This essay was originally published in Lee Jussim’s Unsafe Science Substack.
Our country, and indeed the world, has gone through a lot in the past couple of years. The COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, a racial reckoning, rioting, and a tumultuous transition of presidential power that has marred our democratic institutions to name a few. With so much going on, the radical political changes within the American Psychological Association (APA) may have easily escaped the attention of many.
For example, the APA has been gradually changing the way race is approached. Officially, in 2017 it updated standards on multiculturalism to include embracing “intersectionality,” a conceptualization of the myriad ways in which one is oppressed via group identity. In 2019, a Task Force on Race and Ethnicity Guidelines in Psychology noted drawing upon Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a guide and in 2020 the definition of racism promoted by the APA was officially changed. The redefinition changed it from internal prejudicial beliefs and interpersonal discrimination to a “system of structuring opportunity.” What led to this change and why does it matter so much?
Social Justice versus Critical Social Justice
These changes came as a result of the changing focus of APA, and academia in general, from traditional social justice movements to Critical Social Justice (CSJ). Traditional social justice sought to end institutional oppression, discrimination based on immutable characteristics, focus on universal humanity of every individual, and for equality of opportunity for each to pursue their own self-directed goals. These are indicative of aspirational goals found in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. There are contemporary organizations promoting the same pro-human ideals such as the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR) and many others. On the other hand, there is CSJ that has skyrocketed in the public sphere in recent years and is much more pernicious.
The boom of CSJ is not a mere phenomenon. It is the result of decades of planning referred to as “the long march through the institutions,” a neo-Marxist approach to establish the conditions for revolution. This built upon the work of Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci who developed the concept of “cultural hegemony.” Cultural hegemony was posited as an explanation for why the grand Marxist revolution and utopia had failed to manifest itself. Basically, if people were able to have a comfortable life in a free market society, then they lack the motivation to burn down western society to make way for the grand utopia.
Critical Critical Theory Theory
The hegemony is thought of as an invisible, largely undetectable, ubiquitous force that nobody intentionally directs but by which all are influenced. This is where the “fish in water” analogy stems from the that is commonly used to explain “white privilege.” In their book, Black Eye for America, Swain and Schorr (2021) note that the strategy to bring about communism is to dismantle or undermine western society by attacking five societal components that maintain the hegemonic “oppression”: educational establishments, media, the legal system, religion, and the family. Douglas Murray also noted this attack in his recent book, The War on the West.
CRT is just one iteration of the application of Critical Theory to different aspects of society (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, queer, colonialism, etc.) and often is presented asdiversity,equity, andinclusion. CRT and intersectionality have been encouraged to be adopted incultural competencytrainingand stem from the sameorigin. Intersectionality, applied socially, is designed to get people to think of how they are constantly oppressed, in any variety of ways, in any given situation, to promote social divisiveness. The concept of intersectionality was popularized by Marxist lawyer and key developer of CRT, Kimberle Crenshaw. In her 1991articlefor the Stanford Law Review, she argues that universal humanity ought to be rejected and focusing on race should be retained and be used for political power.
This is the exact opposite of Dr. King’s approach. She makes the distinction between “I am black” vs. “I am a person who happens to be black”. She is critical of the latter and states, “’I am a person who happens to be black,’ on the other hand achieves self-identification by straining for a certain universality (in effect, “I am first a person”) and for concomitant dismissal of the imposed category (“Black”) as contingent, circumstantial, nondeterminant” (pg. 1297). Hence, the CRT focus on “centering race” to achieve ideological and political goals associated with imposing Marxist ideology to “dismantle” western norms and practices centering individual human rights and liberties.
The Modern Echoes of the Ugly History of Collectivist Ideologies
This ideology has a horrendous track record for humanity. Simply relabeling the ideology does not change that fact. American Psychologist, the “flagship publication” of the APA, went so far as to dedicate an entire special issue promoting this ideology in 2021. The edition editors criticize the field of psychology for “failing” to focus on structural power dynamics and for not creating “lasting social change” (Eaton, Grzanka, Schlehofer, & Silka, 2021). These are references to postmodern philosophy, Marxist structural determinism and social engineering. The authors go on to state “articles in this special issue build the case for a public psychology that is more disruptive and challenging than simply aiming dominant, canonical, and mainstream psychological research and practice outward” (pg. 1211).
Flynn and colleagues, 2021, discuss civil disobedience and criticize nonviolence as the only acceptable form stating, “we encourage psychologists to think critically about the effects of privileging certain acts of civil disobedience over others on the basis of decontextualized tactics alone, such as the assertion that property destruction invariably denotes a protest tactic outside the bounds of civil disobedience” (pg. 1220). They go on to describe strategies to twist and manipulate APA Ethics to justify any means they appear to see fit to dismantle “systems of oppression”. For example, regarding Principle C: Integrity, they state, “we also read it as authorizing clandestine methods of civil disobedience to contest injustice (e.g., deception, evasion) when methods maximize benefits and minimize harm” (pg. 1224). This stretches the intent of the use of deception from research methods, a researcher pretending to be a student for example, to justifying outright dishonesty.
And of course, the special issue would not be complete without an article criticizing “good” psychology. Note, the use of “Critical” in this context is related to neo-Marxist “Critical Theory” and not critical thinking. Grzanka and Cole, 2021, make an argument for what they describe as “bad psychology”. They argue that “good psychology” (maintaining rigorous methodological, scientific, and objective standards) is a problem because it gets in the way of the radical political agenda of transforming society the way that they think is best. They state, “we contend that what is commonly thought of as ‘good’ psychology often gets in the way of transformative, socially engaged psychology. The radical, democratic ideals inspired by the social movements of the 20th century have found a voice in the loose network of practices that go by the term critical psychology and includes liberation psychology, African American psychology, feminist psychology, LGBTQ psychology, and intersectionality” (pg. 1335).
The authors do, conveniently, leave out the fact that the ideology underlying the radical social movements of the 20th century are attributed with mass murder on an unimaginable scale. Throughout the special edition, the argument is made, consistently, that this ideology, advocacy, and radical social transformation should be incorporated through all aspects of psychology: research, training, and delivery of clinical services.
How could the American people continue to trust the organization if this ideology is being actively promoted? What would psychotherapy look like within this ideological framework? I would argue that society would not and should not continue to trust APA if this continues. This is not sound, competent, professional, empirically informed psychology. This is Psychological Lysenkoism.
Critical Theory Ideas are Bad Psychology
APA has allowed, even endorsed, the miscommunication of psychological science that has the potential to negatively affect the mental health of individuals and society overall. Concepts such as implicit bias and microaggressions have questionable validity yet are so prominently displayed that they have the effect of gaslighting society. The net effect is to have people wondering if every interpersonal interaction is racist or bigoted and second guessing each encounter for intent and impact. These are reflective of the precepts and goals of CRT itself. The implicit idea is that almost everything is or can be racist is a central tenet of the ideology. From there, the goal is to then create the critical consciousness necessary to give rise to social unrest and revolution. The first paragraph of the intro to CRT, written for high school students, sets itself aside from traditional civil rights, and “questions” equality theory, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law. Delgado and Stefancic (2017) state, “Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law” (pg. 3).
An additional tenet is that the voices and “lived experiences” of marginalized groups ought to be accepted unquestioned. However, the hypocrisy of the framework is laid bare when the “voices of color” dissent from the prevailing narrative. Prominent examples are those of John McWhorter, Glenn Loury, Wilfred Reilly, Roland Fryer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Darryl Davis, Jason Hill, Coleman Hughes, Eric Smith, Ian Rowe, Thomas Sowell, and the list goes on and on. The same dissociation occurs with members of various marginalized communities when anyone of that community doesn’t toe to line with the ideological framework. The individual does not matter, only the prevailing ideological narrative and political agenda. Anything, or anybody, that interferes with that agenda is inherently loathsome. The most common response to any individual expressing skepticism or dissent is to label the individual (any applicable variation of -ist or -phobic) and should not even be allowed to have a voice!
APA Should Adopt a Pro-Human (All Humans) Orientation
In psychological practice, we should focus on the individual with inherent dignity, value, and careful consideration of how factors influence the individual. APA ought to return to a pro-human orientation. The “critical” movement denies the individual and views them as simply a representative of a superimposed group identity or combination of identities. This is antithetical to our field. The adoption of radical political ideology has even led to the resignation of at least one leadership role in protest. When we focus on our universal humanity, we can celebrate our differences. If not rejected as morally abhorrent as it is, then the American people would rightly lose trust in the organization and damage trust in our profession.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism or its employees.
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Thanks for writing this piece. As a clinical psychologist, I find myself disappointed and embarrassed by the complete abdication of our imperative to seek truth through science. It’s unbelievable to see so many unfounded concepts (implicit bias, micro aggressions, etc..) catch on so quickly in mainstream pop science. Articles like this one should serve as a call to action for those of us in the field to wake up and be honest. As for the public- it needs to be known that we are not all lost in the woke madness. You can find a non-ideologue therapist, though admittedly it is far harder than it should be.
Eddie, thank you for writing this. I am just now completing a course in Research Methods at my local community college and was appalled at the chapter on "Bias-Free Language" in the APA's Publication Manual 7th edition. Section 5.5 states that "sex refers to biological sex assignment" (I do not understand how sex can be assigned) but then it goes on to state that "disparaging terms" such as birth sex and natal sex "should be avoided" and that "...birth sex and natal sex imply that sex is an immutable characteristic without sociocultural influence." As if the facts of human reproductive roles are suddenly controversial and biological sex is a social construct! To think that guidelines such as these are the final word for researchers and clinicians writing in the field is absurd and scary.