Many Americans are concerned about the splintering of America into identity groups and are bewildered by critical race theory, queer studies, the proliferation of genders, cancel culture, the claim that reason and logic are constructs of white culture, and the corresponding shift from classical liberalism to identity-based authoritarianism.
Other Americans believe that these are passing fads that will dissipate like former fads if they are ignored, or humored, or accommodated until they run out of steam.
The scholarly book below can inform the first group and disabuse the second group.
Cynical Theories, by Helen Pluckrose & James Lindsay, Pitchstone Publishing, Durham, North Carolina, 2020, 351 pages.
The book is a very important treatise on how the new thinking came about, why it is not going away on its own, and why it is destroying the bonds that hold society together.
The authors are pedigreed liberals and scholars with inside knowledge of the academy. They rightly see the new thinking as a threat to classical liberalism, which they define as “political democracy, limitations on the powers of government, the development of universal human rights, legal equality for all adult citizens, freedom of expression, respect for the value of viewpoint diversity and honest debate, respect for evidence and reason, the separation of church and state, and freedom of religion.”
In this, the authors have a lot of common cause with conservatives, libertarians, and anyone of any party who still values such political principles.
The problem is that the book is a difficult read, not because it is badly written, but because, by necessity, it has to delve into academic jargon and philosophical abstractions and concepts. Understandably, with the stresses of living in these troubled times, most people don’t have the time or interest to read a book that is about as relaxing as studying for a final exam.
As such, given the importance of the book’s message, this paper is less of a traditional book review and more of a formal exposition based on the book’s key points, for the benefit of those who won’t be reading the book. Personal thoughts are included based on my career experience at the vanguard of equal opportunity, affirmative action, diversity, and racial sensitivity training.
The paper is divided into the following sections:
- Postmodernism Roots of New Thinking
- The Mutation of Postmodernism
- Social Justice’s Version of Scholarship
- Queer Theory
- Critical Race Theory
- The New Feminism
- The New View of the Disabled and the Obese
- Standpoint Theory
- Social Justice Closemindedness
- The Rapidly Spreading Dogma
- White Fragility
Due to the complexity of the foregoing topics, and due to the new illiberal thinking having its tentacles deep inside America’s major institution, this paper is necessarily long at nearly 6,900 words. I believe it is one of my most important writings, more important than my published book, my seven years of authoring a newspaper column, and my many articles in leading newspapers and publications. That shows how much I see the new thinking as a serious threat.
Postmodernism Roots of New Thinking
The roots of today’s voguish theories go back to the postmodernism of the late 1960s. There’s not a universally-accepted definition of “postmodernism,” but a common one is “a belief that there is no objective knowledge or truth.”
Postmodernism rejected the reason and scientific method of the Enlightenment, embraced moral and cultural relativism, and saw power, cultural biases, and the language of political discourse as the guiding forces of society.
Because postmodernism deconstructed all large social and political systems into meaninglessness, it resulted in cynicism and nihilism and tore itself apart in the process. But one aspect of postmodernism survives today: a rejection of both individuality and common humanity. In their place, postmodernism saw small groups as the only legitimate sources of knowledge, values and discourses—groups that have the same experiences, perspectives and values, due to being of the same race, sex, or class.
The Mutation of Postmodernism
Originally, postmodernism was kind of an intellectual game without a political or social agenda. Its modern mutation is the opposite. It has morphed into what the book calls New Theories, which have the goal of reordering society, righting wrongs, achieving equal results instead of equality under the law, pursuing social justice for those groups seen as being treated unjustly, taking power from white men, stereotyping all whites as having conscious and unconscious biases, rejecting white ideas about reason and merit, replacing white literature and words with the literature and words of marginalized groups, and dismantling the white institutions and social norms that are seen as being built on colonialism, slavery, discrimination, and other injustices.
The book’s authors don’t say this, but revenge is one of the driving forces behind the New Theories; that is, the unspoken motive is to get even with white men and Western culture for demeaning and supplanting non-Western cultures and powerless minorities. Of course, the vast majority of those who embrace the New Theories have been born and raised under Western values, are the progeny of generations of Americans who have lived under Western values, and only have an imagined or exaggerated sense of another cultural heritage.
Not only that, but many of the theorists are whiter than this Mediterranean. One wonders if they realize what they have unleashed on their progeny and society.
Acolytes of the New Theories fail to acknowledge the self-correcting nature of classical liberalism and democracy, and they seem blind to the tremendous progress made in extending rights, political power, and economic progress to non-whites, women, gays, and the disabled. Nor do they seem to realize that the reason they have not been sent to the gulag or reeducation camp for their revolutionary ideas is because they are citizens of a pluralistic, liberal democracy and a constitutional republic with a Bill of Rights.
At the same time, they don’t say what political and economic system they see as a replacement, they don’t admit the failings of other systems and cultures, and, for sure, they can’t imagine that things might get worse if they were to rise to power. In their sanctimonious minds, they don’t have human foibles and are therefore incapable of governing out of self-interest and being corrupted by power. In that sense, they are reminiscent of idealistic Bolsheviks in 1917.
As will be seen below, their methods reveal the opposite about them.
Social Justice’s Version of Scholarship
There used to be a barrier between scholarship and activism in academia, just as there used to be a barrier between the news and editorial pages of newspapers. The barrier has been breached. As the authors of Critical Theories write, “Teaching is now supposed to be a political act, and only one type of politics is acceptable—identity politics…”
In turn, identity politics has led to the concept of “research justice,” which demands that scholars maximize citations of women and minorities and minimize citations of white Western men, because empirical research rooted in evidence and reasoned argument is an unfair and privileged cultural construct of white Westerners. Therefore, according to the authors, research justice establishes a moral obligation for scholars to include other forms of research, such as “superstition, spiritual beliefs, cultural traditions and beliefs, identity-based experiences, and emotional responses.”
The authors go on to say that this agenda is not hidden. It has been open and explicit for many years. No doubt, it was not open and explicit to parents who footed the college expenses for their kids.
The authors quote a postmodernist scholar on his theories about the role that language plays in constructing knowledge. In a case of ironic comedy, the scholar’s writing was so incomprehensible that he won second place in a bad writing contest for this sentence:
If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline, soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to “normalize” formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.
Much of the writing in the New Theories is just as incomprehensible, and even when it is comprehensible, it is often incoherent, inconsistent, illogical, and contradictory. That’s certainly the case with queer theory.
Queer theory is mostly about sex, gender and sexuality but can be applied to other subjects. It is a belief that language causes oppression when it is used to establish and reinforce what society considers normal, especially in regards to the binary categories of male and female, masculine and feminine, straight and gay, and so on. The goal of queer theory is to subvert or reject anything considered normal and to replace it with the queer.
Once again, the driving force is the belief that normative categories are social constructs developed intentionally or unintentionally by the dominant culture to discriminate against outliers. Therefore, it’s self-defeating for minorities and the disadvantaged to judge themselves by the standards and mores of the dominant group.
As with a lot of the New Theories, an ounce of truth can be found in a gallon of hogwash.
Science does show that gender dysphoria is real, and for sure, humans have always engaged in sexual practices outside of what society at a given point in history has considered normal. But it is not enough under queer theory to employ classical liberalism to extend equal rights to so-called queers. It’s necessary to go beyond that to make queers the new normal, to change the language accordingly, and to even put them on a pedestal as a brave new victim group deserving of accolades. A personal anecdote illustrates the difference in treatment.
Circa 1988, I was an executive with an old-line manufacturing and mining company dominated by macho, good ole boys. A male clerk in one of my departments began wearing female clothes as part of a gender transition. I quickly stopped the snickering by his male and female coworkers by asking them to imagine how uncomfortable it was from his perspective to be so different, irrespective of whether the difference was due to hormones, genes, or a psychological problem. Deciding what restroom he could use was a non-event, and the transitioning employee quickly returned to being treated as just another coworker. (In some countries, he would have been fired or maybe even stoned to death.)
Treating transgendered people this way is far different from putting a transgender on a company’s board of directors as a token to appease queer activists and to demonstrate to employees who have a warped view of social justice that the company is hip. It’s also far different from the radical idea that the majority should submerge its values or risk being called intolerant—and that children should be encouraged in public schools to be trendy and adopt a different gender identity or to change their identity at the first sign of normal gender confusion.
A similar shift to radicalism can be seen in critical race theory.
Critical Race Theory
Critical race theory is primarily about African Americans, who are also known as Blacks, with the “B” capitalized. It isn’t really about other so-called “people of color.” CRT began with the undeniable fact that whites (with the “w” not capitalized) engaged in the slave trade. Actually, it was some white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, as well as some Portuguese and Spaniards (aka Hispanics) who engaged in the slave trade.
Another undeniable fact is that many other whites benefited economically from slavery and that racism continued through Jim Crow and continues today, albeit at a much reduced level. Still another is that Blacks continue to suffer socioeconomically as a group in spite of the Great Society, War on Poverty, voting rights legislation, equal opportunity laws, affirmative action, scores of welfare programs, and dramatically increased political power.
CRT’s basic premise is that race was a social construct designed to maintain white privilege and white supremacy. A corollary is that racial stereotypes and racism have become so ingrained in the dominant white culture that all whites, regardless of their ethnicity and class, have economic, social, educational, and political advantages over Blacks—advantages that are reinforced by white concepts of reason, science and merit. Moreover, even the most enlightened and open-minded whites harbor unconscious prejudices.
Given that there is little genetic variation between different peoples, race is indeed mostly a social construct; but it is a construct that also applies to whites and other “races,” not just to Blacks. Also, of course, all people, regardless of pigment, harbor conscious and unconscious stereotypes and prejudices about people who are different from them. However, what’s unique about whites, according to CRT, is that they hold political, social and economic power over Blacks and other non-whites.
The solution, therefore, is twofold: first, to take political, social and economic power away from whites; second, to get whites to admit their advantages and to confront their unconscious prejudices.
Efforts to achieve the first goal include diversity and inclusion initiatives that prioritize Blacks over whites in hiring and promotions, as well as the elimination of quantifiable admissions criteria for colleges and certain professions. Efforts to achieve the second goal include CRT training programs in corporations and government, in which whites are confronted with their privileges and unconscious racism, similar to how people accused of being capitalists during the Chinese Cultural Revolution were humiliated and forced to confess. Much to the consternation of parents, CRT training has been adopted by many school districts.
CRT has established a Catch-22 to protect itself from counter-opinions and scholarly debate, namely that denials of racism and power by whites are proof of their racism and power. Such denials can result in whites being cancelled, or seeing their career ruined, or, in academia, being denied tenure and grants.
On a personal note, if I mention my work on behalf of equal rights, I’m ipso facto a racist who uses that work as an excuse not to give up power and money. Likewise, it is seen as totally irrelevant if I relate my experience as a teen and the only “white” on an otherwise all-Black janitorial and kitchen crew at an exclusive country club in St. Louis that denied membership to Blacks, Jews, Italians, and Catholics. The fact that I would wash and wax the big Buick of the Black clubhouse manager, Bill Williams, for extra money, and the fact that my dad was a non-union tile setter and the son of a coal miner, does not keep me from being branded as coming from privilege.
Because I’m considered white and privileged by whomever decides such matters, my opinions are discounted by CRT. It’s unclear how this is good for whites, Blacks, and society at large.
In the same vein, in a glaring double standard, it’s not okay to negatively stereotype Blacks but is okay to negatively stereotype whites. And in an awful and unmentioned development, white elites are now more paternalistic, more condescending, and more pandering towards Blacks than ever. An example is the proliferation of TV commercials featuring Blacks, who, except for skin color, resemble the idealized WASPs in the fantastical TV shows of the late 1950s and early 1960s, such as “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It to Beaver”—shows that had little resemblance to my Italian family or the families of scores of other ethnic immigrant groups. No doubt, the commercials are produced by ad agencies staffed by wealthy graduates of the Ivy League, on behalf of corporate clients who are wealthy graduates of the Ivy League.
To a large extent, the relationship between whites and Blacks remains parent-to-child instead of adult-to-adult. The former relationship results in dependency and child-like behavior. The latter, in independence and self-confidence. At least Malcolm X and the Black Panthers didn’t want to depend on whites for anything.
The relationship can be seen in the reticence of whites to level with Blacks to the same degree that they level with fellow whites. In discussing and debating current events, political philosophy, economics, racism, or whatever, they hold back for fear of triggering an emotional reaction and being seen as overbearing and insensitive. In other words, they tiptoe around certain subjects with Blacks.
The authors make an excellent point that the hallmark of critical race theory is a “paranoid mind-set, which assumes racism is everywhere, always, just waiting to be found,” and which is “extremely unlikely to be helpful or healthy for those who adopt it.” They go on to say:
In addition, interpreting everything as racist and saying so almost constantly in unlikely to produce the desired results in white people (or for minorities). It could even undermine antiracist activism by creating skepticism and indignation and thus producing a reluctance to cooperate with worthwhile initiatives to overcome racism…It is bad psychology to tell people who do not believe that they are racist—who may even actively despise racism—that there is nothing they can do to stop themselves from being racist…Worst of all is to set up double-binds, like telling them that if they notice race it is because they are racist, but if they don’t notice race, it’s because their privilege affords them the luxury of not noticing race, which is racist.
The same problems exist with a branch of critical race theory known at intersectionality.
Intersectionality is the idea that marginalized people can be victims of more than one prejudice. It comes from the writing of Kimberlé Crenshaw, who used the analogy of someone standing in an intersection, where the person could be hit by a car coming from any direction or by more than one car at a time, just as a marginalized person can be a victim of more than one prejudice. For example, a Black woman can be discriminated against because she is both Black and a woman. And a Black woman who is overweight, on welfare, and a single parent faces five prejudices.
Of course, prejudices are almost endless. They can spring from such differences as race, sex, class, gender, immigration status, religion, disability, body shape, occupation, political affiliation, dress, mannerisms, and so on. But the focus of intersectionality is only on those prejudices that are deemed as stemming from power imbalances and that result in disparate outcomes.
There is a hierarchy, or caste, of intersectionality. A black woman ranks higher than a Black man, because, as mentioned, she encounters prejudice as a woman and a Black, while the man only encounters prejudice as a Black. In the same thinking, a gay white man ranks lower than a gay Black man, and upper-income Jews and Asians don’t make the list. Likewise, an impoverished, poorly educated, disabled white male in the backwoods of Appalachia probably wouldn’t make the list, even though he lacks political power.
Such questions and all of the possible permutations and combinations keep the intersectional labelers busy and in disagreement over what groups to include and where to rank them. But as the authors explain, this is all done in the service of uniting the so-called disadvantaged groups into a single meta-group of the oppressed, under an overarching metanarrative of social justice.
In the process, however, the labelers often end up in irreconcilable conflict about which oppressed group they should support. The book gives the example of minority beauticians who refused to wax around the testicles of a person claiming to be transgendered, because the beauticians’ religion and customs prohibited contact with male genitalia. In other words, a group that was characterized as oppressed was oppressing a transgender person, who was also characterized as oppressed. Curiously, the issue wasn’t framed in another way: that it was a form of oppression for beauticians to be pressured to shave someone’s privates.
Once again, the authors make an excellent point: “From the outside, the intersectional approach seems grating, fractious, and incomprehensible. It appears to operate like a kind of circular firing squad, continually undermining itself over petty differences and grievances.”
This is certainly true with respect to the current state of feminism.
The New Feminism
Feminism has gone through different stages over the decades. It began as a push for equal rights and equal pay, grew into a strident attack against patriarchy, and changed again by adopting a neo-Marxist view that capitalism was to blame for the problems facing women. It has now been hijacked by critical race theory, queer theory, and intersectional theory, so that the focus is on oppression, bigotry, power, and privilege—and on white women’s complicity in these injustices.
Women are no longer seen under these new theories as a sisterhood of shared experiences. The theorists even question what it means to be a woman, because what it means depends on their assigned identity group. This dovetails with the notions coming out of gender studies.
Gender is defined by the studies as a social construct in which people have been taught to perform certain roles and behaviors. While this traditional teaching can’t be completely done away with, the thinking goes, it can be questioned, disrupted, and replaced with new teaching.
Even the nouns “men” and “women” are seen as problematic, because people given those labels have varied so much over history and across different cultures.
Heterosexual white women in the new feminism movement are expected to defer to the perspectives and experiences of women of color, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people. But due to the specious claim of power imbalances, the other groups are not expected to defer to the perspectives and experiences of heterosexual white women. As with so much today, dialogue only goes in one direction.
The authors say that gender studies are losing their credibility for rigorous scholarship, because in deference to CRT and intersectional and queer theories, they have discounted biological explanations for differences between men and women in traits, behaviors, and interests.
A similar radicalism has changed how disability is discussed.
The New View of the Disabled and the Obese
As with so much else, disability is increasingly seen as a social construct imposed by the majority. Accordingly, the disabled are labeled as disabled only because they are compared with the non-disabled, or able-bodied. In other words, the negative status of “disabled” is imposed on them by a prejudicial society—just as other marginalized groups suffer from prejudices.
Those who think this way acknowledge physical or mental impairments, but they contend that disability is imposed on top of the impairments. It is the role of society, then, to adjust to the perspective of the impaired, not vice versa.
A related concept is ableism, which is an accusation and stereotype that the able-bodied see themselves as superior to the disabled. To that point, the self-described autistic, disabled, asexual, and genderqueer activist Lydia X. Y. Brown is quoted in the book as follows:
[A]bleism might escribe the value system of ablenormativity which privileges the supposedly neurotypical and ablebodied, while disableism might escribe the violent oppression targeting people whose bodyminds are deemed deviant and thus disabled. In other words, ableism is to heterosexism what disableism is to queerantagonism.
Then there is Dan Goodley, the likeminded author of the book, Disability Studies: Theorising Disableism and Ableism. He is quoted as follows:
I argue that modes of ableist cultural reproduction and disabling material conditions can never be divorced from hetero/sexism, racism, homophobis, colonialism, imperialism, patriarchy and capitalism.
I argue that the foregoing quoted statements are gobbledygook.
Additional gobbledygook underlies the attempt to transform fat people into victims of the dominant culture and to redefine obesity as a social construct instead of a health problem. This absurdity is an outgrowth of fat studies, which in turn are an outgrowth of the earlier body positivism movement, which focused on celebrating fat bodies.
According to current fat theory, the way that the majority speaks about obesity (discourses) reflects a hatred of fat people, or “fatphobia,” which is seen as similar to racism, sexism, homophobia, and other prejudices and injustices. In the name of empowering obese people, the theory encourages them to reject medical advice and seek support from each other.
The book quotes a fat activist as claiming that “Fat hatred is fueled by capitalism because these companies create products that are all about making fat people skinny.” The book’s authors respond, “If this sounds like a paranoid fantasy, it’s because it is.”
As an aside, the same capitalism has resulted in commercials that respond to the activism by featuring overweight women, including scantily-clad ones.
Another fat activist is quoted in Fat Studies Reader as saying that those who see their weight as a problem have been conditioned into accepting their oppression:
That fat and queer people would heartily embrace science and medicine as a solution to their socially constructed problems is redolent of Stockholm syndrome—after all, science and medicine have long been instrumental in oppressing fat and queer people, providing argument after argument that pathologize the homosexual or “obese” individual (whether the mind or the body).
Let’s move from this weighty topic to a theory that is a top cause of identity politics.
Standpoint theory contends that people in groups of the same race, gender, sex and other identities will have the same experiences and see the world the same. It also contends that marginalized groups will have a fuller and more authoritative picture than the dominant, privileged group. Being marginalized, the theory goes, those in the first group understand both the dominant culture and what it is like to be oppressed by it. Those in the second group, on the other hand, only know what it is like to dominate.
Proponents of the theory don’t say that if the marginalized groups were to dominate, they would have the same blind spots as the current dominate group. Nor do they say that there are plenty of situations today where the marginalized switch roles with those who dominate; that is, with whites.
Standpoint theory goes on to contend that the knowledge gained through experience by marginalized groups is better in many ways than the knowledge gained by dominant groups through science and reason. Both ways of gaining knowledge depend on cultural traditions, but white cultural traditions are based on power and privilege, the theory says. This spoils whites and makes them closeminded about other ways to gain knowledge.
As a so-called white, my experiences over my life don’t match the theory. Two examples from my teen years come to mind. The first example was my first day of work at the country club mentioned earlier. My Black boss Jewel told me to clean the employee restroom in the dark, grungy basement, a restroom that looked and smelled as if it hadn’t been cleaned in years. Even at my young age, I understood what was going on and thus tackled the chore cheerfully and meticulously. The second example was my high school years, where I was only one of two Italians in my graduating class, and, unlike the preponderance of students who were wealthy, I was the son of working-class, second-generation parents, who somehow had managed to scrimp and save enough money to send me to the college prep school, where I was immersed in science, logic and reason.
Was I in a marginalized group or dominant group?
To answer, members of the white working class get no standing as a marginalized group in any of the New Theories. No wonder many feel alienated from the left and have abandoned the Democrat Party for the GOP or the Trump wing of the GOP.
Having explored the New Theories, let’s see how they come together under the banner of “Social Justice” and how closeminded social justice dogmatists are.
Social Justice Closemindedness
Social justice dogmatists brook no disagreement, because they are certain of their rightness and righteousness; and, given that they are so certain, they see whites who dare to disagree with them as demonstrating their privilege and racism.
This explains speech codes and safe zones on college campuses and what is called cancel culture throughout American institutions. Those who claim that they’ve been traumatized by racism and oppression all of their lives say that they are re-traumatized when whites try to assert their privilege and dominance by disagreeing with the irrefutable truth of the New Theories.
Barbara Applebaum is the author of Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy. She equates disagreement over the New Theories by white students in a college class with resistance:
Resistance will not be allowed to derail the class discussions! Of course, those who refuse to engage might mistakenly perceive this as a declaration that they will not be allowed to express their disagreement but that is only precisely because they are resisting engagement.
The most amazing aspect of the New Theories is that the theorists see themselves as super-intelligent, yet they overlook some of the most fundamental complicating factors.
First, they don’t define “white” or recognize that over 100 unique ethno-cultural groups have been force-fitted into the contrived category, that many of the groups come in various skin shades, that many members of the groups have been the victims of discrimination and oppression, and that many others have recently immigrated to the U.S. and thus have no responsibility for historical racism in the nation. Second, they don’t acknowledge that due to an increase in biracial marriages and to centuries of different peoples mixing their chromosomes together, the “white” category overlaps with other racial/ethnic categories and is not homogenous.
Equally amazing, due to what has been taught in K-12 schools and in colleges, and due to what has been reinforced by the media, Hollywood, corporations, and government, most of the public is unaware of these and other flaws in the New Theories. This is especially true for Americans under the age of 30, who have taken what they learned in college into the workplace. It’s sobering to realize that they’ll will carry the notions with them as they rise through the hierarchy.
The rapid spreading of the dogma is troubling to behold, for it is reminiscent of the damage done throughout history when dogma of an authoritarian bent has spread just as quickly and gone unquestioned.
The Rapidly Spreading Dogma
In a latter chapter of Cynical Theories, the authors detail how the dogma of the New Theories quickly spread from academia to become entrenched in America’s major institutions, where it is enforced through intimidation, facilitated by powerful departments of diversity and inclusion, and applauded by idealistic and naïve employees.
The authors also give many examples of how minor infractions of the dogma or the use of an incorrect word have resulted in modern-day witch hunts, whereby miscreants are humiliated, shunned, canceled, fired, or attacked viciously on social media by enraged internet mobs. You no doubt have heard such stories and remember some that especially upset you.
The speed of the dogma’s spreading can be seen in the popularity of Robin DiAngelo’s 2018 book, White Fragility: Why It Is So Hard to Talk to White People about Race.
White Fragility is another example of an ounce of truth in a gallon of hogwash. Its basic premise is that whites live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress, thus leaving them with expectations for racial comfort while lowering their ability to tolerate racial stress.
DiAngelo is white, so maybe she is projecting her own anxieties on the entire population of whites, however “white” is defined by her. Anyway, she goes on to write:
To challenge the ideologies of racism such as individualism and color blindness, we as white people must suspend our perception of ourselves as unique and/or outside race. Exploring our collective racial identity interrupts a key privilege of dominance—the ability to see oneself only as an individual.
Judging by her name, DiAngelo might be Italian. She shouldn’t be surprised, then, that my grandparent’s generation, my parent’s generation, and my generation to a much lesser extent, lived with such epithets as dago, wop, goombah, greaser, and mobster. At least that wasn’t as bad as the 11 Italians who were lynched in New Orleans. None of my family ever used the word “stress,” but the way we handled the insults was to use an Italian arm gesture that meant, Stick it up your culo! The Italians of St. Louis also formed their own community in a hilly part of the city, which became known as Dago Hill. It was a spotless, crime-free community of tiny bungalows and two-flats. Woe to any outsiders who tried to cause trouble in the community.
On another personal note, decades ago I participated in a three-day encounter session in the backwoods of Maine. Blacks were in attendance, including a couple of Black consultants who advised corporations on racial issues. One night the consultants invited me to join them for some beer. We drove in the big Mercedes of one of the consultants to buy a couple of six-packs to take back to our lodging. As the night wore on, they and I began ridiculing corporate executives for falling for the latest management fads, including the work of the consultants.
DiAngelo claims that American society is permeated by white supremacy and that anyone who takes exception to her ideas has a weakness resulting from being socialized in white privilege. She writes:
White fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation.
There are other possible explanations. Maybe they think that her ideas are hogwash, maybe they don’t like to be stereotyped as privileged and racist, maybe they’ve learned that it’s a lose-lose to discuss race in the workplace, or it could be as simple as believing that it’s impolite to discuss certain emotionally-loaded subjects with strangers, such as race, politics, bad breath, and body odor. DiAngelo would probably say that politeness is a white thing.
Memo to Robin: May I call you Robin? I’d be happy to discuss race with you and anyone else you want to bring along. Not only would I find it stress-free and enjoyable, but it might give me an insight into how in god’s name you sold so many books. My guess is that the sales have nothing to do with white guilt but a lot to do with masochism.
The authors of Critical Theories conclude the book with suggestions for countering the identity politics and authoritarian methods masquerading as social justice that are undermining classical liberalism. Courage is a prerequisite, they say.
They also say that counter measures should not call for the restriction of free speech but should call for the end of political indoctrination cum identity politics in public institutions. Such orthodoxy should be just as prohibited in public institutions as religious orthodoxy. Likewise, no one should be required to take a real or de facto oath in support of the orthodoxy or be pressured to attend CRT training or any training that portrays one group as racist, privileged, or otherwise inherently flawed.
I would add that both public and private institutions should be held accountable for violating longstanding equal rights laws that forbid discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and national origin. Also, they should not be allowed to mask such discrimination behind the pretext of correcting disparate outcomes.
The authors go on to suggest that the fight should be taken to the marketplace of ideas by educating people on how classical liberalism has improved, and will continue to improve, the lives and well-being of so-called minorities at a much faster rate and in a much fairer manner than coercion masquerading as social justice.
They continue by saying that opposition should be principled, and they give examples of what that looks like. Here’s a snippet of one example:
We affirm that racism remains a problem in society and needs to be addressed.
We deny that critical race Theory and intersectionality provide the most useful tools to do so, since we believe that racial issues are best solved through the most rigorous analyses possible.
We deny that the best way to deal with racism is by restoring social significance to racial categories and radically heightening their salience.
We contend that each individual can choose not to hold racist views and should be expected to do so, that racism is declining over time and becoming rarer, that we can and should see one another as humans first and members of certain races second, that issues of race are best dealt with by being honest about racialized experiences while still working towards shared goals and a common vision, and that the principle of not discriminating by race should be universally upheld.
The foregoing is well and good, but I have additional suggestions.
Express your views whenever you see evidence of postmodernism, queer theory, CRT, standpoint theory, or any of the other identity-based theories in news stories, editorials, commentaries, or in government, collegiate or corporate pronouncements.
Obtain the author’s email address, if possible, to write a personal note. Always be polite, respectful, and tactful. Begin by complimenting the person’s professionalism and concern for social justice and equal rights. Then suggest that there might be a better way of accomplishing these ends, a way that doesn’t violate anti-discrimination law, exacerbate social divisiveness, and embolden extremists.
Never make it a partisan issue and don’t identify yourself as a conservative or a Republican. If you do, most believers in the new theories will immediately write you off as having a political ax to grind or worse. If you believe in classical liberalism, then identify yourself as a classical liberal.
Support your comments with relevant facts, if you have them, preferably facts from nonpartisan sources, such as the Census Bureau or Department of Labor. An example would be the fact that from 1965 to 2019, the poverty rate for blacks declined from 40% to 18.8%. Another example is that 8.5 million Blacks are in poverty, versus 15.9 million whites. Of course, Blacks have a much higher poverty rate and are only 14% of the population, but this certainly shows that not all whites come from privilege.
Use the Socratic Method, not to embarrass the person, but to reveal the contradictions in the individual’s beliefs. Below are sample questions separated into five themes:
- Since you referred to white people, how do you define “white,” given that race is a social construct and not genetically deterministic? Is the classification based on skin color/shade, facial features, self-identification, or arbitrary placement in the government’s official category?
- There are over 100 unique ethno-cultural groups that are force-fitted into the official White category, as well as hundreds of others that are force-fitted into the other categories of Black, Hispanic, and Asian. Where do such peoples as Persians, Turks, Armenians, Greeks, Albanians, and Sicilians belong? Should they be seen as the same as white Anglo-Saxon Protestants for purposes of diversity and inclusion? Are they minorities or in the majority? Or they privileged or unprivileged?
- What about the offspring of biracial parents? How should they be classified? By the classification of the mother or the father?
- What race is a Hispanic who hails from the Iberian Peninsula? Is the individual a person of color? What about a Mexican American who comes from a long line of Spanish aristocrats at the upper-crust of Mexican society? Is the person privileged or a minority? Would the person count as adding diversity to an organization in a diversity and inclusion initiative?
- To achieve diversity goals, is it okay for organizations to violate Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits basing hiring and promotions on race, ethnicity and sex? If an East Indian or Han Chinese is put on a board of directors for the purpose of diversity, is the individual representative of all other people classified as Asian, including Filipinos, Japanese, Koreans, Cambodians, Vietnamese, and so on? Are Mongols considered Asian? What about Russians from eastern Siberia? Do you find it hypocritical and contradictory for companies headquartered in such non-diverse countries as Japan, South Korea and China to run commercials spouting platitudes about diversity?
Don’t waste your time in trying to change the minds of dogmatists and ideologues. They have to be dealt with through the political system or by a personal decision not to do business with organizations that are dominated by them.
Alternatively, you can wait until the New Theories burn out on their own, as other utopian, illiberal movements have done in history. But that could take generations to happen.