The Trouble with Theories
Click on the news and you are bombarded not only with events but theories. So many theories. Critical race theory, so-called “replacement theory,” and countless others. Each side of the political spectrum has their pet theories, and the theories they love to hate. Not all theories are equally valid, of course; some are simply better than others. But a bigger problem lies with the nature of theoretical thinking itself.
Just to be clear: I am not equating critical race theory and replacement theory, so please holster your Twitter finger. What I am saying is that theories, about anything, contain the potential for abuse, and should be deployed carefully and selectively. Otherwise, what begins as a noble endeavor — shining a bright light on systemic racism, for instance — is soon hijacked by critics punching holes in your theory, justifiably or not, while the very real need for racial justice gets sidelined by the, well, theoretical.
On paper, theories are good. Theoretical thinking is what sets us apart from chimpanzees and earthworms. We humans are theory machines, always looking for ways to connect dots and explain the seemingly inexplicable. Theories enable us to contextualize the past, explain the present and predict the future. Theories, formulated inside our capacious brains, are how we make sense of the crazy, chaotic world out there.
Theories attempt to explain not only what is happening but why. This is their strength, and also where they get into trouble. For instance, replacement theory, deeply flawed as it is, does contain one kernel of truth: racial minorities constitute an increasingly larger percentage of the total U.S. population, and if the current trend continues will at some point “replace” Whites as the single largest demographic. These are facts, and we could have plenty of heated yet intelligent discussions about what these facts mean. We don’t. Instead, proponents of replacement theory (or the “great replacement”) leap from fact to fiction — claiming that these demographic shifts are orchestrated by the left to boost their chances at the polls. What began as factual observation ends as a fairy-tale. Theory morphed into ideology.