Andrew Sullivan on postmodern “Theory”

Andrew Sullivan’s Weekly Dish, to which I’ve just subscribed, has his usual tripartite column, along with the “view from my window” series and a place where he reproduces and responds to readers’ beefs. (To his credit, he took a reader’s advice to heart and is giving up issuing tweets that “simply mock or provoke without context.”) The three issues he takes up are wokeness—in particular a review and discussion of Pluckrose and Lindsay’s book Cynical Theories, which I’ve discussed before; an attack on Trump for intimating that he’d delay November’s election on the grounds of mail-in ballots; and a further defense of J. K. Rowling.

If you want to subscribe to Andrew’s site, it’s only $50 a year (a measly $1 per week), and you can do so here. To be honest, I’m jealous of Sullivan. When it comes to politics—though not religion: he still adheres to Catholicism, though his discussion of religion has largely disappeared—we’re pretty sympatico, and often write about the same stuff. But he makes a good living doing that, though I don’t begrudge him that because it’s hard work and he has several assistance. But I would like to write as well as he. And to make money by writing—what a joy? Not that it’s easy, of course. . .

I’ll just highlight his piece on Wokeness and Cynical Theories, a book both he and I recommend. As I’ve said, it’s not a “trade book” in the sense of being a quick and entertaining read. Rather, it’s a hybrid between a trade and an academic text, and that’s exactly what’s needed if you want to understand the intellectual roots of Wokeness and Critical Theory in postmodernism. To do that you have to come to grips with postmodernism, which is not only risible in content, but impenetrable in exposition.

Click on the screenshot to read; I think it’s still in the “free” phase.

As I wrote yesterday, my problem with Critical Race Theory, as instantiated in the principles of the Black Lives Matter movement (I again emphasize that their main goal— equality of treatment between blacks and other groups—is laudable), is that, in adhering to Identity Politics, it forever sees society as warring groups—ethnic and gender groups, by and large—vying for power in a zero-sum game. It’s thus divisive, and instead of appealing to the better angels of our nature, it demonizes whites (just as Critical Theory as a whole demonizes men and straight people), virtually bullying them into acceding to its demands. That’s a big contrast to the methods of Dr. King, which appealed to universal moral sentiments, abjured violence—and were successful. And indeed, Sullivan agrees, though he says it better than I:

After concisely summarizing the themes of Cynical Theory, Sullivan discusses its emphasis on both the individual (often seen as a victim) and the oppressed group, and its neglect of the universal—our common humanity. Of course “identity politics” has played an important role in securing gay rights, civil rights, women’s rights, and so on, but it didn’t do so by demonizing the opponent. When I refer to “identity politics”, these days, it’s to the species that loves to “other”.


The “neo” [“Critical Theory” is sometimes called “neo-Marxism] comes from switching out Marxism’s focus on materialism and class in favor of various oppressed group identities, who are constantly in conflict the way classes were always in conflict. And in this worldview, individuals only exist at all as a place where these group identities intersect. You have no independent existence outside these power dynamics. I am never just me. I’m a point where the intersecting identities of white, gay, male, Catholic, immigrant, HIV-positive, cis, and English all somehow collide. You can hear this echoed in the famous words of Ayanna Pressley: “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need any more black faces that don’t want to be a black voice.” An assertion of individuality is, in fact, an attack upon the group and an enabling of oppression.

Just as this theory denies the individual, it also denies the universal. There are no universal truths, no objective reality, just narratives that are expressed in discourses and language that reflect one group’s power over another. There is no distinction between objective truth and subjective experience, because the former is an illusion created by the latter. So instead of an argument, you merely have an identity showdown, in which the more oppressed always wins, because that subverts the hierarchy. These discourses of power, moreover, never end; there is no progress as such, no incremental inclusion of more and more identities into a pluralist, liberal unified project; there is the permanent reality of the oppressors and the oppressed. And all that we can do is constantly expose and eternally resist these power-structures on behalf of the oppressed.

I’d forgotten about Pressley’s statement, but it still chills me, implying that all members of oppressed groups have to speak with the same Approved Voice or they can be ignored. If that isn’t authoritarianism, what is? And of course “Theory’s” denial of objective reality in favor of subjective experience is anathema to a scientist like me. I once heard one of these postmodern clowns say, in a humanities seminar, that all forms of folk medicine were just as good as scientific medicine, as each culture had its own “experience” of curing illness. In the Q&A session, I asked him (a white Western academic) if he took antibiotics or got vaccinated, or went to a shaman instead? I remember a lot of blathering in the answer.

Sullivan ends this very good piece with a call for all of us to pushback against this nonsense rather than truckle to it. And indeed we should. Yes, you risk being called a racist, a misogynist, or a bigot, or even an alt-righter, but you can laugh that off. If we don’t fight back, these ideologues will be running society come January. (I’m not convinced that Biden doesn’t have a streak of Wokeness in him, or will develop one, though of course I’ll vote for him.)

They claim that their worldview is the only way to advance social progress, especially the rights of minorities, and that liberalism fails to do so. This, it seems to me, is profoundly untrue. A moral giant like John Lewis advanced this country not by intimidation, or re-ordering the language, or seeing the advancement of black people as some kind of reversal for white people. He engaged the liberal system with non-violence and persuasion, he emphasized the unifying force of love and forgiveness, he saw black people as having agency utterly independent of white people, and changed America with that fundamentally liberal perspective.

The gay rights movement, the most successful of the 21st century, succeeded in the past through showing what straights and gays have in common, rather than seeing the two as in a zero-sum conflict, resolved by prosecuting homophobia or “queering” heterosexuality. The women’s rights movement has transformed the role of women in society in the past without demonizing all men, or seeing misogyny as somehow embedded in “white supremacy”. As we have just seen, civil rights protections for transgender people—just decided by a conservative Supreme Court—have been achieved not by seeing people as groups in constant warfare, but by seeing the dignity of the unique individual in pursuing their own happiness without the obstacle of prejudice.

In fact, I suspect it is the success of liberalism in bringing this kind of non-zero-sum pluralism into being that rattles the critical theorists the most. Because it suggests that reform is always better than revolution, that empirical truth is on the side of the genuinely oppressed and we should never fear understanding things better, that progress is both possible in a liberal democracy, and more securely rooted than in other systems, because it springs from a lively, informed debate, and isn’t foisted on society by ideologues.

The rhetorical trap of critical theory is that it has coopted the cause of inclusion and forced liberals onto the defensive. But liberals have nothing to be defensive about. What’s so encouraging about this book is that it has confidence in its own arguments, and is as dedicated to actual social justice, achieved through liberal means, as it is scornful of the postmodern ideologues who have coopted and corrupted otherwise noble causes.

This is very good news—even better to see it as the Number 1 Amazon best-seller in philosophy long before its publication date later in August. The intellectual fight back against wokeness has now begun in earnest. Let’s do this.

I’m on board.


  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 1, 2020 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    I signed up for updates for now as the site is not set up to take a card over the smartphone.

    There’s a bunch of creative individuals including Sullivan out there I’ll be supporting when I get some economic strategies sorted out. So, this is meant as a supportive-in-spirit-but-not-in-bank-notes gesture of Sullivan’s writing.

    • dd
      Posted August 1, 2020 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      You can use credit card from website and make 1 time subscription.

  2. Christine Marie Janis
    Posted August 1, 2020 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Sullivan is excellent, but I really don’t see ‘mansplaining’ as a wokeness term.

  3. Doug Knauer
    Posted August 1, 2020 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    “Sullivan ends this very good piece with a call for all of us to pushback against this nonsense rather than truckle to it. And indeed we should.”

    My preference is to say, ‘And indeed we must.’ And I thank you for introducing me to the word truckle. It’s a good one.

  4. chrism
    Posted August 1, 2020 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I subscribed to it as soon as he moved back to his own site. It’s a bargain to read a long article once a week for a dollar.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted August 1, 2020 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      I pay the $ a week just for the VFYW solutions – I can never believe how much effort goes in and how precise the final results get. The rest is free bonus material 🙂

  5. Oliver S.
    Posted August 1, 2020 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Speaking of “com[ing] to grips with postmodernism”, the Encyclopaedia Britannica entry is very helpful as a starter:

  6. Posted August 1, 2020 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Good one!
    I would be very surprised to see Wokeness in Biden. But that variety of person could slip in under the tent in his administration. We will definitely see the effects of that!

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 1, 2020 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, the one claim in Jerry’s post I’d take issue with is his parenthetical contention that Joe Biden might “have a streak of Wlkeness in him, or will develop one.”

      Now, I expect Biden may give some of the Wokeness-prone in his Party positions in his administration, in an effort to govern from a big tent. But as for Old Uncle Joe himself, I don’t think he’d know his Woke from a hole in the ground. He’d be lost in any discussion of “intersectionality.”

      After all, Joe’s no intellectual; his interest in politics is in the praxis not the philosophy. He came to national office young — a US senator at barely 30 years old — and, if anything, he’s throwback to an even an earlier generation, having had more in common with FDR’s New Dealers than his with most of his own contemporaries even then. (He also has old-fashioned ideas about bipartisanship; his best friend in the senate was probably John McCain.)

      The formative political event of Biden’s young adulthood was the election of JFK when Biden was 18 — an event, I think, that first convinced him, among other things, that a northeastern Irish-Catholic fella such as himself could one day become president. Jack and Bobby were his idols, and Biden’s politics has never varied much from their “New Frontier”-ism.

    • AlTazim
      Posted August 1, 2020 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

      Someone did a good review of Joe Biden’s political history in Congress (about 40 years, so a big sample), and found that he always tended towards the median Democrat. If the party’s generally pro union, he’s pro union. If the party’s generally pro Wall St, he’s pro Wall St. If the party’s generally tough on crime, he’s tough on crime. In that way, he’s a politician’s politician: he has no principles except the current party position. So if the party’s generally woke, he’ll be woke.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 2, 2020 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        Assuming the accuracy of that study, it goes to show what a centrist party the Democrats have been over that four-decade span, since, at no time during it, could Joe Biden be classified as anything but a centrist (one with a bipartisan inclination to work across the isle). Over those 40 years, the Democratic Party may have tilted ever so slightly to its left on some issues, only to tilt back ever so slightly to its right, toward the center, on others. But quite the narrow range, has it traversed.

        Biden arrived in the US senate in 1973, and the Democratic presidents he’s served under since have all been centrists — Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton (who triangulated his way to power by adopting Republican policies, including balancing the budget, before Republicans could get there themselves), and Barack Obama (whose signature legislative achievement was the Affordable Care Act, the key elements of which were originally hatched by the conservative Heritage Foundation, and the initial instantiation of which was put into praxis by Republican Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney).

        Hell, even the Democratic presidential candidates who ran and lost over that 40 year period — Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry — were all centrists as well, not a hard-leftist anywhere among them.

        Assuming Biden is elected this November, I expect he won’t stray from this well-trodden path. I look for him to be a four-year, return-to-normalcy, caretaker type president, working to break the Trump fever and to end our national nightmare, by-and-large doing his level best to return this nation to the status quo ante in affairs both foreign and domestic.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted August 2, 2020 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

          … to work across the “aisle” …

  7. Posted August 1, 2020 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I agree with your and Sullivan’s criticisms of the excesses of the “woke” crowd. Also, having read some Helen Pluckrose’s criticisms of the evolution of Post-Modernism I certainly agree with some of her criticisms of where it has gone. That noted, I think that your criticisms might be more effective if you devoted some time to more careful analysis and discussion of the varieties of what is often termed “Critical Theory” which notably covers a broad array of theoretical perspectives. In multiple respects, I would consider myself to be a Critical Theorist while taking issue with much of what is done in Critical Theory. The analysis of structure, power, habit and how these interact beyond just economic class has a deep and long pedigree in the Social Sciences, even outside of Marx. If some people take these concepts and apply them in excessive and sometimes almost silly ways, it doesn’t necessarily make inquiry in those areas bad. I respect Pluckrose’s commitment to Classical Liberalism but I don’t agree that it reduces to “Classical Liberals vs. Post-Modernists”. There are still scholars like Adolph Reed who write about race, class, power and gender and who are also critical of Critical Race Theory. There’s a lot of value in Habermas’ views on Democracy and Ideal Discourse Situations. Even if Judith Butler can be near incomprehensible, Speech Act Theory is still useful as is the concept of “performativeness”. Also, I think you miss the ways in which Centrists and Conservatives shut down debate. I agree with some of what you have said in the past about the excesses of the Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement yet on the other hand, how much attention actually gets paid in open discussion to Israel’s persistent flouting of International Law?

    • Historian
      Posted August 1, 2020 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      People who call themselves classical liberals seem to think that it only refers to individual liberties, such as freedom of speech. This is wrong. Wikipedia describes classical liberalism this way:

      “Core beliefs of classical liberals included new ideas—which departed from both the older conservative idea of society as a family and from the later sociological concept of society as a complex set of social networks. Classical liberals believed that individuals are ‘egoistic, coldly calculating, essentially inert and atomistic’ and that society is no more than the sum of its individual members.”

      In other words, classical liberalism is today’s libertarianism, a philosophy that has been used by conservatives to justify intellectually the oppression of the masses. Modern day liberals (without the prefix “classical”) still believe in individual freedoms while fully embracing the role of government in uplifting the oppressed. Their free market fetish, if ever implemented to their liking, would be a disaster for that society. Classical liberals are wrong also in thinking that individuals are “atomistic.” This is theoretical nonsense. People naturally migrate to joining groups. Classical liberals must be very confused as to how group identity, such as race, flies in the face of their ideology. Of course, on the other hand, an extreme adherence to group identity is dangerous also. The trick is to find a happy medium, which is very difficult to accomplish.

      • John Donohue
        Posted August 3, 2020 at 3:18 am | Permalink

        That is a Left-Wikified definition of “classic liberal.” As such, do you notice how it now tees-up perfectly for excoriation by those to the left of it?


        • Posted August 3, 2020 at 6:33 am | Permalink

          Some of the Classical Liberal sources really did look at people as social atoms and in some cases their view of people’s a sociality was extreme. Some of the other Classical Liberal Sources such as Smith and Hume actually incorporated ideas about sociality of humans into their writing. I actually don’t agree that today’s Libertarians are Classical Liberals, but I don’t think I can really flesh that argument out here.

          • John Donohue
            Posted August 3, 2020 at 8:27 am | Permalink

            Anytime someone throws the “social atoms” meme, they telegraph they are at war with freedom.

            A Political Philosophy which holds the individual as the fundamental unit enables each citizen to chose to gather or not, chose to help each other or not, chose to cooperate in enterprise and life missions or not.

            A Political Philosophy that disparages the individual, for instance with phrases like this…

            “…individuals are ‘egoistic, coldly calculating, essentially inert and atomistic’

            … and instead holds “The Group” as the fundamental unit, is collectivist, requiring coercion, command and control, and destruction of freedom.

            • Posted August 3, 2020 at 8:29 am | Permalink


            • Posted August 3, 2020 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

              I have the impression that the owner of this blog prefers that the thread not get sidetracked into long discussions of this sort. I will simply point out that your argument above would put Adam Smith and virtually every other philosopher in the Scottish Enlightenment in the category of enemy of freedom.

              • John Donohue
                Posted August 3, 2020 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

                Specifically: Adam Smith was no friend of freedom, individualism, and capitalism, unless by ‘friend’ you are okay with “well, you are selfish and sinful, but you do produce a lot of material wealth, so you are the least horrid of all the systems of economic organization. The group, barely, will tolerate you and your greed. Now go out there and make things the group needs. Wait … you forgot this list of regulations — take it, read it, live it.”

              • John Donohue
                Posted August 3, 2020 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

                My paraphrase stands. Your link to his work, accompanied by an insult, is utterly void.

    • Posted August 1, 2020 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      Sorry, but I have limited space here. I’d suggest that you and other readers interested in the roots of “Critical Theory” read Pluckrose’s and Lindsay’s book. And yes, there is some value in postmodernism, but not in its twin supporting principles, especially the idea that there is no such thing as objective truth.

      • Posted August 1, 2020 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        I’ll try once. You missed my points. I am familiar with Pluckrose’s work, in fact, I said that I thought her history of the evolution of PostModernism (an amazingly vague term if there ever was one) was useful. I’m also trying to explain that not all Critical Theory is Post Modernist, and I would argue that early Post Modern Theory is not necessarily even Critical. That’s a point, btw, that Pluckrose has made herself and its a point that has been made by many, many others. The other point I made is that analysis of structure, power, class, race, gender have deep roots in the social sciences and can be, and in fact are, conducted in a social scientific fashion (seeking explanation via empirical inquiry). The choice is not reduced to “Classical Liberalism” vs. “Critical Race Theory”. When I read your blog, which is quite often, I get the sense that you don’t have a good grasp on social theory and consequently you run things together that don’t necessarily go together and oversimplify, which undermines the effectiveness of many of the valid points you make.

      • Historian
        Posted August 1, 2020 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

        Yes, there is such a thing as objective truth in that the evidence is overwhelming to support the truth claim. But, a problem that is particularly acute in today’s society is the question of what meaning or significance we should ascribe to the truth. For example, all evidence (at least for now) supports the truth claim that wearing face masks reduces the transmission of the coronavirus. Yet, many of the people who oppose the mandatory wearing of masks do so not on the grounds that they dispute the effectiveness of the masks, but rather they will take the risk of not wearing them to maintain their individual freedom. This belief, part of their value system, is so strong that they don’t care if they spread the virus to others. There will always be truth deniers. But, we must understand that how the truth is used, ignored or interpreted is another problem we face.

    • Posted August 2, 2020 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      Hear hear. There are claims within Critical Theory, and for that matter Postmodernism, that are correct, and claims that are false. It’s worth sorting them out, rather than confining the options to all or none.

      • Posted August 3, 2020 at 6:36 am | Permalink

        I think that defenders and detractors of Critical Theory sometimes run things together that shouldn’t be. But firstly, the definition of Critical Theory is up for grabs. All I am trying to argue is that analysis based on concepts of class, race, gender, power, etc. have validity and doing that kind of analysis doesn’t have to lead to or be based in relativistic epistemologies. And it certainly doesn’t have to go to the extremes it has been taken to in some cases.

        • Posted August 3, 2020 at 8:28 am | Permalink

          It should not be surprising that “analysis based on concepts of class, race, gender, power, etc. have validity…” if one first believes such groupings are real entities and accurately represent the individuals who constitute them. It’s circular thinking.

          • Posted August 3, 2020 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

            In so far as one can designate social entities as real, these groupings are real. If you take a relatively innocuous entity like “Middle Class” you can delineate its boundaries, point to actual people, analyze the social patterns so as a realist, I would say such entities are real in the same sense nation states, money, and other social entities are real. If I were a nominalist i would say i’m just using convenient terms for entities but I would still be justified in conducting analysis at that level.

  8. Blue
    Posted August 1, 2020 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    In re MLK and his alleged “ abjured violence ” – work ?
    That phrasing is made accurate and, therefore, correct when finished with
    “ but only for men and boys. ”

    Over literally a l l of the religionist’s,
    Mr Michael King’s working years, there was
    nothing from him for women and girls but
    the continued violence upon us … … same as
    there had been from throughout centuries’ and
    millennia’s worth of men’s religions and

    To wit and from that pulpit o’his,
    there could have been from him,
    for Us 53% of the World’s population,
    huge gains made against the atrocities
    of femicide, clitoridectomy and
    of all cultures’ worth of rapes
    ( 190612-u6hdhuga7zfefky3ll4twcdrty-story.html ),
    let alone, from the mere multiple infidelities
    against the promises made upon folks’ and families’ mawwiage – vowings.


  9. BJ
    Posted August 1, 2020 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    ” But I would like to write as well as he. And to make money by writing—what a joy?”

    You’re an excellent writer! Of course, Sullivan is a master wordsmith and so gets paid for his writing, but I would say the same about the career you’ve had: what a joy it would be getting paid to teach and research evolution, genetics, and biology. And to be advised by the esteemed Lewontin! You’ve lived a life many people dream of having, and it’s been well-earned!

    • Posted August 2, 2020 at 2:17 am | Permalink

      Here here.
      I started writing full time when I saw Mr. Trump descend the golden escalator, knowing it wouldn’t pay at all and that even lifelong professional journalists are being culled at a fast clip. Now I write full time, virtually for free.
      I used to work on Wall St and was (am) a lawyer so I don’t need the dosh, like your fantastic career before as a prof at a top notch school that many would kill for.
      You play great guitar, don’t complain you’re not George Harrison or slow hand like Sullivan, just enjoy making the music.
      D.A., J.D., NYC

  10. Jon Gallant
    Posted August 1, 2020 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Pluckrose and Lindsay deal with the philosophy underlying the great awokening, but that is literarilly academic. The more significant matter is sociological: by what mechanism did the cult of the holy trinity of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion reach a pervasiveness that any Medieval Pope might envy. The mechanism, I suggest, is revealed in the following website: .

    The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group is an influential (and I would guess profitable) gang of educational consultants. Do I need to explain anything more?

    The educational consulting industry (an outgrowth of our marvelous Schools of Ed) has periodically introduced new fads in the education of USian children. In the 1960s, they attempted to reject phonics in the teaching of reading; then went through a phase of enthusiasm for New Math teaching. Finally, they moved into the arena of Diversity training. In 1978 Ms. Katz (who holds an Ed. D. degree) published “White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training”. This pioneering study, long before Robin DiAngelo, explained that “objective rational linear thinking”, “quantitative emphasis”, and related concepts like hard work and future orientation, were all epiphenomena of “White culture”. Ms. Katz is an executive vice-pres of KJCG.

    The educationists’ earlier campaigns for illiteracy (by abandoning phonics) and innumeracy (by abandoning arithmetic) did not entirely succeed. But now, having hooked into the magic talisman of “anti-racism training”, they may finally succeed in bringing the culture of the US back to a state like that enjoyed in Medieval Europe—or those parts of the world blessed by never having struggled through the evils of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment.

  11. Posted August 1, 2020 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been on board for over 2 decades now as I criticized this slow post-modern creep first into academia and now oozing into every liberal nook and cranny. And – perhaps shocking to some – identifying the Trump administration back in 2016 as the first Woke one, based on the entire Administration believing in and acting upon a ideological narrative over and above respecting reality. Trump is merely the first malignant politically powerful symptom and getting rid of him a stop-gap measure in this ongoing and growing attack on liberalism.

    • Ullrich Fischer
      Posted August 1, 2020 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      Interesting take on Trump. Of course the Woke will bridle at the suggestion that he is Woke, but on thinking about it, he clearly is, just from a more obviously self-serving right wing perspective than the left-cancelling Woke offense-sniffers will admit to being.

      • Posted August 1, 2020 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

        The belief in the narrative is the key feature. That’s why we sense a very close tie to all of this partisanship narrative being very much like a religious belief – regardless if it’s from the Right or the Left. It still has the authoritarian element, the demand to follow only acceptable dogma (MLK can not be a REAL Black voice), the demand for obedience through public shaming, the accusation of blasphemy in the form of some prohibited discrimination (Rowling MUST be a transphobe, Pinker MUST be alt-Right!), the silencing of dissent by hate law (offence culture institutionalized), and so on. Just because the targets for authoritarian bullying might be different for Trump doesn’t make any significant distinction. It’s still belief in the narrative and the rejection of reality’s right – like then objective understand sought by the scientific method – vilified as some kind of Grand Victimizer of the Faithful.

  12. dd
    Posted August 1, 2020 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I strongly urge you to take about 50 minutes and listen to this interview with Sullivan and his interlocutor, Reihan Salam.

    A little preview: Sullivan says at one point that already he will be making more $$$$ going at it alone that with NYMag.

  13. Ullrich Fischer
    Posted August 1, 2020 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Yes, that article alone is enough to justify subscribing. Sullivan is an excellent writer and that particular review is spot on. I don’t expect I’ll agree with him on everything, but his is one voice which makes much needed positive contributions to the political conversation.

  14. CCC
    Posted August 2, 2020 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    Isn’t Critical Race Theory a kind of untestable theory of group selection?

  15. Roo
    Posted August 2, 2020 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I liked the description of Critical Theory / Summary of Cynical Theories in this article, it was illuminating regarding the potential roots of Wokeness. I say potential because I have always been agnostic on the degree to which ideologies matter. In the case of religion, my intuition has generally been that beliefs are secondary to circumstances, and that they are, as I think Jonathan Haidt has talked about, mostly post hoc justifications for whatever behaviors are seen as adaptive or necessary in a given environment. So, for example, cutting off a thief’s hand might resonate with people living in an area with very few resources, out-of-control criminal gangs plundering what resources are available, and no secular law enforcement. Once society develops to the point where most everyone’s basic needs are provided for, more liberal messages of compassion and forgiveness come to the foreground. So while I’m open to evidence to the contrary, my intuition is that addressing beliefs in the case of fundamentalist religion is not nearly as effective as addressing the circumstances which (to my mind) give rise to those beliefs.

    I will say, however, that this is a fascinating case study in what happens when new beliefs are suddenly taught on a large scale. My question now is, are there circumstances that explain why Critical Theory was soaked up by this generation rather than an alternate theory? Are there conditions that Critical Theory really speaks to, in terms of addressing the needs of the moment? Or is this a case of something like ideological blank-slate-ism , where the beliefs taught can be somewhat arbitrary and, once taught, are hugely consequential?

    I think it’s impossible to resolve this definitively, of course, because any attempt to discuss how Critical Theory meets the needs of the moment could be something like a “Just So” story. You’d need much broader data about what kinds of beliefs emerge in multiple societies under similar conditions. Do people find an excuse to Balkanize (which is essentially what Critical Theory does, dressed up in moralistic and academic phrasing) when, for example, immigration is at historic highs while income inequality is also at historic highs? Or, given that we are a wealthy, resource-rich first world country even taking inequality into account, does this show that ideologies can arise, if they are taught, under any circumstances?

  16. John Donohue
    Posted August 3, 2020 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    James Lindsay, co-author with Helen Pluckrose on “Cynical Theories,” has the history/roots of Woke/CriticalRacialism nailed when he speaks. This video gets right to it (no blah blah blah) and within one minute he identifies that one main origin root is: The Baptist religion’s “Social Gospel.”

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