Critical Theory for Grownups

Here’s a line to amuse your liberal pals: When gubmint bureaucrats deploy Critical Theory it ain’t Critical Theory.

Which is to say that when gubmint teachers teach your kids Critical Race Theory, it ain’t Critical Theory; it is just regime propaganda.

Official, Wiki-approved, Critical Theory says -- after Frankfurt School dean and rich-kid Max Horkheimer -- that a theory is “critical insofar as it seeks ‘to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them.’”

Hey, how about a Critical Welfare Theory that argues that ending welfare will liberate welfare recipients from the slavery of gubmint handouts?

Or, this: a Critical Education Theory that argues that ending gubmint child custodial facilities will liberate children from the slavery of gubmint indoctrination?

Now, I always thought that Critical Theory began with Kant and his Critique of Pure Reason, which I usually reduce to “we cannot know things-in-themselves but only appearances.” E.g., what is a quark-in-itself? We don’t know, but they sure look good in LEDs.

That is the essence of critical theory. Nobody knows the really real. Nobody is the ultimate authority: not the scientists, not the priests, not the gubmint, not the Glorious Leader, not the rich kids at the Frankfurt School, and certainly not your local unionized woke gubmint teacher teaching the kiddies CRT before a meat-free fat-free lunch.

But I now realize I was wrong: critical theory started way before Kant. And I only realized it last week reading Bryan Magee’s Philosophy and the Real World: An Introduction to Karl Popper. Karl Popper is the guy that said that a theory is good only if critics can test its predictions. Climate change science, in which everything from CO2 to extreme weather proves that the end of the world is imminent and you are not allowed to disagree, is therefore not science.

But Popper’s way is not the way we humans have traditionally lived. According to Bryan Magee human understanding of the world is almost always encoded as a sacred truth in some myth or religion, and it is death for any heretic or “science denier” to contest the sacred myth. But, he writes, starting with the pre-Socratics in ancient Greece the notion got around that ordinary mortals could subject sacred speculations to critical discussion.

As I thought about this, I realized that critical theory started way before the Greeks. It started with the birth of the conscious mind, as humans began to consciously direct their lives by conscious decisions. That is what differentiates us from the animals, that we can critique our unconscious instincts and do something else instead.

But we humans are always trying to put the genie back in the bottle, with sacred truths and Commandments and Papal Bulls and Encyclicals and Thirty-nine Articles and Communist Manifestos. And don’t you forget it, you heretics and armed insurrectionists and science deniers.

Let us extend this idea about as far as it can go. All hierarchy -- in churches, revolutionary cadres, governments, corporations, universities -- is designed to preserve the status quo and stop criticism or deviation from the correct culture or morality or the approved process without permission. No Critical Theory for you! First, get permission from Teacher.

But there is another way. Let us call it “living without permission.”

In the market economy, a nobody working as a clerk in a store can think about those barrels of oil out back, and turn them into a gigantic business selling “standard” illuminating oil for the oil lamps in western movies and cut the price of such oil by 95 percent without asking permission. Or a telegraph messenger can create a business making steel and cutting the price by two-thirds without asking permission. Or a smart Jewish kid in the patent office can get all relative. And in our age the adopted son of a Coast Guard mechanic can create iPods and iPads and iPhones. Without asking permission.

I’m sure that had Rockefeller and Carnegie and Einstein and Jobs been working for Bishops or Directors of Diversity or Deans those credentialed worthies would have put a stop to their foolishness.

But here is the real “aha” moment I got from Magee. He points out that most humans prefer to live in a society where everything is already explained by the men in charge. The “emergence of criticism” is terrifying. So,

We embrace religions which assure us that we shall not die, and political philosophies which assure us that society will become perfect in the future, perhaps quite soon.

And so long as we follow orders and mouth the responses and show our vaccination passports and advertise our true wokiness, nothing can go wrong.

In fact, the opposite is true. If you follow orders and virtue-signal your yard signs and obey the government the day will come when the government leaves you behind in Afghanistan. So, better think and act for yourself, citizen.

Here endeth Critical Theory for Grownups.

Christopher Chantrill @chrischantrill runs the go-to site on US government finances, Also get his American Manifesto and his Road to the Middle Class.


To comment, you can find the MeWe post for this article here.