Stop Debating Definition

"we can only debate according to these incredibly narrow terms" makes you look weak

There’s been a lot of debate lately about the application of critical race theory in K-12 schools. Critics suggest that such lessons simply exacerbate existing racial tensions, but defenders argue tha -

“CRT IS ONLY FOR LEGAL AND GRADUATE EDUCATION, NO ONE IS TEACHING CRT IN K-12 SCHOOLS, THE IDEA THAT THERE’S CRT HAPPENING IN K-12 SCHOOLS IS A CONSERVATIVE CONSPIRACY THEORY WHO ARE YOU TUCKER CARLSON ARGLE BARGLE”

OK, but there’s a lot of evidence that suggests that principles broadly associated with critical race theory are being implemented in K-12 teaching, and a lot of individual educators seem to think they’re doing CRT, and anyway the larger question is a particular kind of engagement about race that -

“WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR NEWS, BREITBART, NO ONE BUT THE MOST ELITE ACADEMICS IN THE HALLOWED HALLS OF IVY LEAGUE LEGAL EDUCATION HAVE EVEN HEARD THE TERM, WHAT DO YOU MEAN, ‘CRITICAL RACE THEORY,’ NEVER HEARD OF IT, YOU’RE MAKING THAT UP, ARGLE BARGLE”

You know, when you really look at the lab leak hypothesis, once so radioactive that The Lancet published an editorial calling it an impermissible conspiracy theory, it sure seems to have some strong evidence in its favor, and media opinion has certainly evolved. Perhaps preemptively declaring ideas to be misinformation when the facts are still unclear is -

“THE LAB LEAK HYPOTHESIS MEANS BELIEVING THAT SARS COV-2 WAS DELIBERATELY MANUFACTURED IN A CHINESE LAB AND INTENTIONALLY RELEASED UPON THE WORLD, THAT’S WHAT ‘LAB LEAK HYPOTHESIS’ MEANS AND WHAT IT HAS ALWAYS MEANT ARGLE BARGLE”

OK, certainly I acknowledge that a deliberate Chinese leak seems implausible, but there seems to be a much more credible and still-essential question of whether or not the virus was being studied and potentially made more lethal in a Wuhan lab prior to -

“YOU THINK THE CHINESE INTENTIONALLY RELEASED A BIOWEAPON INTO THE WORLD WHEN THAT COULD POTENTIALLY CRIPPLE ITS OWN ECONOMY, HAHAHA WHAT A DELUDED IDIOT, WHAT’S NEXT CHEMTRAILS, WHY DON’T YOU GO TO A QANON MEETING ARGLE BARGLE”

I have to say, with rising public sentiment concerning a disturbing rise in homicides, Eric Adams and Kathryn Garcia the top-performing candidates in the New York mayoral election, and Joe Biden having won with the support of the vast majority of this country’s Black voters despite appearing to have the least sympathy for identity politics, the whole “Defund the Police” movement appears to have been rebuked -

“DEFUND THE POLICE JUST MEANS TO MILDLY REDISTRIBUTE FUNDS EARMARKED FOR POLICING INTO OTHER MUNICIPAL USES, IT DOESN’T MEAN ABOLISHING THE POLICE IT HAS NEVER MEANT ABOLISHING THE POLICE THAT’S CRAZY TALK FOR CRAZY PEOPLE ARGLE BARGLE”

OK but there’s a lot of people who consider themselves radical critics of policing, right? Some of them very explicitly want to abolish the police, and I think there has to be a real grappling with those ideas. Since we’ve given radical Black critics of contemporary society a lot of attention lately, shouldn’t we take those who do want to pursue radical alternatives to policing seriou-

“SAYING ‘DEFUND’ MEANS ‘ABOLISH’ IS A RIGHT-WING CANARD, THAT’S BREITBART TALKING, NO ONE WANTS TO ABOLISH THE POLICE, DEFUND ACTUALLY MEANS TO GIVE THEM MORE FUNDS, WE LOVE THE POLICE AND ALWAYS HAVE ARGLE BARGLE”

Share your own favorite examples in the comments below!


I note with some distress that many people seem to have become inclined to argue almost exclusively by defining extremely narrow terms by which a given issue “should” be debated, and then engage only by relentlessly policing those terms rather than trying to reason more broadly in a way that actually deepens understanding. Yes, defining terms is important; it is useful to know, for example, what different people mean when they use the term “critical race theory,” particularly the progenitors of that term. We should though recognize that all terms, even previously-obscure academic terms, have shifting boundaries and definitions that are subject to public evolution. More importantly, argument about definition is very rarely fruitful. (I have recently been reminded of this fact by discussing the meaning of communism in the comments here.) Meanwhile, things are happening that deserve public debate. Some people want to change the way that race is taught in American K-12 schools. Some people are oppose to those changes. The way to determine whose feelings should reign is not by endlessly arguing over whether these changes do or do not constitute critical race theory but rather by deciding what is true and what is good.

(It is an absolute certainty that a commenter will quickly remind me of a time I have myself been guilty of this in the recent past.)

Are we changing education about race for the better? Should we reduce police funding or abolish police altogether? Was the Covid-19 pandemic caused by an accidental release of the virus that causes it from a lab, in Wuhan or elsewhere? These seem like good questions to me - good enough that people should stop torpedoing discussions about them with endless, pointless, driving-me-to-believe-that-democracy-was-a-mistake-and-we’ve-reached-the-collapse-of-human-society bullshit deflection. Just argue substance, I beg of you. Who cares if it’s critical race theory? I care if it’s the right way to think. I wish I knew what was causing this, it would be useful to know the origins in order to just kidding it’s Twitter the answer is Twitter literally all of our communicative and political problems come from Twitter.


If you are a patron of Briahna Joy Gray’s podcast, I recently appeared on the show to discuss CRT and other race topics with her and Irami Osei-Frimpong. I thought it was a really great discussion, personally.