‘Wokeness is being pushed on everyone’

Helen Pluckrose on the dangerous explosion of critical social justice.

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Wokeness is more prevalent than ever. Big businesses and public institutions are kow-towing to the latest activist trends. Cancel culture is engulfing more and more wrong-thinkers) in its (self-)righteous flames. Social media is awash with right-on, virtue-signalling images and essays, and almost daily there is a new racism scandal. Universities have long been recognised as a key battleground in the culture war. The blame is often placed on snowflake students. But the academy’s role in producing these developments stretches back several decades. Helen Pluckrose is the editor of Areo magazine and co-author, with James Lindsay, of a new book, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity – And Why This Harms Everybody. spiked caught up with her to find out more.

spiked: What is the thinking behind the explosion of wokeness taking place at the moment?

Helen Pluckrose: It comes from a mixture of postmodern scholarship and leftist activism. People sometimes try to explain it too simply, when it actually has lots of strands. At the centre is a postmodern conception of knowledge, power and language. In short, there is the belief that knowledge is a construct dependent on dominant ways of talking. The powerful get to say what knowledge is and dictate how things are spoken about legitimately. Everybody on all levels of society speaks into this and perpetuates the power imbalance. These invisible systems of power are known as things like patriarchy, white supremacy, imperialism, cis-normativity, hetero-normativity, fatphobia, and ableism. These are all understood to be omnipresent below the surface, and to reveal themselves in the way people speak about things. Therefore, there is a need to interrogate speech and pick it apart and find the problematic biases behind it. That is the basic philosophy underlying it all.

spiked: How did this thinking develop?

Pluckrose: These ideas arose in the late 1960s, when people from different disciplines suddenly started saying they were sceptical of meta-narratives, that knowledge was a social construct, and that language could not convey meaning reliably. There was a critical attitude towards everything we thought we knew. This was a really aimless development, because if you do not believe language can meaningfully convey anything, you cannot really use language to change anything. As a result, this movement burnt itself out by the middle of the 1980s.

But around 1989 there was another flood of new writing, in which people like Kimberlé Crenshaw, Judith Butler, Mary Poovey and bell hooks all started saying postmodernism had some useful tools, but was not very good for activism. There had to be some kind of objective truth, if we were going to say certain people in a certain place are disadvantaged. They all wanted to use the idea of social constructivism, but also identified power structures that they felt were objectively real. That was a dramatic change. Then came intersectionality, queer theory, critical-race theory and later disability studies and fat studies. They all drew on this idea that society is socially constructed through language to oppress certain people.

This then developed and became more and more confident and clear until around 2010, when we suddenly saw a real kind of merging of all of these ideas into the intersectional framework, also known as critical social justice. We have gone from a scepticism towards meta-narratives to a social justice meta-narrative. And that has been escalating, particularly in the last five years, and especially this year.

spiked: What are the most revealing examples of this trend?

Pluckrose: One key example is cancel culture. We have had all these different marginalised identities for a little while. But in the last year or so, things have been refining, and now we are really looking at two key identities. Activists are not so worried about women as a sex anymore. This is evident from all the Karen memes. Similarly, activists feel gay men are not consistently being intersectional, and have lost some of their interest in the gay identity cause. What we have ended up with is race and transgender.

Gender-critical feminists are being cancelled and chucked off platforms for saying they believe that ‘woman’ is a biological definition. This is understood to be transphobic. There has been a big pushback against people like JK Rowling for challenging these doctrines. These people took a big risk in stating their positions.

The race issue has been gaining prominence for a couple of years now. People see more and more evidence of racism in everything. Scholars like Robin DiAngelo have been extremely influential. In the UK there are Reni Eddo-Lodge and Layla Saad. Saad and DiAngelo especially, in very clear and instructive language, assert that a system of whiteness exists, which white people recreate and perpetuate in almost everything they say and do. The question is not whether racism took place in a given scenario, but how it manifested itself in that scenario. The assumption is that racism is there – and everywhere. Any detection of it by somebody who is thinking in the ‘right’ theoretical way is accepted as authoritative. In America, where the recent explosion of anti-racist protests began, there is a genuine problem of racism. But a particular theoretical approach is now being pushed on everyone.

spiked: Big businesses are signing up to whatever the latest woke trend is. What motivates this virtue-signalling? And does it actually reflect public opinion?

Pluckrose: It is hard to say. It is fashionable, and has worked in the service of capitalism. For companies to take a certain approach helps their brand, whereas being seen to oppose it could damage their brand. I don’t know what number of owners of large corporations are actually fully subscribed to the woke ideas – it probably isn’t a lot, but there is certainly pressure to seem to do so.

Despite what the backing of prominent institutions might imply, I think these woke causes are supported by only a minority of people. It is not so uncommon for society to work this way. Look at theocracies, where perhaps only five per cent of people are theologians who teach the core values, but they are accepted by wider society as a benchmark for showing goodness and virtue. People either accept it without really understanding it, or just refrain from arguing with it. There are definitely parallels between that scenario and society today.

spiked: In what ways are these developments dangerous?

Pluckrose: I am getting dozens of emails a day from people saying their employers are expecting them to affirm their belief that they are themselves racist and commit to unpicking it, or even commit to the aims of the Black Lives Matter movement. This must not be a workplace requirement. Employers should be able to demand certain types of behaviour from staff, but not certain beliefs.

I think it is also damaging because we are such social animals and we want to see ourselves as good people. It is most frightening for liberals to be accused of being racist or sexist or homophobic. People who genuinely are any of those things are probably more immune to it.

The biggest threat at the moment is the undermining of the concepts of plurality, freedom of belief, freedom of conscience – not even so much freedom of speech, which we in the UK have been worried about for quite a few years now. But there is this idea that you must believe in this particular ideology of sexuality or race, and that it is the neutral position. We have employers doing anti-bias training, but people report to me that those employers do not really know what is in that training. It’s just one of the things that they need to have done, a bit like health and safety. But really, it is demanding that people have a certain conception of society, that they see certain people as privileged and certain people as marginalised, and that they accept this is perpetuated by certain ways of talking about things.

spiked: The justification given for a lot of social-justice activism is that it’s defending oppressed groups or elevating their voices. Is there any truth to that claim?

Pluckrose: I think it is probably helping in some ways. It is empowering some minority groups, giving them a tool to push back against racism or transphobia. But I think most scrupulous liberal people would not abuse that tool. Some people are abusing it, and that is quite worrying. The problem with social-justice activism is the idea that all black people believe in critical-race theory, or that all trans people take on queer theory, and that really is not indicated by any of the studies that have been done. In the US, those studies show that the real critical social-justice activism and scholarship is overwhelmingly white and middle class, whereas black and brown Americans have more moderate views.

spiked: What, if anything, can we do to challenge these trends?

Pluckrose: I think we need to learn how to argue back and to be confident in doing so. Too many people are staying quiet. Maybe they are conflict-averse or have genuine fears. But because we have been a liberal society for so long now, we have not had to argue for the values that support that kind of society. A lot of people simply don’t know how. They are arguing that social-justice activists are hypocritical, because they are racist against white people but also say that racism is wrong. But it is not hypocritical, because they have never claimed to have consistent ideas about racism. We really need people to understand how the system works, and to confidently say they don’t believe what these activists believe – to say they have ethics and principles which work on the basis of the individual and of our shared humanity, not on identity groups.

Helen Pluckrose was talking to Paddy Hannam.

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Comments

Peter Spurrier

26th July 2020 at 8:48 pm

I found this interview fascinating. It’s not my field, so I can’t judge very well how accurate it is, but it, at least, sounds pretty informative. Amazing the things that people will believe. And bizarre that the people described here have as much influence, as they do, in our society.

Christopher Tyson

25th July 2020 at 5:13 pm

Even up until the mid 1990s in Britain, ‘continental philosophy’ was a disparaging term. The Anglo American analytic tradition remained the philosophy of choice for the serious minded. Analytic philosophy had its problems though, interminable abstract discussion about language and meaning, a sense that this was a self serving charade, an inability or reluctance to become involved in serious questions of politics or human concerns or problems, a high-flown irrelevance. The idea that the role of a philosopher was to wait until someone said something and then tell them that they were talking rubbish. In many respects I find this approach appealing, indeed today we see a wanton disregard for meaning, concepts are thrown around indiscriminately, terms are undefined, people become embroiled in passionate disagreement without even establishing whether they are talking about the same things. The continentals though, appeared to be having more fun, and seemed to give themselves licence to be contradictory or contrary. Student of analytical philosophy became scared to say anything.
In a series of essays published in 1996 called ‘A moral impasse: the end of capitalist triumphalism’, co-edited by James Heartfield there is a brilliant essay by Heartfield entitles ‘The limits of social construction theory’. Heartfield begins in 1992 with the awarding of an honourary degree to Jacques Derrida, the founder of the deconstruction school of philosophy and the epitome of the continental philosopher, by Cambridge University, the home of British analytical rigour and tradition. Hearfield draws together the strands of these supposedly opposing traditions to show that they have much in common, in a way that I cannot do justice to here (or possible anywhere), maybe Hearfield should do it himself for a new audience.

Melissa Jackson

29th July 2020 at 3:51 pm

I think that we have all under estimated the impact of “continental philosophy” over the past 20 or 30 years. All the way back to Hagel, these ideas were always attractive to academics and intellectuals, but never to the general public. This gave the ideas that stem from the philosophy a lot of clout with government and the other high circles of power, but they seldom stated outright why they held those beliefs. Only recently has it become acceptable to say in public that “whiteness” needs to be deconstructed, but the thinking behind that has been quietly trickled in via think tanks and such for decades.

To some degree it is understandable why these kinds of philosophy were attractive to a very specific set of people – The combination of a subjective world view, with a total focus on power, made them obviously very interesting to (for want of a better term) the upwardly mobile busibody middle class who were certain they knew better. The philosophy confirmed what they already wanted to hear, that the conservative status quo was not just wrong but evil, and that the moral crusaders were the only good people. This is the class of people who undertook the march through the institutions.

It has taken a long time, but finally it has become impactful enough that they can be overt in what they say and do. Finally the footsoldiers of post-structuralism are wielding a lot of power.

However, I do believe that the continental wave will crash and quite soon. It is fundamentally an incomplete philosophy, because it has no end goal whatsoever. It is only capable of destroying, and has no sense of what it seeks to put in it’s place. Most activists want something socialist or communist, but as that becomes more and more obvious, the resistance to them radically increases. With both the means and the ends being opposed by most of the population, they are doomed to failure. Even for those espousing a more liberal approach, the internal contradictions are already far too exposed.

It is always hard to say, and I think that the next 20 or so years will be a real slog, but we will slowly excise these ideas from our society. Just look how quickly the modern feminist movement collapsed. For two or three years it was a huge deal, and then suddenly women’s issues were overtaken by trans and race issues. Because that is in the nature of the post structuralist world view. A pressure group invites in these more radical activists because it seems this will help them get something done quickly; but the group itself inherently required the construction of a category of people, and the post-structuralists are fundamentally against that categorisation. In 2015 feminism was riding high; by 2020 there is no such thing as a woman.

I would go so far as to argue that the welding together of minority rights groups with post-modernism simply cannot achieve anything in a meaningful way. The post-modern tools can be useful, in the short term, but the minority group is fundamentally at odds with where those tools lead. You cannot be both a collectivist and a universalist at the same time. You can use the aggressive tools of the philosophy to try and leverage some gain for you group, but this is always just a stratagem. The post-structuralist position is “there is no such thing as race”, so good luck turning that into some meaningful change.

Post-modernism certainly makes for strange bedfellows. We see many leftist anarchists coming out to demand the state take more power. But in the end it will pull itself apart.

Andrew Shaughnessy

25th July 2020 at 9:13 am

Kimberlé Crenshaw, Judith Butler, Mary Poovey, bell hooks, Robin DiAngelo, Reni Eddo-Lodge and Layla Saad. Notice anything? Yes, they’re all women. Not making making a judgement, just pointing it out.

robert hamilton

24th July 2020 at 9:01 pm

this is all helter skelter to me the best word ever spoken is in english and is not “woke” by William Wallace in 1298 FREEDOM!!!!

Dodgy Geezer

24th July 2020 at 3:42 pm

What this sort of stuff does is provide the justification for aggressive and violent behaviour.

People are often unhappy with their lives – most only slightly, some deeply. This seems to be an emotion built in to humans, which encourages us to improve ourselves. if we see our unhappiness as being caused by something such as a social structure – as the French did in 1789 – we will rise up and overthrow it.

Marxism is a good example of this sort of thing. It is asserted that rich people cause us to be unhappy – so we have the great Ukrainian famine, and the Killing Fields of Cambodia. Hitler asserted that the Jews were making Germany unhappy…

Now we have yet another mass movement presenting us with an enemy to hate. If it is successful humanity really needs to worry, because the new enemy is humanity….

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

24th July 2020 at 1:14 pm

‘Fat studies’ lol. Boris Johnson has made a notable contribution in that department.

fret slider

24th July 2020 at 12:58 pm

Mass hysteria has snowballed since that Diana died. [Apparently] We have 11 years left to save the planet, the new messiah has OCD and Asperger’s and it has been discovered that freedom is slavery.

Close the universities. Stop the rot.

Kevin Turner

24th July 2020 at 12:42 pm

20th Century continental philosophy, especially from Germany and France, gets a bad rap in this fundamentally flawed genealogy of critical social justice. I studied all this stuff at university in the mid-90s, and never came to any of the conclusions that the social justice activist have come to. Moreover, none of the lecturers or professors that taught this stuff could ever be described as activist.

A more accurate genealogy would first look at where this nonsense arose: i.e. not in France or Germany or the UK, but in the US. Let’s not forget that none of the French theorist so heavily criticised by Peterson, Pluckrose, Lindsay, et al named themselves as post-structuralist and/or postmodernist – this was a strictly American invention.

Furthermore, all the disparate French theorist associated with postmodernism either distanced themselves from, or where actively opposed to, Marxism, especially from the early 1970s onwards (i.e. after the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago). So, to talk of neo-Marxist postmodernism is a contradiction in terms. The place where the French theorist get tied back into Marxism is in the American academy’s appropriation of said continental philosophy.

Moreover, a lot of the criticism of continental philosophy employed by Jordan Peterson and others comes from Stephen Hicks’ Explaining Postmodernism. The scholarship in this book is that poor that no self-respecting publishing house would publish it – Hicks had to publish it himself (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHtvTGaPzF4).

So, a more accurate genealogy of critical social justice, and all the warped ideas it entails, would begin in the 1980s with the misappropriation of continental philosophy by the American academy; with how this misappropriation tied a disparate group of French intellectuals who were not Marxist together with neo-Marxism; and how, in doing so, it replaced the working class – who had failed to do their job – with a new motor for revolutionary change: the dispossessed (women, LGB, race, and transgender).

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 12:52 pm

The melding of ‘critical theory’ (> ‘identity politics’) with ‘postmodern’ ‘relativity’ indeed was within the USA, but the origins of both were in Europe, with Marxist intellectuals trying to salve their ‘cognitive dissonance’ over the failure of Marxist philosophy.

Kevin Turner

24th July 2020 at 1:01 pm

The Frankfurt School of Critical Theory had nothing to do with identity politics, and the phrase “postmodern relativism” is as oxymoronic as neo-Marxist postmodernism.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 1:25 pm

IOW, that theorists distanced themselves from Marxism is hardly surprising. It’s not merely that theorists always want to be seen as original rather than derivative — and the French are obsessed with being seen as different (superior) to everyone else! — but ‘postmodernist’ ‘relativism’ was a REACTION TO THE FAILURE of Marxist philosophy, much more than it embodied Marxism itself. It was a flimsy veneer on top of Marxism, and could be quite separate from it in that the Marxism could give way to its own philosophical foundations, junking the most untenable facets of Marxism specifically. So you can argue it’s not Marxism, but not that it isn’t post- or neo-Marxism to a major degree.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 1:34 pm

You’re historically plain wrong, Kevin. It’s very well documented. What became dubbed ‘The Frankfurt School’ was the origin of ‘critical theory’ which is the foundation of what became known as ‘identity politics’. It took a long time, certainly. The deeming women as replacements for men in the ‘vanguard’ dates back to TFS, drawing on ideas from Engels, and it wasn’t until the late 1960s that the New Left co-opted ‘civil rights’ and ‘Stonewall’ movements, so that we got the now all too familiar triumvirate of principal ‘victim’ groups that we see in ‘identity politics’ (which term did not arise until the 1970s). For sure, ‘postmodernist’ ‘relativism’ melded with all this during its gestation with the US Academy.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 1:39 pm

And ‘postmodern’ ‘relativism’ can seem or be as oxymoronic as you like: the point is that this is how ‘theory’ (ha!) has developed. The name of the game has been persistent and ever more outlansish chicanery within the academy by those sheltering from the real world to try to continue their inane bogus philosophy.

Kevin Turner

24th July 2020 at 1:57 pm

OK – to clear things up here, I am neither a proponent of critical theory nor what has come to be called postmodernism. I disagree with most of critical theory, and I’ve only been interested in the work of Foucault amongst the French intellectuals. So, I’m not promoting this stuff, just merely saying that it is getting a bad rap. The difference is, I have read and understood most of this stuff, and disagree with it because I understand it, and not because it is the poster-boy of wrong-think (or right-think, depending upon your perspective).

I don’t disagree that critical theory came to identify with identity politics; I disagree that Adorno, Horkheimer, and Benjamin identified with identity politics.

Secondly, they very underlying logic of works by Foucault, et al, clearly demonstrates that they are not merely a flimsy veneer on top of Marxism – they radically reject dialectical materialism, class struggle, and the overarching historical logic of oppressor/oppressed.

Lastly, having read this stuff, relativism is a purposefully derogatory term to label it with, and clearly (and purposefully) misunderstands the arguments being made.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 2:36 pm

Well, it’s not material what Adorno et al thought of ‘identity politics’: what is material is that their ‘critical theory’ is the progenitor of ‘identity politics’, as you don’t disagree. Their idiotic ‘critical theory’ is central to the nonsense of ‘identity politics’, but as ever, the fools who begat idiocy may well try to hide behind claims that it is only the later derivative theorising that is the idiocy.
As for ‘postmodernism’, I wouldn’t be the first to point out that there are as many takes on what it is as there are scholars of it. It is evidently a perfect substrate for political mischief. Those who’ve run with it and developed it, and the commentaries on its development, make is extremely hard not to see the link between ‘postmodernism’ and ‘relativism’. It’s neither here not there anyway, as the history of the enmeshing of it with ‘critical theory’ is clear enough: within US academia, as you point out yourself. Whether ‘relatavism’ was inherent in ‘postmodernism’ or arose with the admixture of ‘critical theory’ is academic, as they might say. The result is the same madness, which is as mad as the origin: either the ridiculous philosophy of Marxism and/or a crazy reaction to it as a means of salving the ‘cognitive dissonance’ over ever having bought it.

Kevin Turner

24th July 2020 at 2:44 pm

So, by your logic, you would hold the various authors of the bible responsible for all the ills done in the name of Christianity. Would you also hold Nietzsche responsible for the crimes of national socialism? Can Marx really be held responsible for the vile things done in the name of Marxism? I’m not so sure that an author can be held responsible for all the things done in their name.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 2:55 pm

?! Why be simplistic when you’d complained of it?!
Self-evidently, a theorist can’t be blamed for a bastardisation of his theory; not directly. Yet he is culpable indirectly. The reason why the bastsardisation happened is that the theory, being rubbish, so badly embarrassed its adherents that they came up with the bastardisation by way of trying to hide their embarrassment.

Kevin Turner

24th July 2020 at 3:10 pm

Or, another way of looking at it, is to say that some people took things in a direction which the original theory cannot sustain, and therefore bastardized that theory.

We seems to be in agreement of where things have got to; just not on how they became what they are.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 3:59 pm

The original theory was itself unsustainable without heaping further nonsense on top of the original nonsense, kicking the theoretical can down the road. The notion of Marx’s of an inevitable historical succession of stages describing all societies, with all ending in some supposed non-hierarchical promised land, is a bastardisadtion of Christianity. It’s total baloney, and falls foul of basic human nature. In turn, this bastardisation of Christianity itself has had to be bastardised to save it from collapse as everyone came to see what idiocy it is. Now the succession of bastardisations is starting to unravel and it is going to blow up in the faces of the Left ….. unless they can pull off yet another bamboozling to fool everyone for a little while longer. The odds of that are looking small. ‘Identity politics’ either will kill US or WE will kill it, and I’m betting money on the latter — albeit I think it will take full-blown civil war.

Kevin Turner

24th July 2020 at 4:42 pm

I guess, following Nietzsche, we could say something like the politics of ressentiment has been an ever-present feature of socialist thought. And the Frankfurt school were certainly elitist. So maybe we are more in agreement than I originally thought – this certainly explain the ressentiment of the elite viz., social justice.

But to square this with the thought of someone like Foucault requires some serious gymnastics. And this is the problem I have; I don’t see how American academics can betroth a disparate group of French thinkers that they labelled as postmodern to Marxism/neo-Marxism without seriously distorting said thought.

The radical left has always eaten itself and we can only hope it does so again and does so very soon.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 5:24 pm

Yes, I think we are fairly in agreement, other than that ‘postmodernism’ ‘un-bastardised’ has anything useful to say, beyond a philosophical corrective, of course. Most philosophy strikes me as eating itself in trying to turn a corrective into some all-consuming principle, which in then not being applied reflexively to the theory itself thereby invalidates it.

Kevin Turner

24th July 2020 at 5:49 pm

I’ll leave the last word to you and say thanks for a great, ad hominem free, conversation.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 6:08 pm

You’re most welcome, Kevin.
It is a fault of this medium of other-unseen-&-unheard that you can easily imagine the worst of the person you’re in discussion with: I guess it’s some default psychological error-management mode — to avoid the risk of being ‘done over’ by playing at least tit-for-tat if not getting yer clouts in first!

Cedar Grove

1st August 2020 at 6:20 pm

Re postmodernism:
I don’t know what happened in Britain, but in the 1980s. American universities promoted the kind of academic, in literature & critical studies departments, who claimed to be cognisant of European philosophers such as Bourdieu, Derrida & Baudrillard, and gained both prestige and promotion by so doing. They’ve taught their nihilistic creed to all the generations of students since then.

Their verbose, ill-written, literary criticism produces nothing more than sterile, self-referential, tedious lumps of writing, designed to be inaccessible. All these narcissistic diatribes ever do is make assertions about structures of power which they claim to have uncovered, and reveal to their astonished groupies – never mind that a 19th- or 20th-century novelist may have explicitly set out to explore such a structure. As there is no such thing as an author, obviously there can be no authorial consciousness or intention.

Earlier modes of criticism sought to illuminate the text. These people obscure it, telling students they cannot approach works of literary art without the aid of their conceptual apparatus.

It destroys a love of reading. It is utterly disrespectful to intelligent writers with a fine sense of their craft. It serves no purpose other than to reassure academics that they are members of the right club. No wonder people cannot any longer see the point of the humanities – without which we will surrender to barbarism. It is the most ruinous intellectual movement I have ever witnessed.

Philip Humphrey

24th July 2020 at 12:14 pm

I just feel so sad about this. 40 years ago when I did higher education, we were there to learn more about the mysteries of the universe and how life worked. There was an objective reality out there waiting to be discovered. All this stuff about critical race theory came from the arts and humanities and it’s a tragedy that it has come to dominate the thinking of so many. It tells us nothing about the real universe, it tells us little or nothing useful or meaningful about our fellow human beings. It merely projects a narrative onto everything. As a scientific theory it fails every test.

Kevin Turner

24th July 2020 at 1:17 pm

I agree that critical race theory dominating the thinking of so many is a tragedy, but to say that philosophy cannot tell us anything meaningful about our fellow human beings is simply puerile.

Cedar Grove

1st August 2020 at 6:37 pm

It’s not philosophy. Philosophy is rigorous. And science is concerned with facts and constantly monitors itself to see if its hypotheses have been contradicted by new evidence. Postmodernist criticism makes reference to Plato and appropriates medical and scientific terminology for no better reason than to aggrandise itself.

Derrida, quoted by an academic, used the term “auto-immune” in a way incompatible with its actual meaning. When I pointed out to the writer that autoimmunity does not mean immunising the self against attack, as he and his idol both seem to imagine, but precisely the opposite – attacking the self – I was told this was irrelevant. We are in Humpty Dumpty’s world, where a word means what I choose it to mean, because I am master.

Not content with demolishing Enlightenment certainties, language itself is being taken from the people and is now the property of those who dictate how words will be used. Hence it makes perfect sense that we now have actual laws, in Europe & America, criminalising speech because someone has chosen to feel offended by it, or is offended on (a hypothetical) someone else’s behalf. This really is autoimmunity in action – destroying society from within because we mistake ourselves for an enemy,

Claire D

24th July 2020 at 1:40 pm

I agree, they have ruined the Humanities for more than a generation and are now moving into STEM.

I tried to watch the latest RSC production of Taming of the Shrew a few nights ago and had to turn it off, it was more like a pantomime, the predominant idea behind it being, ‘Shakespeare’s great and we enjoy earning a living this way, but let’s face it this stuff should’nt be taken seriously, it’s also really difficult for people to understand so the play must be cut ruthlessly, add a modern song or two to hold their attention, make a mockery of the whole thing, including Tudor costume, and even ourselves !’ God forbid that a complete play should be offered with actors and actresses clever enough to convey the meaning, trusting that the audience would appreciate the real thing in it’s entirety.
Perhaps I was just unlucky, but then there’s The Globe under Michelle Terry which is just dire. Sad indeed.

Claire D

24th July 2020 at 1:48 pm

When I say “they” I mean post-modernists.

Kevin Turner

24th July 2020 at 2:17 pm

I think this is behind the emergence and popularity of long-form conversations on YouTube. People are sick to death of being treated like they have the attention span of a gnat and are incapable of digesting complexity.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 6:14 pm

Too right.
And I’m finding I’m starting to give up on telly in favour of watching what I’m actually more fully interested in on Youtube, in what feels a bit like bespoke TV.
In fact, telly is so dumbed-down — five mins of content in an hour-long docu — that I often have the telly on as background while I watch meatier stuff on the computer (and whilst picking mi guitar)!

christopher barnard

24th July 2020 at 11:20 am

‘The basic philosophy underlying it all’ is the need some people have for total obedience from others.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 11:09 am

Wrong, Helen Pluckrose. There are NOT disparate elements. ALL is longstanding and in common as aspects of the great backlash by the Left to try to salve their ‘cognitive dissonance’ over the failure of Marxism; specifically it’s hopeless fit with human nature, meaning it can never be useful prescription or prediction how ordinary people en mass will behave — the ‘revolution’ never will come.
All of this began in the late 1920s, and begat BOTH what eventually became ‘identity politics’ and ‘post-modern’ relativism. Sure, they diverged and came together again, but the notion that there was anything new in recent decades is false. ‘Intersectionality’ is inherent in ‘identity politics’, which was already extant and thus labelled in the 1970s, with its core of feminism and the whole thrust of ‘critical theory’ established decades before that.
‘Postmodernist’ relativism in its various inter-related facets was developed in France before taking hold in the USA, but it was in parallel with central European ‘critical’ ‘theory’, and in answer to the same Left self-doubts.
Stop trying to apologise for the Left and address this monstrous political religion honestly.

Gareth Edward KING

24th July 2020 at 11:04 am

Fat studies? I thought that was an area of Biology and Physiology to do with the distribution of adipose tissue under the skin, apparently not.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 12:19 pm

It’s a feminist issue … well, a fart feminist issue. It’s a researched fact that lesbians on average are way fatter than other women, and extreme feminists are disproportionately lesbian. The hypothesis is that as homosexual females don’t need to attract males then they don’t sensibly avoided the deep-fried Mars bars as other women do. On this non-basis they then pretend that women who want to stay slim to be fanciable somehow are under mens’ thumb (when actually men don’t fancy stick insects anyway).

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 12:21 pm

That really should have been ‘fat’, not ‘fart’, apposite though the latter may be.

Dean 61

24th July 2020 at 12:40 pm

Careful Steve, all the genuine Fart Feminist Groups in West Coast universities will be lining up to condemn your anti-fart rhetoric

Gareth Edward KING

24th July 2020 at 2:13 pm

So, there is an element to Biology to it, thought so, being as you mentioned ‘Stick Insects’ which are in amongst the Phasmids, of course.

Dodgy Geezer

24th July 2020 at 10:38 am

“…..At the centre is a postmodern conception of knowledge, power and language. In short, there is the belief that knowledge is a construct dependent on dominant ways of talking. The powerful get to say what knowledge is and dictate how things are spoken about legitimately. Everybody on all levels of society speaks into this and perpetuates the power imbalance……”

I suppose that my first comment is that there is no definition of who these ‘powerful, dominant’ figures are. there is simply a circular argument – ‘powerful’ and ‘dominant’ are defined simply by being the ideas that most people listen to and accept. Thus when Plato says ‘that is a chair’ most philosophers would say that he is arguing that it has inherent aspects of ‘chairness’, and so is a reflection of an ‘Ideal Chair’.

These ‘woke’ philosophers would now say that he is exerting dominance as an old white man. And then they would move from that to saying that this dominance is inherently oppressive, and that Plato should therefore not be listened to – indeed, he should be banned from society. As, of course, he was.

This sounds exactly like ‘victim culture’ to me. Those who do not have some perceived good – such as money or influence – claiming that since such a division is inherently unfair, the people who have this good should be disposed of, and the people who are currently lacking it should be given it.

In economic terms, of course, this is pure Marxism. Marx at least provided a cod justification by saying that rich people got rich by the labour of the poor, so the riches were really the property of the poor. The woke class are intellectuals who are poor in the sense that they have been unable to develop major philosophic concepts to match those of Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, Nietzsche or Husserl.

So they simply reject the entire history of philosophy, and claim all the power and prestige as their own. It is an act of jealousy.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 12:24 pm

Not a bad summation mi owd Geezer.

Dominic Straiton

24th July 2020 at 10:00 am

Everyone on earth is small r racist and large T tribalists. No amount of woke bullshit will ever change this. A million years beats 30 every time. All these dumb fcs are doing is creating a new tribe and hierarchy exactly the same as the old one but with different people in charge, getting all the power and money. Plus this one is dull and full of the most boring people on earth. It fits perfectly with the dullest generation ever born.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 5:37 pm

‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ is lost on Marxists and neo-Marxists but not on ordinary people. Only an intellectual numptie would fail to see that ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ invariably means not ‘by’ but ‘of the proletariat — by the supposed ‘vanguard’, whose claim to liberate their supposed fellows actually is a bid to lord it over them.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 9:55 am

THE ORIGIN OF ‘IDENTITY POLITICS’ & ‘POLITICAL CORRECTNESS’: Not Consideration for Minorities but Hatred Towards the Mass of Ordinary People; Specifically ‘the Workers’ — Tracing the Roots of Why and How it Arose and Developed Reveals the Greatest Political Fraud in History.
SUMMARY
‘Identity politics’ — often or even usually dubbed ‘political correctness’, though it’s not the same thing, having a different, parallel origin; PC is the mode of enforcement of ‘identity politics’, as in speech codes and cancel culture — is the result of a political-Left major backlash against the mass of ordinary people (in Europe and ‘the West’), beginning in the 1920s, in the wake of the persistent failure of Marxist theory to be realised in European ‘revolution’ or any real change through democracy. In shifting the blame away from Marxist theory and its adherents, and on to those the theory had prescribed and predicted would have been the beneficiaries — the workers (if only they had responded accordingly) — then the cognitive-dissonance within the political-left mindset caused by this crisis to an extent was salved. [It is NOT at all the same as what the Left mistakenly term ‘the politics of identity’ to tag the new movements against the elite, on the false assumption that they are essentially nationalistic and ‘white backlash’. Trump and Brexit triumphed because the general populace have come to realise that the government-media-education elite has an unwarranted profound contempt for if not hatred towards them; and, therefore hardly is liable to act in their interests.]
The intellectual rationalisation was to build on false notions of Engels (co-author with Marx of The Communist Manifesto) that ‘capitalism’ created the family and ‘false consciousness’, by theorising mechanisms of how ‘the workers’ were somehow prevented from revolting. This was by invoking Freud’s now comprehensively discredited notion of ‘repression’, first to attempt to explain a supposed impact on ‘the workers’ of ‘capitalism’ acting within the context of the family. With most workers (the group considered the principal ‘agents of social change’ in a ‘revolution’) being male, then the theoreticians had in mind the male as ‘head’ of the family. It was a simple extension in political-Left imagination for ‘the worker’ to change from being the putative conduit of the impact of ‘capitalism’ to its embodiment, leaving by default women to be deemed a replacement supposed ‘oppressed’ and ‘disadvantaged’ ‘group’. The false notion of ‘repression’ was also considered in a wider sense to produce ‘false consciousness’ in the ‘proletariat’, supposedly obscuring what was in their own best interests.
This implausible and unfalsifiable non-scientific nonsense mainly festered within academia until circa 1968 the New Left in the USA, spurred by, indeed aping the Chinese ‘cultural revolution’, co-opted a movement which, though having nothing do do with the Left, appeared to be akin to the revolutionary activity predicted by Marxism: US ‘civil rights’. This added to the ‘new oppressed’ another category, which like that of women could be envisaged as an inversion of a retrospective stereotype of ‘the worker’. In the wake of the similarly seeming revolutionary Stonewall riots of 1969, the ‘gay rights’ lobby also was co-opted (again, despite having had nothing to do with the Left) to further add by inversion to the abstract demonised aspects of ‘the worker’, thereafter retrospectively stereotyped as male plus ‘white’ plus heterosexual.
This prizing into the role of being emblematic of Marxist struggle naturally rendered the specific conflicts more generalisable, allowing expansion into more widely encompassing categories. US Afro-Americans, in being championed as the ‘ethnic minority’ supposed warriors of the Left thereby meant anyone generically of an ‘ethnic minority’ was deemed to belong to the club. Likewise, ‘gays’ became generic ‘homosexuals’. The problem thereby arose of false identification. The category non-white / ethnic minority includes such as migrant Indians and Chinese, who by no criteria are ‘disadvantaged’ or ‘oppressed’. Likewise lesbians drawn into the category homosexual. As for women, by objective, non-ideological analysis, women are privileged, as they are bound to be with the female being the limiting factor in reproduction. As has been regularly pointed out, Western middle-class women are the most privileged large ‘group’ in history. The ‘groups’ are far too heterogeneous to be in reality ‘oppressed’ or ‘disadvantaged’, providing a window on the sophistry and origin of this politics as other than it purports.
The strands of the ‘new oppressed’ naturally combined as a new (neo-Marxist) conceptualisation to account for these political shifts after the fact, which came to be termed identity politics (or more pejoratively though actually more accurately, cultural Marxism). The deemed ‘groups’ replacing ‘the workers’ subsequently were not only expanded in their scope but added to — by the disabled, the elderly, trans-sexuals, the obese … . Again, all are abstractions rather than groups per se. This relentless expansion and then the use and abuse of these mis-identifications of under-privilege by educated individuals belonging to one or more of the categories, has been dubbed ‘the oppression olympics’, making ‘identity politics’ a gravy train for the already privileged, serving actually to substantially increase inequality. Worse still, it is an instrument of oppression against the very ‘group’ perennially disadvantaged and the victim of prejudice, which formerly had been identified as worthy of the liberation Marxism promised: the vast majority of (necessarily lower-status) men — ‘the workers’. This was the whole point of the political development, of course.
The pretence to egalitarianism is perfect cover for what actually is ‘identity politics’: the very perennial and ubiquitous elitist-separatism (status-grabbing) the political-Left ethos (supposedly) is to attack, and which Left zealots vehemently deny exists in themselves. Leftist bigotry betrays either unusually high status-seeking motivation or particularly deep frustration in the quest for status, which is ‘projected’ on to everyone else, who actually have normal levels of motivation to achieve status and manage to ride the ups and downs of life without requiring such dysfunctional ideation. The Left’s egalitarianism is a feint for selfishly pursuing the very opposite. If everyone else is held at a uniformly low status, Leftists thereby become ‘the chosen few’. Transparently, this is an ideology in the wake — a residue — of Christianity. A quasi-religion of supposed inevitable progress towards ‘the promised land’, rendered a utopia of equality-of-outcome. The high priests of this faith — the social justice warriors — are the ‘saved’ striving to convert the rest of us on the promise of entry to ‘heaven’. This represents a continuation of secularisation: a shift in religiosity from envisaging a ‘god’ as being in man’s image, through the humanist deification of mankind, to worship of a supposed dynamic of teleological social change (Marxism). ‘Identity politics’, in being profoundly not what it pretends to be and so deeply entrenched across the whole and every facet of the establishment in Anglophone nations especially and to a large extent in ‘the West’ generally, can properly be regarded as the greatest political fraud in history.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 9:49 am

‘The Falsity of Identity Politics: Negative Attitude is Towards Males who are Different, in Policing Sexual Access by Gate-Keeping Group Membership’. New Male Studies 8(2), 20-51, 2019.
ABSTRACT: Identity politics (often dubbed political correctness: PC) victim categories (protected characteristics) are shown to be false. Negative attitude is specifically towards males, and evoked by any form of significant difference. Previous findings that misogyny has no scientific basis, with the evidence instead of philogyny and misandry, extend to apply across all victim categories, trumping race or sexual orientation. This is revealed in the predominance of males as hate crime victims, the harsher attitude towards apparently more masculine subsets of sexual minority and race, and experimentally. Supposed homophobia is revealed to be a far wider phenomenon, encompassing all victim categories, manifest culturally in male initiation and scientifically evidenced across fields. It functions to gate-keep male full admission to the group, serving to police male sexual access, maximising reproductive efficiency, not to deal with out-group threat, nor to oppress (least of all females). Identity politics is extreme misrepresentation of social and inter-personal reality.

Carlton Smethwick

24th July 2020 at 9:39 am

‘there is the belief that knowledge is a construct dependent on dominant ways of talking’ Oh the irony. Any street kid with No Levels could tell you this. The rhetoric and language construction used to argue many ‘academic’ points that are common sense to most – ie Stating the bleeding obvious and shooting oneself in the foot at the same time

Jonathan Palmer

24th July 2020 at 9:25 am

It is most frightening for liberals to be accused of being racist or sexist or homophobic.

Where have you been? People who are “tribal” rather than racist, basically tolerant, conservative with a small c, have had a negligible voice and when they try to use us are called racist or sexist or homophobic.
Their concerns have been brushed aside since the 60s when they questioned what immigration meant for the host community, and what multiculturalism, sexual and social innovation meant.
And now they’ve come for dear old JK.
Of course we have to speak up for her but where was she when they came for us?

Steve Roberts

24th July 2020 at 9:25 am

Pluckrose appears to seriously underestimate the level of aquiescence, support, propogation and imposition of ideas and actions around wokeness among the established order and the political and capitalist class.Indeed without this depth of support and force of the state in most areas of our lives the wokeness brigade would remain what they are in relation to the vast majority of ordinary folk, a relatively small but generationally growing band of activists that has little resonance among the public .
She does touch on one point regarding a long tradition of liberalism or what would be more accurately described as a moderate social conservatism that dominates political and social life, it has left political life without the values, meanings, ideas and tools to challenge the leftists and the established order who are increasingly a homogenous social force.
Much of that social conservatism has resulted, over generations, in an acceptance that we live in a free, democratic society of eatablished norms and values that the demos has influence in changing periodically, at least in a political sense with universal suffrage and an apparent political “choice”
Recent times have blown these myths apart, all the mainstream parties are fully behind the wokeness while still appearing to be socially conservative and acceptable to the electorate on most other issues, so we have much of the wider demos treating the social justice warriors and the nannying state frankly as a joke, and yet having it imposed upon us although it in no way resonates with our lives.
And yet the mainstream parties remain unchallenged, as does the established order, wokeness and big business because when it comes to the opportunity for potential societal change through politics the demos are left with no choice at all except the lesser evil.
And this is the point, it is not only as Pluckrose says that people do not have the tools to make a challenge or are fearful necessarily but that there is nowhere for the anger and demands to stop all this nonsense to express itself in any meaningful way.
So we are left with the merry go round of disgruntlement, wokeness becoming ever more arrogant and brazenly demanding , the established order content and more to maintain the status quo appeasing the justice warriors etc and no opposition.
And here is the other problem, while many are opposed to the wokeness it remains often at the level of at best been anti PC, many wishing for the most ridiculous aspects to be got rid of and a return to the more established ” reasonable established social conservatism” but it is that social conservatism and its own failure to provide meanings and values for a radical transformation in all aspects of scoiety that is very much problematic itself.
It can be seen in many commentators on Spiked and society more generally, they lavishly pronounce their anti PC credentials and rightly ridicule wokeness and yet they remain themselves socially conservative on most other issues, that too is a very large problem if society is to progress from where it is.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 5:32 pm

It is ideological bilge to suppose that societies must always “progress”. That’s the false historicism you get from Marxism, which in turn is a residue of the Christian notion of moving towards ‘the promised land’. There is no inherent problem in ‘social conservatism’. Conservatism is a pejorative word for realism, which is the necessary approach to reconcile the different motivations that are at play in individuals never mind between different groups.

Steve Roberts

24th July 2020 at 7:21 pm

Full marks for your comedic diatribe Moxon, Marxism as a residue of christian notions…. brilliant .And full marks for your self revelation” .. no inherent problem with social conservatism” of course for you as the biological determinist you are is the importance of the “inherent” yet now you are now more exposed as an apologist, a presentist of the status quo , no, a defender of it that apparently just needs a little tweeking or reconciliation as you put it. You are very clearly very much a part of the problem of the stasis and regressive tendencies of society while at the same time posturing as something else. One more obstacle to overcome.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 8:04 pm

Roberts yet again embarrassing himself knee-jerking the daft ‘determinism’ jibe, not having the vaguest clue what it is or what context in which it might even begin to be apposite, ‘projecting’ his arrogant indeed posturing elitism in thinnest pretence its egalitarianism(!), and generally displaying his moronic ideology as if its something to be proud of instead of the shame anyone with intelligence and knowledge of history, politics, science would feel.
What a zero.

Dodgy Geezer

24th July 2020 at 9:19 am

An interesting article, which I must read closely. But I have one initial comment.

WHY did this strange non-intuitive philosophical theory get such a hold on society? After all, there have been many other strange concepts aired. Solipsism, for instance. How come the requirement to doubt everything never entered social consciousness, while intersectionality did?

Kevin Turner

24th July 2020 at 3:43 pm

Maybe because solipsism cannot be used as a battering ram for social revolution.

June Ray

24th July 2020 at 7:35 am

Yeah whatever.

I live opposite a hair dressers. I assume the woman who runs the shop is quite nice. Maybe she’s a bit “woke”. Maybe she refuses to stock certain brands of shampoo or she refuses to vote for certain types of people. Maybe she refuses to watch certain things or she never dated a certain type of man.

What the f. does the author of this article want me to do about it?

The author of this article should ask herself: “if my mum is more woke than me and my dad, what exactly can the anonymous readers of Spiked do about it? ‘

All this chat from the anti-woke. You’re like people telling us that the coffee shops of Europe charge too much for cookies – what do you expect your readers to do about it? If there’s a coffee shop in Berlin that charges 9 quid for a cookie, what the f. do you want me to do about it?

Bastard Man

24th July 2020 at 12:21 am

Yeah congrats, welcome to the 2000s when we noticed.

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Deplorables — a spiked film