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Publisher's Summary

Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly best seller!

Have you heard that language is violence and that science is sexist? Have you read that certain people shouldn't practice yoga or cook Chinese food? Or been told that being obese is healthy, that there is no such thing as biological sex, or that only White people can be racist? Are you confused by these ideas, and do you wonder how they have managed so quickly to challenge the very logic of Western society?

In this probing and intrepid volume, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay document the evolution of the dogma that informs these ideas, from its coarse origins in French postmodernism to its refinement within activist academic fields. Today this dogma is recognizable as much by its effects, such as cancel culture and social-media dogpiles, as by its tenets, which are all too often embraced as axiomatic in mainstream media: knowledge is a social construct; science and reason are tools of oppression; all human interactions are sites of oppressive power play; and language is dangerous. As Pluckrose and Lindsay warn, the unchecked proliferation of these anti-Enlightenment beliefs present a threat not only to liberal democracy but also to modernity itself.

While acknowledging the need to challenge the complacency of those who think a just society has been fully achieved, Pluckrose and Lindsay break down how this often radical activist scholarship does far more harm than good, not least to those marginalized communities it claims to champion. They also detail its alarmingly inconsistent and illiberal ethics. Only through a proper understanding of the evolution of these ideas, they conclude, can those who value science, reason, and consistently liberal ethics successfully challenge this harmful and authoritarian orthodoxy - in the academy, in culture, and beyond.

©2020 Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay (P)2020 Pitchstone Publishing

What listeners say about Cynical Theories

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  • Toby
  • 2020-10-20

Exposes the Philosophy Destroying Our Cognition

Lindsay and Pluckrose expose Critical Theory and its extended family (Postcolonial Theory, Intersectionality, Queer Studies, etc). Having once believed much of this doctrine (to my own great psychological detriment) without realizing what was at its core, I've found this deep-dive quite illuminating. The (audio)book goes deep into the beginnings and core of these rather new, flawed and paradoxical paradigms, illustrating the inherent logical contradictions, inability to accept a wide range of objective truths, and excessive danger of a culture of guilt. I cancelled my monthly Audible account because they censored this book for two months. (Now using audiobooks.com)

17 people found this helpful

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  • P. Jackson
  • 2020-10-23

Vast Amount of Jargon Lost Me

First let me say that I consider both Pluckrose and Lindsay brilliant, and have listened with appreciation to many of their presentations and interviews online. I anxiously anticipated the release of this book. I’m well-educated and intelligent, but have no academic background in gender or race studies, or post-structuralism. No worries because Helen explains at the start that this book is meant to explain these things to the average person, exactly what I wanted. I made it to chapter 6 before very reluctantly giving up. The vast amount of highly technical jargon, history and concepts were like a dense college lecture. I did learn some things, but kept hoping it would transition to more practical examples and less dense academic language, and be more like the way she speaks in presentations I’ve watched. (And maybe it does get easier after chapter 6.) Also, so many of the excerpts Helen wrote to make her case were the ridiculously convoluted, dense, and contradictory (and often outrageous) claims made by various proponents of critical theory. It’s good to know this stuff, but the bizarre nature of the stupidity does wear on you after a while. That’s not the author’s fault. Helen has a most pleasant voice, and there’s no problem with her British accent at all. Her reading is a bit monotone, but in a nice way that unfortunately made me so relaxed I kept drifting off. However, I’m keenly interested in the topic and her views. This is important, valuable, very well-researched information - I wish there was a “for dummies” version for non-academics. Also, the book might work better for me in the print version, where I can put it down, ruminate or ponder or make notes. Not sure if I will try again later or exchange it.

11 people found this helpful

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  • MarshallP1991
  • 2020-11-04

This Conservative Agrees (mostly)

A very insightful critique of critical theory, from a liberal point of view. Pluckrose and Lindsay offer powerful counters to the latest manifestation of postmodern philosophy, Theory. Their analysis is clear, cogent, and penetrating. A conservative myself, I still found much to affirm. There really isn't much to say by way of a analysis that Pluckrose and Lindsay have not said here. Conservatives and Liberals agree; Critical Theory is lethal poison to our civilization. We also agree, that we must not allow CT to continue evading rational interaction in the marketplace of ideas. Conservatives will doubtless not sign off on every jot and tittle, but nevertheless, this work is a contribution to our current conversation of inestimable value.

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  • Mitch Cowart
  • 2020-11-16

A “Must Listen”

Comprehensive. Rigorous. Scholarly. This is a thorough and well documented analysis of postmodernism and critical theory. Recommended for anyone who is interested in understanding people 16 - 32 years old.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2020-11-12

A necessary pursuit of reason amid the postmodernist chaos of the 21st century

This comprehensively researched and eloquently written book pushes back against far-left pseudoscientific postmodernist theory which has overwhelmed popular culture and the media in the 21st century. Despite the pernicious nature of the subject at hand, the authors present a fair and objective critique of postmodernism and offer liberalism as an antidote to this chaos.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2020-11-08

Great content.

Very insightful content. I would appreciate more practical examples in the last chapter. Helen's narration however is too ASMR and I had trouble concentrating. Some sections were badly edited later (obvious voice difference between words within a sentence) and about 3 or so sentences repeated. I suggest a professional narrator and a better audio book production because this book certainly deserves both!

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  • Charles Grayson
  • 2020-11-05

Totally fascinating

Totally engaging from start to finish. But if you have no exposure to the subject matter, you might get hopelessly lost, as one reviewer did. Very understandable, because the terms come fast & furious; while the author does a good job defining them, your memory can quickly become overwhelmed. While this book is a great resource, if you hope to help combat the various Social Justice ideologies, you'll need to come up with an argument that can fit on an index card. That means this book isn't likely to persuade any SJW to mitigate their views.

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  • Adam Krueger
  • 2020-11-04

Brilliant

A must read to understand our strange times. spoiler, social justice scholarship is not what it pretends to be.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Mao Dom
  • 2020-11-06

Read this!

To understand and defend yourself against the left now. They may seem serious or seriously crazy, but they are a danger to democracy and just basic decency. Pluckrose and Lindsay break down leftist nonsense to a manageable mess ready to be swept into history’s dustbin.

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  • Aaron Miaullis
  • 2020-11-22

Helen Pluckrose has an EXQUISITE Voice!

Bought and read the paperback version of this audiobook. It was a solid B effectively. Helen Pluckrose has a voice that made the audiobook an A+.