Helen Pluckrose on Group Identity Theory as Reified Post-Modernism
"In June of 2020, Helen Pluckrose gave a talk on the evolution of Postmodernist thought, highlighting three distinct periods of this evolution, ending with the current period which she and James Lindsay, the co-author of Cynical Theories call Reified Post-modernism. This talk offers a useful overview of the origins of words, phrases, beliefs about reality, activist strategies and behavioral practices of a very specific ideological framework called Critical Social Justice which draws much of ideas from three different historical phases of Post-modernist thought. Two of the most fundamental ideas in this framework is that there is no objective reality and that there are no universal human experiences." (http://socialjusticeevolution.org/home-page/blog-page/)
"There is a movement that presumptuously labels itself Social Justice as though it alone holds the key to this, as though everybody else is actually seeking something different. This movement is not conservative, although it shares some values around segregation and purity with the far-right. It’s not liberal, although it speaks a liberal language of diversity, plurality, and inclusion. And it’s not Marxist, although it pays some lip service to anti-capitalism.
Social Justice is a highly counterintuitive movement which speaks its own language and has its own conceptions of the world. Accordingly, it is frequently misunderstood, miscategorized and attempts to counter it frequently fail. Conceptions of social justice that are rooted in Critical Theory don’t look much like the common understanding of social justice. People see the symptoms of the Social Justice movement quite clearly. They might refer to them as identity politics or political correctness, callout culture, or cancel culture.
It’s been hard to miss the demands to decolonize everything from curricula to hairstyles, and the tearing down of statues, defacing of paintings. Pronouns have become a matter of paramount political importance. They’ve also become much harder to navigate and use correctly in both their political sense and a grammatical one. It’s common now to hear that all men are sexist, and all white people are racist. If one protests at this, one is told it’s simply impossible not to be, due to the system of socialization that we’ve all been through. It seems that every day we hear news of a comedian being cancelled for a problematic joke, or a celebrity offering a groveling apology for the unintended misuse of a word, or that someone in the public eye has been found to have said something twenty years ago, which is now considered racist, sexist or homophobic. Artists of all kinds are frequently held up for criticism either because their work has not included a diverse range of people — in which case there’s a failure of representation — or because it has, in which case its cultural appropriation. Anyone who addresses political or cultural issues at all is likely to attract swarms of Social Justice activists to problematize, call out, distort, and misrepresent their arguments.
This is enabled largely by social media where activists can congregate and highlight the tweets or essays they have a problem with. Dog-piles are common, and it seems not to matter whether one is a prominent person or a private individual sharing their own experience on their own Twitter account. Even when speaking on your own account, you are likely to be accused of dictating to, or speaking over, marginalized people or you could just—we could just—go straight to white supremacist, misogynist, transphobic, fascist. It is becoming increasingly daunting, particularly for those with businesses or jobs they’d like to keep, to speak publicly at all. The approach of the social justice activists is uncharitable, unreasonable, frequently uninformed, unjust and unforgiving.
But what has caused this intense focus on identity, knowledge, language and the power structures? That’s what I’m here to talk about." (http://socialjusticeevolution.org/2020/11/17/the-evolution-of-post-modern-thought-helen-pluckrose/)
"In 1989 over in Critical Legal Studies and Critical Race Theory, Kimberlé Crenshaw began developing her concept of Intersectionality. She described this as contemporary politics linked to Post-modern theory. The cultural constructivism of Post-modernism, Crenshaw felt was useful, in regarding gender and race as cultural constructs. But there had to be some objective reality if anyone was to achieve anything. The existence of oppressive cultural constructs around gender and race were decided to be what was objectively real. Furthermore, liberalism she claimed, was inadequate, despite the massive evidence that it was in fact very successful. Liberalism was too universal to be politically productive, and it was time for a more intense focus on identity politics.
In that same year, Mary Pavan was attempting to reconcile deconstructive approaches with feminism. Like Crenshaw, she argued that the methods were useful, but there did need to be a recognition of an objective reality. How can we advocate for women, for equality for women, unless women are a category of people that objectively exists? She advocated a toolbox approach in which Post-modern techniques would be used when helpful and not, when not.
Meanwhile, in expansion of gay and lesbian studies, Judith Butler was claiming that actually women don’t need to be a category of people that objectively exists. In fact, claiming categories to objectively exist is the problem. Queer Theory was born. It drew extensively on the work of Foucault and can be argued to be the purest form of Post-modernism currently in existence. However, Queer Theory avoided the fate of deconstructing itself into oblivion by making the deconstruction of categories a form of activism. Queer theory reifies queerness and a whole range of queer identities but deconstructs anything normative. In this way, it’s felt, people who don’t fit within masculine men attracted to women or feminine women attracted to men—don’t feel the pressure to do so. We can just deconstruct those categories altogether.
Just like that, post-modernism had become energized and politically actionable. We called this phase applied post-modernism.No longer was it aimlessly pulling reality apart and denying objective truth to exist, it was now objectively true that social reality was culturally constructed by specific systems of power. Post-modernism now had goals it acknowledged and justified its departure from the original post-modernists explicitly, often claiming that they were privileged white men who had little need to affect change in the world. This new form of Post-modernism was much more user-friendly. Consequently, it could break the bounds of the academy in the way the original Post-modernism could not. The dying radical Left adopted it for this reason. While much of Post-colonial Theory and Queer Theory remained largely incomprehensible to the layman, Critical Race Theory and Intersectional Feminism were written in clear language from the start. This is probably due to its foundation in legal theory rather than philosophy. Thus, activism for gender and racial equality was able to draw on its ideas. Critical race theory is rooted in some very strong scholarship by liberal humanist and Marxist scholars, which pointed out that white identity had been formed at the expense of Black identity. It is essential to note that Critical Race Theory is originally an American phenomenon, and the evidence that America was a racially divided society with Blacks as second-class citizens until very recently is indisputable.
However, with its recent descent into Post-modern discourse analysis, and conceptions of society as entirely underlain by systems of white supremacy operating in mysterious ways, Critical Race Theory has become quite unhinged. It threatens to undo much of the progress that has been made on racial equality. Using methods which assume racism to be present in any interaction between a white person and a person of racial minority, results in always finding it and further entrenching the belief in an ever-present white supremacy. Things that have been listed as racist microaggressions include complementing a black person on their eloquence, saying that you do not see people in terms of race, or that you believe the best person for a job should get it. It’s is clear what a minefield this is.
Of course, the people most affected by being trained to read everything in this way are racial minorities. " (http://socialjusticeevolution.org/2020/11/17/the-evolution-of-post-modern-thought-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." (http://socialjusticeevolution.org/2020/11/17/the-evolution-of-post-modern-thought-helen-pluckrose/)