In 2018, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, the editor of Areo magazine and a Ph.D. mathematician, respectively, achieved internet stardom when they revealed that (along with co-conspirator Peter Boghossian) they had successfully tricked a number of woke academic journals into publishing fake papers on, among other things, dogs’ experience of “canine rape culture,” the potential for replacing Western methods of astronomy with feminist interpretive dance, and the utility of certain, let’s call them “violating,” methods of male self-pleasure in potentially reducing transphobia. The “Sokal Squared” prank, as it came to be known (after Alan Sokal, who pulled off a similar hoax in the 1990s), was a clear demonstration, if anyone needed one, that for a person trained in the jargon of post-structuralist academia, almost nothing is so crazy that some journal, somewhere, won't be willing to publish it.
Now, Pluckrose and Lindsay have written a book taking aim at the disciplines they successfully spoofed two years ago. The result, Cynical Theories, is a bestselling, polemical intellectual history of “social justice ideology.” This ideology can be hard to define precisely, since it has no formalized doctrine, but, like pornography, you know it when you see it. Pluckrose and Lindsay describe it as “a worldview that centers social and cultural grievances and aims to make everything into a zero-sum political struggle revolving around identity markers like race, sex, gender, sexuality, and many others,” and while I’m not sure someone who actually subscribed to this ideology would accept that definition, readers won’t have too much trouble catching their drift.