The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by James Lindsay. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is James Lindsey, mathematician, free thinker, skeptic, southerner, author and independent thinker.
James: Hi, Jim. Great to be here.
Jim: Yeah. Great to have you on. I’ve been a follower of your tweet stream for quite a while @ConceptualJames on Twitter. One of the more interesting tweet streams out there and I heard about your new book and reached out to you. I’m glad you agreed to come on the show.
Jim: James has published several books with co-authors, including How To Have Impossible Conversations, which I read, which was a very good book. And another one Everybody Is Wrong About God, which I didn’t know he had written until I did my research for this podcast and I’m going to read it soon.
Jim: James is also perhaps best known other than for his books as having participated with Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose. I love that name, Pluckrose. What a wonderful name. And a number of parody scholarly articles, basically sending up post-modernist rhetoric, several of which were accepted for publication, including one that maintain, and I love this, that the penis should be seen, not as an anatomical organ, but as a social construct, isomorphic to performative toxic masculinity. Hilarious, the kind of horseshit that you can get published out there. You guys must have had some fun with that project.
James: Oh Lord, did we ever. The laughter. Oh. I was even reading through one of our papers again this morning, just briefly. And I was like, I can’t believe the stuff we wrote in that they accepted. Just so stupid. It’s so funny. Some of it. So yeah, I mean, it was hard. It was really difficult to learn that stuff in real-time. None of us have a real background in any of that crap and so we had to learn that stuff in real-time and face the reality of what it says, which is depressing when you start to realize these people actually mean it.
James: It’s one thing to make it as jokes. It’s another thing when you realize that the people doing this really mean it. And then, of course, we tried to make them funny, so there was a lot of laughing. I mean, I remember getting on the phone and talking either with Peter or with Helen to try to come up with ideas and just laughing ourselves kind of sick with stuff we might try to write about. It was a good time.
Jim: I got to just say both humorous and depressing at the same time. Then I recall that you wrote 20 and seven got accepted for publication and another seven or so were in process at the time you guys revealed the stunt?
James: That’s right. Yeah. So we wrote 20 in the span of about 10 months, so it worked out to a paper every two weeks, which is pretty quick and seven of them were accepted. Four actually got published of those seven. One of them got an award for excellence in scholarship. That’s the one about dog humping.
Jim: Oh God, I love it.
James: Oh, it’s the best. It’s the best.
Jim: You guys deserve a meta-award, right? A meta-theory, theory-meta, Meta-backwards, up and down, reverse, irony award for that stuff. I love it.
James: We need like the Anti-Pulitzer or something because a Pulitzer put itself in the toilet, so we don’t want one of those anymore.
Jim: Yeah, I guess I saw it. In fact, somebody referred to it as so-called squared. Basically, Alan Sokal did something similar back in the 90s, though not with quite the radical humor that this particular stunt had, so well done gentlemen and lady, Alan.
James: Well, thank you.
Jim: I guess you’re not supposed to say lady anymore, but fuck that, right?
James: That’s right.
Jim: I’ll say what I god damn please. They can go kiss my ass.
Jim: Today, we’re mostly going to talk about James’ his new book co-authored with Helen Pluckrose, titled Cynical Theories, How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, And Identity And Why This Harms Everybody, in which, the authors carefully and in great detail explore the history of postmodernism and how it has morphed into a series of theories that underlie a lot of what we see today in the public sphere. It will be out at the end of next month, at least according to Amazon. Is that’s still about right? Late August?
James: It’s complicated. It’s mostly right. It got delayed because of the pandemic. It was supposed to come out in May and then June and then August 25th, they’ve stuck it with. But they’ve also said that when they start getting enough copies from the printers, the distribution will probably just kind of start. So the official date is the 25th of August, but it may start trickling out a few weeks early with the first however many thousand copies they get their hands on.
Jim: Cool. And as always, we’ll have a link to the Amazon page on the episode page, which you can find at jimruttshow.com. Interesting to note, even though it’s not out yet, it’s already an Amazon bestseller. And after reading it, I can see why. This book will be an indispensable reference for people who want to deconstruct the deconstructionists. It’s extremely carefully written, well researched, has very good footnotes that take you to backup for pretty much everything they say. So if you want to become a anti-Po-Mo warrior, read this fucking book people. I’m telling you it’s well worth it.
Jim: Obviously, I got a pre-publication copy from James and I actually did read the whole book cover to cover and give it a major thumbs up.
James: Thanks, man. I actually read it again the other day and I was like, “Wow, this is a whole lot more fair.” I was kind of afraid we were taking some swings toward the fences, but it’s like, “Wow, this is really fair.”
Jim: Yeah, I was surprised, frankly, based on some of the shit you say on your tweet stream, right? That you were just going to skewer the motherfuckers unrelentlessly, but you were actually very fair.
James: No, the goal was actually to give it a very scholarly treatment and to explain it to people in a very fair and clear way. Twitter’s the arena, but books and publications are another matter. You got to be more serious. Twitter’s good for screwing around. Plus, I took the gloves off on Twitter and they started setting cities on fire saying that that’s okay because whiteness is property. And I was like, “Okay, gloves off.” But we wrote the book before they started setting cities on fire, so the gloves were still on a little bit when we wrote it.
James: It’s probably good in the long run because it does need to be treated fairly so that people will see that we’re not misrepresenting the bullshit that they actually believe. It’s so insane that it’s almost impossible to believe that they really think that.
Jim: Yeah, and we’ll get into that. Is it actually insane or how the hell is it that people come to believe that horse shit and do they actually, right?
Jim: Before we dig into the meat of the matter, and I know you do talk about this throughout the book, I think it would be useful to lay out the alternative to postmodernism, “social justice”, and all that stuff. What you and Helen layout is kind of interwoven throughout the book, and there’s a strong argument about it at the end, is that liberalism is the alternative, right? Philosophical liberalism … and this is from your introduction.
Jim: Philosophical liberalism, as opposed to authoritarian movements of all types, be they left-wing, right-wing, secular or theocratic. I want you to talk a little bit about that alternative because it is true. We still do have issues that need to be resolved. There really is still racism. There’s really still is anti-gay bigotry. Women have not reached full operational equality in the world and though in the West, we’re getting closer, but there’s another way to get there rather than this homo-horse shit. So maybe you could talk just a little bit about the fact that you’re not saying we shouldn’t fight for increased social justice uncapitalized but the way to do it is through liberalism.
James: Yeah, that right. Our argument is ultimately about methods. If we have to use big words, we care about the approach with regard to epistemology and ethics. And we try to make the sustained case that the liberal approach, in the philosophical sense, which is the same philosophy that wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the US for example, that approach is the best we have for doing epistemology and ethics correctly. So social justice is an ideal and a lot of people don’t understand this because the fricking movement that’s so ascendant right now doesn’t want anybody to know it or doesn’t want anybody to remember it. Social justice is something that has been of interest to most societies throughout all of history, except maybe totalitarian ones. It’s certainly something that has been part of the American experiment from the beginning and then that’s also imported through most or all of the rest of the advanced democracies of the world.
James: So social justice, as an ideal, just means a fairer, more just society. And then the question becomes how do you try to achieve it? And what we wanted to try to show people is that there are lots of ways. There are lots of approaches. There are religious ideas about social justice. You can go back to Walter Rauschenbusch. We don’t mention that in the book specifically, but you can go back to Walter Rauschenbusch at the turn of the 20th century. And he was trying to push the social gospel from a Baptist perspective, so there are religious approaches.
James: The term social justice was invented by a Jesuit priest as a matter of fact, so there are religious approaches. There are liberal approaches, obviously, that we argue for, but there are also communist approaches or socialist approaches or materialist approaches. There are lots and lots and lots of different approaches. Even some conservative approaches can be seen as trying to establish a more fair society, so there are lots of approaches.
James: So what we want to try to do is take away the illusion that the current movement calling itself social justice is the only way to go about it. It uses a very specific method, which is critical theory infused with postmodern epistemology and ethics. And so we say no to that. We say, “Let’s look at other ideas.” So the liberal method for us is superior, as we make the case in the last chapter because it works, because it’s not what it’s accused of being. It’s not actually even necessarily as much a political philosophy as people think it is. It is in fact a method of resolving conflicts between people in societies. So if you look at capitalism, what you have is people with property rights.
James: Once those are enshrined, that’s a liberal philosophy position is that people have property rights. Once people have property rights, liberalism says, “Well, you can do with your own property what you want and you can work it out and you can trade pieces of your property for other pieces of other people’s property.” And capitalism becomes the liberal market approach or economic approach. And then you can look at it in politics. Well, you get your vote, everybody else gets their votes, so we’re going to now use a democratic way to authenticate who our leaders are. We’re not going to rely on the divine right of kings anymore. We’re not going to rely on who the warlord was that was able to knock everybody down and they become the leader. That’s not how we do. We’re going to ask the public and let the public decide and democracy becomes the liberal approach to resolving political conflict.
James: It’s all written in the Constitution. If you want to readdress the government for your grievances, you can petition, you can peacefully protest. You can always peacefully assemble. These are core amendments and core foundational principles of a liberal democracy that works. And then when it comes to understanding ideas, say if you and I have a different idea and we wanted to say, well, you say that you’re right and I say that I’m right and so we both believe that we’re right, we have to have a means of settling that conflict and liberalism offers a means. It says, “Let’s go ask the world,” or “Let’s see who can give the better, more reasoned argument if we can’t get the evidence.” It doesn’t say whose feelings are hurt. It doesn’t care. Then that’s why it’s so difficult for people to accept because sometimes the truth hurts and sometimes life isn’t fair and it can be very difficult to accept.
James: But the liberal approach to making sense of the world is, of course, that we can still be aware of the idea that there are realities of hurting people or things being unfair that we don’t want to see and liberal ethics uphold that. But at the same time, we say, look, we’re going to look at the evidence, and the evidence can include that hurt feelings are bad and we’re going to look at the best arguments and we’re not just going to give in because somebody is making a demand or somebody is claiming offense or whatever else. We actually have to make reasoned arguments. We actually have to appeal to the evidence. And so we have these different methods to try to resolve conflicts between individuals that come up within a society.
James: And our case is that if we want a more fair, more just, socially just society, we need liberalism to keep making the gains that it’s made for the past several centuries rather than saying, “Oh wow, we’re actually achieving real progress now, so let’s abandon the thing that got us there,” which is what the current movement is asking us to do. It wants to throw away liberalism and use its own radical approach. I mean, we don’t get into it deeply in the book, but it’s actually known as liberationism or liberation philosophy, which comes out of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, which is Neo-Marxism if you must know.
Jim: Yeah, Marcuse and those assholes, right?
James: Yeah, Marcuse in particular. You can dip into stuff that Adorno, Rowe, and of course, Max Horkheimer is relevant. You can dip into these guys, but Marcuse was actually extremely relevant to what we’re seeing today. A lot of people don’t realize this, but we all know who these Antifa assholes are running around and these Antifa guys, well, they are basically, if you take Herbert Marcuse philosophy, especially on repressive tolerance and Frantz Fanon’s ideas … He’s a French psychoanalyst that was studying the colonial condition. If you take those two people and you mix them together, you get Antifa. That’s what it is. That’s where their ideas come from. That’s why they think they’re justified in behaving in the world that the way they do.
James: So Marcuse, his presence has definitely felt throughout the world. And last time he had a massive following was in the mid-1960s, he wrote Repressive Tolerance in 1965. Lo and behold, 1967 and 1968, we have massive riots, including race riots that end up wrecking American cities, for example, that even Detroit hasn’t even recovered from.
Jim: Yeah, indeed. And in fact, we talk about liberalism and the fact that it has always been imperfect, but continuing to improve and we have to acknowledge that, right? Thomas Jefferson wrote the beautiful words, “All men are created equal”, but he was also a slaveholder. Oh, well, right. But on the other hand, in 1808, the US government abolished the slave trade. Britain abolished slavery not too long thereafter. United States spent 600,000 deaths, equaled to about 5 million at our current population, to end slavery, et cetera, et cetera and we’ll talk about some of the other progress of liberalism.
Jim: But to show how deep it is in the DNA of liberalism to think this way, I love to point people to a mid-19th century essay by John Stuart Mill called the Subjection of Women, in which he applied liberalism, about as radically as you could at that time, to argue for the fact that women needed to be liberated and that their subjugation by the patriarchy was fucking wrong and inconsistent with liberalism. I’d love to point people back who think of liberalism as somehow retrograde to one of the core thinkers of liberalism, Mill and that essay.
James: Yeah. Mill is one of my philosophical heroes. When people ask me what kind of a liberal are you? I think highly of Jefferson and I think highly, of course, with Locke and Paine and all of these people, but I really resonate with Mill. So I think Millian liberals are known as traditional liberals now or something like that. So, okay, that’s me if I have to take a label and I fully agree. The point of liberalism was to say, “Let’s start with some very fundamental principles about humanity, the universal humanity and the recognition that human beings are also autonomous individuals, have their own minds, their own intellects, their own capacity for reasoning and their own capacity to make moral decisions for themselves.” They have the capacity. Of course, if they wish to join groups, say religious groups, but those are a matter of their private conscience and their personal volition and so they cannot be compelled by the power of the state to have certain beliefs and that we call that secularism.
James: And so these views were literally the ones that allowed us to untie the knots of injustices, like patriarchy, racism, slavery, homophobia. We can go down the list. Judith Butler, one of the big, big famous theorists in the critical vein now … Judith Butler calls it that exasperated et cetera. When you try to name all of them, all the different oppressions that they focus on. And so liberalism turned out to be the thing that moved us away from a long human history in which different cultures arose, of course, and they had different approaches to these different questions and some of them did better than others on different aspects of them, but none of them really had anything like universal humanity, respect for the individual to understand that each person has their own mind.
James: And none of them had a robust and impartial or as impartial as possible … of course, nothing’s perfect, method of resolving conflict between individuals within other societies that could match with liberalism, which is why when liberalism came the scene, you started to see massive advances and progress. As you notice, Jefferson writes, “All men are created equal,” in 1775 or six. He goes on. He’s a slave owner, he struggles with this, but the slave trade is outlawed by 1808. And then by 1863, emancipation is had. And then again, chipping away over time. A lot of people, I think … of these oppressions, I should say.
James: So a lot of people think, and we say this in the book … a lot of people think that it’s a reasonable argument to point back at the way that liberalism … The people have this unrealistic expectation that liberalism just showed up on the scene and then bam, everything’s liberal. Everything’s great. Everybody’s free. Everything works out. No, it’s a process. It’s a conflict resolution system that allows you to start fixing problems.
James: So it would be ridiculous to think, “Oh, well, people thought of liberalism. Now, everything’s liberal.” And that’s sort of the way the critics of liberalism think about it and say, “Well, look at how, how badly it’s failed without tallying up its ridiculous successes alongside of that, which are unmatched in human history and that no other society has ever produced.” And I’m not saying it’s some tie-in to necessarily the United States. The same philosophy is applied in other places. As you noted, Britain outlawed slavery before the United States did. Okay, so the same principles applied in another context worked there a little bit faster. It’s not like I’m saying, “Oh, well we’re the most magical people ever.” No, that’s asinine. What makes sense though, is that these principles, when applied literally anywhere in the world that they get applied, start creating positive changes that reduce oppression and subjugation that increase flourishing, that increase people’s economic standing and freedom and ability to move within that system.
James: It’s just the best system for resolving the problems of human conflict that we’ve come up with. Not to say that it’s perfect, but that’s the whole point. You mentioned that liberalism actually only works because it’s willing to take criticism of itself and improve what it’s already doing. So if you look at liberalism as a kind of philosophy, it’s silly to say whether it’s perfect or not. That’s not the point. The point as a philosophy is that it’s willing to take self-criticism and say, “How can I do better at every stage with whatever I’m doing now?” So if the question is slavery, the ideals got written down, all men are created equal. How do we start living up to that? So we start living up to it with abolition and then, later on, you hear Martin Luther King stand up and you hear him appeal. I should actually back up.
James: Before abolition, you had Frederick Douglas stand up. It was very widely distributed this 4th of July, just this month. And you heard Frederick Douglas stand up and appeal to that promise in the constitution and said, “Where is it if we have slavery? Where is it? Show us that promise,” and then people did. 10 years later, they did. And then Martin Luther King stands up in the 1960s and he says, “Really if we’re all supposed to be equal, where is it? Show us that promise. Show us that promise.” And a few years later, the Civil Rights Act was passed. In other words, we did. We started to live up to that promise, but that promise had to be there and it had to be made stable and something to appeal to in order for us to be able to live up to it and appealing to living up to it rather than tearing it apart is what enabled us to make progress consistently and steadily over painful decades and painful centuries and to get to a place … I mean, except for our lunatic fringe, undeniably better for literally everybody.
Jim: Great, well said. Well said. One last thing before we get into the meat of it and let’s try to keep this short so we do have time to get into the details of the book. If we think about fighting against illiberalism as one of the core calls of humanity, I would say so at least, with the 20th century, the three big cusps of the 20th century, World War I, World War II and the Cold War, while they also had obviously some big power politics and self-interest, et cetera, could be broadly construed as being liberalism versus illiberalism, right? And in our current world, we have illiberalism of both the right and the left. I’d argue that a piece of shit like Donald Trump has at least a want to be a liberal, but fortunately, he’s so incompetent and so driven by his all-galaxy narcissism. He isn’t very good at it. And we have other illiberals, maybe more effective, maybe not, some of the white supremacists, some of the wacko-thinking like neo-reactionary dark enlightenment, et cetera. Why did you choose to focus on left illiberalism in this book rather than illiberalism more generally?
James: Well, it’s a big problem and a big question and you’re absolutely right that it’s a both-sides problem. But in the scope of a book, you do have to have something to focus upon and you should probably focus on that which you’re genuinely expert in and that you’ve studied. So we were genuinely expert in this particular aspect of illiberalism, the left version, that’s coming forth in the so-called woke or social justice movement and so we had to talk about our expertise. And the thesis is actually quite narrow of the book. The thesis is that postmodernism infected this particular radical leftist line of thought and made it something very difficult to argue against and this is how that happened. So we had to pick a focus and we wrote to that focus. Also, our feeling is as we explained in the introduction to the book but it may be in the last chapter, we feel like the left has abandoned its principle of liberalism whereas conservatism has always kind of dithered about its commitment to liberalism.
James: And so we feel, as denizens of the left also being relevant, but we feel that the left, in the sense that it has abandoned what it should have been standing for, has committed a sin that needs to be addressed. And then, in fact, I would insist that, while it’s all complicated and it’s reciprocal and everything else, that the stuff from the left is driving a great deal of the reactionary side from the right and that if the left cleans its house up and sanity prevails on the broad left with, of course, everybody having their lunatic fringe, that a lot of the tensions of the culture war are likely to calm down.
James: So we set our sights on the left because we’re there, because we know it better, because we need a specific focus and because while Donald Trump, for example, is an enormous irritant, and I think that the right-wing has been doing a bunch of bullshit for 40+ years now, that’s its own threat to liberalism, the outburst of behavior from the left is a genuine threat that’s driving the problem as it exists in the world today. Also, they’ve stolen our academies and as academics, we’re pretty pissed about that.
Jim: All right. You open up the book with talking a fair amount about the history of postmodernism. Now, frankly, I think that it’s very interesting to read, but I don’t want to go into copious detail on it here. But for our audience, give enough of the history of postmodernism to go forward and then we’ll talk a little bit about your two principles and four themes.
James: Okay, great. Yeah. So postmodernism is a movement that actually kind of arose in art and literature maybe in the 1940s. I guess the best way to think about it as sort of the question the rigid structure and rules that would construct art if you wanted to get into the proper history of it. So you could see people doing experimental nonsense like taking a book and then taking every noun that they come across in the book and replacing it with the next noun in the dictionary and then trying to extract meaning out of whatever results. This is a postmodern art project on literature, for example. Or you would see people with music saying, “Oh, well, you’re supposed to do this kind of a thing with the musical scales, so we’re going to invert that.” So you’d often see people, this is key to the idea, inserting arbitrary rules that would be normally considered out of bounds specifically to point out the fact that rules are arbitrary. And so that’s sort of the ethos of postmodern thought that led it to challenge boundaries and challenge expectations.
James: So then in the 1960s, really in the 1950s into the 1960s, you had this spate of French philosophers who were very caught up in structuralism as a way of understanding the world, which has been since discredited. That’s the idea essentially that language and the way we use language structures, how we think and therefore structures all of society. It doesn’t quite work that way, but they got very invested in studying the way that language and power are interrelated with one another. And they became very interested in seeing the way that the culture is produced through uses of language, representation, imagery, power and again, started to want to show that the rules are A, arbitrary and B, that they actually contain the seeds of structural oppressions that appear in society. So …
James: … Of structural oppressions that appear in society. So you had big thinkers like Jack Derrida, the famous post-structural linguist. And you had Michel Foucault who claimed he was something like a historian. But what he really did was archaeologies, as he called them, and genealogies, where he tore up history to show how thought had kind of big regimes of truth, he called them, or epistemes. And these things dictated how people would think, and then look how wrong they were, and look how terrible all of these things led to, in practice. And so the conclusion of these guys would be, well, how could we possibly think that we’re right now? And how could we possibly think that our words have genuine meaning that anybody can understand that the author can have intent? And it’s kind of this whole mind blowing mind expanding way, as Foucault would have put it, it was about expanding the potentiality of being.
James: So meaning that if you break the rules of how you think you’re supposed to think about the world, if you deconstruct them by showing that they’re arbitrary and that there are other alternatives, then you can live in different ways that the current rules of society don’t allow you to, which if you’re gay or into rough sex, like Foucault was, there’s some credit to be given to that claim. But if you’re talking about the potentialities of being limited by gravity, it’s not so much, but they, to kind of wrap up, used all of this thinking, this dissatisfaction with how the world was going. And we can talk about that historically too, because it’s actually interesting in a moment. But they used it to forward the most important idea that they have is that all knowledge, all claims to truth are ultimately the result of political processes. And therefore are actually means of forwarding power politics and not means of trying to describe what’s real in the world whatsoever.
Jim: Interesting. And I will confess until recently I had not paid too much attention to postmodernism mostly for that reason, especially its denigration of science. I go, what the fuck assholes. Right? If you can’t see that science is a fundamentally different way of knowing than anything that came before it, and is qualitatively different, then whatever it is you’re thinking is obviously horseshit, right? And so this theory that there is no objective knowledge, there is no objective truth, well, it’s funny. I sympathize with it at one level because even my beloved science, those of us who have dug into the sociology of science, know that it goes down wrong roads. It does various things that it shouldn’t, but it has a built in inter subjective and inter objective mechanism for reconverging to what is correct. And it seems that these clowns miss that somehow, I don’t know how.
James: That’s actually a really good summary of it. I can tell you how. It’s that they… Well, there’s a couple of reasons if we can get into the psychological side, which is, I think that they legitimately were just jealous of the prestige and power of science. And they use that jealousy to do as Foucault called them archaeologies and genealogies, where they nitpicked at like, oh, look, here’s a failure. Oh, look, here’s a failure. So where you say that you can sympathize and you can see where the sociology of science has done this wrong, it’s got that wrong, they cherry pick that part, and then they skip the part where it reconverges entirely, because that’s not useful to complaining about the thing that they’re jealous of and angry at.
James: The more theoretically grounded reason that they express in their writing is that they believe that, well, they look at that sociology of science and they say, well, obviously this is a social process that decides which methods are valid and which methods are not, which truths are valid, which truths are not, since that’s a social process, and you can see what a dirty social process it’s been, especially historically, it must be just dirty power politics that decided which methods. And so Foucault’s point, to be specific was that whether or not a claim about objective truth is actually true, doesn’t matter. He didn’t say that it’s not, he said that it doesn’t matter if it is or not, because it ignores the more relevant point that the politics of how we decided there are what we need to put our focus on.
James: And so they had this very nihilistic despairing kind of perspective where they’re sort of, woe is me, and everything must be politics because I think honestly, because their politics weren’t working out, these were Marxists who were staring upon the failures of Marxism throughout the world. They were staring at the failures of communism to effect good things. They were looking at the deaths, the genocides, the reactionary pushbacks that led to fascism. And they’re just seeing that the communist revolutions aren’t working. They did have a soft spot in their heart for Mao. They weren’t big fans of Mao occasionally. And sometimes they would change their mind and not be, being in the 1950s and getting into the 1960s, their buddy Pol Pot was hanging out with them there in the Sorbonne, and this sort of like the culture that they had happening. And then he went back to Cambodia, that went real well, fuck heads.
James: So they had this whole view that truth and falsity don’t matter because the politics of determining what’s true and false are the really interesting thing. And of course, when you start looking at it and you start feeding that kind of crap to activists and people who frankly don’t have the chops to do science, because it’s hard to do science, you give them a tool that’s just like the best thing ever. If they want to start chopping down at the field that’s taken seriously, where their fields are not taken as seriously. Contextually, the humanities had been losing a lot of ground in terms of being real academia, as science really rose to prominence. And through the logical positivism movement, you can think back to the 1950s and all of those TV shows, we will change the world with science. And they have that very voice we would associate with just being promotional crap now. And so they were in that maloo, reacting against that, thinking, well, what about this nonsense we do? Why are we not important? Can’t get lost on you. How often Foucault pointed out, that one of his points was to be an intellectual rock star in the French tradition than to do what he did to attract pretty boys. He said it more than once. So there was this whole edgy, avant-garde, let’s break down the establishment mentality that was just happening, and they get caught up in it. How people decided to pick it up, envy. I can’t figure out another reason there. Envious of the sciences saw tools to tear them apart off to the races.
Jim: Interesting. And good point about the fact that it was in the face of the decline of Marxism. I don’t remember who said it, was one of my favorite quotes, is that by the early 1990s, the last Marxists on earth were the members of the English departments of elite American universities.
James: That’s right. And most of them were feminists and that’s actually key, right? Because that’s who picked this stuff up and ran with it. It was feminists who were trying to blame capitalism for the patriarchy. We’re talking feminist in like the 1970s and so on. These kinds of very Marxist feminists were starting to pick up these postmodern ideas because many of their attempts to deconstruct gender and even to poke it, biological sex were just getting railroaded by Biology. They’re out of touch with reality. Social constructivism is a thing, but it only goes so far and they wanted to go 100% and that doesn’t work. And so they started to pick this stuff up and it started to get more and more radical with what they were trying to attempt, and science wasn’t having it.
James: You started to have people coming up in 70s and 80s with stuff like strong objectivity, that was Sandra Harding in the 1980s. She was trying to say that we need a feminist empiricism that brings a womanly perspective into science because it’s always been excluded. When you start doing that, science becomes your enemy and you need a tool to deconstruct its, as they would say, its hegemony. And there’s postmodernism laying there. One truth is as good as any other. And every truth is political. And if it’s been excluded, that means it’s problematic, and it needs to be interrogated, perfect fit for these radical feminists who then imported this idea that they really should’ve left on the cutting room floor of French philosophy, because the French didn’t take this stuff up. The French were like, what is this crap? No.
Jim: Interesting. I think you just hit on it and pass it, but I’m going to call it out because it’s so important. You say, yeah, it has something of merit to it, but they go too far, 100%. And the language I like to use is both end, right. It is true that the sociology of science is important. It is true that the decisions we make and the institutional mechanisms we’ve put in place for the allocation of dollars to different research disciplines, how careers are hard in science. What are the barriers to the access to scientific careers are all important questions. But the inner core of the scientific engine to my mind is really sound. Yes, we can improve a little bit the engine, but there’s a big, big difference to the control mechanisms around science and the inner engine of tentative, step-by-step, based on falsifiability of theories backed up by data and/or experiment, et cetera, that is unchallenged to my mind. I’ve seen no challenge that makes any sense. While the issues of sociology of science, and indeed the power relationships and politics around what science chooses to study, and particularly how money flows, are indeed important. So what we really need to do is keep both in our minds, not go to this nihilistic crazed view that it’s all power, because it’s not.
James: That’s right. Both the critical theory tradition and the postmodern tradition have ways to confuse people about this. And of course the feminist would have been aware, following Marcuse, in particular, of the critical theory tradition, much of the Marxist thought of the time which feminism had taken up a lot of, was infused with that. And so it would say, well, you have to look at what’s hegemonic and what people are creating, the hegemony, what ideologies are they pushing? And so then they would do this thing kind of archeological or genealogical digs and say, hey, look, well, the people who used to explore the Arctic and find out information about the Arctic, these geographers had to be manly, tough men, and that we really did make decisions in the late 19th century about truth, about the Arctic, based on how studly the person was and how many polar bears they could kill or some stupid thing before anybody had any idea of how to make scientific determinations about the world.
James: And then they just import that forward and say, well, that must’ve set up a hegemony that’s kept women out all along. Because, on some level, it was used as a justification, and on other levels, that was one way of chipping away at. But if you only look at the dark side of it, you get mad. And with the postmodern thought, the idea is that, following, for example, either Foucault or Derrida, there’s two different constructions that both get you there. The idea is that the discourse is constructed around a thing. So the scientific enterprise are constructed by the people who create them and that their political biases are what create how those discourses work, and thus the power dynamics within that sociology. So they would say from a postmodern perspective, that if there is some problem in the sociology of science, say sexism or whatever, that it must come from the science itself because the discourses of the science are what are structuring that sociology because of that French structuralism stuff.
James: And so the point of postmodernism being post-structuralist is to tear down those power dynamics. They look at the power dynamic and the sociology, they say it must be coming from all of the relevant discourses that inform that sociology, therefore you have to start tearing those apart and deconstructing them to get rid of the power. So they think that the way people talk about the actual science, it’s a confusion, makes the sociology of that relevant science a problem, which is why you see people like in computer saying, well, we can’t use phrases like master-slave, or whatever, you can’t blacklist and white list things because that language gives a subtle thing that makes people uncomfortable of different races or sexes or genders or sexualities or whatever. So we have to be very careful with our language because the language is going to structure how the sociology is and that sociology therefore becomes kind of the emitter that lets you figure out if the language, the discourses themselves are poisoned. It’s a very stupid way to think. It’s really a very, it’s like-
Jim: It’s insulting, too. That’s actually, because it assumes everybody’s a fucking bunch of pussies, right?
James: With false consciousness.
Jim: Fuck all that shit. Right. And we’ll get to that later, especially when we talk about critical race theory, but I believe that this whole approach has done a huge disservice for the so-called marginal folks, right? This isn’t how you solve the problem, becoming neurotic and seeing bogeyman every fucking where. But let’s wrap up the history part a little bit by doing a relatively brief review of your two principles and your four themes, and then let’s move on.
James: Right. So we kind of condensed all of that history into identifying two core principles of postmodern thought. The first is that knowledge is socially constructed generally in service of power. And the second goes into that power aspect, more specifically, and says that dominant groups within society have had the ability to construct knowledge and therefore get their own power. And so there’s an ethical imperative to take apart powerful discourses. So we call it the first of those that there’s no access to objective truth and knowledge is just socially constructed. The postmodern knowledge principle. When we called the second one, that there’s a political power valence to the whole project that needs to be unmade, the postmodern political principle. So those two core principles kind of define what postmodern thought is. And we wanted to narrow it down to that. So we could see in future generations of thought that those principles are still consistently showing up. We identified four core themes of postmodern thought and application.
James: And those, if I can name them all in one go, those are the blurring of boundaries. So trying to take any categories that you might be able to think of, whether it’s man and woman, whether it’s knowledge and storytelling, and blur the boundaries between them so that everything kind of becomes the same thing. Second one is the almighty power of language or an exaggerated focus on the power of language. We just described that, the belief that words almost work like magic spells to structure the sociology of a thing. A third one would be cultural relativism, which would be both in terms of morals. So ethical relativism, moral relativism, as you’d hear, you can’t judge one culture. There’s ethics from the position of another culture, which had imported from some of the early moves in anthropology. And then also epistemological relativism, that you can’t judge one knowledge system from within another knowledge system. So as they phrase it, there are ways of knowing. One way of knowing, like science can’t bear upon the validity of another way of knowing like witchcraft, because they’re relative and that they’re products of their distinct cultures, and so one can’t speak to the other.
James: And then the fourth is the dissolution. So we talked earlier about liberalism, is the dissolution of the belief in a universal humanity and the dissolution of the belief in the autonomous individual. People are products of their social groups and holy products of their social groups. And so it comes down to defining how those social groups are defined, with the original post-modernist, it would have been particular time and place in culture. So France, 1960 would have been maybe a thing or France in the late medieval period would have been a thing.
James: And this over time has evolved to where your cultural groups have now been wedged into identity categories, though the original postmodernists wouldn’t have thought that way, but the point was that you’re not an individual, you’re a French person in the medieval period. And that’s how you think. There’s this consciousness that goes with being in which culture at what time you happen to be. And then there’s no universal humanity because one group can’t genuinely understand each other, because they have completely different ethics and completely different epistemologies. So they can’t even properly speak to one another. So there’s this eraser of all of the fundamental principles of liberalism, like understanding the world clearly, universal principles of humanity, and viewing people as individuals and saying that, yeah, we can make some universal judgments about right and wrong, and no, we don’t have to get tricked by word games. There is a fundamental reality beneath it all that we can understand and talk about on shared terms.
Jim: Very good. I often will describe it as people claiming that both witch doctors and Johns Hopkins Hospital are equally good at curing cancer, what the fuck, right? How do people believe that horse shit? But as you say in the book, eventually kind of the internal contradictions of this abstract French theory driven postmodernism started to wind down, people eventually said, all right, maybe it’s intellectually cute and curious to probe, but it doesn’t really lead anywhere useful. And then you talk about where you called the postmodernism applied turn, where it was reformed in various ways and simplified, I would say, in some ways, and then move forward. So let’s move quickly here to the postmodernism applied turn.
James: Yeah. So that really happened. I mean, if you want to throw earmarks on it, you could say that postmodernism was 1970 and the applied turn was 1990. A lot happened in the mid and late 1980s. And what happened ultimately was that the remnants of the radical activists from the 60s and 70s, these Marcusian activists, the critical theorist liberation, black power, radical feminists, they had lost a lot of their clout and they’d lost a lot of their ability to argue because people just kind of got tired with the whole power dynamic thing all the time. And they found postmodern tools. And so you had a couple of thinkers, prominently in the late 1980s or mid 1980s who started to figure out, well, if we say that you can’t deconstruct the experience of oppression, but if you start using postmodern tools to deconstruct power, now we have a very actionable understanding of both postmodern theory and critical theory that we can put into application.
James: Now they explicitly did that. They combined that very radical, critical approach with postmodern tools by setting aside the idea of universal deconstruction and saying, no, the experience of oppression is real and only somebody with privilege could possibly deconstruct it. So let’s simplify postmodernism down to deconstructing those powers that create oppression, and we’ve to take oppression off the table. So now you can’t deconstruct race because race is a site of oppression. And so now you start to see this identity politics very explicitly becoming the cultural groups that are relevant to the postmodern principles and themes.
Jim: That’s kind of the world we’re living in now, right? The supplied postmodernist epoch, or at least this disease that seems to be rampant in the world. So let’s now move on to where you start to dig into the first of these applied postmodernist theories, which is postcolonial theory. And early in that chapter, you make a very key distinction, which frankly I was not aware of. So it was a good education for me too, which is the identity politics, when looked at deeply from theory, is actually deeply cynical. It appears, correct me if I’m wrong about this, that the post colonialists and critical race theory people don’t actually believe in identity essentialism. You discovered that they used the term called strategic essentialism, which strikes me as a very cynical way to have proceeded. Could you perhaps either correct me and/or expand on this concept of strategic essentialism as one of the base concepts of applied postmodern?
James: Sure. Yeah. I mean, there’s a little bit to correct and a little bit to say that you’ve got correct already and expand upon. So the idea of strategic essentialism, I mean, it’s a useful concept. It’s a useful tool to fight against power that’s basically controlling you. And so it means to adopt the negative stereotypes about yourself, that some powerful group is applying to you, and to do so in a self aware, which means slightly ironic way to use it as a weapon of resistance to that power. So you could imagine, for example, we could flash back to the 1950s and you have the stereotypical 1950s white boss talking, however, about how he thinks black people are stupid and lazy or whatever. And then he tells his black employee to go do whatever job, go sweep the floor, or whatever. And then the black person responds, “Well, I don’t know boss, I’m too stupid and lazy.”
James: And so that would be an example of using strategic essentialism to fight power. And I think there’s some legitimacy to it because it calls people out on applying on just stereotypes. Like everything, it can go too far. So the idea really got defined by a post-colonial theorist named Gayatri Spivak, in the mid 1980s. And Spivak was a upper caste Indian woman who decided to start writing about how horrendous colonialism was, and really took a lot. I mean, she cites Foucault on nearly every page of her work. Also draws very heavily on Derrida. And Derrida is more relevant for these strategic essentialism because the idea is, oh, well, there’s binary hierarchies of power in everything that we encounter in life. And so what strategic essentialism is, is that we’re going to now preserve those hierarchies, but we’re going to reverse the power. So we’re going to flip it backwards. That’s the way that Spivak characterized the idea and took it further.
James: And so now, for example, if you say, well, there’s a power dynamic between men and women, men are dominant over women. She would say, well, we’re going to preserve that hierarchy that men and women are different, but we’re going to reverse the power, so now it’s girl power. Now women are the ones that are to have power. Women domination is great. And you can do this with whatever set of identity factors or whatever that you want to do. So it became this site upon which they had to do two things. And the cynical part that you’re pointing at is that they wanted to preserve the existing hierarchy, where if we compare that to liberalism, the point is to chip away the meaningfulness of that hierarchy. They want to preserve the hierarchy, and then they want to try to reverse the direction of power in it. And this actually in some sense is why many people have noticed, and pardon my frustration with it, but the kind of social justice activists get literally fucking everything backwards. And it’s because they’re preserving the hierarchies and reversing the power. But the problem is that the hierarchy itself is the issue. And you can’t just arbitrarily reverse every bit of power and create the change that you want.
James: So with the post-colonial theorists, what they do is they said, well, that the West used to say, we’re great and you’re barbarous, we’re smart and you’re stupid. We’re scientific and you’re superstitious. The West is better than the East. And so the West constructs itself as superior and the East is inferior, and this could be extended to the global South as well. And then liberalism said, hey, maybe we should think of people as people, wherever they live and try to work from there. And this apparently was intolerable to these radical activists who wanted to just strategically essentialize. And they said, no, let’s reconstruct it. That the East is the poor oppressed entity by the West. And that the West is actually evil colonizers, but let’s establish that the West did use science and it is the property of the West. And let’s get this backwards completely. So we can say, oh, they used their science to destroy Africa. Which, if anybody has any sense in their fricking head, if you want to get like working wells and you want to get a city up and operating, you’ve got to use science. So you’re not helping freaking Africa by saying it’s white stuff to do science. But that’s where it comes from, preserve the hierarchy and flip the power, which is strategic essentialism. Thanks to Gayatri Spivak.
Jim: Yeah. Interesting. What a weird move. And it’s so strange that people buy this stuff, right. It’s like what! You also talk in that section of the book about how decolonizing theorist or the fuck they are, now also have decided that philosophy is bad because it gives a special place to reason. Could you talk about that a little bit?
James: Yeah. The idea is that they genuinely believe that everything is a property of the culture that invented it. And so when you say that the enlightenment took place in the European context for whatever set of historical contingencies that led to that fact of history, when you say the enlightenment took place, and with the elevation of reason, the development of scientific reasoning all happened in the European context, mostly by white people, mostly by men because of the other historical contingencies around those decisions, they believe that that locks white Western maleness into the scientific and reason bearing of philosophical processes. And therefore those are the property of white Western men. And they’re not the property of say black Africans or indigenous people in South America or whatever else. And therefore those are properties that are tied to a specific culture. It’s so hard to even freaking explain this, it’s so stupid.
James: And so for, say people to go to Africa or to South America or to anywhere in the world that doesn’t have science and try to teach them Science is literally a colonial act of trying to change their culture to value white and Western things, rather than just trying to teach them very effective methods to understand the world. Coming to Africa to teach them to rely on reason, if that’s what it was, would be seen as an act of colonial aggression that tries to erase African cultures that have always thought differently. In some sense in that way, very fucking conservative because it’s like, no, leave the noble savages alone, don’t change anything about them, even if it would be to their benefit, you can’t change that because that’s…
James: … even if it would be to their benefit you can’t change that, because that’s, as they say, colonialism. It’s so mental that it’s almost impossible to talk about without kind of just getting pissed off.
Jim: I understand that exactly. And of course what I love about it is how ignorant some of the assumptions are even, that reason is white, right? Anyone who knows anything about the history of Greek philosophy knows that it is believed, with some reason, that the antecedents of Greek philosophy, where reason was finally defined, at least in such a way that it came into the Western tradition, actually came from Egypt, right? At least so it appears. And so it’s actually an Egyptian invention that was refined and written down essentially by the Greeks. And further, for a long time, it was essentially the property of the Greeks and then to a lesser degree the Romans, but there are lots of white people who had never had any exposure to this kind of thinking, right? The Britons, the Celts, the Vikings, etc., they’d never heard any of this horseshit until much later, 1000 A.D., perhaps, that Aristotelian philosophy slowly started to penetrate Europe.
Jim: So, it came from Egypt, it was processed by the Greeks, it was refined a bit by the Romans, though not very much, then was carried forth in a kind of flattened form by scholastic Catholicism and only gradually expanded around into allegedly the white realm, so … and then it expanded to the rest of the world. And why did it expand to the rest of the world? Well, those who listen to my show know that I have one word which I use as my razor for ideas and that is, are they useful, right? And as it turned out, reason is useful!
James: That’s correct. And so, to understand how off the track … because what you just described is absolutely correct, and to understand how off the track the thought process here in the … whether we want to call it social justice or post-colonial in this case, but it’s all of the theories, how off the track it is, it doesn’t care. All it cares about is who was able to apply it in the service of what they call systemic power and that systemic power applies only in the current system, which is post-enlightenment progress, I guess, the modern world, actually, that which follows the late-Medieval period, going forward, so that’s the only context.
James: And they say, “Well, who had these ideas and who was able to apply systemic power with them? White people in a Eurocentric context, mostly men, therefore these ideas are the province of white, Western men and to use them and pushes white, Western culture onto everybody else, because, again, following Foucault with his truth regimes, that established a truth regime that was supposed to be fitting for the European context in the early and mid-modern periods and then they decided that they were going to try to force it upon the rest of the world, which was other cultures that couldn’t have been despoiled by such terrible things as useful reason and applicable science.
James: It’s such … it’s not even just a stupid way to think and just a terribly narrow way to think, it’s, again, very conservative in a weird way, that the world should have remained in its premodern, feudal state and any aberration from that or any deviation from that is an oppression that’s intolerable and has to be unmade. That’s genuinely their thought process, because they’re obsessed with the systemic power that getting right answers to questions about the world provided Europeans, primarily white, European men.
Jim: Yeah, it’s fucking horseshit. A good friend of mine is CTO of a company that’s providing solar electricity to remote villages in Africa. And I can tell you, from listening to him, that the libido for having electricity in remote villages in Africa is huge, right? These people don’t feel oppressed by having electricity for the first time and then satellite internet, being connected to the world, being able to look something up on Google Scholar, it’s hugely empowering to them and where the fuck these people are.
Jim: Here’s another one of my thoughts a little bit about neo-colonialism, colonialism theory, whatever the hell it is. The Brits, England was the great colonizing power, everybody likes to criticize the English. But, hey, what happened to the English, right? They had the Britons, way back yonder, who were attacked and almost exterminated by the Celts, who were invaded by the Romans, when the Romans started to collapse and withdraw in 400 A.D. Soon thereafter, the Angles and the Saxons from lowland Germany attacked and substantially took over England. The Danes came down and captured the northern third of England, Dane law for a couple hundred years. Then the Normans came in and imposed their truly hideous occupation and built a whole new aristocracy that suppressed the shit out of the English. And so the history of England has been wave after wave after wave of colonization, suppression, domination, etc., and yet they seem to come out all right out of it.
James: Yeah, it took me a long time to figure out how these people think, it really took me a long time to figure out this mystery. And the answer is that all of that stuff doesn’t matter because systemic power in the modern era hadn’t been invented yet. They really think that. They only care … the world, the beginning of time for them … and sometimes I see shit they post on Instagram, these kind of memes and shit they post, really, they say words like, “Since the beginning of time, white people have had all the power in the world.” So, they literally think that the beginning of time was the Enlightenment and the beginnings of the Scientific Revolution and the development of philosophy. So, anything that happened before that might have been like colonization, but it wasn’t real colonization because it wasn’t systemic. And they actually think this way, because the only thing they give a shit about is the prevailing social order and for them that is the entire world. Nothing else has any meaning.
James: So, they would take things like that and twist them around and have a weird explanation for them of challenge, for example, with the Greeks, “Well, if the Greeks developed reason and they got it from the Egyptians and then white people had it, white people must have stolen it.” That would be the way that they would look at that, rather than in any perspicacious view of how things actually happened throughout history and how cultures actually interact. They can’t, therefore, understand that the norms of human history have been colonization, empire building, destroying your neighbors, enslaving whoever you could get a hold of, raping their women. These have been the norms of human history and it’s only been in this modern era that they hate and see as having systemic power as a result of actually having something like, I guess, systemic power, through the power of reason and science and better ethics and questioning ourselves and setting up rule of law.
James: It’s only through that, that we’ve been able to get away from those horrors of history, but they would say, “No, systemic power wasn’t there. When the Mongols conquered basically everything, they didn’t have systemic power, they only had regular power. So, it doesn’t count, it’s not the same thing. But what the Europeans did, starting in the late 16th century or 15th century, was systemic and that makes it completely different and that makes it intolerable.” That’s genuinely … you couldn’t possibly have a more narrow, idiotic and conservative view of history. And I don’t mean conservative like conservatives would be proud to think of, but in the terms of kind of the worst ramifications of what conservatism can mean. You couldn’t have a worse one than this woke thing that calls itself progressive.
Jim: Mm, yeah. Let’s jump into a topic I have later in my topic list but this is actually a good time to introduce it. The way this Social Justice, capitalized, which is a term of art you define in the book, approaches the world is essentially hermetically sealed, it’s a series of theories and arguments ungrounded with either facts or data. And in fact, as we just discussed here, they actively ignore and repress the application of historical analysis beyond their own little world, empirical facts, data of any sort, and it kind of reminds me of Medieval Catholicism, where to doubt in any way or to bring evidence in any way is actually sinful. And to my mind that strikes me as the most dangerous and the most absurd thing about this phenomenon.
James: It is, it’s a renewal of … I mean, you could actually, if we wanted to do the whole game, the academic lingo game, we could call this Neo-medievalism. It is an attempt to return to Medievalism and out of modernity. So, it’s an attempt to reverse the course of the last 500 years. And it is hermetically sealed in the sense that, because it thinks in terms only of these cultural knowledges, that any criticism that comes at it must be coming from a place that doesn’t properly understand it. And so it can dismiss any criticism, now it just simply calls it by names like racist or whatever, it’s the application of power about race or the application of power about sex, and that those are baked into that white, Western, hegemonic culture of knowing and being and thinking in the world.
James: And so what people really need to take home from this is that … we capitalize the S and the J for Social Justice, this is a different way of thinking entirely, it is a completely different worldview, it has … and this is the core part, it has a completely different epistemology, in other words, relationship to knowledge, and has a completely different set of ethics. And those two principles we lay down in the book, the postmodern knowledge principle, explain their epistemology. It’s no longer truth and falsity that matter, it is instead whether or not the idea is problematic and how it accords with somebody’s lived experience, specifically of occupying an oppressed social position, where those have been defined by the hierarchy of the theory. And the postmodern political principle defines the ethics. Some cultures have been systemically oppressed, others have been unfairly advantaged, and we have to flip those over. That is in essence their epistemology and ethics.
James: They have a completely different way of interacting with the world that’s as foreign as if some aliens that have never seen sexually reproducing species and don’t have any idea of how anything works were to suddenly land and they have a completely different ethical and completely different epistemological system. It’s very difficult to understand that.
Jim: Mm, indeed. And once you do get your head around it, I say … I will tell you, this book helped me see it even more clearly than I did before. It’s like, what the fuck, right? It’s both insane and dangerous at the same time. Before we leave post-colonial theory, let’s talk about one of the most bizarre manifestations of it, which is what you called … I think they probably call it, too, Research Justice.
James: Yep, the most blatant attempt to cook the books in their favor that I’m kind of aware of. Research Justice is the idea that research has systemically excluded certain ideas and certain voices, whether that’s because of methodological rigor or whether that’s because of actual power dynamics doesn’t matter because the view from postmodernism is that it’s all power dynamics. So, they say, well, historically, these white, Western men came up with science, these white, Western men defined the canon of, say, literature, so we’re reading Shakespeare, we’re reading Milton, we’re reading Bacon, we’re reading Mark Twain, we’re reading all of these white, Western men who were the educated people and the aristocrats, I guess, in some sense, they had the time and energy to write, if that’s even the right way to put it.
James: And so they say that that unfairly biases all of our knowledge in the scholarly canon to white, Western people, so obviously their politics must be baked into it, because that’s the fundamental assumption behind the whole thing, so what we need to do now is we need to fix that. So, we need to stop citing any white, Western men, we need to cite black women in particular and lots of them, we need to cite marginalized voices, we need to stop teaching from white curricula, white, Western curricula, we need to insert more materials from other contexts, and in fact we need to minimize the amount of white, Western materials as they define it so that we can make up for that. And so you should only cite, again, black scholar … Here’s an example, an explicit example of citing that. They said that Patricia Hill Collins’ formulation in black feminist thought in 1990 relies very heavily on Foucault’s concepts of power, but it would be against research justice or against intersectionality specifically to cite Michel Foucault when there’s now a black woman who you could cite instead and so you have to cite the black woman.
James: So, one’s identity now becomes the site for creating citations and what you’re going to read, what you’re going to teach, what you’re going to put in the curriculum. And you can see what’s going on, because all of those create professional opportunities for you, oh, my papers have been cited this many times, my papers have not been cited that many times. And so it is a deliberate attempt to cook the books such that the activists … because it’s not going to be any black people, don’t be confused, any black women. Any black woman who disagrees is not getting cited, let me tell you right now. It’s a deliberate attempt to cook the academic books and to skew the academic canon so that the activists who have these identity markers get more reputational standing within scholarship, whereas everybody else gets less.
James: And you can imagine why they would want to do that, because that’s what we turn to, to understand the world when we say, “Oh, is there a study …” Keep getting asked now, “Is there a study showing that their diversity programs don’t work?” I’m like, “Are you kidding me? Of course there’s not. They’re not going to publish that.”
Jim: Yep. It’s very interesting and on the other hand, as we know, the legacy effects of systemic racism, which is real, have limited, to a significant degree, certain minority groups from participating in the game of science and it’s a good thing … and I’m involved in some boards of advisors at academic institutions and we spend a lot of time thinking about how to recruit underrepresented minorities and that’s a good thing, but to stipulate it as a law, as a rule, that you must only quote people … that’s nuts, right? It’s like, how the hell does anybody believe that?
James: It’s particularly bad in the sciences or in my own field of mathematics, where, in math it’s, the proof is the proof, that’s it, that’s the whole thing. If you have the proof it doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t actually matter if a computer came up with it. If you have the proof, the thing is proved and whoever proved it proved it and it doesn’t matter, and that’s the basis of getting, say, an academic paper in mathematics. In science, it’s the same thing, it’s, do you have the result or don’t you have the result? And to say that, well, now we have to start skewing this and citing by race or by gender, starts to massively undermine that principle that it’s whether or not you have the proof, it’s whether or not you have the result, and it doesn’t matter who got the proof because the proof is true independently of anybody, or that the result is correct independently of anybody. Undermining that belief and turning that belief into another side of politics undermines the ability to rely upon math and science to do things in the world.
Jim: Has that corruption actually hit mathematics? How could that be?
James: It’s not hit research mathematics yet, though I’ve started to see the calls for it. It has hit mathematics education hard, very hard. There are actual programs in … I hear from teachers all the time in my email, but there are actually programs that have been installed under the heading of ethno-mathematics, under a broader curriculum of ethnic studies in, say, the city of Seattle, but also now I just was talking with somebody this morning that it’s going to be all throughout unless it gets stopped, it’ll be all throughout the state of California that there’ll be the requirement to put a social justice focus in math education and that is says things like that the point is going to be to make math less individualistic and more collectivist, how do you … how do you determine what’s a right answer in math or more importantly who gets to determine it?
James: There was even an outcry on Twitter last week with a bunch of freaking math educators and professionals and even scholars trying to argue that 2 + 2 doesn’t equal 4 because it subjects other possible values to exclusion. And I’m not exaggerating that. What the fuck are you people doing? And the vector was pure postmodernism, too, if you want to know, they said, well, if you look in base 3, that you would write 2 + 2 equals 1 1 in base 3. But 1 1 in base 3, what we would read as 11, doesn’t mean 10 + 1 or 11, it means 3 + 1, that’s what base 3 means. And so it’s literally, they trick themselves with a fucking pun on two different ways to write the number four. And they’re like, that means there are other possible values.
James: I wish I was making that shit up. I’m so fucking mad about that, that I … it’s like I can’t linger on it too long because I just start swearing at random and it’s like I can’t believe … these are people with fucking Master’s degrees teaching mathematics and are designing mathematics curricula that our states and cities are actually implementing. And then I get these messages like, “I’m a junior high math teacher and I keep getting these directives, we have to put social justice into the core of our math education program.” So, yeah, math.
James: And then I see these fucking mathematicians, and I’m not exaggerating this, in the notices of the AMS, the American Mathematical Society, writing stuff like, exactly what I was just describing a moment ago, they’re writing shit like, “Oh, well, if there’s a problem in the community around mathematics, or if there’s a problem in mathematics education, maybe we should be asking the question if the problem’s actually coming from math itself and how we engage with math itself and what we consider to be objectivity in math.” And then there’s all these articles out there now about, “We need to get away from the presumed objectivity of mathematics.” So, it’s not in research math now, but it’s coming, and it will, because it poisons fucking everything. If they’re questioning 2 + 2 = 4, with Master’s degrees, I don’t even know where you go from there.
Jim: That’s a pretty good one. If you could send me the link to that tweet, I’d love to follow up on that at a later date. I’m going to interject this here, again, it’s later in my list, but we’re getting short on time and I think this is a hugely important topic and I’m really interested in your thoughts on this. How many of the people out there that are mouthing these things do you think actually have the disease, versus those who feel compelled by the bureaucratic power held by the disease to pretend or act as if they believe it?
James: So, we have to separate the world into the … I mean, it’s kind of like, I guess, a tautology, I was going to say, into the people who are the scholars of this stuff and the real activists, so the ones who believe it, and I think that nearly all of them believe it, and then the people who are being … broader academics. So, I get emails from academics literally every day and, I mean, lots of them, most days, saying, “I agree with you and your take and I just wanted to let you know I support you, but I have to do so in private because I have to keep my head down, so I … I play the part, I do my act, I pretend that I support this stuff when I’m at work so I don’t lose my job, because somebody has to be there for the kids or somebody has to be there for my kids, I have to keep my job.” So, there’s a lot of people out there who are actually pretending, who are not actually activists and they just kind of go along with it. I don’t think you’ll find them being very strident very often.
James: As for the scholars themselves, the scholars themselves believe this wholeheartedly. Just like a long time ago, Christopher Hitchens was asked, “How many of these pastors do you really think believe all this crazy Jesus stuff that they’re saying?” And Christopher Hitchens said, “There’s always some grifters, there’s always some. But that said, as a group, and talking in averages, these are the most painfully sincere people I think I’ve ever heard of or met in my life.” And that’s true here, these people don’t even have a sense of humor, they don’t laugh about anything. They think laughing at things is wrong. And so these people are painfully sincere. So, if you asked me about any of the big ones out there that are making mad money off of this, like Robin DiAngelo or Ibram Kendi, their bestseller books right now, do they believe it? I’m like, oh yeah, 100%, they are all in on this. This is their faith, this is their worldview, this is their core of how they think about things.
James: You can see when they butt up against reality and their eyes kind of cross a little bit and they don’t know how to handle it, so you can tell that they’re grappling with the fact that the thing that they believe doesn’t quite work and you see this a lot. So, the people who are actually activists and scholars in this believe it wholeheartedly, but a lot of people, probably the majority of people supporting it fall into one of two groups. One is, like I described, those academics who are too afraid to disagree, so they pretend, and another is kind of uninformed people, like some friends of my kids that have said things like, “Yeah, I’m sharing the hashtags,” and the reason is because everybody does. They don’t have the slightest idea what any of it means, but you got to say “Defund the police,” and it’s like, “Well, everybody’s saying it. And there’s a lot of people who are just not critically thinking about what the fuck they’re saying and they’re just saying this stuff and carrying water for extremely radical people, thinking that it’s generally good.
James: A third category actually I should add is people who think it can’t possibly be as bad as the things they’re actually saying. They can’t actually mean it, so I’m going to give it a lot of charity, I’m going to reinterpret it for them and say, oh well, they just mean this much more sensible thing that is not what they mean and they say over and over again that it’s not what they mean. And so there’s a lot of people who support it because they are unable to take them at their word at all, even though they say on almost every page of everything they write how they hate the system, systemic power comes from the system and the system needs to be torn down and we need to have a revolution. I even saw a video for teachers today that the first thing that it showed was, how do we start a revolution in teaching? It’s like, they’re calling for revolution in everything they do, they mean it.
Jim: Yep, they are true anti-liberals, right? And if we don’t … we believe that, we’re fools, frankly. We’ll talk a little bit later about what we might be able to do about it. Let’s move onto your next topic, but in the interest of time let’s try to hit it quickly, and that’s queer theory. And I got to say that the liberation of homosexuals is actually one of the great wins from liberalism.
Jim: I recall I grew up as a working class kid, my dad dropped out of high school after ninth grade, my mother left home when she was 14, and I had the usual illiberal views about homosexuality growing up, you didn’t almost need to speak about it, it was unspeakable almost, right? But I had the good luck to go to work for a publishing company in the Bay Area as a young man, met a bunch of gay folks, actually became friends with them, marched in the second gay pride parade in San Francisco, and at a very young age overthrew my legacy homophobia and said, it’s ridiculous! It’s a violation of liberal universalism, I didn’t have those words then. Gay people should have all rights of everybody else and they’re just fine, what the fuck? And it’s clear to me that they’re the way they are because that’s the way they are, right? And yet, that seeming triumph of universal liberalism, which happened remarkably quickly from Stonewall to gay marriage being legalized was only 30 years, somehow all that has morphed into this crazy shit.
James: Oh, the crazy shit’s always kind of been there. A lot of people don’t know that the queer theorists actually opposed gay marriage from the beginning and they saw it as a huge loss for their cause. So, you can see, again, how they get everything backwards, like I was saying about the colonials. So, the deal with queer theory is that anything that’s normal or normative must be constraining people and holding them down in some bad way so you have to get rid of it. So, if you make gay marriage legal, now being gay is more normative than it was before, so gay people aren’t radical, divergent things from society any longer and you take away their radical power and you sweep them up into the normative side of society and that’s a failure and that’s a loss. So, it’s a radical rejection of anything being allowed to be considered normal and it’s a radical rejection of the idea that categories can be defined as being stable. So, to queer something is to make the categories around it seem unstable and laughable.
James: So, in this case, you could say the category of woman, so you could look at lesbians, for example, who are in the L of the LGBT thing, and you could say, well, lesbians are women who are attracted to women, so you have to have a stable category of woman for lesbian to make sense. And the queer people will say, no, that’s not right, you can’t have a stable category of woman. You have to break that all down and it’s just, everybody is a person and everybody can do whatever they want. And so you can see as, the thing you just said made it work. Oh well, they are people who happen to be how they are and that’s fine and so some people are gay, get over it, no big deal, it’s ridiculous to think otherwise. Queer theory gets that backwards, too, because that would make it normal and normative and that’s not okay. They have to make it … everything has to stay queer and weird or else it’s not acceptable.
Jim: Interesting. And then of course the most recent manifestation, I don’t know how far back this goes, is this literally insane view that sex itself is not real, or that Judith Butler said, you quoted in the book, “If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construction called sex is as culturally constructed as gender. And perhaps, indeed, it has always already gendered … was always already gender … Oh anyway, fuck all that, I can’t even read this shit.
James: It’s so fucking hard to read Judith Butler, she’s almost impossible.
Jim: It’s like, what the hell, right? My head hurts from reading it. But anyway, basically, bottom line, she’s claiming, well, maybe sex itself is as socially construc ….
Jim: Bottom line she’s claiming, well, maybe sex itself is as socially constructed, as was gender roles. Who could believe such nonsense?
James: So that’s the idea so that the feminists really wanted to deconstruct the idea of gender roles being tied. So there’s, maybe some women don’t want to have female gender roles. Okay. Fine, whatever. But then they went further and said, so gender itself has nothing to do with sex. And we’re going to completely say that gender is a hundred percent social constructed and that’s already, you’re like, something’s getting a bit weird. `And then these queer theorists and kind of starting with Judith Butler, with that question we quoted started to say, well, maybe if we really want to break down the idea of gender roles and we really want to break down the idea that gender has any concrete meaning, what we really need to do, is break down the idea that sex has any meaning at all, other than the imposition, say of some medical terminology, that the doctors put on people’s birth certificates.
James: And so, it’s this move, it’s like this progressive move from gender roles being socially constructed to gender itself, being socially constructed, to having to get more and more and more radical to break down any normative categories, to say, sex itself is socially constructed. And maybe that’s how it really works. And you can picture your mind exploding. Wow, maybe that is, what a radical idea. And then meanwhile, the lesbians are over here, are like, what the fuck. Were women who like women, you’re losing us here. And so, that’s queer theory, man. It’s just, make anything that’s normal, like busted up, make it weird.
Jim: Yeah. That’s weird. I mean, again, at one level I sympathize a little bit with, we need room for diversity of ways of being in the world, but how is it that people get to these insane extrapolations?
James: They believe that the ideas themselves have lots of power, that structure society, again, there’s that deep vein of structuralism and post-structuralism that fed into the postmodern way of thinking. And they also take a lot from the critical theory view, that there’s these hegemonic forces that are tied up in it. So, in other words, our postmodern political and knowledge principles come into bearing.
James: So they believe that if we had, say biological science saying that, there are actually men and women, and that they’re physiologically different from one another. So, in other words, biological sex is real. Some asshole could use that to justify sexism. So, because some asshole could use it to justify sexism, you have to get rid of it. It contains the seeds of hegemonic power. So it’s bad. So we’re not going to believe that. And you have this whole ration in the early queer theory literature and some of the feminist literature around it.
Jim: As queer theory was kind of becoming ascendant saying that, what we really have to do, is get away from the ideas of true and false. Even though it’s easier to understand and start going into this very queer direction because it’s more politically actionable. And that’s what we need to focus on is, what’s politically useful for our cause.
Jim: How cynical. As you say, before we move on from this topic, I would like to point people to my friend Heather Hinger. Heather Ehinger (@HeatherEhinger / Twitter) who has said some remarkably intelligent things about, the insanity of claiming that sex is not real. So, I would point you to her Twitter stream and her appearances on podcasts, et cetera, as a very good grounding, in sense-making about this topic.
Jim: Let’s move on to the next area that you talk about, which is critical race theory and intersection. Now Lets see, we certainly have to acknowledge the hypocrisy about race, under the enlightenment we talked about before, Thomas Jefferson. People don’t know this too much, Abraham Lincoln and the Lincoln Douglas debates famously said that, the black man will never be the social equivalent of the white man, nor should he be et cetera. There was a lot of retrograde beliefs and absurd biological explanations about racial differences and cultural differences, et cetera.
Jim: But, liberalism has been a ratchet, to gradually bring ourselves into alignment with our enlightenment beliefs and the unjust treatment of racial minorities, especially in an American context, African-Americans was real and is still real to a degree, but vastly less so than it was before. Young people today, don’t remember. I actually remember seeing whites only signs, on water fountains in the early sixties in Virginia, less than an hour’s drive from Washington DC, tremendous strides have been made. And the liberalism was continuing at least to improve all of this until this invention of identity politics and the backlash, which has started to occur. I’ve been predicting since the 1990s that, this ever-growing ratchet of identity politics would inevitably lead to the largest identity of all European Americans, catching the disease as well and asserting themselves using the same rhetoric. And that’s what we’re seeing it. I’m afraid.
James: Yeah, we don’t want that to happen more than it already is beginning to. And so really this is something I consider to be a bit of an emergency, to try to take away, to make people understand where the critical race mindset on this comes from and take that away from them. So to kind of give a very short history, we trace this in the book of Critical Race Theory. It began from the claim, that in the late 16th century, going forward, that these biological notions of race and this new definition of race came into the world specifically, in order to do racism and slavery and colonialism. And this is true, it’s just true. The way we thought of race, kind of in that racist past, you were just talking about, did come into the picture at that point. And it was a social construction of race that was backed up by the authority of bogus early science and bad claims that were white supremacists in nature.
James: And so, the summary of that is, that you can say, that these people who wanted to do slavery and colonialism using whatever tools they had available to them at the time, put a lot of social significance into racial categories. And that ratchet you’re talking about with liberalism has been ratcheting it out, click, click, click, click, one turn of the ratchet after another. Let’s take social significance out of racial categories until we finally get to the point, where we can say things like this is a person who happens to be black. This is a person who happens to be Hispanic. This is a person who happens to be Asian and their identity is not the first thing anymore. So we’re reducing the social significance and racial categories, which we generally would call color blindness.
James: When Martin Luther King said that,’ he wants to live in a world. He has a dream that his four little children will be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the contents of their characters’. He’s talking about removing the social significance from racial categories. And then all of a sudden, you have these identity politicians who are of course active in, parallel to King, the Black Power movement, Malcolm X, et cetera, that were pushing this kind of positive black identity, with a capital B, who wanted to keep the social significance and race in reverse, the power dynamic, assert black power and keep that there.
James: And so, and then in the 1990s, you have these people that picked up postmodern theory, specifically Kimberle Crenshaw. And she has a paragraph in her most famous paper, called Mapping the Margins that we have to take an identity first, approach. There’s something more powerful and more meaningful to the sentence, ‘I am black’ than to the sentence,’I am a person who happens to be black’. Because of that second sentence puts their universal humanity first, rather than the identity, which is not useful for identity politics of the radical sort.
James: She then finishes that paper by saying, ‘we’re going to link that to postmodern theory, to do deconstruction of the power that’s oppressing black people’. So what you have then, in the long arc, is a history where racial categories were invented. Social significance was put into them in order to do racist things, liberalism, ratcheted that out over a long and painful history. And then you have these idiot activists come along and say, you know what, let’s put social significance back into racial categories and see what happens. That’s how we’re really going to get liberation. And Here we are.
Jim: Yeah. I’ve been long arguing that America missed a wonderful opportunity in the late sixties, to unravel our uniquely bad black, white problems. Martin Luther King actually was on the right track. He argued for essentially the gradual growing bourgeoisation of black people. And in fact, people forget this, remember of the Moyniham report, back in the late sixties, where he had the famous report on the decline of the black family and the risks that made for racial progress. And Daniel Moyniham, the liberal Democrat from New York, who happen to be working for Nixon at the time. And it’s now considered racist, horrible, et cetera. But I went back and did some research on it. Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young and Martin Luther King, himself supported that report.
Jim: That was at a time when, out of wedlock births, which was really what Moynihan was focusing on amongst black Americans was 22%. Now it’s 70%. And it seems to me that this black power thing and black authenticity thing, which happened right around that time, diverted what could have been a gradual melding of black Americans into mainstream society, away from bourgeoisation and towards,
Jim: God knows what. I’m not really a hundred percent sure what the alternative really was, but was essentially a precursor to this critical race theory thing you’re talking about.
James: Yeah. It’s a really unfortunate situation that again, we can dip back to that postmodern view. Or again, we can look at it from the critical theory perspective of, cultural hegemony and oppressed groups versus oppressor groups. But within the postmodern conception, they got infused into this line of thinking by Kimberle Crenshaw, very specifically, and some other black feminists around the same time. You have this idea, that each culture is its own cultural island. It has its own knowledges. It has its own approaches to knowing things as its own ways of being. And those can’t be questioned from the outside, and any attempt to change those, is an imposition of power.
James: So when you combine that with that critical theory view that impositions of power, are the problems that need to be flipped over. All of a sudden, you start to have this strong push for multiculturalism, rather than a pluralism, where you might call pluralism more of a melting pot approach. But people can still have their own cultural identities, but you’re not asserting it as the primary thing, which is a divisive thing.
James: Humans are actually evolved to be tribal animals, and we’re not really good at people, erecting cultural barriers, and then feeling like those people are, people that we can easily relate to. Drawing those lines intentionally, is one of the biggest mistakes that Critical Race Theory is making. And then when you see specifically the kinds of things that you’re talking about, that they want us, they want to define black culture as something that’s in opposition to white culture.
James: Because they claim that white culture is intrinsically anti-black and a very cynical and pessimistic description. So they define black culture in opposition to that. So literally today, in the past few weeks, I’ve just seen things coming out saying that productivity, reliability, loyalty, punctuality, these kinds of values, plus the science. The reason that we’ve talked about before are all white supremacy. I’ve even heard people, in a taskforce assembled by the Washington State Legislature and Equity Task Force, they ran back in January. Saying that,’ trying to keep a meeting schedule and get through an agenda is white supremacy, trying to be productive is white supremacy’.
James: So when you start trying to define a culture in opposition to, as you phrased it earlier, stuff that works, that most people don’t want to associate with a race at all, you’re going to start creating massive problems. And then when you start drawing these hard lines and saying, ‘this is black culture and it’s different than your culture, and we’re not the same. And don’t try to impose on us. That would be colonizing our culture’. You just creating a recipe for disaster and failure. It’s really, the exact wrong way to think about everything. It’s just so frustrating.
Jim: Yeah, it’s crazy. And the one you gave, the example, pissed me off some years ago, the argument against punctuality. So for fun, I wrote an agent based model that modeled a company, and you could set how much punctuality was in the employees. And if you assume that the work of the company was significantly done by people synchronizing and having meetings and you move the slider on punctuality and the effectiveness of the organization, dropped radically. And there was a point, where there was a phase change, where nothing got done. Merely on the empirical dimension of utility, punctuality clearly has values. Goddammit.
Jim: And anyone that can’t understand that is just fucking stupid. I guess they’re not necessarily stupid. Some of these fuckers have PhDs. Which means they got an IQ of at least 125 probably, but the disease does something to their thinking that they can’t even think through the fact that, means of production that involve people synchronizing in time must lose major effectiveness, if we don’t all honor the value of punctuality.
James: Yeah. They unfortunately human beings, the smarter you are, the more able you are to convince yourself of your own bullshit. And so often, this is probably, why this crap festered in the Academy among a few other problems and values, unique to the Academy. But the ability to believe, there’s a saying, ‘something, so what is it? It’s something so stupid. Only an academic could believe it’ or something like that. Because you’re, you’re more able to convince yourself of your own bullshit, your post-hoc rationalization and your theoretical ability to convince yourself of nonsense is higher when you’re smarter, than when you’re not. So here we are. So, stupid in a way, I used to get called too smart for my own good, when I was a kid all the time. And I never knew what that meant, I knew now.
Jim: Interesting. There’s some interesting psychological lab results, which showed that the more intelligent on an IQ test, the person is, the more susceptible they are to confirmation bias, which is interesting.
James: Sure. Because they can make the argument really quickly for why it must be true.
Jim: Exactly. They can rationalize and basically vibrate off their emotions and figure it out. It’s interesting. That’s talking about psychology as I was reading in your rather depressing, write up of Critical Race Theory. It struck me that this has got to be bad for the mental health of the groups, that are being allegedly advocated for. To see that the whole world is against you. That every fine structure of reality is there to fuck you over in a fairly permanent way. It’s got to be bad for your personal empowerment. I would turn that around and say, yes, we still have some legacy of racism, much less than we used to. The number I use is, 8% of white Americans are still type one racist, meaning that race is an essential list criteria and that there are good races and bad races. I use the longterm social science general survey data on, are you opposed to intermarriage or somebody close to you?
Jim: It was 90%, 1960 it’s 8% today amongst white folks. That’s tremendous progress. And the barriers that exist or overcomeable, if you look at again, empirical data. I know it’s a violation to use your variable data against Critical Race Theory. But you look at how much discrimination, let’s say African-Americans suffer in the job market. It’s around the level, they probably need to go on one more job interview, than white folks get an equivalent job, which was unfortunate and wrong. But isn’t enough to stop you from making progress in the world. In housing, you probably got to look at one, maybe two more apartments to overcome. Yes, racism in rental housing. These are not obstacles that will stop you. Their friction, but they’re not a pervasive system that fucks you over. So you can’t possibly succeed the rhetoric of Critical Race Theory, if I were one of the alleged beneficiaries of this perspective would be psychologically devastating.
James: It is, it’s the opposite of cognitive behavioral therapy. As you know, psychologist, Jonathan Haidts pointed out, it’s literally like reverse cognitive behavioral therapy. It makes you more sensitive to slights. It tends to make you want to catastrophize and leads you to believe that the world’s out to get you and so increases paranoia and cynicism, pessimism and nihilism. It’s exactly the opposite of the thing you want to do. Now I keep hearing from psychologists, in fact that are writing to me and they’re talking about how their own profession is falling apart.
James: Or I hear from people who are in therapy and maybe there’s a cross racial therapy situation. And now it’s like all power dynamics. So now you can even resolve the problems that’s creating. And it’s like this perfect storm of making a mess that it can’t clean up. And then that it can use as further fuel to make a bigger mess. The thing is it’s completely fucking backwards in every way you could possibly imagine. So I often find myself saying even if every bit of their diagnosis was correct and I don’t think it is. I think most of it’s wrong, but even if it were, their prescriptions are all a hundred percent backwards, their answers for what to do with the problem are a hundred percent backwards.
Jim: Yep. Certainly strikes me as the case. Frankly, I’m kind of old school. My advice would be the same one, as the traditional black grandmother, which is, yes, there’s some discrimination against you. You got to work a bit harder to beat whitey. So get out there and study be diligent, be at work five minutes before the hour be respectful. Even if you’re a little cynical about authority, which hell, I was. I’ve always had a problem with authority. Goddammit. And that great advice from the traditional black grandmother is exactly the right way, that African Americans can overcome the residual racism that exists in the world and get their place at the table.
James: And it pisses me off. I’m the racist because okay, If I admit, there is this friction you’re talking about in society, but I believe that black people can actually succeed against that friction. And you don’t and I’m the racist like, fuck you people.
Jim: Exactly. In fact, I’ve tried the rhetorical term of calling these Critical Race Theory, people racists. As you could imagine, how well they respond to that?
James: We can’t be racist, power dynamics, but you’re holding black people down. So that’s by your definition, that’s racist. It’s shit, man, fuck.
Jim: This is like Alice down the rabbit hole. Unfortunately we’re running out of time here. It is also a very interesting section on feminism and gender studies, but let’s skip to your thoughts and your coauthors thoughts on what the hell can we do about this? Is there anything that people of good faith who still adhere to liberalism and the idea of the individual and the universal shared humanity of all humans? What can we do against this tide of crazy shit?
James: Well, first let’s go ahead. And I said, it’s a hundred percent backwards just a second ago. Let’s let’s walk that back to 99 point a whole bunch of nines. The one thing that it’s saying that makes any sense is could you listen better?
James: Yes we can. Thank you. And then everything else that they say is wrong. So we can listen better and then what we actually have to do, if we want to do something about this. There’s a number of things. Number one, we can listen better. Number two, we have to actually start reminding people. Our schools have systematically not been teaching American civics for at least two decades. They just don’t teach it. People have to understand how liberal systems work. So we have to start asserting liberalism. We’ve been able to be comfortable for a very long time that we just assumed liberal principles. We have to assert them. We have to remind people what they are. We have to get people to make the arguments for them. So we have to go out and assert them. If you actually want to fight it on a practical level, you have to show up.
James: You have to realize it first. There aren’t all that many of them well up until two months ago, there weren’t all that many of these people pushing this very hard, but they’re all activists. They show up, they want bureaucratic positions. They want to be on the committee. They don’t have other important stuff going on. So they’re going to make time to be on the committee to be in the bureaucracy to show up to every school board meeting. If you aren’t going to show up, you’re seeding that ground to a relatively small number of activists. I can’t tell you how many school board meetings I watched in the past two years where this stuff’s getting ramrodded into our schools and there’s nine people in there or something like that in the room. It’s like, where’s anybody who disagrees well, who are the only people showing up, who are the only people that have time, who are the only people who are interested activists.
James: And that’s what you’re up against. So if you want to push back, you’ve got to get informed. You got to be able to understand their jibber Jabber. The book helps with that, of course, I’ve got the website, New Discourses, dedicated to solving that problem right now, as best I can. You’ve got to understand the alternative. You’ve got to understand basic liberal civics and principles. You’ve got to understand why we have rule of law, why we do due process, why the scientific processes are important and valuable and how they help people, don’t hurt them. Why objective standards take cronyism out of the picture more than they put it into the picture. You have to understand stuff like that. And then you have to show the fuck up and say it. Somebody has to show up and say it. If nobody’s going to show up and say it, you’re going to have 10 activists show up in the 10 activists are going to make the entire decision for your city. And then what, now it’s policy. Now it’s a much harder fight. Start getting informed, get organized and show up in numbers, ideally.
Jim: And I also don’t back down to the motherfuckers. Online recently, I actually put together a good faith discourse on, it was called the meta discussion about race. How do we talk about race? You can imagine how well that actually turned out. We got invaded by a bunch of quasi Maoists and, entirely innocent. I would argue, good faith. Correct way of thinking about the world was we should acknowledge current racism that still exists even at lower levels and formally, but we should aim for a future of color blindness.
Jim: I defined it very carefully where one’s color had no more impact on your life trajectory than the color of your eyes. And I made it very clear that we were talking about the future. I got attacked via mentally for the word color blind and the notion. But I did not back down, motherfucker. I came back with guns blazing. I thought I did a pretty damn good job of justifying my position. But of course their style online is very, very fucking vicious. But I think we just got to say, Hey, we’re fighting the equivalent of Nazis and fucking communists here. We should not hold back and not be intimidated by these motherfuckers.
James: Yeah. The, thing that they have is name calling, primarily and trying to make you feel stupid. Like they have all these fancy definitions and trying to say, Oh, you said colorblind. So you’ve committed some deep offense. They’re not telling you that they made up a new definition for colorblind, that works for their purposes. Nobody in reality, except for, people aren’t thinking about it very much, believes that colorblind means I don’t see race, a racist completely irrelevant. And it has no impact in the world. That’s what they try to get you to believe, about color blindness. No, what it means is what you said, about it has no impact on the trajectory of your life. What it means is in the formal language that I used earlier, is you’re not putting social significance into the racial category that has some determinant effect on somebody’s abilities.
James: So you have access to society. That’s all it fucking means. They’re playing a word game and using two meanings of the word at wants to try to call you a name. Well guess what? Once you learn that’s the game, you don’t feel uncomfortable. They’re like, that’s racist to say that. And you’re like, no, it wasn’t, that’s it? No, it wasn’t. It wasn’t actually. And then just stick to it. They have nothing else that they can say. The only problem is that they’ll go after your fucking employer. And that’s why when you said, is this the equivalent of Nazis and communists? It’s like, well, they’re going after your employer because they can’t bully you directly. So, I hear every day from hundreds of people who tell me that they’re afraid to speak up and I try to tell people back. The moment when you realize you’re afraid to speak up ,is the moment you have to start speaking up because this doesn’t get better.
James: It gets worse. That’s the moment you start speaking up, as the moment you realize you’re too afraid to want to speak up, grow a backbone, stand up to these people. And this is the message really of a last chapter of our book. You have the moral high ground. If you’re a liberal, you have the epistemological high ground because you believe in science and you believe anybody can benefit from science. You are in the position of the so-called right side of history. If you want to steal their fucking language from them. And they aren’t, because they don’t know what they’re talking about in their ethics are all kinds of backwards, they have what Paul Bloom would, describe as, misused empathy.
James: Their empathy is bent out of shape and causing them to do things. They’re not even empathetic anymore. They’re cruel. They’re that they’ve left the path of wisdom. As you might say, from Gandalf or whatever. For somebody who breaks a thing, to see how it works, has left the path of wisdom, they have. They’ve left the fucking path of wisdom. You have the moral, you have the epistemological high ground to stand up to these people. And it’s time you started acting like it.
Jim: Well, I’m, we’re going to end it right there. This has been a remarkably, wonderful conversation, James.
James: Yeah. Thanks Jim.
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting, Music by Tom Muller at modernspacemusic.com.