94—Understanding Postmodern “Social Justice”—Darel Paul
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The alarmists were right: ideas that were only a few years ago complacently dismissed as the perennial agitation of a few campus loonies are now pervasive in the corporate world, mass media and pop culture.
Critical race theory, transgender ideology, the obsessive search for oppressive power relations in every aspect of life and every feature of language, the demand for all to be activists, shutting down of dissenting speech as violence: common sense or the gift of a solid Catholic formation will suffice for most who reject these ideologies.
But some will want a more rigorous critique or a deeper understanding of the philosophical roots of radical leftist activism. To that end, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay have written Cynical Theories, a very helpful primer on the development of modern activism from 1960s postmodernist philosophy.
In this episode, Thomas and political philosopher Darel Paul discuss the book, which tracks how postcolonial theory, queer theory, women’s/gender studies, critical race theory, and other activist fields have instantiated or adapted the following central principles and themes of postmodernism:
- Radical skepticism about the ability to know anything, cultural constructivism
- Society is formed of systems of power and hierarchies which decide what and how things can be known
Postmodern themes: The blurring of boundaries, the power of language, cultural relativism, loss of the individual and the universal
The episode concludes with a critique of Pluckrose and Lindsay’s prescription of a return to Enlightenment liberalism as a corrective to postmodernism.
[1:41] Reasons for discussing Cynical Theories
[4:36] Evidence of postmodernist activist movements reaching the mainstream
[10:58] What the book contributes to the discourse on woke ideology
[16:00] Similarities and differences between postmodernism and Marxism
[28:45] The core postmodern principles and themes
[44:54] Policing speech as a tool of power rather than a rational means of communicating truth
[52:46] The proliferation of postmodern principles into a number of activist fields
[55:00] Defining one’s identity in terms of suffering and oppression
[1:00:33] Tension between postmodern rejection of categories and the need to have categories to critique power relations; the emergence of queer theory; deliberate incoherence as liberation
[1:07:10] Conundrum for LGBTQ activists: gain “normal” status or destroy idea of normality?
[1:13:18] Gender theory vs. critical race theory on categories
[1:26:42] Postmodernism as an ideology serving the class interests of academics?
[1:32:36] The postcolonial critique of science; epistemic relativism
[1:36:23] Critique of Pluckrose and Lindsay’s advocacy of a return to Enlightenment liberalism
[1:42:14] Liberalism as an inherently negative and deconstructive philosophy
[1:50:08] Postmodernism as an extension and/or consequence of liberalism
[2:18:00] How to communicate truth to someone who believes language is merely power?
Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories https://www.amazon.com/Cynical-Theories-Scholarship-Everything-Identity_and/dp/1634312023
Darel Paul, “Against Racialism” https://www.firstthings.com/article/2020/10/against-racialism
Darel Paul, “Listening at the Great Awokening” https://areomagazine.com/2019/04/17/listening-at-the-great-awokening/
Darel Paul, “The Global Community Is a Fantasy” https://americanmind.org/salvo/the-global-community-is-a-fantasy/
Darel Paul, From Tolerance to Equality https://www.baylorpress.com/9781481306959/from-tolerance-to-equality/
Ep. 61 on liberalism as an anti-culture with James Matthew Wilson https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/ep-61-liberal-anti-culture-vs-western-vision-soul-pt-i-james-matthew-wilson/
Ep. 18 on the vice of acedia manifested in our refusal to accept our given nature https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/episode-18-acedia-forgotten-capital-sin-rj-snell/
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) film discussion w/ Patrick Coffin https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/its-wonderful-life-1946-w-patrick-coffin/
CCP 59—The Glorious English Carol https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/episode-59-glorious-english-carol/
Theme music: “Franciscan Eyes”, written and performed by Thomas Mirus. Download the Catholic Culture Podcast soundtrack.
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