Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody – Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay

I have a bit of sympathy for James Lindsay, although it isn’t all that much. It happened when Lindsay had ruffled feathers on twitter by insisting that 2+2=4, and people were arguing against him over this. I know a very little bit about the philosophy of math, which is a little bit more than most people, and so I got a chuckle out of some of the pretty silly arguments being thrown at him. However, I have equal amounts of disdain for James Lindsay, stemming from a reaction to a political event that I found to be willfully oblivious.

I have sympathy for Helen Pluckrose, because I have gone on a good 100 words and I haven’t mentioned this books co-author.

There is a lot going on in that first paragraph, but if nothing else you should recognize that at least one of the two authors of this book is a very polarizing figure. It is fitting that controversial figures produce books. Cynical Theories looks at a growing subset of academics that they feel has over the past few decades come to be increasingly corrupt and self-serving. They look at the genesis of this academic field in postmodern philosophy and follow it all the way to the modern day academics working in the field as well as how these ideas have permeated society at large. That, by the way is a point worth revisiting.

I picked this up mistakenly thinking that the book would go in depth into the hoax Pluckrose,  Lindsay, and Boghossian, performed. It does not, and it did not seem like it ever intended to. But neither the book nor the authors should be faulted for that. I am interested in hoax they did, at least partially because I am slightly skeptical of it, as I am skeptical that Sokal really accomplished much before them. I would have liked an objective play by play of what went down, particularly as there are some skeptics as to what happened (particularly in regards to whether those places they published were or were not reputable or pay-to-publish.

Despite this being a blog of book reviews, book reviews are all god damned bullshit anyway. This blog is as much about my own views on things as it is about books objectively. But I do try to throw in my own two cents with a bit of reservations. I have dipped more than just a toe into the waters of postmodernism, and I always have found myself coming out of it confused. On the one hand, there are ideas that came out of that period that have undeniably showed validity (consider Tbeodore Adorno’s idea of the culture industry, demonstrated in action here), while on the same hand a lot of it struck me as either pointless and overwrought (Foucault) or accurate but ultimately pointless (Barthes). I would defend these opinions, but then this would cease to be a short review. I am largely a post-modernist philosophy skeptic, although I think it has its choice cuts every now and again. So when modern socialism puts its roots in with post-modern thought, I am already a skeptic. This book ultimately came off as a whole lot of preaching to the choir. What made me curious is the idea that this is actually impacting society at large. This might be the case, and I am sure anyone can think of two or three book title that would lead people to that conclusion.

However, I can just as easily name as many authors making the opposite argument, without even touching the three from this book. Which makes me feel very torn about the book in question. Even if the point is valid, I am just not seeing the epidemic, and enough people seem to have it covered. Call me confused.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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