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Contradictory Beliefs Are a Feature, Not Bug, of Critical Theory

As a historian of totalitarianism has pointed out, “The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any.”

“Intersectionality” is the claim by critical theorists that various kinds of oppression against victim groups intersect, in the sense that all oppression ultimately has the same source — you.

In an essay at Substack titled “Intersectionality Has Hit the Stop Sign,” Tom Knighton argues, too optimistically in my view, that intersectionality is falling victim to its own contradictions. I believe he misunderstands the nature of the problem. Let me explain why.

He cites the example of women’s rights vs. trans rights. A major victory for women’s rights is all-female sports, which allow women to compete without having to overcome the natural physical advantages of men. A major victory for trans rights is to allow men who identify as women to participate in women’s sports. There’s trouble at the intersection of these rights, Knighton notes:

There’s absolutely no doubt that by now you’ve heard of the controversy about transwomen in women’s sports. If you haven’t, buckle up. See, there have been a number of people who were born men and competed in sports where they were less than spectacular. Some of these people ranked really low and weren’t likely to accomplish much of anything in their athletic careers. Then they announced they identified as female, went through a few hoops, and started competing in women’s sports. Where many of them excelled. Needless to say, some women are less than enthused with having to share the field with people who were born men. They consider it an affront to feminism to have men competing against them. On the flip side, transwomen argue that they’re actually women and deserve to compete in women’s sports. That intersection in intersectionality is getting awfully crowded, ain’t it? Of course, this becomes an impossible choice worthy of Soloman himself. Just who do you choose to oppress with your decision. If you ban transwomen from competing, you’re oppressing LGBT athletes. If you allow them to compete, you’re oppressing women athletes. What are the woke to do!

Tom Knighton, “Intersectionality Has Hit The Stop Sign” at Substack

At first, intersectionality looks like a Catch-22. If “trans-women” compete against cis-women (biological women who identify with their sex), trans-women win (Yay!) but cis-women lose (No!). If trans-women aren’t allowed to compete against cis-women, trans-women lose (No!) but cis-women win (Yay!). Either way, intersectionality is a fail for one group of oppressed victims. Knighton proclaims: Checkmate intersectionalists (!).

Not so fast. Knighton is correct in seeing that trans rights vs. feminist rights is perfect cognitive dissonance. But I think he’s wrong to see it as a defeat for intersectionality. It’s a resounding victory, a cornerstone of the success of critical theory.

Critical theory is Marxist totalitarianism adapted to 21st century capitalist democracies. Leninist tactics — pistol shots to the nape of the neck — don’t win elections in hedonist capitalist democracies. However, the Gramscian approach — the long Marxist march through democratic institutions—is effective if you’re willing to wait. It’s just as totalitarian but more efficient, because Gramscian Marxism permeates culture insidiously, with fewer bullets.

In any event, totalitarianism’s lifeblood is propaganda. Critical theory is bloated with propaganda — you could assign a feast day to each oppressed victim group and fill the calendar year. But in his celebration of critical theory’s contradictions, Knighton ignores the rationale of propaganda. He misunderstands the effectiveness of “woke” education — the kind of education unique to totalitarian systems. Hannah Arendt (1906–1975), our most profound analyst of totalitarian systems, writes, “The true goal of totalitarian propaganda is not persuasion but organization” — the “accumulation of power without the possession of the means of violence.”

Critical theory, which lacks an arsenal, needs myriad victim groups for organizational purposes, to fuel the “peaceful” protests and keep Black Bloc activists inspired and supplied with hoodies.

Intersectionality — contradictions be damned — is about logistics, not logic. It keeps the troops organized and marching. Critical theorists care little about the contradictions inherent to pitting trans activists against cis activists as long as Antifa doesn’t run short of bricks.

Arendt points out that totalitarians depend on contradictions: “Totalitarian propaganda can outrageously insult common sense only where common sense has lost its validity. [T]he ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced [ideologue], but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e. the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist…”

And where in our culture have standards of thought, common sense, and the distinction between fact and fiction really lost validity? How about education? Arendt points out that education is the cornerstone of totalitarian movements and that totalitarian education has a peculiar character: “The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any.”

Critical theory festered for a half century in our universities and is now in our secondary and even primary schools. The goal of totalitarian education is not to foster rational belief but to prevent rational belief. This leaves students incapable of rationally analyzing ideological claims and creates a herd of woke sheep with a penchant for arson. No one who champions an ideology in which trans and feminist claims are “intersectional” has any residual grip on reason anyway, which suits the acolytes of the Frankfurt school just fine. Critical theory “education” — a dumpster of contradictions and illogic — extinguishes the capacity for rational thought, and leaves students without the mental tools to evaluate sense and nonsense or right and wrong.

The contradictions of intersectionality — e.g., the simultaneous advocacy of trans rights and feminism — are a feature, not a bug, of critical theory. The absurdities of intersectionality hasten the complete abandonment of reason necessary for Marxist lies to triumph.

And critical theory is triumphing, a fact that which Knighton, in his naïve optimism, fails to see.

You may also wish to read this piece by Michael Egnor: What is your soul doing when you’re under anesthesia? It’s an intriguing and important question and you may be surprised by some of the answers. Researchers have shown that people are aware under surgical anesthesia, even though memory of the events is lost.

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.

Contradictory Beliefs Are a Feature, Not Bug, of Critical Theory