Common Sense Champion: Helen Pluckrose

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Mark Lehain
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Our latest Common Sense Champion is Helen Pluckrose – author, cultural commentator, and with the launch this week of Counterweight, culture wars campaigner.

Helen first came to wider attention in 2017 when the “Grievance Studies Affair” hit the press. With James Lindsay and Peter Boghossian, she submitted fake academic papers to journals that focused on queer, gender, cultural and race studies – and got them past peer-review and published.

Topics included rape culture amongst dogs, how men could overcome their transphobia (by doing stuff to themselves which I won’t repeat here), and Mein Kampf rewritten using feminist terminiology. 

As you can imagine, this caused quite a stir at the time. It was embarrassing for the journals involved, and gold dust for the media. “With Canine Sex and Hooters, Hoax Papers Jab at Academic Journals” was the New York Times’ headline on the topic. Nice.

It was a clever and light-hearted way to draw attention to the bizarre research being done in many supposedly-academic institutions. It also showed how corrupted and diluted the standards required for publication had become.

In 2020 Helen and James built upon their work with the publication of Cynical Theories. This book was a very careful and clever deconstruction of post-modernism, and how it had evolved to undermine liberalism, genuine scholarship and activism. It’s difficult to read and still take woke folk seriously – but Pluckrose and Lindsay are deadly serious in their concerns about the impact of the bad ideas that had spread so far and wide.

However, as they said repeatedly themselves, clever arguments are not enough to take on the Social Justice Warriors – practical action is required too. And this is why Helen’s latest project is so important, and so worthy of recognition.

Given the publicity her work attracted, she was inundated with requests for help and advice by people facing authoritarian and unevidenced policies at work, school, and university.

One example stands out to me in particular: a black employee receiving numerous unsolicited and unwanted emails from white colleagues after the death of George Floyd, apologising for the oppression he and other black people faced. When you consider the patronising and misplaced sense of superiority and enlightenment that must have led to his colleagues doing this, it’s pretty grim.

So Helen decided to do something. She pulled together a team of volunteer experts, and started providing advice to people that approached her, wanting to know how to challenge woke in the workplace. However, the demand for this just grew and grew, so she had to put it on a more formal basis – hence the launch this week of Counterweight

Importantly, like CCS, Counterweight is non-partisan and draws support from, and supports, people from all across the political spectrum. Helen herself comes from a position on the left, yet argues for liberalism in a way that everyone who rates freedom and society can get behind. Most importantly, Counterweight should do exactly what it says on the tin – provide a balance to the divisive radical ideas being forced onto people by activists within HR departments, leadership positions, and so on.

It takes guts to put oneself in the line of fire in the culture wars, yet Helen has done this again and again. Significantly, she has done so with both humility and humour. It’s why she has taken so many people along with her. It’s also why we think she is a worthy Common Sense Champion for this week.

(You can show your support and sign up to Counterweight HERE.)

Mark Lehain


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