Anyone with eyes, or enough sense to evaluate what Communism has actually done, as opposed to what the doctrine says would be done under it (or what they want to see) could understand that by the late 1960’s Communism was a massive failure, as well as a murderous sham. But Communism was rescued by postmodernists, re-branded as it were, resurrected as Critical Theory. That’s really what postmodernism, the preference for subjective interpretation over objective evidence, does, it re-brands. Failures of courage or moral fiber are re-branded as illnesses, therapeutic approaches are substituted for training (good habits) and self-discipline, the very notion of self-discipline is re-branded as deprivation, and any adversity, even temporary, is re-branded as oppression, thus watering down what true oppression is. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot anyone?
Critical theory has six premises. Here they are in all their glory.
1. Individual identity is inseparable from group identity. There are only two human groups: The Oppressed and the Oppressors. Therefore, every individual is classified under a group label, based on past oppression: racial/ethnic (the darker your skin, the more oppressed), sexual behavior (the less heteronormative, the more oppressed), female (all are oppressed), religious (the less Christian, the more oppressed), class (the poorer is more oppressed), country of origin (the less western, the more oppressed).
2. Oppressors exercise hegemonic power—the ability of a group to impose their values, norms and expectations on another group. This is not necessarily related to the numbers of each group, rather the power to shape. It’s all about power. There is no logic, reason, investigation, evidence, dialogue or debate involved; whoever has the power wins. Therefore, adherents to critical theory will exercise power–infiltrating the “levers” of power: media, education, government (starting with becoming bureaucrats).
3. The Fundamental moral duty of government is freeing the oppressed from the hegemonic power of oppressors, by removing or suppressing intolerance. Justice = liberation from hegemonic power. Ex.: Any “dominant group” claiming that certain moral norms are universally obligatory is oppressive. Such dominating groups and institutions must be silenced in order for humans to be truly free. Followers of Christ who believe that biblical norms governing morality (sanctity of life, marriage, homosexuality) are pre-determined by a Higher Being and apply to everyone equally, are an oppressor group that needs to be silenced.
4. Experience lived is more important than objective evidence in understanding oppression. Rational thought is a tool of oppression when it contradicts an oppressed person’s testimony. Since an oppressed person experiences life differently than oppressors, you have no right to disagree unless you’re in the exact circumstances.
5. Oppressors hide their oppression by appealing to objective evidence. When a member of an oppressed group “speaks their truth”, you say amen, you don’t argue. Using rationality and facts is a sneaky way of gaining and holding power, cloaking your will to dominate.
6. People who are at the intersection of different kinds of oppression experience it in a unique way that no one who isn’t occupying the same intersection can understand. Race, class, sexuality, gender, and religion are foremost among the various roads that can intersect.
Extension of those 6 propositions = “There’s no right or wrong objectively, other than oppression is wrong and liberation from oppression is right.” But what does liberation from oppression look like? To the proponents of critical theory, liberation looks like the rallying cry of the French Revolution–liberty, equality, fraternity. But the true endpoint of the rejection of “universal norms” is always the gulag and the gun: the “killing fields” of Laos and Cambodia, the torture of the “great leap forward”, the mass starvation of the “kulaks”, where “the rich”–anyone who has more (education, possessions) than the least, get “what’s coming to them”. Envy run amok and writ large in the corpses and broken backs.
A better take than “two groups” is “two visions”. Thomas Sowell, in his 1987 book, A Conflict of Visions, talks about the two competing visions of the world. The constrained vision sees the “evils of the world as arising from the limited and unhappy choices available given the moral and intellectual constraints of human beings.” The unconstrained vision sees good things as natural and bad things as the result of evil institutions or intentions. Sowell rebutted an argument that blacks are poorer than whites because of the legacy of slavery. His rebuttal said, “let’s compare where blacks stood 100 years after slavery with where they stood after 30 years of the welfare state.” From 1940 to 1960, the black poverty rate in the U.S. fell from 87% to 47%. After 1960, the poverty rate continued to decline, but at a much slower pace, and that was mainly due to the residual of economic policy of the past. Prior to 1960, the majority of black children were being raised by two parents; during the next 30 years, that reality was replaced by 70% of black children born out of wedlock.
The welfare state isn’t just a plague here. In Iceland over 40% of children are growing up with one parent, while in South Korea, NOT a welfare state, it’s only one out of 66. Sowell cites affirmative action as being a unique policy, in that it “hurts everyone and is beneficial to no one”. He gives the example of when he was teaching at Cornell, and discovered that most of the black students there were on academic probation. He looked up SAT scores and found that the average score for black students placed them in the 75th percentile of all those who took the tests. That would be sufficient to get them into, and be competitive in 80% of the colleges in the country. But at Cornell, the average SAT of all liberal arts undergraduates placed them in the 99th percentile. Cornell’s affirmative action requirements set those affirmative action students up to fail.
“Affirmative action” is a product of the worldview of critical theory, particularly propositions 1, 2 and 3. “Black students” are part of a group, not individuals, “standards” are hegemonic power, and “liberation” is removing the barrier of standards for every member of the group. Since in the unconstrained vision, institutions rather than individual choices are the cause of failure, the power of the institution to set standards must be thwarted. If my reader has absorbed the propositions of critical theory, s/he might think that Mr. Sowell is a black man born to privilege, so I will disabuse them of that notion. Please read this brief bio, especially the part about his early years. https://military.wikia.org/wiki/Thomas_Sowell
In critical theory, Sowell, and his close friend (my other favorite practical economist), Walter Williams, both of whom grew up in similar deprived circumstances, would be considered “outliers” who don’t disprove critical theory because they espouse “white ideas”. But in reality, they embrace the truth of the world as it is, not as they wish it were. Those who would think “well, most people of color benefit from affirmative action”, and see Sowell and Williams as the exceptions who don’t need it, probably have absorbed the propositions of critical theory, seeing the world through that distorted lens.