on it until it’s well-established.

Then another scholar Barbara Applebaum takes it a step further. She argues that white privilege allows people to—white people—to sort of get away with racism because they can absolve themselves of their privilege by acknowledging it. So now we need another concept to put on top of that, which is white complicity,in which white people can never absolve themselves of their responsibility for racism, they are just implicit in it by dint of existing.

So, this idea is accepted and built upon, and then another scholar Robin D’Angelo takes this a step further still. White privilege and white complicity are still central concepts to her work, but there’s still a problem because some white people disagree with them. We now need white fragility to close that gap. White fragility is when white people respond to being told they’re privileged and complicit in racism by doing one of three things: disagreeing, being quiet, or going away. That is, the only way not to be fragile is stay right where you are and agree.

This is not scholarship. This is a Kafka Trap.

There is simply no valid way to disagree with this conception of society, to moderate it, to qualify it, to agree with some of it, to point out problems. You just have to agree. It is also notable that Robin D’Angelo’s language is so simple and clear that she could be read and understood by a ten-year-old. She also speaks in terms of absolute certainty. This has also happened over time in the other theories. Even in Queer theory and Postcolonial theory, the kind of writing which was famously incomprehensible decades ago has become much clearer and much more sure of itself. As the body of scholarship has grown, and scholars have been able to point anyone who disagrees with them, at a mounting body of work, the fields’ confidence in their own rightness has grown. Whereas the first Post-modernists spoke in terms of radical doubt, and the Applied Post-modernists retained some tentativeness and raised issues as questions to avoid making challengeable assertions, the current scholars are absolutely convinced of the objective truth of their worldview.

This new phase of absolute certainty, clarity, and refusal to accept disagreement as anything other than a wish to deny privilege began around 10 years ago and has been rapidly escalating since 2015. Those original ideas of the first Post-modernists are now sacred creeds, which cannot be doubted. Listen to these core tenets developed by a group of scholar activists, including Robin D’Angelo. It was read at the national race and pedagogy conference at the University of Puget Sound in 2015." (