Something sinister has been brewing in academia for the last 50 years. It’s called post-modernism, and it has given birth to third wave feminism – or intersectionality – and an attack on the very concept of universal truth as “racist.”
Sounds too crazy to be true? In her book, Weapons of Math Destruction, Cathy O’Neil claimed math is racist. In 2017, anthropologist Jonathan Marks made a similar accusation against science in his book Is Science Racist?
Perhaps, the most shocking and well-developed example of these sentiments, however, is the movement to “decolonize academia.” The notion that universal truth is achievable by scientific inquiry is “Western,” they say, and it should be abandoned for native ways of thinking. Of course, it’s one thing to offer examples of gravity alternative to the story of Newton and the apple. It’s something else entirely to claim that some African magic allows practitioners to attack others with conjured lightning, then declare that anyone who calls the claim scientifically unsound needs to “decolonize” their mind.
The Birthplace of Universalism
To be fair to the post-modernists, Europe was the birthplace of universalism as we know it today. Other places gave rise to similar ideas, such as Buddhism in India, but it was in Europe that it became a driving and defining cultural force.
Why it emerged in Europe is not entirely clear. There is a component from Greco-Roman philosophy, particularly from Aristotle, who highlighted the individual and reason as the method to find universal truths. There is also a component of the trust and virtue cultures of sub-arctic agricultural civilizations in Northern Europe. Christianity played a significant role in extending individual rights to all humans regardless of race, creed, and ethnicity. Finally, the enlightenment philosophers concocted these elements together into the philosophy of universalism: universal truths, rights, and morality.
The Real White Supremacists?
However, the radical left postmodernists harbor a dark and pessimistic vision of other races, seeing them as not good enough to play the game of meritocracy on an equalized field of opportunity. As such, one could, perhaps, say that they are the real white supremacists. They think that non-whites can’t do well in math and science because these are “white” or “Western” truths.
There is a deep-seated contradiction at the heart of this post-modernist critique of universalism. One of the notions that grew out of the West, and Christianity in particular, is that of racism as a moral evil. As a Christian might put it: “We humans are all equal under God.”
Indeed, that is the very reason racism was – and still is – endemic to societies outside the West. That is also why practices such as racial discrimination, widow burning (the self-immolation of a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre), and slavery were common around the world until such practices collapsed under the weight of universalism – brought by Westerners. Saudi-Arabia, for instance, reluctantly gave up slavery as late as 1962 after pressure from Britain. When that influence leaves, these practices have a tendency to begin anew. For example, widow burning, or Sati, has become an issue once more in certain parts of India.
But if universalism is so immoral, doesn’t that undermine the very reason that racism is wrong too? Yes, indeed, and there one might find the contradiction.
One explanation of this paradox is that postmodernists are so incoherent that they are incapable of formulating a self-consistent philosophy. A more sinister interpretation is that they have weaponized universalism to undermine the Western culture that they hate and want to destroy.
In either case, people should reject such a baseless assault on one of the greatest ideas that humanity has ever produced. Universal truths and rights have transformed the world and uplifted billions from poverty, and there is nothing racist about that.