by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Alexander Bell writes for the Martin Center about a current threat to sound discourse.
… [A] reasonable interpretation can become unreasonable when interpreted through a framework that rejects alternative explanations and assumes epistemic authority based on one’s identity. Academic frameworks like critical race theory and intersectionality take anecdotes like the above and use them to stifle good-faith debate.
One way that happens is by using the motte-and-bailey fallacy. One modest and easy-to-defend position (the motte) is replaced by a much more controversial position (the bailey). A person will argue the bailey, but then replace it with the motte when questioned.
For example, a key concept of critical race theory and the broader social justice movement is the notion of lived experience, which means that marginalized people have better access to knowledge about their own experiences of oppression than privileged people do. On the surface, that seems quite reasonable. A white person can never know how it feels to be called the n-word, and a man might be oblivious to how it feels to be a woman in a male-dominated profession. Sexism and racism do exist, so it seems reasonable to assume that members of the majority are less likely to recognize such prejudices.
However, the proponents of critical race theory and intersectionality do not stop there. Smuggled into their notion of lived experience is an adherence to the more controversial “standpoint epistemology,” a postmodern theory of knowledge that rejects reaching for objectivity and argues that marginalized people have authoritative knowledge about complex systems of oppression and society itself.
For example, a colleague of mine at a Swedish university cited his lived experience when he argued that critics of Sweden’s immigration policies are all racists and should be banned from speaking at universities.
When I told him that his lived experience was just anecdotal—that there is no way he could generalize about millions of people based on a few bad encounters—he doubled down and replied, “that’s a very white male thing to say.”