Not Even Wrong
“Not even wrong” is a phrase often used to describe pseudoscience or bad science. It describes an argument or explanation that purports to be scientific but uses faulty reasoning or speculative premises, which can be neither affirmed nor denied and thus cannot be discussed rigorously and scientifically.
I do not use “microaggression” anymore. I detest the post-racial platform that supported its sudden popularity. I detest its component parts—“micro” and “aggression.” A persistent daily low hum of racist abuse is not minor. I use the term “abuse” because aggression is not as exacting a term. Abuse accurately describes the action and its effects on people: distress, anger, worry, depression, anxiety, pain, fatigue, and suicide.
In regards to the form of unfalsifiability, variable Y relates to abuse supposedly attributed to the daily experience of racism. When considering whether or not Kendi’s claim is falsifiable, I think it’s important to first define terms.
Abuse is the use of someone or something to bad effect or for a bad purpose such as treating a person with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly. In this regard, abuse is a subjective claim, because what one person considers as violent isn’t something with which another individual may concur.
Racism is the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another. Similar to abuse, racism is a subjective experience, because it’s predicated on belief—faith, trust, or confidence in something or someone.
Considering abuse and racism, and how these subjective terms may be examined through the process of unfalsifiability, think about the following scenario:
Persons Y and Z, both of the same race, are called a racial slur when in public together. Person Y considers the experience abusive in nature and relates it to a traumatic experience. Person Y is able to identify the emotion of anger, bodily sensation of a rapid heartbeat, and behavior of lashing out at the person who used the slur. However, person Z shrugs off the insult, not considering the experience abusive, and deems the event as little more than an annoying situation. Person Z experiences no particular emotion or bodily sensation though the observable behavior of literally shrugging shoulders and continuing about the day is noted.
Whose outcome represents a false determination in regards to Kendi’s standard? Is person Y’s claim of abuse and resulting trauma accurate? Is person Z’s interpretation of annoyance correct?
Using the lens of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), in regards to the ABC Model, I maintain that the Action (being called a racial slur) is an objective fact and isn’t rendered unfalsifiable except through denial—which I’m not interested in entertaining. The Action actually happened.
Likewise, the Consequence of person Y’s experience (anger, rapid heartbeat, and lashing out) and of person Z (shoulder shrugs) objectively occurred and are thus unfalsifiable. Still, the subjectivity of what persons Y and Z Believe about the Action is what creates their different Consequences.
At this point, you may ask how it is that I consider Kendi’s standard worthy of Pauli’s dictum of being “not even wrong.” Similar to Kendi’s use of logic and reason, my explanation is simplistic.
The subjectivity of persons Y and Z’s experience with the same event, which yielded different outcomes, represents the matter with which I take issue. If I were to ask person Y whether or not the racial slur was abusive, I’d likely receive an assertive “yes!”
Conversely, if asked the same question person Z would probably respond with a passive “no.” Therefore, Kendi’s declaration cannot be described as an absolutely falsifiable or unfalsifiable claim.
Accordingly, his standard isn’t right or wrong—it’s not even wrong. When considering Pauli’s dictum, I appreciate how one source clarifies:
Not even wrong refers to any statement, argument, or explanation that can be neither correct nor incorrect, because it fails to meet the criteria by which correctness and incorrectness are determined.
Kendi’s standard may be correct for person Y, incorrect for person Z, and cannot be effectively or objectively applied to all people. Representing my point in syllogistic form, consider the following:
Major premise: Anyone experiencing racist abuse will suffer.
Minor premise: Persons Y and Z experienced racist abuse.
Conclusion: 404. That’s an error.
The logic doesn’t follow. Kendi’s standard is not even wrong.
Kendi’s standard put to the test
Do you recall 2020, when many people and corporate entities were posting black squares on their social media profiles and official websites in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement? The racial grift was in full effect, as non-black people were constantly lectured about their supposed inescapable racism.
Surely you recall that during the time authoritarian COVID-19 lockdown measures were in place, so-called experts openly announced that it was acceptable to protest racism though not the government’s overreaction to the virus. Do you remember that unscientific nonsense?
People such as Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, and others were largely responsible for peddling “antiracist” propaganda during that time. Even when undergoing official training for the psychotherapeutic technique of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, I was subjected to the absurdity of antiracist rhetoric.
In 2020, it seemed as though antiracist gibberish was virtually inescapable. Antiracist palaver uses the trappings of a double bind—a situation in which a person is confronted with two irreconcilable demands or a choice between two undesirable courses of action.
Regarding this trick, one source states:
It is bad psychology to tell people who do not believe that they are racist — who may even actively despise racism — that there is nothing they can do to stop themselves from being racist — and then ask them to help you. It is even less helpful to tell them that even their own good intentions are proof of their latent racism. Worst of all is to set up double-binds, like telling them that if they notice race it is because they are racist, but if they don’t notice race it’s because their privilege affords them the luxury of not noticing race, which is racist.
Kendi’s standard of racism that results in abuse was believed by individuals who I suspect were trying to be what they perhaps thought were open-minded, good, and respectable people during the time of the black square in social profiles. I can understand their reasoning while rejecting their logic.
Personally, I maintain that they weren’t even wrong in their approach to Kendi’s claptrap though they plausibly behaved foolishly. After all, BLM reportedly received $90 million between 2020 and 2021, as racial activism was quite lucrative. Additionally, one source reports:
Perhaps the leading figure of the contemporary “anti-racism” movement, Kendi has faced new scrutiny after he recently laid off more than half of the staff at his Center for Antiracist Research. Boston University, where the center is housed, has now opened an inquiry into how it was run. Allegations include poor pay, employee exploitation, the failure to produce any significant research and the mismanagement of $43 million in donations.
One imagines that the failure to produce meaningful investigative inquiry outcomes may have something to do with the notion of “research” which is defined as the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.
When Kendi’s conclusion is that racism equals abuse and that this form of mistreatment has negative impacts, there are no new facts to obtain. It’s a foregone conclusion, so there’s no need for $43 million in donations in order to study the matter. Racism bad, end of story.
Describing Kendi’s perspective, one source states, “In his books he contends that there’s no middle ground on race — everyone is either racist or actively antiracist. And he suggests that all disparities in Black outcomes and achievements are because of racism.”
Such rhetoric is the logic of a preschool or kindergarten-aged child—I want my way or else you’re not my friend! You’re either racist or you’re antiracist, there’s no option to simply not be racist!
Underdeveloped reasoning of that sort doesn’t pass the test of mature scrutiny. In fact, it’s absurd to me that so many people fell for antiracist indoctrination. Kendi’s doctrine is not even wrong.
I appreciate Pauli’s dictum when considering Kendi’s standard. Antiracist hogwash isn’t even wrong. Of the expression “not even wrong,” one source states:
My understanding of the phrase is that it denotes an idea, theory, etc, that isn’t even incorrect in some illuminating or interesting way which would allow one to identify some mistake or misconception and correct it. It may even be correct insofar as it can be; or correct in some trivial, misleading, or contextually irrelevant manner.
Kendi’s standard cannot be effectively or objectively applied to all people. Likewise, his predictably ludicrous ideas about being an antiracist haven’t aged well. In fact, I posit that they’ve ostensibly contributed to actual racism.
As an example, Bloomberg reports:
Corporate America promised to hire a lot more people of color. It actually did. The year after Black Lives Matter protests , the S&P 100 added more than 300,000 jobs — 94% went to people of color.
Presumably restricting access to group Y and favoring group Z meets the definitional standard of racism—believing that group Z possess distinct qualities that group Y doesn’t, especially so as to distinguish group Z as being more qualified to work than group Y.
One imagines that bragging about racism of this sort would be frowned upon in a civil society. However, Bloomberg proudly reported the effect of antiracist actions taken since 2020.
Although I abhor racism, I’m not prepared to adopt Kendi’s standard by claiming that white United States workers have been abused and are therefore experiencing the ill effects of such treatment. Keeping an REBT perspective, I understand that it’s one’s Beliefs about an Action that causes an unpleasant Consequence.
For this reason, I remain available to assist people who have been disenfranchised from equal access to employment as a result of antiracist actions. In my practice, you won’t find a mental health practitioner who has consumed the antiracist-laced punch of bigotry.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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