Don’t feel bad, Smith alumnae! Just look at Yale!
"Cynical Theories", College and Universities, Critical Theory, Marxism, Must Read Article, The Establishment
Helen Dale’s review of Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay’s Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity in The Critic is a Must-Read item analyzing the real content of the Critical Theory rubbish that has recently come to dominate the American intellectual establishment.
At one point in Winnie-The-Pooh, Pooh and Piglet start to follow footprints in the snow. The pair think they belong to a creature called a â€œWoozleâ€. The tracks keep multiplying, and the two become increasingly confused, until â€” finally â€” Christopher Robin explains theyâ€™ve been following their own tracks in circles around a tree, and that Woozles arenâ€™t real.
These days, if you go to university to read humanities and some social sciences â€” notably psychology and sociology â€” youâ€™ll find yourself retracing Pooh and Pigletâ€™s steps, hunting for Woozles that arenâ€™t there.
You will encounter radical scepticism about whether objective knowledge or truth is obtainable, along with a commitment to the notion that real things â€” like sex and race â€” are culturally constructed. Your lecturers will impress upon you the idea that society is formed into identity-based hierarchies and knowledge is an effect of power. Your position on a league-table of oppressed identities determine what can be known and how it is known. If you disagree you will at least be marked down, and sometimes formally disciplined. Worse, there is no Christopher Robin to save you. Itâ€™s Woozles all the way down, and donâ€™t you dare dissent. …
The shift from â€œitâ€™s immoral to tell another cultureâ€™s storyâ€ to â€œitâ€™s impossible to tell another cultureâ€™s story, but in any case, one shouldnâ€™t try for moral reasonsâ€ is part of a process Pluckrose and Lindsay describe as â€œreificationâ€, which emerged after Iâ€™d left the ivory tower and commenced moving companies around and drafting commercial leases for a living. Once reified, postmodern abstractions about the world are treated as though they are real things, and accorded the status of empirical truth. Contemporary social justice activism thus sees theory as reality, as though it were gravity or cell division or the atomic structure of uranium.
The correspondence theory of truth holds that objective truth exists and we can learn something about it through evidence and reason. That is, things are knowable and we gain reliable information about them when our beliefs align with reality. Itâ€™s termed â€œthe correspondence theory of truthâ€ because a statement is considered true when it corresponds with reality and false when it doesnâ€™t. Reality, of course, is the thing that does not change regardless of what you believe.
While advanced civilisations going back to classical antiquity employed this reasoning in selected areas (Ancient Rome to civil engineering and law, for example, or Medieval China to public administration), itâ€™s only since the Enlightenment that itâ€™s been applied consistently to nearly everything, at least in developed countries. It forms the foundation of modern scientific and administrative progress and accounts in large part for the safety and material comfort we now enjoy.
Reified â€œTheoryâ€ is no more and no less than a rejection of the correspondence theory of truth. There are no universal truths and no objective reality, only narratives expressed in discourses and language that reflect one groupâ€™s power over another. Science has no claim on objectivity, because science itself is a cultural construct, created out of power differentials, and ordered by straight white males. There are no arguments, merely identity showdowns; the most oppressed always wins.
And, because language makes the world, attempts by scholars in other disciplines and from across the political spectrum to do what I did and falsify Theoryâ€™s empirical claims are met not with reasoned debate but an accusation that those individuals are harming the oppressed or silencing the marginalised, because all someone higher up the hierarchical food chain is supposed to do when confronted by someone lower down is listen. Thatâ€™s the point of telling people to â€œcheck their privilegeâ€ before they open their mouths.
Why will Yale cost $72,800 next year? Chief Answer: the proliferation of bureaucracy and administrative positions.
University title generator (find your next position here).
Robert Boyers describes how, long ago, his professor, at the cost of some social discomfort, summoned him to his office and did him a very great favor.
In my freshman year at Queens College, I had a strange awakeningâ€”strange in that the attendant, overmastering emotion was a combination of humiliation and pleasure. My English professor had called me to his desk and handed me the A+ paper I had written on Orwellâ€™s Homage to Catalonia and suggested that I make an appointment to see him. This was no ordinary suggestion at the City University of New York, where professors never scheduled regular office hours and only rarely invited students to private conferences.
I was uneasy about the meeting, though I imagined that Professor Stone wished simply to congratulate me further, perhaps even to recommend that I join the staff of the college literary magazine, or to enlist my assistance as a tutor. Delusions of grandeur. Modest grandeur.
Professor Stoneâ€™s office had been carved out of a warren of rooms in the fourth-floor attic of the English Department building, where I was greeted with a warm handshake and a â€œdelighted you could come.â€ Though the encounter took place almost 60 years ago, I remember everything about itâ€”the few books scattered on a small wooden table, the neatly combed silver hair on the professorâ€™s head, his amiable, ironic eyes. Most clearly I remember the surprising moment when another professor named Magalaner was called in and stood next to Professor Stone, both men smiling and looming ominously over me. It was then that I was asked to describeâ€”in a few sentences, or more, donâ€™t hesitateâ€”the paper Iâ€™d written on Orwell.
Which of course I did, picking up steam after the first few sentences of diffident preamble, until Professor Stone asked me to stop, thatâ€™s quite enough, and then turned to his colleague with the words â€œsee what I mean?â€ and Magalaner assented. The two men only now pulled over two chairs and sat down, close enough that our knees almost touched, and seemed to look me over, as if taking my measure. Both of them were smiling, so that again I speculated that I was to be offered a prize, a summer job, or who knew what else.
â€œIâ€™ve a feeling,â€ Professor Stone said, â€œthat you may be the first person in your family to go to college.â€
â€œItâ€™s true,â€ I replied.
â€œYou write very well,â€ he offered.
â€œVery well,â€ said Magalaner, who had apparently also read my paper.
â€œBut you know,â€ Stone went on, edging his chair just a bit closer to mine, â€œI didnâ€™t call you here to congratulate you, but to tell you something you need to hear, and of course I trust that youâ€™ll listen carefullyâ€”with Professor Magalaner here to back me upâ€”when I tell you, very plainly, that though you are a bright and gifted young fellow, your speech, I mean the sounds you make when you speak, are such that no one will ever take you seriously. I repeat, no one will ever take you seriously, if you donâ€™t at once do something about this. Do you understand me?â€
Iâ€™ve told this story over the years, starting on that very first night with my teenage sister, explaining what I understood: namely, that a man I admired, who had reason to admire me, thought that when I opened my mouth I sounded like someone by no means admirable. It was easy to accept that no one close to me would have mentioned this before, given that, presumably, we all shared this grave disability, and failed to think it a disability at all. Professor Stone didnâ€™t sound like anyone in our family, we may have thought, simply because, after all, he was an educated man and was not supposed to sound or think like us.
In any event, my teacher moved at once to extract from me a promise that I would enroll in remedial speech courses for as long as I was in college, and not â€œso much as consider giving them up, not even if you find them tedious.â€ The proposal left me feeling oddly consoled, if also somewhat ashamed. Consoled by the thought that there might be a cure for my coarse Brooklynese, as my teacher referred to it, and that the prescription was indisputably necessary. Unsure whether to thank my interlocutors or just stand up and slink ignominiously away, I agreed to enroll immediately in one of those speech courses, ending the meeting with an awkward, â€œIs that all?â€
A former student, hearing my story a few years ago at our dinner table, after telling her own tale of a recent humiliation, asked, â€œWho the fuck did that guy think he was?â€ and added that he was â€œlucky you didnâ€™t just kick his teeth out.â€ She was concerned, clearly, that even after so many years, my sense of self might still be at risk, the injury still alive within me. And yet, though Iâ€™ve often played out the whole encounter in my head, I had decided within hours of my escape that I had been offered a gift. An insult as well, to be sure, but delivered not with an intention to hurt but to save and uplift. It would have been easy to be offended by the attempt to impress upon someone so young the idea that he would undoubtedly want to become the sort of person whose class origins would henceforth be undetectable. But I had not been programmed to be offended, and was, in my innocent way, ambitious to be taken seriously, and though I rapidly came to loathe the speech exercises to which I was soon subjected, I thought it my duty and my privilege to be subjected to them. Night after night, standing before the mirror in my parentsâ€™ bathroom, I shaped the sounds I was taught to shape, and I imagined that one day Professor Stone would beam with satisfaction at the impeccably beautiful grace notes I would produce.
I arrived at Yale in 1966 from a working class background in an Appalachian coal town. I had probably already shed my indigenous regional accent, but I was still undoubtedly horribly unpolished and decidedly non-U in all sorts of social-mobility-limiting ways. Yale professors, to my knowledge at least, never stooped to help out in manner of Professor Stone, but at Yale we had lots of judgmental and intolerant peers, from the poshest families, straight out of the nation’s top prep schools.
If you showed up wearing an unsuitable jacket, were badly groomed, or otherwise failed to meet proper Yale standards, it did not take long for you to hear about it. Our upperclass lords and masters in student organizations were not in the least inhibited in colorfully denouncing all freshmen failures and deficiencies. If you wanted to go anywhere, or do anything, you got with the program.
Today, of course, all that has changed. Coats and ties have gone the way of Nineveh and Tyre. Yale has been coed fifty years. Today’s students are typically left-wing snowflakes, thoroughly indoctrinated in intersectionality and the politics of identity. The process of removing Cockney-Flower-Girl mobility-limiting speech habits, poor grooming, and inappropriate forms of dress must still go on, but the process of sanding down rough edges must take place highly diplomatically and with great care. The former devastating quip has, I expect, been replaced with a minutely raised eyebrow. In the case of the most protected castes of students, I suppose, that process may not go on at all.
G. David Bednar won’t give Harvard a plug nickel. Personally, I wish there was some way for Yale’s alumni to take back past donations.
My 30th Harvard College reunion is in October. I plan to attend to see good friends and share great memories. Harvard asked for a donation. When I did not respond, they asked for a smaller one. Finally, the alumni office asked for just $10 as a sign of support.
But I will not give $10 to Harvard and want to explain why.
The headlines from American campuses raise concern and often strain credulity. My hope on reading these stories is always that my school will set a standard to which others might repair. Recent examples prove Harvard has not.
The Harvard Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion recently distributed a â€œplacemat guide for holiday discussions on race and justice with loved onesâ€ to help students reform their parentsâ€™ bigoted views. Last week, the university extended a fellowship to a dishonorably discharged, 17-count felon and traitor to the nation. Disbelief followed by widespread indignation ensured the rescinding of the placemats and the invitation to Chelsea Manning. But astonishment lingers at the void of common sense, or mutated presumptions, necessary for them to have occurred in the first place.
The equally Orwellian Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging decided that the word â€œPuritansâ€ (Harvardâ€™s founders belonged to that sect) must be excised from the lyrics of the schoolâ€™s 181-year-old anthem. The Task Force made the 1984 analogy unmistakable by adding, â€œan endorsed alternativeâ€ would be created, â€œthe goal is to affirm what is valuable from the past while also re-inventing that past to meet and speak to the present moment.â€
In late 2015 Harvard removed the title â€œhouse masterâ€ from what are essentially residential advisers, a title that reflected Harvardâ€™s Oxford and Cambridge roots. The administration announced that although â€œwhat came before was not wrongâ€ as the â€œacademic context of the term has always been clear,â€ and even though the tradition was â€œbelovedâ€ by many alumni, the university would nevertheless abolish the title because â€œthe general feelingâ€ is that it â€œcauses discomfort.â€
Harvard joined the mania for erasing disfavored historical references, removing the Royall Crest at the Law School. Harvard also authorized its first â€œBlack Commencementâ€ in 2017. Organizers explained the event was â€œnot about segregationâ€ but â€œbuilding a community.â€ Wouldnâ€™t a single, unified graduation do that? How can anyone who abhors racial division in America see separate graduations as a step forward?
To wide alarm, the administration announced it would withhold scholarship support and prohibit students from becoming team captains or leaders of student organizations if they joined finals clubs (private organizations similar to fraternities and sororities). Harry Lewis, former dean of the college and a computer science professor, called the plans â€œdangerous new groundâ€ and â€œa frightening prospect.â€
â€œUsing â€˜nondiscriminationâ€™ as a cudgel against studentsâ€™ private associations is odiously patronizing,â€ Lewis wrote in the Washington Post. By reaching into the private associations of Harvard students and declaring some of them to be, in essence, â€˜suppressive personsâ€™ because of their nonconformity, you are, I fear, passing from creating community to molding a monoculture . . . â€
The chairman of Harvardâ€™s English Department announced earlier this year that all English majors will be required to take a course in authors â€œmarginalized for historical reasons.â€ Literature that did not â€œbenefitâ€ from â€œracism, patriarchy, and heteronormativityâ€ will be read. This is a version of what Yaleâ€™s Harold Bloom once called the School of Resentment. â€œTo read in the service of any ideology,â€ he wrote, â€œis not in my judgment to read at all..â€
A university release in April claimed to have advanced diversity based on a 6 percent reduction in the proportion of white male faculty from 2008 to 2017. But the diversity that matters at a university is diversity of thought. According to a 2015 Crimson report, however, 96 percent of Harvardâ€™s faculty recently supported Democrats. The dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences was â€œamazed at how high that number is.â€ Harvard government professor Harvey C. Mansfield observed, â€œThe only debate we get here is between the far-leftâ€¦and the liberals. It gives students a view that a very narrow spectrum of opinion is the only way to think.â€
Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust established a faculty committee on Harvard and slavery. She championed a conference this spring at which she remarked that even though the college never owned a slave it was â€œdirectly complicitâ€ in slavery. Keynote speaker Ta-Nehisi Coates was blunter. â€œI think every single one of these universities needs to make reparations,â€ he said.â€I donâ€™t know how you get around that, I just donâ€™t. I donâ€™t know how you conduct research that shows that your very existence is rooted in a great crimeâ€¦â€ Sitting next to Faust, he added: â€œLet me be very clear about something: I do think it involves a payment of money.â€
The intent of the conference being evident, two questions arise: First, if I give, how much will go to â€œreparationsâ€ and how will that improve education? Second, did Coates consider, in his calculation of Harvardâ€™s unpaid debts for slavery, the hundreds of names of her Civil War dead on the tablets of Memorial Hall?
Heterodox Academy, a group that monitors free speech rights on campuses, ranks the University of Chicago No. 1 and Harvard No. 104. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) gave Harvard its â€œred lightâ€ (worst) rating. The Crimson reports on a â€œpolitical closetâ€ at Harvard. One undergraduate related the need â€œto fall in line with what I think is the professorâ€™s ideology.â€ Another who published a pro-life article â€œis nervous during our interviewâ€ and related social media efforts to isolate him. Yet another identifies the â€œnotion that everyone should have free thought and be open to everyoneâ€™s ideasâ€”except people who donâ€™t agree with liberals.â€ The dean of freshmen recently acknowledged the â€œdismayingâ€ results of a survey revealing â€œpolitical opinions and perspectives have not been given proper respect or appreciation on campus.â€ Is this the sole discrimination at Harvard that musters no outrage?
Real article by Howard Rachlin, Emeritus Research Professor of Psychology, Stony Brook University and Marvin Frankel, Professor of psychology, Sarah Lawrence College:
It may be objected that parentsâ€™ desire to have their own biological children is so strong that they would be blind to the public good, that they would have babies and bring them up in secret. But those babies would not have birth certificates, they would not be citizens, they could not vote, serve in public office and so forth. If discovered, the children might be taken away after the strong bonds of psychological (as opposed to biological) parenthood had been formed. Few Americans would risk these penalties. …
Genetic chauvinism lives on very strongly in our culture. Modern fiction and cinema often present adopteesâ€™ searches for biological parents and siblings in a highly positive light. The law in child custody cases is biased towards biological parents over real parents. You might claim that this bias itself is â€˜naturalâ€™. It is so common as to seem part of our biological makeup. But subjugation of women was also common in primitive human cultures and remains so in many cultures today. Unnatural as it sounds, social mixing promises many advantages. If we are not willing to adopt it, we should consider carefully why. And if naturalness is the key, we should ask ourselves why on this matter, ungoverned nature should trump social cohesion.
There is this month, in First Things, a must-read essay on the transformation of the modern university by Roger Scruton, who (as usual) brilliantly identifies exactly what the Left’s long march through the culture has wrought.
[T]he university extolled by Newman was designed to protect the privileges of an existing upper class and to place obstacles before the advance of its competitors. It imparted futile skills, which were esteemed precisely for their futility, since this made them into a badge of membership that only a few could afford. And far from advancing the fund of knowledge, it existed to safeguard the sacred myths: It placed a protective wall of enchantment around the religion, the social values, and the high culture of the past, and pretended that the recondite skills required to enjoy this enchantmentâ€”Latin and Greek, for exampleâ€”were the highest forms of knowledge. In short, the ÂNewmanite university was an instrument for the perpetuation of a leisure class. The culture that it passed on was not the property of the whole community but merely an ideological tool, through which the powers and privileges of the existing order were endowed with their aura of legitimacy.
Now, by contrast, we have universities dedicated to the growth of knowledge, which are not merely non-elitist but anti-elitist in their social structure. …
[H]owever, a visitor to the American university today is more likely to be struck by the indigenous varieties of censorship than by any atmosphere of free inquiry. It is true that Americans live in a tolerant society. But they also breed vigilant guardians, keen to detect and extirpate the first signs of â€œprejudiceâ€ among the young. And these guardians have an innate tendency to gravitate to the universities, where the very freedom of the curriculum, and its openness to innovation, provide them with an opportunity to exercise their censorious passions. Books are put on or struck off the syllabus on grounds of their political correctness; speech codes and counseling services police the language and thought of both students and teachers; courses are designed to impart ideological conformity, and students are often penalized for having drawn some heretical conclusion about the leading issues of the day. In sensitive areas, such as race, sex, and the mysterious thing called â€œgender,â€ censorship is overtly directed not only at students but also at any teacher, however impartial and scrupulous, who comes up with the wrong conclusions.
Of course, the culture of the West remains the primary object of study in humanities departments. However, the purpose is not to instill that culture but to repudiate itâ€”to examine it for all the ways in which it sins against the egalitarian worldview. The Marxist theory of ideology, or some feminist, poststructuralist, or Foucauldian descendent of it, will be summoned in proof of the view that the precious achievements of our culture owe their status to the power that speaks through them, and that they are therefore of no intrinsic worth. …
Moral relativism clears the ground for a new kind of absolutism. The emerging curriculum in the humanities is in fact far more censorious, in crucial matters, than the one that it strives to replace. It is no longer permitted to believe that there are real and inherent distinctions between people. All distinctions are â€œculturally constructedâ€ and therefore changeable. And the business of the curriculum is to deconstruct them, to replace distinction with equality in every sphere where distinction has been part of the inherited culture. Students must believe that in crucial respects, in particular in those matters that touch on race, sex, class, role, and cultural refinement, Western civilization is just an arbitrary ideological device, and certainly not (as its self-image suggests) a repository of real moral knowledge. Moreover, they must accept that the purpose of their education is not to inherit that culture but to question it and, if possible, to replace it with a new â€œmulticulturalâ€ approach that makes no distinctions between the many forms of life by which the students find themselves surrounded.
To doubt those doctrines is to commit deepest heresy, and to pose a threat to the community that the modern university needs. For the modern university tries to cater to students regardless of religion, sex, race, or cultural background, even regardless of ability. It is to a great extent a creation of the state and is fully signed up to the statist idea of what a society should beâ€”namely, a society without distinction. It is therefore as dependent on the belief in equality as Cardinal Newmanâ€™s university was dependent on the belief in God.
Be sure to read the whole thing.