# Critical Theory and Cultural Marxism This is a response to Mark's [_Why do I say DEI is Marxist?_](https://hackmd.io/@lPrrK-NrSzWeF7m6CepQ5A/BJKpa_z4n) I'd like to raise a few points and questions to counter the narrative you put forward in your piece. My intention is not to convince you wholesale of the merits of critical theory or Marxism, but to offer an alternative understanding of these subjects that is less extreme, and more in touch with reality as I see it. I'd like to keep this relatively brief, so I'll start with a few dot points summarising my position: - One can accept critical theory as broadly "true" (or useful), without advocating any sort of revolution, violence, or hierarchy inversion. - Critical theory _has_ been influential on many modern social movements, but has also been diluted and adapted by the broader social context (capitalism, liberalism). - I agree with you that Marxism is unpopular, but would go further to say that the number of people with an appetite for a Marxist revolution is vanishingly small. It's never going to happen, even if a cabal of shadowy academics wanted it to. Furthermore.. - _There is no cabal of Marxist academics_ intent on covert revolution through critical theory. This is a conspiracy theory for which there is no evidence. ## What critical theory gets right In your piece you take umbrage with the prevalence of critical theory in the social sciences, and claim that the only way this could have happened was through infiltration and corruption: > The infiltration of the universities was done strategically following a plan laid out by Rudi Dutschke ... > If you have no reference point for how deeply corrupted the scholarship in these fields has become, I highly recommend this podcast by the people who orchestrated the Grievance studies affair. I'd like to offer the alternative view that the reason critical theory has been influential in academia is that it is a legitimate and useful framework for understanding and analysing _real_ social phenomena. If we make a distinction between _critical theory_ as an analytical tool for understanding society, and critical theory as a normative social movement, I think that it's overzealous and reactionary to write-off the former because of bad associations with the latter. In my view, the _-isms_ identified and challenged by critical theory are very real, and have a long history of being embedded in Western society. We won't have to look very far back to see obvious examples of structural discrimination: - Racism: [Jim Crow laws (1960s)](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Crow_laws]), [Apartheid (1990s)](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apartheid), [Stolen Generations (1970s)](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolen_Generations). - Colonialism: [Decolonisation of Africa (1950-1975)](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decolonisation_of_Africa). - Misogyny: [Obstruction of women in the work force (1950s-1970s)](https://www.futureofworkhub.info/comment/2021/7/6/women-in-work-a-brief-history-of-women-in-the-workplace). - Homophobia, transphobia: [Decriminalisation of homosexual acts [Australia] (1975-1990)](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Australia). I think it's pretty reasonable to expect that these historical inequalities could continue to have an effect on today's society. It's not like we can snap our fingers, abolish one unjust law, and expect the social attitudes and biases that produced (and were enforced by) that law, to immediately vanish. This is where I think critical theory is _useful_. It helps us question these structures, identify bias, and better understand social dynamics. What we _do_ with this analysis is a completely separate issue in my opinion. Some might use it to advocate for revolution, but many more will apply the ideas in reformist ways, e.g. providing extra paid parental leave for mothers, or funding more [social housing for queer youth who are at greater risk of homelessness](https://ds.org.au/). Social science does have a repeatability problem, partly owing to the sheer intractability and complexity of the problems it studies. But attempts to provide empirical evidence for structural discrimination also exist, e.g. [this review of discrimination and health outcomes](https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2821669/), or [various studies that show job applicants with "whiter" sounding names receiving more interviews](https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/minorities-who-whiten-job-resumes-get-more-interviews). I'm actually curious what you think of critical theory as an analytical tool. You write: > Under Critical Race Theory, it is impossible for a white person to not be racist/biased. According to them, the bias operates in my unconscious mind, invisible to me because of my privilege. The only solution (according to them) is to give them power over any organization or person they deem racist. I reject this completely. Do you reject the premise "all white people have internalised bias" as well as the conclusion, or just the conclusion? I think it's worth teasing these apart, and I would say that your assertion that the _only_ solution to internalised bias is hierarchy inversion is an over-simplification. ## Corporate influence, dilution As I've argued above, I think critical theory has definitely been influential on modern progressive movements, by virtue of being _useful_. However, I also want to point out that there are _so many_ different interests pulling these social movements in different directions that the influence is diluted. If we view academia as basically an idea factory, only some of the concepts it produces are going to be adopted by society at large, and the ones that are will _always_ be subject to dilution and adaptation in order to gain wide appeal and understanding. In the case of diversity initiatives, we see them being adopted often by large corporations. I think the most likely explanation for this is that diversity has become a mainstream issue understood outside the realm of critical theory academia: by other academics (liberals, progressives, economists), the general population and governments. In this context, businesses are incentivised to implement diversity initiatives to _appear_ socially conscious to their employees, investors and customers, so they can keep making money. They'll also do it to protect themselves from anti-discrimination legislation, again so they can keep making money. To suggest that this means businesses are laying the groundwork for a Marxist revolution is almost laughable – rule #1 of capitalism is profits above all else, and a revolution would likely spell the doom of many of today's mega-corporations. Most left-wing activists lament this dilution rather than celebrating it, and we have terms for these effects, e.g. [Rainbow Capitalism](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_capitalism) and [Greenwashing](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenwashing). I'm not so worried by it, as I think it's a pretty inevitable part of "going mainstream". From your perspective, I imagine you might even celebrate it, as it shows the weakness of the radical left to control or influence mainstream society. ## Critical theory as spectre You write: > This also allows Marxists to use these groups as a human shield against anyone who tries to expose what they’re doing. > Whereas liberals desire to eliminate obstacles that perpetuate inequality and unfairly discriminate, the goal of a Marxist is revolution. As I've argued in the previous section, the Marxists don't have the power you're attributing to them here. On top of the dilution effect, any effort to stage a covert revolution is going to be hampered by bureaucracy, in-fighting and reformist tendencies. I think it's _incredibly_ unlikely that we will see a Marxist revolution in the style of the 20th century revolutions in any western country. Even the Marxists themselves acknowledge their position of weakness -- particularly since the fall of the nominally socialist Soviet Union -- with ideas like Mark Fisher's [_Capitalist Realism_](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitalist_Realism) being widely influential. Sure, there are going to be some Marxists agitating for revolution, many in academia. What I take issue with is the idea that these Marxists are treated as a kind of bogeyman ("Marxism = evil"), and that their existence justifies right-wing opposition to any and all progressive policies, even non-Marxist ones. By extending the realm of ideas considered Marxist to _anything that could have been influenced by Marxism_, you create an idealogical dragnet that's going to sweep up almost all lefty ideas. This is why Wikipedia refers to ["Cultural Marxism"](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_Marxism_conspiracy_theory) as a conspiracy theory concocted by the right: > The term "Cultural Marxism" refers to a far-right antisemitic conspiracy theory which claims that Western Marxism is the basis of continuing academic and intellectual efforts to subvert Western culture. The conspiracy theory misrepresents the Frankfurt School as being responsible for modern progressive movements, identity politics, and political correctness, claiming there is an ongoing and intentional subversion of Western society via a planned culture war that undermines the Christian values of traditionalist conservatism and seeks to replace them with the culturally liberal values of the 1960s. This hits the nail on the head for almost everything you wrote in your last message, aside from the antisemitism and overt Christianity, which I appreciate you avoiding. When you wrote: > I’ll be open and honest about my perspective, which I can almost guarantee is not what you expect and is probably different than anything you’ve ever heard before. I knew exactly what I was getting in to, because I'd seen you repeat talking points from the "Cultural Marxism" narrative before. The reason I'm opposed to this narrative is that I think it's disingenuous and dangerously anti-intellectual. It clouds clear thinking and honest discussion by labelling everything "woke" as evil, based on a sham justification about a shadowy Marxist takeover plot. Some questions that I think further expose the inadequacy of the "Cultural Marxism" idea are: - How do you decide how much Marxism is _too much_ Marxism? It seems that in practice conservatives are willing to identify wokeness in anything from [black actors in movies](https://www.vox.com/culture/23357114/the-little-mermaid-racist-backlash-lotr-rings-of-power-diversity-controversy), the mere _existence_ of trans people, drag queens and gender-neutral bathrooms, or the presence of [average looking women in video games](https://www.neogaf.com/threads/i-am-so-sick-of-woke-culture-ruining-video-game-character-models.1607774/). If all of these things are identified as a result of Marxist meddling, maybe it's reasonable to resist them? - How do you square a belief in the corruption of academic institutions with a desire to protect free speech and academic integrity? We've already seen "anti-woke" administrators [interfering in the careers of academics in Florida](https://apnews.com/article/new-college-florida-tenure-conservatives-desantis-ce711c9169ebe84e9d062ebbb281ebce), none of whom had anything to do with critical theory. - _Who benefits_ from the discrediting of left-wing ideas and the popularity of the "Cultural Marxism" narrative? The right, of course, along with the status quo which maintains the structural injustices that you purport to care about. By shooting down "woke" ideas, the right stymie not just a Marxist revolution that was never going to happen, but also any and all reformist change. ## About Gitcoin I haven't actually said anything about Gitcoin yet, but I'd like to point out a couple of things: - Gitcoin has always had a more publicly-minded, [_collectivist_](https://www.amazon.com/GreenPilled-Regenerative-CryptoEconomics-Crypto-Regenerate-ebook/dp/B0B2VXT1MG) bent than other parts of the crypto space. Having a diversity bonus is completely consistent with this. - Gitcoin is a voluntary org operated as a DAO, so they're free to make whatever decisions they want. Of course we're free to do _discourse_ about it, but none of their decisions grant them any "power" over us, and we're all free to ignore them and go do our own thing (as many people have advocated in the fallout from this). - Daphne was probably the wrong choice for the diversity bonus committee given the controversy surrounding her (I haven't followed _the Devcon incident_ closely enough to make a more damning judgement of her), but the backlash has been extended to the whole idea of a diversity bonus in the first place, which I think is unnecessary. - People suggesting that the existence of a diversity bonus for Gitcoin would extend to "sub-optimal" hiring decisions in crypto companies should get a grip. If any company thinks they can do better with a less diverse work-force they're welcome to try! According to their own ideology they should out-compete diverse companies that get the bonus, because they hired based on "merit". ## Alternatives I'm worried I probably haven't convinced you of anything in this piece, despite spending hours writing it up. But in case you are interested in looking further afield I'd like to recommend reading some stuff by the [_Centre for a Stateless Society_](https://c4ss.org/). This is the org that vibe with the most politically. They're progressive and concerned with social justice, but they _also_ emphasise the rights of individuals. Plus they advocate for markets over central planning, in common with both libertarians and liberals, and in contrast to most Marxists. I also sometimes enjoy writings by the [LessWrong](https://www.lesswrong.com/)/Rationalist community, who tend to place a high burden of proof for evidence and really lean into nuance. They don't have an obvious political affiliation, which might be more your vibe.