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The Self-Murder Of Academic Philosophy

Can somebody please tell me why anybody would choose to go into academic philosophy? You’ll recall the shameful episode last year at which the distinguished Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne was denounced at a Christian philosophers’ conference for stating in passing his belief in what the Bible says about homosexuality. History’s greatest monster, that Swinburne!

Now, the social justice Jacobins are eating their own. Sit down and read this recap on the philosophy blog [1]Daily Nous. It has to do with a feminist philosophy journal causing a collective seizure in the profession by publishing a paper contending that “transracialism” — that people should be allowed to change their race, à la Rachel Dolezal — ought to be accepted for the same reason that transgenderism should be. Rebecca Tuvel, the scholar in question, unequivocally supports transgender rights, by the way.

 

But that is not enough. These madwomen are eviscerating Tuvel over the question of how many transgendered anti-misogynists can dance on the severed head of Princess de Lamballe [2]The Daily Nous reports:

Nonetheless, in one popular public Facebook post [3], Nora Berenstain [4], an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Tennessee, says the essay contains “discursive transmisogynistic violence.” She elaborates:

Tuvel enacts violence and perpetuates harm in numerous ways throughout her essay. She deadnames a trans woman. She uses the term “transgenderism.” She talks about “biological sex” and uses phrases like “male genitalia.” She focuses enormously on surgery, which promotes the objectification of trans bodies. She refers to “a male-to- female (mtf) trans individual who could return to male privilege,” promoting the harmful transmisogynistic ideology that trans women have (at some point had) male privilege. In her discussion of “transracialism,” Tuvel doesn’t cite a single woman of color philosopher, nor does she substantively engage with any work by Black women, nor does she cite or engage with the work of any Black trans women who have written on this topic.

An open letter to Hypatia complaining about the article is now being circulated  [5] and currently has over 130 signatures. It states that the article “falls short of scholarly standards” and requests the article be retracted. Among the reasons cited are the following:

1. It uses vocabulary and frameworks not recognized, accepted, or adopted by the conventions of the relevant subfields; for example, the author uses the language of “transgenderism” and engages in deadnaming a trans woman;

2. It mischaracterizes various theories and practices relating to religious identity and conversion; for example, the author gives an off-hand example about conversion to Judaism;

3. It misrepresents leading accounts of belonging to a racial group; for example, the author incorrectly cites Charles Mills as a defender of voluntary racial identification;

4. It fails to seek out and sufficiently engage with scholarly work by those who are most vulnerable to the intersection of racial and gender oppressions (women of color) in its discussion of “transracialism”. We endorse Hypatia’s stated commitment to “actively reflect and engage the diversity within feminism, the diverse experiences and situations of women, and the diverse forms that gender takes around the globe,” and we find that this submission was published without being held to that commitment.

Discursive transmisogynistic violence. Oh my. Well, just like that, the editorial board of the journal collapsed like a bunch of screaming meemies:

We, the members of Hypatia’s Board of Associate Editors, extend our profound apology to our friends and colleagues in feminist philosophy, especially transfeminists, queer feminists, and feminists of color, for the harms that the publication of the article on transracialism has caused. The sources of those harms are multiple, and include: descriptions of trans lives that perpetuate harmful assumptions and (not coincidentally) ignore important scholarship by trans philosophers; the practice of deadnaming, in which a trans person’s name is accompanied by a reference to the name they were assigned at birth; the use of methodologies which take up important social and political phenomena in dehistoricized and decontextualized ways, thus neglecting to address and take seriously the ways in which those phenomena marginalize and commit acts of violence upon actual persons; and an insufficient engagement with the field of critical race theory.

You might expect such gutlessness on the philosophy faculty of Moscow State University under Stalin. So what is the excuse of the Hypatia [6] jellyfish?

To this anathema, Prof. Tuvel replied, in part:

So little of what has been said, however, is based upon people actually reading what I wrote.

Oh, sister, I know the feeling.

She continued:

Calls for intellectual engagement are also being shut down because they “dignify” the article. If this is considered beyond the pale as a response to a controversial piece of writing, then critical thought is in danger. I have never been under the illusion that this article is immune from critique. But the last place one expects to find such calls for censorship rather than discussion is amongst philosophers.

Read the whole thing.  [1]

I’ve gotta say: really, Rebecca Tuvel? By this late date, you think that the “last place” one expects to see censorship is among philosophers?! Humanities faculties are the first place you’d expect this garbage.

Prof. Tuvel’s tribe is cannibalizing its own. One imagines that she thought she was immune to this kind of thing, given the statement on her faculty page at Rhodes College: [7]

My research lies at the intersection of critical race, feminist and animal ethics. Throughout my research, I have considered several ways in which animals, women and racially subordinated groups are oppressed, how this oppression often overlaps and how it serves to maintain erroneous and harmful conceptions of humanity. Uniting these lines of research is an underlying concern to theorize justice for oppressed groups.

And now, the mob has turned on her as an oppressor.

It will be a great day when this particular venomous snake finally devours its tail, and it becomes safe for people who actually care about philosophy as the search for truth to come out and do their vital work. In the meantime, why not form alternative institutions where people who want to do true scholarship and teaching can enter a classroom with colleagues and students who want the same thing, as opposed to joining the impotent clerisy of ideological crackpots who have nothing better to do deploy weaponized jargon against each other.

UPDATE: A reader comments:

I think you’re overstating the problem a bit. I thought very seriously about going into academic philosophy (I graduated from a top philosophy grad program in June 2016), and my reasons for leaving academia had nothing to do with the politics of philosophy departments (and I’m certainly no leftist).

While such incidents are disturbing, I never found any such political discussions to dominate the mainstream in philosophy departments. This is mainly because mainstream analytic philosophy doesn’t touch such topics. The vast majority of professional philosophers are still doing great research and teaching in the classic areas of philosophy: metaphysics, ethics, phil of mind, phil of language, logic, political philosophy etc.

It’s also worth noting that many professional philosophers are themselves disturbed by the “Hypatia incident”. In my experience, philosophy departments really are the last place you’d expect to find censorship — mainstream academic philosophers really do take pride in argumentative engagement.

For instance:

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2017/05/the-defamation-of-rebecca-tuvel-by-the-board-of-associate-editors-of-hypatia-and-the-open-letter.html [8]

Maybe I’m being optimistic, but I don’t see the need for “alternative institutions” (not yet anyway).

UPDATE.2: Reader Seraphim writes:

I write as a professor of philosophy who has been active in the field for more than four decades; as the author or editor of four books, with three more under contract; as someone who is widely known and well-respected in the field; but who is also a very traditional Orthodox Christian.

These people are not representative, and the real zealots are very small in number, but they exist and are (unfortunately) tolerated. Happily, they tend to form nasty little cabals where they rage at their enemies and/or one another in marginal satellite groups to which no one else pays much attention. In a sense, they are self-quarantined.

They are also, like all ideologues, quite stupid, being blinded by arrogance and hatred and usually being not that talented to begin with, so it is not hard to speak to them if need be. All it takes is avoiding throwing down certain “red flags” to keep them from attacking, i.e. practicing the kind of subtlety and ability to redefine a problem at which a good philosopher should be adept anyway.

It is not quite right to say that normal philosophers are afraid of them. It is more like dealing with someone obviously crazy whom one encounters riding on a lonely subway car. You avoid making eye contact, and if need be make a temporary stop at the next exit. But you go about your business without giving the inconvenience too much thought. Philosophers know from the patron Socrates that freedom of thought and expression is not absolute and that often indirect communication is required to avoid either hemlock or exile.

But admittedly, if you nevertheless want to be plain-spoken and outspoken in advocating traditional Christian views, they will come after you and only a few philosophers (Robert George comes to mind) have the prestige and the skills (of intellect and of character) to take them on successfully.

Uncomfortable, but not as intolerable as it might sound.

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93 Comments To "The Self-Murder Of Academic Philosophy"

#1 Comment By SluggishPhilosopher On May 1, 2017 @ 10:07 pm

I recently received my philosophy PhD and am on the academic job market. I have to second the comments of Alex L: the profession has a lot of problems, but, thankfully, this kind of garbage does not rank high among them. Or rather, it’s out there, but it’s a vocal minority making mischief for everyone else (one reason I steer away from facebook and twitter).

The majority of the philosophy done in English speaking universities is what’s called “analytic”. Much of this stuff can seem to the layman to be terribly esoteric and out of touch with real life and the pressing questions of the day–which is one reason why few analytic philosophers become public intellectuals–but it is, at least (a) a discipline that honors rigorous argumentation and open-minded, critical reflection above all else (which is not to say that philosophers don’t have their personal biases), and (b) largely free from the meaningless, pretentious posturing of so-called continental philosophy (the kind of philosophy that regular people are more likely to have heard of, and is more influential in other humanities disciplines). A related point is that analytic philosophy has been to a significant degree immune from the influence of (at least the worst versions of) post-modern thought, and philosophers often see themselves as having way more in common, in terms of intellectual disposition, methodology, and outlook , with the natural sciences than with literature, “critical theory”, and the rest of the humanities, where the “social justice Jacobins” are most obviously and egregiously running amok.

Unfortunately, the Jacobins are beginning to infiltrate even mainstream analytic philosophy culture, but much depends on what areas of research one focuses on. If, like me, you avoid the likes of feminist philosophy and focus on core areas such as philosophy of mind and metaphysics, you can still do plenty of good work, and enjoy ongoing dialogue and collaboration with some of the most brilliant, thoughtful, and intellectually fair-minded people on the planet.

#2 Comment By Al Bundy On May 1, 2017 @ 10:13 pm

I can see why all of this nonsense language from Foucault, Derrida, Edward Said, etc. is so popular–you can spend a week or two learning a stupid theory and then apply it haphazardly to every aspect of life. No learning languages, no reading through manuscripts, no real quantitative analysis. Just learn a commonsensical theory couched in really convoluted language, and then you are a prophet.

Noam Chomsky’s worldview is about as far from my own as is possible, but he wrote one of the best critiques of critical theory I’ve ever read. Check it out.

[9]

#3 Comment By Claire Elizabeth On May 1, 2017 @ 10:20 pm

@Wes (just saw your comment): If you create four categories for every philosopher up to kant, a priory analytic, a priori synthetic, a posteriori analytic, and a posteriori synthetic, most people up until Kant had put logic and math in the a priori analytic bit. But Kant put math in the a priori SYNTHETIC bit. Now that doesn’t mean much to someone who isn’t studying early modern philo, but for us it means that he changed the game. He put math in the same place that he put metaphysics and sort of changed how we think perception happens. In terms of writing, Kant’s extremely technical and difficult to read. (The above information was from my notes via a professor, may not have been able to get that distinction myself.) I wouldn’t say he’s too academic for a general audience though; his work has had more influence on the profession than anybody since Descartes. Now unfortunately, some people think that Kant didn’t go far enough, and over time it just sort of devolved into existentialism, absurdism, all the postmodern stuff, etc. Kant was sort of the last stop on a very bad train that Descartes started driving. Descartes was the first guy to argue that perception comes from within and that subjectivity plays a role in how we see the world, and people kept taking him to his logical conclusion. I’d say that it maybe got too academic for people right after Kant, but I wouldn’t include Kant in that list. (Philosophy Grad Student, feel free to disagree. This is just what I’ve picked up thus far in getting my degree.)

#4 Comment By DRK On May 1, 2017 @ 10:45 pm

Scratching my head over your photo choice for this article. Don’t really get the connection between New Guinea villagers doing a religious ceremony and academics complaining about some philosophy article.

#5 Comment By Kalmia On May 1, 2017 @ 11:23 pm

“Its almost impressive how they can take over our institutions but we can’t seem penetrate theirs.”

If you believe in free speech and academic inquiry, of course you’re willing to let a few lefties in to speak their mind. They do not return the favor though and over time they stick around and start getting on the tenure committee. The rest is . . . well, as things are.

#6 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 1, 2017 @ 11:30 pm

Nora Bernstain is a maudlin fool and a blithering idiot. Whatever gives her the idea that any sane person, at least the overwhelming majority who live outside the ivory tower, could find any sense at all in her polysyllabic epithets?

It has to do with a feminist philosophy journal causing a collective seizure in the profession by publishing a paper contending that “transracialism” — that people should be allowed to change their race, à la Rachel Dolezal — ought to be accepted for the same reason that transgenderism should be.

Transracialism should be accepted for the same reason that trans-sexuality should be viewed with a jaundiced eye.

Race is an artificiality.

Sex is a real, biological, empirical, distinction, identifiable by many differences.

My next door neighbor, a Roman Catholic because her father was Haitian, saw no reason Rachel Dolezal should not continue her work in the NAACP or wear her hair in any style she wishes. I didn’t either. I personally have never had any desire to “be black,” I just want to associate with people wherever I find them. But we Americans are a mongrel nation, and most of us are mixed to some extent. I was just talking to a man in Mississippi this evening who is well aware that he has ancestry from at least three “races.”

bmj really summed it all up very nicely. Five thumbs up for Fran Macadam. I remember that poem too.

#7 Comment By Raskolnik On May 1, 2017 @ 11:32 pm

I want to push back against Alex L somewhat.

There are good and bad analytic philosophers, but on the whole this approach has had its head firmly lodged up its own colon since the days of the Logical Positivists. (The Continental types are not much better, but they are at least occasionally entertaining).

To say that contemporary analytic philosophy departments study “ethics” or “metaphysics” is itself a gross overstatement with respect to how these terms have been traditionally understood. The accepted bounds of discourse in academic philosophy departments run from: is Christianity merely completely wrong, or is it both wrong AND evil? Is it OK to kill infants and the mentally retarded, or is it only OK to kill a 9 month old fetus? And so on.

There is no truly open engagement, no recognition that e.g. Buddhist philosophy might have something to contribute to questions about the nature of the mind, just varying degrees of leftist (materialist, socialist, utilitarian) dogma.

#8 Comment By Raskolnik On May 1, 2017 @ 11:42 pm

When did philosophy become so academic as to cease attracting a more general audience? Was it Hegel? Kant? Someone who knows please point me in the right direction.

It happened when “philosophy” became a bourgeois professional field within the university (i.e., Cathedral) apparatus, something with a defined career path and credentialing system. This was around the turn of the 20th century, not long after Nietzsche, who was employed by the university system, but as what we would today call a professor of historical linguistics (philology).

#9 Comment By Lance Bush On May 1, 2017 @ 11:48 pm

Check the department affiliations of the signatories of the letter. I checked about 15 and none were from philosophy departments. Rather, they were from the theater, English, Africana studies, and other departments. I am not sure what to make of this.

#10 Comment By Raskolnik On May 1, 2017 @ 11:49 pm

After the Dolezal incident in particular, I decided to read up on genetic/physical anthropological evidence for race and found nothing substantial. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

You need to read sources that are not pre-approved by the Cathedral. The contemporary Index of Forbidden Books has plenty to say about the science of human biodiversity, and it is not at all friendly to the post-WW2 Cathedral consensus Blank Slate view.

#11 Comment By Redeemed-Deplorable On May 2, 2017 @ 12:18 am

Hm. We pay those people to produce incomprehensible babble, but supposedly we can’t find US citizens to pick lettuce. I see a simultaneous fix for both of those conditions here.

#12 Comment By Garry Kelly On May 2, 2017 @ 1:47 am

What the devil is a “professional philosopher”?

#13 Comment By Hound of Ulster On May 2, 2017 @ 2:05 am

@Raskolnik
step away from the white supremacist junk science…it will literally make you stupider.

Philosophy in the West has been a dumpster fire since Anselm of Canterbury.

#14 Comment By Seraphim On May 2, 2017 @ 5:49 am

I write as a professor of philosophy who has been active in the field for more than four decades; as the author or editor of four books, with three more under contract; as someone who is widely known and well-respected in the field; but who is also a very traditional Orthodox Christian.

These people are not representative, and the real zealots are very small in number, but they exist and are (unfortunately) tolerated. Happily, they tend to form nasty little cabals where they rage at their enemies and/or one another in marginal satellite groups to which no one else pays much attention. In a sense, they are self-quarantined.

They are also, like all ideologues, quite stupid, being blinded by arrogance and hatred and usually being not that talented to begin with, so it is not hard to speak to them if need be. All it takes is avoiding throwing down certain “red flags” to keep them from attacking, i.e. practicing the kind of subtlety and ability to redefine a problem at which a good philosopher should be adept anyway.

It is not quite right to say that normal philosophers are afraid of them. It is more like dealing with someone obviously crazy whom one encounters riding on a lonely subway car. You avoid making eye contact, and if need be make a temporary stop at the next exit. But you go about your business without giving the inconvenience too much thought. Philosophers know from the patron Socrates that freedom of thought and expression is not absolute and that often indirect communication is required to avoid either hemlock or exile.

But admittedly, if you nevertheless want to be plain-spoken and outspoken in advocating traditional Christian views, they will come after you and only a few philosophers (Robert George comes to mind) have the prestige and the skills (of intellect and of character) to take them on successfully.

Uncomfortable, but not as intolerable as it might sound.

#15 Comment By Bill Murphy On May 2, 2017 @ 5:54 am

If you’re British and of a certain age, the Monty Python Australian Philosophers’ Sketch immediately springs to mind:

[10]

Not to mention the Monty Python Philosophers’ Song and much else, which may have been the MP team’s way of getting back at their tutors at Oxford and Cambridge.
But, slightly more seriously, I wish to mention our genuine Australian philosopher here at the University of Reading, Professor David Oderberg. A few years ago Iheard him speaking at the Queen’s Head near the university, thus confirming the Monty Python link between alcohol and philosophy. He was intimately familiar with the MP sketches and also with Catholic moral teaching, to the plain consternation of some of my fellow drinkers. I should explain that this unorthodox seminar was part of a community outreach programme by the University, where serious scientific and academic topics could be explained in a relaxed atmosphere.
I heartily recommend Professor David’s writings (Google for all the serious thought you could want), if only to prove that modern philosophy is not all arcane gibberish or a weapon for social warfare.

#16 Comment By David J. White On May 2, 2017 @ 7:27 am

I have a theory that the number of syllables needed to describe a concept is directly proportional to the amount of BS stuffed into it. I’m adding this one to the pile of evidence.

Years of studying and teaching Latin and Greek have given me a great appreciation for Anglo-Saxon monosyllables.

#17 Comment By Christopher McNeely On May 2, 2017 @ 8:38 am

Once again, Mr. Dreher takes one tiny infraction and extrapolates to condemn an entire group.

#18 Comment By Raskolnik On May 2, 2017 @ 9:07 am

@Hound of Ulster

You’re an ignorant ideologue, and your days of controlling the discourse are over.

Geneticists have known “race” (statistically significant macro-scale differences in human populations, including intelligence and even [11], even/especially after accounting for socioeconomic status, with statistically significant clusters among those of African, European, Asian, Native American) is [12] and [13] since the early 2000s. More and more data comes in every day demonstrating the heritability of everything from criminal tendencies to political affiliation. There is no Blank Slate and there never was. Go read a book–I mean, something other than Harry Potter.

#19 Comment By jr On May 2, 2017 @ 9:19 am

Raskolnik, I have no idea what institution(s) you’ve garnered your experience from. Fox News University, perhaps? Oh and sure, Nietzsche was a philologist. Beyond Good and Evil is philology. Right. I think you need to read a little more of his wikipedia page.

[NFR: Hey now, I know Raskolnik personally, and I can tell you that he is far more experienced at an elite academic level than you realize. He may be wrong about this stuff from your point of view, but he is not remotely who you think he is. — RD]

#20 Comment By Deplorable Me On May 2, 2017 @ 9:27 am

Since nobody else seemed to know what it was either, I looked up deadnaming, and, to my surprise, found a definition. It sounds like something Stephen King would cook up (“The gunslinger was now completely surrounded by the deadnamed”) but it’s not. Deadnaming is the faux pas of referring to someone by the name on his birth certificate, e.g. Bruce Jenner rather than Caitlyn Jenner. Que barbaridad!

#21 Comment By TR On May 2, 2017 @ 10:45 am

Al Bundy’s favorite whipping boys–French critical theorists–never caught on in philosophy departments and “Hypatia” was created and run for years by women who felt themselves outsiders within academic philosophy.

You really need a fact checker.

[NFR: My readers are my fact checkers. — RD]

#22 Comment By alienatedlabor On May 2, 2017 @ 11:56 am

Did the author of this article bother reading the essay in question? Seems like an easy way to decide all of this, rather than wildly waving our hands around about the “intolerant left”. If the essay does in fact have the issues hypatia says, it deserves condemnation. People will write responses to it criticising it, in the way philosophy has worked for a long time now.

Philosophy is a rigorous discipline. If you want to defend Christian fundamentalism for example, you better be able to do the work arguing for it. I don’t think it’s some conspiracy or plague of liberal bias that created the political and social climate found in philosophy departments, as a philosophy undergrad. All positions are open to criticism and need to be rigorously defended. Nothing has changed. Continental philosophy is not much different and not understanding it is no excuse to criticise it.

#23 Comment By philosopher On May 2, 2017 @ 12:13 pm

I see that all of Rod’s professional philosopher fanbase is coming out of the woodwork! I guess I will add my $0.02 that, from my own perch in elite academia, it sure seems like Alex and the others are right. These people exist, but they are fairly few in number and wield almost no institutional power outside of their own academic “cabal”, as Seraphim aptly put it. But it’s sadly _not_ the case that they wield _no_ power, and they can be quite loud, and in this instance are clearly doing real damage to a junior academic. The fairly substantial online pushback is heartening to see, though.

Rod, I do think that there are two aspects of this situation that should invite a bit of re-thinking on your part. First, this seems a case study in how the online ‘buzz’ versions of stories can give a very different impression of how widespread or severe some phenomenon is, than how it really is. If we only read what bounces around on blogs and so on — and for most things, that’s all most of us can do! I don’t mean to be singling you out in this! — then the availability heuristic is going to bite us in the butt. Some stories, especially outrageous ones or otherwise attention-getting ones, will get reported, linked, and retweeted, and this will give a false but honestly acquired impression that overstates their real frequency.

Second, I wish you would take more seriously the idea that all folks on the left are not, as a matter of fact, committed to an extreme & wide-ranging version of nominalism, where all categories are up for grabs. What we see in Tuval’s critics is a group of far-left academics _who would be the ones to hold that extreme view if anyone did_, who in fact are strongly committed to rejecting that nominalism about race. The general consensus on the left is that, at least as a starting position, race and gender do not work the same way here. Tuval is arguing against that view, but that she (rightly) thinks that it would take an interesting philosophical argument to do so, just illustrates further that this is indeed the current state of play. Now, it might be that there’s something special about race in this regard, and that folks are otherwise inclined to treat all other categories as up-for-grabs, as up to the individual to decide for themselves. But really, I think the evidence substantially indicates that it’s gender that is special in this regard. Even sexuality, which is about as close to gender as you’re going to get, is not generally treated this way: the dominant view on the left, after all, is that one is “born this way”, and that there is an objective fact for any individual person at a time just what their sexuality is, to the extent that people can even be profoundly self-deceived about their sexuality.

As a matter of anthropological description — as a matter of just what is it that these people believe, perhaps subconsciously — there just isn’t a general endorsement of the version of nominalism you like to write about. There seems to be something special about gender, and attempts to theorize what (from your point of view) is wrong with these people really ought to take that as a starting point.

#24 Comment By SouthCoast On May 2, 2017 @ 12:50 pm

Swift’s Academy of Lagado, IRL. Those who do not read satire are doomed to become it.

#25 Comment By Raskolnik On May 2, 2017 @ 1:04 pm

Oh and sure, Nietzsche was a philologist

I said that Nietzsche was employed as a philologist. Which he was: that’s how he earned his bread, not by selling his books. My point was that the professionalization of philosophy is the main thing that destroyed the discipline, and I identified Nietzsche as a transitional figure because while he was employed within the university system, it was not as an “academic philosopher” (which, again, he was not).

Work on your reading comprehension. (And thanks, Rod).

#26 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 2, 2017 @ 2:30 pm

Geneticists have known “race” (statistically significant macro-scale differences in human populations, including intelligence and even brain anatomy, even/especially after accounting for socioeconomic status, with statistically significant clusters among those of African, European, Asian, Native American) is real and medically significant since the early 2000s. More and more data comes in every day demonstrating the heritability of everything from criminal tendencies to political affiliation.

Raskolnik, if you are half the informed professional that Rod tells us you are, you ought to know better than to eagerly present something “known” since a date less than 20 years ago as The Final Word on much of anything. As often happens in any academic field, or related fields, some empirics have been noted, studied, and statistically correlated which modify some of the more shallow summations popular in the previous couple of decades.

But the “cluster” effect is to some extent an imposed grid. If you shifted the grid, you would get a different set of clusters. A more accurate description would be that the human race is a vast continuum of varying capacities and qualities, presenting a rather uneven landscape.

In one sense, this should be obvious. Among Anglo-Saxons, there are significant variations. Among French people (which are themselves an amalgam of several tribes, traditions, languages, ethnicities) there are variations. If you compared various empirics for Slavs to those of south-east Asians, there would be noticeable statistical variations in different empirics.

“Race” would be a functional distinction only if EVERYONE of a given race were predictably and irreversibly over or under a given standard. The possibility that ten percent or twenty percent or thirty percent of the people dumped into this or that category in a research paper are more likely to exhibit this Good Trait or that Bad Trait leaves seventy percent who are better or worse.

I don’t just object to this in matters of “race.” I also, e.g., object to insurance companies raising rates on people with low credit scores. It may be true that there is a statistical correlation between low credit scores and higher accident rates, BUT, unless they can show that EVERY individual with a low credit score has a higher accident rate, and show the causal factors connecting the two, mere statistics are not a valid basis to impose higher rates on EVERY person with a low credit score, many of whom may be excellent safe drivers.

One thing I noticed about Murray and Hernstein’s work is that they freely acknowledged there are black geniuses and white morons. They did assert a variation in the aggregate curves, and that called into question reflexive reliance on “disparate impact” as ipso facto proof of racism in action. But otherwise, so what if the aggregate curves are a bit different?

Happily, they tend to form nasty little cabals where they rage at their enemies and/or one another in marginal satellite groups to which no one else pays much attention. In a sense, they are self-quarantined.

One of the more disturbing phenomena of this generally excellent site is an occasional tendency of our gracious host and others to open that Pandora’s box, by bringing this idiocy out of its quarantine and splashing it boldly in front of people who were doing quite well without paying it any attention.

We pay those people to produce incomprehensible babble, but supposedly we can’t find US citizens to pick lettuce. I see a simultaneous fix for both of those conditions here.

A touch of the Khmer Rouge to that proposal, but I can sympathize with the sentiment.

#27 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On May 2, 2017 @ 3:15 pm

I’ve got an idea how to solve this problem once and for all. Legally banning those who referred to themselves as “social justice warriors” from using words of Greek and Latin origin in their public discourses. Strip them of their veneer of scientism, and they gonna be looking plainly stupid.

#28 Comment By mankibus On May 2, 2017 @ 3:20 pm

I’d like to echo previous comments. I am a Christian philosopher teaching at a state university. I think your characterization of the state of philosophy misses the mark. Trends in mainstream anglophone philosophy have been in the opposite direction of much of the rest of the humanities. There’s a surprising story to be told about the rise of realist metaphysics (a recently even neo-Aristotelian metaphysics), philosophy of religion, and Christian philosophy. There are orthodoxies–like naturalism–that dominate most research programs within the field. Yet it is possible today to make a career out of questioning those orthodoxies as it is has been in a long time.

I too find your use of an image of New Guineans confusing and unfair to a people I grew up with. Given the title of the article, I suppose the image is intended to depict cannibals. Instead the picture probably represents a celebration, like a wedding or peace ceremony. Images can probably be found of Melanesian warriors preparing for battle–though now machine guns are used, not bows and arrows, which are used for hunting. The message conveyed to me by this image is that compared to those irrational academics we conservatives are free to ignorantly insult and misrepresent other people groups at will. How very reasonable of you.

#29 Comment By Ken Zaretzke On May 2, 2017 @ 4:33 pm

“I wish to mention our genuine Australian philosopher here at the University of Reading, Professor David Oderberg”

Yes, he’s outstanding. Pro-lifers might especially like his chapter on “Life” in *Real Essentialism*. Oderberg is harshly critical of the new natural lawyers such as John Finnis and Robert George. [14]

That essay originally appeared in a book on natural law with a lead essay by then-Cardinal Ratzinger. IMHO, this says a lot about the suicidal dependence of conservatives on the Robert George argument against same-sex marriage. In a way, Ratzinger (Pope Benedict) agreed with Justice Anthony Kennedy about that argument. Anthony Kennedy is not a dope. I’m willing to bet he was aware of how the NNL’s departures from classical natural law were such as to increase moral uncertainty, not decrease it.

#30 Comment By russ On May 2, 2017 @ 5:15 pm

@M_Young:

“discursive transmisogynistic violence”

I saw…no, must not give in…

[NFR: I know! I thought the same thing. — RD]

@Adamant:

I saw Deadname open up for Electric Wizard back in 2010. Best show ever.

Have you guys ever listened to Critical Race Theory’s first album, Friends and Colleagues in Feminist Philosophy?

Just listen to this review in Rolling Stone: “[Songwriter and Vocalist] Tuvel enacts violence and perpetuates harm in numerous ways throughout…”

#31 Comment By russ On May 2, 2017 @ 5:22 pm

@philosopher:

…the dominant view on the left, after all, is that one is “born this way”, and that there is an objective fact for any individual person at a time just what their sexuality is, to the extent that people can even be profoundly self-deceived about their sexuality.

Is this the dominant view? I think it was fairly recently, but things have been changing so fast I’m unconvinced that there really is a dominant coherent view right now, hence the battle.

#32 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 2, 2017 @ 5:47 pm

“Hm. We pay those people to produce incomprehensible babble, but supposedly we can’t find US citizens to pick lettuce. I see a simultaneous fix for both of those conditions here.”

They called that Khemer Rouge.

#33 Comment By redfish On May 2, 2017 @ 5:49 pm

the use of methodologies which take up important social and political phenomena in dehistoricized and decontextualized ways, thus neglecting to address and take seriously the ways in which those phenomena marginalize and commit acts of violence upon actual persons

Sounds pretty hypocritical, since they’re trying to marginalize and commit “violence” (in their terms) on Prof. Tuval.

#34 Comment By catbird On May 2, 2017 @ 7:53 pm

“It is not quite right to say that normal philosophers are afraid of them. It is more like dealing with someone obviously crazy whom one encounters riding on a lonely subway car. You avoid making eye contact, and if need be make a temporary stop at the next exit. But you go about your business without giving the inconvenience too much thought.”

What a great image. As a teenager I rode the subway a lot and had a number of such incidents. It used to bother me a bit that crazy people could flout standards without anyone imposing order. A bit, occasionally more than a bit, but never enormously. And social order did not collapse.

When I read your comments about academia, I do indeed feel that you are like a stranger viewing such an interaction on a late night subway train, and predicting that if the sane people are so terrified of the crazy people that they won’t intervene to stand up for the rules–why then this city is on the verge of destruction.

#35 Comment By Gus Nelson On May 2, 2017 @ 9:53 pm

I’m probably over my head on this one but I’ll offer two simplistic observations: first, getting so specialized has its drawbacks – hate to be at a party with any of these folks – you wonder if any of them could even talk about broader topics of interest, like, oh, I don’t know – will Korea get a nuke and hit Hawaii? Second, I think Rod is actually onto something about cannibalization – when words you don’t like become “violence” where else can the discussion go?

#36 Comment By Caroline walker On May 3, 2017 @ 9:44 am

Steeping young hearts and minds in what is empty and false since 1968!

#37 Comment By russ On May 3, 2017 @ 11:35 am

@Siarlys:

One of the more disturbing phenomena of this generally excellent site is an occasional tendency of our gracious host and others to open that Pandora’s box, by bringing this idiocy out of its quarantine and splashing it boldly in front of people who were doing quite well without paying it any attention.

Yes, well, one can find it helpful to know what the likes of Westboro Baptist are up to, while recognizing that the Orthodox Presbyterian Congregation down the street isn’t necessarily in the same category. Likewise, I read Rod’s post about the lunacy that IS present within certain elitist academic institutions and fields, without thinking that ALL academics (even in those institutions and fields) act this way.

#38 Comment By philosopher On May 3, 2017 @ 12:38 pm

@russ – I’m referring to the millions of folks who are on the left side of the political spectrum, and not just the handful of “critical theory” academic lefties. Overwhelmingly, I think, the popular view here is the “born this way” one. You can find some vocal proponents in the academic left, for something like the alternative view that it is somehow a matter of choice. But that idea doesn’t seem to have any popular support at all, and indeed it seems to me that even among the professorate at large, it is a minority view.

This actually holds of the “nominalism” stuff more generally: you can certainly find _some_ radical sorts of postmodernists who want to argue that all of our categories are up for grabs. So it’s not a straw man, exactly. Nonetheless, it just isn’t really much of a factor in the culture at large. There is something else going on, with people’s attitudes about sex and gender

#39 Comment By TheDudeDiogenes On May 3, 2017 @ 1:53 pm

Just thought I’d note that many philosophers (see [15]), and [16] [17] are objecting to the sort of nonsense highlighted here.

#40 Comment By philosopher On May 3, 2017 @ 7:29 pm

Now that we see just how many professional philosophers are readers of this blog, someone needs to start a “Philosophers Arguing For, Against, About, and in the Vicinity of Rod Dreher: Debate & Brisket Appreciation Society”.

[NFR: I made brisket this week! It was delicious. It always is. This time, I found some fancy Maldon sea salt in the pantry, and used that on it when it came to the table. Oh, man… . — RD]

#41 Comment By Socrates On May 7, 2017 @ 12:34 am

Dreher is right. The pc, sjw revolution, like all the others, eats its young.

#42 Comment By Eric Rasmusen On May 23, 2017 @ 12:47 pm

Reader Seraphim: You’re right that academic philosophy is mostly in good shape, even though crazies exist. But don’t dismiss the crazies. They took over English and History. They’re good at politics, entirely without scruples, persistent, and convinced that driving out alternative viewpoints is their major purpose in life.
Has anyone written on the takeover of History and English? The process must have been interesting. We can add Law to that too, perhaps.

#43 Comment By Becca On May 31, 2017 @ 9:47 pm

There is a lovely petition circulating these day which addresses the madness of this issue head on

[18]