Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2023
280 pp. $19.95
The irrationality of some parties in today’s political and cultural disputes—especially those involving race—is now so overwhelming that anyone trying to make sense of their arguments might feel paralyzed. In fact, the very idea of “making sense” is considered racist in certain circles: In 2020, the Smithsonian Institution published a document asserting that “objective, rational linear thinking” is a manifestation of “white supremacy” (21). And physicist Chand Prescod-Weinstein has condemned “white empiricism” as a form of “epistemic oppression” (23).
Many of America’s major institutions, from colleges to corporations to government agencies, have likewise embraced the premise that the United States is “systemically racist” and that all good people should direct their energies to “disrupting” the alleged “oppression” of “white society”—which, of course, means the remaining elements of capitalism in today’s mixed economy. To question this orthodoxy—or even, in some cases, to agree with it—is grounds for termination, humiliation, and “cancellation.”
Amid such intellectual gloom, it’s refreshing to find a clear light of reason in Ronald Lindsay’s Against the New Politics of Identity. Nonsense is an old foe for Lindsay, a lawyer and philosopher who served for eight years as president of the Center for Inquiry, an organization devoted to refuting claims about UFOs, psychic phenomena, creationism, and other balderdash. But although the Center’s secular humanism has long been associated with the political “left,” the “politics of identity” against which Lindsay levels his attacks is primarily leftist doctrines—and it’s admirable that Lindsay is unswayed by the tribalism that leads many people to stifle criticisms of those on “their own side.” Lindsay’s “side” is that of the truth, wherever it may be found.
He begins by dividing identity politics—often called “wokeness,” although Lindsay shuns this term as too vague—into three philosophical categories. The first is its epistemological element, known as “standpoint theory,” which holds that one’s knowledge—even personal identity—is a product of one’s race or sex; and that people who experience some (vaguely conceptualized) form of oppression automatically have clearer insight into the truth than do those who enjoy social “privilege.” This, according to its adherents, means that the opinions of women, black people, gay people, and members of other “marginalized groups” must be accepted without question, because to doubt their assertions is a form of “epistemic violence.”
Somehow this does not apply to the views of, say, Clarence Thomas or Thomas Sowell, and standpoint theorists have never coherently explained why. “The suggestion,” Lindsay writes, “seems to be that one’s consciousness becomes sufficiently raised if and only if one sees things the same way that the advocates of standpoint theory see things” (50). . . .
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1. Sam Drysdale, “Kari MacRae Fired from Teaching Job in Hanover over Social Media Posts,” The (Cape Cod) Enterprise, October 10, 2021, https://www.capenews.net/bourne/news/kari-macrae-fired-from-teaching-job-in-hanover-over-social-media-posts/article_d921781c-6a25-53f3-81d5-e48d14943b87.html.
2. “Pflugerville Teacher Fired after Video Shows Him Saying ‘I’m a Racist’ to Middle School Students,” ABC 13, November 16, 2022, https://abc13.com/pflugerville-teacher-fired-racist-bohls-middle-school-caught-on-tape/12461112/.