Tuesday, August 4, 2020
2+2 Never Equals 5 #woke #WokeMath
“Freedom is the freedom to say that 2+2=4. If that is granted, all else follows” -George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-four
Occasionally in the course of human events it becomes necessary to have explain something no one would ever have expected to have to defend. In the present moment, we find that circumstance to be the case and that thing to be that two and two do, in fact, make four. Further, it must be reasserted, against all reasonable expectation, that this claim about the sum of two and two being four is not merely some subjective determination or, more insidiously, an assertion of hegemonic power. So it is that such a need might arise in such a time in which irrational subjectivity becomes so desperate to defend and assert itself that no truth, no matter how simple or basic, can be considered safe from the ravages of people who have a vested ideological interest in its being wrong.
I have to confess responsibility for this bizarre moment, which in some sense might be one of the greater achievements of my life thus far. There’s an excellent case to be made that I have led a significant number of professionals who definitely should know otherwise—as effectively every six-year-old in a community with a school does—to dig deeply into tortured defenses of the proposition that two and two do not make four.
What in the World…?
“He wondered, as he had many times wondered before, whether he himself was a lunatic. Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one. At one time it had been a sign of madness to believe that the earth goes round the sun; to-day, to believe that the past is inalterable. He might be alone in holding that belief, and if alone, then a lunatic. But the thought of being a lunatic did not greatly trouble him: the horror was that he might also be wrong.” -George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-four
Let me be clear about a few things up front before telling you how this seems to have happened and what’s going on with this ridiculous moment of academic history—for academic and academic-only it is. This, tedious and difficult to understand as it is, turns out to be centrally important to the present moment and this ridiculous episode, which is but a starkly clear microcosm of a far broader phenomenon by which academic disciplines are being colonized and conquered from within. I contend that this phenomenon represents a potentially existential risk to advanced modern civilizations, and, by the same actors insisting that two and two don’t necessarily make four, am being mocked for saying so. I now hope to convince you otherwise through several thousands of words no one ever should have had to write.
To elaborate, while the most popular assertion being made to counter “2+2=4” happens to be “2+2 can equal 5,” this coming from people including from self-described mathematicians and genuine math educators, among others, the Critical Social Justice activists’ point isn’t that 2+2=5 any more than it is that two and two represents any particular quantity. Their point is that 2+2 can equal 5, though it doesn’t have to. That is, their point is that the objectively true statement “2+2=4” can be deconstructed by means of claiming that it is possible that, in fact, other things can occur too. This allows them to sidestep accusations like that they’re denying that “2+2=4” even while they do it, and (we have to admit) fairly enough because their whole point has literally nothing to do with what two and two add to equal.
The activists’ point comes in three stages. First, it is that a statement like “2+2=4” is just one mathematical truth among many, and this seems to be a point that many mathematicians who should know far better are eager to help them make. Second, it is that “hegemonic narratives” don’t get to decide it objectively, and thus that nobody can say that “2+2=4” is objectively true, which is, of course, patently ridiculous. Third, it is that narratives that have been considered hegemonic in the past or present (e.g., “2+2=4”) should be regarded with extreme suspicion going forward into the future, and people who can make a claim to being oppressed by “hegemonic narratives” at all get to have the say on how we should think about those narratives and their specific contents, including simple matters of quantity. That is, the activists are seeking a radical rewriting of the entire rational project, and any reason that doesn’t forward their favored actors as the sole arbiters of what is true and correct needs to be deconstructed by rhetorical tricks and marginalized by moral and, perhaps, physical force and intimidation. They’re seeking a revolution.