Does 2+2=4? Woke academics say not necessarily.

Politics really does make people stupid and that’s especially true for otherwise smart people. That may sound like a contradiction but it’s not once you realize that motivated reasoning is the cause of much stupidity. In other words, people who have an ideological commitment to a certain outcome will do more work to make sure everything adds up to their predetermined outcome. For the past month or so, that’s literally true as a group of woke academics have been trying to argue that 2+2=5.


How did this happen? Why is it happening? Well, it turns out this is a reaction to a bit of trolling by James Lindsay. Lindsay is one of the people woke academics most love to hate because of his work hoaxing woke journals. He also has a site where he regularly writes about the strange new world of woke academia. True to form, Lindsay is taking all of this with a certain philosophical detachment:

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.

It started with a meme which Lindsay posted under the heading “Woke Mini.” It read, “2+2=4: A perspective in white, Western mathematics that marginalizes other possible values.” Someone else used that in a response to a statement made by “1619 Project” author Nikole Hannah-Jones and things spiraled from there:

It appears someone put this Woke Mini into the employ of satirically replying to Nikole Hannah-Jones on the fifth of July in response to her tweeting, “I wonder if folks always talking about ‘standards’ ever stop to consider that it’s their so-called standards that are the actual problem.” Hannah-Jones decided to make fun of me by quote-retweeting this delightful troll, including the image of the “2+2=4” Woke Mini, and adding the comment, “Using Arabic numerals to try to make a point about white, Western superiority is just so damn classic.”…

Soon after, also on July 5, “teacher, scholar, social justice change agent” and Ph.D. student Brittany Marshall joined in, apparently not understanding that she was making my point for me. She insisted, “Nope, the idea of 2+2 equaling 4 is cultural and because of western imperialism/colonization, we think of it as the only way of knowing.” This, if you don’t know, is the actual Critical Social Justice view of a “hegemonic discourse” like standard mathematics (including elementary arithmetic)…

…on July 10, an ethnic mathematics teacher and councilperson for the Washington state Ethnic Studies program, Shraddha Shirude, jumped in on the discussion after discovering someone saying something to the effect of adding two apples plus two oranges equals four pieces of fruit—as though the need to group by like units is at all mysterious—is an eye-opening way to challenge people who are rightly criticizing her ethnomathematics (yeah, that’s a word now) program. She wrote explicitly, “This is one of my favorite things to happen upon. Help me respond to all those haters who said my ethnic studies framework claimed 2+2=5… how can we turn this into a true statement?” And, so, the project to make “2+2=5” into a “true statement” began in earnest.


So because James Lindsay is an in-group villain and Nikole Hannah-Jones is lionized by the same people, you have a group of highly motivated people looking to make something silly into a true statement. Lindsay, who is a trained mathematician, spends much of his piece pointing out all of the flaws with attempts to make 2+2=5 true. I won’t go through all of these but here’s a sample of a couple:

“There are two factories. Each factory has 2 fully operational machines, as well as half the parts to build another one. If the two factories were joined into one and the two halves of parts were built together, there would be 5 total machines. A case where 2+2=5.

No, a case where 2.5+2.5=5, which everyone knows is true for the exact same reason that 2+2=4…

“Sometimes, when you put two grams of something with another two grams of something, you get five grams.” (Arthur Chu)

Nothing in the universe actually works this way, except words.

After going through quite a few of these (some of them involving base 3 numbers, etc), Lindsay then argues for the fundamental truth of 2+2=4. But ultimately what matters here isn’t the silly objections being offered but the ideological reasons motivating the objections.

So, now I’ve written well over 8000 words on the stupidest topic I could possibly have imagined ever having to write about, but it matters—and there’s a point to take away from all this. It is that postmodernism, particularly in the hands of the ideology of Critical Social Justice, is not at all interested in truth. It is only interested in power, which it will establish through its attempted revolution, which it in turn knows it can only achieve by turning otherwise intelligent, well-meaning people into “accomplices” by manipulating their good will, charity, fear of being disliked or ostracized, and, especially, unawareness of what is actually going on beneath the rhetorical tricks they’re being served up with intentionally limited context.

To achieve this revolution, postmodernist Critical Social justice is centrally interested in destabilizing meaning so that those it anoints as sufficiently virtuous can decide what is “true” and so that no one has any grounds upon which they could disagree, even in principle. It is a direct assault on reason itself by means of destabilizing the meaning of meaning with the purpose of installing its own priestly caste of arbiters of how things will be according to the rubrics it lays out.


As Lindsay points out throughout this epic piece, the idea that 2+2=5 was specifically raised in George Orwell’s 1984 as something the Party would announce simply because it wanted to establish its dominance over reality itself.

In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy.

The fact that these people are unconsciously recapitulating aspects of one the world’s best known dystopian novels should tell us all we need to know about them.

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