Home/Rod Dreher/Hounding The Heretic Bo Winegard

Hounding The Heretic Bo Winegard

The administration of Marietta College settles accounts with evolutionary psychologist Bo Winegard (Digital Vision Vectors/Getty Images)

Yesterday we were talking about how the protests by a woke contingent of employees led to the publishing giant Hachette canceling its upcoming Woody Allen book release, and presumably will lead to the pulping of all existing books. The protests came from Hachette employees who believe that Allen is a sex criminal who abused Dylan Farrow when she was seven. If true, that would obviously be a horrible thing, and Allen should be in jail. But Allen has always vigorously denied the charge, which emerged out of the savage collapse of his relationship with Mia Farrow, and has never been tried in court. The lesson of what happened to Woody Allen’s memoir is that the mere accusation of a crime, if it fits the woke narrative, is enough to destroy you professionally. Think of it: the leaders of a major publishing house decided to surrender their principles to the protest of an in-house mob.

Yesterday it happened to Woody Allen. Tomorrow it’s going to happen to someone less of a social pariah, but who is nonetheless despised by these ideological vigilantes. Who is standing up for Woody Allen? I am! And so should you be.

Today I’m reading about the firing of evolutionary psychologist Bo Winegard. It has happened so fast that his faculty page is still there. I screenshot a part of it, because it will soon be gone:

Marietta College fired him because he had become the target of a woke mob. In Quillette, Winegard explains what happened to him. Here’s how it begins:

Until a week ago, I was a tenure-track assistant professor at a small college. Then I was fired. And although I am but one professor at one small college in one small town, I want to persuade you that, if you care about free speech and free inquiry in academia, you should be alarmed by my termination. My troubles began in October 2019 when I was invited to address an evolutionary group at the University of Alabama. I had decided that I would discuss human population variation, the hypothesis that human biological differences are at least partially produced by different environments selecting for different physical and psychological traits in their populations over time. I planned to defend this view as most consistent with a Darwinian understanding of the world.

My first day in Tuscaloosa was uneventful. On the second day, I visited a class and had an enjoyable discussion with students about various topics, including human evolution and social signaling. I was then supposed to meet professors and students for lunch, but instead my guide delivered me to an empty room where I received a number of texts from my host: The professors had found my RationalWiki entry, which accuses me—inter alia—of writing “racist bullshit for the right-wing online magazine Quillette.”

Notwithstanding its name, which indicates a commitment to thought and reason, RationalWiki is a highly partisan and tendentious site which its authors use to mock and defame their political opponents. (They have also refused to update misinformation about my work and views even after I have written corrections.) Which is to say that it is not a reliable source of information about anything, still less a sound basis upon which to judge a person’s character. Professors routinely warn their students not to cite Wikipedia, but the lies and misrepresentations on my RationalWiki page were thought to be so unanswerable that the faculty who read them refused to meet with me so I could speak in my own defense. (A handful of other curious professors did extend me the courtesy of a meeting, and we enjoyed a perfectly civil chat.)

I assumed that my scheduled talk would be cancelled, but it was not. I thought the room would be empty, but it was not. Word had evidently spread and a number of angry students were in attendance. The atmosphere was hostile, and the audience was eager to challenge me, but I was able to deliver my talk as planned. The Q and A that followed was quite rowdy, however—one of the students yelled that I was a racist and someone else accused me of promoting the long-discredited pseudoscience of phrenology. And so on. It was not an especially cordial or constructive exchange of ideas.

Winegard then links to the student newspaper’s coverage of the talk. It’s basically Pravda for undergrads. From that article covering the talk (at which their reporter was not present!):

Anthony Earl, a junior majoring in political science, questioned Winegard’s claims of objectivity.

“My concerns are more social/political, the idea that science help us find the objective truth,” he said. “Objectivity is a little more elusive than that. My concern is when you explore science without keen eye to ethics or history, or how even that science that you’re trying to do may be informed by your social or economic position, your ideology, then you lose control of it in a way, and it can become dangerous. I think that’s why that one guy made the allusion to Hitler.”

Earl was referring to a student in the crowd who compared Winegard’s research with Hitler’s racist ideology, to which Winegarded responded: Hitler’s regime was not informed by science.

“That’s definitely not true,” Earl said. “Hitler was certainly informed by science, and a lot of the race scientists were Americans. The Germans admired the American caste system, the racial system that we had.”

After falsely noting that the ideas of ethnic cleansing were not influenced by “sophisticated science” of the time, Winegard expressed a need to return to conversations about racial genetic difference, which has also proven to be false.

“I think what I’m trying to do here is have reasonable conversation about it, precisely so that those more extreme voices get drowned out by more moderate voices,” Winegard said in response to the question. “That’s what I think. I could be wrong about that and we could have that discussion. But I honestly think that’s true. That it would be better, not worse for society that more people talked about this in a moderate, judicious way.“

Tobin said Winegard’s talk demonstrated the failure of the group’s informal system of inviting speakers, and the group is now planning on “implementing a more rigorous vetting process.”

There was no quote from Winegard giving him a chance to answer these outrageous accusations. The journalists who wrote this piece knew what they were going to write before they typed the first sentence.

The men and women I interviewed for Live Not By Lies, they know about all this. They saw, under communism, the way the press devoted itself to destroying enemies of the state and the ruling ideology by all kinds of lies and distortions. I’m telling you, they see it happening here. Some of you don’t want to listen, because you think it can’t happen here. It can, and it is. It’s well under way.

Read Winegard’s entire piece.

I don’t know anything about Winegard’s scientific work. For all I know, he doesn’t have any sympathy for people who believe the things I do about religion and politics. He might believe things that appall me. I don’t care. He sounds like exactly the kind of professor I loved when I was in college: someone who had convictions (perhaps wrong ones!), but who was fair, challenging, and who welcomed debate. The kind of professor who could have written something like this. Professors like that are no longer welcome at Marietta College, which, by firing him, has told the world the most important thing to know about Marietta College. Professors like him are increasingly no longer welcome in academia. Saw this on Twitter this morning:

Marietta College has given no public account of why it fired Bo Winegard. Let’s remember that it’s possible that there’s something going on here that we don’t know about, that would dramatically change the story. But I can say that based on what is publicly known as of this writing, what has been done to Bo Winegard is very, very wrong — and not only wrong, but evil. The gutless leaders of Marietta College are no different than gutless publishers who surrender to the woke mob. Winegard tweeted this morning:

And this:

Just before I was set to publish, I checked Winegard’s Twitter account, and saw this:

There simply has to be a place for independent-minded academics of the Left, Right, and Middle, to come together to do their work, to ask questions, to provide answers, and to teach. Wokeness is destroying academia, it’s destroying journalism, and it’s going to destroy publishing too. These are fundamental institutions within a free society. Will we not defend them? What will be there for our children? I admit that I have a soft spot for academic, artistic, and journalistic heretics. Not religious heretics — but then, the academy, the arts, and journalism are not supposed to be religious institutions. Right-winger though I am, I really do believe in the old-fashioned liberal view that you might be an appalling person, but that most (but not all)of the time, and in most (but not all) disputes, it is important for me to defend your right to speak. I would rather err on the side of allowing someone with whom I strongly disagreed to speak than to silence him.

Here’s something that Winegard said in an interview with Banter magazine that tells me that as nervous as academics like him make me when they talk about race and genetics, given human nature and the history of the 20th century, we need to listen to them:

Banter: You are on the front lines as an educator. How often do you see college students who needn’t be in college, and do you have any advice for those souls that the mantra of “everyone should/can be a student” has failed?

Winegard: I think we need to rethink our approach and our attitudes toward what humans can and can’t achieve. I think of intelligence/learning ability the same way I think about athleticism. Now, I’m a horrific athlete, just awful, and I tried to play sports, I wanted to be a good athlete, I was just terrible. And it was disappointing and in some sense humiliating. I think there are students that simply don’t have learning ability, they’re not as good at learning as other people are. It’s counterproductive and probably frustrating and humiliating for them to pretend that if they just worked harder they would be learning.

Banter: Can you put your finger on any of the more sinister mechanisms that might have propelled those people into colleges they shouldn’t be in, or educational paths they shouldn’t be on?

Winegard: I wouldn’t use the adjective ‘sinister’ because it makes it sound like there’s something nefarious going on. But, there are a few things at play: obviously colleges want more students because that’s how they make money, so of course they are going to emphasize the idea that people should go to college. Also, there’s this widely shared, I don’t want to call it blank slate, but environmentalist-oriented belief that everyone can succeed in college. I just don’t think that’s true. It’s pernicious in fact, because there are people who could have successful lives doing something else, and they’re stuck in a math class in college where they can’t possibly succeed, maybe they can scrape by and get D, but they’ll forget about it the second they leave and they’re just wasting a ton of money. It would be better if we punctured this myth and started to emphasize some other outlet for these people, some place in society that is dignified and respected that isn’t based on being hyper-educated or intelligent.

One of the problems with talking about this is that the term ‘intelligence’ is so loaded with social significance that if you say some people aren’t intelligent it sounds bad, it sounds insulting. But it’s true, there’s a distribution, a standard deviation and there are people with IQs of 80, 70, and it’s going to be incredibly hard for them to succeed at scholarly tasks. Expecting that they will do so is both painful for the person and counterproductive for society as a whole.

I would like to see us value labour that isn’t based on intelligence as much as possible. How do we provide meaning for these people? How can they belong to our coalition and succeed? It’s always a tough call because sometimes you get students who are struggling but then you turn them on to something and they get invigorated by it, they work hard, and it feels good as a professor. It’s tough, you never want to tell a specific individual they can’t make it, but we need to figure out the best way to gauge potential.

What he says here is absolutely true. I discovered it myself when I entered 11th grade at a gifted and talented school. The school’s premise was that gifted kids were equally gifted across the board. It was not an unreasonable premise, given that in order to get into this school, you pretty much needed to have all As on your report card. And I did. I didn’t enjoy math, but I did well in it in my normal public school.

But I got to this gifted school, and could not remotely keep up with many of my classmates. It was one of the most traumatic things that ever happened to me. I should have worked harder, heaven knows, but nearly forty years on from that experience, I am convinced that I couldn’t have kept up with those math geniuses no matter how hard I worked. I just didn’t have the natural ability. I gave up too soon, though, and retreated into myself. I shamed myself, felt terribly guilty over it all. Somehow I got through school, but I was so traumatized by it, and so filled with self-loathing, that I never again attempted math. Just yesterday, I was talking with my 16-year-old after a math tutorial in which he was talking about how he finds math hard, but boy, does he love geometry. It struck me that when I was his age, I loved geometry too — I really did! And I made As in it. But the next year, in a different, more advanced school, I lost all my interest in anything mathematical.

I’m not blaming the school here. I have to own up to my own failure to work as hard as I ought to have done. Still, it was as pointless to assume that everybody is equally good at math as it is to assume that everybody is equally good at science, or everybody is equally good at English, and so forth. We are so afraid of hierarchy in this culture that we will crush people who are naturally great, and crush people who naturally are not, with false expectations. I was a terrible athlete as a kid, just hopeless. I hated sports, and only participated because I wanted to make my dad happy. As soon as I was able to muster the courage to quit, I quit. Felt guilty as hell about that too, though it was easier for me to get over that than it was to get over failing at something intellectual. When I had boys of my own, I made sure that the one who didn’t like athletics never felt pressured to do them (he discovered cycling last year in college, on his own, and is totally devoted to it now), and the one who was naturally athletic knew that his dad would support any sport he wanted to try (he’s into weightlifting and bodybuilding).

After that long digression, my point is this: the kind of work heretics like Bo Winegard does is important, and challenges shibboleths that need challenging. They should not be suppressed because somewhere, there might be a Nazi in the woodpile. If we uncover a Nazi, find him, and expel him. What colleges are doing now is no different than fundamentalist schools firing scientists because evolutionary biology poses a threat to a particular theological account of Creation. People on the Left are very good at seeing the problem with that — but in perceiving the problem with their own rigid orthodoxies, not at all.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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