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

Front Cover
Pitchstone Publishing (US&CA), May 5, 2020 - Education - 352 pages

Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly Bestseller!

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 the very logic of Western society?

In this probing and intrepid volume, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay document the evolution of the dogma that informs these ideas, from its coarse origins in French postmodernism to its refinement within activist academic fields. Today this dogma is recognizable as much by its effects, such as cancel culture and social-media dogpiles, as by its tenets, which are all too often embraced as axiomatic in mainstream media: knowledge is a social construct; science and reason are tools of oppression; all human interactions are sites of oppressive power play; and language is dangerous. As Pluckrose and Lindsay warn, the unchecked proliferation of these anti-Enlightenment beliefs present a threat not only to liberal democracy but also to modernity itself.

While acknowledging the need to challenge the complacency of those who think a just society has been fully achieved, Pluckrose and Lindsay break down how this often-radical activist scholarship does far more harm than good, not least to those marginalized communities it claims to champion. They also detail its alarmingly inconsistent and illiberal ethics. Only through a proper understanding of the evolution of these ideas, they conclude, can those who value science, reason, and consistently liberal ethics successfully challenge this harmful and authoritarian orthodoxy—in the academy, in culture, and beyond.


What people are saying - Write a review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

I'm not really for either sides in this book. The things it's arguing against is wrong, however it gives a very poor argument against it. It claimed to be against "SJW culture" due to it being a threat to "Englightment" and "liberal democracy" and "modernity" which is completely absurd, SJWism is literally what Englightment/Liberal Democracies/modernity is. It's just a higher form of it.
They are just arguing that their form of liberalism is better than another form of liberalism. Both are products of liberal modernity. This book is the equivalent of an LGBT activist that only supports lesbians, but hates gay men, and thus dislikes LGBT activists that support both.
They are literally just promoting a lite version of the very thing they are arguing against.
Daniel Haqiqatjou makes a much better argument in a 10 minute video than this 300 page book.

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - aethercowboy - LibraryThing

Required reading for any college-age student (and beyond). Read full review


1 PostmodernISMA Revolution in Knowledge and Power
2 Postmodernisms Applied TurnMaking Oppression Real
3 Postcolonial TheoryDeconstructing the West to Save the Other
4 Queer TheoryFreedom from the Normal
5 Critical Race Theory and IntersectionalityEnding Racism by Seeing It Everywhere
6 Feminisms and Gender StudiesSimplification as Sophistication
8 Social Justice Scholarship and ThoughtThe Truth According to Social Justice
9 Social Justice in ActionTheory Always Looks Good on Paper
10 An Alternative to the Ideology of Social JusticeLiberalism Without Identity Politics
Select Bibliography
About The Authors

7 Disability and Fat StudiesSupportGroup Identity Theory

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2020)

Helen Pluckrose is a liberal political and cultural writer and speaker. She is the editor of Areo Magazine. James A. Lindsay's essays have appeared in TIME, Scientific American, and The Philosophers' Magazine, and his books include How to Have Impossible Conversations.

Bibliographic information