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In defence of critical theory Deluded disciples obscure its true value

Are we truly disenchanted? Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


August 1, 2023   8 mins

If you’ve been watching the latest pitched battles in America’s culture wars, you’ve doubtless heard of the much-ballyhooed and much-denounced field of critical race theory. One thing you may not have gleaned from all the media furore, though, is that critical theory, from which critical race theory is derived, has much to offer. Jason Josephson-Storm’s intriguing study, The Myth of Disenchantment, is a good place to start.

Critical theory was born in Germany between the two world wars. It was founded by a clique of Marxist academics in Frankfurt who were horrified that the grand march toward the communist utopia predicted by Marx wasn’t happening on schedule. On the one hand, communism in the Soviet Union had devolved into a totalitarian nightmare with a reliable habit of mass murder. On the other, the working people of one of the most educated and cultured nations of Europe, who according to Marxist theory should have been flocking to the banners of proletarian revolution, were instead rallying around a weird little man with a toothbrush moustache and an unhealthy obsession with an archaic, bloodthirsty mysticism of race and soil.

Obviously, something had gone wrong, not just with Marxism but with the entire enterprise of Western rationality summed up in the phrase “the Enlightenment”. Consider what that phrase means for a moment. One of the basic credos of the cultural mainstream in Western countries is the rather odd notion that, at a certain point not that many centuries ago, for the very first time in human history, intellectuals in Western Europe saw the universe as it actually is. Before then, despite fumbling attempts in the right direction by ancient Greek philosophers, humanity was hopelessly mired in superstitious ignorance; afterwards, Western intellectuals led a rapid ascent towards true knowledge of humanity and the universe. People still speak of that period using such far-from-neutral terms as “the Age of Reason” and “the Enlightenment”; in Germany, the term is die Aufklärung, literally “the Clearing-Off”.

It is to the credit of the founders of critical theory — Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Erich Fromm, Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse — that they didn’t just go on believing in the secular mythology of progress. They grasped that the Enlightenment had failed to accomplish what everyone expected of it, and they set out to understand what had gone wrong. Since they were Marxists, of course, they still framed things in terms of the march toward a utopian society of the future, and critical theory thus set out not just to understand society but to change it. It sought, in Horkheimer’s words, “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them” — but it tried to do that by understanding the entire panoply of reasons why those circumstances happen to exist at a given place and time.

This is what makes critical theory useful. Treat a belief as though it’s timeless and context-free and all you can do is accept or reject it; recognise that every belief has a history and a cultural context and you can understand it instead. Critical theory attempts to do this with the core beliefs of Western society. The first major book to come out of the movement, Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, sought to make sense of the way that Enlightenment rationalism had led to the twin tyrannies of Stalin and Hitler. It’s still worth reading today, even though much of what passes for critical theory now is little more than empty propaganda.

In the opening lines of his Guide to Kulchur, Ezra Pound wrote: “In attacking a doctrine, a doxy, or a form of stupidity, it might be remembered that one isn’t of necessity attacking the man, or say ‘founder,’ to whom the doctrine is attributed or on whom is it blamed.” Similarly today, in circles unsympathetic to what critical theory has become, it is common to assail Adorno, Benjamin, et al., because of the current antics of their followers. This is unfair. The founders of critical theory did in fact make a massive mistake, but it’s one that pretty much everyone made in those days and too many people still make today.

That mistake? The failure to recognise that the academic circles to which Adorno and Benjamin belonged — and to which their followers by and large belong today — form a privileged class with an interest in furthering its own influence and grabbing more than its share of wealth and privilege. Critical theory by and large avoids talking about this. A genuine critical race theory would interrogate the discourses concerning race used by Left-wing activists in today’s society, and show how those discourses are used as instruments of hegemony by those activists and the people who pay them. A genuine critical theory would also interrogate the implications of “liberating human beings from the circumstances that enslave them”, and talk about how that rhetoric of liberation is used to replace one set of enslaving circumstances with another. You can read a whole lot of critical theory and never catch the least whisper of this sort of thinking.

This is what makes Jason Josephson-Storm’s work so fascinating. He tiptoes very close to the edge of that forbidden territory, by suggesting that one of the most fundamental assumptions of modern thought — the notion that we modern people are disenchanted, freed from the superstitious burdens of the past and venturing heroically forward into a new world free of myth and magic — is simply another myth. He has applied the tools of critical theory to one of the basic assumptions underlying critical theory, and showed that belief in disenchantment is just another narrative employed to advantage certain people over others. It is an impressive project.

One of Josephson-Storm’s greatest influences, a scholar he frequently cites, did much the same thing on a bigger scale and to an even more vulnerable set of narratives. This is Bruno Latour, one of the first scholars to study “the social construction of scientific facts”. What does this mean? Well, it’s part of the mythology of science that claims that scientists in their research are simply following where nature leads. In practice, it’s very nearly the other way around.

Consider the steps you’d need to take if you wanted to do some research into any branch of science: reading the relevant literature, crafting a hypothesis, considering the available equipment, designing an experiment, and, of course, finding funding for it. It’s common for such steps to be dismissed as mere details, but in fact they are more significant than that.

For instance, the literature you’ve read is the product of peer review and the evolution of scientific opinion, which has at least as much to do with academic politics as with nature. The hypothesis is a product of your education, and also of current fashions in academia (anyone who thinks that scientists are immune to the blandishments of intellectual fashion has never met a scientist). The equipment available depends on who has invested money into developing certain kinds of experimental gear, and also on what gear is popular and readily available. The experimental design is just as subject to fashion, and it also has to appeal to funding sources. And finally, the decision to grant or withhold funding for an experiment depends entirely on the behaviour of human beings.

On top of this, after conducting an experiment, you’d have to interpret the results, write a paper, get a prestigious co-author or two to sign on, submit it to a journal, wait nervously while it goes through the peer-review process, and revise the paper at least once in response to comments by the anonymous peer reviewers. Then, once the paper is finally published, other researchers will respond to it and potentially adapt their own research projects in light of what you’ve found. All these, again, are social processes.

The end result of such a research project — a half sentence and footnote, say, in some future textbook — is thus almost entirely a product of social interactions among human beings. At the centre of those interactions, the flake of grit at the heart of the pearl, is the fact that you asked nature a specific question and got an equally specific answer. That process of question and answer is the thing that makes science as effective a way of making sense of the world as it is, but it does not erase the effect of social processes on the result — it just means that the result has to have some contact somewhere with nature.

Now take that and multiply it by four centuries or so of scientific effort, and the result is a vast social process built atop a relatively narrow foundation of natural facts. Those facts are carefully selected, curated, and assembled by the social process into a model of the world. Ask different questions, use different equipment, give the results a different theoretical spin, and you can quite easily end up with a completely different model of the world. That’s not something most people want to talk about in the scientific community, because it would weaken their claims to influence, wealth and privilege. That’s why so many scientists were shouting “Believe the science!” at the tops of their lungs not so long ago: maintaining the cultural prestige of science, and thus their own social status and its perks, took precedence over nearly everything else.

If you want another glimpse at just how far the social enterprise of science veers from its imagined ideal, look up the phrase “replication crisis”. One of the essential principles of science is that any scientifically valid finding has to be replicable; it can’t be some kind of fluke. These days, for an astounding number of studies in a very wide range of sciences, that’s no longer true. Very few people in the sciences want to talk about how much of this is caused by experimental and statistical fraud, both of which are pervasive in those branches of science where corporate profits are involved and far from rare even in less lucrative fields of research.

If science were really a matter of following nature wherever it leads, the emergence of the replication crisis would have caused a sudden, frantic search for the causes. We’re talking, after all, about something that challenges the act of faith at the centre of the scientific enterprise. By and large, though, that search hasn’t happened. Instead, scientists have chosen either to ignore the problem or to denounce anyone who dares to draw attention to it — typical behaviour of any elite group faced with a challenge to their legitimacy.

This is the kind of thing Bruno Latour wrote about. In We Have Never Been Modern, he proposed that most people are convinced, or at least act as though they’re convinced, that the modern world is something new and unique in human history because, unlike all others, our sciences really do tell us the objective truth about nature. These people also appear to be convinced that the same thing is true of everything else in our culture.

This is the heart of modernity — the conviction that keeps people today from making use of any of the hard-won lessons of past civilisations, or even learning from our own civilisation’s catastrophic mistakes. It is a fond, false, foolish belief — and Latour and Josephson-Storm have both shown that it can’t be justified except by the most absurd sorts of special pleading and circular logic.

What does it mean if we give up the myth of modernity, the conviction that we — alone of all the human beings who have ever lived — see the world truly? Surprisingly enough, we don’t have to give up science. That our scientific worldview is not given by nature, but assembled out of data points drawn from nature, does not make science meaningless or false. It simply makes the work of the scientist a product of human society and culture, rather than a revelation handed down from on high.

In a very real sense, science stripped of the myth of modernity takes on the same shape as the study of history. It is absurd to think that history is simply an account of what happened; “what happened” in a month in any small town would fill entire libraries. The historian’s task is to craft a narrative which illuminates some part of the past, using actual incidents as building blocks. A scientist without modernist pretensions, similarly, crafts a narrative that illuminates some part of nature, using replicable experimental results as building blocks. Theories along these lines are useful rather than true; they start by accepting the reality that the human mind is not complex enough to understand the infinite sweep of the cosmos, and then goes on to say, “but as far as we are capable of making sense of things, this story seems to reflect what happens”.

This sort of thinking is doubtless a bitter pill to swallow for those who have founded their own identities on the notion that humanity is or should be the conqueror of nature. Here again, though, the failure of those notions to create a world fit for human habitation is increasingly clear to many of us. And the sooner we accept that the stories told by today’s industrial societies are just another set of mythologies, and that the technologies they’ve created to manipulate the world are just another set of clever gimmicks — why, the sooner we can get to work discarding those aspects of modernity that have failed abjectly, and picking up those older habits and stories and technologies that are better suited to the world we find ourselves facing. Only then, can we begin to do something less inept and foredoomed with our time on Earth.


John Michael Greer is the author of over thirty books. He served twelve years as Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America.


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Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago

Very well written but I fear it misses an important point; such sophisticated thinking tends to end up throwing out the baby with the bath water.

There are times when it is illuminating to see all knowledge as “social constructs” but most of the time it is more useful for e.g. aircraft designers to have a firm grip on science and engineering. More broadly, “Enlightenment values” should be critiqued but the pursuit of “objective truth” through evidence and reason – however imperfect – has led to two and a half centuries of increasing understanding, prosperity and freedom. For most purposes we should continue to rely on them.

I am fully aware of the defects and limitations of modern science but it is wrong to dismiss it as a “vast social process built atop a relatively narrow foundation of natural facts” and an exaggeration to say that we could ”quite easily end up with a completely different model of the world” (at least for the hard sciences; social sciences are a different story).

A parallel is that, intellectually, Einstein’s theories have superseded Newtonian mechanics. For astronomers it may be important to know that gravity can bend light and that matter and energy are interchangeable but for most of us we can still rely on the “fact” that if one drops an apple it will fall in a straight line downwards and aircraft designers can rely on their textbooks.

In a similar fashion, Critical Theory is right to see expectations of how e.g. women behave in different societies as partly a social construct and to argue that it is possible to “perform” gender in new and different ways but, for most of us in most situations, it is sufficient to see 99% of people as belonging to one of two sexes. To go one step further and deny the existence of sex and see only socially constructed gender roles is delusional.

For me, the most amusing part of the essay was the suggestion that one should turn the techniques of Critical Theory on its proponents and see them as privileged oppressors propagating plausible but self serving BS in the pursuit of power.

Last edited 9 months ago by Alex Carnegie
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Exactly!

Mark M Breza
Mark M Breza
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

So what percentage of slave owners and traders were nice people. Seems like a lot of parsing of turnips to disprove CRT. And why do humans wearing clothing of the opposite social gendered construct receive so much abusive constraints ?

Last edited 9 months ago by Mark M Breza
Thomas Walling
Thomas Walling
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark M Breza

For exactly the reasons he points out. Critical theory takes everything to the extreme, and produces ridiculous results.
It’s important to question everything, and fine-tune our beliefs and theories, but to follow particularly the French ‘philosophers’ like Foucault the Amoral, and any other intellectual who wants to tear down the greatness of Western civilisation, and to think you somehow supercede the wisdom of uncounted generations is both idiotic and the height of hubristic arrogance.
However we got here, we got here, and to destroy it because you don’t like the route we took is philistinism.
Some slave owners were undoubtedly bad, others were average, others were good people. It was considered a fact of life until the British Empire banned it and enforced the ban, at great cost.
The reason we don’t like your trans nonsense is because it is, once again, using the weak and uninformed to propagate leftist ideas of power and victimhood in order to cement their power and not have to answer for their failings.
‘We’re good, because we care. You’re bad, because you don’t.’
It’s evil, egregious, Malthusian cant, and you people who defend it should face the consequences when it all falls apart again.
So there.

Chipoko
Chipoko
9 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Walling

The reason we don’t like your trans nonsense is because it is, once again, using the weak and uninformed to propagate leftist ideas of power and victimhood in order to cement their power and not have to answer for their failings.
‘We’re good, because we care. You’re bad, because you don’t.’
It’s evil, egregious, Malthusian cant.”
Bullseye!

Chipoko
Chipoko
9 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Walling

The reason we don’t like your trans nonsense is because it is, once again, using the weak and uninformed to propagate leftist ideas of power and victimhood in order to cement their power and not have to answer for their failings.
‘We’re good, because we care. You’re bad, because you don’t.’
It’s evil, egregious, Malthusian cant.”
Bullseye!

Campbell P
Campbell P
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark M Breza

I think you must have missed the author’s point about the importance of history and context.

elaine chambers
elaine chambers
9 months ago
Reply to  Campbell P

It’s a bit of a mystery to me as to what the author’s point was. I think he lost it on the way down his paragraphs. The title, ‘Critical theory’, was accompanied by the image of a BLM symbol! Yet he never touched on critical race theory, he went off into science. What is of urgent concern here in the UK is that critical race theory is being taught in our schools and indeed in our primary schools and white children are being made to feel bad about being white. He never went there.

elaine chambers
elaine chambers
9 months ago
Reply to  Campbell P

It’s a bit of a mystery to me as to what the author’s point was. I think he lost it on the way down his paragraphs. The title, ‘Critical theory’, was accompanied by the image of a BLM symbol! Yet he never touched on critical race theory, he went off into science. What is of urgent concern here in the UK is that critical race theory is being taught in our schools and indeed in our primary schools and white children are being made to feel bad about being white. He never went there.

B Davis
B Davis
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark M Breza

Perhaps most of them? Who knows? That they were a part of the Slavery Economy is true. Given money, access & opportunity the odds are good that you, too, would have been a part of that very same system if you’d been born in that multi-millennial era. It was — at the time — a part of what the world considered ‘normal’ / expected. Does that make you and them both NOT nice people?
But what does it mean to be a ‘nice person’ anyway?
Hitler, it is said, loved dogs. Most everyone I know does…you, too, I suspect. Does that make all of us, Hitler included, a ‘nice person’? Ted Bundy, it is said, was extraordinarily personable, fun to be with, bright, witty, & engaging. He was also a sociopathic serial killer. BUT — most of the time, he, too, was a ‘nice person.
It’s a silly question, of course.
That any one of us can, at any given point in time, be considered to be a ‘nice person’ means nothing. Equally, at an entirely different point in time, we can probably also be considered an idiot or a**hole. In the end we say that our ‘moral value’ is timebound and constrained by what our society/our culture considers good & righteous & reasonable at that specific moment. Our ‘value’ also varies over time as we ourselves vary over time…changing our attitudes & behaviors, impacting the Other in different ways at different times.
If we were in 4th grade the Teacher would average all that out and give us a grade for the year. Life, however does not do that. It especially does not do that with any kind of ‘moral rating’. Our ‘dearly beloved’ might, but even she would be among the first to verify that we were all, far from perfect (but I hope she’d say we were generally a good guy).
As for CRT itself, as it is parsed & applied in 2023, especially in education — it’s post-modernist garbage — saying nothing, meaning nothing, anchored in unreality — and has no place anywhere of worth.
And men, like Rich Levine, pretending to be women even to the point of being recognized by USA Today as a ‘woman of the year’ ? That too is just ludicrous. He’s completely free, of course, to wear a dress & lipstick…he’s free to self-mutilate as much as he likes….and the rest of us are equally free to laugh & point in response to such silliness. You, too, if you like!

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark M Breza

No one cares what clothes you are wearing you mentally ill freak.
What people object to is forcing transgender minority nonsense down peoples throats.
You can wear whatever dress you like.
But I want to be able to laugh, loudly, at your idiotic pretensions of being a woman.

Thomas Walling
Thomas Walling
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark M Breza

For exactly the reasons he points out. Critical theory takes everything to the extreme, and produces ridiculous results.
It’s important to question everything, and fine-tune our beliefs and theories, but to follow particularly the French ‘philosophers’ like Foucault the Amoral, and any other intellectual who wants to tear down the greatness of Western civilisation, and to think you somehow supercede the wisdom of uncounted generations is both idiotic and the height of hubristic arrogance.
However we got here, we got here, and to destroy it because you don’t like the route we took is philistinism.
Some slave owners were undoubtedly bad, others were average, others were good people. It was considered a fact of life until the British Empire banned it and enforced the ban, at great cost.
The reason we don’t like your trans nonsense is because it is, once again, using the weak and uninformed to propagate leftist ideas of power and victimhood in order to cement their power and not have to answer for their failings.
‘We’re good, because we care. You’re bad, because you don’t.’
It’s evil, egregious, Malthusian cant, and you people who defend it should face the consequences when it all falls apart again.
So there.

Campbell P
Campbell P
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark M Breza

I think you must have missed the author’s point about the importance of history and context.

B Davis
B Davis
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark M Breza

Perhaps most of them? Who knows? That they were a part of the Slavery Economy is true. Given money, access & opportunity the odds are good that you, too, would have been a part of that very same system if you’d been born in that multi-millennial era. It was — at the time — a part of what the world considered ‘normal’ / expected. Does that make you and them both NOT nice people?
But what does it mean to be a ‘nice person’ anyway?
Hitler, it is said, loved dogs. Most everyone I know does…you, too, I suspect. Does that make all of us, Hitler included, a ‘nice person’? Ted Bundy, it is said, was extraordinarily personable, fun to be with, bright, witty, & engaging. He was also a sociopathic serial killer. BUT — most of the time, he, too, was a ‘nice person.
It’s a silly question, of course.
That any one of us can, at any given point in time, be considered to be a ‘nice person’ means nothing. Equally, at an entirely different point in time, we can probably also be considered an idiot or a**hole. In the end we say that our ‘moral value’ is timebound and constrained by what our society/our culture considers good & righteous & reasonable at that specific moment. Our ‘value’ also varies over time as we ourselves vary over time…changing our attitudes & behaviors, impacting the Other in different ways at different times.
If we were in 4th grade the Teacher would average all that out and give us a grade for the year. Life, however does not do that. It especially does not do that with any kind of ‘moral rating’. Our ‘dearly beloved’ might, but even she would be among the first to verify that we were all, far from perfect (but I hope she’d say we were generally a good guy).
As for CRT itself, as it is parsed & applied in 2023, especially in education — it’s post-modernist garbage — saying nothing, meaning nothing, anchored in unreality — and has no place anywhere of worth.
And men, like Rich Levine, pretending to be women even to the point of being recognized by USA Today as a ‘woman of the year’ ? That too is just ludicrous. He’s completely free, of course, to wear a dress & lipstick…he’s free to self-mutilate as much as he likes….and the rest of us are equally free to laugh & point in response to such silliness. You, too, if you like!

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark M Breza

No one cares what clothes you are wearing you mentally ill freak.
What people object to is forcing transgender minority nonsense down peoples throats.
You can wear whatever dress you like.
But I want to be able to laugh, loudly, at your idiotic pretensions of being a woman.

Chipoko
Chipoko
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

“… one should turn the techniques of Critical Theory on its proponents and see them as privileged oppressors propagating plausible but self serving BS in the pursuit of power.”
Superb!

Mark M Breza
Mark M Breza
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

So what percentage of slave owners and traders were nice people. Seems like a lot of parsing of turnips to disprove CRT. And why do humans wearing clothing of the opposite social gendered construct receive so much abusive constraints ?

Last edited 9 months ago by Mark M Breza
Chipoko
Chipoko
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

“… one should turn the techniques of Critical Theory on its proponents and see them as privileged oppressors propagating plausible but self serving BS in the pursuit of power.”
Superb!

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Excellent comment!

Lord Plasma
Lord Plasma
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Very well put

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Excellent post. Much better than I could say.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago

Pengetahuan saya tentang bahasa Indonesia sangat kecil, dan bagaimanapun saya berhenti menonton sepak bola ketika orang-orang bodoh mulai “berlutut”.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago

Pengetahuan saya tentang bahasa Indonesia sangat kecil, dan bagaimanapun saya berhenti menonton sepak bola ketika orang-orang bodoh mulai “berlutut”.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Good post.
I dislike the use of “social construct” and think that “emergent behaviour” would be a better term because the former implies a nearly entirely arbitrary event but the latter would incorporate a lot more, including biological and environmental inputs.

Kurt Roeloffs
Kurt Roeloffs
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Alex,
John doesn’t make the mistake you claim he made. The core realization of science as a social process is not that the theories are not “true” but that they are true within the limits of the purposes. behind the “truth” that they reveal. Engineers can rely on their science because its truth is functioning within its limits.
John is also justified in pointing to the narrow base of facts on which science is built. Consider dark matter and dark energy which represent as much as 95% of physical reality. We no nothing about any of it. Both are gigantic fudges to resolve mystery. Einstein admitted just that with his cosmological constant. Biologists also readily admit that only a tiny fraction of species have. been identified. Vast amounts of aquatic life is uncatalogued as is nearly all of microbial life. What is wrong with being humble enough to say that we understand a small fraction of reality?
I do agree with you that recursively turning critical theory is a rather amusing endeavour–if only because most critical theorists have long ago lost their sense of humour about their commitments and thereby fail to see their own complicity with power.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago
Reply to  Kurt Roeloffs

… but I am not sure I claimed he made the mistake as you suggest I did (!). My whole point is that sometimes it makes sense to see science (and other things) one way but sometimes to use a different lens. In physics, it sometimes is appropriate to analyse photons as waves but on other occasions as particles. This is a good metaphor for my approach.

I entirely agree with your point about how much there is yet to discover and the need for caution and humility and I am glad you share my amusement.

philip kern
philip kern
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

I appreciate your comments here (above and below), having expected as I read the article that what follows might be the more interesting. As I read your first remarks, however, I was thinking that we’re better at technology than science. An engineer doesn’t need an all-encompassing theory to improve on last-year’s airplane wing or to apply advances in silicon to new uses.

Last edited 9 months ago by philip kern
philip kern
philip kern
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

I appreciate your comments here (above and below), having expected as I read the article that what follows might be the more interesting. As I read your first remarks, however, I was thinking that we’re better at technology than science. An engineer doesn’t need an all-encompassing theory to improve on last-year’s airplane wing or to apply advances in silicon to new uses.

Last edited 9 months ago by philip kern
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
9 months ago
Reply to  Kurt Roeloffs

The problem is not whether we understand a small fraction of reality. The point is whether (or rather where) what we do understand is true and reliable, or not. Sure, science works by probability and not certainty and some areas have a lot of room for improvement, but some of the probabilities are extremely high. As long as you license yourself to put “true” in quotation marks and come up with vague stuff like ‘true within the limits of the purposes. behind the “truth” that they reveal‘, you are allowing everybody to choose his own personal truth, to suit his own agenda. Which makes it pointless to look for truth in the first place.

Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

There can be a difference between having acknowledged error bars for a value, and having no idea what a value is.
“true within the limits of purposes” could apply to most of the physics used in constructing bridges, where the reality of dark matter, or relativistic effects, rarely matter. That is, it has been empirically shown to be accurate enough for bridge building.
That acknowledged limitation is not an invitation for everybody to have their own personal physics truths, though.

Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

There can be a difference between having acknowledged error bars for a value, and having no idea what a value is.
“true within the limits of purposes” could apply to most of the physics used in constructing bridges, where the reality of dark matter, or relativistic effects, rarely matter. That is, it has been empirically shown to be accurate enough for bridge building.
That acknowledged limitation is not an invitation for everybody to have their own personal physics truths, though.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago
Reply to  Kurt Roeloffs

… but I am not sure I claimed he made the mistake as you suggest I did (!). My whole point is that sometimes it makes sense to see science (and other things) one way but sometimes to use a different lens. In physics, it sometimes is appropriate to analyse photons as waves but on other occasions as particles. This is a good metaphor for my approach.

I entirely agree with your point about how much there is yet to discover and the need for caution and humility and I am glad you share my amusement.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
9 months ago
Reply to  Kurt Roeloffs

The problem is not whether we understand a small fraction of reality. The point is whether (or rather where) what we do understand is true and reliable, or not. Sure, science works by probability and not certainty and some areas have a lot of room for improvement, but some of the probabilities are extremely high. As long as you license yourself to put “true” in quotation marks and come up with vague stuff like ‘true within the limits of the purposes. behind the “truth” that they reveal‘, you are allowing everybody to choose his own personal truth, to suit his own agenda. Which makes it pointless to look for truth in the first place.

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

“If we wish to grasp the heart of science, we must come to grips with the decisive question; should science continue to exist for us, or should we drive it to a swift end.” When he asked this question, what did Heidegger mean by the “heart of science?” Is the answer “nothing?”

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Allow me to join the chorus of your admirer’s today. Outstanding comment.
Having been exposed to it in a somewhat compulsory way as a student, I’d say there is a non-trivial subset of critical theory that undertakes searching yet fair-minded critiques of society, power, and class. But it too often deconstructs or destroys only to leave nothing but a pile of rubble. Then, in their lenses, the blinkered utopianism of the insistent Marxist is all that remains to rebuild with. Many people are not smart enough (perhaps including me, though I shudder to consider it), or (often in my own case, I must admit) patient and careful enough readers to pull the baby from the ideological-reductionist bathwater.
And does the valuable part of Critical Theory find no adequate expression elsewhere, one without a sponsoring fixed ideology and with at least a less predetermined outcome? In other words: If we ever did, why do we still need it?
While I don’t expect to find much opposition to my rhetorical nudge, I wonder if anyone here has the wherewithal and nerve to defend the essentialness of Critical Theory as such–for about the least favorably disposed readership one could imagine!

Last edited 9 months ago by AJ Mac
Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I am no expert on Critical Theory but my impression is that the latest iterations are far more nihilistic than the original version developed in the 1930s by the Frankfurt school. The latter was an attempt to update and strengthen Marxism by suggesting that the ruling class kept control less by physical oppression and ownership of the means of production, as Marx had suggested, than by cultural hegemony i.e. by convincing the working class that society was being run in their interests as well as those of the rich. Their solution was to dissect and discredit the dominant ideology by using “critical theory” thus laying the ground work for revolution, emancipation and utopia. In the meantime it led to some interesting analyses such as the ways in which western society “manufactures consent”. One did not need to agree with their political project to find their insights intriguing. 

After the linguistic turn in the 1970s, however, a new generation of critical theorists – many ex 1960s student radicals – absorbed the post modernist strictures of Michel Foucault etc and an infusion of recruits from literary criticism. The result IMO was that critical theory lost it moorings. What was left were the beliefs that virtually nothing was objectively true, that all that mattered was power relations, that it was obligatory to support the “marginalised” against the “privileged” – but these were no longer defined in economic terms but in an ever increasing number of ways as specified in intersectionality – that support for the marginalised need not be constrained by any concern for fairness, truth, etc and a certain aptitude for word games. This is the formula which has led not to emancipation and inclusion as hoped but the attempted crushing of dissent by new, implausible and unstable orthodoxies and the growing fragmentation of society into mutually antagonistic groups. It is not even if there is any clarity about the desired end state but only a commitment to permanent struggle pursued by unscrupulous means against a shifting cast of villains (with the current clash between radical feminists and trans activists being only a foretaste of the possibilities). Fortunately, I am more optimistic than most UnHerd readers about their prospects since – as you may have gathered – I am not a big fan of most of the current versions of Critical Theory.

I am sure others can provide a more sophisticated explanation.

 

 

Last edited 9 months ago by Alex Carnegie
J Bryant
J Bryant
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Another very fine comment. I found your first paragraph particularly helpful.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Yeah. The second para was OTT. Sorry about that. It was also inconsistent. If one is going to give credit to the earlier versions of CT for their insights, one ought to note some of the useful concepts that have emerged from more recent CT e.g. unconscious bias, intersectional difficulties of some categories, some of queer theory, etc. To be honest, it is their tactics not their ideas that upset me.

Campbell P
Campbell P
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

But unconscious bias, whilst it may be real -dato sed non concesso – albeit unproven, is now being used in a number of institutions, my own included, to indoctrinate certain tenets of belief about history and contemporary society for which there is very scant evidence but a great deal of assertion. And of course there is no proven automatic connection between an unconscious bias (if it actually exists) thought and a person’s consequent behaviour realising that thought. Conscience, however one views or defines it intervenes. Conscious bias is of course a very helpful thing from which we can, unlike it’s spurious cousin, learn to survive and flourish.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago
Reply to  Campbell P

I agree with you about much unconscious bias training which can not only, as you say, seem like indoctrination sessions but is often counterproductive and actually increase unconscious bias (according to some Yale research). Nevertheless I think unconscious bias is real and the idea has e.g. been used successfully to reform sentencing practices by English judges.

Last edited 9 months ago by Alex Carnegie
Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
9 months ago
Reply to  Campbell P

A non-profit for which I used to volunteer extensively, has become very focused around converting customers to modern progressive viewpoints. They have used the Implicit Association Test for training volunteers, to convince them of their own unconscious bias. When I had a frank and honest discussion with one leader about the scientific issues with the IAT, that leader basically conceded all the faults with the test (which even the authors have conceded is not valid for testing individuals), but said in “we have to use it anyway because it’s the best tool we have”. When I tried to explore that, as in “what is the function of this tool in your training”, the answer was starting to sound like army boot camp trying to break down previous identity in order to form a new identity (to use the most favorable analogy).
(note from me: Except by using a known untrustworthy assessment without letting people know that; which puts it more in the category of polygraph tests used to frighten suspects who don’t know any better.)
Then they realized what they were saying and kinda changed the subject.
This was about a given test (IAT), which is not the same as unconscious bias, but is often highly interwoven with the latter concept in DEI trainings.
As a tool for personal reflection, I think that understanding the dynamics of unconscious bias (in any direction!) can be valuable. When weaponized as a tool for trying to force an ideological conversion on employees or volunteers, not so much. It’s a hand waving concept which is too fuzzy to pin down or quantize, so it’s more like “Satan’s influence” – omnipresent, invisible, and thus shaped however the perceiver wishes to imagine it for their purposes. It’s essentially unfalsifiable, and thus very useful for bad faith (or self-deluded) rhetoric.
Which doesn’t mean that unconscious bias doesn’t exist!! Just that weaponizing that concept is a problem.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago
Reply to  Campbell P

I agree with you about much unconscious bias training which can not only, as you say, seem like indoctrination sessions but is often counterproductive and actually increase unconscious bias (according to some Yale research). Nevertheless I think unconscious bias is real and the idea has e.g. been used successfully to reform sentencing practices by English judges.

Last edited 9 months ago by Alex Carnegie
Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
9 months ago
Reply to  Campbell P

A non-profit for which I used to volunteer extensively, has become very focused around converting customers to modern progressive viewpoints. They have used the Implicit Association Test for training volunteers, to convince them of their own unconscious bias. When I had a frank and honest discussion with one leader about the scientific issues with the IAT, that leader basically conceded all the faults with the test (which even the authors have conceded is not valid for testing individuals), but said in “we have to use it anyway because it’s the best tool we have”. When I tried to explore that, as in “what is the function of this tool in your training”, the answer was starting to sound like army boot camp trying to break down previous identity in order to form a new identity (to use the most favorable analogy).
(note from me: Except by using a known untrustworthy assessment without letting people know that; which puts it more in the category of polygraph tests used to frighten suspects who don’t know any better.)
Then they realized what they were saying and kinda changed the subject.
This was about a given test (IAT), which is not the same as unconscious bias, but is often highly interwoven with the latter concept in DEI trainings.
As a tool for personal reflection, I think that understanding the dynamics of unconscious bias (in any direction!) can be valuable. When weaponized as a tool for trying to force an ideological conversion on employees or volunteers, not so much. It’s a hand waving concept which is too fuzzy to pin down or quantize, so it’s more like “Satan’s influence” – omnipresent, invisible, and thus shaped however the perceiver wishes to imagine it for their purposes. It’s essentially unfalsifiable, and thus very useful for bad faith (or self-deluded) rhetoric.
Which doesn’t mean that unconscious bias doesn’t exist!! Just that weaponizing that concept is a problem.

Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

I would be happy to hear about the “useful concepts” that have been produced by earlier or later version of CT. But I would like to see them discussed in more depth.
“unconscious bias” – do you regard this concept as an innovation specifically from Critical Theory?
“intersectional difficulties of some categories” – a few examples would help (besides the idea that quotas for Black employees and for female employees need to be augmented with a quota of Black female employees, because the first two can be met while failing the third)?
“some of queer theory” – which parts?
I know that I’m extracting elements which you mentioned in passing, but I’m genuinely curious about an expanded and annotated list of positive contributions from Critical Theory which are useful today. Are you aware of any?

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago
Reply to  Zeph Smith

I tried to post a fuller response but the UH software would not accept it. Bottom line: I am not aware of a published annotated list. Personally, I see the most useful – to a conventional old style liberal – ideas that have emerged from CT are class, cultural hegemony, the manufacture of consent, unconscious bias, intersectionality and, on occasion, the post modernist interrogation of identity and norms embraced in the more recent versions of queer theory.

Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
8 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

I would find exposition of those subjects very interesting, from someone who is not a true believer but a critical thinker, like yourself.
If you ever write in more detail about what you see as the value of those concepts, I hope to run across it.
I have some tendency to dismiss those concepts as either trivial/shallow, or of little value beyond use for rhetorical weaponization. But I can easily admit that I may too hasty in such a judgement, so I’d like to encounter a stronger rational argument favoring the best concepts.
To take an example, intersectionalism. Most of us by now are likely aware of the old “you might have the right quotas of Black employees and of female employees, but you could still be short of quota on Black female employees” example – and it makes some sense to drill down on such “intersections” if one is looking to enforce ever finer grained (defacto) quotas as the tool for social justice. And extending it is easy to imagine – how many disabled Muslim Black lesbians on the Autism spectrum does a company employ? Not everybody is on board for that strategy, but suppose for the moment that “create ever finer resolution intersecting oppressions to compare with each other strategy” is acknowledged.
But other than that example, how does this framing improve society? We’ve all seen how easily it can degenerate into “the oppression olympic” where the more oppressions one can name the higher one’s status or earlier one get to speak (“the progressive stack”), etc. But what are the more helpful aspects?

Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
8 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

I would find exposition of those subjects very interesting, from someone who is not a true believer but a critical thinker, like yourself.
If you ever write in more detail about what you see as the value of those concepts, I hope to run across it.
I have some tendency to dismiss those concepts as either trivial/shallow, or of little value beyond use for rhetorical weaponization. But I can easily admit that I may too hasty in such a judgement, so I’d like to encounter a stronger rational argument favoring the best concepts.
To take an example, intersectionalism. Most of us by now are likely aware of the old “you might have the right quotas of Black employees and of female employees, but you could still be short of quota on Black female employees” example – and it makes some sense to drill down on such “intersections” if one is looking to enforce ever finer grained (defacto) quotas as the tool for social justice. And extending it is easy to imagine – how many disabled Muslim Black lesbians on the Autism spectrum does a company employ? Not everybody is on board for that strategy, but suppose for the moment that “create ever finer resolution intersecting oppressions to compare with each other strategy” is acknowledged.
But other than that example, how does this framing improve society? We’ve all seen how easily it can degenerate into “the oppression olympic” where the more oppressions one can name the higher one’s status or earlier one get to speak (“the progressive stack”), etc. But what are the more helpful aspects?

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago
Reply to  Zeph Smith

I tried to post a fuller response but the UH software would not accept it. Bottom line: I am not aware of a published annotated list. Personally, I see the most useful – to a conventional old style liberal – ideas that have emerged from CT are class, cultural hegemony, the manufacture of consent, unconscious bias, intersectionality and, on occasion, the post modernist interrogation of identity and norms embraced in the more recent versions of queer theory.

Campbell P
Campbell P
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

But unconscious bias, whilst it may be real -dato sed non concesso – albeit unproven, is now being used in a number of institutions, my own included, to indoctrinate certain tenets of belief about history and contemporary society for which there is very scant evidence but a great deal of assertion. And of course there is no proven automatic connection between an unconscious bias (if it actually exists) thought and a person’s consequent behaviour realising that thought. Conscience, however one views or defines it intervenes. Conscious bias is of course a very helpful thing from which we can, unlike it’s spurious cousin, learn to survive and flourish.

Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

I would be happy to hear about the “useful concepts” that have been produced by earlier or later version of CT. But I would like to see them discussed in more depth.
“unconscious bias” – do you regard this concept as an innovation specifically from Critical Theory?
“intersectional difficulties of some categories” – a few examples would help (besides the idea that quotas for Black employees and for female employees need to be augmented with a quota of Black female employees, because the first two can be met while failing the third)?
“some of queer theory” – which parts?
I know that I’m extracting elements which you mentioned in passing, but I’m genuinely curious about an expanded and annotated list of positive contributions from Critical Theory which are useful today. Are you aware of any?

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Yeah. The second para was OTT. Sorry about that. It was also inconsistent. If one is going to give credit to the earlier versions of CT for their insights, one ought to note some of the useful concepts that have emerged from more recent CT e.g. unconscious bias, intersectional difficulties of some categories, some of queer theory, etc. To be honest, it is their tactics not their ideas that upset me.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Well I don’t pretend to be an expert on it either, more a semi-informed dabbler and non-enthusiast who was made to read substantial chunks of Foucault, Audre Lorde and several others in grad school. These two I mentioned are not spouters of pure nonsense (in my estimation) but their underlying radical socialist loyalties and ideological advocacy tinges most of their writings to some extent. I would assert that Foucault in particular has had a net pernicious effect, especially for those who have not read enough by and about him to recognize how he was a detached provocateur who cared little about anything but his own amusement and pleasure despite his professed concern for the oppressed and “othered”.
I’ll agree with your general charge of a growing nihilism over time in the Critical Theory world. The utopianism morphed more and more into what Paul Ricoeur called the hermeneutics of suspicion: “a style of literary interpretation in which texts are read with skepticism in order to expose their purported repressed or hidden meanings” (Wikipedia). And what in a literary context Harold Bloom called the School of Resentment.
Not that I prefer violence-ready utopians, but nihilists are another breed of not great.

Last edited 9 months ago by AJ Mac
Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Thanks for your kind words and an interesting dialogue. As you said in one of your earlier posts, one cannot dismiss these thinkers as being entirely without merit. They may have a “net pernicious effect” but still contains nuggets of insight. In any case, it is far more interesting to read authors one disagrees with than to merely reinforce one’s own prejudices … but then my prejudice in favour of open debate probably just reflects when I was at University. No doubt if I had gone to Cambridge in the last five years then I would be a hard core progressive just like my nephew! (He sincerely believes that no one argues for free speech unless they have a hidden desire to unleash racist rants on the public.)

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Thanks to you too. I agree with your open approach to reading and discussion and to the extent I don’t practice that I hope to take another page out of that book, so to speak. It’s a great mistake to trust the summaries and opinions of other readers too much, professors and “experts” even, allowing ourselves to dismiss or brush past great, enduring works–and new, “disruptive” ones–as if they are reducible to a one-paragraph synopsis. No one can read everything, but those with an appetite should eat.
While almost any youngster or new student of something can be led into extremes for awhile, I doubt you’d remain a “hardcore progressive” or extremist of any kind for long.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Thanks to you too. I agree with your open approach to reading and discussion and to the extent I don’t practice that I hope to take another page out of that book, so to speak. It’s a great mistake to trust the summaries and opinions of other readers too much, professors and “experts” even, allowing ourselves to dismiss or brush past great, enduring works–and new, “disruptive” ones–as if they are reducible to a one-paragraph synopsis. No one can read everything, but those with an appetite should eat.
While almost any youngster or new student of something can be led into extremes for awhile, I doubt you’d remain a “hardcore progressive” or extremist of any kind for long.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Thanks for your kind words and an interesting dialogue. As you said in one of your earlier posts, one cannot dismiss these thinkers as being entirely without merit. They may have a “net pernicious effect” but still contains nuggets of insight. In any case, it is far more interesting to read authors one disagrees with than to merely reinforce one’s own prejudices … but then my prejudice in favour of open debate probably just reflects when I was at University. No doubt if I had gone to Cambridge in the last five years then I would be a hard core progressive just like my nephew! (He sincerely believes that no one argues for free speech unless they have a hidden desire to unleash racist rants on the public.)

Greg Simay
Greg Simay
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

If objective truth is abandoned, then there is no basis for the “obligatory” support for the “marginalized” over the “privileged.” After all, if one ethical system has no more grounding in truth than another, then why not choose the one that is the most self-serving to you? Other than the threat of force, what compelling reason do you have to favor the interests of anyone but you and yours? (Certainly not being shamed by an ethical system deprived of any basis for having moral authority.) And why should you bow to a threat of force rather than resolve to counter it? CRT + Deconstructionism indeed throws out the ethical baby with the hidden agenda bath water, and leaves us with “a war of all against all.”

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Greg Simay

Exactly.
Far left don’t believe in any meaningful truth.
They just want to impose their, always failed, ideas on the rest of the population.
Your point about using force is very relevant.
The only good far lefty is a dead one.
Idea that far left can be persuaded by arguments is moronic.
The only language they understand is extreme violence a la Franco or Pinochet.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Greg Simay

Exactly.
Far left don’t believe in any meaningful truth.
They just want to impose their, always failed, ideas on the rest of the population.
Your point about using force is very relevant.
The only good far lefty is a dead one.
Idea that far left can be persuaded by arguments is moronic.
The only language they understand is extreme violence a la Franco or Pinochet.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

I think people tend to overcomplicate CT.
Nothing useful ever came from Marxism and Leninism and Maoism etc apart from violence, poverty and mass murder.
I think Neo-Marxists are trying to tangle supporters of democracy and real humanity in this useless ahistorical “facts” about slavery 200 years ago etc.
While ignoring millions of deaths caused by their ideology.
Let’s not forget that Nazism and Fascism were response to mass murder of Communism and had origins in the same ideology.

J Bryant
J Bryant
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Another very fine comment. I found your first paragraph particularly helpful.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Well I don’t pretend to be an expert on it either, more a semi-informed dabbler and non-enthusiast who was made to read substantial chunks of Foucault, Audre Lorde and several others in grad school. These two I mentioned are not spouters of pure nonsense (in my estimation) but their underlying radical socialist loyalties and ideological advocacy tinges most of their writings to some extent. I would assert that Foucault in particular has had a net pernicious effect, especially for those who have not read enough by and about him to recognize how he was a detached provocateur who cared little about anything but his own amusement and pleasure despite his professed concern for the oppressed and “othered”.
I’ll agree with your general charge of a growing nihilism over time in the Critical Theory world. The utopianism morphed more and more into what Paul Ricoeur called the hermeneutics of suspicion: “a style of literary interpretation in which texts are read with skepticism in order to expose their purported repressed or hidden meanings” (Wikipedia). And what in a literary context Harold Bloom called the School of Resentment.
Not that I prefer violence-ready utopians, but nihilists are another breed of not great.

Last edited 9 months ago by AJ Mac
Greg Simay
Greg Simay
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

If objective truth is abandoned, then there is no basis for the “obligatory” support for the “marginalized” over the “privileged.” After all, if one ethical system has no more grounding in truth than another, then why not choose the one that is the most self-serving to you? Other than the threat of force, what compelling reason do you have to favor the interests of anyone but you and yours? (Certainly not being shamed by an ethical system deprived of any basis for having moral authority.) And why should you bow to a threat of force rather than resolve to counter it? CRT + Deconstructionism indeed throws out the ethical baby with the hidden agenda bath water, and leaves us with “a war of all against all.”

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

I think people tend to overcomplicate CT.
Nothing useful ever came from Marxism and Leninism and Maoism etc apart from violence, poverty and mass murder.
I think Neo-Marxists are trying to tangle supporters of democracy and real humanity in this useless ahistorical “facts” about slavery 200 years ago etc.
While ignoring millions of deaths caused by their ideology.
Let’s not forget that Nazism and Fascism were response to mass murder of Communism and had origins in the same ideology.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I am no expert on Critical Theory but my impression is that the latest iterations are far more nihilistic than the original version developed in the 1930s by the Frankfurt school. The latter was an attempt to update and strengthen Marxism by suggesting that the ruling class kept control less by physical oppression and ownership of the means of production, as Marx had suggested, than by cultural hegemony i.e. by convincing the working class that society was being run in their interests as well as those of the rich. Their solution was to dissect and discredit the dominant ideology by using “critical theory” thus laying the ground work for revolution, emancipation and utopia. In the meantime it led to some interesting analyses such as the ways in which western society “manufactures consent”. One did not need to agree with their political project to find their insights intriguing. 

After the linguistic turn in the 1970s, however, a new generation of critical theorists – many ex 1960s student radicals – absorbed the post modernist strictures of Michel Foucault etc and an infusion of recruits from literary criticism. The result IMO was that critical theory lost it moorings. What was left were the beliefs that virtually nothing was objectively true, that all that mattered was power relations, that it was obligatory to support the “marginalised” against the “privileged” – but these were no longer defined in economic terms but in an ever increasing number of ways as specified in intersectionality – that support for the marginalised need not be constrained by any concern for fairness, truth, etc and a certain aptitude for word games. This is the formula which has led not to emancipation and inclusion as hoped but the attempted crushing of dissent by new, implausible and unstable orthodoxies and the growing fragmentation of society into mutually antagonistic groups. It is not even if there is any clarity about the desired end state but only a commitment to permanent struggle pursued by unscrupulous means against a shifting cast of villains (with the current clash between radical feminists and trans activists being only a foretaste of the possibilities). Fortunately, I am more optimistic than most UnHerd readers about their prospects since – as you may have gathered – I am not a big fan of most of the current versions of Critical Theory.

I am sure others can provide a more sophisticated explanation.

 

 

Last edited 9 months ago by Alex Carnegie
michael stanwick
michael stanwick
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

What is the reference for “gender” in this context?

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago

I was differentiating between sex – a matter of biology – and gender – the sense of identity and associated behaviours which normally reflects cultural norms but recently has become more varied. Obviously both words are used differently by different people so I apologise if was being confusing.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

No problem. I was wondering whether “gender” is an “identity without an essence”(to steal from QT). In other words, it doesn’t have a reference in material reality and so is a reified abstraction or immeasurable claim.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

No problem. I was wondering whether “gender” is an “identity without an essence”(to steal from QT). In other words, it doesn’t have a reference in material reality and so is a reified abstraction or immeasurable claim.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago

I was differentiating between sex – a matter of biology – and gender – the sense of identity and associated behaviours which normally reflects cultural norms but recently has become more varied. Obviously both words are used differently by different people so I apologise if was being confusing.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

“There are times when it is illuminating to see all knowledge as “social constructs” but most of the time it is more useful for e.g. aircraft designers …”
There is no contradiction. ‘But’ is not the appropriate conjunction. Science is one of whitey’s social constructs but that does not make it any less useful. The Chinese are as smart, but they did not develop science, we did and the difference is in our social environments. Awareness of the social origins of science only makes it stronger.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

You group associate yourself with the “social construction” of Science according to your skin color. Wow. How white were/are the Greeks? What about the luminaries of the Islamic World during the medieval period in Europe?
Yours is not a correct use of the admittedly annoying term “social construct”. Yes, science emerged in its modern, rationalist incarnation primarily within a northern European social context, flourishing from the 17th century onward, but with many antecedents that include the European Ancients (Greece and Rome) and even the early technological advancements of the Egyptians and Mesopotamians.
By your reckoning I guess written language itself belongs to the people of the Fertile Crescent? And tool use is the special province of Africa?
You didn’t develop science and neither did we (yeah, I’m a white guy), except in the We of humanity itself. But not by your facile group-self-association with some of the smartest white folks who have ever lived. Even most of their own contemporaries or close family members couldn’t have held a candle to the intellects of Galileo and Newton. And neither can most present-day people, whether or not they bear some superficial resemblance to surviving portraits of past greats.

Last edited 9 months ago by AJ Mac
Carl Valentine
Carl Valentine
9 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Some decent points, however your aggressive (defensive) tone, spoils the read a little… (these are just opinions)

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Carl Valentine

I’m sure that’s true for many and I’ll try to be nicer when I grow up. I admit that “We developed science” grated on me and sparked some aggressive pushback.

Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
9 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I suspect that the “we developed science”, written in 2023 in the Western world, may be somewhat reactive to the political environment.
The current political strategy of dividing people into conflicting tribes (er, intersectional identities) seems to have morphed into trying to isolate a source of all evil – in particular able-bodied neurotypical mentally healthy cisgendered heterosexual white males. (With haloes of not-quite-as-evil supersets like all white people, or all heterosexuals, etc).
However, this approach assumes that it can foster a sense of pride and entitlement and unity and strength in all of the “oppressed” tribes, while the designated “oppressor/privileged” tribes will be neutralized with guilt, leading to a win.
Instead, I fear that it’s going to push a lot of people into reactivity. Self interest among a majority group can only be suppressed to some degree for some period, by guilt. Once you push people with “you are not my tribe, I have no empathy for you, you are supposed to have empathy for me and agree with whatever I ask, but I need not compromise” etc – there’s going to be some nasty reactions which none of us want to invoke.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Zeph Smith

I agree with nearly all of that. No likely human being falls neatly on one side of a victim/oppressor divide for his or her whole life. That would run contrary to all known history and inward experience.
“Corrective injustice” is still injustice. As a matter of principle, I reject both vilification and valorization by association (a bit harder to practice this principle than announce it).
But I don’t think asking for one-sided understanding on one’s own behalf earns the name empathy, though perhaps it’s applied that way at times these days. A unidirectional empathy? That’s more like pity, or self-pity.
Compassion and understanding are two-way streets. At least I’ve never seen this street sign in my travels: Empathy Blvd.–One Way.
Tribalism, distrust, and antagonism are mutual too. We can probably agree that a lot of people have already been pushed, or felt pushed, into reactivity. The notion that an Appalachian 18-year-old whose parents were high-school dropout drug addicts (whatever else they were, people tend to be more than such labels) has an active “white-privilege card” is absurd. A kid from a wealthy, middle-class black family, with equivalent or even lesser credentials, should go to Harvard ahead of that kid? (Why am I using rhetorical formulations when I expect you’d agree?!).
I don’t think the idea that the Left or Right can or should ever win in some conclusive culture war makes any real sense. No side holds all the good marbles, and compromise, like empathy, falls apart when it is not a reciprocal operation.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Zeph Smith

I agree with nearly all of that. No likely human being falls neatly on one side of a victim/oppressor divide for his or her whole life. That would run contrary to all known history and inward experience.
“Corrective injustice” is still injustice. As a matter of principle, I reject both vilification and valorization by association (a bit harder to practice this principle than announce it).
But I don’t think asking for one-sided understanding on one’s own behalf earns the name empathy, though perhaps it’s applied that way at times these days. A unidirectional empathy? That’s more like pity, or self-pity.
Compassion and understanding are two-way streets. At least I’ve never seen this street sign in my travels: Empathy Blvd.–One Way.
Tribalism, distrust, and antagonism are mutual too. We can probably agree that a lot of people have already been pushed, or felt pushed, into reactivity. The notion that an Appalachian 18-year-old whose parents were high-school dropout drug addicts (whatever else they were, people tend to be more than such labels) has an active “white-privilege card” is absurd. A kid from a wealthy, middle-class black family, with equivalent or even lesser credentials, should go to Harvard ahead of that kid? (Why am I using rhetorical formulations when I expect you’d agree?!).
I don’t think the idea that the Left or Right can or should ever win in some conclusive culture war makes any real sense. No side holds all the good marbles, and compromise, like empathy, falls apart when it is not a reciprocal operation.

Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
9 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I suspect that the “we developed science”, written in 2023 in the Western world, may be somewhat reactive to the political environment.
The current political strategy of dividing people into conflicting tribes (er, intersectional identities) seems to have morphed into trying to isolate a source of all evil – in particular able-bodied neurotypical mentally healthy cisgendered heterosexual white males. (With haloes of not-quite-as-evil supersets like all white people, or all heterosexuals, etc).
However, this approach assumes that it can foster a sense of pride and entitlement and unity and strength in all of the “oppressed” tribes, while the designated “oppressor/privileged” tribes will be neutralized with guilt, leading to a win.
Instead, I fear that it’s going to push a lot of people into reactivity. Self interest among a majority group can only be suppressed to some degree for some period, by guilt. Once you push people with “you are not my tribe, I have no empathy for you, you are supposed to have empathy for me and agree with whatever I ask, but I need not compromise” etc – there’s going to be some nasty reactions which none of us want to invoke.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Carl Valentine

I’m sure that’s true for many and I’ll try to be nicer when I grow up. I admit that “We developed science” grated on me and sparked some aggressive pushback.

Carl Valentine
Carl Valentine
9 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Some decent points, however your aggressive (defensive) tone, spoils the read a little… (these are just opinions)

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

You group associate yourself with the “social construction” of Science according to your skin color. Wow. How white were/are the Greeks? What about the luminaries of the Islamic World during the medieval period in Europe?
Yours is not a correct use of the admittedly annoying term “social construct”. Yes, science emerged in its modern, rationalist incarnation primarily within a northern European social context, flourishing from the 17th century onward, but with many antecedents that include the European Ancients (Greece and Rome) and even the early technological advancements of the Egyptians and Mesopotamians.
By your reckoning I guess written language itself belongs to the people of the Fertile Crescent? And tool use is the special province of Africa?
You didn’t develop science and neither did we (yeah, I’m a white guy), except in the We of humanity itself. But not by your facile group-self-association with some of the smartest white folks who have ever lived. Even most of their own contemporaries or close family members couldn’t have held a candle to the intellects of Galileo and Newton. And neither can most present-day people, whether or not they bear some superficial resemblance to surviving portraits of past greats.

Last edited 9 months ago by AJ Mac
David Mottershead
David Mottershead
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Thankfully I came across no Marxist theory during the course of my English literature degree. I just read great books. Fantastic.

Middle March
Middle March
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Excellent

R Kays
R Kays
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

“… form a privileged class with an interest in furthering its own influence and grabbing more than its share of wealth and privilege.”

The same disease infects the contemporary CRT cadre. Greed; self-interest; privilege.

To quote a wise man who “got it:” There is nothing new under the sun.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

I am surprised that you are so gentle with the author theories.
He mixes Neo-Marxists critical theory with criticising wider science as having the same failures.
But proper science like physics and engineering is based on theory confirmed by experiments.
Otherwise GPS would not work.
It is not to deny that some branches of “science” like climate theories were captured by activists and no one is allowed to express different opinions without being cancelled.
But then what fo you expect from Neo-Marxists?

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Exactly!

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Excellent comment!

Lord Plasma
Lord Plasma
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Very well put

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Excellent post. Much better than I could say.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Good post.
I dislike the use of “social construct” and think that “emergent behaviour” would be a better term because the former implies a nearly entirely arbitrary event but the latter would incorporate a lot more, including biological and environmental inputs.

Kurt Roeloffs
Kurt Roeloffs
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Alex,
John doesn’t make the mistake you claim he made. The core realization of science as a social process is not that the theories are not “true” but that they are true within the limits of the purposes. behind the “truth” that they reveal. Engineers can rely on their science because its truth is functioning within its limits.
John is also justified in pointing to the narrow base of facts on which science is built. Consider dark matter and dark energy which represent as much as 95% of physical reality. We no nothing about any of it. Both are gigantic fudges to resolve mystery. Einstein admitted just that with his cosmological constant. Biologists also readily admit that only a tiny fraction of species have. been identified. Vast amounts of aquatic life is uncatalogued as is nearly all of microbial life. What is wrong with being humble enough to say that we understand a small fraction of reality?
I do agree with you that recursively turning critical theory is a rather amusing endeavour–if only because most critical theorists have long ago lost their sense of humour about their commitments and thereby fail to see their own complicity with power.

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

“If we wish to grasp the heart of science, we must come to grips with the decisive question; should science continue to exist for us, or should we drive it to a swift end.” When he asked this question, what did Heidegger mean by the “heart of science?” Is the answer “nothing?”

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Allow me to join the chorus of your admirer’s today. Outstanding comment.
Having been exposed to it in a somewhat compulsory way as a student, I’d say there is a non-trivial subset of critical theory that undertakes searching yet fair-minded critiques of society, power, and class. But it too often deconstructs or destroys only to leave nothing but a pile of rubble. Then, in their lenses, the blinkered utopianism of the insistent Marxist is all that remains to rebuild with. Many people are not smart enough (perhaps including me, though I shudder to consider it), or (often in my own case, I must admit) patient and careful enough readers to pull the baby from the ideological-reductionist bathwater.
And does the valuable part of Critical Theory find no adequate expression elsewhere, one without a sponsoring fixed ideology and with at least a less predetermined outcome? In other words: If we ever did, why do we still need it?
While I don’t expect to find much opposition to my rhetorical nudge, I wonder if anyone here has the wherewithal and nerve to defend the essentialness of Critical Theory as such–for about the least favorably disposed readership one could imagine!

Last edited 9 months ago by AJ Mac
michael stanwick
michael stanwick
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

What is the reference for “gender” in this context?

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

“There are times when it is illuminating to see all knowledge as “social constructs” but most of the time it is more useful for e.g. aircraft designers …”
There is no contradiction. ‘But’ is not the appropriate conjunction. Science is one of whitey’s social constructs but that does not make it any less useful. The Chinese are as smart, but they did not develop science, we did and the difference is in our social environments. Awareness of the social origins of science only makes it stronger.

David Mottershead
David Mottershead
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Thankfully I came across no Marxist theory during the course of my English literature degree. I just read great books. Fantastic.

Middle March
Middle March
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Excellent

R Kays
R Kays
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

“… form a privileged class with an interest in furthering its own influence and grabbing more than its share of wealth and privilege.”

The same disease infects the contemporary CRT cadre. Greed; self-interest; privilege.

To quote a wise man who “got it:” There is nothing new under the sun.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

I am surprised that you are so gentle with the author theories.
He mixes Neo-Marxists critical theory with criticising wider science as having the same failures.
But proper science like physics and engineering is based on theory confirmed by experiments.
Otherwise GPS would not work.
It is not to deny that some branches of “science” like climate theories were captured by activists and no one is allowed to express different opinions without being cancelled.
But then what fo you expect from Neo-Marxists?

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago

Very well written but I fear it misses an important point; such sophisticated thinking tends to end up throwing out the baby with the bath water.

There are times when it is illuminating to see all knowledge as “social constructs” but most of the time it is more useful for e.g. aircraft designers to have a firm grip on science and engineering. More broadly, “Enlightenment values” should be critiqued but the pursuit of “objective truth” through evidence and reason – however imperfect – has led to two and a half centuries of increasing understanding, prosperity and freedom. For most purposes we should continue to rely on them.

I am fully aware of the defects and limitations of modern science but it is wrong to dismiss it as a “vast social process built atop a relatively narrow foundation of natural facts” and an exaggeration to say that we could ”quite easily end up with a completely different model of the world” (at least for the hard sciences; social sciences are a different story).

A parallel is that, intellectually, Einstein’s theories have superseded Newtonian mechanics. For astronomers it may be important to know that gravity can bend light and that matter and energy are interchangeable but for most of us we can still rely on the “fact” that if one drops an apple it will fall in a straight line downwards and aircraft designers can rely on their textbooks.

In a similar fashion, Critical Theory is right to see expectations of how e.g. women behave in different societies as partly a social construct and to argue that it is possible to “perform” gender in new and different ways but, for most of us in most situations, it is sufficient to see 99% of people as belonging to one of two sexes. To go one step further and deny the existence of sex and see only socially constructed gender roles is delusional.

For me, the most amusing part of the essay was the suggestion that one should turn the techniques of Critical Theory on its proponents and see them as privileged oppressors propagating plausible but self serving BS in the pursuit of power.

Last edited 9 months ago by Alex Carnegie
Arthur G
Arthur G
9 months ago

Any theory that presupposes that man is marching towards a utopia on earth is fatally flawed before it formulates its first conclusion.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Mankind did march towards an utopia on Earth. Thanks to normal, everyday, flawed capitalism, and the massive progress in income levels, living standards, medical technology, standards of freedom, even a low income family today is better off than royal families in 19th century Europe.

All that these morons are doing is to reverse that progress and break the scientific and technological bodies that it possible.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

So we’ve been marching to utopia for generations and only the those who felt the invisible hand of the almighty Free Market realized it?
I can see how the mono-metric of free market utopianism might be superior to the utopian mono-metric of victorious class struggle, but it is still a reductive, single lens. Even right-libertarians should recognize that not everything is a commodity.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
9 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

To borrow Churchill’s phrase, capitalism is the worst economic system invented by man, except for all the others that have been tried.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Yeah, that saying is a whole lot better in the original, when democracy is called the best of the worst, not capitalism.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Do you care to provide example of democratic system which is not capitalist one?

Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

I assume you are distinguishing between socialism (including Communism), and social welfare capitalism (currently the dominant economic model of the Western world). So an answer like “Denmark” is not going to fly.
That leaves pretty slim pickings, but I’d love to hear of a non-capitalist democracy if anybody can find one.

Zeph Smith
Zeph Smith
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

I assume you are distinguishing between socialism (including Communism), and social welfare capitalism (currently the dominant economic model of the Western world). So an answer like “Denmark” is not going to fly.
That leaves pretty slim pickings, but I’d love to hear of a non-capitalist democracy if anybody can find one.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Do you care to provide example of democratic system which is not capitalist one?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Yeah, that saying is a whole lot better in the original, when democracy is called the best of the worst, not capitalism.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
9 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

To borrow Churchill’s phrase, capitalism is the worst economic system invented by man, except for all the others that have been tried.

Arthur G
Arthur G
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

And yet humans in the most advanced societies are less and less happy. They have rates of mental illness that are off the charts. They engage in myriad denials of reality. The atomization caused by late capitalism (as opposed to the free-market) has played a major role in this.
Humans are not fulfilled by having more stuff. Once you have sufficient food, clothing, and shelter, more material goods do not buy happiness. If your income increases, your happiness improves briefly, until you adjust to the new level, then you’re just as miserable as before.
People value relationships, achievement, and relative status. The modern man on the dole may have more material confort than a Medieval noble, but the Medieval noble felt a lot better about himself because he had status, power, and achievement.
Unfortunately status is at best a zero sum game, and with the ever increasing globalization, may actually be a decreasing sum game.

Last edited 9 months ago by Arthur G
Samir Iker
Samir Iker
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

“Once you have sufficient food, clothing, and shelter”
It’s thanks to modern capitalism that these things are taken for granted.

Arthur G
Arthur G
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Again, you’re confusing the free market with modern capitalism. The free market does produce great wealth. Modern capitalism is about rent seeking and syphoning off that wealth, through Gov’t regulatory capture, anti-competitive practices, and outright corruption.
Google and Facebook produce nothing, yet they extract immense wealth. If they disappeared tomorrow, world GDP wouldn’t fall by $1. We’d be just fine using the 2nd best search engine, and email our stupid photos to our friends and relatives.

Carl Valentine
Carl Valentine
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Your’e a man after my own heart, couldn’t agree more.
What was wrong with the ‘Yellow pages’? Why do so few people realise how much ‘social media’ sucks? Can’t believe JFK and Martin Luther were assasinated yet Zuckerburg and his ilk still ‘walk amongst us’ I guess their PR is better. 🙁

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Pathetic nonsense.
You can use 2nd best or even worse search engine now.
Email was an invention as well.
Just jump on your horse and ride to a pub to have half of mild.

Carl Valentine
Carl Valentine
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Your’e a man after my own heart, couldn’t agree more.
What was wrong with the ‘Yellow pages’? Why do so few people realise how much ‘social media’ sucks? Can’t believe JFK and Martin Luther were assasinated yet Zuckerburg and his ilk still ‘walk amongst us’ I guess their PR is better. 🙁

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Pathetic nonsense.
You can use 2nd best or even worse search engine now.
Email was an invention as well.
Just jump on your horse and ride to a pub to have half of mild.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Not by a large segment of the population.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

But the very idea that “sufficient” whatever has any meaning is nonsense.
I would rather drink chateau Latour than 10 quid plonk, eat in Michelin star restaurants twice a week, smoke Cohibas every day and ski in Courcheval and Aspen every year.
So, clearly, sufficient is only relevant in context of your own expectations.
That why Communism is nonsense and any attempt to implement it always fails.
Cheers…

Arthur G
Arthur G
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Again, you’re confusing the free market with modern capitalism. The free market does produce great wealth. Modern capitalism is about rent seeking and syphoning off that wealth, through Gov’t regulatory capture, anti-competitive practices, and outright corruption.
Google and Facebook produce nothing, yet they extract immense wealth. If they disappeared tomorrow, world GDP wouldn’t fall by $1. We’d be just fine using the 2nd best search engine, and email our stupid photos to our friends and relatives.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Not by a large segment of the population.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

But the very idea that “sufficient” whatever has any meaning is nonsense.
I would rather drink chateau Latour than 10 quid plonk, eat in Michelin star restaurants twice a week, smoke Cohibas every day and ski in Courcheval and Aspen every year.
So, clearly, sufficient is only relevant in context of your own expectations.
That why Communism is nonsense and any attempt to implement it always fails.
Cheers…

philip kern
philip kern
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Reminds me of John Calhoun’s Universe 25 experiment. Put mice in “utopia” and the population grows for a while, but ultimately kills itself off (by becoming aggressive, abandoning its children, losing interest in mating, and engaging in homoeroticism). I think it’s been replicated.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Yes, problem is that too many idiots are persuaded that there are exceptional in modern society.
It probably started with abolition of 11 plus and grammar schools.
Then process was accelerated by John “failed bus conductor” Major creating another 100 pseudo universities.
Since you require IQ of at least 110 to 115 to pursue serious graduate course, it is statistically obvious that only about 20 to 25% of the population can do it.
So we end up with useless graduates in useless subjects expecting to be awarded with careers for their efforts.
Hence proliferation of jobs in Human Remains (HR) and other box ticking functions.
What is the solution?
That is when difficulty starts.
No parents wants to admit that their little darlings are a bit thick.
So no selection before university will be popular.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

“Once you have sufficient food, clothing, and shelter”
It’s thanks to modern capitalism that these things are taken for granted.

philip kern
philip kern
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Reminds me of John Calhoun’s Universe 25 experiment. Put mice in “utopia” and the population grows for a while, but ultimately kills itself off (by becoming aggressive, abandoning its children, losing interest in mating, and engaging in homoeroticism). I think it’s been replicated.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Yes, problem is that too many idiots are persuaded that there are exceptional in modern society.
It probably started with abolition of 11 plus and grammar schools.
Then process was accelerated by John “failed bus conductor” Major creating another 100 pseudo universities.
Since you require IQ of at least 110 to 115 to pursue serious graduate course, it is statistically obvious that only about 20 to 25% of the population can do it.
So we end up with useless graduates in useless subjects expecting to be awarded with careers for their efforts.
Hence proliferation of jobs in Human Remains (HR) and other box ticking functions.
What is the solution?
That is when difficulty starts.
No parents wants to admit that their little darlings are a bit thick.
So no selection before university will be popular.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

I respectfully disagree. Capitalism wasn’t a march towards utopia. It was just a process of individuals risking their capital in the hope of earning a return on their investment, with the mostly but not entirely felicitous result of a marked improvement in material well-being.

Campbell P
Campbell P
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Why has noone mentioned ‘ human nature’, that which can both inspire and destroy regardless of which economic system is used? Utopia is a myth because of human nature; it’s that simple.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

You must be joking?
Yes, progress in science and technology was incredible in the last 200 years.
Buy claiming that low income family now is better of than Royal families of 19th century is ridiculous.

Last edited 9 months ago by Andrew F
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

So we’ve been marching to utopia for generations and only the those who felt the invisible hand of the almighty Free Market realized it?
I can see how the mono-metric of free market utopianism might be superior to the utopian mono-metric of victorious class struggle, but it is still a reductive, single lens. Even right-libertarians should recognize that not everything is a commodity.

Arthur G
Arthur G
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

And yet humans in the most advanced societies are less and less happy. They have rates of mental illness that are off the charts. They engage in myriad denials of reality. The atomization caused by late capitalism (as opposed to the free-market) has played a major role in this.
Humans are not fulfilled by having more stuff. Once you have sufficient food, clothing, and shelter, more material goods do not buy happiness. If your income increases, your happiness improves briefly, until you adjust to the new level, then you’re just as miserable as before.
People value relationships, achievement, and relative status. The modern man on the dole may have more material confort than a Medieval noble, but the Medieval noble felt a lot better about himself because he had status, power, and achievement.
Unfortunately status is at best a zero sum game, and with the ever increasing globalization, may actually be a decreasing sum game.

Last edited 9 months ago by Arthur G
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

I respectfully disagree. Capitalism wasn’t a march towards utopia. It was just a process of individuals risking their capital in the hope of earning a return on their investment, with the mostly but not entirely felicitous result of a marked improvement in material well-being.

Campbell P
Campbell P
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Why has noone mentioned ‘ human nature’, that which can both inspire and destroy regardless of which economic system is used? Utopia is a myth because of human nature; it’s that simple.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

You must be joking?
Yes, progress in science and technology was incredible in the last 200 years.
Buy claiming that low income family now is better of than Royal families of 19th century is ridiculous.

Last edited 9 months ago by Andrew F
Samir Iker
Samir Iker
9 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Mankind did march towards an utopia on Earth. Thanks to normal, everyday, flawed capitalism, and the massive progress in income levels, living standards, medical technology, standards of freedom, even a low income family today is better off than royal families in 19th century Europe.

All that these morons are doing is to reverse that progress and break the scientific and technological bodies that it possible.

Arthur G
Arthur G
9 months ago

Any theory that presupposes that man is marching towards a utopia on earth is fatally flawed before it formulates its first conclusion.

Tom D.
Tom D.
9 months ago

Critical race theory is founded on narcissism, bitterness, and resentment. The Enlightenment principles are those of individualism, and quite capable of interrogating, challenging, and indeed being critical of the racism and bigotry of the American Democrats and European Left.

Last edited 9 months ago by Tom D.
Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
9 months ago
Reply to  Tom D.

Unfortunately, the American and European right are also racist and bigoted.

Charlie Dibsdale
Charlie Dibsdale
9 months ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

Mmm, using that silly card to try and shut right-leaning people up. I think extremism on the right or left is reprehensible.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago

That’s because extremism on the left IS extremism on the right.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago

That’s because extremism on the left IS extremism on the right.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

Unfortunately, the American and European left are also racist and bigoted.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
9 months ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

The Conservative Party has had a leader of jewish descent in the 19th century, three women as leaders and has presently a Hindu educated at the oldest school in the World, Winchester College. The Conservative Party has also had ministers of Pakistani Muslim, Hindu and African heritage. As a Jewish man said of Britain ” It is one country where I can vote Conservative and not worry about the sound of jackboots “.
There is a long tradition of Conservative members fighting in elite units where if captured they would have bee executed by Nazis – Airey Neave MP, Lords Jellicoe and Lovat, Fitzroy Maclean,Billy Mclean, etc . Guy Gibson VC was selected to be a Conservative MP but died in combat.
What did J P Sartre do in WW2?

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Supported Communism and pedophilia.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Supported Communism and pedophilia.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

That supposed right racism is what really?
Not wanting their countries flooded with low IQ savages?
Who don’t want to integrate and contribute very little to society apart from crime, terrorism and huge benefit burden.

Charlie Dibsdale
Charlie Dibsdale
9 months ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

Mmm, using that silly card to try and shut right-leaning people up. I think extremism on the right or left is reprehensible.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

Unfortunately, the American and European left are also racist and bigoted.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
9 months ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

The Conservative Party has had a leader of jewish descent in the 19th century, three women as leaders and has presently a Hindu educated at the oldest school in the World, Winchester College. The Conservative Party has also had ministers of Pakistani Muslim, Hindu and African heritage. As a Jewish man said of Britain ” It is one country where I can vote Conservative and not worry about the sound of jackboots “.
There is a long tradition of Conservative members fighting in elite units where if captured they would have bee executed by Nazis – Airey Neave MP, Lords Jellicoe and Lovat, Fitzroy Maclean,Billy Mclean, etc . Guy Gibson VC was selected to be a Conservative MP but died in combat.
What did J P Sartre do in WW2?

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

That supposed right racism is what really?
Not wanting their countries flooded with low IQ savages?
Who don’t want to integrate and contribute very little to society apart from crime, terrorism and huge benefit burden.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
9 months ago
Reply to  Tom D.

Unfortunately, the American and European right are also racist and bigoted.

Tom D.
Tom D.
9 months ago

Critical race theory is founded on narcissism, bitterness, and resentment. The Enlightenment principles are those of individualism, and quite capable of interrogating, challenging, and indeed being critical of the racism and bigotry of the American Democrats and European Left.

Last edited 9 months ago by Tom D.
Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
9 months ago

Anaesthetic dentistry, water that doesn’t kill you, a world without smallpox, machines that fly, vastly reduced female mortality in childbed, vastly reduced infant mortality, increased longevity, the ability to communicate in real time with people on the other side of the planet – the list goes on.
Any critique of science needs first to address its profound success in dealing with some very ancient and challenging human problems before it declares it to be just another form of knowledge, on the same level as say blood letting or astrology.
Isn’t it funny that all the most successful, wealthy and healthy nations are those that have pursued enlightenment values and ways of thinking?
And isn’t it funny that these very same countries are the ones the vast majority of the world’s population want to reside in?
The success of science, contrary to what CT and the author say, is that it works in spite of the social and cultural environment it is situated in, not because of it.