(Originally published 2/26/21)
The Rejection of Reason
For years (in some cases decades), reading my favorite news and opinion sources, I have been running across some relatively new additions to the language. I thought I had at least a vague understanding of what these terms meant given the context of the articles in which I found them.
An article I read in mid-January 2021 finally forced me to take a few days and try to truly get to the bottom of a few of these terms. Some of the terms I am referring to:
Critical Race Theory
Postmodern / Postmodernism
The depth of my understanding was, to put it mildly, lacking. The reader will recognize these terms in connection with the Left in today’s politics. I wanted to understand what the thought process was behind what we hear these days from the Left. What follows is my assessment.
Trying to find a clear definition of some of these terms (in particular, postmodern and Critical Theory) is difficult. I don’t believe I have ever encountered a more confused and confusing topic. I have concluded that in common use, some of these terms have become disconnected from one another and that what I was after was “Postmodern Critical Theory”. Intersectionality and Critical Race theory are offshoots from Postmodern Critical Theory (more on those later).
I will start with postmodern by simply breaking the word apart. “Post” “Modern” – after modern. What is commonly referred to as the modern era began with the Enlightenment starting in the late 17th century. This was the “Age of Reason”. The Enlightenment promoted the rational use of reason and the scientific method to solve problems and enhance human knowledge. Tremendous advances in science, mathematics, and government (to name just a few) were the result. Indeed, the very existence of the United States, our form of government, and our founding documents were a direct result of Enlightenment thinking. The Enlightenment placed a heavy emphasis on the individual.
Postmodernists reject the Enlightenment because, they believe, it has failed to solve humanity’s problems. They reject the reliance on reason (but they offer no replacement). The implications here are stunning. This would mean, by extension, the rejection of science and mathematics. If any of this is starting to sound familiar, it is not coincidence. The irony, that a vast number of problems faced by humanity are in fact a result of the large number of people that refuse to embrace reason, seems to be lost. They reject the notion of universal truths. They reject the emphasis on the individual.
Critical Theory, unsurprisingly, has its origins with Karl Marx. If you take Marx insistence that everything revolves around class, the exploiters and the exploited, and that conflict and revolution are not only necessary but desirable, and simply substitute a few words, you have Critical Theory. Critical Theory holds that there is only the oppressor and the oppressed. Critical Race Theory is simply Critical Theory specifically applied to race. Woke appears to essentially refer to being aware of and embracing Postmodern Critical Theory.
Postmodern Critical Theory then is this:
The individual is nonexistent. Groups and power are all that matter and there are only two categories of group, the oppressors and the oppressed. Intersectionality is almost like a ranking system – I am the intersection of male, white, heterosexual (all oppressor groups). Kamala Harris is the intersection of female, black, and Asian (all oppressed groups). Had Harris been gay, she would have won the trifecta of victimhood. The foundation, in other words, of identity politics.
Reason, science, knowledge, law, courts, and law enforcement are all nothing more that tools that the oppressors use to maintain power over the oppressed. It should not be surprising then that the leadership of Black Lives Matter are avowed Marxists that insist on removing law enforcement. Race and gender are social constructs, we have, after all, rejected the science that might say otherwise. “Check your privilege” means “recognize that you are the oppressor.”
Conflict is both desirable and necessary to this mode of thinking.
[Editor’s note: The use of the word “thinking” in this context is dubious.]
Accordingly, every societal problem must be politicized in order to shift power and sustain the conflict. Without conflict you have no oppressor and oppressed groups. Using reason, deduction, induction, or abduction (i.e., science) to question the narrative is violence and a clear sign you are an oppressor. This makes their position conveniently unassailable.
Universal truths do not exist. Truth changes with the group you belong to. Alternative facts and history can be manufactured to suit the narrative and further the conflict, hence the 1619 Project. The meaning of the words and phrases in a document written in 1787 change with time and circumstance, and with the identity of the reader.
To sustain the conflict, we deploy a form of zero-sum thinking [See editor’s note above]. The rich are rich because they have taken their money from the poor. People that enjoy freedom do so at the expense of the oppressed. Wealth is not created or destroyed, nor is freedom. This is of course manifestly false, the United States Gross Domestic Product has increased by roughly 16 orders of magnitude in the last 100 years; wealth is in fact created. Compare freedom of Americans today with those of 1860.
Those that do not act, speak, think, and vote in accordance with the narrative must be re-educated or marginalized. The end justifies the means. The individual is marginalized and therefore so are individual rights, for there are no self-evident truths.
And finally, to make all this happen, the oppressed must be in control of a government with sweeping authoritarian powers.
How and why?
“How” is, I believe, self-evident. The inroads Marxism has made into academia have spilled out into politics and the media.
“Why” there seem to be so many that embrace this is much less obvious. Lack of civics education. Lack of literacy, and by literacy I do not mean simply the ability to read and write, I mean a deep (or deeper) understanding of what you read. Lack of critical thinking skills. For many minds, it is probably easier to understand zero-sum than it is to understand wealth and freedom being created (net-positive).
I must confess that in studying this, I was dumfounded. I could not, and can not, understand how any thinking individual could seriously “think” this way. There is a near complete absence of logic. There is no clearly defined end goal. Conservatives frequently (and rightly) complain that productive discourse with the Left is nearly impossible – this is why. This is a deeply flawed mode of thinking based on a false premise at the very lowest level. It won’t work because it can’t work, and it is extremely dangerous. Is it a conspiracy? No, it is ignorance being widely propagated and unchallenged.