Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Yes, Liberals, Critical Theory Applies to Your Ideas Too

Conservatives are chuckling about a worried New York Times article about how Trump is stealing the left's cookies on critical theory.

After all, if there is no absolute truth, as the left insists, then it's OK for Trump to lie his head off!

They quote lefty writer Bruno Latour:
Latour observed that conservatives had begun using methods similar to those of critical theory to muddy debates around issues, like climate change, that required immediate and decisive action. 
Oh really, Bruno. But what is your warrant for assuming that "climate change... required immediate and decisive action"? After all, might not the whole climate change issue be a pure case of power and privilege forcing its narrative on an innocent and marginalized American middle class which is not allowed to have an opinion on the matter?

Could we not say that "climate change" is a dominatory plan by the liberal privileged elite to force the ordinary middle class to live a more modest life style so that the liberal elite could feel good about themselves?

As the NYT's Casey Stone says, going back to dear old Kant:
 The bedrock claim of critical philosophy, going back to Kant, is simple: We can never have certain knowledge about the world in its entirety. Claiming to know the truth is therefore a kind of assertion of power.
Exactly. So when anyone, whether a church divine or an environmental activist, makes a statement that assumes that we can know that heretics are Satanic or climate change is catastrophic, we go back to Kant, who said that we cannot know things-in-themselves but only appearances.

So critical theory is not supposed to be a weapon to demolish people you don't like for advancing stuff they believe in. It is supposed to be something you apply equally to yourself, to your ideas, and your science.

It is supposed to be used to say: well, my theory looks like the best thing since sliced bread, but it is, after all, just a theory, because I cannot know things-in-themselves.

Now the original application of critical theory, starting with Marx, was to critique the political and economic ideas of the bourgeoisie which, the Marxians felt, merely reflected the class interests of the bourgeoisie, and confirmed the bourgeoisie in its prejudices.

Then along came the Frankfurt School that proposed that the bourgeois ideas were in fact not just classist, and oppressing the working class, but sexist and racist as well, and oppressed non-white races and women and gays as well as the working class.

Good point, Frankfurters, and we will take that under advisement. Actually, we did and now we have a whole bushel-load of civil rights laws that are supposed to lift women and minorities out of past ages of oppression and marginalization.

Only thing is, that the various lefties and critical thinkers don't seem to do much critical thinking about their own ideas.

For, instance, I've read a Marxist tome or two. What I do not encounter is any understanding that Marx's theory, that built upon the dichotomy in classical economics between use value and exchange value, has been utterly exploded by the marginal revolution of 1870.

Nor is there any notion that the critique of sexism and racism, which had a point when formulated by the Frankfurters in the 1920s to 1940s, and gussied up by Herbert Marcuse in the 1950s, has been answered. We now have tons of laws to mitigate and indeed reverse the marginalization of women and minorities that obtained before 1965.

But the left has not rested on its laurels; it has redoubled its efforts to winkle out oppression and marginalization.

Well, of course it has. The left is all about power, not about justice. And the left never gives its opponents the benefit of the doubt, or allows that the opponents are simply wrong rather than evil.

But how can they know? If Kant was right then we "can never have certain knowledge about the world in its entirety. Claiming to know the truth is therefore a kind of assertion of power."

Claiming to know the truth about oppression and marginalization is therefore a kind of "assertion of power."

Which brings me back to my basic belief, which I do not claim to be certain, but I certainly believe to be useful and sensible.

The lesson of the last 200 years is that the left's program is all about power. And that is all. But the bourgeoisie, the white males, the corporate CEOs, the targets of lefty wrath, are not that interested in power.

The warrant for this is the actual record of middle class people and their observed behavior over the last 200 years. When the left demanded justice for the workers, the middle class responded with government programs. And the corporate chieftains usually retired from business at some point and devoted their declining years to philanthropy, or even building rockets to go to Mars!

But for lefty politicians and activists it is all about the game, all about the next program or the next protest.

But you gotta say, the lefties had themselves a helluva ride for the last 200 years.

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