It started on July 5 when Nikole Hannah-Jones, who penned the lead essay for The New York Times’ 1619 Project, was trolled with a meme. The meme came from philosopher James Lindsay, whose upcoming “Cynical Theories” book on identity politics co-written with Helen Pluckrose is already an Amazon bestseller. Lindsay summarized the exchange:
[I]t 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.’
Referring to George Orwell’s 1984, and poking fun of wokesterism, Lindsay quipped: “2+2=4: A perspective in white, Western mathematics that marginalizes other possible values.”
Hannah-Jones’s response energized Twitterati who mostly appear to be employed in education bureaucracies. They attempted to prove that in certain instances two and two equal five.
One of these was Kareem Carr who, according to his profile, is a Ph.D. statistics student at Harvard University He offered several examples of situations in which he claimed 2+2=5, including: “Imagine a system where we can only measure things to 1 decimal place. So 2 could mean 1.5 to 2.4 … 2.4 + 2.4 is 4.8 … in our theoretical system, this would look like 2+2=5. Again pretty normal to have an error in measurements in normal life.”
“Second example. Imagine computing distances between airports on cost. Is it possible that flying from airport A to B is $200 and B to C is $200 but flight from A to C is $500 … happens all the time. Again pretty typical everyday example.”
In the first instance, Carr proves that 2+2=5 when one makes a measuring error, then rounds up. Yet mathematical notations have the language to express errors and approximations, and it’s not “equal to.”
The second example confuses prices with distances. Carr might as well say that an airline offered a discounted $500 ticket for $400, thereby confirming that 200+200=500.
Carr should know better. A theorem is proven wrong if we find a set of values for which it doesn’t hold. Truly showing that 2+2=5 means that 2+2 is not 4. Yet this is not the point Carr and the rest of the woke math team want to advance. Rather, they are saying that 2+2 can sometimes be construed as equaling four, so who is to judge?
As one observer noted, they are deconstructing math here or using the methods of post-modernism developed for humanities. But these methods simply don’t apply to other fields of inquiry (indeed, whether they apply in the humanities is still an open debate). The humanities rely on gathering then interpreting information, whereas mathematicians derive knowledge through deduction, or discovering universal laws under which systems operate.
That 2+2=4 is a simple truth, just like the fact that there are two easily recognizable sexes, male and female, is indisputable common sense. To get people to agree that it’s not is disorienting. Lindsay says this is intentional:
…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.
The wokies are not interested in truth, Lindsay goes on to explain. Their objectives are purely political: to identify “systems of oppression,” and transfer political power to preferred groups. To this, Lindsay adds:
This is … a breakdown of the fundamental logic of civilization, which depends entirely on the ability for each citizen to generally understand something of how that civilization operates. It is also a replacement of that fundamental logic of civilization with the fundamental logic of something more basic and less able to meet the needs of the people who will still be forced to live within it: self-interest, cronyism, corruption, and an unstable form of uncivilized might-makes-right that will surely eventually collapse into the more brutal and familiar stable sort in which whomever can kill enough people gets to make the rules.
While I agree that people incapable of clear thought are a threat to democracy and civilization, to call the 2+2=5 crowd revolutionaries gives them too much credit. They are long marchers, grifters, and cowards with an insatiable quest for power. There is no point in having a revolution when they can simply issue a ukase mandating everyone acknowledges that 2+2 is not necessarily 4.
Because it relies on logic and is independent of fact-gathering, mathematics is the single most liberating field of knowledge. It stands free from ideological contamination and depends solely on an individual’s ability to reason. Because identity politics is the ideology of bondage, it cannot easily coexist with math.
The hard left may never convince Americans that their fake math is right, but they don’t need to win by persuasion when they have pawns strategically positioned in the nation’s school districts and education schools. Seattle Unified School District made the news last school year with their ethnic mathcurriculum, which twisted knowledge into identity.
SUSD is at the forefront, but not alone in their fight against reason. Consider, for instance, Rochelle Gutiérrez, a math education professor at the Illinois School of Education who champions something called “living mathematx” and “rehumanizing” math for non-Caucasians.
Gutiérrez was involved in a mutually affirming Twitter conversation with Angela Knotts, a co-director of the Silicon Valley Mathematics Initiative, an educational consultancy that advises school districts around the country. Here is a snippet: “A5 – I think there is an implicit question here which is, Why do we teach math as a ‘core’ subject in the first place? What is the historical legacy of school math? Also, who was/is intended to benefit & how? #cmcmath #mathequity”
It seems a bit self-defeating for an education bureaucrat specializing in math to call for the eradication of her field, but Gutiérrez enthusiastically picked it up: “Yes! This is a part of what I’ve been referring to as defunding maths: literally defunding it from K-12 curriculum (requirements, testing) & society (STEM funding and salaries) but also figuratively from our minds (giving the current version more value than other subjects/gifts).”
The remarks almost make it seem like these gals are not so much in favor of eliminating math as they are for eliminating clear thinking on public school properties, and redistributing wealth from high-achieving people to politically preferred ethnic groups.
Next, Mathematical Association of America, a professional organization to which 25,000 educators belong, ran interference for the 2+2=5 bunch. MAA published an essay by Dr. Keith Devlin, who, without linking to the actual debate, assured readers that the Woke Math proponents never said two and two is five.
He further stated that of course arithmetic is cultural because we belong to the culture that understands what two and two add up to. If other cultures don’t have this knowledge, they are well-advised to appropriate it from us, and we shouldn’t shy away from teaching it.
There might not be very many people subscribing to such bizarre opinions, and they might not have many followers, but every last one of them has institutional power to destroy mathematics and with it the future of our children. If there ever a cause for conservative canceling, we should cancel these specialists. They do not belong in education.