Dark Web Centrism

by Henry on May 9, 2018

My new piece in Vox:


Bari Weiss, an opinion writer and editor at the New York Times, created a stir this week with a long article on a group that calls itself the “Intellectual Dark Web.” The coinage referred to a loose collective of intellectuals and media personalities who believe they are “locked out” of mainstream media, in Weiss’s words, and who are building their own ways to communicate with readers.

The thinkers profiled included the neuroscientist and prominent atheist writer Sam Harris, the podcaster Dave Rubin, and University of Toronto psychologist and Chaos Dragon maven Jordan Peterson.

The article provoked disbelieving guffaws from critics, who pointed out that cable news talking heads like Ben Shapiro have hardly been purged. Many words could be used to describe Sam Harris, but ”silenced” is not plausibly one of them.

Some assertions in the piece deserved the ridicule. But Weiss accurately captured a genuine perception among the people she is writing about (and, perhaps, for). They do feel isolated and marginalized, and with some justification. However, the reasons are quite different from those suggested by Weiss. She asserts that they have been marginalized because of their willingness to take on all topics, and determination not to “[parrot] what’s politically convenient.”

{ 205 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Brett 05.09.18 at 4:15 pm

I think it runs farther back than that. Conservative intellectuals have been defining themselves as suppressed rebels fighting against a liberal suppressive consensus for decades. Certainly the feeling is true, though, and it’s the high-brow cousin to the overall biggest driver in the conservative movement now: resentment at the loss of cultural hegemony, anger at being “disrespected”, etc.

2

PatinIowa 05.10.18 at 3:21 pm

Dear Bari Weiss,

You say, “Mr. Peterson is now arguably the most famous public intellectual in Canada, and his book “12 Rules for Life” is a best-seller.”

Let me introduce you to a famous Canadian intellectual you may heard of: http://margaretatwood.ca. There are others, more famous, and much, much smarter.

Hugs and kisses,
A Canadian

3

Sebastian H 05.10.18 at 3:26 pm

That’s what happens when conservatives have been largely ‘excluded’ from the academic world. They feel excluded.

*excluded is a word like ‘federalism’ where people seem completely incapable of using it consistently across similar cases. In many fields conservatives argue that statistical disparity suggests choice, and liberals argue that it represents the idea that the field communicates to women through many various ways that they are unwelcome. But in the academic world alone, for no well articulated reason other than whose ox gets gored, the roles are reversed.

I tend to think it is sort of a classic case where both extremes would be better served by listening to the other. Choice based on truly different preferences really is a thing, while massive under representation compared to the population is often a real hint that discrimination is occurring.

4

DrDick 05.10.18 at 3:31 pm

“Conservative intellectuals” (an oxymoron) do nothing else than “[parrot] what’s politically convenient” for them. These “ideas” of theirs are ridiculed and marginalized for the simple reason that they are demonstrably wrong, which we have known for decades. Human beings are one least genetically diverse species of animals on earth and the overwhelming majority of that variation is between individuals in the same group. We are also characterized by very high levels of neural and behavioral plasticity. That is our brains aggressively rewire themselves in response to environmental factors and we display a huge amount of behavioral variability, even within families. Identical twins raised apart can have IQs which differ by as much as 30 points. As my geneticist colleague says, it is never just about the genes. In many cases, genetic factors only play a relatively minor role.

5

bianca steele 05.10.18 at 3:43 pm

I haven’t read either piece yet, but there are interesting possibilities for synergy between the American frontier truth-teller, the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (or E.A. Robinson making mild fun of Miniver Cheevy who missed the medieval grace of iron clothing), and an older, more Continental sense.

I was wondering earlier today where Jim Sleeper has been since Trump was elected. It’s all Democrats’ fault, of course.

I wonder if Weiss sees herself as restoring a kind of admiration men like that surely have due them, an acknowledgement of the divine grace that must have descended on them for them to have such confidence in the face of other people.

6

Patrick 05.10.18 at 4:46 pm

Its not totally out of the ordinary to say that people have been silenced if they’re marginalized but still able to get out their message. A whole lotta LGBT activism would be retroactively deemed nonsense if we decided that nobody is “silenced” if they still have the means to spread their message.

My not very original take- this “dark web” stuff groups up a lot of people that I don’t actually see as similar in anything but superficial ways, and while the original article acknowledges that there are a lot of differences I don’t think the similarities it mentions go very far.

Short, quippy version of what could otherwise be a long comment: Any list that groups Haidt and Owens together needs to really justify why they’re doing it. Haidt is just a run of the mill centrist who thinks campus culture sucks on discourse issues (he’s right, while exaggerated by conservatives for political gain the no platform brigade is frequently stupid and we would be better off without them). Whereas Owens is an actual crazy person maybe?

Insisting on grouping these people up in this way just opens you to attack from, well… from people like Henry Farrell, who will use the association to tar everyone involved. Grouping Heying with Owens is good for Owens and bad for Heying. I mean, imagine that its three weeks ago and Farrell wants to write an attack piece on people like Heather Heying by tarring her with gamergate. We’d all laugh at him. But group her up with Shapiro and Owens and suddenly it doesn’t sound so stupid.

7

Adam Hammond 05.10.18 at 4:51 pm

A loss of prestige and prominence is so often viewed as a terrible personal tragedy, even when the nadir of the fall is a comfortable life by any objective measure. The struggle to relieve the real suffering of large numbers of people is somehow balanced against this falsely deep sense of loss by a few of the privileged. No one should be sanguine about an injustice done to a privileged person, but don’t fall for some kind of false equivalence!

8

JanieM 05.10.18 at 5:18 pm

who believe they are “locked out” of mainstream media, in Weiss’s words, and who are building their own ways to communicate with readers.

Oh wait, I thought it was Al Gore who invented the internet.

9

JRLRC 05.10.18 at 5:33 pm

I appreciate your search for equilibrium, Henry.
There is a problem of assholery, of course: http://jrlrc.tumblr.com/post/173497453942/a-tale-of-two-assholes-jordan-peterson-and-robin

10

Lee A. Arnold 05.10.18 at 5:42 pm

Will somebody please ask the darkheads what they think of the US pulling out of the Iran deal? Anyone with a functioning intellect and who can synthesize a train of facts is likely to conclude that the US will become militarily isolated (with Israel) and also it will lead the US into faster economic decline.

11

JanieM 05.10.18 at 5:49 pm

Choice based on truly different preferences really is a thing, while massive under representation compared to the population is often a real hint that discrimination is occurring.

So creationists should be proportionally represented in science departments, instead of being discriminated against by hiring committees?

12

Layman 05.10.18 at 6:04 pm

Sebastian H: “That’s what happens when conservatives have been largely ‘excluded’ from the academic world. They feel excluded.”

These ‘excluded’ conservatives are almost exactly like the ‘economically struggling’ Trump voters; which is to say, when you look at the conservatives who are complaining about being excluded, you find that they aren’t by and large being excluded, and when you look at the people who voted for Trump, you find that they aren’t by and large economically struggling. Isn’t that so, Sebastian?

13

James 05.10.18 at 6:26 pm

“However, they, and she, systematically avoid using one obvious and common metaphor for their experience: taking the red pill.”

This is an odd statement, ‘taking the red pill’ seems to be a ubiquitous term across the right-wing Youtube commentariat.

14

anon/portly 05.10.18 at 6:30 pm

From the Vox piece:

The truth is rather that dark web intellectuals, like Donald Trump supporters and the online alt-right, have experienced a sharp decline in their relative status over time. [Emphasis mine].

If Weiss’s piece demonstrates anything, it’s that the figures under discussion have seen a sharp rise in their relative status over time.

15

Z 05.10.18 at 6:57 pm

But in the academic world alone, for no well articulated reason other than whose ox gets gored, the roles are reversed.

OK, let me articulate a reason (I’ll let you judge if it is a well articulated one).

If you have the capabilities to lead an academic career, you probably have the capabilities to lead much more materially comfortable careers. So people in academia are self-selected for a particular form of disdain of material wealth which is unsurprisingly correlated with left-wing views. If you are in academia, you have in all likelihood been under attack from right-wing governments all your professional life, so if you were conservative to begin with, chances are you will be less and less so at least in terms of electoral choices years after years if only because of your own life experience (I found that particular political position quite common in the US in fact: people with all the political views of a mainstream European rightwing party like the CDU but who always vote D because well, Trump, or Bush).

I’m quite convinced these two phenomena explain about 100% of the (actual) severe under representation of right-wing researchers in my field compared to the rest of the population and I’m totally convinced discrimination explains 0% of it (because hiring is purely done on the basis of research output and even Stalin apparently agreed that mathematics had little to do with political preferences). Beside, my model is predictive: it predicts for instance that when careers in academia are actually materially comparable to others open to equally talented students and when right-wing governments do take care of academia and research, academia should be much more right-wing. Anecdotally, comparing the situation in France, Canada, Germany and Japan seems to confirm this prediction.

Going back to the topic of the piece, it seems very likely to me that Sam Harris (for instance) has zero interest in an academic career. His books sell far too well and getting tenure in neuroscience is probably way too hard.

16

Collin Street 05.10.18 at 7:15 pm

Conservative intellectuals have been defining themselves as suppressed rebels fighting against a liberal suppressive consensus for decades.

Even by the most charitable definition of “conservatism”, conservative thought is going to systemically lag the evidence — be more and more-predictably wrong — than other frameworks.

You’re not going to have inspiring new ideas from conservative intellectuals because definitionaly conservatism doesn’t produce new ideas. There’s no need to keep hiring conservative intellectuals: their work is done.

I mean, Sebastian says academics exclude conservatives, but… what exactly is a conservative academic supposed to do? Argue against new ideas? We… don’t actually need that. “Argue against” is done by the reader, individually.

17

Antonin 05.10.18 at 7:22 pm

pretty bad comments today, CT. do better.

18

politicalfootball 05.10.18 at 7:27 pm

There’s a lot of confusion about how different intellectual traditions should be treated in respectable venues such as newspapers, magazines or universities, and it often comes down to a misguided desire that poor arguments have as much merit as good ones.

Weiss fails to acknowledge that problem directly, but she does recognize the risk inherent in refusing to make distinctions between truth and falsehood, or between decency and loathsomeness. There are arguments that are too vile and stupid even for her to accept, and she is quite clear that she wants them to remain beyond the pale.

Here is Chait, stumbling over the same problem:

Standards are vital, but if we fall for the temptation of using them only as grounds for excluding conservatives, standards are ultimately having the effect of closing our minds rather than opening them.

Sure, our biases will lead us to be unfair to arguments we don’t find congenial, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon standards to pursue spurious fairness. The answer to the problem that Chait identifies is to try to publish fewer falsehoods, not more.

Chait’s argument proves way too much. Biologists are, as a group, much more sympathetic to evolutionists than creationists, but if you systematically exclude the conservative viewpoint, aren’t you failing to properly challenge scientists?

Chait doesn’t name conservatives who are inappropriately excluded from the liberal conversation. I suspect this is because the real-life examples don’t reflect well on his argument.

Kevin Williamson routinely makes fantastically bad arguments, and when your stated beliefs are this profoundly dishonest, you have no claim on the attention of people who aspire to determine the truth.

Liberals do make arguments this bad, but when they do, they are criticized by liberals. There was no conservative outcry against Williamson’s ludicrous work because modern conservatives are part of an intellectual tradition that doesn’t find fault with an argument merely because it is absurd.

19

b9n10nt 05.10.18 at 7:28 pm

thanks for this, Henry.

See also this piece by Nathan Robinson for a more impassioned take-down of the Weiss article.

20

michael blechman 05.10.18 at 7:55 pm

when left to define themselves they may claim some basic level of exclusion by more relevant thinkers than their group… however there is little sense in ms. weiss’ commentary as far as their being anything worth noting… when the evidence is the same as the fact that there is no there there we are left with the empty phrases echoing forth:
redundancy is always a closed circle when nonsense is the prime interger and this ms. weiss has in abundance…

21

politicalfootball 05.10.18 at 8:10 pm

And William Saletan, to his genuine credit, has written a serious mea culpa for his previous flirtations with race-IQ theorizing.

Poor Saletan is still struggling with this. He really misses the boat when he agrees with Harris that “Data can’t be racist.”

Data absolutely could be racist! When you assert that black people are, as a group, intellectually inferior to whites, you are making a racist claim. Period. The question is: Is racism supported by the data? If racism were the correct lens through which to view society and history, it would still be racism.

To talk intelligently about these things, you have to be able to distinguish between ideological labels and factuality, and embrace the truth regardless while still being willing to apply the correct ideological label.

This is problem that Chait has. Murray’s views aren’t rejected solely because they are racist, but because they are ludicrous. Williamson’s failure to break into the Atlantic is not merely a result of conservatism, but of his foolishness.

22

bianca steele 05.10.18 at 9:19 pm

“Weiss fails to acknowledge that problem directly, but she does recognize the risk inherent in refusing to make distinctions between truth and falsehood, or between decency and loathsomeness. There are arguments that are too vile and stupid even for her to accept, and she is quite clear that she wants them to remain beyond the pale.”

I think this is over-charitable. Weiss recognizes no such risk. She wants “gatekeepers”, not “principles.” She wants people to be granted the authority to decide what should be printed. People like the editors who employ her. (She’s using the rhetoric that 15 years ago was directed by the likes of the NYT at the likes of Slate and Salon.)

Having read both pieces, now, I think my primary reaction is disappointment that the “they’ve lost status so of course they’re upset” argument has survived 2016. It reads as superficial and self-congratulatory (but then after all it’s Vox). Labeling the people responsible for the idea of “the intellectual dark web” as “centrist” also seems . . . misguided. If there’s a disconnect between academia and the real world that’s of any consequence, I suspect it’s an almost entirely incompatible sense of where the political lines are and what the distribution of ideas is among reasonably literate people outside the academy, and slightly “offbeat” ways of deciding what’s “left,” “right,” or “center”. I’m not thrilled about the word “contrarian” either.

23

Faustusnotes 05.10.18 at 10:25 pm

Nice work Henry and nice to see you linking this clique of whining idiots to the New Misogyny. I really don’t understand how Weiss can claim these people are being silenced but I guess that’s what you get from a conservative”intellectual” affirmative action hire. If these people had to actually compete on the strength of their ideas they would all be relegated to the skeeziest backwaters of Reddit.

Also nice to see Sam Harris keeping the company he deserves. Maybe there is hope for the world get, when an attempt to kick-start your career as a public intellectual by being a racist dick leaves you wallowing in the mud with paedophilia advocates and incomprehensible dragon energy psychologists. Maybe he’ll get a gig at Infowars to complete the fall.

24

Joseph Brenner 05.10.18 at 10:30 pm

This is an annoying abuse of the phrase “dark web”– the actual dark web is not people who are “shut-out” of the mainstream, they’re people who are hiding from the mainstream. If conservatives are now aligning themselves with pedophiles and drug-dealers, that’s a new thing in itself.

25

bianca steele 05.10.18 at 11:11 pm

Re. Chait’s piece, do liberals need conservative intellectuals? Well, the brand of liberal that thinks ideas are always conservative probably does, because they don’t seem to find themselves able to do anything except bounce objections off conservatism. The nature of the objection doesn’t even seem to matter, if it’s new it’s got to be “left” apparently. I doubt that’s what he’s getting at though.

26

ph 05.10.18 at 11:22 pm

I’m not sure how much research you did on the actual ‘Intellectual Dark Web site.’
Here’s how the site creator describes her/himself:
“The author of this site is left of centre with mostly progressive, liberal values…”

Identity?

“I might choose to share that later. It’s hardly important. (Huh? To whom?) I have no affiliation with any of the people listed on this site, (I’m just an impartial soul bundling together a ‘dark collective’) old media, new media or any political movement. I’m just a person who is trying to tell the truth. (Of course, you are, poor dear.) Talk to me @edustentialist. (Perhaps another time.)

I can’t frankly imagine Pinker MIT/Harvard identifying as marginalized in any sense. Pinker’s widely-disseminated ideas and academic contributions are easily accessible. The fact that he may/may not be currently out of favor with a community that self-identifies as progressive/liberal for the most part means about as much as not being ‘liked’ this week on Instagram.

The fact that Dr. Peterson is even identified as a Canadian intellectual, rather than as a tenured professor and popular author speaks to the weakness of the piece. There are a great many highly-regarded Canadian intellectuals and Dr. Peterson isn’t on many lists, even as a psychologist.

The current exercise began as the creation of a left of center anonymous author who created a website about the right – called it the ‘Intellectual Dark Web.’ Now we’re doing our part to help drive the meme through the web using language which I’m certain Pinker and Harris would object to. You’re better than this. Really. Very shabby.

27

ph 05.10.18 at 11:22 pm

28

ph 05.11.18 at 12:36 am

Apologies, Henry, and thanks to b9n10nt@18 for the link to Robinson, who provides the history of the DW term- ‘term coined by Eric Weinstein’ who actually does appear to be an idiot.

You’re right to add clarity and context to the discussion. That said, I still object very strongly with identifying any intellectuals (even Murray) with the DW. Conflating Peterson, Pinker, and Harris in any sense with pederasts, snuff-film addicts, and other sundry debased souls crosses too many lines.

I’m guilty in my @20 of not getting more data on the use of DW and for relying on the shabby NYT piece. Very bad me. Criticism withdrawn with apologies.

Apart from your repeated use of the appalling term DW, your Vox piece is excellent.

29

Ronan(rf) 05.11.18 at 12:48 am

“In many fields conservatives argue that statistical disparity suggests choice, and liberals argue that it represents the idea that the field communicates to women through many various ways that they are unwelcome. But in the academic world alone, for no well articulated reason other than whose ox gets gored, the roles are reversed.”

You keep pushing these same talking points. Most of the evidence says conservatives are underrepresented in *some parts* of academia mostly because of selection effects. For earning potential or reasons of differing preferences they opt out of the academic life(in some fields) Does this matter? I dont see why.
Most research accepts the same is true of women in the occupations theyre underrepresented in, that the reason women and men sort by occupations at times is not primarily discrimination(or even a theoretically hostile work enviornment, though type of enviornment might matter), but choice.(And this is shown by the fact that the choice happens prior to even entering the labour market, in school or college subjects taken) What most people who want to, say, get more women into CS(or more men into pediatrics)say is you need to get them earlier, and encourage them prior to college, probably even secondary school. How is this applicable to conservatives and academia? I actually dont think it matters if women and men sort by occupations, and our obsession with is almost completely lost on me. But at least it has a logic, What’s the logic of caring that you dont have an equal ideological representation among sociology professors? I mean why would the world be a better place if this was the case?

On the OP, I dont think the problem is status decline(which is overreaching a bit) but partisanship. Elite politics has polarised across the board, that this has manifested itself among the chattering classes doesnt strike me as unusual. I also dont think a lot of these people in the ‘intellectual dark web’ are ‘alt right’, or hard right, or even care much about multiculturalism. Most of them are pretty annoying and endlessly engaged in self promotion, but they arent political radicals.

30

floopmeister 05.11.18 at 2:04 am

Maybe he’ll get a gig at Infowars to complete the fall.

Is Alex Jones now hawking pills (I would guess labelled Spanish Kant?) that enable the users to see through religious obscurantism and achieve a true state of secular Enlightenment?

I must get me some of those…

31

Henry 05.11.18 at 3:02 am

Apologies, Henry, and thanks to b9n10nt@18 for the link to Robinson, who provides the history of the DW term- ‘term coined by Eric Weinstein’ who actually does appear to be an idiot.

You’re right to add clarity and context to the discussion. That said, I still object very strongly with identifying any intellectuals (even Murray) with the DW. Conflating Peterson, Pinker, and Harris in any sense with pederasts, snuff-film addicts, and other sundry debased souls crosses too many lines.

I’m guilty in my @20 of not getting more data on the use of DW and for relying on the shabby NYT piece. Very bad me. Criticism withdrawn with apologies.

Apart from your repeated use of the appalling term DW, your Vox piece is excellent.

No worries at all.

32

GrueBleen 05.11.18 at 5:01 am

Z #15

“…even Stalin apparently agreed that mathematics had little to do with political preferences”

Yeah maybe. But Joe certainly thought that political preferences had a lot to do with genetics. Is there a clear distinction between Trofim Lysenko and Charles Murray ?

33

bad Jim 05.11.18 at 6:37 am

Conservatism by itself is so unappealing that it requires an external threat to make it palatable, so it was hobbled by the fall of the Soviet Union and the decline in the crime rate in the 90’s. It was briefly buoyed by the World Trade Center attacks, then sunk after the invasion of Iraq. Similarly, decades of freshwater economics were discredited by the Great Recession and the unfulfilled predictions of dire results from fiscal stimulus and mildly expansionary monetary policy.

It’s not self-correcting; it continues to advocate policies no matter what their results. Eternal verities concerning sexual or racial inequality are maintained despite the disappearance of scientific support, and emerging threats like climate change are summarily dismissed.

This is a time of rapid change, and you don’t need to be as old as I am to think not everything new is good, but it is absolutely essential to be able to change your mind.

34

MFB 05.11.18 at 7:13 am

What is actually weird about the assumptions behind this, is that genuinely radical thought should somehow be mainstream, and if what you define as genuinely radical thought is not mainstream, then something needs to be done about this.

Now, I think it has been established that in any case the people being referred to are a) not genuinely radical and b) receive a lot of mainstream attention (which is what you might expect). However, if they were genuinely radical — that is, if their thoughts genuinely endangered the positions of a lot of powerful and wealthy people — then you would assume that the only mainstream attention they would receive would be dismissive, since the mainstream exists to serve the powerful and wealthy.

Hence the whole thing seems foolishly self-contradictory, and no wonder the New York Times published it.

35

Susanc 05.11.18 at 7:51 am

The term “dark web” has some very negative connotations, as noted earlier in this thread. The phrase put me in mind of The Dailt Stormer, which really did get kicked off the Internet by Cloudflare and the major ISP’s, and tried (not very succesfully) to remian accesibke using Tor.

On the other hand, the discussion is really being had along the line of: Its looking possible that Reddit et al might expel the right leaning politucal groups .. which leads them to consider building something that is a bit like Tor, expect that it doesn’t suck … which then leads those groups to wory that if they built such a thing, various other groups they dont approve of would also use it. (E.g. I think Pizzagate is a nonsense conspiracy theory, but some of its supporters apear to be genuine about trying to prevent child abuse)

36

roger gathmann 05.11.18 at 9:58 am

This has long been the conservative self-image. It didn’t start with Trump. In fact, remember Bush – Rebel in Chief? Yeah, Fred Barnes, asslicking back in the day!
In fact, institutions do have politics. I imagine, for instance, that it is a lot harder being a centrist liberal type in a management job at a petroleum company than it is being a rightist type in a psychology department. Although of course even in the psychology department, empathy will only get you so far – for the big time you have to research for a pharma company to create the next big addictive mood alter-er.

Farrell’s point, though, still holds. In the establishment media, where Weiss has a job, a pro-Trump conservative has little chance of getting a hot job. That job will go, almost certainly, to never-Trump conservatives – which, as innumerable people have pointed out, is insane, if the point is to broaden the “conversation.” Never-Trump conservatives have a constituency consisting of the children of the Krystols and the children of the Podhorentzes. That is about it. Meanwhile, there is not a single socialist op ed person in any major media position.

Which is all about the politics of these institutions, and the worries associated with them. I’ve never heard of a petro company head worrying that too many oilmen are conservative. But the media and academy do worry about this, since they, after all, depend on the petro companies – ads, endowments, etc. Beneath the status quicksand underneath the feet of conservative intellectuals, there is, as well, the quicksand underneath the foundations of those traditional institutions, like academia and the press, which are making them much less powerful in the status-conferring business.

37

casmilus 05.11.18 at 10:19 am

@15

Yes indeed. Similar processes account for the preponderance of middle class academics in the Humanities; if you haven’t got private income you don’t waste your time on lower paid, less secure employment than you can get elsewhere.

You might also notice similar effects in schoolteachers. I’ve heard from plenty of retired secondary school teachers in the UK that the stereotype of the “progressive” or “loony left” teacher demonised in the right-wing press from about 1970 onwards barely existed outside a few London boroughs; the profession was generally conservative in that old British sense that had 2 different conservative parties to choose between at election to time. What shifted the mass of the profession toward the left was its treatment at the hands of Tory governments in the 80s, with erosion of pay but more importantly no restriction of the rise of Parents Know Best culture, marketisation, bureaucracy etc. If you have a decent university degree and life options and don’t want to move into the admin side, then you get out of teaching as soon as you’ve outgrown any youthful idealism, which is by about 30 in most cases.

As the Left ought to be saying, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Incidentally, if we’re searching for the earliest example of the genre in question, I point you to Roger Scruton’s essay “The Left Establishment”, printed in the journal The Salisbury Review (which he founded and edited) in 1988, reprinted in his collection The Philosopher On Dover Beach. Includes comments on the trouble he got into for writing Thinkers Of The New Left (which recently got republished in a new edition with new hate figures included).

38

bianca steele 05.11.18 at 12:16 pm

Ronan @ 29

Seems to me if the under representation of conservatives among faculty is due partly to differences in what counts as “conservative” or “liberal” it might not matter that much. In the “real” world, a person who brings gender differences into every discussion might have a hard time maintaining a view of himself as “liberal,” no matter how much time they spent thinking about climate change and government support for basic research. That fact seems to be exactly what people like James Damore resent, in fact.

39

Ronan(rf) 05.11.18 at 1:53 pm

“Yes indeed. Similar processes account for the preponderance of middle class academics in the Humanities; if you haven’t got private income you don’t waste your time on lower paid, less secure employment than you can get elsewhere.”

No, this is the partisan way of expressing the point. The more empirically supportable way is not that the average conservative who has a choice btw post grad or private sector chooses more money more early on because they can’t afford a life as a postgrad, But because they don’t want to make the sacrifice or make a different cost /benefit analysis. School teachers as loony leftists is silly. Be less silly.

On the OP, I still don’t see what’s the evidence for status threat? Status threat is certainly plausible for trump (and I was arguing cultural factors were important when the dead end of economic anxiety was being pushed) But it’s a theory. What we see as Status threat could also just be a manifestation of traditional attitudes and a sense of loss of community. These are the two ways of framing it, depending on partisan affiliation.

But that explanation doesn’t make a lot of sense when applied to a handful of self described contrary intellectuals. Status threat/community loss ‘re trump comes from demographic change and changing cultural values. It’s a stretch to think this applies to the IDW. Harris does complain about multiculturalism, but specifically he complains about Islam. And a lot of his angst is quite clearly partisan (liberals refuse to acknowledge reactionary norms among some minority, particularly Muslim, populations) This is absolutely a fair objection, even if I disagree with Harris’ analysis which barely rises above boilerplate. Liberals *do ignore* reactionary attitudes and norms among populations they’re more favourable towards.
There are plenty of reasonable Critiques of multiculturalism(which is not to say of having multiracial/ethnic societies, but of enabling reactionary norms to flourish in subsections of the population)Critiquing multiculturalism is not in and of itself evidence of feeling you’ve lost status due to greater diversity.

I wouldn’t see Harris’ critiques as being a consequence of his fear of a changing world where he’s losing status, I’d see them as a consequence of elite partisanship. Liberal and conservative media outlets are, imo, clearly closing in more along partisan lines. Polarisation is increasing particularly among the demographics most likely to hang in this milleu(well educated, high info political anoraks) The IDW is just a consequence of this polarisation.

40

Thomas Beale 05.11.18 at 3:16 pm

politcalfootball @21

Data absolutely could be racist! When you assert that black people are, as a group, intellectually inferior to whites, you are making a racist claim. Period. The question is: Is racism supported by the data? If racism were the correct lens through which to view society and history, it would still be racism.

What an odd thing to say. If some reliable data show that the normal curve of IQ for some group is different to that for another group, there is no value judgment involved. ‘Racism’ is denigration of an individual(s) based on (supposed) membership of a racial category. There are no denigrations to be found in good quality data. If there were such data, then the statement that ‘caucasians on average have lower IQs than Asians’ has an objective meaning. Statements that might sound racist will either be just statements of fact, or they will be unsupported by evidence, and thus may be intentionally racist. Not much to see here. Or did I miss some sharper than usual satire?

(for the avoidance of doubt, I have no interest in the black < white < asian IQ schema, and couldn't care less whether there are data proving it or not; this is just a point on clear thinking).

With respect to the OP, the NYT article is uninteresting, but I also don't see the problem with that much of Pinker, Harris, Haidt etc. They seem mainly interested in defending what remains of enlightenment civilisational values from the radical left / postmodernists, who don't care about history, the relative quality of particular ideas, or much else, as far as I can see. They can all be critiqued on specific points just as anyone else can, but the true problem people are the tribal ideologues, on whatever side of politics.

41

casmilus 05.11.18 at 3:28 pm

@38

“School teachers as loony leftists is silly. Be less silly.”

I actually said they *weren’t* the “loony left” caricature, but there was a move toward the left later on, in response to declining conditions under Conservative government.

42

dilbert dogbert 05.11.18 at 3:57 pm

Back in the day Joseph Priestly was “silenced” for his phlogiston theory. If he had access to the internet would he have started a Phogiston Dark Net?

43

Another Nick 05.11.18 at 4:08 pm

It’s a conscious strategy. The trick is always to argue your freedom of speech is under threat.

1) Publishers will be more sympathetic by nature. Try getting something published that says ‘publishers should be subject to greater regulation, and heavier penalties for defamation’.

2) Publishers tend to think things that are ‘suppressed’ and ‘controversial’ will sell more copies.

3) ‘Why free speech is important’ is easier to argue than “why coloured people are less intelligent’. Make sure to spend at least 90% of your time discussing that instead of the actual issue.

4) Your audience believes its voice in society is being silenced, that ‘nobody is listening to them’. Never fail to remind them nobody is listening to you either you’re also being silenced.

44

Ronan(rf) 05.11.18 at 6:15 pm

casmilus @15, sorry I misread your point. I take back my reply to you above.

45

Sebastian H 05.11.18 at 7:08 pm

Z–

If you have the capabilities to lead an academic career, you probably have the capabilities to lead much more materially comfortable careers. So people in academia are self-selected for a particular form of disdain of material wealth which is unsurprisingly correlated with left-wing views. If you are in academia, you have in all likelihood been under attack from right-wing governments all your professional life, so if you were conservative to begin with, chances are you will be less and less so at least in terms of electoral choices years after years if only because of your own life experience (I found that particular political position quite common in the US in fact: people with all the political views of a mainstream European rightwing party like the CDU but who always vote D because well, Trump, or Bush).”

This feels like a just-so story to me rather than an explanation. It has a lot of unpacked assumptions.

1. Your assumption about success in the non-academic world is almost certainly correct for the highest level professors. I’m sure Tyler Cowen could do great in any job: he reads quickly, synthesizes information from lots of different sources, and has a flair for the deliberately ambiguous which works well in the corporate world. Brad DeLong could probably do great in some big bank. The same is not true of all sorts of mid-level professors. Middle to upper-middle class pay PLUS better than most private job benefits PLUS tenure/almost can’t be fired is an enormous draw for the kind of person who could be a mid to low level professor. The idea that almost no conservative person could be attracted to that seems completely unsupported. Further it is contradicted by history, as the dearth of conservatives in the University appears only in the last 30-40 years. In fact in the 40s and 50s it was mostly assumed that universities were largely hostile to the left and overrun by conservatives. Your argument would have equally explained why there were no conservatives THEN, which should suggest that its explanatory power now is weak. (Similarly, at the very beginning of computers there were quite a few women programmers/operators. Now it is hard to decide if that was a true preference, or just because it was one of the few high paying technical jobs open to women at the time [i.e. like complaints about how secretaries are worse than they used to be, which may very well be true because secretary used to be one of the only places for a smart woman to go, while now there are other options] but it at least problematizes the idea that conservatives just choose to earn money elsewhere without being pushed out.

2. “So people in academia are self-selected for a particular form of disdain of material wealth which is unsurprisingly correlated with left-wing views. ” Again you are overdrawing conservatives. There are a large number of deeply religious conservatives who aren’t particularly wedded to wealth. Why aren’t they professors? You are also under-drawing leftish professors. If you see their houses and cars you wouldn’t be so sure that they disdain material wealth. Generally your argument seems to be that conservatives are attracted to wealth SO MUCH that they choose higher paying jobs. I don’t believe the divide between attraction to wealth is particularly sharp, nor do I believe that professor compensation is so shabby as to drive all conservatives out. I also believe that lots of people on both sides of the political divide are driven by lots of non-money drives.

Basically I would be much more open to your explanations if the difference between the population at large and the professoriate were small to medium. Sure, then on the margin, maybe many conservatives don’t value tenure as much. Then, maybe on the margin, maybe many conservatives want to make a bit more money. But it is hard to explain in the enormous differences.

Sidenote–last time I talked about this JQ suggested that if you control for education level, the difference between the professoriate and the base population isn’t enormous. But that strikes me as improper analysis in quite a few ways. First, in the fields most impacted, there isn’t much point in trying to get a PhD unless you are going to be a professor. Which leads to Second, the gatekeeping is being done by the very people we suspect of discrimination. So if it is already clear in a thousand little ways that you won’t get to become a professor (collegiality) why would you bother wasting time getting a PhD? You can’t then argue that most PhDs are liberal therefore ‘controlling for education level’ everything is fine (which is really to say things aren’t as damningly obvious if you control for education level rather than ‘parity if you control for education level’).

But I mostly object to the special pleading for universities. For any other type of employment, best case 6:1 skews from the population (only if you include community colleges which are skewed the least–challenging the ‘conservatives just want to make money’ theory) to 11:1 in 4 year colleges to 28:1 in New England 4 year colleges, would be damning. In the normal world even relatively small shifts from the base population are at least suspect. University employers just aren’t THAT special.

46

bekabot 05.11.18 at 8:40 pm

I still object very strongly with identifying any intellectuals (even Murray) with the DW. Conflating Peterson, Pinker, and Harris in any sense with pederasts, snuff-film addicts, and other sundry debased souls crosses too many lines.

1. Have they objected? (I ask this question in actual ignorance; I honestly don’t know the answer.)

2. If they have, can’t they be trusted to speak for themselves? Are they hapless enough that they need to be defended? Can’t they stand on their own feet and prove their own points? Can’t they fight their own battles? Why do they need your help?

3. And if they haven’t (objected, that is) — why should you? Don’t they have the right to choose their own companions? If they don’t like the people they’re surrounded by, they can find another crowd to hang out with, as would any of us.

Just asking…and apologies for any impoliteness shown.

47

bekabot 05.11.18 at 8:46 pm

Is there a clear distinction between Trofim Lysenko and Charles Murray ?

I think there is: they’re both determinists, but they’re polar opposites when it comes to the question of what they think the determining factors are.

48

Mario 05.11.18 at 10:05 pm

I don’t think that the marginalization that these people are talking about is the same marginalization that the OP ist talking about. See e.g. Bret Weinstein on the issue.

49

Faustusnotes 05.12.18 at 12:02 am

It’s very important that we look for underlying social reasons for conservatives to not become academics, rather than consider the possibility that the kind of thinking skills required to be an academic simply lead people away from conservatism.

Except in economics of course …

50

ph 05.12.18 at 1:17 am

@46 I don’t much care if Peterson et al object. I object to Republicans and religious cranks conflating homosexuality with pederasty. I object to the entire Peterson and company are being silenced nonsense because it is, as Henry and others confirm. I’ve a longer comment in mind by not the time, so I’ll try to hammer it out quickly.

I first started reading CT when David Horowitz and company were actively trying to get people like Berube fired. There’s no question that this gang of assholes (Koch-funded in many cases) have an agenda of their own. Hence, the need for constant scrutiny simply for self-preservation purposes. As Henry points out, however, there are fewer orthodox NRO readers than Jonah Goldberg, Bill, Kristol, and Nicole Wallace would like.

Trump and his supporters couldn’t give a damn about TG bathrooms, most are simply sick of reading about how important the TG issue is when wages are flat, infra-structure is collapsing, the opiates are destroying communities, and good jobs are evaporating.

Musa al-Gharbi argues that Sanders would have won with a message of economic populism and that voting trends indicate identity politics is actually destroying the Democrats coalition: https://bloggingheads.tv/videos/52739?in=00:01

Henry’s Vox piece is a mix of expert analysis, meme production with a strong subtext of venality and even resentment, in my view. The term DW runs through Henry’s entire piece which for me is problematic to say the least because the thrust of Henry’s argument and that of others seems to be that there is no DW.

So, why not employ the term DW, as Henry does, or conflate Pinker with pederasts? Simple. It’s dismissive and debasing at best, and detracts very much from Henry’s valid points.

The prospects for Democrats remain grim even in 2018. The large lead Dems held has disappeared to a single point. Musa al-Ghabri, Blyth, and others argue that Democrats need to stake out a clear economic program and run on it, even if that means horrifying their Davos-class donors. I’ve already retracted my poorly-grounded complaints. I believe I’m on much firmer ground here. Al-gharbi presents the case clearly – wake up to the reality that African-Americans need only to drift away from Dems in small numbers, as they did in 2016, for there to be huge consequences. DW nonsense is frankly a waste of time, and given that the Democratic party is in the worst shape since the civil war, you’d think a few of the brighter sticks might notice and respond thoughtfully to the crisis.

That’s it from me. My next project is watching Glenn Loury and John McWhorter https://bloggingheads.tv/videos/52779?in=00:01 rif on their role as dissenting intellectuals, the DW, Kanye West, Coates, and has Trump done anything for black America.

51

J-D 05.12.18 at 4:06 am

Is there a clear distinction between Trofim Lysenko and Charles Murray ?

Well, for one thing, Sam Harris would never invite Trofim Lysenko to be a guest on his podcast–I mean, even if he weren’t dead; the point illustrated being that it’s not possible to evaluate a decision to exclude somebody from expressing a point of view in some context independently of any evaluation of the content of that view.

52

J-D 05.12.18 at 4:11 am

Susanc

I think Pizzagate is a nonsense conspiracy theory, but some of its supporters apear to be genuine about trying to prevent child abuse

You might want to think about what work the words ‘I think’ are doing at the beginning of that sentence, and once you’ve done that you might consider leaving them out the next time you express that thought.

53

Alex SL 05.12.18 at 6:03 am

I always wonder to what degree those who argue that there is discrimination against conservatives in academia and research actually have any insight into hiring procedures. How is that discrimination supposed to work in practice? It is certainly not too much of a joke to say that hiring decisions in academia and research are often based more or less on the following criteria:
1. Publication record
2. External funding record
3. Publication record
4. How the seminar and interview went
5. Publication record
6. Publication record
7. Teaching experience, if relevant to the job

Exact order depends on the type of position, but the point is, political leanings just don’t come up, or certainly not in any STEM fields, most of languages, law, history, etc. In fact it would be inappropriate and lead to all sorts of trouble to discuss them in the interview or a committee meeting. So unless the candidate goes out of their way to make it an issue or is a already a well-known public intellectual (which wouldn’t apply to the majority of cases) the committee will have no idea whether they are socialist, liberal, conservative, libertarian or whatnot.

In other words, it is extremely easy to understand how discrimination against ethnicities or genders works, because once face to face those are often evident, but much harder to see how it would work for discrimination against people with certain political beliefs, because they never come up. A combination of self-selection (e.g. social conservatives less likely to go into gender studies) and self-interest (e.g. academics getting frustrated at a movement that habitually cuts research funding) seems a much more promising hypothesis.

54

John Quiggin 05.12.18 at 11:27 am

@53 There’s no mystery. Academics have high education and (compared to others with the same education) low income. That combination is strongly predictive of voting Democrat, or at least not Republican. As I point out here

http://crookedtimber.org/2016/10/09/if-professors-made-500kyear-would-they-be-republicans/

you can see it among doctors. Those in high income specialties are mostly Republicans, those in low income specialties are mostly Democrats.

On the opposite side, the archetypal Republican voter is a low-education, high income small business owner (coded as “working class” in most US discussions). No one invokes discrimination to explain the absence of Democrats in this group.

55

John Quiggin 05.12.18 at 11:34 am

@50 90 per cent of Trump voters were Republicans who had previously voted for Romney. The economic program they want is the one they got – big tax cuts for companies and the rich.

56

Layman 05.12.18 at 12:56 pm

kidneystones: “The large lead Dems held has disappeared to a single point.”

Didn’t you say you taught statistics? You should be unemployable in that field.

https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/congress-generic-ballot-polls/?ex_cid=rrpromo

57

ph 05.12.18 at 2:30 pm

@56 Nope. But my memory is much sharper than yours, as are my observation skills, at least as far as politics are concerned. Because I clearly recall you mis-understanding all 2015 data and ending up with an entirely inaccurate reading of what was taking place beneath your upturned nose, while I got it right. Nothing much seems to have changed.

@55 You’d be the first, I’m sure, to distinguish between Trump supporters and Trump voters. But you’re right, the tax cut for corporations repatriated huge sums, some of which were reinvested in the US and these cuts are playing a key part in decreasing Democrats electoral chances in 2018. You should check Masa – Dems don’t have an economic message, just ask them.

https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2018/05/11/democrats_economic_quandary_in_2018_messaging_137019.html

“efforts to explain the party’s plan to “revisit” the tax law if elected to the House majority underscore the difficult question Democrats are trying to answer: How do you talk about the economy when the economy is good?

“Every time [Democrats] deny the economy is starting to turn or get better for certain parts of the population, they also hurt themselves,” says party strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “They appear to be cheering on bad news.”

That same (CNN) survey found that 52 percent of voters approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, up from 48 percent in March. And 57 percent of voters said things overall are going well, up from 49 percent registered in the last poll on that question in February. Notably, 84 percent cited the economy an either extremely or very important factor in how they will vote in November, up from 74 percent in February. And the survey found the Democrats’ advantage on the generic ballot to be just three percentage points, down from six in March and 16 in February. (The RealClearPolitics average shows Democrats with a generic ballot lead of six points.)” The Scott Adams arc is right on track. Plenty of folks (including many Republicans) find Trump offensive. Voters care about the economy more, which is why the Trump hate costs Dems more than it costs Trump. Dems need some candidates and some ideas. Russia-collusion, porn stars, and the piss dossier isn’t going to get the job done.

You’d think bright people might understand that much. I’m sure you do!

Note for Layman: Feb – 16 point advantage; March – 6 points; May – 3 points. Winning!

That’s it.

58

F. Foundling 05.12.18 at 2:58 pm

@Sebastian H 05.11.18 at 7:08 pm
> I don’t believe the divide between attraction to wealth is particularly sharp

Why don’t we have more pacifist professional soldiers and atheist priests?

It doesn’t seem all that surprising that people whose political views are positive towards the corporate world (including the fairness of the income distribution in it and its contribution to society at large) are more inclined to choose to work in the corporate world, and people whose political views are negative towards the corporate world are more inclined to choose to work in an alternative sphere outside of the corporate world. And, of course, cynically, one may argue the converse – people with personal characteristics that enable success in the corporate world may be more likely to develop political views that are positive towards the corporate world, and vice versa. The same applies to the attitude towards wealth: the more you believe that it is deserved and reflects one’s genuine human worth, the more it makes sense to strive towards it, and vice versa. And the easier you find it to acquire wealth, the more attractive it is to believe that it is deserved and reflects one’s genuine human worth. Finally, of course, all of this applies to one’s attitude towards all kinds of prestige and ‘success’ in general, also within academia.

As for conservative religious people of the ascetic variety (not the Weberian Calvinist type, that is) – again, the more you are inclined to believe or accept claims based on authority and tradition, the less attracted you will feel to a place where knowledge is sought through logical reasoning. Such people may instead become priests. Conversely, the more you believe contemporary society needs to be reorganised in a more reasonable and fair way, the more you will be attracted to such a place.

Then there’s the other logic, of course – success in any sphere is success, elite status in any sphere is elite status, and all sorts of elite should support each other against the plebeians. This factor is also present and influences academic attitudes now to some extent. It has also resulted in conservative predominance in academia before, and, in many countries, it is also completely predominant at the moment. This result is what is beind demanded here, too.

Very roughly, and ignoring the gradient nature of the distinction and the constant presence and increasing prevalence of the more ‘corporate’ type everywhere, one may schematise this as follows: there are two types of people, each of them has sought out its own place under the sun, and one of them currently wants the other one not to have any place under sun anymore. This is what the discrimination complaints – as well as the movement for maximal connection of the former ‘ivory towers’ with business – are about. And this aspiration is unsurprising, since there has always been a mutual threat. No alternative to capitalist hegemony is to be allowed to exist anywhere in society. It must be made impossible to be combine opposition to the prevalent pattern of the status quo with simultaneous prosperity – or, preferably even survival – under that status quo.

59

bekabot 05.12.18 at 3:04 pm

Trump and his supporters couldn’t give a damn about TG bathrooms, most are simply sick of reading about how important the TG issue is when wages are flat, infra-structure is collapsing, the opiates are destroying communities, and good jobs are evaporating.

I’m sick of hearing about it too, for the same reasons, and if they’d get their allies to quit waving the toilet-paper flag, I’d be happy to declare victory and stay home.

60

Faustusnotes 05.12.18 at 3:04 pm

Layman, kidneystones is a contract English teacher. Draw your own conclusions about his critical thinking skills.

61

bekabot 05.12.18 at 6:48 pm

Musa al-Gharbi argues that Sanders would have won with a message of economic populism and that voting trends indicate identity politics is actually destroying the Democrats

Forbid identity politics and you’ll just end up forbidding politicking by people who aren’t supposed to have identities. This includes significant swathes of people who will vote for your candidates if given the chance. The Trump administration knows it, too: that’s the reason for the sentiment behind the travel bans, the deportations, the talk about purges of Hispanics, and the general panic about influxes of brown people. Notice that this ill-feeling doesn’t depend on the specific ethnicity of the brown people in question. It doesn’t matter what quarter of the globe the come from, nor does it matter whether they’re showing up legally or not. Notice as well that this is a sentiment on the part of the authoritarian leaders who (still) need votes to stay in office, and it’s the attitude they propagate. It’s their official line. The sentiment on the part of the authoritarian followers who back them is more genuinely populist — and some of it is genuinely racist, which is a separate issue that I’m not going to get into here. I will point out, though, that you can’t hope to balk the authoritarian followers’ racism by following the authoritarian leaders’ plans.

Al-gharbi presents the case clearly – wake up to the reality that African-Americans need only to drift away from Dems in small numbers, as they did in 2016, for there to be huge consequences.

You bet!! And the surest way to guarantee that African-American voters, and other voters who belong to groups who aren’t supposed to have identities, will drift away from the Democratic party, in small or large numbers and deliberately or not, is to start to get cozy with people who want to make certain they aren’t allowed to vote.

(Sorry again for bluntness.)

62

Lupita 05.12.18 at 8:39 pm

Statements that might sound racist will either be just statements of fact, or they will be unsupported by evidence, and thus may be intentionally racist.

Human races do not exist, that is, race is neither a scientific nor an anthropological concept. Fortunately, governments asking their populations to self-identify from a list of 19th century quack races such as white, black, and Asian is pretty much confined to the anglosphere.

People from the rest of the world are not socialized from an early age to self-identify and identify others using this colonial folk taxonomy peddled by English-language governments, media, and academia, much less call doing so left-wing politics.

63

ph 05.12.18 at 10:16 pm

60@ I wondered whether there was any merit in addressing your ad hom, which if you understood critical thinking raises far more questions about your own critical thinking skills, and those of others, than my own.

The only utility I can see in discussing my position as an adjunct lecturer is to point out how my current situation helps make me a Trump supporter. My salary has flat-lined since 1994 when I began teaching. This term I teach 17 90 minute classes at four different campuses for a monthly salary of just over 5k. The entire ‘liberal’ education edifice is built on exploiting adjunct labor.

I contribute at professional development seminars, I’m professionally certified and possess a wealth of experience. I’m also an internationally recognized scholar in my field, which is not teaching English.

Most professional academics are courteous, respectful, and at least superficially sympathetic to the plight of adjunct lecturers. I’ve only known one other as openly disdainful as FN, who are clearly outliers.

However, that so few ‘experts’ recognized (and still refuse to recognize) that the exploitation of adjuncts in academia is real and part of a larger pattern with real consequences at the ballot box is telling. That indifference is part of the data set I employ.

64

Layman 05.13.18 at 6:01 am

kidneystones: “Note for Layman: Feb – 16 point advantage; March – 6 points; May – 3 points. Winning!”

Yes, that’s what I meant when I said you’d be unemployable as a teacher of statistics. Thanks for affirming my comment.

65

galanx 05.13.18 at 6:36 am

Trump and his supporters couldn’t give a damn about TG bathrooms, most are simply sick of reading about how important the TG issue is when wages are flat, infra-structure is collapsing, the opiates are destroying communities, and good jobs are evaporating.

Trump, no- his supporters?
How is it that Trump has done everything to ensure wages remain flat (or are more unevenly distributed), promises on infrastructure are abandoned, nothing is done on opiates, and good jobs have not been created- and his followers still stick with him? Well, he does talk a good line against immigrants, Latino/as, NFL players who kneel, LGBTs, BLMS, the environment, and Democrats. His supporters don’t actually care abut economic issues- they just want to put the boots in to liberals.

66

Layman 05.13.18 at 11:47 am

kidneystones: “The only utility I can see in discussing my position as an adjunct lecturer is to point out how my current situation helps make me a Trump supporter. My salary has flat-lined since 1994 when I began teaching.”

If Trump were to do anything at all to improve your wages, it would only be by accident. To me, it seems that – like many! – you were tired of not having enough to eat, so you decided the right response was to shoot the farmer; and that you as yet lack the distance or the character to admit the error.

67

Barry 05.13.18 at 11:56 am

ph: “However, that so few ‘experts’ recognized (and still refuse to recognize) that the exploitation of adjuncts in academia is real and part of a larger pattern with real consequences at the ballot box is telling. That indifference is part of the data set I employ.”

Yes, it’s shocking how nobody is discussing the situation of – what did you call them again? ‘Ad-junx;?.

68

Lee A. Arnold 05.13.18 at 12:00 pm

After a brief review of the titulars, it appears that the “Intellectual Dark Web” is marketing. These folks want a paying pulpit. The podcasts and videos are like infomercials and advertorials. A lot of it is prefaced with I, I, I, me, me, me, you, you, you. Indeed contrary to their advertised opposition to “identity politics”, most of this stuff is steroidal egotism (the most basic form of identity politics). Indeed I would guess that some of it is hemorrhoidal. The content is tinged with libertarian assertiveness training, which is another big audience draw, especially for male teens. The self-description of being “dangerous, controversial, forbidden, excluded” is a slogan, a movie marketing technique.

If you want to be a real intellectual, forget the self. Get lost in the crowd, comment at a place like Crooked Timber, keep it brief and defend your points (if you can) when the ton of bricks inevitably comes down on your head.

But a paying gig? For a few hundred years, there weren’t a lot of paying gigs in the commentating racket: 1. college professorships, 2. newspaper columnists and then broadcast commentators, 3. book authors, and 4. not much else. The mass-market computer web is only around 20 years old, and we are still in a transition period. A transition to what, we don’t know. There appears a new niche for the ascension of expositors and bloviators. This new niche has new characteristics: Anyone can jump into it. With enough views you can get paid advertisers, maybe start with enough to pay your rent. The medium is two-way communication, so it’s best to combine audience conversation e.g. “social media”, and to promote personal appearances at conventions and so on. New means, to answer old questions: How do you get well-known? And how do you rake in the dough at the box office?

Intellectually the Intellectual Dark Web is thin stuff. Intellectually almost anything is thin stuff unless you are learning a standard school subject, or watching a college lecture. The occasional long interview with someone distinguished in their field can be interesting and educational. Instead in this new internet “intellectual” racket, we see one-on-ones lasting an hour or more, that devolve into self-navigation, mood affiliation and self-promotion within minutes. Just as young actors & directors use YouTube and Vimeo to be seen in Hollywood, this is also the farm team for talk radio and cable news.

69

Kiwanda 05.13.18 at 11:02 pm

From the Vox piece:

What they all share is not a general commitment to intellectual free exchange but a specific political hostility to “multiculturalism” and all that it entails.

It remains to be shown that e.g. Maajid Nawaz, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Debra Soh are motivated by a hostility to “multiculturalism”. The IDW notion is kind of silly, but just about the only thing the people mentioned have in common is indeed a “general commitment to intellectual free exchange”.

In absolute terms, dark web intellectuals enjoy far more access to the mainstream than genuine leftists.

I don’t see in what way biologists Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein are not “genuine leftists”: the left does not consist entirely of identitarians.

But where dark web intellectuals veer from analysis of that phenomenon into self-pity is in their consistent tendency to treat all skeptical criticism of their purported commitment to truth-seeking as further symptoms of political correctness gone mad.

As a faculty member at Evergreen State College, Bret Weinstein sent a faculty email opposing the dubious Day of Absence, and maintained a call for open discussion of an “Equity Plan”. Later fifty students mobbed and disrupted his class, calling him a racist and demanding that he apologize, and resign or be fired. He was later unable to hold his classes on campus, having been told by the chief of police to stay away for his own safety. Moreover, some of his students apparently were followed, harrassed, and doxxed.

The Evergreen situation was a bit more than “skeptical criticism”, and it’s pretty clear who actually can’t handle it.

70

J-D 05.14.18 at 2:08 am

Kiwanda

The IDW notion is kind of silly, but just about the only thing the people mentioned have in common is indeed a “general commitment to intellectual free exchange”.

I expect Sam Harris says that he is committed to intellectual free exchange. So: how many critics of Sam Harris has Sam Harris invited to be guests on his podcast? Or: how many critics of Jordan Peterson has Jordan Peterson invited to present their case on his Youtube channel?

I don’t see in what way biologists Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein are not “genuine leftists” …

Neither do I. But then, I know little about them. I don’t know in what way (if any) they are genuine leftists. If you could explain that, it would be helpful.

The Evergreen situation was a bit more than “skeptical criticism” …

Undeniably. So: does Bret Weinstein treat all sceptical criticism as appropriately lumped in with the experience of having his class disrupted by protesters; or are there forms of sceptical criticism (that is, of his own position) which he treats (by his reactions to them) as different from the experience of having his class disrupted by protesters?

71

faustusnotes 05.14.18 at 8:42 am

That’s cute Kiwanda, because when I google “Ayaan Hirsi Ali” multiculturalism the first link that comes up is this one that describes her as “a fiery critic of both multiculturalism and her own religion.” Further investigation – shockingly – reveals that this is in fact true.

Similarly when I google “Maajid Nawaz multiculturalism” I find this link to a video where he says:

Multiculturalism is dead. Long live omniculturalism. Long live integration, long live people not fearing being called bigots for wanting to uplift muslim communities

Could it be that you assembled a list of IDW members who have foreign-sounding names and presented them as evidence that the IDW doesn’t oppose multiculturalism, without checking what they actually believe? Now why would you do that, I wonder?

72

casmilus 05.14.18 at 8:55 am

@65

So why did he beat Ted Cruz? There was a Rod Dreher column, lamenting that Donald was beating Ted in one of the Republican primaries and that he wasn’t talking about the *real important issues* like mixed bathrooms and gay weddings. And a commenter gently explained to Rod that Ted was going hard on both issues and *no one cared*, it was all about jobs, stupid.

Of course Trump wandered off script after he won. But that’s a different world.

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politicalfootball 05.14.18 at 1:16 pm

Trump and his supporters couldn’t give a damn about TG bathrooms, most are simply sick of reading about how important the TG issue is when wages are flat, infra-structure is collapsing, the opiates are destroying communities, and good jobs are evaporating.

There’s a contradiction in here. If they don’t think bathrooms are important, why are they reading about it? Certainly Fox and Breitbart offer more coverage of bathroom issues than, well, take your pick of “liberal” publications.

I wondered whether there was any merit in addressing your ad hom

This sort of thing ought to be called out, I think. Ad hominem is also a favorite technique of yours, but @60 is really gross on a level that I’ve never seen you achieve.

Responding in @63 with your credentials is, I think, an error, but certainly an understandable one in context. It is interesting to me, however, that you regularly credentialize yourself and de-credentialize others in your comments. It’s really a key theme of yours: Some people are competent to have opinions; some are not. I’ll try to remember to point it out the next time you do it.

However, that so few ‘experts’ recognized (and still refuse to recognize) that the exploitation of adjuncts in academia is real and part of a larger pattern with real consequences at the ballot box is telling.

This is surprising to me. I am not, myself, an academic, but I would be surprised to find out that adjuncts favor Trump more than the general population did. And, of course, the general population didn’t support Trump over Clinton.

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Kiwanda 05.14.18 at 2:55 pm

J-D:

It’s strange that you think that the burden of proof isn’t on the people doing the armchair psychoanalysis, but OK, a few bits of specific evidence regarding Bret Weinstein’s bona fides: support of Occupy and a couple other pieces at Commondreams, calmly whistleblowing on frats as a first-year college student.

Regarding Bret Weinstein’s willingness to talk with people of different opinions, what do you think he was doing, or trying to do, those last couple years at Evergreen? Do you think that someone who could remain so calm in this situation, or that, has trouble with some back-and-forth?

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Sebastian H 05.14.18 at 5:32 pm

JQ

There are many things I don’t know about economic analysis, but studies of discrimination in work environments is an area I know. The first question you ask when you want to show that an employer’s expert is misusing a study to excuse the employer’s statistically noticeably pattern of discrimination is: are any of the variables you have used subject to selection effects which are controlled or influenced by the employer.
Here the answer is clearly yes. Your analysis treats ‘education level’ as an independent variable when it is clearly is a variable tightly under the control of the entity which is suspected of discrimination.
This is why models are so important to the discussion. Your model seems to be (so please correct me if I’m misunderstanding) education makes you Democratic leaning and wealth makes you more Republican leaning as independent variables. Therefore we can straight line extrapolate those two variables to see if Republicans are unexpectedly not in academia.
You can’t use merely post-grad education because the differences in political affiliation aren’t nearly strong enough to excuse the employer. You really have to use PhD level education to get the effect you’re looking for. The problem with that is you don’t have much PhD level education that isn’t totally under the control of the institutions which are suspected of discrimination. Then we get to all of the annoying discussions about how ‘self selection’ is heavily influenced by the institution making the disfavored class increasingly uncomfortable at every step of advancement, that ‘how well they fit’ is very often code for discrimination, and that when you introduce lots of highly subjective values about success the candidates being discriminated against always seem to lose out. We clearly don’t want to deal with all that.
So we have to reach OUTSIDE academia. The problem there is that academia controls PhD level education almost exclusively. So you have essentially no comparable group. You have to reach to medical doctors. But now you don’t have any comparison group because the set of doctors making only $70,000 is too small. (You probably should have tried lawyers where the under $70,000 group is almost half). So now you have to straight line extrapolate the ‘trend’ to income levels which are lower than 50% of your last data point, despite the fact that there is no way it avoids being a curve.
It is quite possible that they way you should be looking at it is at that WITHIN AN EDUCATION FIELD your chance of being Republican or Democratic ends up being correlated with income. In that case, physicians show a typical field of highly educated people which show a range where the bottom third of the field in earnings tends toward about 40% Republican and the top third of the field in earnings tends toward about 60%. Which is to say a very noticeable correlation, but not enough to swamp obvious things like “party your parents were a part of” or “party dominant in the neighborhood you grew up in”.
Your story fits better only under the assumption that “education level” is a completely independent variable, not at all under the control of universities. But that assumption is wrong.
(Note also that at the level where there are fewer ‘self-selection’ effects there is also much greater diversity in the variable we are studying. This is again exactly what you see and expect to see in discrimination studies).

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Chip Daniels 05.14.18 at 8:33 pm

JQ @55
“90 per cent of Trump voters were Republicans who had previously voted for Romney. The economic program they want is the one they got – big tax cuts for companies and the rich.”

And for the remaining 10%, while they may not prefer tax cuts, are willing to tolerate them in pursuit of their other priorities, such as ethnic grievance.

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Collin Street 05.14.18 at 8:41 pm

Yes, that’s what I meant when I said you’d be unemployable as a teacher of statistics.

Everybody on the hard right for whom non-political evidence can be found can be determined to be… not very smart, in some significant way, although usually not to a level that presents a significant impediment to daily life.

Here the answer is clearly yes. Your analysis treats ‘education level’ as an independent variable when it is clearly is a variable tightly under the control of the entity which is suspected of discrimination.

For example! Higher education is offered by literally tens of thousands of independent operators. For something to be “controlled” let alone “tightly controlled” there… must be a control mechanism, no? That the operators aren’t independent. And to say something is “clearly” tightly controlled is to assert — axiomatically or near enough — not only the existence of a control mechanism but that that control mechanism is patently obvious and “clearly” visible.

… but the purpose of the argument here is to demonstrate the existence of the control mechanism Seb’s just asserted axiomatically. Textbook question-begging.

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politicalfootball 05.14.18 at 9:23 pm

support of Occupy

This is an explanation of why he doesn’t support Occupy. You don’t have to read any further than the headline: “A Horizontal World? Occupy Can’t Win with Utopian Impossibilities.”

I think you need to have someone explain to you the difference between “support” and “concern trolling.”

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John Quiggin 05.14.18 at 9:26 pm

“Your analysis treats ‘education level’ as an independent variable when it is clearly is a variable tightly under the control of the entity which is suspected of discrimination.”

I don’t follow this. At least in Australia, good universities don’t usually hire their own graduates, so I assume the “entity” must be higher education as a whole. If so, you’re shifting the argument from discrimination in hiring potential academics to the claim that the negative partial correlation between education and conservatism is the result of discrimination against conservative students. Is that what you are saying?

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Faustusnotes 05.15.18 at 12:42 am

Kiwanda, is it not true that Weinstein ended up holding his classes in a park? Is that where you would go to hold classes of you feared for your safety? Also, is it not true that his job was guaranteed early on by the head of the university? In very clear language? What happened to him was very unpleasant, but his University stood by him. And can I ask, while I’m at it, how it is that a bunch of angry undergraduate students come to represent the left generally? Did Bernie Sanders tell them to go get Weinstein? I read these examples of poorly behaved students and they certainly seem like a bunch of dickheads, but it seems universally the case that only left wing street activists get linked to the broader movement. If you doubt that, then I’m happy to hold you personally responsible for Heather Meyers death. Your call!

Also what’s with your dirty little rhetorical shift over multiculturalism? Opposition to multiculturalism is a central tenet of conservatism but when the op suggests the IDW losers have this in common you try (and dismally fail) to present evidence of IDW thinkers (haha) who don’t oppose it. Do you actually have any ideological principles, or do you simply believe anything that disagrees with liberals at any point in time? Did you want to say the IDW isn’t opposed to multiculturalism because you want to show they’re diverse thinkers, while simultaneously accepting that they’re all right wing? How does that work? Or did you want to show they’re not opposed to multiculturalism because you know that opposition is code for racism and you don’t want to be seen as racist? Is that why you assumed the foreign-sounding IDW thinkers (haha) did not oppose multiculturalism, before you even checked their written work?

I ask because I’m wondering whether the IDW thinkers (haha) are just trolls, or racist trolls. Thanks in advance!

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Sebastian H 05.15.18 at 1:29 am

” For something to be “controlled” let alone “tightly controlled” there… must be a control mechanism, no? That the operators aren’t independent. And to say something is “clearly” tightly controlled is to assert — axiomatically or near enough — not only the existence of a control mechanism but that that control mechanism is patently obvious and “clearly” visible. “

Ummm, system-wide discrimination is a thing, and it is a little bit disconcerting to see the whole concept of it being poo-poohed here of all places. This isn’t the National Review. Hiring people in the Silicon Valley takes place over hundreds of independent companies, yet the number of female programmers hired is well below the population level, and that is accepted on the left as strong evidence of discrimination EVEN IF NO SMOKING GUN IS FOUND REGARDING PARTICULAR ACTORS. And when the Silicon Valley companies say “female CSE holders are less than 20%”, the common response is to suggest that women are being systematically discriminated against, or at least made uncomfortable enough to ‘self-select’ out of computer science engineering programs.

Didn’t we see all this in the discussion about Google firing the memo guy?

I don’t mind if you don’t personally believe that conservatives are being discriminated against or quietly encouraged not to stay. But treating it like you’ve never heard of these kind of arguments before–that you’ve never heard of the ideas before, feels like I’m being gaslit.

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John Quiggin 05.15.18 at 1:59 am

@81 So, your hypothesis is that the observed partial correlation (that is, holding income constant) between having a 4-year college degree and liberalism is due to system-wide discrimination against conservative students. As you say, we shouldn’t rule this out a priori. But, at a minimum, you need some kind of evidence that conservatism is an identifiable trait. You could do that for the tiny minority of students who are politically active in, say, College Republicans and check their graduation rates. But the vast majority just turn up to classes, most of which give them no opportunity to express any kind of political views.

To take an obvious example, the proportion of active scientists who are Republicans is (from memory) around 6 per cent. It’s easy to see that anyone who studies science will learn that it contradicts a lot of what Republicans say, and that will predispose conservative entrants to change their political views. But unless students do something really silly, like quoting the Bible in a geology essay, their teachers won’t know anything about this.

Of course, you could be saying that universities are discriminating against the holders of wrong beliefs of all kinds by making them listen to evidence against their beliefs. That’s the kind of rightwing relativism I’ve been complaining about elsewhere.

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faustusnotes 05.15.18 at 2:09 am

Sebastian, conservative Americans are universally climate change deniers, and quite a few of them also think evolution is bullshit. The controlling mechanism by which they don’t get jobs in science departments is that science departments need scientists.

Here’s the thing that conservatives can do to get into academia: learn to understand evidence; learn to think; drop the motivated reasoning; and learn to accept basic scientific facts like climate change, evolution, and the real value of pi.

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Sebastian H 05.15.18 at 3:32 am

John, it may be that you aren’t aware of the discussion of discrimination against women in the computer science field (really in many fields but that is the most recent locus of the discussion) in the US. There is very little direct evidence of widespread direct discrimination, and the mere existence of an enormous differences from the underlying population are given as prima facie evidence of discrimination.

But the lack of evidence of direct discrimination on such a widespread level AT THE HIRING STAGE has complicated the discussion. Especially since the hiring companies in question point out things like “women are less than 20% of the degree holders in the field”. So the discussion turns to the university experience. The Republican suggestion is that women aren’t interested in computer science much. But I’ll outsource to Ingrid Robyens a discussion of what happens when you’re a member of a group that isn’t well represented at the university. here. She mentions a number of issues which are likely to plague conservative students, especially in the more politically charged humanities arena. Implicit Bias (with the ‘collegiality’ concept of wanting someone who will ‘fit in with us’), Networking opportunities, operating in a vicious cycle the lower their numbers drop. Mentoring (related to collegiality). Role Models. As she notes, all of these can work to drive people out of a discipline at multiple decision points.

The history of conservatives in the University strongly suggest that ideas like “they aren’t philosophically inclined toward becoming professors” don’t hold.

You speak of “my hypothesis”, but really I don’t have a firm one. I’m pointing out that under the current understanding of what counts as discrimination evidence, there is similar levels of evidence for a problem. Now that doesn’t mean that the locus of the problem is exactly the same in the “women in computer science” and “conservatives in professor position” cases. Just that there is something going on. I’m also a bit resistant to just so exculpatory stories that of exactly the type that are laughed at in the computer science case (inherently unsuited/pure individual choice accounts). I think it is correct to be suspicious of them in both cases.

I think in both both cases thinking in terms of polluted dynamics more than discrete moments of discrimination would offer more insight. The conservative decline in professorships PREDATES the climate change war on science mess. At some point in the 1970s or so, something in the dynamic changes. This creates the kind of dynamic in implicit bias, mentoring, and networking which frustrates or excludes interested conservative proto-professors. This causes them to ‘self select’ out of tracts which might lead to professorships, including many PhD programs which aren’t as useful if you think your professorship chances are low (especially in the humanities). This contributes to a reinforcing distrust of the academic world which increases as exposure decreases.

Now a large part of that AT THIS POINT, represents the current state of the Republican Party. By 2008 or so we had gotten to the point where a relatively conservative person such as myself won’t vote for Republicans. But as far as a damaging social dynamic goes, the insularity of the Republican Party has been strongly reinforced by declining opportunities for conservatives in once mixed areas.

Republican Party aside, conservatives still represent a large portion of the population. They were once relatively well represented in the University, and their decline in it well predates the point where Republicans should have been anathema. That suggests to me, that from a poisonous dynamic look, their early exclusion may have contributed to their later increase in insularity.

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Sebastian H 05.15.18 at 3:59 am

Fautusnotes “Here’s the thing that conservatives can do to get into academia: learn to understand evidence; learn to think; drop the motivated reasoning”

Here’s the thing about that. You’re the kind of liberal person who can get away with suggesting that I invented luck egalitarianism when I was trying to look at the problem of poisonous social dynamics of the incel movement but you’ll do fine because the in group will let you get away with it. And on the same thread, Collin Street gets to do his “conservatives don’t know how to read and think shtick” without anyone on his side calling him on it despite the fact that he made an eye-rollingingly wrong misreading himself but then just skates on.

And I don’t mention this in a ‘woe is me’ sense. I’m a gay man who has been chased down the street by Neo-Nazis with bats, so I’m not particularly worried about Collin Street. But in terms of social dynamics it is pretty clear that in group/out group dynamics are in play far more than we like to admit. If that had been a conservative person attacking Ingred Robyens, she would have been perfectly capable of defending herself, but she wouldn’t have had to, because other people would have been all over it.

I believe that letting conservative people believe that they are actively an ‘out group’ at the university, such that they can only rely on other conservatives to defend against even unfair attacks, leads to a long term dynamic which is terrible for the country. I believe that because lots of our decisions are made under the influence of tribal dynamics rather than reason, it behooves us to try to minimize the areas where tribal dynamics hold sway when we can. Saying “they deserve it” especially for relatively trivial cases makes us feel temporarily good in the moment of that particular transaction, but ends up reinforcing an unnecessary tribal dynamic that hurts us all later.

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Kiwanda 05.15.18 at 4:01 am

John Quiggin:
Personally, I think self-selection is more plausible (both in this case and with respect to choices of fields of study), but I think the idea is not so much active discrimination, or “making them listen to evidence against their beliefs”, but something more like (oy) “micro-aggressions”: a constant background noise of hostility to their beliefs.

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engels 05.15.18 at 7:26 am

American liberalism = identity politics for the highly educated
http://piketty.pse.ens.fr/files/Piketty2018.pdfuh

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Matt 05.15.18 at 7:41 am

Collin Street gets to do his “conservatives don’t know how to read and think shtick” without anyone on his side calling him on it

In fairness to the rest of us, several people have noted that this is, at best, tedious and not helpful, and others have pushed harder. I agree with all of that. It has, at most, only slightly slowed down the constant refrain. Some dogs get a bone, and just won’t let go no matter what…

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faustusnotes 05.15.18 at 8:38 am

Sebastian, here’s some evidence of the controlling mechanism that prevents women from succeeding in computer science: Sexual harassment cases. Do you know of any conservative academics being harassed by their colleagues the way women in tech are harassed by their colleagues? No, you don’t. Do conservative academics get offered less pay for the same qualifications? No, they aren’t. This is the difference between women’s workplace experience and conservatives’. You’re right that there are also more subtle mechanisms at play that might apply to both women and conservatives, but in one case the subtle mechanisms are backed up by concrete, industry-wide practices of actual discrimination, harassment, violence and differential treatment on pay and conditions; in the other, not so much.

And I see you have completely the ignored the elephant in the room, which I pointed out to you: it’s hard for conservatives to be scientists if they disagree with basic scientific principles and can’t separate evidence from political prejudice.

Furthermore, if you want an example of conservatives getting molly-coddled in the academy, consider the Wegman case. This is an example of an academic committing plagiarism and fraud in order to defend a political position, and not even being investigated.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that the conservative movement as a whole has harassed and damaged scientists in a quite vicious way. Examples include that disgusting round of smears attacking scientists who displayed the work they had been funded for at a Washington show-and-tell for politicians; constant FOI requests to get data from climate change researchers; constant attempts to prove that the bureau of meteorology is faking its data; the egregious and vicious slurs on Michael Mann’s reputation, including comparing him to a paedophile and using fraudulent methods to pretend he had cheated in his seminal paper; and attacking projects that get funded as a waste of money, and misrepresenting them in the press.

This movement hates scientists and actively attacks their work. But you want science institutions to hire known conservatives, and draw their own staff from amongst the ranks of this movement. What next, affirmative action hiring policy that requires abortion clinics to hire the dudes who fire bomb them? Maybe traditionally black colleges should be forced to host lectures by Charles Murray?

Or maybe the conservative movement should make a good faith attempt to engage with the work of the academy, and stop maligning everything academics do, before demanding affirmative action in hiring? Not to mention, they should learn to think like scientists instead of political hacks.

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Z 05.15.18 at 8:54 am

OK, Sebastian H. Let’s start over.

-In the last 40 to 50 years and right, the best predictor of right-wing vs. left-wing vote in many Western democratic countries with a right/left separation of the political spectrum is precisely the relative income you get compared to the educational level you reach. This is not a just-so story, this is a well-established and amply discussed sociological observation. Read La distinction, if you have to. In view of this fact, it is entirely unsurprising that plumbers, shop-keepers and business owners are more right-wing than the population at large (a point also made by John Quiggin @54) and that nurses, teachers and university professors are more left-wing than the population at large. Note that in countries where teachers are particularly well-paid, they are not particularly left-wing, in conformity with the thesis.
-In the US (and mostly in the US alone), there are complicating factors (the legacy of race, the complete craziness of the main right-wing party…). If your intention is to discuss the specifics of the American case, you should clearly say so (in particular, you often mention statistics that hold true only for the American case, as if it were self-evident that only the American case interests you).
-In your 75, you are very sensitive to the correlation between educational level and political affiliation (more on that later) and in your 81 you discuss employment in the Silicon Valley (also more on that later) and point out differences in treatment but you are completely oblivious to a much more salient difference: being a woman is an intangible fact, being a conservative is not. Indeed, a huge part of one’s political beliefs and affiliation is precisely built at the moment one determines higher education choices. So it is precisely at the moment a given person “decides” to become a conservative, or a liberal, or a socialist or what-have-you that they also “decide” to become a lawyer, a programmer or a librarian. This massively complicates your story (or lack thereof).
-OK, you say that educational achievement is not independent of political affiliation in your 75 and you explicitly point out to the monopoly of higher education given to Universities. What’s the obvious next step? Go to a country in which Universities do not have a monopoly of higher education and have a look there! So I’ll present to you France, with its dual system of higher education: large, relatively less prestigious and unknown universities and tiny, ultra-élite, very well-respected grandes écoles. Unsurprisingly (to me, but to your utter surprise, apparently), grandes écoles graduates (who tend to earn a lot more than the median salary) are much more right-wing than the population at large (or used to be before Macron changed everything to the three-party system) whereas university-graduates are much more left-wing, and again unsurprisingly (to me), grandes écoles graduates who then become academic gradually shift to the left-wing in a very noticeable trend year after year (another well-studied sociological trend, read La noblesse d’État, if you have to).
-Oh, and by the way, the three-party system! In the three-party system, the main predictor of whether you vote for the neoliberal block is not the difference between education and income, as in the two-party system, but the sum of them. So suddenly, all high-education/high-income academics in France became Macron supporters alongside engineers, lawyers, bankers and heads of marketing divisons while adjuncts, teachers and high-education/low-income academics became Mélenchon supporters alongside postmen, blue-collar workers and students, almost as if it was their social position that predicted their vote, and not their vote that predicted their job (or maybe as soon as Macron came out, a conspiracy of Macron-leaning academics conspiracy just formed to exclude Mélenchon voters from their rank, and damn they were efficient).
-About CS and the Silicon Valley, “But treating it like you’ve never heard of these kind of arguments before” I think again you are confusing the world at large with the US, and some segments of the American political world with the CT commenting section. I have indeed heard of such discussions and arguments, shook my head at poor Americans and moved on. There are apparently people who take them seriously, I heard they exist on Twitter. I don’t know any of them myself, and I don’t see why I should discuss their opinions.
-“There are a large number of deeply religious conservatives who aren’t particularly wedded to wealth. Why aren’t they professors?” They are, Sebastian, they are! Check how many deeply religious people you’ll find in academia compared to people with the same educational level. I’m even slightly surprised you brought out this point, as the university professor observant Jew is almost a cliché.
-“But I’ll outsource to Ingrid Robyens a discussion of what happens when you’re a member of a group that isn’t well represented at the university” Well, here you’re onto something, but you again neglect the obvious fact that a woman in a male dominated department cannot become a man while a conservative student in a left-wing department can (and usually will) become more left-wing. You might say it’s a pity, but that’s usually what happen. And honestly, didn’t you become much more left-wing these last 15 years or so? Are you surprised that it happened to you, considering what happened in your country this last 15 years? Is it surprising that it also happened to people like you?
-“She mentions a number of issues which are likely to plague conservative students, especially in the more politically charged humanities arena” well that could be true, but the discrepancy is as noticeable in STEM, and there, having just completed two rounds on both side of the process, I can say the hiring is precisely as Alex SL described @53.
-“Your argument would have equally explained why there were no conservatives THEN, which should suggest that its explanatory power now is weak.” OK, there are a number of problems with that statement: first, again you seem to consider that the US is the only country in the world (which is fine, if you want to, but you should say so); second, before claiming that my model made the same prediction, you should check if the income of academics relative to general income was the same then as it is now, I suspect it was not, know it was not in the case of my own country, correctly assess that my model predicts that academics then were much more right-wing than they are now, check that this prediction holds (of course it does, I’ll let you do the work for your own country); third, I never claimed my model was of universal application, it held true in the last 40 years (but then again, see Macron) but beyond that, there are (of course) complicating factors (if only geopolitical ones).
-Now, to finish with some intellectual charity: I’m ready to believe that – specifically in the US – some segments of academia are so intellectually polarized and the Republican party so crazy that it is completely impossible to be a supporter of the Republican party and (for instance) a sociologist of crime, in the sense that even if you were to submit articles arguing in good faith Republican points, your referee would react negatively enough that this cold impact your career. That’s rare, but I’d say that happens.

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Layman 05.15.18 at 8:59 am

Sebastian H: “I believe that letting conservative people believe that they are actively an ‘out group’ at the university, such that they can only rely on other conservatives to defend against even unfair attacks, leads to a long term dynamic which is terrible for the country.”

Don’t you mean ‘causing them to’ believe rather than ‘letting them’ believe here? I don’t know how to stop letting them believe things, many of which are nonsense and far more destructive than this particular thing they believe, and I don’t think you really mean that we should not let them believe what they want.

If you mean someone ‘causes’ them to believe it, don’t you have to point to the mechanism? It seems rather easy to do that with respect to women in technology. I can point to the pay gap, the promotion gap, the examples of peer harassment, etc. Are conservative professors paid less than their liberal peers? Are they promoted less frequently? Are they sexually harassed by their liberal peers? Are they even politically harassed by their liberal peers? And so on.

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casmilus 05.15.18 at 9:43 am

All this focus on the politics of undergraduates…. has there been any serious study of the “lefties get right-wing as they get older” phenomenon, such as it is?

In my experience the truth just seems to be that young people who are strongly active in far left groups (Socialist Workers etc.) at college get disenchanted and fall away, mostly due to the internal dynamics, although they may break with orthodoxy on one particular issue, usually related to far-away countries. They then end up much more virulently anti-Left than simple everyday conservative voters who never read them fancy books or gave any thought to what Marx actually wrote.

The UK right-wing press has many star columnists who ended up as fierce defenders of the established order after a youth spent in Trotskyite reading groups (Peter Hitchens, Janet Dailey, etc.) Does not generalise to the shifting party allegiances we see amongst civilian voters.

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engels 05.15.18 at 11:44 am

Something I think I remember seeing (maybe via Corey Robin) prior to the last election was a poll of Harvard faculty showing unanimous support for Clinton over Sanders. Describing that orientation as ‘left-wing’ doesn’t seem terribly accurate to me!

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engels 05.15.18 at 11:46 am

(Obviously ‘unanimous’ is very implausible; I must have misremembered the details of it…)

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Z 05.15.18 at 12:05 pm

American liberalism = identity politics for the highly educated

That’s funny. Maybe a bit harsh, but funny. Piketty’s article is OK, but not great IMO (in particular, I think he often mixes up sociological groups – like electorates – with political positions and, ironically considering the author, I think the paper does not give enough attention to the radical change in the make-up of educative inequalities in the time interval considered).

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M Caswell 05.15.18 at 12:13 pm

I’ve served on many hiring committees, and never once had a clue what the politics of a candidate were. I bet I could count on one hand the number of students whose contemporary political affiliation I was aware of, out of many hundreds of students. And I dare say no student of mine could identify my politics, except by a lucky guess. My experience may not be typical.

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Collin Street 05.15.18 at 12:30 pm

Sebastian.

I get away with precisely shit. My claim is not widely accepted and making it severely diminishes the credibility I am given on other topics.

I mean, nobody says, “collin’s absolutely right”, do they? Think, contextualise.

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politicalfootball 05.15.18 at 12:57 pm

Thomas Beale @40: Racism, like any other belief system, is based on a set of assertions that can be scrutinized for their truth value.

An underlying belief of racists is that black people are inherently, on average, less intelligent than white people. Leaving aside the question of whether this belief is true, it is, by definition, racist.

You want to define racism as being inherently factually incorrect. And for everyday practical purposes, that’s a useful heuristic. Racism relies on falsehoods. But if racism were the correct lens through which to view society, it would still be racism. Murray is arguing that blacks are intellectually inferior. He is a racist. That is a separate issue from the fact that he is also wrong.

Whatever you think of Keynesianism or Christianity, it would be ridiculous to say: “That belief can’t be Keynesian; it’s true” or “That belief can’t be Christian; it’s true.” It makes no more sense with racism. The facts could justify racism or — in the Saletan/Harris formulation — the data could be racist. It’s just a fact of human history that they aren’t.

I was channel-hopping and paused on Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner the other day. Hepburn’s character explained how she taught her daughter about racism:

We told her it was wrong to believe that white people were somehow essentially superior to black people… or the brown or the red or the yellow ones, for that matter. People who thought that way were wrong to think that way. Sometimes hateful, usually stupid, but always wrong.

If you think racism is the correct lens through which to view society, you are racist.

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Faustusnotes 05.15.18 at 1:48 pm

Nice point by z about Sebastian becoming more liberal over the last year’s – he definitely has. Can you explain that Sebastian and how does that fact impact your assessment of the progress of young conservatives through the academy? Remember chances are you aren’t special and your experience reflects the norm ….

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Harry 05.15.18 at 2:10 pm

casmilus — I always imagine that phenomenon is connected to two things — i) the personal ambition of people like that when they join up in the first place and ii) personal dynamics after the fact. Hitchens being a prime illustration of that –I can’t imagine he is a very different person now than he was then, and someone like that either made it to the leadership (as a personality he really appears remarkably like some of the SWP leaders I’ve met), or didn’t, and if they didn’t they were liable to be very pissed off, but attribute it not to their own failings or bad luck but something more fundamental to the ideology.

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Harry 05.15.18 at 2:12 pm

I don’t think Sebastian is very typical. He’s been hanging around here for 15 years, and (in my opinion) is blessed with a remarkable degree of patience, and willingness to give others a fair hearing. I don’t mean that makes him untypical of conservatives, particularly, just that it makes him untypical of people in general, and people interested in politics in particular.

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Lupita 05.15.18 at 3:19 pm

Murray is arguing that blacks are intellectually inferior. He is a racist. That is a separate issue from the fact that he is also wrong.

Jailed Americans spontaneously further jail themselves into racial groups because most Americans believe there is such a thing as race, that is, black, white, Asian, and Indian, according to the US Census Bureau. According to a study I read, American children, 5 and 6 years old, can sort pictures of people by Census Bureau race and even name them using the official nomenclature.

According to the Census Bureau and even Wikipedia, human races are not a scientific or anthropological category, and yet, Americans are socialized into self-identifying into one of them, academics use these categories as independent variables, and politicians grant their patronage to groups that self-identify with three of the four official races.

The question is: how can a nation be racialist (races exist and they are equal) without being racist (races exist and one of them is superior)? That is where political correctness comes in.

Another question: What countries officially categorize their populations by quack race? It is practically limited to the anglosphere.

This is what I find most interesting about the mutation of 19th century scientific racism (human races exist and one is superior) into 21st century scientific racialism (people spontaneously self-identify into unscientific categories that are equal and which the state quantifies): it’s an anglospheric phenomenon.

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Sebastian H 05.15.18 at 4:49 pm

Faustusnotes, “Sebastian, here’s some evidence of the controlling mechanism that prevents women from succeeding in computer science: Sexual harassment cases.”

No. That’s actually a horrible example. There is very little evidence (and much of it points the other way) that there is more sexual harassment (on a per capita basis) in areas like computer science where women aren’t very prevalent compared to areas like nursing where they are highly prevalent. Percentage chance of sexual harassment doesn’t seem to correlate to female prevalence in most fields.

Collin Street “I get away with precisely shit. “

That is in-group privilege talking. You do the same type of thing that Brett Bellmore used to do–attack people on a psychological basis and throw bombs into discussions but because you’re with the in group you don’t get jumped on the way that he did (and when I say that I’m suggesting that you should get jumped on a lot more, not that Brett didn’t deserve to get jumped on). The reason you think you don’t get ‘away with it’ is because you behave badly enough to get the very slightest in-group push back which to you seems very noticeable. But the idea that it is symmetric to the pushback outgroup speakers get here for doing far less than what you do is ridiculous.

M Caswell “I’ve served on many hiring committees, and never once had a clue what the politics of a candidate were. ” On the contrary. You know quite well that they are all liberal, because conservatives have already been deftly discouraged from bothering with PhD programs so you are rarely put in the position of having to personally discriminate–the institutional discrimination does all that for you upstream of the “hiring decision” point.

Z–“And honestly, didn’t you become much more left-wing these last 15 years or so? Are you surprised that it happened to you, considering what happened in your country this last 15 years? Is it surprising that it also happened to people like you?”

Of course I’m surprised. And you should be surprised t0o. We focus on things on the margin like ‘income’ and ‘education’ level because we see them as actually varying. Two or three times as predictive as those variables are things like “what party did your parents vote for”, “what party did people in your neighborhood vote for”, and “what party did you vote for 20 years ago”. Your income can go up 100% or more and “who your parents voted for” will still be much more correlated with how you vote than “how much do I earn”. The same is true with undergraduate college education.

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engels 05.15.18 at 5:25 pm

Z, I was exaggerating a bit. I haven’t read the whole paper but the basic argument seemed compelling to me, and seems in accord with your references to Bourdieu above.

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engels 05.15.18 at 5:33 pm

Sebastian has always been an honourable opponent but from where I stand his positions have gotten much better over the years to the point where they frequently make a lot more sense than many of this site’s soi disant leftists.

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M Caswell 05.15.18 at 7:06 pm

“You know quite well that they are all liberal”

No, I don’t, and neither do you.

“the institutional discrimination does all that for you”

It is not doing so through me, and I am after all part of the institution. Moreover, no one anywhere is being politically discriminated against “for me,” since such discrimination would not be done on my behalf, by my say-so, or in my interests.

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engels 05.15.18 at 8:14 pm

I dare say no student of mine could identify my politics, except by a lucky guess.

Liberal?

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engels 05.15.18 at 9:23 pm

Sebastian you should come study in UK, elite universities here are full of Tories.

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Ogden Wernstrom 05.15.18 at 9:37 pm

It may be a bit off-topic here – but with so many academics frequenting this forum, this seems the best place to ask….

A friend with an undergraduate degree in geology has decided that his best chance at increasing his earnings would be to work for an oil company. In order to increase his odds of being hired at a good salary, he has decided to complete a Master’s…plus, he wants oil companies to know that he would be a devoted and loyal employee.

Does someone know of a respected geoscience department that offers a graduate program that would allow him to specialize in flat-earth geology?

Oh, wait! I need to check if GMU has grad programs in geology. They’ve gotta have a flat-earth program, or (at least) a cyclically-warming-earth program, plus a pipeline that feeds grads to the industry.

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Ogden Wernstrom 05.15.18 at 9:38 pm

Correction:
…feeds grads into the industry.

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John Quiggin 05.15.18 at 11:34 pm

Kiwanda @86 “micro-aggressions”. Is this intended ironically? Are you saying that conservative students are such snowflakes that they should get trigger warnings to avoid exposure to the fact that many of the beliefs they arrived with are false.

Or maybe something more strongly relativist: Since millions of American “know” that the earth is 10 000 years old, that race is a physical reality, that climate change is a myth and so on, the university should respect their “knowledges” and incorporate them into its teaching.

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Faustusnotes 05.16.18 at 12:01 am

Once again Sebastian is ignoring the big fat white elephant shitting in the Republican punch bowl. Conservatives are not qualified for academia because they can’t handle evidence, and they self select out because objective study would disabuse them of their silly notions. A conservative Christian who enters a biology degree will learn evolution and be required to accept it in order to succeed in the field. A conservative economist who enters any field of science has to accept the fact of global warming. The same person entering public health faces a choice of consistently ignoring evidence or accepting the importance of socialised health care systems (even the world bank and IMF have had to accept this). It’s not that conservatives don’t enter the academy, it’s just that they don’t leave it. The objective study of reality washes out their views – except of course in economics, which remains impervious to reality or any statistical method beyond ols.

Until Sebastian can explain how a global warming denialist can succeed in science, or indeed why scientists should show any kindness towards representatives of a movement that has repeatedly and viciously attacked them, his pleas simply sound like the worst kind of affirmative action.

Ogden perhaps your friend could do a stats degree at GMU, where he can learn how to use plagiarism and fraud to smear other scientists and deny politically inconvenient facts. And if Sebastian gets his way, the affirmative action programs in other universities will ensure your friend has a comfortable career no matter how much of a hack he becomes!

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Sebastian H 05.16.18 at 1:01 am

I just want to note, purely because it is amusing, how the world has turned so completely on its head. When I was going to University in the 90s I was taught that all knowledge was socially constructed, that scientific knowledge was a colonialist plot to keep people from speaking their mind, that gender was a purely social construct (not at all grounded in physical facts) and that moral truth was purely relative depending on what society you grew up in. This was the bleeding edge liberal view (at least as presented in the University of California system, but it was one of the larger systems in the world).

Now conservatives are relativists, liberals believe in the primacy of hard-wired gender, liberals believe in the universality of moral rights again, and apparently scientific knowledge is back to being real enough to cudgel your opponents with.

Tribal affiliations have caused enormous paradigm shifts across both sides, but so far as I can tell, no one admits that they were ever wrong about anything.

And it certainly doesn’t cause the slightest hint of humility for practically anyone that so many of the things their side thought just 20-30 years ago (enough to ostracize the other side over) are now considered complete bunk.

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J-D 05.16.18 at 1:25 am

Kiwanda

It’s strange that you think that the burden of proof isn’t on the people doing the armchair psychoanalysis …

If somebody makes an assertion, it’s reasonable to ask that person to provide support for the assertion. On the other hand, I don’t consider myself (or anybody else) to be under an obligation to make that kind of request for every assertion made. Indeed, if I did ask everybody to support every assertion made, I would expect to be regarded as unreasonably vexatious. I ask for support for assertions when I feel like it. If you feel like asking me to provide support for any assertion I have made, please go right ahead and do so, and I’ll probably do my best to respond. I don’t feel under an obligation to do so, though; such requests are reasonable, but nobody’s under an obligation to respond to them. So I’m grateful that you did respond to my request, because it did help me to clarify my thinking. I realised that I could have made a better choice of questions to ask, or points to raise, than I actually did.

You wrote

The IDW notion is kind of silly, but just about the only thing the people mentioned have in common is indeed a “general commitment to intellectual free exchange”.

That’s not literally true. They have many things in common. They’re all deuterostomes, for example. This is not a relevantly distinctive characteristics, obviously, given that all humans are deuterostomes. More specifically, they are all literate, which not all humans are. But that would only be a relevant characteristic if they were grouping themselves together (or being grouped together) in a context where they were distinguishing themselves (or being distinguished from) other people who are illiterate. That’s evidently not what’s happening, so literacy also is a common characteristic which is not a relevant common characteristic.

So, if they were grouping themselves together (or being grouped together) in a context where they were distinguishing themselves from (or being distinguished from) other people who do not have a general commitment to intellectual free exchange, then it could be a relevant common characteristic that they shared a general commitment to intellectual free exchange, if in fact that was something that they did share. Therefore, to make the case that it’s the thing that binds them together, it would be necessary not only to show evidence that they do in fact share such a commitment but also to give at least some general indication of who these other people are, the ones who don’t share a general commitment to intellectual free exchange, the ones from whom they are distinguishing themselves (or being distinguished). When that hasn’t been plausibly indicated, it’s reasonable to look for some other explanation of what binds them together, as Henry Farrell has done in Vox.

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John Quiggin 05.16.18 at 1:29 am

@113 People on the left, like Josh Marshall and me, were making this point 15 years ago
http://johnquiggin.com/2003/09/06/right-wing-postmodernism/

While conceding that lots on the left had been guilty of irrationalism and anti-science I made the observation that

http://johnquiggin.com/2003/03/02/science-and-ideology/

most of the worst examples of left relativism and magical thinking made their peace with capitalism, notably including the postmodernist embrace of PR and advertising.

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Kiwanda 05.16.18 at 1:31 am

John Quiggin:

I was suggesting a category of explanation not covered by your earlier comments, I wasn’t specifically proposing it as the right one in this case. But: a social environment in which a particular characteristic or viewpoint is clearly held in contempt and disdain by the majority (or by a vocal, unopposed minority) can be uncomfortable to someone with that characteristic or viewpoint, even if it is invisible. This is distinct from simply hearing other viewpoints, or seeing people without that characteristic, or even discussing/arguing over such differences.

As not-quite-an-example: how anybody at Reed who sympathized at all with ostracized student Hunter Dillman would feel.

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faustusnotes 05.16.18 at 1:43 am

Sebastian I also went to university in the early 1990s and I didn’t learn any of those things. I learnt that evidence was important for establishing political beliefs, that sex was partly biological and partly socially constructed, and that human rights were universal. I’m not sure what university you went to but I would suggest you ask for your money back.

Also any time you want to answer the problem of conservatives being anti-scientific and anti-intellectual, and why such unqualified people should be allowed into universities, and how people who enter with these views can maintain them in the face of all the evidence they learn in university, then feel free. Otherwise, keep demanding affirmative action for people who are clearly unqualified for their jobs. I thought you hated that idea?

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Chip Daniels 05.16.18 at 2:09 am

@113
But isn’t this also because most political philosophies consist of multiple strands of values that are in tension?
For example:
Individual freedom, or enforcement of moral norms?

The answers vary, depending on the situations and people involved, which can be explained by blind tribalism.

But why shouldn’t it?
It would be a strange sort of dogmatic mind wouldn’t it, to think that moral norms can never be more important than individual freedom, or vice versa?

Maybe I have just seen too many people summon up contrived “universal and objective” rules for why freedom of speech covers this or that, but not the other thing, when what they really mean is that freedom really can only exist within a range of socially acceptable boundaries that are in constant movement.

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Peter T 05.16.18 at 2:51 am

I went to university in the early 70s, studied humanities and don’t recall any of the positions Sebastian says were mainstream being taught. The lecturers were mostly liberal, IIRC, but not stupid. But maybe UCal was at the cutting edge….

More widely, I have a hard time identifying the “conservatives” who are being excluded from US universities. As others have noted, pretty much all orthodox Republican positions are simply untenable as matters of truth (climate change, gender, many aspects of history). If by “conservative” is meant people who don’t want to rock the current political boat, they are now all, AFAIK, to be found in the Democratic Party. Can Sebastian or others point to any people who combine a respect for the results of research with Republican politics? Or is “liberal” here being accepted in its US meaning – as not viciously reactionary and/or some flavour of batshit crazy?

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J-D 05.16.18 at 3:03 am

Sebastian H, supposing it’s true (at least in the US) that conservatives are under-represented in academia, that this is a consequence of discrimination, that it’s a serious problem–I don’t know whether it’s true, but supposing everything you’ve written is true, what (if anything) do you suggest should be done about it?

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Orange Watch 05.16.18 at 3:27 am

FN@112:
Until Sebastian can explain how a global warming denialist can succeed in science, or indeed why scientists should show any kindness towards representatives of a movement that has repeatedly and viciously attacked them, his pleas simply sound like the worst kind of affirmative action.

The explanation you’re seeking (for both of those questions) is so simple that I imagine the reason no one else answered was because it’s kinda hard to type when you can’t stop rolling your eyes. “Science” is not an irreducible monolith. One can embrace the most ridiculous crackpot theories imaginable about 99% of scientific orthodoxy, but as long as they toe the line in their field it generally doesn’t matter. The number of reactionaries in STEM fields should make that unmistakably clear even in case the idea by itself seemed incredible for some reason, which it shouldn’t.

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faustusnotes 05.16.18 at 5:03 am

Kiwanda, what’s the difference between the Hunter Dillman story and any other story of bullying at a school or university? Bullies have a background and need an opening. In this case they were left wing, and took some silly facebook discussion as an opening. But that’s what bullies do. Are you going to try and tell us that only left wing students bully people, or that bullying would never happen at GMU, or that if it did it would not have right wing overtones? Do you think the football team or athletics team don’t contain bullies? And if they show all the same behavior as the people who bullied Hunter Dillman, but don’t do it with a left wing opening, how are they different?

Also, that Spiked article is very careful to tell us the political leanings of everyone except Hunter Dillman. But it seems possible he is also left wing. It doesn’t support your thesis that left wing people are bullying conservatives out of the academy, if they are also bullying each other out of the academy. Does it? Is it possible that these guys are just good old fashioned bullies, but in a “liberal” college like Reed, the bullies are also “liberal”?

Also you should read the article about what happened to those protesters the following year. They got run out on a rail by other left wing students. How does that support your theory?

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engels 05.16.18 at 7:22 am

Since this is ‘be nice to Sebastian day’ I just want to say I sort of agree with 113. But the puzzle might be easier to explain when you realise ‘liberalism’ and ‘conservatism’ don’t exhaust political space and aren’t really deeply opposed but alternative ways of legitimating capitalism and American empire.

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Hidari 05.16.18 at 8:05 am

‘New York Times columnist Bari Weiss (5/8/18) describes some of the supposedly taboo topics—“That Which Cannot Be Said”—discussed by the “renegades” of the “Intellectual Dark Web”:

There are fundamental biological differences between men and women. Free speech is under siege. Identity politics is a toxic ideology that is tearing American society apart. And we’re in a dangerous place if these ideas are considered “dark.”

I agree that it’s dangerous to be under that degree of self-delusion; none of these ideas are remotely taboo; they’re the kind of things that are said routinely in outlets like, to pick one at random, the New York Times.’

https://fair.org/home/supposedly-taboo-ideas-that-actually-appear-frequently-in-the-pages-of-the-new-york-times/

@117

‘I’m not sure what university you went to…’

I think that would be the university of ‘I made it up’ in the country of ‘Imaginationstan’ doing the course in ‘Some Shit I read on the Fox News website’.

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Z 05.16.18 at 9:23 am

Tribal affiliations have caused enormous paradigm shifts across both sides, but so far as I can tell, no one admits that they were ever wrong about anything. And it certainly doesn’t cause the slightest hint of humility for practically anyone that so many of the things their side thought just 20-30 years ago (enough to ostracize the other side over) are now considered complete bunk.

There are more than two sides, Sebastian. Admittedly, 30 years ago I was barely sentient, but those I recognize as my side who were active then (Pierre Bourdieu, Noam Chomsky, Emmanuel Todd, Loïc Wacquant – incidentally teaching in Berkeley at the time… to mention only those in the humanities, this holds in spades for the exact sciences) never believed anything like what you wrote, indeed they often bitterly opposed such theses (and are decidedly not liberals, and of course even less conservatives). So no, I don’t feel any particular need for humility with respect to what my actual side believed then, or now.

Back to empirical electoral sociology.

Two or three times as predictive as those variables are things like “what party did your parents vote for”, “what party did people in your neighborhood vote for”, and “what party did you vote for 20 years ago”

Again, I note that you are implicitly taking the US – a truly exceptional country in many respect – as the de facto modal country (how could I vote for the party my parents voted for when none of the current four main parties existing in my country existed when my parents were median voters, or even much more recently?). Which again is fine, but really, that’s not something you should get in the habit of doing without realizing you are doing it.

That being said, I completely agree that political behavior, and in particular electoral behavior, is deeply ecological in the etymological sense: people more or less do just as others around them do (and that holds fractally, so for instance people vote like other people around them, but people also justify their vote to others and to themselves in the same way as people do around them, and people implicitly structure the political field – around a left/right axis, or around a liberal/conservative in-group/out-group apparently in your case, or around a Catholic/Protestant/Areligious triad elsewhere etc… – the way people around them do). And that leads me believe that discrimination has nothing to do with the relative under-representation of conservatives (in the sense of electoral behavior) in Academia.

American Academia, especially at the higher-end (tenured academics, say) is a very, very specific ecological niche in terms of geographical location, population, income, education, geographic mobility, age etc… Given what we just said, is it surprising it has a very, very specific electoral behavior? Properly understood, does it even really have one in fact? That is to say, do American Academics really vote differently from other people living in the same towns with the same age, income, level of education and social background? Is there any reason to believe for instance that, considering its specificities, American Academia has a more statistically aberrant electoral behavior than say Madison County, Idaho, considering its specificities? Do you believe that the fact only 8% voted for Clinton there compared to 52% in the general population is an indication that discrimination against Clinton voters is going on in Madison County?

Unrelated but

Sebastian has always been an honourable opponent

is very true.

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pomo queer theorist 05.16.18 at 12:33 pm

postmodernism (or what i would more properly label late-20th century continental philosophy and critical theory, maybe post-structuralism but that’s sort of just displacing the uncertainty) is actually experiencing a resurgence among some of the more intellectual elements of the younger left. my campus’s SDS reading group for example read edward said, angela davis, judith butler and michel foucault.

this is mostly because we find these thinkers ideas useful in our activism. for me personally postmodernism and the literature surrounding it is concerned foremost with political radicalism and readjusting and reformulating the goals and methods for revolution in tune with contemporary changes.

the only definition of “postmodernism” which could describe reactionaries in the same breath as revolutionaries is quite obviously not useful for telling you anything about how those groups think.

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Thomas Beale 05.16.18 at 12:39 pm

On the race/racism question…

Lupita@62
Human races do not exist, that is, race is neither a scientific nor an anthropological concept. Fortunately, governments asking their populations to self-identify from a list of 19th century quack races such as white, black, and Asian is pretty much confined to the anglosphere.

This is the kind of thing that we would like to be true, but isn’t. Yes, you can find geneticists saying things like ‘there are more differences inside so-called racial boundaries than between them’. This is not exactly wrong, but has been adopted by the politically correct (including at one time myself, until I learned better) to dismiss the fact that ‘race’ is real in two ways: a) it does correspond to a certain collection of phenotypic attributes, and this manifests in medicine and consequently healthcare data (particularly in public health), where ‘race’ is a real, objective determiner of certain illnesses and outcomes; and b) as a real social construct – there is no getting out of the fact that certain aspects of social association, grouping and culture follow racial boundaries, whether due to history, self-identification or something else. Sometimes even legislation reflects this: in the US and Brazil, affirmative action is based on race for example; there are many dating sites arranged broadly on the basis of race. It would be nice if neither of these things were true, but they are.

The consequence of this is that people (e.g. doctors, public health officials, demographers, political activists) who understand this point can talk about ‘race’ knowing perfectly well what they mean, and with no inbuilt value judgment, while others who have not yet grasped the basic fact hear racism in such discussions and get all worked up.

politcalfootball@98
An underlying belief of racists is that black people are inherently, on average, less intelligent than white people. Leaving aside the question of whether this belief is true, it is, by definition, racist.

Normal definitions of ‘racism’ are along the following lines: a kind of prejudice, hatred or discrimination etc of other(s) based on their race / racial inferiority. An objective statement about a cohort that happens to be a ‘race’, and that is true, is not ‘racist’. In clinical medicine, normal ranges for various typical observations (blood glucose etc) for black (i.e. African) people (usually translated to ‘African Americans’ in normal speech of docs in the US) are different; you will find this in any path lab result manual. There is no racism here. Demographers may state that interest in hip-hop heavily correlates with being African American. Also not a racist statement.

You want to define racism as being inherently factually incorrect.

No, the definition of racism is a kind of intentional prejudice. If studies showed that there were IQ differences correlating to racial groups, a statistician can state this with no prejudice. An intentionally racist person might make a similarly worded statement, but the intent will be quite different. Racism doesn’t necessarily rely on falsehoods (although it usually does, I agree); it’s about intentional prejudice, and attempts to paint one group as innately superior in some way. But it’s obviously stupid anyway, because in reality, with racial boundaries, the differences in intelligence are far greater than any possible average statistical difference in the normal curves for each racial group. And generally, real racists are on the left hand tail…

But if racism were the correct lens through which to view society, it would still be racism.

Racism as a lens to view society just means: prejudice (specifically about races) as a lens to view society; which is pretty obviously bad, but isn’t interesting.

People need to generally stay away from reflexive rejection of any talk about ‘race’ as automatically ‘racist’; one has to take care in understanding the intentions of the interlocutor as well as the context.

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Cian 05.16.18 at 12:41 pm

Faustusnotes: Maybe you might want to expand your critique to consider academic positions that are not in the sciences?

Sebastian I also went to university in the early 1990s and I didn’t learn any of those things. I learnt that evidence was important for establishing political beliefs, that sex was partly biological and partly socially constructed, and that human rights were universal.

Plenty of people went to university and were taught differently. Sebastian’s experiences are far from uncommon.

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Cian 05.16.18 at 12:49 pm

Kiwanda – Spiked Online is a slightly less reliable source than the Daily Express/National Enquirer. While I suppose it’s possible that this story might be accurate – after nearly 40 years of their bullshit (via the RCP, Living Marxism, etc) I think it’s reasonable to assume that it isn’t.

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Cian 05.16.18 at 1:02 pm

I think Sebastian is right to a point. There are definitely departments where right wing views are generally not welcome, and while I doubt those departments deliberately exclude right wingers, some ring wingers may well decide that they’d rather be in a more comfortable environment. But it’s definitely a subset (and not all colleges either) – English, History (maybe), Anthropology, Sociology along with disciplines that you’d expect (African-American studies/Women’s Studies, etc). Other disciplines seem pretty apolitical to me, and certainly seem to have right wingers in them – Engineering, certain sciences (Chemistry, Geology), Mathematics. And other disciplines seem to have plenty of right wingers pushing their views (economics, law, Political Science, International Relations).

As for why right wingers would be underrepresented… my guess is that there are a variety of reasons and you’d have to look at the department (and be more specific about which right wing views are excluded). Blanket statements about the entire academy just seem unhelpeful and are almost certainly untrue.

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Lee A. Arnold 05.16.18 at 1:18 pm

The debate keeps coming to the same problem but from separate originations, much as different routes on separate maps can lead you to the same location at the edge of each map.

1. Modern philosophy. Postmodernism arose out of the philosophical dissolution of the subject-object distinction which originated in the deep consideration by early 20th-century philosophers of the insecure metaphysical bases of modern science (even before quantum physics presented famous examples) and the foundations of mathematics. I think that technically this philosophical dissolution of the subject-object distinction was in post-structuralism, not postmodernism. Say what you want about Foucault and Derrida, but their priors and premises are rooted in much older, deeper, unresolved observations about the status and character of real scientific knowledge. So postmodernism wasn’t as kooky as some would make it, it’s a logical outgrowth of philosophy though maybe just can’t go much of anywhere. Then of course it was applied anyway — or misapplied,– to psychology, social science, politics.

2. Moral values, source & expression. Modernism instigated an ongoing search for the source of values as soon as gods were dead. Morals are supposed to be expressed as simple and absolute, even though there is a long list of exceptions to the rules.

3. Political economy. Morals concern how we intend to deal with each other. The basic shapes of intentionality are very few, if pictured as network graphs with people at the nodes. The simplest typology is binary: two-person relationships vs. the common-center relationships. Thus moral acts occur in patterns that immediately have political-economic connotation, and the initial simple debate immediately falls into “capitalism vs. socialism”. Of course this ignores the fact that all successful modern societies are mixed economies. But the need for simplicity arises again in the real and more complicated debate of the mixed economy, which concerns where to draw the line between private and public goods, services, & property. This is complicated further by the empirical observation that the dividing line shifts back and forth over time, due to changing social circumstances and technological innovation.

So one of our biggest problems is that modernity has taken all of us right to the edge of what can be expressed in our current terms. This has thrown a wrench into public debate, which follows the rhetorical requirements of taking positions, defending them, and attacking the opponent. The conditions of basal uncertainty have begun to undermine rational discussion, leading to emotional appeals to the crowd, including tribalist, nihilist, even psychopathic.

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Cian 05.16.18 at 1:21 pm

Thomas Beale: Let’s unpack that argument a little.

First of all the fact that prevalence of certain illness map to certain ‘races’ is true. But all we’re really saying here is that certain illnesses map to certain genetic markers. Some genetic markers broadly correlate with socially determinations of race, others don’t. They don’t make these definitions of race ‘real’, or ‘scientific’. They might if we defined races genetically, but we don’t. We define races based upon historical accidents (e.g. where certain borders were drawn up) and facts of migration. Some racial definitions of race are ludicrously broad. E.g. African American. Africa is a big place, and African-Americans genetic heritage usually has a mix of European and other DNA in there also (due to a history initially of rape, and then later intermarriage). Others are just artefacts of colonialism – e.g. ‘Indian’ (the Indian sub-continent’s existence as a country being an artefact of British colonialism). And really what does it mean to say somebody is ‘English’? or German? Given historical patterns of migration, warfare (and indeed rape)?

Or how about the term hispanic regularly used for people from South America? Tell me how that’s a race?

So yeah using race to make medical judgements is pretty unscientific, and does lead to bad outcomes (for example the different medical outcomes for ‘white’ and ‘black’ patients due to racial judgements made by doctors. See mother mortality rates for an example of this).

b) as a real social construct – there is no getting out of the fact that certain aspects of social association, grouping and culture follow racial boundaries, whether due to history, self-identification or something else. Sometimes even legislation reflects this: in the US and Brazil, affirmative action is based on race for example; there are many dating sites arranged broadly on the basis of race. It would be nice if neither of these things were true, but they are.

I’m sorry, but how is this an argument against racial definitions being a social construction? All these things are social constructions.

No, the definition of racism is a kind of intentional prejudice. If studies showed that there were IQ differences correlating to racial groups, a statistician can state this with no prejudice.

A statistician could state the factoid without prejudice (assuming it had been collected correctly, without bias and the statistician checked these things. History has plenty of examples where unconscious, and indeed conscious, racism perverted statistical data collection). But when a statistician, or anyone else, moved into analysis and explanation racism might well creep in (and usually does in practice). To unpick IQ – IQ is not a good marker of innate biological intelligence. Now if a scientist was to take that fact and ignore the possibility that there might be social factors affecting IQ – BUT LEAP IMMEDIATEDLY to biological explanations. THAT would be racism. Not because they were looking for excuses, but because their biases led them to ignore non-racist explanations.

This incidentally happens a lot in a number of areas. The social sciences are riddled with classist assumptions and explanations.

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Cian 05.16.18 at 1:27 pm

On scientists embracing stupid stuff. I’ve met Young Earther biologists and evolution denying geologists. Also the evolution denying engineer (and also doctor) is not as rare as you might think.

In general I’ve found with academics that once they move outside their narrow discipline, they’re as inclined as anyone else to believe crackpot stuff. The only difference I’ve noticed is that academics tend to overrate their ability to make intellectual judgements in fields that they have little knowledge of.

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Kiwanda 05.16.18 at 1:49 pm

Cian:
I don’t know anything about the reliability of Spiked Online; if the article was fantasy, it was elaborately constructed. It’s not much verification, but, at least there is a “Hunter Dillman” with the right age, likely gender, and hometown. Certainly the controversy over Hum 110 at Reed is well-known. If you like, change my not-quite-example to “disagrees with RAR tactics and goals”.

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bianca steele 05.16.18 at 2:31 pm

It seems typical, if not exactly telling, that Sebastian, having been taught an extreme version of a “left-wing” set of ideologies, a version so extreme most left-leaning people have never heard of it and most leftists would deride it as a straw man, he’s become devoted to the task of opposing less-extreme versions of leftist theory, on the grounds that he was taught it was ridiculous.

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Orange Watch 05.16.18 at 2:55 pm

pmqt@126:
postmodernism (or what i would more properly label late-20th century continental philosophy and critical theory, maybe post-structuralism but that’s sort of just displacing the uncertainty) is actually experiencing a resurgence among some of the more intellectual elements of the younger left.

The web played a huge role in this, and “the younger left” at this point extends to those who are in their early forties. And I’d not limit it to the more intellectual elements of the young left; I’d just say the more activist elements of the young (progressive and liberal) left. Critical theory made inroads and essentially became orthodox by the ’00s in a lot of humanities, and importantly, that was the framework that activists who would go forth and set up online communities clove to. (Sidenote: WRT to critical theory becoming orthodox, when intersectionalism came to the forefront as a critique of the existing orthodoxy, economic class was a ubiquitous intersection – an academic feminist’s perspective would be highlighted as being skewed to not reflect the experience of e.g. a poor black woman. But a decade later, intersectionalism had been institutionalized and oh-so-strangely, poverty was no longer something it concerned itself with as a distinct consideration…) The move of critical theory indoctrination (and ideological reinforcement) from college campuses to the web made critical theory much more influential, but in shifting from the intellectuals to the activists as primary disseminators, rigor was lost. Theories that were carefully explained in academia with reference to exhaustive explanations are instead taught in anecdotes and thumbnail sketches… and just as often are weaponized to attack ideological rivals – both the near enemy and the far.

I’d not describe it so much as a resurgence as reaching critical mass. This has been building for decades, and is essentially symptomatic of the outsiders who challenged the orthodoxy several decades ago becoming the new orthodoxy and that orthodoxy becoming ubiquitous enough that it’s no longer confined to academic venues… although that also means it’s evolving outside the control of the academics who formulated it.

I’d also add as someone who was seduced by deconstructionism as an undergrad that I find the current prevalence of critical theory appalling, toxic, and dangerous.

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AcademicLurker 05.16.18 at 3:55 pm

As someone who was in college in the early 90s, I’d just like to add my voice to those affirming that ideas like the ones Sebastian recounts in 113 were in wide circulation and, at least in some quarters, were taken very seriously indeed.

Read some of the more intelligent things that were written in the wake of Sokal’s famous hoax and you will find even people largely coming from the “postmodern” (or whatever word you prefer) side of academia admitting “Well, maybe we did get a little carried away…”.

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bianca steele 05.16.18 at 4:53 pm

I wasn’t moving in activist circles around 2000. Recent BA recipients did a lot to spread the word. Even now you find younger journalists and critics writing as if all educated people accept Lacan and Derrida. They are not all activists.

Much of the net in the late 90s was listservs set up by academics, as well. But what Sebastian is talking about isn’t a consequence of theory talk.

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Harry 05.16.18 at 4:57 pm

On Conservatives in Academia — Passing on the Right, by Sheilds and Dunn, is a fascinating interview-based study of conservative professors. I’d recommend it to everyone.

Sebastian says:

“I just want to note, purely because it is amusing, how the world has turned so completely on its head. When I was going to University in the 90s I was taught that all knowledge was socially constructed, that scientific knowledge was a colonialist plot to keep people from speaking their mind, that gender was a purely social construct (not at all grounded in physical facts) and that moral truth was purely relative depending on what society you grew up in. This was the bleeding edge liberal view (at least as presented in the University of California system, but it was one of the larger systems in the world).”

I’ve been in academia in the US since 1985 and unlike others, this is completely recognizable to me as the sort of thing that was taught in many literature departments, schools of education, etc. Being in a Philosophy department, and being a socialist roughly in the Marxist tradition, I always looked at it from the outside, and never really had to deal with it in my day to day life. Some remnants are still there. Pretty much every year I submit a paper of mine to be read by a group of incoming education graduate students, and when I meet with them they almost walways haul me over the coals for being authoritarian because I am not a moral relativist; sometimes I get subtly (and sometimes not subtly) accused of racism, as well, though not by non-white students: as far as I can tell the evidence for this is, again, that I eschew moral relativism (though, why they care about racism, given that they are moral relativists, I can’t get them to explain).

I agree with the people who say that what Sebastian describes has absolutely nothing to do with the left, but it was/is real, and many of the people who believed/believe it claim/ed that they are the true left and the rest of us are basically fellow-travelers of imperialism, colonialism, and worse. One notable aspect of my experience as how rarely people with that world view are people with any off-campus political organizing experience.

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John Quiggin 05.16.18 at 5:19 pm

To sum up, the kind of thing Sebastian talks about was real, notably in departments of English lit and related disciplines, and was at least theoretically associated with the left, but
(i) was never as dominant as he suggests
(ii) was repudiated by much of the left at the time and afterwards
(iii) has produced some notable mea culpas in the light of its appropriation by the right, most famously that of Bruno Latour http://www.bruno-latour.fr/node/165
(iv) is still around as a confused background assumption, as suggested by Harry.

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Ogden Wernstrom 05.16.18 at 6:07 pm

Faustusnotes @112, thank you for the pursuit-of-statties-and-mince suggestion for my friend, but I found that GMU’s College of Science has a division of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences which offers advanced degrees. “To Devise A Simplified and Obvious-To-The-Naked-Eye Topology of the Earth” might be a better goal statement for my friend’s application, since it looks as if the cyclically-warming-earth thing has been done, as publicised by GMU last month:

Today there is great concern that global warming will melt Greenland and Antarctic icecaps and the resulting meltwater will raise sea level, inundating coastal cities. Geological evidence shows that over the past million years, sea level rose and fell several times by over 100 m due to changes between ice ages and warmer climates such as we have had for the last 10,000 years.

Back in the Triassic Period (250 – 200 million years ago), sea level also oscillated by about 100 m at million-year timescales. At that time, however, the Earth was much warmer than today and there were no ice caps to affect sea level. What was responsible for the Triassic sea level changes if it wasn’t the ice?

Faustusnotes @122 points out that Hunter Dillman might possibly be left-wing – so that story is not fit to demonstrate claims of victimhood-of-conservatives-on-campus. I think that Dillman’s leftism was left out of articles in the US press in order to fit the story to an existing widely-known rivalry*, but was central to the story outside of the USofA.

*Widely-known rivalries turn most of the “news” in the USofA into something akin to Professional Wrestling – which must have clear, binary rivalries. Pro Wrestling pays it forward with the two-minutes hate for Progressive Liberal.

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engels 05.16.18 at 7:22 pm

To be clear, I like European philosophy and I’m somewhat sympathetic to serious forms moral relativism. What I found odd was the weird pivot among the US woker-than-thou from a pat moral relativism to an equally crude moral absolutism. And as Sebastian says it doesn’t seem to be the only issue where they flipped in this way, others include ‘mental illness’, the status of gender, pornography/sex work, and censorship. (That said I have no desire to defend the US ‘conservative’ take on any of this stuff which as far as I’m aware has always been positively unhinged..)

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bianca steele 05.16.18 at 7:38 pm

JQ @ 140

It was fairly common in science and technology studies in the 90s, at least among the students and to judge from reading lists, from what I could tell. (I was considering going back for a degree at the time and did some research for courses I was taking that led me in that direction.) Over the years, some of it has come to seem useful to me. But it’s hard for me not to sympathize with students who feel it’s judgmental and, well, represents a “bubble” inhabited by the scholars. I read Latour at the time, and it was obvious how his work was being used then. I agree with those who say his empirical research is, on the surface (i.e., not to someone in that STS and theory milieu) quite reasonable and not really damning of scientists and engineers. His philosophical arguments that there is really no level of assumption scientists make that can’t be challenged, so on some level we can’t know the instruments don’t fail in certain, theoretically crucial circumstances, are good. But even he jumped, in his purely philosophical books, from that to much more contentious and ideologically skewed statements. It’s nice that he’s repudiated that but it seems he only decided the field had gone too far when people he disagreed with used his work. At the time he apparently happily lent his name to those who engaged in politicized name calling against anyone who made an objection.

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bianca steele 05.16.18 at 7:46 pm

Another frequent trope of science studies is the notion of “social control,” which on reflection is such an ideology-laden term that I wonder how any but the most politicized students make sense of it. But that kind of thing is pretty common.

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novakant 05.16.18 at 7:52 pm

Maybe I didn’t get the memo that a scientific consensus has been reached regarding the value of anything and everything from Critical Theory to Postcolonial Studies, but I find the way whole schools of thought are discarded here without any argument and in a rather superficial and vulgar manner pretty astonishing.

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bianca steele 05.16.18 at 8:10 pm

engels @ 141

It’s probably unprovable, but my guess is that the hollow nature of terms like “social control”—used within science studies as incredibly damning, and as a political motivation for doing the research in the first place—which to others were banal and lacking really any partisan valence at all—is one thing that helped to flip things. Gathering statistics on the population and formulating tools to analyze them is a tool of social control. Okay, that’s it’s origin. And statistics can be missed by bad governments. But that doesn’t mean the math is tainted (or worse). Or that liberal governments were always totalitarian because dialectic of enlightenment, which is more likely what they were getting at. But who knows how many people encountered that research and became Trumpian “destroy the government altogether” types?

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bianca steele 05.16.18 at 8:14 pm

Reading back, my comments look contradictory, but I’m pretty sure in the 90s “theory” (what undergraduates learned was called that) meant “literary theory” though at some point it became “social theory.” And that in the 80s Marxism and psychoanalytic thought would not have been called “theory.” So I still don’t think of Latour as “theory,” exactly.

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Sebastian H 05.16.18 at 8:32 pm

Like Harry, the things I’m describing weren’t just one-offs. They were a comprehensive part of my undergraduate experience. In the UC system (in the early 90s) they were a part of the required writing/thinking course that every undergraduate had to fulfill. I don’t know how to respond to the idea that these concepts ‘were never as dominant as he suggests’. I presume you mean something like “never deeply accepted among the highest levels of the most respected professors”. That may be true, I can’t speak to that. But I can speak to “seemingly permeating the discourse at graduate and undergraduate levels” or “shows up all the time in activism”. It was all over the place there.

And I personally still see the fallout from it. To take a very recent example I was working with a local GLBT Center on homeless outreach planning. It was noted that transgender teens have I much higher prevalence of homelessness than cis-gay teens so the proposal was to spend about 60% of the budget on finding them and helping them. I suggested that while it was certainly proper to target them quite a bit more than we used to, or to tailor the programs to include them, the fact that there are so many fewer trans people than cis-gay people means that even though homeless rates are higher among trans people, the total number of at risk people in the cis-gay community was MUCH higher, so 60% of the budget didn’t make sense. I was then subjected to a 5 min scream fest about being an obvious cis-male transphobe who was using ‘so called science’ to colonialize oppressed peoples. It had all the fun check boxes, inappropriate use of the intersubjectivity critique, using identity politics to shut down discussion, conspiracy theories about why people use ‘facts’ to oppress people, just general ugh. And 60% of the budget went to targeting too small a group, which thus far looks to have gained about 1 additional trans teen this year, and about 5 fewer cis-teens.

Or during the #metoo movement, a few of my male friends foolishly thought they could talk about how they too were raped. They ended up being hounded all up and down facebook for things like “appropriating women’s emotional labor” or “raping women again by attempting to steal focus” or “failing to honor the intersectional difficulty of being female”. It was initially amusing to me to see women who were talking about verbal harassment trying to assert intersectional superiority of viewpoint over male rape survivors (who by any fair intersectional analysis have less societal support and are more forced to hide it even than the awful position that women are in) but that was before I saw how hard they were taking it. I spent two weeks picking up the pieces of a very deep depression triggered by 4-5 days of constantly slamming him for merely talking about his story.

This is the social fallout of ideas. You can say that the ideas have been clarified or put aside by the very top tiers, but they have not been abandoned by the cultural places that picked them up. We are so quick to see how failing to address racism at the top levels of conservatism has polluted discourse all the way down (hell that is Corey’s whole game) but we studiously ignore how the poisonous ideas from our side have trashed the ability to have discourse. If non-academics see a bunch of people spouting Criticism saying things like “science is colonialism” or “truth doesn’t exist” why are we so shocked that they are anti-intellectual? The intellectuals are being actively stupid, so they have learned to ignore them.

And please don’t use some sort of “they are misusing our ideas” excuse that you wouldn’t allow William F. Buckley to use. If your intellectual mistakes get out and cause huge damage, you can’t just say “I’ve clarified that position in a paper somewhere”. Great. That’s step one…

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politicalfootball 05.16.18 at 8:37 pm

@127: Debating definitions isn’t productive, but I have two observations:

1. Your definition isn’t congruent with the dictionary, or with the ordinary understanding of the word. Per Wikipedia.:

Racism is the belief in the superiority of one race over another, which often results in discrimination and prejudice towards people based on their race or ethnicity.

Note the careful distinction between racism and prejudice.

2. Your definition is the one preferred by racists themselves. It has always been the racists’ defense that their beliefs are justified by the facts and are therefore not prejudiced or racist.

It’s true that people who acknowledge the existence of sickle cell or rap music or whatever aren’t being racist in any sensible meaning of the term. But it’s also true that any coherent use of the term must include anyone who regards Africans or African Americans as being inherently intellectual inferior.

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Sebastian H 05.16.18 at 8:50 pm

If I could add anything to the general discourse it would be something like “critiques are great, but don’t turn them into idols”.

For example. The proper post-modern CRITIQUE would be something like “how we know things is influenced by how society teaches us to look at things, so in order to get a better grasp on deep truths, you sometimes have to look at things in ways that society doesn’t want to teach you to look at things”. Or maybe a more pointed “culture teaches us to bias some approaches over others, which may work much of the time but cause us to overlook important things other times, so being aware of how, where, and why culture biases us is important”.

But po-mo idolatry uses it as a cudgel. “X is constructed, so anything you say about X is colonialist bullshit”.

Similarly the libertarian CRITIQUE is actually very useful. “Often governmental action will take steps which end up curtailing liberty in order to ‘do something’ about a problem, and then it turns out that the diminished liberty sticks, while the ‘do something’ turns out to be much less effective than advertised”.

Libertarian idolatry is bullshit. “We can’t trust the government to do anything, because it is always out to get you.”

The intersectionality APPROACH is useful. “Society treats people differently across a lot of dimensions. If you don’t inhabit one of those dimensions, you are very likely making assumptions about how society treats people that might be ill informed. Talk to them about what those lived experiences are before saying stupid things like ‘why don’t you just talk to the police'”

Intersectionality idolatry is horrible for discourse: “Shut up, you haven’t lived it”

The last is especially galling to me personally as I was recently told by a college aged trans-man “You don’t know what its like to be afraid people will find out about your sexual identity”. I’m a 45 year old gay man who 20 years ago had a friend stabbed TO DEATH for cruising the wrong guy. Some of the intersectionality idolaters could at least learn a bit of history.

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Lupita 05.16.18 at 9:40 pm

@Thomas Beale

By race being an unscientific category, which the US Census Bureau admits to, I mean that it cannot be used as an independent variable in scientific studies because race cannot be defined or controlled. An yet, in the anglosphere, it is used by academics as an independent variable and by politicians for a system of patronage of self-identified client groups. We can call this particular form of quackery racialism, that is, self-identified from an official list (black, white, Asian, and Indian) and quantified by the state. Racialism is a state ideology independent of folk taxonomies.

@Cian

Some racial definitions of race are ludicrously broad

You mentioned some good ones but, how about this one? The Asian race includes people from China, India, and Iraq whose populations descend in great part from three distinct out-of-Africa migrations that eventually established three distinct civilizations. According to the US Census Bureau, they constitute one race called Asian, coincidentally the same population called yellow or Oriental by 19th century charlatans.

Brazil has become entangled in the same racialist nonsense, but with tens of races such as olive, cinnamon, and ecru which are obviously part of a folk taxonomy for skin color. Racialism is mostly an anglospheric phenomenon that has, fortunately, not spread that much.

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Thomas Beale 05.16.18 at 9:58 pm

@148

I’m trust Oxford a lot more than wikipedia, if we’re going to do comparative dictionary checking.

Definition of racism in English:
Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

(probably the paper version has more).

Although, the Collins online has this:

Racism is the belief that people of some races are inferior to others, and the behaviour which is the result of this belief.

Merriam-Webster has both:

Definition of racism
1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2 a : a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles
b : a political or social system founded on racism
3 : racial prejudice or discrimination

Maybe we do have a definition problem.

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b9n10nt 05.16.18 at 11:27 pm

Sebastian H @ 149: very well put.

But just as well, ideological diversity in universities is a useful critique: sometimes valuable perspectives and relevant counter-arguments are missed and a “bubble” does greater harm than good.

If the critique becomes a cudgel, then all perspective is lost. Yes, people will tend to form like-minded communities. But this bubble can be a useful incubator for further insights and further pursuits, and not merely about group-think.

“There shall never be a bubble, put a conservative in every sociology department” is actually an authoritarian rejection of human communities, and the de-contextualized pursuit of ideological diversity will create an exclusionary bubble all its own.

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Collin Street 05.16.18 at 11:55 pm

But this bubble can be a useful incubator for further insights and further pursuits, and not merely about group-think.

Punctuated equilibrium, the biologists call it.

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Faustusnotes 05.17.18 at 12:27 am

Sebastian is this an American thing? I went to university in the same period as you in Australia and I don’t recall anything like this. My first year English course for example didn’t touch on any of that shit, we learnt post colonial critical analysis and it was very straightforward. My friends in arts courses learnt feminist theory of course and we’re aware of the existence of some of this shit but left wing or right wing alike, they thought it was bullshit and it certainly wasn’t required reading or thinking at University. Also the language you describe on Facebook, it doesn’t strike me as anything like I learnt at uni or in 10 years of activism since. When I see the way some of the campus bullies talk – especially the way they talk about themselves in this dissociative way, violence “done against bodies” or “you enact violence on my body” (I think that’s from the spiked article) – it seems vaguely psychopathic. I also noticed that with the shocking response to the article on transracialism a few months ago, the language was a bit psychotic. But I noticed then that all the signatories to that loathsome letter were American.

Because when you comment here you are often very us centric and don’t clarify when you’re making universalist statements it’s really hard to tell who and what you’re talking about. But it sounds like a weird American problem to me. Something to do with the end of history imperial view of 1990s USA? Isn’t that also when the folks around Rumsfeld came up with the idea that they could shape reality to their will?

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faustusnotes 05.17.18 at 1:27 am

As far as I’m aware doctors don’t present different reference ranges for blood tests for black and white Americans. These ranges are set by the FDA, a list is viewable here. They are set differently for men and women (hideously referred to as “males” and “females” in that subtly misogynistic way that Americans discuss sex) in the link.

There is some evidence that black Americans have different WBC and neutrophil counts, and maybe hematocrit, than white Americans, but this evidence hasn’t reached the point where it affects FDA measurements. And why would it? Race is such a dubious concept – especially in America – that it would be almost meaningless. Even the notion of an “African American” is ridiculous, since Africa is not a country or a single ethnic group. Even if there were separate “races” of Africans, “African Americans” would not know what race they were after 400 years of enforced racial mixing through slavery. This is why the American Anthropological Association rejects racial categories, and epidemiologists study race as a marker of social disadvantage and difference, not as a biological category. It’s also why Australia does not record race on the census (we use the country of origin and language spoken at home), and Japan only records nationality.

I agree with Lupita (and the scientists who study this stuff) that race is not a meaningful biological concept. Socially of course it’s important – but only in countries where a lot of people discriminate on the basis of the meaningless pseudoscience of race.

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Sebastian H 05.17.18 at 1:38 am

” I went to university in the same period as you in Australia and I don’t recall anything like this. “

It was and is still a big deal in California (one of the bigger college systems in the world, outside of China which I know nothing about), and my impression was that ‘Criticism’ took over in France and Germany around the same time, with similar things in the UK (with slightly different colonialist bent) around the same time. I know literally nothing about the system in Australia.

“When I see the way some of the campus bullies talk – especially the way they talk about themselves in this dissociative way, violence “done against bodies” or “you enact violence on my body” (I think that’s from the spiked article) – it seems vaguely psychopathic.”

I’m not really sure where that one ultimately came from, but it is all over the place in the US, so some writer got into the memestream.

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b9n10nt 05.17.18 at 5:26 am

Faustusnotes:

it seems vaguely psychopathic

I think the more apt term would be “religious”

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faustusnotes 05.17.18 at 5:52 am

I found an Atlantic article about the history of moral relativism in American politics. It’s hilarious. It says university professors gave conservatives “copious quotes” to support their erection of this boogeyman – and fails to supply any. It suggests that 1990s rock had a live and let live attitude, in contrast to previous eras, which would surely have surprised Robert Plant (“There’s still time to change the road you’re on …”). It also suggests that modern comic book heroes have bright moral lines compared to the heroes of the 1970s – 1990s, which is also hilarious given a) those comic book heroes were developed in the 1950s and b) Darth Vader, everyone Conan ever slew in film (but not the much more morally murky 1930s books!), everyone Rambo ever killed, everyone James Bond ever killed, and pretty much any bad guy from the Die Hard series would take issue with that.

Maybe moral relativism has always been a thing …

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J-D 05.17.18 at 9:20 am

faustusnotes

It’s also why Australia does not record race on the census (we use the country of origin and language spoken at home) …

The Australian census requires information to be provided about country of birth, languages spoken at home, and ancestry. There is space to write in whatever you like, so you’re not restricted to a fixed list in completing the form (also you can list two ancestries–actually, there’s space to list more than two but only two will be counted in the census statistics); the Australian Bureau of Statistics codes responses using an Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups.

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engels 05.17.18 at 11:07 am

Is it worth disabling my adblocker to read the Atlantic? Think I’ll go with ‘no’

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engels 05.17.18 at 11:08 am

I also have no idea what the ‘bodies’ thing is about

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Matt 05.17.18 at 1:26 pm

But I noticed then that all the signatories to that loathsome letter were American.

In fact, several were Canadian.

hideously referred to as “males” and “females” in that subtly misogynistic way that Americans discuss sex

Or the way that toilets are labeled in Australia? “Male toilet” and “female toilet” seems to be the most common, when a mere icon isn’t used. I’m starting to worry that there is a bit of projection on to the US here!

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novakant 05.17.18 at 1:58 pm

Most people moaning about “moral relativism” or the “social construction of knowledge” and the like seem never to have sat in a philosophy class or read any book on the history of ethics or epistemology respectively.

Examining the validity of moral claims and the nature and limits of human knowledge is simply what philosophers do and always have done – and there’s no deus ex machina coming to save us from vagueness, uncertainty and doubt.

There aren’t any absolute moral values or truth claims and it didn’t take Adorno, Derrida or Rorty to realise that. This doesn’t preclude anyone from trying to be a good person, trusting the scientific consensus or pursuing political change.

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Faustusnotes 05.17.18 at 2:33 pm

No Matt that’s correct, male and female are adjectives. They can sometimes be used without the noun they modify if it’s clear. But Americans uniquely use them as a noun.

Engels it probably wasn’t worth it. Also yes, the bodies thing.

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Cian 05.17.18 at 2:43 pm

Is it worth disabling my adblocker to read the Atlantic? Think I’ll go with ‘no’

Install ublock origin instead. It seems to be working just fine. I mean you should install it anyway if you don’t have it…

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bianca steele 05.17.18 at 2:52 pm

So I picked a book up off my shelf that I think of (possibly wrongly) as epitomizing the attitude Sebastian’s teachers probably tried to teach him about: Daniel Pick’s Faces of Degeneration, which was published in 1989 in the Ideas in Context series. I can’t find any reference to theory, or to anything deriving from the European Continent (one reference to The Holy Family), in the secondary sources to the first or last chapters. There’s lots of discussion of Europe, and the cited works are at least 95% Anglophone and mostly US-based (though many are emigres). It contains the sentence, “However sensitive one may be to the specificities of discursive context, it is perhaps now impossible to read nineteenth-century texts on racial degeneration without an implicit teleology,” but without citations, as if this were an original thought or a commonplace, but not an important theoretical generalization. I don’t guess this book could be published today. But it was published, around the time Sebastian was an undergraduate, so his sense that those ideas were mandatory in academia is almost certainly exaggerated (if reasonably so).

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politicalfootball 05.17.18 at 3:20 pm

Regarding conservatives and the academy, I don’t see where anyone has substantively responded to the claim that conservatism is often biased against the legitimate aims of scholarship. I thought I’d prod Sebastian et al again on this, and add some numbers from this typical survey (warning: pdf) of attitudes about evolution and global warming.

The question is a straightforward yes/no on belief in evolution or global warming: For the “very conservative,” 18% believe in evolution, compared to 68% who don’t and the rest are unsure. For the “very liberal,” it’s 92%-8% percent who acknowledge evolution, with 0% unsure. There’s a continuum between those views: the more conservative you get, the more hostile you are to the science of evolution.

On global warming, 70% of the “very liberal” accept it. (Interestingly, 92% of the “somewhat liberal” do.) And 4% of the “very conservative” acknowledge its existence.

Let us examine The Social and Political Views of American Professors. (another pdf!)

Biology has a 51%-6% split in favor of Democrats over Republicans, with the rest identifying as independents. Given the foundational nature of evolution in biology, how could it be otherwise? Accounting, Finance and Electrical Engineering tilt the other way ideologically, but somehow nobody demands affirmative action for liberals in those specialties.

I cite biology and climate science because any sensible person can agree that there is only one legitimate view on the factual basis for evolution and global warming. But conservatives have a fundamental epistemic problem with other disciplines, too, even if they can’t be stated as briefly.

Certainly conservatives make important contributions: Milton Friedman and Eugene Fama earned their Nobel prizes. And note: As conservatives, Friedman and Fama were clearly better-positioned to arrive at their insights than contemporaneous liberals.

But that’s the point. Truth isn’t ideology-neutral, and any unbiased search for the truth is going to favor some ideological positions over others.

High-quality journalism has the same problem as academia. Journalism is full of thriving conservative outlets, but it is generally understood that the quality of those outlets is awful. (I mean, Fox News’ production values are quite good, but the content is lousy because the organization’s mission is different from that of quality media outlets).

Conservatives are responsible for the poor quality of conservative thought. Liberals can’t be blamed for Fox or for the tilt in academia. We should be asking our scholars and journalists to seek truth, not to be “fair and balanced.”

169

Orange Watch 05.17.18 at 3:41 pm

Lee A. Arnold@131:
Modern philosophy

Personally, the most important step for me in renouncing my religous Derrida-idolatry was becoming familiar with phenomenology, as it offered a perspective which explained most of the useful observations of critical theory within an alternative framework that did not require the same degree of adherence to abstract yet extremely rigid and hierarchical structures.

170

Lupita 05.17.18 at 4:36 pm

@J-D

Indeed, terms like “ancestry”, “origin”, “ethnicity”, and “heritage” are used as euphemisms for race and the listed responses must also be considered. For example, if an “ancestry” category is “African, Caribbean, or African-American” it is clear that respondents are being guided into a pseudo-racial category where the marker is skin color, just like in 19th century scientific racism.

While the US, UK, and Canada censuses outright list white and black as response categories, Australia and New Zealand go for “ancestry” with clear response categories of what is meant (pseudo-race).

As faustusnotes mentioned, Japan does not quantify “race” and neither do China, India, Russia, DR of Congo, Ethiopia, Germany, France, Mexico, and Argentina. As far as I can tell, only the five countries of the anglosphere, Brazil, and a few others in South America do so. As to some South American countries joining the anglosphere in quantifying official racial categories, it is interesting to note that the US has been peddling this practice through the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean since the year 2000 much like it did independent central banks.

The reason I mention all this is because I believe that it is central to any discussion of identity politics, multiculturalism, ethnic studies, and political correctness to note that in the countries where these phenomena exist, there is also an official racial classification that sustains them. This is not coming from the folk, the left, the right, or foreign (to the anglosphere) influences such as Marx or Derrida. It is coming from above. Racialism is the official state ideology of the English-speaking countries.

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engels 05.17.18 at 7:37 pm

Examining the validity of moral claims and the nature and limits of human knowledge is simply what philosophers do and always have done

Yes but iirc Socrates, Kant et al didn’t just respond to anything anyone said with something equivalent to ‘well that’s just your opinion man…’

Install ublock origin instead

Thanks, I’ll give it a try

172

Cian 05.17.18 at 8:06 pm

Most people moaning about “moral relativism” or the “social construction of knowledge” and the like seem never to have sat in a philosophy class or read any book on the history of ethics or epistemology respectively.

Yeah for me the problem with critical theory is not that it assumes these things, but that when faced with these problems it gives up. How do you make good moral judgements about other societies when you’re so embedded in your own with all the assumptions (and implicit power structures). How do you help people from other societies without revisiting all the horrors of do-gooder colonialism (or whatever). Or deal with the fact that people with statistical expertise also probably will make judgements from their privileged perspective (which resulted in many many ills during the C19th and C20th.

Or for science, how do we deal with the fact that so much scientific knowledge is provisional, is created in ways that are influenced by social dynamics and is far from 100% reliable? And some of it is bullshit (evolutionary psychology I’m looking at you).

173

Kiwanda 05.17.18 at 8:45 pm

engels: “Is it worth disabling my adblocker to read the Atlantic? Think I’ll go with ‘no’”

On Firefox, noscript is very helpful, although maybe a bit too configurable: some “magazine” sites run the scripts of more than fifty other sites, and you have at least the option of making an independent decision about each.

engels: “I also have no idea what the ‘bodies’ thing is about”

Things are also so often getting *enacted* and *interrogated*, which is puzzling.

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engels 05.17.18 at 9:34 pm

I used to use NoScript but I seemed to spend half my life disallowing and re-enabling things that I had no idea what they did until something went wrong.

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John Quiggin 05.17.18 at 10:50 pm

@172 There was a lot of what John H calls the “Two Step of Terrific Triviality”. Strong claims about the impossibility of knowledge were advanced as long as it was just a matter of tweaking the scientists across campus or saying nice things about the folk beliefs of oppressed groups, followed by a quick retreat to some kind of pragmatism when the full implications of relativism were spelt out.

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Faustusnotes 05.17.18 at 11:06 pm

The history and justification of the ancestry question is given here. It’s not really a race question and it’s not intended as such – it aims to find out where second generation migrants’ families came from. Unless you believe that the people who wrote the census really think “German” and “Scottish” are races?

I was there when the right started building the idea that the left love moral relativism and it wasn’t a reaction to Derrida. It was a reaction to the lefts refusal to privilege Christian bullshit as the source of all morality; our growing acceptance of multiculturalism; the demand that America behave the same in its tributaries as it demanded it’s enemies behave; and a general refusal to accept the hypocrisy of western leadership in light of what they did in the developing world in the 1970s and 1980s. In particular our rejection of the older generation’s “do as I say not as I do ” approach to things like adultery and abortion. The left weren’t the relativists – it was arseholes like Kissinger and the newly enriched evangelicals who were the relativists. But we got smeared with that brush for trying to hold them to account.

For a good example of that see how that Atlantic article treats the salience of the whole issue. When academics on the left were doing it it was A Big Thing. Now that academics on the left aren’t doing it but the people on government with actual power are doing it, there’s nothing to see here, the whole idea is dead. Meanwhile the guy the evangelicals support paid a chick 1.6 million to abort the child of their affair. Hmm, who are the moral relativism here …?

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Kiwanda 05.18.18 at 1:03 am

John Quiggin: see also the “motte-and-bailey doctrine”, as introduced by Nicholas Shackel discussing post-modernism (.pdf).

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faustusnotes 05.18.18 at 2:04 am

This moral relativism thing is entertaining. Here’s another article from 2012 about the death of relativism – note the difference between the title and the URL, I guess that’s a kind of relativism right there – which suggest that this death of relativism thing has been a dead horse worth flogging for at least 6 years. It has all the same tropes: a) select a couple of pop culture icons as doyens of the movement without reference to past icons who did the same or worse; b) blame it on leftists without any references or examples; c) ignore any right-wing hypocrisy or relativism. This one cites the Piss-Christ, which has got to be a high point manoeuvre, because apparently criticizing just one religion is relativism (unless it’s Islam, I bet!) It also cites Marilyn Manson as an example of someone who does shock value for the sake of it, which is apparently moral relativism, which makes Madonna and DH Lawrence moral relativists too I guess. Also apparently Marxism is moral relativism, and declaring that a modern book by a black author is as good as some ancient fusty text is a moral, not an aesthetic, claim. As is saying that everyone in Hamlet is gay – this is apparently a moral claim.

Me personally I’m stunned to discover that Marxists are into moral relativism. Who knew! Or that debating whether a book in the canon is as good as some other book is a moral act. Who knew! I guess if you declare anything you disagree with an example of moral relativism, then it’s easy to say it was ubiquitous back when you went to school. But I think the truth might be somewhere else …

179

casmilus 05.18.18 at 11:08 am

@145

Equally, there seem to still be quite a few Critical Theory people who are happy to dismiss any Anglophone philosophy that doesn’t draw directly from continental sources as “positivism” or “scientism” without being able to either identify what those things are accurately, say what’s wrong with them, or determine if they’re still prevalent.

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bianca steele 05.18.18 at 12:30 pm

I’ve concluded that the benefit (not equally distributed) of “theory” has been that it allows the religious (including phenomenologists) and Marxists to mingle without acknowledging the others’ existence. Once you get beyond rote memorization of taxonomies, it seems to me much more comprehensible if you have a metaphysics already when you encounter it the first time: either a religion (preferably one with a strongly articulated theology) or a form of socialism. But I took out my frustrations with its hollowness on Michael Walzer, on my blog (as here http://biancasteele.typepad.com/bianca_steele/2016/02/spheres-of-justice-the-new-historicism.html).

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bianca steele 05.18.18 at 2:53 pm

I think of the two step of terrific triviality as operating at more of an abstract level. When the difference is in the application, it’s just a good old double standard. Admittedly it can be hard to tell the difference, especially when combined with the ad hom (or ad fem). If you take the motte when opposing a woman and the bailey when opposing the man, or the motte when opposing a science undergraduate and the bailey when opposing a Nobel laureate, for example.

182

J-D 05.19.18 at 2:33 am

Lupita

The use of the word ‘indeed’ indicates that you are agreeing (or think you are agreeing) with whatever you are responding to. But your statement that ‘ancestry’ is a euphemism for race is not my statement, so you are not agreeing with me but are misrepresenting me.

For example, if an “ancestry” category is “African, Caribbean, or African-American”

Since this is not listed as a response category in the Australian census, nor included as a classification in the previously mentioned Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCEG), it’s not relevant to a discussion of Australian census ancestry statistics.

While the US, UK, and Canada censuses outright list white and black as response categories, Australia and New Zealand go for “ancestry” with clear response categories of what is meant (pseudo-race).

Since ‘white’ and ‘black’ are not listed as response categories in the Australian census, and are not included as classifications in ASCCEG, they are not relevant to a discussion of Australian census ancestry statistics.

As mentioned previously, the Australian census allows respondent to write in their own descriptions of their ancestry, but there are a few response categories offered as options you can choose without having to write them in: for the most recent census in 2016, these were: English, Irish, Scottish, Italian, German, Chinese, Australian. The accompanying text also offered a non-exhaustive list of examples of what could be written in for ‘Other’: Greek, Vietnamese, Hmong, Kurdish, Maori, Lebanese, Australian South Sea Islander. I suppose people who wanted to could write in ‘white’ or ‘black’, but as far as I can figure out the only way the census statistics could report those answers (given the ASCCEG structure) is as ‘insufficiently described’. In the 2016 census, the two most frequently selected responses were ‘English’ (36.1% of respondents) and ‘Australian’ (33.5% of respondents).

If these facts are inconvenient for your argument, so much the worse for your argument.

183

Hidari 05.19.18 at 8:21 am

I must say, everyone here is spending a lot of time inveighing against ‘relativism’ without bothering to define or historicise it. Also, wasting a lot of time presupposing that the Right’s attack on the concept is in good faith and that intellectuals on the Right like Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, Jordan Peterson et al have actually read, for example, Derrida’s On Grammatology or Foucault’s History of Sexuality and have substantive critiques of these works, as opposed to this being merely another excuse to snigger at the French for the appalling crime of not being American.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relativism

184

Hidari 05.19.18 at 8:37 am

@176

Actually the Right (especially the Radical Right) have always inveighed against relativism, especially moral relativism and for the precisely the reasons that you state: that these beliefs were perceived as undermining traditional Christianity (which is, of course, the ‘Objectivist’ philosophy par excellence). Not for nothing did Ayn Rand term her philosophy ‘Objectivism’. (I know she was an atheist, but the key point I’m making here is her aggressive hatred of relativism: she owed much to Aristotle, despite her disavowals, and of course Aristotle via Aquinas (Thomism) is to this day the philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church).

In Safranski’s biography of Heidegger he points out that pro-democracy thinking in Weimar Germany was attacked by conservatives for being (what else?) relativistic: the idea that political pluralism was a desideratum was considered to be a ‘slippery slope’ to the idea that there were multiple Goods, not one pure Good. Which would lead to people questioning ‘traditional’ Christianity, the ‘traditional’ (and, these people would argue, ‘objectively true’) position of men and women, the ‘traditional’ contempt for homosexuals, the ‘traditional’ dislike of Jews etc. And the only way to ‘fight against this’ was metaphysics: or, better still, religion. If one was a Platonist (it was not for nothing that Popper claimed Plato to be the original enemy of free societies) then morality and epistemology had an objective status (although this could, of course, only be perceived by white male aristocrats), and people who challenged this (women, homosexuals, socialists, ‘Jews’) were objectively wrong.

Therefore any anti-metaphysical philosophy (e.g. materialism) would ‘inevitably’ (said these people) lead to ‘relativism’. And what was the major materialist philosophy of the time? Why Marxism. And Marx was a Jew and so was Trotsky, and what else did you need to know?

Modern theorists of cultural studies may well inveigh against positivism (and perhaps with reason: so did Karl Popper) but at the time, logical positivism was loathed by the right for (what else?) leading to moral relativism,* as well as the ‘preponderance’ of Jews in its ranks, and the fact that logical positivists tended to be socialists.

*The whole point of logical positivism is that moral chatter is objectively meaningless and that, for example, ‘Torture is wrong’ is not true or false but without meaning. It’s pretty easy to see why some people found this threatening.

Doubtless this all goes back to the French Revolution, as most of these things do, but I don’t have the expertise to comment on that.

185

Chris "merian" W. 05.19.18 at 9:14 am

I just don’t get the whole dismissive “no one can say what anti-positivist means” attitude. It’s obviously wrong, so I’m always hesitating to engage because I can’t rely on the participants in the discussion being quite honest.

I once spent a year in a history of science program, a very anti-positivist one, in France. This was after running away from a graduate program in pure science, in which I ended up quite unhappy – long story – and I never got a history of science degree in the end, for a variety of reasons (no funds being one, but I also don’t think I was quite smart enough for making a contribution at the time), and am now, after many detours, back to being a scientist. I treasure the time in that program, though, and the intellectual discipline it required. And if the professors were quite capable to be as dismissive as academics anywhere, of course every one of the grad students would have been able to articulate what is meant by “anti-positivist”. I could take a stab even now. I fully subscribe to aspects of it such as embedding the history and practice of science explicitly in the social context (etc.) in which it takes place. Some recent examples, some of them spectacular, of discoveries that were delayed or results that were hampered or practices that had negative repercussions because of the neglect of local knowledge, held by people of disfavored status, could serve to illustrate that science is better for being in touch with its appropriate social environment. I find it frustrating that some appear to consider this controversial. (And, I believe, has an ethical obligation in this space, but that’s easier to reject.)

186

bianca steele 05.19.18 at 11:45 am

@183

Asking someone to read Derrida and counter the best possible interpretation of what he means, before they can say they believe cultural relativism is wrong, is exactly equivalent to saying someone has to read Aquinas before they can “honestly” be an atheist. I don’t agree with Peterson but that’s kind of ridiculous.

187

Hidari 05.19.18 at 1:02 pm

@186

The statement was about the good faith (or not) of those making the accusation, not about whether or not their points are ‘correct’.

188

bianca steele 05.19.18 at 2:45 pm

Hidari,

Agh, I think I read you as referring to Peterson and not “people on this thread.” I got up too early for a Saturday and hadn’t had coffee yet. Sorry. I do think “read Derrida” is not likely to be a helpful suggestion. He didn’t invent cultural relativism and he didn’t write to explain it. And you could as easily read him and say “okay, that’s the best argument for relativism? well I do hold to a ‘metaphysics of presence’ and his demonstration that this or that writer also does, doesn’t give me a reason to change my mind.”

Maybe the switch from the left and liberals defending relativism to attacking it was caused by “the dress.”

189

Sebastian H 05.19.18 at 3:39 pm

I don’t really understand the need to invoke the slippery slope here. We aren’t at the “could it lead to relativism” state. We are at the “it definitely led to (at the very least a popularization of) relativism” state. When I was taught that all morality is relative, in the flagship public university system of the United States, that wasn’t a hypothetical end state of pomo criticism. That actually happened. When I was called a racist, IN CLASS, for pointing out that the relativism undercut later attacks on apartheid (remember this was the 1990s), that wasn’t a hypothetical. That actually happened, and it exhibited a shockingly anti-intellectual understanding of what moral relativism actually is.

Now in the last dozen or so comments there seems to have been two approaches taken: either that the post modernists were horribly misunderstood (never mind the allegedly impossible question of authorial intent that raises) or that the misunderstanding is wholly the construct of the conservative voice.

The second is just flatly false. The first I can’t deeply speak to, but is also irrelevant. As widely practiced, post-modernism deals in moral relativism. As widely practiced, post-modernism acts as a solvent to destroy the very ability to discuss. Christianity may be a religion of peace in theory, but as widely practiced it isn’t. That is an important fact. Post modern criticism may be all sorts of things in theory, BUT AS WIDELY PRACTICED it really is a lot of the things that conservatives criticize it for.

190

Sebastian H 05.19.18 at 3:40 pm

[insert no true-Scotsman discussion for the next 30 comments]

191

Lupita 05.19.18 at 4:52 pm

@J-D

Since this is not listed as a response category in the Australian census, nor included as a classification in the previously mentioned Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups (ASCCEG), it’s not relevant to a discussion of Australian census ancestry statistics.

I had to google about for the Australian census questions and response categories and this is what I got:

Australia changed the race question to the ancestry question in 1986. The response rate was low and people were confused as to the meaning of the new question, so the question was omitted for two censuses and the results never used. The new ancestry question (which clearly means national ancestry as you noted ) was brought back in 2001.

If these facts are inconvenient for your argument, so much the worse for your argument.

I apologize to all Australians for lumping them with the other English speaking countries in their measurement of race and ancestry as a euphemism for race during the past few censuses. However, my argument was not intended to diss Australians, but to point to something called racialism, that is, that the quantification by the state of an unscientific category called race, is mostly an anglospheric phenomenon and I think that stands. If you read the reasons Australian demographers and statisticians give for first omitting the race question and then their problems with the ancestry question, you will see that they are the same as mine, that race is an unscientific, undefinable, non-discrete, uncontrollable variable that the state has no business measuring. That was my argument.

May the US, UK, New Zealand (that lists “European” as an “ethnic group”), Canada, Brazil, and others in South America follow suit and for the same reasons.

192

bianca steele 05.19.18 at 4:58 pm

Sebastian, your argument seems to be “the UC system around 1990 had a particular kind of undergraduate education that sounds a lot like what was being discussed in other places and situations in the national press around that time, therefore not only the left as a whole in 2018 but liberals too have a responsibility to condemn a whole bunch of things center-right people don’t like.”

I’d think that was a bad argument even if you were on my own side and replaced what came after the “therefore” with “you’re probably exaggerating your anecdotes by mixing in outrage you picked up from conservative columnists.”

193

Hidari 05.19.18 at 5:05 pm

@188

‘I do think “read Derrida” is not likely to be a helpful suggestion’

I think it is, if you’re going to attack Derrida. (of course if not, then not).

‘He didn’t invent cultural relativism’. I am perfectly aware of that. Indeed it’s not at all clear to me that he actually is a cultural (or any kind of) relativist. Christopher Norris certainly doesn’t think so. Nor is it clear to me that he is a postmodernist (he denied it).

But it is true that he is the sort of thinker that Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris attack, and my point is very simple: have they read any of his work?

E.g. ‘ (Harris) mentioned during the first podcast with Peterson that

“I remember walking out of Derrida’s lecture at Stanford. I literally had to climb over the bodies of the credulous who were sitting in the aisles, listening to the great man speak, and he didn’t speak a single, intelligible sentence, as far as I recall.””

Which is fine, but has he actually read anything by him (has Peterson?) and if so, what did he make of it? After all you can buy books by (for example) Christopher Norris which explain Derrida’s ideas in plain English, if you can’t stand or understand Derrida’s prose. What does Peterson or Harris make of these ideas? Or the very different ideas of Foucault’s? (Indeed, Foucault disliked Derrida and their philosophies are generally considered to be incompatible).

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask that people read the works of people they are attacking. This leads to further questions as to whether or not Peterson’s/Harris’s (and other right wing intellectuals’) attacks on ‘relativism’ and ‘postmodernism’ are in good faith, or whether they are not.

Just to repeat: I have no problems with people not accepting (or indeed hating) ‘postmodernism’ and ‘relativism’ but I would like to see it demonstrated that these people actually understand what these terms, have read some of the key texts and understood them, and can explain why the ideas of the key ‘postmodern’ (sic) thinkers are wrong.

‘I met some guy once and he was a postmodernist and he was a dick, so what more evidence do you need’ ain’t cuttin’ it, I’m afraid.

https://www.reddit.com/r/samharris/comments/60rx3b/what_is_sams_position_on_postmodernism/

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Hidari 05.19.18 at 5:25 pm

Ironically enough, someone on that Reddit thread puts it best:

‘”Post Modernist” has become the new “Cultural Marxist” which is the new “Cultural Bolshevist” which means “anyone on the left who I don’t like”.’

In the same way, as used, generally speaking, by the Right, ‘relativist’ usually just means ‘someone who disagrees with me, for whatever reason.’

195

John Quiggin 05.19.18 at 9:47 pm

Sebastian @190 (Repeating Bianca @192) The fact that a viewpoint was taught as orthodoxy in some courses at a flagship public university in the US does not indicate that it was predominant on the left in the US, let alone the world as a whole.

Doubtless some Scotsmen are monsters, but that doesn’t mean most or all of them are.

So, I don’t think I’m under any more obligation than to say I never agreed with the kind of relativism you describe and I’m glad to say that it’s now very much a minority position on the left.

Off-topic, I’m working on pharmaceuticals now, and I looked back at this post http://crookedtimber.org/2017/05/25/drug-wars/ to discover that you had a comment near the end which was (I assume) autoblocked due to many links. My apologies for this and for not responding at the time – I must have been distracted by something.

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engels 05.19.18 at 10:13 pm

I don’t think Pinker and Harris ever claimed to be particularly interested in Derrida (but I could be wrong as I’m not particularly interested in any of them).

If Pinker wrote a book critiquing Derrida he should read Derrida. If he was criticising wider trends and people who claim to Der-readers (as it were)—not so much.

197

Sebastian H 05.20.18 at 6:12 pm

I’m perfectly willing to believe that the state of the world is less bad than the part of it that I experienced, but the evidence is pretty strong that it isn’t/wasn’t the nothingburger that is being suggested.

First, it was the guiding philosophy for a mandatory course for all undergraduates. It wasn’t just a side English lit course, or a rogue philosophy professor out of control. Those kind of courses wind their way through quite a process in a large university system before they get finalized. So it was certainly an important enough trend in academic circles to gain high amounts of traction.

Second, because it wasn’t an upper division philosophy course, even if the presentation had been nuanced (which it was not) you could project quite a bit of dangerous-to-discourse misunderstanding.

Third, I’m not nearly as confident as JQ, or Bianca, that this was a trend that we can safely say has passed. It looks to me like the terminology has changed more than that it has been abandoned. Quite a bit of the common usage of ‘intersectionality’ ends up being inappropriately discourse destroying rather than viewpoint enabling in exactly the same ways that intersubjectivity and the po-mo critique was misused in the 90s (with essentially the same error).

198

Faustusnotes 05.20.18 at 10:54 pm

Harris’s email exchange with Chomsky shows he doesn’t feel a need to engage with much of an intellectuals work before criticizing him, and is arrogant enough to think a single reading of one of his later works pays sufficient respect to their work. He also comes across as not very smart or self critical, when you see how he releases email chains he thinks are self-aggrandizing when they’re actually excruciatingly embarassing. So it seems likely to me that he would base his entire criticism of Derrida on a single lecture he didn’t understand.

It also seems likely to me that he’s not smart enough to understand Derrida but arrogant enough to think if he doesn’t understand something it must be bullshit. Which leads to my favourite suicidal tendencies aphorism :” just coz you don’t understand it don’t mean it don’t make no sense.” All the “new Atheists” could stand to listen to a little more metal, I think.

199

Orange Watch 05.21.18 at 3:00 am

Seb@189:
either that the post modernists were horribly misunderstood (never mind the allegedly impossible question of authorial intent that raises)

Derrida once famously replied to a critical review of one of his works with a text ~10x as long as the review, the gist of which boiled down to “you didn’t understand what I meant”. I’d be more specific, but it’s been nearly two decades since my deconstructionist phase, and I’m not overly eager to revisit it even to refresh my memory of so amusing an anecdote.

Seb@197:
I’d be reluctant to accept that in the ’90s these were positions widely held by those on the left. I’d freely accept that they were widely held by leftist academics in the humanities, however. Two decades later the web has allowed their poison to more freely proliferate among leftists outside the academy, but then it really didn’t seem to be mainstream on the left.

Which I suppose means I’m mostly quibbling about how widespread it used to be, but agreeing that it’s still with us and is now more widespread than it ever was before.

200

Orange Watch 05.21.18 at 3:23 pm

FN@198:
It also seems likely to me that he’s not smart enough to understand Derrida but arrogant enough to think if he doesn’t understand something it must be bullshit.

Understanding Derrida is not a matter of intelligence as much as a matter of patience. His work has a reputation for being exceedingly obtuse and unnecessarily verbose, and it’s a very well-deserved reputation. It’s not for nothing that Hidari made made mention of secondary sources that explained his ideas in plain language. And there exist quite defensible arguments that the plain-language renderings of his works do so in an extremely charitable manner.

Which is to say, regardless of how much of a pompous ass Harris might be, I’d avoid using his condemnation of Derrida in particular as a basis for making broad judgements about him as it rests on the controversial premise that Derrida isn’t bullshit. A lot of very intelligent, thoughtful, and thorough scholars have read Derrida at length and meticulously argued that his theories are vacuous bullshit.

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Faustusnotes 05.22.18 at 1:21 pm

Don’t worry about it Orange watch, I don’t need to see Harris’s view of Derrida to know he’s full of shit.

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Z 05.22.18 at 3:16 pm

Post modern criticism may be all sorts of things in theory, BUT AS WIDELY PRACTICED it really is a lot of the things that conservatives criticize it for.

And it really is a lot of the things that cartesian anarchists criticize it for (see the link to Chomsky discussing the topic in the thread on Witches), and it really is a lot of the things that Marxists criticize it for, and it really is a lot of the things that critical sociologists criticize it for (see what Bourdieu or Wacquant say about the topic). Etc. So what? I think that what you have convincingly shown is that many people disagree with post-modernism. But did anybody doubted that?

I think you also established that your undergraduate philosophy course kind of sucked, but you must realize that’s not a terribly rare state of affair and no real reflection on what goes on within a field. (My own undergraduate philosophy course, mandatory for all students like yours and at one of the most élite of French higher education institution, was given by Alain Finkielkraut – google him if you have to, though he also taught at Berkley so you might actually know him, but I bet you good money that I can find way worse than anything you ever endured under his name; and now that I think of it, my undergraduate math course was riddled with embarrassing errors like proving that A implies B then that not B implies not A to prove that A is equivalent to B, even though it was given by a brilliant mathematician with many astounding theorems to his name. So what?).

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casmilus 05.22.18 at 4:40 pm

The greatest French philosopher of the last century was Nathalie Sarraute.

I’m the only true intellectual maverick around here, for holding such a challenging and original view.

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Sebastian H 05.22.18 at 5:13 pm

It wasn’t an undergraduate philosophy course. It was the philosophy taught in the year long basic writing course required for all undergraduates. The difference in general acceptance that placement implies is totally different from some random undergraduate philosophy course or some random English teacher because it doesn’t reflect just one bad teacher getting away with shit.

It was a highly scripted (with three different professors just the year I took it) curriculum movement that was intended to be uniform as it rotated professors through it each year. A high level of systemic buy-in is reflected when a joint curriculum venture across multiple departments plays out that way. See also Harry, it wasn’t just the University of California system.

Characterizing it as one or two teacher side note is not understanding the situation at all.

And the repeated insistence on treating it that way makes me less likely to believe allegations that it only happened in California. If you’re so dismissive of ‘year long multi disciplinary curriculum required of all students” in one place, I don’t see why I should trust you to recognize what the problem looks like in others. But it may just be that I’m not communicating the depth of it.

And the year long multi disciplinary curriculum required of all students wasn’t the only place I saw it either. I saw it in at least half of my Literature classes (my major), one of the two history classes, all of the one sociology classes, and oh boy all over the place in my ethnic studies classes.

And good heavens I’m not suggesting that conservatives are the only people to have noticed that post modernist critique got out of control. I’m arguing as strongly here because so many people upthread appear to be in denial about how deep the out of control craziness got in our institutions and are treating it as if conservatives just made it up.

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Sebastian H 05.22.18 at 6:40 pm

I wonder if part of the problem is that there is a bias against seeing the nasty after effects if you agree with the conclusions. I largely agree with where they end up, but the process is actively harmful to discourse. As I said in 150 above, the critique that our views are influenced by our culture is useful. But the academic bludgeon it turned into undercuts the whole idea of truth seeking. The seeds of denialism were sown in an academic culture that used it largely for progressive ends but also undercut the philosophical weapons to fight back when the tools were picked up by the right.

How we got here was part of a multi decade dynamic process. Being willing to look at how our part of the process enables their part of the process is important. It doesn’t let them off the hook, but the dangerous part is that we might need to change too.

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