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Cynical Theories

It’s been awhile but I decided to get back into doing reviews. Despite not writing any reviews for them, I’ve listened to quite a bit over the past several months, including the audiobook reviewed here. The plan is to write some more reviews and have them come out about once a week for the next couple months or so.

Cynical Theories is another case where I had a copy of the text (Pluckrose & Lindsay, 2020), but didn’t have the time to devote to reading it, so listening to the audiobook (Pluckrose, 2020) seemed like a good alternative. When I bought the text, I thought it would have something to do with critical theories, which is something that interests me. Judging a book by it’s cover, I saw the word “Critical” was crossed out and replaced with the word “Cynical”. Does that mean the authors are cynical about critical theory, or do they view critical theory as being cynical? Hard to tell based on that, but the subtitle of How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity – and Why This Harms Everybody seems to point to the direction the authors plan to take.

I debated not writing a review of this title because I disagreed with most of it. Because of how much I disagreed with it, I thought about not finishing the audiobook and spending my valuable time listening things that are more pleasant. However, given that the authors were so dismissive of entire fields of scholarship, I felt it important not to stoop to the same level by dismissing their arguments without listening to them in full.

The primary argument of the authors is that people are misapplying critical theory by using it in the fields of gender studies, African-American studies, disability studies, and so on. It seems rather ironic that the authors use critical theory to disparage how critical theory is used by others. They also dislike critical theory on its own, which
they say is so vague in definition that it’s meaningless. The book is anti-political-correctness, anti-“Woke”, and anti-critical-theory. If it stands for anything, it’s the idea that people will hold this book up as an example of an intellectual argument against political correctness and Wokism, even if they haven’t actually read the book. The book seems tailor made for people who look back nostalgically to decades ago when men were men, women were women, pronouns were simple, and minorities knew their place.

There were some technical issues with the audio, since it sounded as if Ms. Pluckrose recorded at different locations with different microphones on different occasions. The result is that the audio sounded a bit patched together, which is annoying for something that I expected to be professionally recorded.

Overall, I’d only give the book/audiobook two stars out of five. The book is a product of privileged authors criticizing what they don’t understand, and who seem content in remaining that way.

References

Pluckrose, H. (2020, October 19). Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity – and Why This Harms Everybody [Audiobook]. Pitchstone Publishing.

Pluckrose, H., & Lindsay, J. (2020). Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity―and Why This Harms Everybody. Pitchstone Publishing.

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