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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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Postmodernism has sex with Critical Theory ...

and produced a deformed child called Social Justice. This is a thick book and though Helen Pluckrose is easy to listen to, one can drift off requiring a double take by rewinding. However even with one reading, you get the historical arch of where we are today with on-line campus student struggle sessions and the secular faithful imposing only one truth around modern society. It is also a way to understand the coded language of Social Justice activists, where words have meanings that the average person misunderstands as something else. This is an important book regarding the concerns of liberal humanists and people who believe in the universality of human rights. We are again moving into troubling social times with identity politics and dog whistles not only coming from the nationalistic right but also the deconstructing everything left. Will the center of Western Liberal democracies hold? Only time will tell. But if you are worried and confused, this book helps with understanding what the f**ck just happened since 2010.

6 people found this helpful

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Why Trump Banned Critical Race Theory

Clearly explains the history and meaning of these confusing ideas: post-modernism, deconstructionism, queer theory critical race theory (CRT) and others. The book White Fragility is debunked in a handful of sentences. I don't think the authors are Trump supporters but after understanding what CRT is, you may agree with the US government decision to ban the teaching of CRT at state funded institutions. This book helps you tell the difference between good social justice and bad Social Justice.

Two criticisms: (1) There were a few times they left bad takes in the recording. I mean the narrator would start a sentence and then repeat it but this wasn't edited out. (2) Post-modernism is hard to understand and sometimes it's hard to tell if the narrator is reading a quote or reading her writing. In print, this would be obvious. I kind of wish I had read the book instead of listening to it.

This book is very good. I hope that its defense of Liberalism and skillful counter arguments against bad Social Justice become more popular. I hope that we can salvage whatever is useful from post-modernism etc and discard the rest.

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Some interesting points but often missed the point

The authors seem to judge the overarching idea of Postmodernism by its most extreme tangents. Akin to the co-opting of Nietzschian philosphy to Nazism.

Many times the author miss attributed terms to Postmodernism when the Postmodern terms have already evolved. For example, on several occasions they insisted that Postmodernists referred to "disabled people" and "black people" putting their intersectional identity first but in reality the post modern term would be "people with a disability" and the overarching term "people of color". The author used these linguistic arguments throughout the book to highlight that Postmodernists put more weight on the differences in people than their similatities, this is not true.

I understand that in a book refuting theory they are going to argue against the most extreme points but any rational Postmodernist thinker is not going to argue for these same extremes. Several of the arguments against Postmodernism in this book are textbook strawmen. They argue against the absolute extremes while ignoring the moderate all together.

This book did a great job supporting its claim that liberalism is the way forward in an increasingly polarized world. Their idea however, that Postmodernism is incompatible with Liberalism is absurd. You can believe in the idea of subjective and objective truths while also being accepting and accommodating of the subjective truths of others.

Liberalism is a way to live but Postmodernism is a way to think.

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Good overview of Post Modernism...

Poor defense of objectivity.

They should have conviction in their own field and think that if all government funding for universities was dropped her field would go on, and not the SJW stuff. They call for not defunding those departments because they know they can't on principle ask for it to be defunded without all university funding being pulled. And yet also calls for a separation of church and state which the underlying principle is that man should be free to think for himself, to not support ideas that he doesn't hold. But by the way tax me and do support this entire university by expropriating my own values that I produced by my own effort.

Overall worth the time.

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Necessary work but a slog

This book needed to be written: a careful survey of social justice ideology in the academy and criticism of it. Thank you Lindsay, Pluckrose, and Boghossian for your service. But it's just tough to listen to so much nonsense and cynical, extortionate rhetoric. I will listen to it again, especially the introduction and last chapter, for the sake of making a few notes, but I can't call this an enjoyable read.

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OMG

90% of this was torture but I endured to the end conclusion which I almost completely agreed with.

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A must read

Though claiming to be for a general audience this book covers a very complex and nuanced topic in an impressively comprehensive manner. Alas it makes for a tough read for a layman of critical theory.

It is however well worth the effort and goes a very long way to understanding what is happening in today’s media, social media, and culture wars

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A full taxonomy of Critical Theory

Finally an outsiders manual on the thinking and language of Critical Theorists and their specifics sects (gender, race, colonial, fat, disability, imtersectional). The book doesn't go into detail about what to do about the illberalism of Critical Theory, it is more a comprehensive exposure of Critical Theory as completely illiberal and the reader can choose what if anything should be done about it. The subject seems far less daunting now and I feel I can challenge some ideas of Critical Theory more confidently as a Classical Liberal.

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Great book, botched recording.

A thorough and engaging synopsis of the advent of postmodernism through to the current reshaping of its tenants in order to fixate on gender, race and identity. The recording itself is full of badly recorded inserts and distracting sudden shifts in tone and ambient sound. It's a great book that deserves to be recorded properly.

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Post modernism explained in layman's terms

Vital listening for understanding the danger of the post modernism paradox inherent in today's social justice extremism.

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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.

38 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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  • Computer Guy
  • 2020-12-01

Not for the average reader

I couldn't understand anything the author was talking about. I spent as much time trying to understand the high level of vocabulary as I spent trying to comprehend the mesaage of the book.

Everything was so abstract that it was hard to find to relate what was being said with actual events in the world around us.

12 people found this helpful

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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.

12 people found this helpful

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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.

11 people found this helpful

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  • Eric Shor
  • 2021-03-18

seems decent at surface level

Good critique of academia in the social sciences but somewhat fails where the rubber meets the road. While Helen and James offer compelling criticism of the academic direction behind critical theory, they're only addressing the most extreme extents to which critical theory goes and then making the leap that it's all just cultural Marxism. I'm afraid anyone who reads this will see it as a reason to dismiss all critical theory out of hand rather than simply as a warning that the study of any social issue can always dive too deep into theory without producing anything substantive or useful.


tldr: people are going to think this book dunks on all the research behind critical theory as cultural Marxism in disguise when in reality it only addresses the fringes.

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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!

8 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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  • Nathan Parker
  • 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.

5 people found this helpful