Part 2 – the Bad:
– With respect to this volume, saying that critical theory emphasizes ‘experience’ over ‘argument’ is a vast understatement. In general, these essays did not offer arguments for or against certain beliefs. Instead, they told stories. The stories were clearly meant to evoke certain feelings and sympathies but they were not meant to offer a rational account of why certain positions are true or false. This is consistent with the editors’ claim that “The idea that objectivity is best reached only through rational thought is a specifically Western and masculine way of thinking” (p. 5). The fact that larger and larger segments of our culture are abandoning reason in favor of bare emotion is alarming.
– For all the demographic diversity of the authors, the book spoke univocally on almost every subject it treated. This dynamic is extremely unhealthy. It’s easy to weave a convincing narrative if you’re allowed to choose which facts you present and if you don’t have to interact with any other perspectives. One particularly egregious example was the authors’ praise of Marxism. Not ‘democratic socialism,’ or ‘strong social welfare programs,’ but capital-M Marxism, as in “seizing the means of production from the capitalist oppressors.” Marxism is portrayed as the solution not only to poverty and class struggle, but to sexism, and racism (“so long as we retain a capitalist system, we will not be able to eliminate racial oppression… I am not suggesting that its elimination would be easily achieved within socialism, but it is impossible under capitalism.” Bonacich, p. 103). Anyone making these kinds of claims must grapple with the tens of millions of people who have been killed under Marxist regimes or the poverty to which it reduced nearly every nation that adopted it. This is only one example of why readers should be very careful not to adopt the authors’ conclusions (or, what’s more common, their unstated assumptions) without critical reflection.
– This concern applies not just to data, but to personal experiences as well. Yes, we should affirm that people have had certain personal experiences and we can try to sympathize with those experiences. But we can do so without extrapolating directly from particular experiences to broad or normative generalizations about reality. The reason is obvious: one person’s experiences can contradict another person’s experiences. Whose experiences can then be trusted to give us the correct picture of reality? What happens when someone else insists that their experiences are entirely unlike our own? Do we silence the other person? Do we shout them down? Like everything else, experiences must be subjected to criticism and scrutiny.
– Even undisputed facts require interpretation and context, without which it can be difficult and and even irresponsible to draw conclusions. For example, there are approximately 10 million illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S. If the violent crime rate for illegal immigrants is only 1/10th of what it is for U.S. citizens, that would still mean that approximately 10 violent crimes are committed by illegal immigrants every day. If I wanted to, I could flood my social media feed (or fill a textbook) every day with completely factual stories of crimes committed by illegal immigrants and tragic stories told by their victims. This is why context and careful analysis is so crucial. Without them, facts can be misleading and even dangerous.
So far, I’ve focused on problems with this work which were not tied to critical theory. Any author could make these kinds of mistakes, whether secular, religious, liberal or conservative. However, in the next section, I’ll focus on problems specific to critical theory. In fact, this project may take two more sections. Or three. That’s how serious I think the problems of critical theory are and how deep they run.
Last: Part 1 – The Good
Next: Part 3 – The Ugly
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