Post-modern university. Is the art of conversation and scientific discourse in jeopardy?

Let me admit that I am a bit late in my response to the Bret Weinstein incident, which prompted this post. Some of us have full time jobs and little time to spend on reading poetry and doing fuck all, Paddy. Anyway. I don’t want to spend too much time describing the situation. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, google it, there are plenty of news reports and youtube videos about it. In short, it is a story of a mass outcry over a faintest pretext blown out of proportion. Of students of a higher education institution shutting down any attempts at a reasonable discussion. Of professors and faculty members being shouted or chanted at, cornered by mobs and facing ridiculous accusations. All of  it over, as I said before, the stupidest reason ever. All of it could have been averted if one side took of their social justice warrior ear muffs and listened for a second or two.

You might have guessed whose side I’m on. I support and agree with Bret Weinstein. But that’s not what this post is about. There is a force growing in the universities. A force, which the incidents at the Evergreen State College, Silliman College at Yale last year or University of Missouri in 2015 are symptoms of. That force is called Post-modernism.

As the name suggests, post-modernism is a school of thought concerning itself mostly with the post modern, born in 1960’s France. Postmodernists reject the existence of objective reality. They reject the Enlightenment and the scientific methods, logic and reason stemming from that era of human development. They are seen as Eurocentric, and in many cases tools of oppression and dominance created by the white man. There is more to it, and I recommend you read upon it. I don’t want to spend too much time on explaining that philosophy. I would however like point out one part of the postmodernist thought, that relates to issue discussed here. That is its approach to education.

Postmodernism rejects the perception that the main goal of education is to train students’ cognitive ability for
reason to produce a fully independent functioning citizen, but rather a citizen with a full social identity.

That is a quote from Chi Hong Nguyen, The Changing Postmodern University, 2010.  She writes further:

It also opposes any oppression
that offers benefits and priorities to “whites, males, and the rich at the expense of everyone else” (ibid., p. 17)
because such a mode of education just serves the rights and interests of those in power.  Therefore, education
must be recast wholly with a newer focus on marginalised groups and the voices of those who have traditionally
remained silent, and it should critically remind students of the historical sins and crimes of the colonial ones in

On the surface none of those concepts is dangerous. But if you dig a little deeper and consider what behaviour might be stemming from them, they become quite problematic. I’m not going to sing the hymn in praise of “cognitive ability for reason” and all it’s done for mankind. I’m pretty sure that’s self evident. So I’ll move on to the second part.

I’d be in favour of refocusing education on the marginalised people. If it means giving everyone equal rights, opportunities and treatment. Making sure that kids and adults from the historically disadvantaged and more vulnerable populations have the same chance to succeed as everyone else. Sometimes that means giving them a little extra help. Nothing wrong with that. But it seems that this idea is working towards creating a system of accountability. Wherein the white men of the present is doomed to pay for the “sins and crimes” of his ancestors. Some of whom had nothing to do with the colonial system, plantations, slavery etc. The payees of these reparations would be people who themselves have not experienced any of it. During his appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience #970 podcast Bret Weinstein mentions the notion put forward by some supporters of such ideas, that white people should vacate employment opportunities. All to make them more available to people of colour. Not all people of colour mind you. Asian men are apparently part of the problem. They too should make more space for black people. A sign of it can be seen in the idea of racial employment quotas (don’t know how else to call them). There is an idea that a certain number or percentage of an institution’s workers must be of ethnic minority. Now, I’m the sort of person who believes that people should be hired on basis of merit alone, not their race, gender or else.

I’ll move on to other possible explanations. Firstly, audit culture (something I ought to write more about). In simple terms it means bringing things like audits, performance indicators and quality control methods from the financial/business sector into the higher education institutions. Thus running them like business rather than academic organisations. In principle it aims to improve the quality of education provided by universities, and making faculty members more accountable to the stakeholders. Meaning the students and other investors. Hard to argue against better quality and accountability. But what it actually means is changing universities from places of learning and academic endeavour into factories. Yes, factories. Places where teachers are morphed into docile and productive little worker bees, who produce the next generation of docile and productive worker bees. What is really hidden underneath the aforementioned slogans is profit. The only thing that matters. Tutors and classes they run are rated on the basis of student satisfaction and outside indicators assigned by, well outside controllers. Therefore, any university officials are more likely to side with the students and sometimes throw their workers under the bus. Because doing otherwise could upset the stakeholders and switch off the investment tap. (Note: there’s more to it than I’m making it sound, but there’s not much more space left in this post)

Now if you allow me to sound like an old grumpy man. I blame social media. The ‘activists’ (I use that term lightly here) have been quite keen to record and post videos of their… social justice crusades. Sure, some of it might be to highlight the problem. Share their struggle with the world and bring attention to the problems they try to solve. I however see a different motivation there. What they are essentially doing is seek validation and approval. Their desire for attention drives them to gang up on their victims, shout and chant at them. All to show everyone how smart and brave they are. All so they can be showered with applause from their peers and likes and shares from the audience. One of the videos from the Evergreen State College shows students cornering Bret Weinstein. Afterwards they talk how they didn’t corner him and were very open to discussion, despite telling him to shut the fuck up moments earlier. Repeatedly one of them shouts something or does something that is followed by an ovation form other mob members. It appears to me that through those conversations the students have created a safe space. Where they are surrounded only by those who agree with them. Everyone who doesn’t, questions or challenges their ideas and arguments is viewed as the ultimate evil in need of utter destruction. It’s worth mentioning that most if not all the videos have been uploaded by the ‘activists’. Once they didn’t receive the desired response but the opposite of it, the petitioned for them to be removed from  the internet.

Lastly. I have to admit that they might have a point. From a certain point of view. All these protests, mobs and chants might be a reaction to grievances coming from legitimate sources. We can agree that there is still systemic racism, especially in America, where most of the incidents have occurred. With all those police shootings in recent years. Still unresolved problems with water in Flint, Michigan, which mostly affects black communities. And the continuous bias of the law enforcement and judicial officials. Higher search, arrest and conviction rates of the non-whites. The students are aware of all this and are rightfully outraged. The problem is that their outrage is misdirected at a wrong target. Universities cannot defend themselves against accusations of racism and bias as well as police and politicians. That links us back to the whole audit culture rating and quality control methods. In going for the softer target, young people have found an outlet for their frustration and desire for change. But again, they don’t actually go against the source of that frustration.

Whatever the reasons behind all the actions of the social justice warriors, their methods cannot be condoned. If this trend continuous we might face a real threat to scientific discourse. We might lose the art of debating and discussing ideas, of putting ideas to the test. The students involved in all those incidents were too eager to jump on a band wagon and go on a social justice crusade. Universities should be the place were young minds are equipped with the best weapons against prejudice and hate, reason and science. After all it is science that now proves that there is no difference in intelligence between races or genders. Post-modernist universities are shaping up to be places were social justice overshadows everything else. Where people jump at an opportunity to impose their own views and will on others under the guise of political correctness. Where a portion of the population is more than happy to shout their views into the faces (literally) of their perceived oppressors. If only they just as eager to listen to the other side. To engage in a proper discussion. I’m sure the problems would’ve been resolved without making national news.

P.S. Isn’t it a bit ironic that the social justice warriors were fighting to make their universities into ‘safe’ spaces. At the same time making others feel threatened and unsafe.