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Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  2,793 ratings  ·  581 reviews
Have you heard that language is violence and that science is sexist? Have you read that certain people shouldn’t practice yoga or cook Chinese food? Or been told that being obese is healthy, that there is no such thing as biological sex, or that only white people can be racist? Are you confused by these ideas, and do you wonder how they have managed so quickly to challenge ...more
Hardcover, 348 pages
Published June 16th 2020 by Pitchstone Publishing (first published May 5th 2020)
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Madly Jane I have an early copy and have already read it though I have not rated it. I am reading it again soon with notes. This is really a well researched book…moreI have an early copy and have already read it though I have not rated it. I am reading it again soon with notes. This is really a well researched book and very thought provoking. I see many more books coming down the pipeline with similar themes. It deserves ALL the stars.(less)
Philip of Macedon You would have to ask the people who are reading those books, as there’s no relationship between this book and what you’re describing. This isn’t a qu…moreYou would have to ask the people who are reading those books, as there’s no relationship between this book and what you’re describing. This isn’t a question about the book. It’s like if I posted a question on the page for Moby-Dick: “Why are the people who read and like this book also reading and liking books about hiking?”(less)

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Start your review of Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody
Plamen Nenchev
Sep 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
It does not matter if you lean left or right, liberal or conservative. If you are any sort of a reasonable person, this book that is absolutely vital to understanding the madness and social conflict of the last couple of years. It is really quite simple:

We are facing an entirely different outlook on life. The question is no longer if someone actually engages in sexism, racism, white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, etc. in a specific situation, somewhere. Sexism, racism, white supremacy, homo
Sep 25, 2020 rated it did not like it
A book that willfully misreads and badly misrepresents both the history and overall direction of critical theory, all to make that tired old argument that postmodernism demolished that great and noble edifice of liberal humanism, and that progressive social justice movements have gone "too far." A lot of white people who feel like they are now being policed by "cancel culture" apparently respond strongly to this thesis, for obvious reasons. If they would read some actual works of critical theory ...more
Oct 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: governance
Now to the left; to the liberal arena, to the Democratic party, and to the current hybrid faction from which it is under assault.

If you have, in your travels, chanced to hear terms like Privilege, Patriarchy, Intersectionality, the Cancel Culture, Identity Politics; if you have struggled to navigate the waters of a hyper-vigilant political correctness, been charged with fragility, shame, rage, living in denial and/or maintaining the oppressor's status quo, then you have encountered the influence
Someursault The Jumping Stranger
If you think this is a well-researched book on whatever might be called postmodernism, I encourage you to read some of its sources and work out for yourself what they imply. This book is, unfortunately but not unexpectedly, an exercise in strawman building.

In their frankly weird attempt to define postmodernism, they provide this nugget:

"[postmodern thinkers] rejected the underlying modernist desire for authenticity, unifying narratives, universalism, and progress, achieved primarily through scie
Oct 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
First off, I never wanted to know any of this. However, I was noticing an increased stream of vocabulary I was hearing and found myself using. These terms included White Privilege, Systemic Racism, and Gender as a Spectrum. As a lifelong liberal, I found myself reflexively nodding with these claims, not questioning the verbiage being used. After the tragic events in Minneapolis and Louisville with the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, like many, I felt there was something fundamentally ...more
Sep 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is the Rosetta Stone of woke. If you ever wondered why the New York Times prints the words “whiteness” or refers to “systemic racism” in every other story, Pluckrose and Lindsay explain the origins of these terms and many others. They decipher the jargon and bring clarity to the obtuse prose of Critical Theory, but be prepared it's depressing as hell. The mind virus of Critical Theory has festered and multiplied in the Anglosphere Academy for over 50 years, it has indoctrinated two gen ...more
Sep 20, 2020 rated it liked it
A good subtitle for this book might have been Why Trump Got Elected. I'm not joking. I'm from Ohio, one of those key battleground swing states in presidential elections and have had many conversations on my trips home over the past four years. These conversations aren't about the economy or political platforms; they're about how "Everyone's a racist now and people are being fired for things they said 35 years ago and no one can say anything anymore without fear of the social justice mob coming a ...more
Josh K
Aug 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The book provides a good overview of the roots of activist scholarship and the contemporary culture of social justice derived from it. Should be read alongside of Rauch's Kindly Inquisitors and Sokal & Bricmont's Fashionable Nonsense and as an antidote to DiAngelo's White Fragility. ...more
Alexander Vishnyakov
Aug 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thoughtful deconstruction of the Deconstructors themselves. Brilliant and eye-opening.
Katie Beswick
Oct 26, 2020 rated it it was ok
I think there is a decent book to be written about how certain ideas that have a lineage in postmodern theory are (mis)understood and applied by those who seek to paint the world in terms of a competition in oppression. However, to lay a culture war fought by a hugely divided, though actually very small, online faction of the population at the feet of 'critical theory' is a bit ridiculous. As this book itself states, critical or 'postmodern' theory is not a monolith — different theorists write w ...more
Harald Groven
Traces the emergence of radical left postmodern ideology the past 50 years, and explains how this ideology hurts the social justice cause the activists are supposed to help.

— "Critical race Theory’s hallmark paranoid mind-set, which assumes racism is everywhere, always, just waiting to be found, is extremely unlikely to be helpful or healthy for those who adopt it. Always believing that one will be or is being discriminated against, and trying to find out how, is unlikely to improve the outcome
Brice Karickhoff
Nov 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
I really can’t praise this book enough. It is a must read for anyone interested in progression toward a more just society. I disagreed with this book at times, but overall, it was immensely helpful.

I have long believed that there is a crucial difference in the ways that one might approach social justice. For instance, with respect to racial justice, I’ve read countless books by and about the civil rights leaders, and I’ve read mostly all of the popular racial justice books of today. While they
Aug 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Incredibly pertinent and well-researched.
Brian Griffith
I had a feeling this book would make me think harder, and it did. Pluckrose and Lindsay claim that too many activists against racism, sexism, and other kinds of bigotry have grown dogmatic to a point that hurts their causes. I thought the authors were just going to argue for better tactics. But actually, they claim that social justice scholarship and activism has shifted ideologically to the point of rejecting liberal values and scientific standards of research. I felt the claim was exaggerated, ...more
Apr 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As someone who is excited by and grateful for Faulcault's creative thinking and unique mind, I must admit that this book serves his legacy well. It is systematic, well-written,and it is revealing how applied postmodern thought is making its way out of academia and into the world. At the same time, the book shows the divergence from Foucault's thinking, as well as his strong influences.

The authors dissect new trends in public discourse and believe that the problem emanating from the left is a dep
Sep 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, philosophy
The “cynical theories” targeted in this book include PostColonial Theory, Queer Theory, Critical Race Theory and Intersectionalism, Disability and Fat studies, various Feminisms and Gender Studies. They all have roots in liberation struggles and civil rights struggles going back generations, but in every case the new theories bring a methodology and an attitude that derives from and employs characteristics of Postmodernism. What emerges from this seemingly very academic and abstract perspective ...more
Aug 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wherein “postmodern” becomes a bad word, and Foucault a maleficent patron saint of latter-day cancel culture. Thanks, Foucault.
Thoroughly and persistently academic; rightly so, perhaps. But the last three chapters do achieve a sort of bravura sweep to them.
This book is for those who read/tried to read White Fragility (I’m of the latter category) but chafed at the wool being pulled over one’s eyes...
But in the interest of positivity— I believe this book will help readers advance into a m
Thomas Achord
Oct 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Well written. Readable. For the untrained in theory. Read this when people tell you to “educate yourself” in woke studies.

Their thesis: cynical theories are born from postmodernism and militate against liberalism.

Their solution: a return to liberal order, the individual before the community, rational dialogue toward truth, ideas before identity, principle before people, tolerance before belonging.

The liberal has become the conservative.

My take: critical theories undo the liberal conception of
Jan 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
👍 An instant classic, detailed, meticulous and highly readable.
We're discussing it at the LondonIDW as soon as we can.
Wick Welker
An overstated polemic against the liberal intelligentsia.

I enjoyed Cynical Theories much more than I thought I would. I had a healthy dose of skepticism coming in and, as it turns out, that’s kind of the author’s point. I really did get a lot out of this book but I believe I have legitimate reasons to give this book 2 stars and not offer my full support of the author’s arguments.

First, I genuinely have some positive things to say about this book which I will eventually get to. In about the first
Sep 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
A true reference work for matters of social justice. It is dense and weighty, with many references and quotes from primary source authors. Maybe it’s greatest contribution is explaining the argot of these theories. Words like research justice, problematize, and discourses. Not an easy read but an excellent resource. For a short introduction to the topic and the author, listen to this conversation on Thinking In Public: ...more
Sep 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender and Identity – and Why This Harms Everybody (2020) by Helen Pluckrose and James A Lindsay is a thoroughly researched explanation of how various critical identity theories came into being and the problems they cause. For anyone who has wondered how a radical feminist like Germaine Greer could be banned from speaking at University and similar events this book provides an explanation.

Pluckrose is a Biden supporting left w
Jonathan Tomes
Oct 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is probably my top read for 2020.
Mark Alexis
Sep 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is a boring platitude that history has produced its share of intellectual folly. Jean Jacques Rousseau, for example, believed that humans are born a "blank slate" and only corrupted as they grow up in modern society, an assertion he could have known to be insane merely by paying a few hours of attention to the handful of children he fathered and sent off to the orphanage right after their birth. Karl Marx falls neatly into the same category: Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he spent mos ...more
Mike Fendrich
Oct 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Probably closer to 4.5 but what can you do.

Cynical Theories is a book well worth reading. What began in 1960’s as a radically new conception of the world known as postmodern theory headed by French philosophers Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Jean-Francois Lyotard has morphed into an activist worldview under the rubric known as Critical Theory in its many forms. Critical Theory has taken over academia and is spilling over into the general public with a flood of publically accessible (sort o
Mar 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The five stars doesn't mean no flaws or complete agreement. It's the incredible vocabulary and organization that make this a superb read. The writing style is heady. You can tell these are academics, not journalists. But it's worth it. Stick with them. The last chapter ends with solid claims and contrasts between classical liberalism and postmodern intersectionality, which is really useful for discussion.

This is one of the few books I've found that can coherently explain what postmodernism is (a
José Antonio Lopez
Anyone who is in shock by the current political events should read Cynical Theories. The honest concern for social justice has morphed into a freaking monstrosity called Social Justice (with CAPS) by Pluckrose. This is a textbook example of what Ayn Rand called "anti-concepts". The third generation of post-modernism today Social Justice Theories are self-destructive and enemies of any kind of progress.

Pluckrose offers a historic summary back to Foucault, Derrida and other postmodernists, the as
Joseph Stieb
Sep 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
A thorough and highly readable rejoinder to all forms of critical and postmodern scholarship by 2 of the authors of the recent "social justice hoax," in which they submitted ludicrous papers to critical theory papers as a way of proving the shoddiness of this kind of scholarship (they got 6 accepted, through peer review, before being exposed). This book is sort of their follow-up project on the roots of and problems with postmodernism, critical race theory, intersectional feminism, queer theory, ...more
Mayim de Vries
Jan 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
All the stars. A must-read.
Feb 07, 2021 rated it did not like it
''But Theory is a metanarrative, and metanarratives are, in fact, unreliable. The postmodernists got that right. What they got disastrously wrong was mistaking effective and adaptive systems for metanarratives. Religions and many theoretical constructions are metanarratives, but liberalism and science are not.''

I thought Cynical Theories was going to be an easy read.

I've found myself broadly agreeing, in the past, with classical liberals, such as Douglas Murray and Jordan Peterson, on many key
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