Imagine you’re in the checkout line at the supermarket. You come across a tabloid magazine that promises a sexual secret that will revitalize your marriage. Do you buy it? Do you hold up the line just to skip forward through the ads and find the buried lede? Are you really beating your wife?
These are the sort of questions I think people should be asking themselves about this revolutionary thing called Critical Race Theory. Why do we need to know it? Why now? Is MLK spinning in his grave saying, “Damn if I only had Critical Race Theory before I got shot in Memphis…” Well, I suppose you can deduce my attitude about CRT, which is something between embarrassed shame and snide contempt. My heart goes out to the people who actually look to National Enquirer for marriage counseling via sexual positions. My impatience with those who fleece such suckers makes me belch. We stoics aim to remain unperturbed by the existence of carnies.
Yes But It’s a Free Country
The thing is, no matter how polluted CRT may or may not be, its instruction via corporate certification, blatant indoctrination or koolaid distribution does not constitute anything more than thoughtcrime. We are not policing that. Those of us who defend heterodox rationality must contingently approve of the koolaid distribution. Those of us who defend wisdom, on the other hand, are obligated to lambast foolishness in sheep’s clothing.
From where I stand, I appreciate the approach of Helen Pluckrose’s defense of heterodoxy. But I don’t think she’s in the tribe of Wisdom Warriors. It’s one thing to ingenuously expose what might be fraudulent to the sunlight. It’s something else if you’re already living in a world where the sun has been eclipsed by the fog produced by a confederacy of dunces. Without declaring any tribal partisanship I think it is self-evident that we are not engaged in a free-market of ideas. Our public debates and expression are gated. Millions of us use terms like ‘Overton Window’ and ‘Dunning-Kruger’. Millions of us know what morning shows are. Since I am not a zillionaire and I don’t know how to get tapped into a fraternity impregnable to the foolishness produced and consumed by the demographic-load, I have to rely on my own wit and gut. I have to live within the constraints of the free-enough-market and wise-enough peasantry which is the realm of the common man. So what if I’m affluent? I was told I could keep my doctor. I lost my doctor. I’m still paying for that.
I can see the good intentions on the paved road I’ve been challenged to trod, but I’m not going there. Race is not real. White supremacy does not rule the world. Nothing about white supremacy comes close to being as pervasive and deadly as is axiomatically necessary in my book for me to uproot my behavior much less the institutions of America. I am severely skeptical of all theories about race and especially one that was born yesterday. Yet we see people are eager to teach it to school aged children. That deserves the side eye just on the merits of koolaid distribution. I’d sooner see classes in theology taught in public school if I could be convinced of the competence its instructors.
Warning: Unsubstantiated Blather
In most matters of domestic affairs I never listen to popular sources. I listen to my friends, and my friends are pretty smart. I also listen to average Joes ask average questions. So I pick and choose what to pay attention to at what depth. All of my friends, almost without exception find Critical Race Theory a creepy racist threat and a menace. So I’m really not tempted to buy the book, just like I didn’t buy White Fragility and I didn’t find anything Kendi had to say worth a second listen. So here goes:
CRT has several massive gaping flaws. The first is that it is categorical. If offers no escape from its racial dimensions. The second is that from this inescapable racial essentialism is that the operation of racism is given primacy for the most important grievances of its protected racial classes. Thirdly its legalistic specific to American jurisprudence with vague application to any international definitions or 'constructions' of race.
It's the dodgiest. How can one consider anything to be world historical that doesn't result in actual war and mass rebellion? That makes it the strangest kind of top-down politics with the strangest remedies. It attempts to whip up sentiment and activism as a moral equivalent of war that necessitates bringing hundreds of years of 'oppression' into its context. Yet those hundreds of years have failed to motivate the 'oppressed' into any sort of simply understandable human breaking point. As ugly as the Culture Wars and the riots of the past 6 years have gotten, they don’t kill a fraction as many humans as suicide. It hasn’t caused massive shifts in political parties or even generated a new party.
If you aim to teach a prophylaxis against white supremacy, you can teach about the Holocaust. Do people not do that? In the terms of what it was, a part of the morally bankrupt ideologies that were the product of a political agenda of a nation that literally overran Europe unchallenged for three years in a war of conquest. If white supremacy was the primary ideological driving force of Nazism, how did it differentiate whites? What made Albanians something other than white? What made Poles something other than white? Does CRT make the same distinctions between so-called whites here in America? I say this white supremacy that supposedly permeates our legal institutions is an overreaching aggregation into 'white' that only seeks to create a white caste through its own racial projection.
CRT's activist racial projections create defensive racial affinities that didn't exist 3 years ago, yet it pretends that this thick conspiracy of race goes back beyond the founding of the Union. It's preposterous. It’s not about white supremacy, it’s about whitish offensiveness and bad smells which is why its prescriptions are about whitish obsequiousness and fragrant language, and it is directed squarely at the sort of bourgeois busters who use ‘mind blown’ emojis.
Taking a Breath
Nevertheless, I’m learning a new level of meta-critical thought aided by Karl Popper that’s refining my ideas about culture and hardball integration of ‘incommensurable frameworks’. So in by best imitation of Popper I say this. If CRT is indeed a theory and not an incommensurable framework, then it is subject to criticism and this criticism, if taken from diverse credible sources, will of necessity find its strengths and weaknesses. But if the CRT has assumptions or principles that cannot be negotiated, then very little can be done to improve it. So whether or not I’m any good at steelmanning Delgado and Stefanic, somebody in my circle of friends will inevitably point me to someone who has actually read the book. But here’s what I know, and Popper makes such things rivetingly clear.
The myth of the framework is clearly the same as the doctrine that one cannot rationally discuss anything that is fundamental, or that a rational discussion of principles is impossible.
This doctrine is, logically, an outcome of the mistaken view that all rational discussion must start from some principles or, as they are often called, axioms, which in their turn must be accepted dogmatically if we wish to avoid an infinite regress – a regress due to the alleged fact that when rationally discussing the validity of our principles or axioms we must again appeal to principles or axioms.
Usually those who have seen this situation either insist dogmatically upon the truth of a framework of principles or axioms, or they become relativists: they say that there are different frameworks and that there is no rational discussion between them, and thus no rational choice.
But all this is mistaken. For behind it there is the tacit assumption that a rational discussion must have the character of a justification, or of a proof, or of a demonstration, or of a logical derivation from admitted premises. But the kind of discussion which is going on in the natural sciences might have taught our philosophers that there is also another kind of rational discussion: a critical discussion, which does not seek to prove or to justify or to establish a theory, least of all by deriving it from some higher premises, but which tries to test the theory under discussion by finding out whether its logical consequences are all acceptable, or whether it has, perhaps, some undesirable consequences.
We thus can logically distinguish between a mistaken method of criticizing and a correct method of criticizing. The mistaken method starts from the question: How can we establish or justify our thesis or our theory? It thereby leads either to dogmatism, or to an infinite regress, or to the relativistic doctrine of rationally incommensurable frameworks. By contrast, the correct method of critical discussion starts from the question: What are the consequences of our thesis or our theory? Are they all acceptable to us?
Popper, Karl. The Myth of the Framework (In Defence of Science and Rationality) (pp. 59-60). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
There is a rational choice between CRT and other tactics of fighting racism. I think it is self-evident that CRT which posits itself against American jurisprudence has a massive burden of proof that even 2,000 black deaths by bad cops could not unseat. I think it is also self-evident that pushing this agenda onto elementary schools is an extraordinarily bold and wasteful tactic. Children are not the enemy and don’t need to be fed fragrant language. They need to understand the rationality of the scientific method and the value of handling the contingencies of conjecture in fruitful discourse. You know, sorta like here. As I said before, casting nominally white Americans as essentially evil, wicked, mean and nasty is a racial stereotype that does not win in a democracy or a moral universe. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants those two things.
Over time I will come up with better criticism of CRT, which if its name is to be believed, its supporters should welcome. We could all use more critical thinking. Yet I think Popper has already won the debate. Let’s see if CRT supporters are they’re up to the challenge of arguing with adults rather than hijacking public school curricula.