To “expose the political corruption that’s taken hold of the university,” James Lindsay, Peter Boghossian, and Helen Pluckrose made headlines in 2018 with a series of hoax papers that were accepted in peer-reviewed journals.
Since then, Lindsay has made it his life’s mission to understand the ideas and theories underpinning what they dubbed “grievance studies.”
Just how are these identity-oriented academic fields rooted in deeply flawed methodologies?
And how has neo-Marxism and what Lindsay recently named “critical social justice” permeated the education system in America?
Lindsay documents his work on his website “New Discourses”, where a constantly updated “Social Justice Encyclopedia” can also be found.
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: James Lindsay, so great to have you on American Thought Leaders.
James Lindsay: Glad to be here.
Mr. Jekielek: You became famous—or infamous, depending on who you ask—for a series of hoax articles, you, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian wrote and submitted to a number of peer-reviewed journals. Some of them got accepted, and they’re outrageous, right?
Mr. Lindsay: Yes, sometimes I like to tell people I got famous for getting the words “canine sex” on the front page of the New York Times. Because one of our papers was about observing dog sex at dog parks, and then trying to divine people’s attitudes about rape culture, homosexuality, identity [politics], and “woke” culture—an “implicit bias test,” as they call it.
The papers made no sense. They were full of logic that doesn’t work, and horrendous recommendations. That paper, for example, recommended that we might solve our problems of rape culture by training men the way we train dogs: leashing them, metaphorically shocking them as like a shock collar. And we had other papers that recommended that privileged white male students would benefit in their educational experiences by sitting on the floor and not having their questions or emails answered by the professors, and wearing chains to experience reparations, as we phrased it. And these papers were treated very favorably by high-level academic journals in feminism, gender studies, ethnic studies, and the likes. And we ended up getting seven of them accepted for publication in a matter of a few months. About ten months total writing and getting them accepted. We had seven more out of the twenty that we wrote that still had a pretty good shot. We could have edited them and sent them back in. We had a resounding level of success at getting absolute horrifying nonsense published within these … identity studies type journals at the highest level of academic excellence, I suppose.
Mr. Jekielek: You dub these disciplines grievance studies?
Mr. Lindsay: Right. It’s very awkward to say feminism; gender studies; ethnic studies; identity studies; critical race theory; and the list goes on—sexuality studies; queer studies. There’s so many of these things, and they’re kind of the same, and kind of not the same. … And so, we came up with the term: Grievance Studies. It turns out, we didn’t know that we hadn’t invented that term. A literary theorist Stefan Collini, actually used the same term for the same idea, unbeknownst to us, in one essay that he had written about a decade or two earlier. But the idea was that these are cultural studies or identity studies type fields, and all they tend to focus on is grievance. So we said, “Well, they’re studying ‘grievance’. They’re studying reasons to be disgruntled or to complain”. And so, we summarized with the term “grievance studies.” which has stuck. I even saw that grievance studies has become a mod in a video game recently.
Mr. Jekielek: Ostensibly, these disciplines are not trying to do something bad, are they? They’re trying to help people, right?
Mr. Lindsay: They think they are.
Mr. Jekielek: So, what’s the issue?
Mr. Lindsay: To say that they lack a rigorous methodology would be to start talking about the problem. The way they approach answering questions about the world is not rigorous. It’s not scientific. In fact, it openly hostile to science most of the time.
Since they reject and are hostile to science, it’s not even that they lack a methodology. It’s that they have an approach that’s exactly backwards for how we should answer important questions. If you think questions about race and racism, or sex and sexism, or homosexuality and homophobia, transphobia, all of these kinds of issues—if you think those are important, it seems to me very clear that getting good information about those, and then trying to shape policy,… it seems like you have to get the good information first with rigorous methods, science, good polling, good surveys, and see what the numbers actually look like. And then we’ll operate based on what the real numbers are telling us. But instead, you see none of that here. You see hostility to that, in fact.
Speaking of police violence, a very careful study that was done by a group of researchers In Texas showed there was no evidence of racial bias in lethal use of force. And the activists descended upon the researchers and said, “Well, this paper shouldn’t be published. It should be unpublished. You should lose your degrees. All of your papers should be unpublished. You shouldn’t be allowed to continue working because you’ve published something that says the opposite of what we believe, and we think that’s a big problem.” So, for me, it gets it exactly backwards. If you want to do activism or advocacy, if you’re interested in these problems—and I hope you do—you have to start by getting the questions right, and the answers to those questions right. You don’t start with the answer you want, and then do it backwards and make sure that your activism leads your scholarship.
Mr. Jekielek: Narratives seem to be guiding a lot of what’s going on in our society right now, and you’re saying that in these fields of study, these narratives come first.
Mr. Lindsay: Right. In fact, that’s how we wrote our fake papers. That’s why we were successful writing these crazy and horrible academic papers, and getting them in, as we knew what conclusions would be publishable. So, we started with the conclusion and then just made it up to get there, and we stole ideas from their literature and twisted things around, and most of the time, things didn’t actually follow one to the next. For example, in the “dog sex” paper, we said that we have to analyze it through black feminist criminology. Just because.
Mr. Jekielek: This is undermining scholarship in the most fundamental way.
Mr. Lindsay: Yes. Not only does it undermine scholarship into those subjects—race, sex, sexuality, gender, and so on—it undermines scholarship overall because when people recognize, as they will, that this stuff looks like B.S., most people aren’t taking the time to say, “Oh well, it’s just these particular disciplines within the humanities that are acting [this way].” No, they will think it’s all scholarship or all science, or especially all social science, which is incorrect. It’s just false. And so, it’s turning the idea of knowledge into just a narrative.
It’s really bad. … I read before about how different totalitarian regimes take over. It isn’t by just propagandizing the people and getting them to all believe, “Oh, the Party is good.” It’s by making it impossible for the average person to know what’s true and what’s not true, and then that’s when you can impose a narrative on people. When they have their own means by which they can check information, and work their way toward something they can agree upon as being true, it’s not as easy to impose a narrative. But when everybody’s confused and nobody knows what’s true, and nobody knows how to tell what information is good or what information is bad, that’s where propaganda can take over.
Mr. Jekielek: This is part of what I’m interested in. Sounds exactly like Communist China. People don’t know what is true. Recently you’ve been looking into how this ideological approach to scholarship is even getting into K-12 education.
Mr. Lindsay: It has gotten deeply into K-12 education. Actually, P-20—pre-school to PhD. The colleges of education have been absolutely taken over by what’s called critical pedagogy. That means applying the idea of critical theory to education. We don’t have to be really deep into what critical theory means, but starting with the conclusion and working backwards that we’ve been speaking about— [this method] falls under the umbrella of critical theory. The colleges of education since the 1980s have been heavily under the sway of this. You have this very famous book called the “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, written by a Brazilian post-communist Paulo Freire, and that book is something like a legendary canon in education. You had guys in the’ 70s like Michael Apple leading into another guy named Henry Giroux who, through the late ’70s and most of the ’80s, essentially ran a one-man operation that remade our entire colleges of education—where we educate our educators.
And so, for at least a few decades now, every teacher who’s gone through teacher training in North America has had to read “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” and had to read the way that Henry Giroux worked in neo-Marxist and postmodern philosophy to make education become less about teaching the student to think, and more about awakening what the neo-Marxist called a critical consciousness. That was in fact Friere’s big contribution—to teach students to see how they are oppressed. That’s the most important thing—to teach them how society is oppressing them, and to want to take up activism against that.
Mr. Jekielek: You call this system “critical social justice,” right?
Mr. Lindsay: There are three big components that are relevant here, which would be social justice, critical [theory], and postmodernism, which in my opinion, falls under social justice. Social justice is this idea that we should try to make society more fair and equal outside the narrow limits of what the law can achieve. The law can only do so much. We don’t want oppressive laws telling us how to think, or how to act, or how to speak. And so, there becomes this gray area outside of what the law could or should dictate, but we still can create a very unfair situation for people. With total freedom of speech, you can be totally racist, for example. You can make discrimination laws that prevent discrimination in the workplace, but you can’t stop people from having bad attitudes toward different people. So, there’s this idea that you have to extend it, and that can be done in any variety of methods.
It arose first in the religious context, as a matter of fact. A Jesuit priest came up with the idea of social justice a couple of centuries ago, in the 1700s, and then it had a huge renaissance around the turn of the 19th to 20th century in the Baptist tradition. It was a very religious concept. Originally, it can be done in a philosophically liberal approach. You’d see that with the philosophers like John Rawls. He had [an idea] called “veil of ignorance”— that if you wanted to design a fair society, you want to come up with the rules as though after you’ve built the system, you have to enter it without knowing who you get to be. So, maybe you want to design a society where people like you have advantages, but you don’t know who you are going to be ahead of time, so you’ll come up with a very fair society. So, he had these interesting ideas. Then there are ways to do it that are not liberal, or in fact, anti-liberal. And the critical method has taken this up and basically hijacked social justice totally.
“Critical” refers to “critical theory”. Critical theory was born in the Frankfurt School, so-called “Institute for Social Research”, in the 1920s and ’30s by communists who realized that the Marxist revolutions weren’t going to occur spontaneously. Georg Lukács, in particular, tried to foist the communist revolution on Hungary, and it failed. And then off he goes to Germany, and with a couple of his collaborators, and creates this institute. And their goal was to try to understand a few things: Why are people resistant to the communist revolution? Why doesn’t it happen? Why do people vote for politicians who are against their interests? In particular, why do they vote for fascists? Why do they fall for propaganda? So, it’s hard to condemn that project just wholesale from its origins. It was very philosophical and intellectual. But what they decided was that philosophically liberal societies—actually brainwash people into not realizing that they are oppressed. And so, you have this concept of “hegemony” that comes in—that’s where ideology rather than powerful interests control how people think. They’re very concerned that there’s a popular culture emerging, and instead of the unwashed masses aspiring to high culture, and high art, and high literature, they wanted to watch football. They’re very concerned about that. They thought that this created all kinds of ways by which the powerful class could assert itself upon everybody and create control without necessarily pulling political levers.
They believe that people think that they’re acting in their own interests, but their interests are actually being controlled by how the elite set society up—what’s good; what’s bad; what’s cool; what’s uncool; what’s acceptable; what’s unacceptable; what are the right ways to talk about things, discourses; what are the wrong ways to talk about things. And so the critical method was born to picket that. It’s to try to help people understand how the system is oppressing them, and that the system itself is the problem. Rather than seeing liberalism as a philosophy built upon self-reflection and incremental progress, they saw it as just another conspiracy by the powerful to keep people down and to prevent them from wanting to become communists.
Mr. Jekielek: So, this is neo-Marxism?
Mr. Lindsay: That is the birth of neo-Marxism. The Marxists have never been particularly fond of the neo-Marxists. And then the postmodern philosophers are the third part in critical social justice, because the way social justice has been taken up—I said there are illiberal ways to do it—critical is one; well, postmodern is another. There are lots of veins of postmodernism, but within social philosophy, it was a movement in French philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris. Names associated would be like Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Jean-Francois Lyotard, who were also disillusioned Marxists. They were big fans of Mao, as a matter of fact, but just disillusioned. So, you had a group of people who were so pessimistic and cynical because, well, liberalism’s bad, capitalism’s bad, all of the systems of the West are bad, all of communism is bad too, so now they have nothing. So, what’s their whole answer to ever ill? Nothing is good; it’s just complete nihilism. And so, they came up with this concept of deconstructing society and trying to just take everything apart, and show everything is absurd and meaningless, and all of those things actually got pressed together into a crucible in the ’90s. And they become what people recognize as the social justice movement, but they don’t realize that it’s critical theory, they don’t recognize how deeply postmodern it is, and so my job now is to try to help people understand those things.
Mr. Jekielek: What about identity politics?
Mr. Lindsay: So, the Frankfurt School had a number of different people; it had different eras. It was actually really intellectual … I wouldn’t call it good, but it was very intellectually oriented in its beginnings in the ’20s and the ’30s. And then World War II happened, and it shifted rather dramatically and became much more activist. And then as time crept to the late ’50s into the ’60s, it’s activist dimension…really took off, and that really follows the thinking of one particular philosopher in the late Frankfurt School, which was Herbert Marcuse. It’s a pretty well-recognized name. Marcuse is famous for having started the so-called “New Left”. The New Left was the activist movement. Mostly it came from his book “A Critique of Pure Tolerance.” The chapter is called “Repressive Tolerance.” In that chapter, he makes the case that if it’s for progress, it shouldn’t be censored. Even if it’s violent, it should be allowed because it’s on the side of what’s righteous. But the political right, more or less, because it supports the status quo, should be censored. In fact, he says it should not just be censored, it should be pre-censored, which I assume has to do with even stamping out the thought, rather than just the speech. And so, you get this idea from him that tolerance means destroying anything that’s intolerant, as they defined it.
And so, this New Left actually are all of your big identity politics movements that erupted in contrast to the civil rights movement. So, in the 1960s, you have what’s called the “Antifa,” anti-fascist movement that was mostly in Europe. It was big. That was the New Left in Europe. We have black liberationism in the United States, so that’s your Malcolm X instead of Martin Luther King. Some of the radical feminist stuff took a lot of inspiration from it. And you had liberation theology in South America particularly, which is a Catholic thing, and that’s probably where Paulo Freire got his ideas to make education be about critical theory. So, the identity politics…is this very exclusionary approach to talking about identity, and believing that identities have their own knowledges, and there’s power, and reifying identity, and making identity real and important, “I am black” means more than “I am a person who happens to be black”, that kind of identity politics really comes out of this neo-Marxist view.
Sometimes they call themselves “cultural Marxists.” It means three or four things. One of them is … the idea of: so, Marx drew on a philosopher Hegel to describe the master-slave dialectic that if you are oppressed, you understand oppression, and you understand the system that oppresses you, but if you are the oppressor, you only understand the position of social dominance. …Then these neo-Marxist guys said, “Well, Marx must have been wrong about something.” What they actually did was tried to tie in Freudian psychoanalysis to diagnose how false consciousness works in people, and they decided that it’s actually cultural. Say it’s a race or an ethnicity or gender that has this oppressed status, and they have their own culture as an oppressed group within society, and that became the site for those identity politics. That exact same, what Marx called, “dialectic” now applied not to economic class, but rather to social group status, which they believe is stratified in a similar way.
Yes. There are three levels [by which] we can think of human beings. We’re individuals as an atomic unit, universal humanity, and then there are groups that we belong to. Those could be social groups, could be identity groups, or whatever they happen to be. If you go all the way into classical liberalism, I don’t know that if it even cares that much about universal humanity—we’re all individuals; the end. But what they call “traditional liberalism”… tried to marry those things, and to appeal to that. So, you see in the civil rights movements of the ’60s: We’re going to judge by the content of character rather than the color of skin. And you have this very big appeal to: we’re all human, if you cut me, I bleed red too. So, that’s an appeal to universal humanity. Even the older stuff like Sojourner Truth’s speech “Ain’t I A Woman” is appealing to something more universal. And then you have this group identity thing. And within this identity politics that’s now become very dominant, group identities are defined in terms of like race, sex, gender, which the worst possible groups we could choose for that. I could understand, “Oh, I’m a conservative,” or “I’m a progressive” —those groups make sense because they share common thought. But there’s no reason to believe that just because people happen to have the same skin color, that they have the same thoughts.
Mr. Jekielek: This group status being the defining unit of society.
Mr. Lindsay: It’s theorized that they have a particular experience of oppression based on that identity mark. …So, that’s the mentality: they are trying to focus entirely not on the individual, the individual is irrelevant; not on universal humanity, such a thing doesn’t exist. Your group identity (defined as badly as you can define them) is all that matters.
Mr. Jekielek: If you think differently, you’re dubbed a kind of race traitor because you’re not thinking the way that everybody is supposed to.
Mr. Lindsay: When Kanye West came out in support of President Trump, they said, “Kanye is no longer black.” So, it’s not even about skin color; it’s about what narratives you’re speaking into, and speaking from.
Mr. Jekielek: It just sounds crazy to the typical person, to me, that we’re organizing our society and our education around this.
Mr. Lindsay: It’s not a good idea. So that’s why you see this obsessive focus on language—that’s the postmodern influence. … It came out of the French structural tradition and the structure of language, it was believed, had tremendous ability to shape society. And so, the way that people speak and write shapes the way that they think and believe, and so that if you can change the language, you can change the way people think, and thus you can change society. So, they’re obsessive about this. … That’s actually a symptom of the underlying disease, which is to think that language is almost like a magic spell: If you change the way you talk about a thing, then you change the reality.
Mr. Jekielek: I recently saw a thing from the World Health Organization saying, “Oh well, you shouldn’t talk about people being transmitters of the coronavirus because it puts responsibility on them for something that they probably didn’t mean to do.” It’s the belief that words are magic spells, and that if you just choose the right words, and they’re all sensitive enough and careful enough, then good outcomes will occur.
Mr. Lindsay: It goes way beyond the idea of “fake it till I make it.” It’s another thing entirely to start saying, “Well, my birth certificate says that I’m male, so society has made me male. But if I don’t want to be male, then I just use a different word, and it’ll change.” That’s at the heart of what’s going on with much of the trans activism… There are papers that talk about this. They say that the reason that men and women are different would be because men and women are socialized to be particular ways. And so maybe the reason those hormones (testosterone and estrogen) come up in the levels that they did has nothing to do with biology. It has to do with having been socialized to believe that you should be more manly, so your body produces more testosterone, because again, “manly” becomes a magic spell that makes boys grow into men. And they think that if you change that, then you can just be whatever you want.
Mr. Jekielek: This is where the “language is violence” idea comes from, right?
Mr. Lindsay: I mentioned Marcuse. He talked about how violence is justified in response to hate speech, or something that’s truly oppressive speech, because what else do you have? Of course, Marcuse wasn’t a fool. He said, “They’re going to get punished for it in the system, but they’re doing so knowingly,” but he still advocated that violence is an answer to oppressive speech. You have various ideas in the academic literature talking about things like epistemic violence, which occurs when I don’t properly respect your status as a knower. So, you claim to know something, usually something that starts with–
Mr. Jekielek: “I don’t believe you.”
Mr. Lindsay: Right. So, you start saying, “As a such and such person,” and then I say, “That doesn’t matter,” and then—
Mr. Jekielek: You’re perpetuating some kind of violence on me at this point, so I’m going to punch you.
Mr. Lindsay: Because I’ve delegitimized your status as somebody who can possibly know what they’re talking about. The Marcusian idea is that if I keep doing that to you, you have no recourse through speech and argument to be able to make your case. You can’t possibly convince me, therefore I’ve done some kind of psychological violence to you that you can then retaliate for. … These ideas get crazier and crazier, the extensions of violence.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s a kernel of truth here. Of course, you can hurt people with your words, and sometimes quite viciously. But this takes it to an absurd level.
Mr. Lindsay: There’s a concept in queer theory that was derived from Judith Butler. That is called the “violence of categorization.” So, if I categorize you in a way that you don’t recognize, it causes you to feel cognitive dissonance. Maybe you feel like you’re a woman and I say you’re a man, or I misgender you, …they call it a “violence of categorization.” … Birth certificates are actually considered a perpetrator of the violence of categorization because they have “male” and “female” on them. And so, again, you see where it very rapidly kind of goes away from that kernel of truth… into just absolute absurdity. Just cornball stuff.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m reminded of Jordan Peterson talking about the compelled speech laws in Canada. It’s one thing to be polite and call someone by the gender pronoun that they prefer, but to force them to do that is another thing.
Mr. Lindsay: Right, because if you don’t, “then you’re doing a violence against them” is the theory. Peter Boghossian and I have talked about this publicly a couple of times, and we’re pretty liberal people. I don’t care how you want to identify. …If you want to identify as a dragon—I don’t care. However, the moment you demand that I participate in your self-identification… that is a form of compelled speech, and I don’t abide forms of compelled speech. Where does the limit of, say, self-identification lie? It’s in that moment when you require other people to participate with it. I think most people are courteous. I think most people understand that people have different struggles, or maybe it’s just who they are. … I know Jordan Peterson, as a matter of fact, even said, “I go out of my way to try to use them, but I won’t be forced to use them.” And that difference is everything.
Mr. Jekielek: What’s the logical conclusion of a society that functions according to critical social justice principles? Have you done this thought experiment?
Mr. Lindsay: I think about it a lot. I don’t think that there [would be] a functioning society. I think that there [would be] an identity-based feudalism, and people constantly jockeying for power, and more claim on victimization and oppression. … There’s this weird entitlement that goes along with that critical social justice mindset. [As if society will still function as normal], that the grocery stores are still going to have food, even if all we do is sit around and complain, and fight with each other about who deserves more status, or if all we do is wallow in how we’re being cheated, how it’s not our fault that we can’t succeed or build something, that the system’s rigged against us, the system’s racist, the system’s sexist. So why try? It’s really concerning.
[A society like this would not be] functioning because when something doesn’t work, somebody who’s deeply imbibed in critical social justice will say it’s not their fault. It’s that their boss was a racist… I have a friend actually, whose daughter was majoring in engineering. And then she stopped majoring in engineering, and the reason was, “Well, the department’s really sexist.” And then she switched her major to computer science, and she stopped majoring in computer science. Why? Well, “the department’s really sexist.” … For people who’ve imbibed enough of this critical social justice, there’s this just denial of responsibility anywhere that the system itself can be blamed instead. So, you’re not talking about a functioning society. You’re talking about a post-Soviet society where nothing works, and it’s always somebody else’s fault.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s a wealth of studies around the idea that accepting personal responsibility for things is deeply connected to happiness.
Mr. Lindsay: The victim mentality isn’t going to build a successful business. …You can’t have a “I can’t build anything because the system cheats me” attitude, and then create something that actually achieves something in the world. … The critical social justice mindset is this pessimistic, negative navel-gazing. I remember seeing a very moving thing by [comedian] Stephen Fry where he says that self-pity, not hate, is the most destructive human emotion. And so, the critical social justice method is a codified way to teach people to indulge in self-pity and to refuse to take even some personal responsibility. I’m not one of these “bootstrap everything”, “personal responsibility is everything” libertarian type guys. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out; sometimes you got cheated; sometimes things happen. But taking a defeatist attitude toward it doesn’t help, and refusing to take any responsibility doesn’t help.
In the literature around negotiations, they talk about shifting one’s mindset: if you want to have successful negotiations with people, you have to shift your mindset from blame to contributions. In the blame mindset…the thing didn’t work out because of somebody else. The contribution mindset, on the other hand, says, “Alright, let’s take a step back and say we have a problem, and that problem exists, and it doesn’t matter how that problem came into existence for the moment. Now, let’s take some time to figure out how we’ve all contributed to making that problem.” …Accepting some of that responsibility changes everything in terms of your ability to succeed; your ability to grow; your ability to be happy… It’s a completely different, different world.
Mr. Jekielek: Two quick thoughts. One of them is that presumably none of what either of us says matters because we are privileged white guys. The other is that you have a new initiative which is trying to open up dialogue. I would like you to speak to both of those.
Mr. Lindsay: Let me add—one of the twenty hoax papers that we wrote, we titled it: When the Joke’s on You. But what we actually did was write the criticism that we thought feminist philosophy would give our project. We cited ourselves from one paper that Peter and I had done a year earlier, complained about ourselves, we created the argument that, “Oh, well, we’re doing a form of humor,” is how we focused on it—humor perpetrated from a position of power in order to maintain power, and that stands in direct opposition to the kind of subversive humor that tries to break down power. And so, we actually wrote the argument that they would have to level against us for the work that we did. … Again, that’s where you have the denial, both of individual thought and the denial of universal humanity. To say that if you and I have some kind of a difference, whether it’s race, whether it’s sex or gender, or sexuality, whatever it happens to be, that we can’t understand one another. Well, what can you do?
Mr. Jekielek: It’s game over—
Mr. Lindsay: It is. It’s game over. And then it just becomes a power struggle … They say you engage your positionality, and I engage my positionality, and we figure out where I have more oppression, so I have some kind of authority to speak over you, and you have some. And then if there’s nothing to be done as a result of that, then nothing’s to be done. There’s the idea called internalized dominance, that people with dominant positions … the dominance blinds you to the realities of race or racism as though you can’t understand it. … But I think people are more empathetic than that; I think that people are more imaginative than that; I think people care more than that.
Mr. Jekielek: It fundamentally prevents you from being able to communicate in a meaningful way.
Mr. Lindsay: It’s very funny, right? Because they say, “Well, you have to learn about racism,” and then, “You can’t learn about racism.” So, you kind of get the sense that there’s some weird power game going on because there’s no possible way to do it right And if there’s no possible way to do it right, then all you have to do is await your criticism and be put in your place by somebody who’s now assuming power over you. It’s a very poisonous thing.
So, that’s what New Discourses is about—I want to break that. [Social justice] is becoming a more and more common way people are thinking because this stuff has made it through our education system, because this stuff is so prevalent in our media now. But people are starting to realize it and not like it. … I want us to start talking to one another again, to start to try to understand one another again, and not on some kooky theoretical basis that says that “I have to understand you based on who you happen to be in particular ways, or I’m somehow oppressing you”. That achieves nothing.
Mr. Jekielek: What exactly can people find on New Discourses?
Mr. Lindsay: It’s rather new. The purpose at present is to produce … articles, videos, probably audio, podcasts, and other educational resources that help people understand not just what critical social justice is actually saying, but how it thinks. So, I’m trying to make this set of ideas intelligible to more people. Right now, it’s pretty academic …
This is a real difficulty. I’ve been trying to take this stuff head-on for maybe three, four years now. And all I ever hear is, “Well, your criticism doesn’t count because you don’t understand it.” And in fact, they say that you didn’t engage it properly because the only way to engage critical theory is with a critical consciousness, so you have to be a critical theorist first, at which point you’ll agree with it, presumably. So, the claim is that “if you don’t come out agreeing with it, you didn’t understand it.” …
I was talking to somebody about this the other day, and what they said was that it’s just absolutely amazing to watch how the social justice stuff works, because they come in, the critical social justice lobbyists, or activists, or whatever, come in, and they start talking about their stuff, and nobody knows what–nobody knows what–they’re talking about. Nobody has any idea what they’re talking about, but they assumed they must know what they’re talking about. And so they just kind of agree. They just kind of go along with it. And that really needs to stop. People need to understand that what they’re asking for isn’t what it sounds like they’re asking for. They really need to understand that because of the nature of critical theory, their expertise is false. These aren’t race experts; these are critical race theorists. They aren’t experts on what’s actually going on with race; they’re experts about complaining about race in a particular way. It’s a very different thing. And so, when we start setting up policy, and we start setting up our society or institutions around that, we’ve got some problems. I want people, especially academics, especially journalists, people (at) the high-level functioning of society to understand that this stuff can be understood, and then to start helping other people understand more and more of it. So, that’s really what New Discourses is about now. It’s producing those educational resources that people can draw upon to understand this movement that’s threatening to rot our society.
Mr. Jekielek: Most people, left or right, aren’t too thrilled about political correctness.
Mr. Lindsay: Yes, most people are not surprised that there’s a reaction against it coming from the right. The right has been targeting political correctness at least since the 1990s… But it’s more surprising to find out how deeply into the left that this ideology is being rejected… I’ve talked to more people on the left. They have taken on some of these patterns of thought. They think more sympathetically to it than I do, for example, but they don’t accept it. The reaction to it now is growing very rapidly and across the spectrum. The right is a coalition of different points of view; the left is also a coalition of different points of view. And I think, in the state of polarization that we’re in right now, we’ve forgotten that. …
I was talking with some people far on the left—they’re very progressive—just this weekend, and they were saying that they’re really afraid that the social justice is going to knock us back 30 years in terms of racial progress, and sex and gender, sexuality progress, and so on. Outright Marxists don’t like it either because they see it as an elite bourgeois plot to steal the left away from the working class. So, it’s a very narrow band on the left who’s all in on this.
I had a very uncomfortable—I thought it was going to be uncomfortable, turned out to be great—meeting last summer with a bunch of pretty rabid feminists, and I was thinking, “Oh man, they know who I am. They know about the papers. They know what we’ve done.” I was like, “This is going to be an uncomfortable meeting.” And these feminists really liked me because they said, “Feminism should be based on science, and this isn’t science.” And they saw what Peter, and Helen, and I had done with the fake papers, and they were outraged, not at us, which you would expect, but at the people who have been making gender research a joke for going on 30 years. And I think there’s a lot of people on the left that are more slowly, starting to wake up to this.
Mr. Jekielek: You’re saying it’s a narrow band, but it’s a narrow band that has profound influence on our entire society at the moment.
Mr. Lindsay: For two reasons. One is that they’re activists and they show up to everything. I can’t tell you how many meetings, whether it’s at the level of task force, school board meetings, boring administrative meetings nobody goes to—guess who goes to them? The activists. So, I remember talking with Bret Weinstein, the faculty member at Evergreen State College. Traditionally, all of the black people, students, faculty, etc, wouldn’t come to campus one day to show how important they are. Fine. And then 2016 I think was the year they decided to reverse it, and they said, “Well, no white people can come to campus. We’re going to get a white-free campus.”
And Weinstein objected. Everybody thinks that’s why it melted down around him, but that was only one drop in the bucket. The most of the drops in the bucket were that he realized that something weird was going on with the administration of the school, and started going to all of the faculty meetings—all of them. And there would be seven people in there: six of whom were activists, and one of whom was him. And so, one of the reasons it’s having such a profound influence is that the activists are showing up to the meetings. …
So, that’s one reason. The other is that there’s very little alternative for people who care about those issues (of injustice) to turn to. So, when I say that there’s this kind of awakening on the left, they’re turning away from it, it’s still very tenuous. You have to get them to understand the differences between the critical conscious and a more objective and positive lens….
Mr. Jekielek: You’ve been doing a lot of things to try to facilitate this with the New Discourses. One book that I came across a while ago is “How to Have Impossible Conversations”, which you co-wrote with Peter Boghossian.
Mr. Lindsay: Right. I don’t want to create Critical Social Justice Studies and just complain about it. … It does need to be explained, but we also have to be able to offer people alternatives. We have to be able to, as you mentioned, “How to Have Impossible Conversations.” We have to know how to sit down and talk with one another when we don’t necessarily agree…. Let’s enter conversations with an assumption that it is possible to get on the same page and create that shared intention.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m going to plug your book one more time because I found it to be very thoughtful and helpful. “How to Have Impossible Conversations,” whether it’s left, right, or just very different viewpoints. There’s a lot of great, great ideas contained within it, and I’m sure also on the New Discourses website. Thanks so much for taking the time. This has been very insightful.
Mr. Lindsay: Thank you.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.