One of the most common tactics of postmodernists is to accuse people of being racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, a fascist, and so on.
It’s important to note that these accusations are not made in good faith: for example, many of the people they call racist are certainly not racist by any common-sense definition of the word. These accusations are a bullying and silencing tactic used to put their intellectual opponents on the defensive and discourage others from speaking up.
Often, many of these accusations are lumped together for effect. Rarely is someone only being “discriminatory” against women, for example; they are probably also being transphobic and racist.
Accusations of Racism
Postmodernists have accused so many people of being racist that the word is starting to lose its significance to many people.
The PoMo definition of “racism” has also been changed subtly (see Section 2) – in the PoMo ideology, anyone who is oppressed cannot be racist, as a necessary component of racism is that the biases are embedded in societal structures.
Attempts to perpetuate these biases (i.e “white privilege”), either directly/indirectly or intentional/unintentional, are acts of white supremacism and can get you labelled as a white supremacist – no joke.
Accusations of Sexism
For many men, being publicly labelled a misogynist is a very bad thing, especially if you care about having a career of any kind.
This is a fairly powerful tool in the postmodernist arsenal, as it can instantly silence many men who might otherwise be vocally critical of PoMo initiatives.
This is exactly the intent; see this article, which claims that the only acceptable response to an accusation of sexism is to “stop, listen, and learn”.
Accusations of Homophobia
Accusing someone as being homophobic is becoming less and less common these days, as many gay issues have been acknowledged and addressed by mainstream society.
As a result, postmodernists tend to favour other types of false accusations instead.
Accusations of Transphobia
As of late 2016 and 2017, this is one of the most common types of accusation currently in use by postmodernist activists.
Due to the widespread discussion (and the lack of public knowledge) around transgender issues, it is relatively easy to accuse someone of transphobia, and relatively difficult to defend oneself from such accusations.
Accusations of Islamophobia
Any criticism of Islam and/or being in favour of stricter immigration policies will undoubtedly result in you being called an Islamophobe.
Perplexingly, even Muslims can be labelled as Islamophobic. In the video to the right, a Canadian Senator suggests that Tarek Fatah, a Muslim reformer, is somehow Islamophobic.
The concept of “Islamophobia” is particularly concerning to many intellectuals, as it is reminiscent of anti-blasphemy laws that limit genuine criticism of Islamic doctrine and practices.
Accusations of Fascism
It seems that calling someone a fascist (or Nazi) isn’t often used as a silencing tactic, as such claims tend to be obviously absurd in many discussions.
However, publicly labelling a person or group as fascists, Nazis, or members of the alt-right serves as an easy way to legitimize violence, intimidation, and other no-platforming tactics.
For this reason, many public figures who are openly critical of postmodern ideas have been labelled as the “alt-right”.
2. Controlling Conversations through Language Games
Postmodernists will commonly claim that;
- Only white people can be racist, since they are the most privileged race in the world.
- Only men can be sexist, since men are the dominant sex in the world.
In the video to the right, Linda Sarsour states that anti-Semitism is different from Islamophobia because the former is not “systemic”. Nevermind that anti-Semitism has a history of being embedded in societies, including Nazi Germany…
One of the clever things that postmodernists have done is redefine certain words to reflect their principles and serve their purposes.
Racism (Oxford Dictionary):
- Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.
Racism (Postmodernist Definition):
- Racism as minorities experience it and as it is understood in most social justice circles is a systematic kind of oppression.
- When we use racism as a term in social justice conversations, it is impossible to be racist against white people (at least in the US). Racism as minorities experience it is the lack of privilege that every minority person has by dint of being a minority.
For a full list of words (as postmodernists define them), see the Suffolk University Website.
Setting Terms of Discourse
When you engage in discussions or debates with postmodern activists, what they will often do is try to switch the topic of conversation away from your arguments and towards the forms that your arguments take.
One of the more well-known examples of this is by accusing you of “derailing the conversation“.
Asking for statistics that support a dubious postmodernist claim? You’re derailing the conversation through intellectualism.
Requesting further reading on an issue to better understand someone else’s point of view? You’re derailing the conversation by refusing to educate yourself (seriously).
Being aware of these types of language games will help you ignore them. As far as I can tell, these are designed to change the topic of conversation, move debates into familiar territory, and put intellectual opponents on the defensive.
3. Exaggerated Claims of Victimhood
Talking about issues with postmodernist activists can easily lead to them accusing you of “denying their humanity” or “ignoring their human rights”.
In order to advance their views, it seems many postmodernists will conflate intellectual disagreement with dehumanization. This seems like an intimidation tactic designed to reinforce their status as the ‘oppressed’ while putting their opponent on the defensive (“Of course I care about your human rights!”).
“So let us not pretend that Dr. Peterson is a staunch defender of any sort of “freedom” – what he is defending, instead, appears to be his misguided presumption that his right to uphold the status quo trumps the rights of others to exist in public spaces and be treated with respect and dignity, free from hatred and discrimination. And in a world where hate and discrimination continue to flourish and appear to be on the rise, his way of expressing his right amounts to a presumptive sense of entitlement to deny others their status as fully and complexly human”
– President’s Advisory Commitee on Building an Inclusive Community (McMaster University) –
“Statement re: McMaster Event Featuring Dr. Jordan Peterson”
4. False-Flag Tactics
Would postmodern activists actually create fake issues to advance their viewpoints? In some cases, the answer is an astonishing “yes”.
In today’s 24/7 media news cycle, once something hits the headlines, it becomes difficult to retract. Many media organizations will automatically take people at their word, leading to what is essentially false (or sloppy) reporting.
For example, following Trump’s victory in the 2016 U.S Election, many media sources claimed that a wave of racist violence was sweeping the country.
However, at least some of these claims are false: one of the first “attacks” to go viral was by a Muslim girl in Louisiana, who claimed two men wearing Trump hats stole her wallet and ripped off her hijab. When speaking to police, she eventually admitted that she fabricated the whole thing. Similarly, a black man was recently arrested for impersonating a white man and sending racist death threats to other black people.
The website fakehatecrimes.org seems to be documenting these stories, although I haven’t independently verified the accuracy of their information yet.
“Other instances of “Trump inspired” violence and vandalism have also turned out to be hoaxes or misinterpretations. An alleged Ku Klux Klan rally in honor of Trump’s victory turned out to be an old photo of conservatives carrying U.S., Gadsden, and Christian flags that were billowing out in a manner mistaken in a grainy photo for Klan robes. There were no Southern Illinois University students posting blackface selfies to social media after Trump’s win.”
– Reason.com –
“There Is No Violent Hate-Crimewave in Trump’s America”
5. Feelings Over Facts
One of the core postmodern beliefs is that concepts like truth and justice are subjective.
The extension of this is that individual people’s subjective experience (often called “lived experience”) is just as valid as scientific studies.
A common tactic during discussions is to claim that uneducated, privileged people are dismissing the “lived experience” of postmodernists.
“You see, the very capacity to conduct studies, collect data and write detached “fact-based” reports on it, is an inherently privileged activity. The ability to widely access this material and research it exhaustively is also inherently privileged. Privileged People® find it easier to pursue these avenues than marginalized people and so once again you are reminding them you possess this privilege and reinforcing that the world at large values a system of analysis that excludes them, and values it over what their actual personal experience has been.
The process of valuing “fact” over “opinion” is one very much rooted in preserving privilege. Through this methodology, the continued pain and othering of millions of people can be ignored because it’s supported by “opinion” (emotion) and not “fact” (rationality).”
– Derailing for Dummies –
6. Keeping Score of Privilege
In the postmodernist ideology, the legitimacy of someone’s ideas is based on their (lack of) privilege and their level of oppression.
The logic is that a straight white male cannot speak with any authority on gay issues, trans issues, or racism as they have never personally experienced any of it first hand.
This means that when postmodernist activists are deciding whether or not they should take a viewpoint seriously, they must consider every aspect of someone’s intersectional identity alongside the actual content of the viewpoint.
This can lead to some perplexing situations. For example, Black Lives Matter Toronto held a sit-in at the 2016 Toronto Pride Parade, accusing the Pride organization of “anti-blackness” (for which an apology was later given). In this situation, being black and LGBTQ gives someone’s viewpoint greater legitimacy than being white and LGBTQ, and white queers need to check their privilege.
Many pundits who are critical of this practice refer to it as the “Oppression Olympics”.
“There are as many totally innocuous and unobjectionable definitions of “privilege” as there are people in the social justice movement, but they generally share something in common – take them at face value, and the possibility of women sometimes showing privilege toward men is so obvious as to not be worth mentioning.
Yet if anyone mentions it in real life, they are likely to have earned themselves a link to an Explanatory Article. Maybe 18 Reasons Why The Concept Of Female Privilege Is Insane. Or An Open Letter To The Sexists Who Think Female Privilege Is A Thing. Or The Idea Of Female Privilege – It Isn’t Just Wrong, It’s Dangerous. Or the one on how there is no female privilege, just benevolent sexism. Or That Thing You Call Female Privilege Is Actually Just Whiny Male Syndrome. Or Female Privilege Is Victim Blaming, which helpfully points out that people who talk about female privilege “should die in a fire” and begins “we need to talk, and no, not just about the fact that you wear fedoras and have a neck beard.”
It almost seems like you have touched a nerve. But why should there be a nerve here?
If you are the sort of person who likes throwing rocks at hornet nests, ask anyone in social justice whether trans men (or trans women) have male privilege. You end up in places like STFU TRANSMISOGYNIST TRANS FOLKS or Cis Privilege Is Just A Tenet Of Male Privilege or On Trans People And The Male Privilege Accusation or … How Misogyny Hurts Trans Men: We Do Sometimes Have Male Privilege But There Are More Important Things To Talk About Here.
As far as I can tell, the debate is about whether trans women are more privileged than cis women, because they have residual male privilege from the period when they presented as men, or less privileged than cis women, because they are transsexual – plus a more or less symmetrical debate on the trans man side. The important thing to notice is that every group considers it existentially important to prove that they are less privileged than the others, and they do it with arguments like (from last link) “all examples of cis privilege are really male privileges that are not afforded to women, or are instances of resistance to trans politics. I call it patriarchy privilege when something like an unwillingness to redefine one’s own sexuality to include males is seen is labeled as offensive.”
And the trans male privilege argument is one of about seven hundred different vicious disputes in which everyone is insisting other people have more privilege than they do, fighting as if their lives depended on it.
The question here: since privilege is just a ho-hum thing about how you shouldn’t interject yourself into other people’s conversations, or something nice about dogs and lizards – but definitely not anything you should be ashamed to have or anything which implies any guilt or burden whatsoever – why are all the minority groups who participate in communities that use the term so frantic to prove they don’t have it?”
– Slate Star Codex –
“Social Justice and Words, Words, Words”
7. No-Platforming Attempts
Postmodernists believe that language can be constituted as violence; the natural extension of this belief is that activists have the right to “shut down” speech they disagree with.
For this reason, many campuses have been designated as “safe spaces” that postmodernists defend (often violently) against dissenting viewpoints.
Interestingly, if/when police show up at these events to keep the peace, activists will claim that this is evidence of systemic discrimination that favors the viewpoints which are being protested.
There have been countless examples of no-platforming between 2016 and 2017, as documented by FIRE’s Disinvitation Database.
On the right is a partial interview from the 2016-2017 LGBTQ Coordinator of the University of Toronto Students Union. There are several tactics used here used to justify no-platforming;
- The suggestion that students are simply opposing racism, transphobia, Islamophobia.
- The claim that language can be constituted as violence.
- The unsubstantiated claim that queer, trans, and black students at UofT received spontaneous death threats following a debate.
- Accusing an intellectual opponent of prejudice.
“I think what we are witnessing at U of T and other campuses in Canada and the U.S. are students who are making it clear that racism, transphobia, Islamophobia, and ableism will not be tolerated in educational environments where students are paying tens of thousands of dollars to learn and launch their careers.
While we believe that higher education institutions should be places where people can share different ideas and opinions, there are limitations to that – when classrooms are transformed into hostile learning environments and when a basic respect for humanity is lost.
Language can be constituted as violence, because when used in a violent manner, it causes pain. Not to mention the potential effect of producing physical violence as was demonstrated by the death threats that queer, trans, and black students at U of T received following Professor Jordan Peterson’s disturbing comments.
I think we need to challenge this myth that people like Jordan Peterson are making valuable contributions to academia. Peterson admits that he has limited knowledge on gender, theories of gender, or experience with trans people. What he’s actually discussing is his own personal opinion, which is rooted in prejudice.
Ten months ago I would have defined the phrase “free speech” as the right to express an idea or opinion without censorship, so long as that speech does not threaten or discriminate against a person or group … However, today, “free speech” has been used as a tool to disguise and protect people’s hatred and personal prejudices.”
– Denio Lourenco –
“Debate: Who should get to speak on campus?”
8. Motte-and-Bailey Doctrine
This is one of the most effective postmodernist tactics, and one of the sneakiest language games used in discussions and debates.
There are a number of sources that have explained the concept perfectly, so I will quote them below.
“Motte and bailey is a combination of bait-and-switch and equivocation in which someone switches at will between a “motte” (an easy-to-defend and often common-sense statement, such as “culture shapes our experiences”) and a “bailey” (a hard-to-defend and more controversial statement, such as “cultural knowledge is just as valid as scientific knowledge”) in order to defend their viewpoint.”
– RationalWiki –
“So the motte-and-bailey doctrine is when you make a bold, controversial statement. Then when somebody challenges you, you claim you were just making an obvious, uncontroversial statement, so you are clearly right and they are silly for challenging you. Then when the argument is over you go back to making the bold, controversial statement.
Some classic examples:
1. The religious group that acts for all the world like God is a supernatural creator who builds universes, creates people out of other people’s ribs, parts seas, and heals the sick when asked very nicely (bailey). Then when atheists come around and say maybe there’s no God, the religious group objects “But God is just another name for the beauty and order in the Universe! You’re not denying that there’s beauty and order in the Universe, are you?” (motte). Then when the atheists go away they get back to making people out of other people’s ribs and stuff.
2. Or…”If you don’t accept Jesus, you will burn in Hell forever.” (bailey) But isn’t that horrible and inhuman? “Well, Hell is just another word for being without God, and if you choose to be without God, God will be nice and let you make that choice.” (motte) Oh, well that doesn’t sound so bad, I’m going to keep rejecting Jesus. “But if you reject Jesus, you will BURN in HELL FOREVER and your body will be GNAWED BY WORMS.” But didn’t you just… “Metaphorical worms of godlessness!”
3. The feminists who constantly argue about whether you can be a real feminist or not without believing in X, Y and Z and wanting to empower women in some very specific way, and who demand everybody support controversial policies like affirmative action or affirmative consent laws (bailey). Then when someone says they don’t really like feminism very much, they object “But feminism is just the belief that women are people!” (motte) Then once the person hastily retreats and promises he definitely didn’t mean women aren’t people, the feminists get back to demanding everyone support affirmative action because feminism, or arguing about whether you can be a feminist and wear lipstick.
4. Proponents of pseudoscience sometimes argue that their particular form of quackery will cure cancer or take away your pains or heal your crippling injuries (bailey). When confronted with evidence that it doesn’t work, they might argue that people need hope, and even a placebo solution will often relieve stress and help people feel cared for (motte). In fact, some have argued that quackery may be better than real medicine for certain untreatable diseases, because neither real nor fake medicine will help, but fake medicine tends to be more calming and has fewer side effects. But then once you leave the quacks in peace, they will go back to telling less knowledgeable patients that their treatments will cure cancer.
5. Critics of the rationalist community note that it pushes controversial complicated things like Bayesian statistics and utilitarianism (bailey) under the name “rationality”, but when asked to justify itself defines rationality as “whatever helps you achieve your goals”, which is so vague as to be universally unobjectionable (motte). Then once you have admitted that more rationality is always a good thing, they suggest you’ve admitted everyone needs to learn more Bayesian statistics.
6. Likewise, singularitarians who predict with certainty that there will be a singularity, because “singularity” just means “a time when technology is so different that it is impossible to imagine” – and really, who would deny that technology will probably get really weird (motte)? But then every other time they use “singularity”, they use it to refer to a very specific scenario of intelligence explosion, which is far less certain and needs a lot more evidence before you can predict it (bailey).”
– Slate Star Codex –
“All in All, Another Brick in the Motte”
9. Refusing to Engage in Debate
This one is probably so obvious as to not require explanation. Postmodernists habitually refuse to engage in debate with people they disagree, preferring No-Platforming Tactics instead.
When debate does happen, postmodernists will use language games and false accusations to attack the character and intelligence of their intellectual opponent, or the manner of debate – rather than the content of the conversation.
” There is also little to be gained by debating Dr. Peterson because he presents no argument founded on evidence that would actually be worthy of debate — unless one is of the view that certain people are less than fully and complexly human, of course, and are deserving of being treated with callous disregard for their personhood in public spaces, in which case such views – because they rest on faulty evidence, and because they stand directly in the way of the substantive inclusion of marginalized communities in our public institutions – are deeply unsettling, and require critical questioning and contestation whenever and wherever they are articulated.”
– President’s Advisory Commitee on Building an Inclusive Community (McMaster University) –
“Statement re: McMaster Event Featuring Dr. Jordan Peterson”
If speech is violence, and your intellectual opponents are fascists and racists, it’s justified in using violence to oppose them. Welcome to postmodernism.
Although I personally detest Tucker Carlson’s habit of bringing out social justice warriors to ridicule them (and Fox News for their biased coverage), the clip to the right is a pretty good introduction to this tactic.
Another example is in the so-called “community police” groups that formed at Evergreen State College following the Bret Weinstein controversy, who armed themselves with bats and accosted other students.
Note: Milo Yiannopoulos is, by no means, someone who exercises free speech responsibly and respectfully. Protesting him is totally reasonable (although violent protests are not reasonable). And the actual alt-right, along with actual racists, are unequivocally awful.