Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Latest, Greatest Academic Hoax

Is it the hoax to end all hoaxes? Is it the reductio ad absurdum of grievance studies? Does it simply show that today’s left leaning academic journals will publish any piece of garbage if it echoes editors’ and reviewers’ prejudices?

Then again, it might really show that thought leaders in Humanities are really imbeciles who cannot think their way out of a proverbial paper bag. It might mean that in a certain precinct of the academy, meritocracy is definitively dead.

Once upon a time, a man named Alan Sokal sent a paper to an academic journal called, Social Text. It was a hoax. Sokal conjured it up to show that the editors of the journal knew nothing beyond their empty formulae. In principle, the article pretended to show that leftist thinking had no use for science. Among his pithy pieces of wisdom was this, quoted in The Atlantic:

“Feminist and poststructuralist critiques have demystified the substantive content of mainstream Western scientific practice, revealing the ideology of domination concealed behind the façade of ‘objectivity,’” he claimed. “It has thus become increasingly apparent that physical ‘reality,’ no less than social ‘reality,’ is at bottom a social and linguistic construct.”

Yes, indeed, from the people who are inveighing about facts, today’s radical academic left believes, as an article of postmodern faith, that reality is yet another social construction. So much for physics and for science.

You would think that the editors hid their heads in shame and shut down their journal. Not at all. They and their acolytes doubled and tripled down, with new and more absurd journals. Recently they were conned by a trio of young academics. The three, comprising James Lindsay, a doctoral student in mathematics, Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy, and Helen Pluckrose, an English literature scholar sent twenty hoax articles to academic journals. Seven were accepted.

Here is an excerpt from one of them:

Other means superior to the natural sciences exist to extract alternative knowledges about stars and enriching astronomy, including ethnography and other social science methodologies, careful examination of the intersection of extant astrologies from around the globe, incorporation of mythological narratives and modern feminist analysis of them, feminist interpretative dance (especially with regard to the movements of the stars and their astrological significance), and direct application of feminist and postcolonial discourses concerning alternative knowledges and cultural narratives.

The paper argues that physics departments should replace astronomy with feminist astrology. And you were wondering why today’s students cannot think.

Better yet is this hoax paper, described in The Atlantic:

In “Rubbing One Out: Defining Metasexual Violence of Objectification Through Nonconsensual Masturbation,” the fictitious author argues that men who masturbate while thinking about a woman without her consent are perpetrators of sexual violence….

And now, a quotation from the paper:

By drawing upon empirical studies of psychological harms of objectification, especially through depersonalization, and exploring severel veins of theoretical literature on nonphysical forms of sexual violence, this articles seeks to situate non-concensual male autoerotic fantasizing about women as a form of metasexual violence that depersonalizes her, injures her being on an affective level, contributes to consequent harms of objectification and rape culture, and can appropriate her identity for the purpose of male sexual gratification.

Of course, this is mindless garbage. But, compare it with this this excerpt from a book about the telephone book:

The Telephone Book is going to resist you. Dealing with a logic and topos of the switchboard, it engages the destabilization of the addressee. To crack open the closural sovereignty of the Book, we have feigned silence and disconnection, suspending the tranquil cadencing of paragraphs and conventional divisions.

This book from which this was taken is not a hoax. It was authored by academic superstar Avital Ronell. The New York University professor has recently been accused, by one Nimrod Reitman of sexual harassment. For the moment, we will note with Mark Bauerlein that it’s mindless gibberish.

As Bauerlein reports, the currently radical leftist academy is rife with superstars who have gamed the system to establish careers on nothing. As bad as Ronell’s writing is, as vapid as her thought is, she is no worse than current doyenne Judith Butler, or everyone’s favorite philosopher clown, Slavoj Zizek.

Bauerlein suggests that this gibberish is really a performance. It has no substance, but tosses around terms from French post-structuralist thinking, from people like Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan. He claims that only those who understand said eminences can understand Ronell and Co. About that he is wrong. I understand both of the two Jacques and still find these academic superstars to be vapid beyond belief.

In effect, the French intellectuals like Derrida, Lacan and Foucault presented substantive thought, sometimes clearly, often not so clearly. They were not trafficking in mumbo jumbo. And yet, those who wanted to join their company but had no idea what they were saying, imagined that they were putting everyone on.

Those who think that Ronell and Co. are actually contributing something or are even saying something do not know how to think. They are posers, as are their heroes and heroines.

Worse yet, they are cult followers. As it happened, the three great thinkers were all duped. Their works border on incoherence because they are riddled with internal contradictions.

Derrida spent his career proselytizing the thought of one Martin Heidegger. He did not care that Heidegger was a Nazi and that his theory of destruktion was really a call to conduct pogroms.

Lacan was a committed Freudian, who spend his career promoting and defending Freudian theory. Late in life he came to the realization that Freudian psychoanalytic practice was a scam. How’s that for being duped?

As for Foucault, he was a serious intellectual historian who, late in life became an activist promoting gay rights. At the same time, he was defending the ayatollahs in Iran. They considered homosexuality a capital offense and were hanging gay youth on the streets of Tehran.

If you give the matters any serious thought, you will discover that these three serious thinkers had been duped into promoting retrograde thinking… all the while posing as serious radicals.

Their cult followers mouthed the correct terms because they wanted to be part of the cult. It didn’t matter whether anyone understood what it meant-- in the Lacanian world, no one really did-- but you needed but to use their jargon as passwords that would gain you entry into the neighborhood speakeasy.

Academic superstars rose to prominence by pretending to know something and by taking the politically correct position on all issues. Once they become stars, what they said mattered far less than the fact that they said it. There are no objective standards, only subjective idolatry.

Once given tenure they produced mountains of junk thought and pretended that it was serious work. Given their positions in the academy they bullied students into accepting it. They were exercising power, and exercising it outside of all peer group review. Exercising power as a means to overthrow the those who were exercising... all in the name of deconstructing power relationships.

Bauerlein suggests that they function as celebrities:

Celebrity, on the other hand, has more a social meaning. It applies to the realm of fame, gossip, name-recognition, and networking. A celebrity professor may be known more for his clothing than for the arguments in his essays.

No one understands what any of them are talking about. And yet, they must bow down to these academic stars.

Niall Ferguson commented in the Times of London this morning:

The rubbish they publish is the counterpart of the rubbish they teach, and the people they teach then graduate with rubbish degrees and live among us.

As I said, these are cult followers bowing down to serious thinkers who had been tricked into promoting intellectual poisons. In the medical world, their idols would have been called carriers.


David Foster said...

"cult followers bowing down to serious thinkers who had been tricked into promoting intellectual poisons." The writer Andre Maurois observed that people who are intelligent, but not in any way creative, tend to be enthusiastic adopters of intellectual systems created by others, and to apply those systems more rigidly than did their originators.

Sam L. said...

Bafflegab Uber ALLES!!!!!

Dr. Irredeemable Dreg said...

The humanities are lost. Get over it.

STEM, man (no pun intended) the barricades.

Ares Olympus said...

Mathematics, Philosophy and English literature grad students against for-profit academic journals certainly is an unfair fight. And yet what do you do with a world where there are perhaps more papers written than even read, where the ability to churn out paper enables your long and hopeful tenure? So there's lots of potential bad incentives.

Canadian Psychologist Jordan also frequently speaks against the humanities. He says a good journal should reject 90% of papers submitted. (Bite-sized Philosophy) 80% of Humanities Papers aren't Cited Once

At least in the hard sciences there's an incentive to try to prove a model or theory wrong, while I have no idea how to evaluate ideologies that arise in "X studies" where scholars try to place interpretations on culture and the living world. I'm content to have it a war of opinions, but of course the most compelling voices might just be the most clever, the ones most able to reduce reality to a model that filters out everything that doesn't fit.