During my undergraduate days, I was forced to take a course from a leftist female professor. It was a small college and she was the only person teaching the course when I needed to take it. I took my undergrad degree in two and a half years, so my options for shuffling required courses to a later semester were pretty much nonexistent.
She was not particularly an avowed feminist, nor an outed non-binary of any sort–that particular type of virtue signaling was in the hazy future. However, she hated most men. It was well known that any intelligent male in her classes would be given a token “A” on the first exam of the course–to provide cover in case of complaints–but nothing higher than a “B: thereafter. I did complain, to several other professors in the English department, and their response, not in any way coordinated, but verbatim, was “better you than me.” She slapped me with one of only two “B” grades in my entire college career.
Among her other unprofessional and extraordinarily annoying qualities was her tendency to descend into eduspeak–academic-sounding jargon–of such incomprehensibility, most people were rendered virtually insensate. They found themselves stunned and drooling on their desktops long after she left the room, wondering if they weren’t cut out for college, and certainly not English, because she was a tenured professor, and she must be so far above them in intellect and knowledge, they had no hope of graduation.
I had several advantages they did not. I was in my early 30s, and had spent many years in police work. I knew she was full of bullshit, and was only mildly surprised at how blatant it was and how unashamed she was.
One summer session I found myself participating in a workshop on the role of women in western literature. My favorite professor was slated to introduce a ground-breaking theory which was–if she was telling the truth–about to be published in a prestigious journal. Seated next to me was a well-experienced high school English teacher, a man of intelligence and some repute. He said he was looking forward to hearing this theory. I merely smiled and nodded.
She held forth, and while the jargon flew fast and thick, she was making no sense at all. The poor fellow became more and more puzzled. I knew what he was thinking: he assumed she must be brilliant, so the fault must lie with him.
Finally, he began to ask questions. Each time she would side step without directly answering, making less and less sense with every answer. He became more and more frustrated, until I stealthily slipped him a note telling him to leave her alone and promising to explain at the next break. He took my advice, and was much relieved to discover his perceptions were not failing him. She really was irrational.
Where am I going with this? Do you, gentle readers, recall the Sokal Hoax?
The Chronicle of Higher Education, which is a window on the sometimes weird world of academia, recently revisited a hilarious intellectual hoax from 20 years ago. Reading the recollections of the perpetrator and of some who swallowed his gibberish is sobering.
In 1996, Alan Sokal, a New York University physicist and self-described ‘academic leftist,” composed an essay that was a word salad of solemn academic jargon. He said he strove to be ‘especially egregious,’ by maundering on about “the dialectical emphases’ of ‘catastrophe theory’ becoming a ‘concrete tool of progressive political praxis.” His essay’s gaudy title was “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.”
He sent it to the left-leaning ‘cultural studies’ journal Social Text, which swooned, perhaps in part because Sokal larded his nonsense with political tropes that are catnip to lettered leftists — ‘emancipatory mathematics,’ ‘demystify and democratize the production of scientific knowledge,’ ‘the crisis of late-capitalist production relations.’ Soon after Social Text published his faux scholarship, Sokal revealed in another journal, Lingua Franca, that it was a parody.
Such a hoax was possible because of the “publish or perish” nature of college teaching (that and the academic descent into terminal leftism). It scarcely matters if one is a talented, capable teacher. What matters, for tenure, fame and fortune, is publishing incomprehensible and Leftist articles in various peer-reviewed journals, that and writing similar books. Sokal punked the academic publishing world–and the academy–some 21 years ago. One would think they might have learned something, but no, if anything, they’ve become worse, as Powerline reports:
Everyone is buzzing today about the revelation of the three academics—James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian—who placed over a dozen complete hoax articles with various premier ‘cultural studies’ or ‘identity studies’ academic journals. All three professors, it should be noted, consider themselves left of center, as does Alan Sokal, the New York University physicist who placed a hoax article about the supposed subjectivity of physics in the postmodernist journal Social Text 20 years ago. (Yet somehow Social Text stayed in business instead of closing down in embarrassment, as they should have.)
You can read a good summary of the story in the Wall Street Journal today. If you’re not a subscriber, here are a couple of highlights from Jillian Kay Melchior’s fine report:
Beginning in August 2017, the trio wrote 20 hoax papers, submitting them to peer-reviewed journals under a variety of pseudonyms, as well as the name of their friend Richard Baldwin, a professor emeritus at Florida’s Gulf Coast State College. Mr. Baldwin confirms he gave them permission use his name. Journals accepted seven hoax papers. Four have been published.
There’s also an excellent Twitter thread about it from Yascha Mounk of Harvard (another liberal) worth reading.
And the three authors explain the whole effort in an article out yesterday entitled “Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship.” It’s very much worth reading the whole thing, but here is the lede:
Something has gone wrong in the university—especially in certain fields within the humanities. Scholarship based less upon finding truth and more upon attending to social grievances has become firmly established, if not fully dominant, within these fields, and their scholars increasingly bully students, administrators, and other departments into adhering to their worldview. This worldview is not scientific, and it is not rigorous. For many, this problem has been growing increasingly obvious, but strong evidence has been lacking. For this reason, the three of us just spent a year working inside the scholarship we see as an intrinsic part of this problem.
This part is also especially fun:
Part III: Why Did We Do This?
Because we’re racist, sexist, bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, transhysterical, anthropocentric, problematic, privileged, bullying, far right-wing, cishetero straight white males (and one white female who was demonstrating her internalized misogyny and overwhelming need for male approval) who wanted to enable bigotry, preserve our privilege, and take the side of hate?
No. None of those apply. Nevertheless, we’ll be accused of it, and we have some insights into why.
That’s right, three left-wing adacemics were so embarrassed by what passes for contemporary scholarship, they set out to prove what a leftist scam academic publishing is, and they weren’t subtle about it:
Another tough one for us was, ‘I wonder if they’d publish a feminist rewrite of a chapter from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.’ The answer to that question also turns out to be ‘yes,’ given that the feminist social work journal Affilia has just accepted it. As we progressed, we started to realize that just about anything can be made to work, so long as it falls within the moral orthodoxy and demonstrates understanding of the existing literature.
The article was entitled ‘Our Struggle is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism,’ byMaria Gonzalez, Ph.D., and Lisa A. Jones, Ph.D., of the Feminist Activist Collective for Truth (FACT). Both the authors and the institution (FACT) are fictional. No one at Affilia noticed or bothered to check.
They rewrote a chapter of Mein Kampf, but merely translated it into contemporary academic feminist jargon. I guess all the talk about President Trump being Hitler isn’t all that serious?
Consider this from Pluckrose, in The Chronicle Of Higher Education:
Q. There are a lot of ways to question things in academe. How did you and your co-authors decide to take the hoax route?
A. We had been criticizing directly, in various, different ways for several years, disciplines and epistemologies that rely on personal perspectives, systems of power and privilege and marginalization, that aren’t really focused on evidence or reason, that step away from any sense of being objective. That’s something of concern to all of us.
I’m not sure how the idea to engage with that in a hoaxish way — to try to write something within it, to try to point out the problems — arose. That kind of developed organically after “The Conceptual Penis” [a hoax her co-authors staged last year] and criticisms of it. A deeper and larger attempt to work within the system, to see how it works and show how it works, sort of emerged.
“The Conceptual Penis.” By all means, take the link and read the entire interview. Allow me please, to add two partial responses to the issue by other academics, published in Quillette.com. Take the link to read the entirety of their comments, and those of three others.
From Foolish Talk to Evil Madness — Nathan Cofnas (Philosophy)
Nathan Cofnas is reading for a DPhil in philosophy at the University of Oxford. His work focuses on the philosophy of biology, broadly construed. He has published on such topics as innateness, the ethical implications of individual differences in intelligence, and Jewish cultural evolution. You can follow him on Twitter @nathancofnas
Twenty years ago, Alan Sokal called postmodernism ‘fashionable nonsense.’ Today, postmodernism isn’t a fashion—it’s our culture. A large proportion of the students at elite universities are now inducted into this cult of hate, ignorance, and pseudo-philosophy. Postmodernism is the unquestioned dogma of the literary intellectual class and the art establishment. It has taken over most of the humanities and some of the social sciences, and is even making inroads in STEM fields. It threatens to melt all of our intellectual traditions into the same oozing mush of political slogans and empty verbiage.
Postmodernists pretend to be experts in what they call ‘theory.’ They claim that, although their scholarship may seem incomprehensible, this is because they are like mathematicians or physicists: they express profound truths in a way that cannot be understood without training. Lindsay, Boghossian, and Pluckrose expose this for the lie that it is. ‘Theory’ is not real. Postmodernists have no expertise and no profound understanding. [skip]
The flagship feminist philosophy journal, Hypatia, accepted a paper (not yet published online) arguing that social justice advocates should be allowed to make fun of others, but no one should be permitted to make fun of them. The same journal invited resubmission of a paper arguing that ‘privileged students shouldn’t be allowed to speak in class at all and should just listen and learn in silence,’ and that they would benefit from ‘experiential reparations’ that include ‘sitting on the floor, wearing chains, or intentionally being spoken over.’ The reviewers complained that this hoax paper took an overly compassionate stance toward the ‘privileged’ students who would be subjected to this humiliation, and recommended that they be subjected to harshertreatment. Is asking people of a certain race to sit on the floor in chains better than asking them to wear a yellow star? What exactly is this leading to?
The status quo: the current state of higher education.
The Battle was Lost Long Ago — Neema Parvini (English Studies)
Neema Parvini is a senior lecturer in English at the University of Surrey, and is a proud member of the Heterodox Academy as well as The Evolution Institute. He has has written five books, the latest of which is Shakespeare’s Moral Compass. He is currently working on a new book for Palgrave Macmillan called The Defenders of Liberty: Human Nature, Individualism, and Property Rights, a study of 500 years of thinking about freedom in the West, from Machiavelli to Milton Friedman. Follow him on Twitter @neemaparvini1
In literary studies, the radical feminist Hélène Cixous argued that the ideology of patriarchy was all around us:’“a kind of vast membrane enveloping everything”, a “skin” that “encloses us like a net or like closed eyelids’.4 How could anyonelay claim to “objectivity” in such conditions? By 1991, such thinking had become de rigueur. In an essay called ‘The Myth of Neutrality, Again?’ the feminist critic Gayle Greene wrote bluntly:
Feminists and Marxists, who hold opinions that are not generally accepted, get called ‘ideological’ (and ‘political’, ‘partisan’, ‘polemical’, and lots of other things) whereas those approaches which are more traditional, closer to what is familiar … get to pass as ‘neutral’ and ‘objective’. … A fundamental premise of feminist scholarship is that the perspective assumed to be “universal” that has dominated knowledge, shaping its paradigms and methods, has actually been male and culture-bound. I find it astonishing this needs repeating.5
Where some of us might see Niccolò Machiavelli, Francis Bacon, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Rene Descartes, or David Hume palpably struggling with the deepest questions of political philosophy or epistemology, Cixious or Greene see only dead white men. Whatthey say matters less to them than whowas saying it. Thus, the competing systems of knowledge that came out of the Enlightenment – rationalism and empiricism – are both always-already tainted as ‘products of the patriarchy.’ It has been the explicit goal of post-modernity to reject reason and evidence: they want a ‘new paradigm’ of knowledge. Should it come as any surprise to us, then, that their journals will publish explicit nonsense such as the papers authored by Lindsay, Pluckrose and Boghossian?
When I was taking my undergraduate degree back in the 1400s, the idea that there were “alternate ways of knowing” was all the rage, which coincided with “feminist theory,” and the birth of the disciplines that led directly to the various “studies” majors of today. These “alternate ways of knowing” amounted to rejecting history, the canon, objective fact and reason–the sum total of the knowledge of western civilization–and substituting feelings and leftist political orthodoxy.
I trust the point has been made that the contemporary academy is a particularly pernicious and expensive fraud. To be sure, there are, here and there, universities and colleges that still teach, where a competent education is delivered for a great many dollars, and degrees that will not only earn one a living, but will help preserve western civilization, are granted, but such schools are harder than ever to find.
This much is certain: until academics police the frauds in their midst, until state legislatures stop enabling this insanity with taxpayer dollars, and until students and their parents stop paying for jargon, political indoctrination, and fraudulent “teaching” that would make Professor Harold Hill blush, the scam will continue.