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
authority.

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.

POLE

 

 

Without Confines and Content

The trouble with a tale where anything can happen is that somehow nothing happens

John Updike

 

Man as an objective, sensuous being is therefore a suffering being – and because he feels that he suffers, a passionate being

Karl Marx

 

There are some things you must learn to be a self-respected liberal intellectual today. Do not criticise another’s culture. Do not celebrate the so-called achievements of the West. Do not, under any circumstances, take seriously that confining concept “human nature”. Instead, we are to believe homo sapien has no limits, no boundaries, and is usefully malleable in the hands of better-read angels. Tosh, in other words.

Conflict of visions bookcover.png

Much of the suspicion surrounding “human nature” stems from the belief that these ideas are the natural ally of conservatism. Back in his day, Marx, with a squinting eye, noted the popularity of Darwin’s writings among some of the less savoury defenders of the political status-quo. The Herbert Spencers and Thomas H. Huxleys of the world were only too eager declare that their political philosophy had the solid underpinning of Biology. For a man who spent his gin-soaked days writing of the inevitably of scientific socialism this was too much.

Lesser known than the writings of Marx and his ideological foes, is the revolutionary ethological work of a certain Russian aristocrat. Just as “survival of the fittest” – read by all right-thinking people as survival of the selfish, the mean and cynical – was sinking happily into the Victorian consciousness, Kropotkin was trudging around Siberia uncovering an evolutionary foundation for its antithesis.

The British never quite reached the heights of former imperial masters in the hedonism department

It is true, Kropotkin acknowledged, that individuals of all species will aggressively compete if required to, but he went on to emphasise something Darwin would only allude to. The most successful species will achieve success in its most lasting form – not with tooth and claw – in accordance with others. He coined this strategy, which was adopted by apes, us, mere-cats, penguins and termites braving the Eurasian tundra, “mutual aid”. Social solidarity, as the political-minded may prefer, is just as compatible with Darwinism.

In the animal world we have seen that the vast majority of species live in societies, and that they find in association the best arms for the struggle for life: understood, of course, in its wide Darwinian sense — not as a struggle for the sheer means of existence, but as a struggle against all natural conditions unfavourable to the species. The animal species, in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits, and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development, are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress. The mutual protection which is obtained in this case, the possibility of attaining old age and of accumulating experience, the higher intellectual development, and the further growth of sociable habits, secure the maintenance of the species, its extension, and its further progressive evolution. The unsociable species, on the contrary, are doomed to decay.

Peter Kropotkin

Those who read past the front cover of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene were offered a similar, more evidence-based take on this argument. Our genes’ intentions may be selfish, stubborn and blind in their pursuit of replication, but their (mostly) unwitting carriers function differently. Particularly in the case of higher-order mammals such as ourselves. We recognise, for the most part (there’s always going to be Maggies and Ayns), that reciprocity and cooperation are the only means of constructing civilisation. Hobbes may have understood well enough the “psychology” of the Alpha and Omega virus that binds us, but he told us very little about us.

The one group most wedded to the idea of the unmitigated human selfishness is the one group most dependent on just the opposite. The political Right, historically, have relied again and again upon a united front. The sickly Spanish Civil War Syndrome has been difficult to shake off but here, it’s a case in point. Francoists, the Catholic Church, the aristocracy, the conservative bourgeoisie, with their benefactors in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, were only able to crush and break the Republic cooperatively, all the while comforting their protruding brows with Übermensch nonsense.

Image result for melting superman

(Behind closed doors, today’s ruling class is more honest, willing to admit that its foundation myth is balls. Telling Professor Aeorn Davis that “market-knows-best” may be a nice story to tell the kids and proles, but in actual fact it’s unworkable.)

In these less intense and depressing times we see that same truth. Not through dominating others and fighting a never-ending Hobbesian struggle are we able to pinch Higgs Boson from the vacuum at CERN (something physicists tell me is an extraordinary achievement and well-worth the massive R&D funds it diverted away from hospitals and climate scientists). Rather, it’s because professionals from computing, engineering and academia pooled their expertise and share their gains, all the while being subsided by tax-payers. So too, international bankers, in their realm, achieve their not-so-lofty goal of screwing us royally in conjunction with a great legal team, cooperative politicians and a nod and wink from Murdoch’s press.

The History of Man is brimming with tales with missteps and teary heads, but still, take a look behind the veil “realists” like Steven Pinker and Thomas Sowell never could, and you’ll see there is something innate worth praising. Something in we hairless apes that needs to be nurtured, not imposed nor denied. And, remember, it is the work of these shady realists who is being consumed so rigorously on campuses. When the opposition consists of scientific-illiterate, professional diary scribblers, what do you expect?

The first step, we’re told tirelessly on other matters, is acceptance. And only through acceptance of evolutionary theory and human nature can the Left make any progress in academia. The postmodern derailment need not be permanent, need not debase the social sciences further. Disciplines which are being greedily munched upon at one end by opportunistic Tory biologists, and held back, to the point of tear, by liberals who fear the 21st century.

The Left has nothing to fear from Darwin and, in fact, the revolution he vanguarded has much to offer. So why not exploit it?

 

 

Paddy