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Critical theory – theater of the absurd

Critical theory is all the rage today. It enables identity-political groups to make excuses for their shortcomings and blame white men for their failings.

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Frankfurt, Germany was home to the first critical theory of society.

Today CNAV heard from yet another target of the “cancel culture” that pervades conventional media today. If anyone wants to know why CNAV exists, “cancel culture” is why. And today we hear from Fox News that Andrew Sullivan, almost as liberal as they come, no longer has a home at New York Magazine and its parent, Vox Media. Why? Let him tell you himself: he does not approve of the latest craze the left has rediscovered. They call that craze critical theory. Critical theory poses a danger to more than its prime targets. Today critical theory endangers anyone calling himself a moderate liberal. And more than that, it endangers the rule of law itself.

Andrew Sullivan – not necessarily a friend…

Let regular readers understand. CNAV holds no particular brief for Andrew Sullivan. The former owner-publisher of the site he called The Daily Dish always had his broken-clock moments. (A broken clock tells the correct time exactly twice a day.) Shortly after Nine-eleven, for example, he supported President George W. Bush’s retaliatory attack on Afghanistan. For he, homosexual that he is, knows that a Muslim, especially a Middle Eastern or Far Eastern Muslim, is as likely to throw him off a rooftop as look at him. Therefore, much as he disliked conservative Bush the Younger, he feared the enemies Bush was attacking. And with good and sufficient reason.

…not if he’ll vote for Biden…

Nevertheless, as he himself says:

I have passionately opposed Donald J. Trump and pioneered marriage equality. I support legalized drugs, criminal-justice reform, more redistribution of wealth, aggressive action against climate change, police reform, a realist foreign policy, and laws to protect transgender people from discrimination. In fact I was one of the first journalists in established media to come out. I was a major and early supporter of Barack Obama. I intend to vote for Biden in November.

…but trustworthy

All well attestable. CNAV certainly questions his judgment. How, for example, can he, after pronouncing Joe Biden “guilty…by his own standards,” still vote for him even for dogcatcher? But one cannot question his honesty, except only regarding how he labels himself. And even that CNAV considers a matter of opinion.

So when Andrew Sullivan accuses his colleagues of intolerance, and says he cannot write “freely without being in a defensive crouch,” CNAV takes that very seriously. And cites that as proof positive of the danger critical theory poses.

What is critical theory?

The best definition of critical theory appears here at New Discourses. One can also find definitions at Britannica online, and at Conservapedia. The apologists for critical theory make this generic statement. Any theory that seeks “emancipation from slavery” is a critical theory; a traditional theory is merely descriptive. That sounds good. An anarcho-capitalist could develop a critical theory of government. In fact, they do—though they do not call it a critical theory of anything.

They avoid that term because the phrase critical theory comes from the Frankfurt School of Marxist critics of society. The “slavery” from which the Frankfurt School seeks “emancipation” is slavery to having to work for a living. So critical theory began as a call to overthrow free enterprise and install central planning and an eventual share-and-share-alike economy. The Frankfurt School had an obvious motive: to blame the unpopularity of Marxism on people wanting to hold onto power.

Critical theory today

But critical theory takes on a broader meaning. Critical theory becomes anything that blames others for “holding one down” and excuses the elimination of those others. One need not stay faithful to truth in any form. As New Discourses observes, basic critical theory and its offshoots rely on postmodernism. Which in turn says that truth does not exist or at best one can never know it.

Thus critical theory has a number of offshoots. All have in common the basic idea of blaming others for one’s less than desirable circumstances.

Where does critical theory leave us?

Answer: it leaves us at perpetual war. For it allows one to state all the following and refuse even to hear of compromise:

  • Racist ≡ white.
  • Sexist ≡ male.
  • Homophobic ≡ heterosexual.
  • Transphobic ≡ cis-gendered.

The symbol ≡ is the mathematical operator of identity. Identity means more than equality, equivalency, or congruency. Identity means the two arguments are the same, beyond having the same measures or values.

Which means: if you are white, then you must be racist – and if you are racist, you must be white. This excuses any conduct, however egregious, by a non-white person against a white person. Not only does it say that all whites are racists; it says all racists are whites. Thus it insists that no one except a white person can have a racist attitude or perform a racist act.

Likewise, sexist if and only if male, homophobic if and only if heterosexual, and transphobic if and only if cis-gendered.


Therefore, no one can justly charge a non-white with a hate crime if he violently assails or murders a white person. No one can justly charge a woman with a hate crime if she violently assails or murders a man. And so forth and so on. Indeed, critical theory and its congeners state that the target, if a member of any of the groups to the right of those identity operators above, deserves what he gets. The pronoun he is deliberate, but: consider this. A young white woman in Indianapolis, Indiana argued the point about all lives mattering—with some Black Lives Matter activists. At first the activists withdrew—but then they came after her and her companions. One of them whipped out a gun and shot her dead where she stood.

Critical theory carries further than the act itself

As bad as that was, several BLM activists (not part of the shooting) found the woman’s Facebook page. They left insults and hinted darkly that she deserved to die. Which, according to critical theory, she did!

Critical theory as theater of the absurd

New Discourses has this critique of critical race theory that illustrates the point brilliantly. Recall that critical race theory derives from the broader critical theory. The critic has eight things against it. This is the most telling thing of all:

Science, reason, and evidence are a “white” way of knowing and … storytelling and lived experience is a “black” alternative.

Now read Mike Huckabee’s proper criticism of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian Institution. At issue: this poster, from the Museum, describing “White Culture.”

Don’t merely take Byron York’s word for it. Read for yourselves this tweet from the Museum itself:

And the page on their own site, “Talking About Race.” It reads like a classic textbook in critical theory generally and critical race theory in particular.

What’s wrong with it

Lay aside for a moment Mike Huckabee’s outrage that the Smithsonian spends taxpayer’s money on such tripe. Ask yourself instead: why would any institution, calling itself a museum, so sully its imprimatur? How can the National Museum of African-American History and Culture expect anyone to take it seriously as an institution of educational value?

Andrew Sullivan runs afoul of critical theory of all kinds

Andrew Sullivan, be he liberal or conservative (CNAV believes him liberal), definitely does not like critical theory. And for that he had to leave.

What has happened, I think, is relatively simple: A critical mass of the staff and management at New York Magazine and Vox Media no longer want to associate with me, and, in a time of ever tightening budgets, I’m a luxury item they don’t want to afford. And that’s entirely their prerogative. They seem to believe, and this is increasingly the orthodoxy in mainstream media, that any writer not actively committed to critical theory in questions of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity is actively, physically harming co-workers merely by existing in the same virtual space. Actually attacking, and even mocking, critical theory’s ideas and methods, as I have done continually in this space, is therefore out of sync with the values of Vox Media. That, to the best of my understanding, is why I’m out of here.

Spot-on titles

Note carefully the titles of his articles. The best recalls this famous song from The White Album by The Beatles:

You say you want a revolution! Well, you know, we all want to change the world….

And: “We all live on campus now.” By which he meant that the same leftists who dominate discourse on college campuses, will not allow anyone to speak even if it means burning down the venue ahead of time, will not allow honest debate anywhere else.

Critical theory – from a public official

Public officials have started to follow critical theory, too. Example: Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, Ill. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany had this to say about some of the most violent weekends in Chicago:

I’ve listed for you the names of these kids who have died across this country. It is unacceptable, and under this President, he’ll take action. And the derelict mayor of Chicago should step up and ask for federal help because she’s doing a very poor job at securing her streets.

Any Mayor who lets children die in the streets and then blames private ownership of guns (another critical theory) deserves to have someone cite her for dereliction of duty. As Press Secretary McEnany did. In reply, Herroner said: “Hey, Karen, watch your mouth.”

“Watch your mouth.” On the official Twitter account by the Mayor. (And she can’t claim hacking this time; she wasn’t talking about Bitcoin.)

Oh, yeah?

Obviously Kayleigh McEnany does not have “Karen” for a first name. For reasons even the Urban Dictionary does not make clear, the name Karen came to mean something less than flattering. It means one who complains to store management or similar supervisors when her complaints have little or no merit. But now it has come specifically to mean “a middle-age white woman.”

Lay aside for a moment that it ill befits a mayor to repeat scurrilous generalizations about anyone. “Watch your mouth” is a threat. Did she actually just threaten the White House Press Secretary with some retaliation she would not specify?

But worse than that: did she just tell the country that complaints about the death toll in her city, and a reasonable suggestion that she is derelict in her mayoral duty, have no merit? Did she just call such death tolls acceptable?

Critical theory – excuse making

In sum, critical theory is the latest variation on excuse making. The Frankfurt School made excuses for the refusal of “workingmen of all countries” to “unite” behind Marxism. Today leftists blame anyone who works hard and earns his living for the shortcomings of their clients. (As before, the his is deliberate.)

What indeed would The Beatles think of this? A revolution of, by, and for excuse-makers!

Andrew Sullivan makes no excuses. He’s going to start “The Weekly Dish” where he can once again write “freely without being in a defensive crouch.” But a certain young mother doesn’t have that luxury. Sometimes excuse making can have deadly results.

About the image

“Former Carmelite Monastery” by Reading Tom is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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