All white people are racist; all men are sexist, racism and sexism are systems that can exist and oppress without the presence of a single person with racist or sexist intentions; sex is not biological but exists on a spectrum; saying you are not racist, sexist or homophobic is proof that you are; language can be literal violence, and some opinions must be silenced for the safety of others; denial of “gender identity” is killing people; a homeless woman in danger, or a mother in fear for her children, who says things have never been so bad needs to “check her privilege”; the wish to remedy disability, obesity or poor diet is hateful, and a sign that you do not allow the right of disabled people to exist…
I expect you agree with, or made an effort to agree with, quite a lot of that but I expect, somewhere in that highly virtuous and well-meaning paragraph, you had a ‘hang on a minute’ moment.
I have been reading a book that’s a wee bit off track for a socialist, near radical feminist such as myself, a book that recommends liberalism over revolutionary socialism at every turn and, I am aware, this will probably be the point where any self-identified Social Justice Warrior will stop reading my blog. On the other hand, if you are one of the many bemused socialists, revolutionary or otherwise, who have been avoiding certain topics in politics in recent years because they have become so immediately toxic that walking on egg-shells just isn’t enough to avoid the rows, this book is for you.
When does a theory become an ideology?
“Cynical Theories” by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay explores in detail how the rigid, cult-like tenets of Post Modern Critical Scholarship have got the left by the throat, and why the ‘Critical Theory’ doctrines make every disagreement into a disaster, and every debate into a passionate row, and what we might do about it.
When does an ideology become a cult?
Like most people, I have laughed at the claims of ‘political correctness’ over the years, and also on the other hand, scoffed at those statements that start ‘I’m not a racist but…’ like most people, I cheered on the gay liberation movement in its day, and the glorious summer of statue-demolishing and anti-racist education brought to us by BLM … but that is not nearly enough to satisfy your Social Justice Warrior. You must be 100% aligned with all the principles of identity politics, or you are a problem in their eyes, someone to ‘cancel’ at every opportunity.
How do you counteract a cult?
I first picked up a clue as to why this disease had so eaten away at the left from a Counterfire presentation a while back, that began to explain how Identity Politics sits in opposition to class-analysis but it didn’t go so far as to hand me a road-map. This book does, and I warmly recommend it to anyone who understands the need to re-unite the left, and who can see why we won’t do that while we have activists wedded to the power-grid that rigidly defines what many call the ‘oppression Olympics’, activists who will tell the most desperate, downtrodden citizen imaginable that, if he happens to be a white, cis-het male, then he is an oppressor, and he must bow to the every utterance of a citizen whose intersectional standpoint happens to be lower on the grid than his.
It is adherence to this power-grid view of oppression that (to give this week’s example) leads the CEO of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre to decide that ‘re-educating’ women who feel the need of all-female company after a traumatic attack is a priority.
So – keep your radical and revolutionary views by all means, and argue with any pages in the book that are too softy-centry in their suggested solutions, but do read the book if you want to understand where all this vitriol, this screechy dogma and no-platforming and these claims of ‘literal violence’ when disagreed with stem from; if you want to understand all these ‘name and shame’, ‘withdraw the whip’, accusations of ‘hate speech’, this-and-that-o-phobia and attempts at show trials came from, and how to diffuse them; if you want to help us return to a world where it is possible to disagree on individual issues, to stand in comradely opposition, negotiate conflicts of rights, and still stand on the same picket line in the name of socialism and solidarity against the very real, class-based, property-and-money based oppression of neoliberalism, read this book.