My Critical ‘Critical Theory’ Theory

Everyone is buzzing today about the revelation of the three academics—James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossianwho 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.

And here’s my favorite example:

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.

You may be thinking this is just the academic version of the Emperor’s New Clothes. And you’d be right. But here’s the thing that no one has quite figured out. Having been immersed in a couple of big universities lately, I can tell you that if you get a couple of drinks, or a shot of truth serum, into the average liberal professor in any traditional academic social science department, and some of the humanities, he will confess that he knows the “scholarship” of the various politicized identity politics programs are a farce. They do not take it seriously, and regard it all with benign neglect at best, but silent contempt most of the time. In other words, most faculty regard their identity politics colleagues in the same manner you regard a precious child you pat on the head for encouragement. Most of the radicalized faculty in these politicized departments know this, and it fuels their righteous anger and feeds their self-imposed sense of oppression.

Why aren’t more mainstream academic liberals speaking out and objecting to this farcical “scholarship” in the fashion of Lindsay, Pluckrose, and Boghossian? The chief reason is that there is no upside to trying to oppose this nonsense, as you’ll be called a racist/bigot, etc., and maybe even face a harassment complaint from the administrative bureaucracies that universities have set up and allowed to be infiltrated by identity politics dogma.  And since academic departments are by tradition entirely self-governing in hiring and promotion decisions, there is no way for senior scholars in, say, political science, to curtail the nonsense scholarship.

The only way this problem will be fixed is for administrators—deans, provosts, presidents, academic councils—to say Enough!, and actually cut back some of these tendentious departments, or at least put out notice that publication in just about any Sage journal will not be recognized by the university. I’m not going to hold my breath.

Meanwhile, here’s a short fragment from a documentary in progress featuring Lindsay, Pluckrose, and Boghossian:

P.S. Also worth taking this roundup of reaction to this story on Quillette.

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