Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

The Bankruptcy Of Grievance Studies

Three heroic academics make a mockery of scholarly Social Justice Warriors
Image_1 - PhotoCredit-MikeNayna

You have GOT to read this, from Quillette!  It starts with this editor’s note:

Editor’s note: For the past year scholars James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian have sent fake papers to various academic journals which they describe as specialising in activism or “grievance studies.” Their stated mission has been to expose how easy it is to get “absurdities and morally fashionable political ideas published as legitimate academic research.”

To date, their project has been successful: seven papers have passed through peer review and have been published, including a 3000 word excerpt of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, rewritten in the language of Intersectionality theory and published in the Gender Studies journal Affilia.

Quillette publishes the response of five academics to the scandal. Here’s the first one, from Oxford philosopher Nathan Cofnas:

Twenty years ago, Alan Sokal called postmodernism “fashionable nonsense.” Today, postmodernism isn’t a fashion—it’s our culture. A large proportion of the students at elite universities are now inducted into this cult of hate, ignorance, and pseudo-philosophy. Postmodernism is the unquestioned dogma of the literary intellectual class and the art establishment. It has taken over most of the humanities and some of the social sciences, and is even making inroads in STEM fields. It threatens to melt all of our intellectual traditions into the same oozing mush of political slogans and empty verbiage.

Postmodernists pretend to be experts in what they call “theory.” They claim that, although their scholarship may seem incomprehensible, this is because they are like mathematicians or physicists: they express profound truths in a way that cannot be understood without training. Lindsay, Boghossian, and Pluckrose expose this for the lie that it is. “Theory” is not real. Postmodernists have no expertise and no profound understanding.

Critics of Sokal point out that his paper was never subjected to peer review, and they say it was unfair to expect the editors of Social Text to spot errors concerning math and science. This time there are no excuses. LBP’s papers were fully peer reviewed by leading journals. The postmodernist experts showed that they had no ability to distinguish scholarship grounded in “theory” from deliberate nonsense and faulty reasoning mixed in with hate directed at the disfavored race (white) and sex (“cis” male).

King Solomon said of the fool: “His talk begins as foolishness and ends as evil madness” (Ecclesiastes 10:13). Can a disregard for evidence, logic, and open inquiry combined with a burning hatred for large classes of people perceived as political opponents (“racists,” “sexists,” “homophobes,” “transphobes,” etc.) possibly lead to a good result? The editors and peer reviewers who handled LBP’s papers have revealed their true, vicious attitudes.

The flagship feminist philosophy journal, Hypatia, accepted a paper (not yet published online) arguing that social justice advocates should be allowed to make fun of others, but no one should be permitted to make fun of them. The same journal invited resubmission of a paper arguing that “privileged students shouldn’t be allowed to speak in class at all and should just listen and learn in silence,” and that they would benefit from “experiential reparations” that include “sitting on the floor, wearing chains, or intentionally being spoken over.” The reviewers complained that this hoax paper took an overly compassionate stance toward the “privileged” students who would be subjected to this humiliation, and recommended that they be subjected to harsher treatment. Is asking people of a certain race to sit on the floor in chains better than asking them to wear a yellow star? What exactly is this leading to?

Here’s part of the response from Neema Parvini, who teaches English:

Where some of us might see Niccolò Machiavelli, Francis Bacon, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Rene Descartes, or David Hume palpably struggling with the deepest questions of political philosophy or epistemology, Cixious or Greene see only dead white men. What they say matters less to them than who was saying it. Thus, the competing systems of knowledge that came out of the Enlightenment – rationalism and empiricism – are both always-already tainted as “products of the patriarchy.” It has been the explicit goal of post-modernity to reject reason and evidence: they want a “new paradigm” of knowledge. Should it come as any surprise to us, then, that their journals will publish explicit nonsense such as the papers authored by Lindsay, Pluckrose and Boghossian?

Another academic warns: “What happens on campus doesn’t stay on campus.”

Read the whole thing.

Helen Pluckrose explains at length what she and her co-conspirators were up to.

Here’s a video from Lindsay, Pluckrose, and Boghossian, explaining their project. It’s delightful:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVk9a5Jcd1k]

In the video, Lindsay, as the narrator, says that in analyzing the fields of Grievance Studies, they found that the intellectual architecture undergirding all of it is essentially religious, with “privilege” replacing “sin” or “evil.”

“What appears beyond dispute is that making absurd and horrible ideas sufficiently politically fashionable can get them validated at the highest levels of academic Grievance Studies,” he says.

“My collaborators and I are left-wing academics who can say, with confidence: These people don’t speak for us.”

In a press release, the three scholars say:

Because the scholarship we infiltrated represents a view that currently has a great deal of cultural power (though very little political power, at least in the United States in most districts), and because that power is nearly absolute within the universities (and seems to be going that way in media and many businesses, including large corporations), one conclusion this project provides is a permission slip for academics and others to openly doubt the scholarship that seems to legitimize and institutionalize these conclusions as factual.

Because this is just one project, however, with limited scope and duration, we want it to be a starting point to a proper and thorough review of the fields, journals, disciplines, and scholarship that has allowed this to be possible.

Here’s a link to the fake papers they submitted successfully to Grievance Studies journals.

I love this quote from the paper on humping at dog parks that was published in a journal of “feminist geography”:

This kind of analysis is valuable on three counts. First, it enables a deeper understanding of human interaction with their own species and the deeply entrenched systems of gendered, racial, and homophobic oppression often concealed beneath layers of discursively constructed norms which enable their perpetuation. Second, it defamiliarizes our understanding of dog interaction and denial of moral significance and reveals ways in which humans are complicit in perpetuating similar systems of oppression within dog culture and animal spaces which intersect with our own. Third, it forces us to confront realities of oppression and violence within public spaces and to consider their gendered reality and the means by which we perpetuate those problems, inviting us to reconsider dog parks through feminist and animal geography as emancipatory rather than oppressive spaces. It therefore forces us to confront and unpack our own biases and assumptions about humans, animals, and spaces while considering those of dogs living alongside humans and thus allows us to extend our work for social justice towards the oppressed dog while de-masculinizing, thus improving, urban public spaces.

Consequently, I examine the following questions, which are underdeveloped within intersectional animal/feminist literature: (1) How do human discourses of rape culture get mapped onto dogs’ sexual encounters at dog parks; particularly, how do companions manage, contribute, and respond to ‘dog rape culture’? (2) What issues surround queer performativity and human reaction to homosexual sex between and among dogs? and (3) Do dogs suffer oppression based upon (perceived) gender.

Here is the conclusion to a paper that argues for using dildos to penetrate the rear ends of politically incorrect straight men, to cure them of their troglodytic attitudes:

In conclusion, this qualitative study suggests that men who report greater comfort with receptive penetrative anal eroticism also report less transphobia, less obedience to masculine gender norms, greater partner sensitivity, and potentially greater awareness about rape. Particularly, unwillingness to engage in receptive penetrative anal eroticism seems to arise most commonly (especially in straight men) alongside masculinity features such as heteronormativity, hegemonic masculinity, and trans/homohysteria. This seems to mark a penis-centered limitation to inclusive masculinity and may represent an inherent tension between hegemonic and inclusive masculinity that may relate to political orientation. Particularly from this data, transphobia and transhysteria in straight men exhibit such a close thematic relationship to receptivity to penetrative anal eroticism that intentional anal penetration in “safe” environments may remediate them.

Finally, here is a portion of a paper published by a feminist journal in which the majority of the paper is the authors rewriting Hitler’s Mein Kampf in feminist/intersectional language:

Second, then, in creating solidarity for overcoming oppression, sacrifices will be necessary, and, though we must remain aware of the real and material barriers feminists and others may face that limit their potential for activism, no accessible sacrifice that abnegates neoliberalism should be considered too great. As Ferguson (2010, p. 251) remarks, Feminists need to publicly make judgments about personal matters sex, “ — career decisions, dress and makeup, power in intimate relationships because reimagining our personal — lives is an essential component to a feminist reimagining of the world we share. Whatever compromises” are made by neoliberal feminists for the causes of oppressed people, they do not stand in significant proportion against the potential gain of those oppressed, including women, if oppression is considerably remedied. Only myopic selfishness, as often arises in neoliberal and choice-centered contexts, can forward individual autonomy over collective autonomy and thus prevent understanding that genuine liberation requires achieving liberation for all. This cannot occur unless, through right allyship and solidarity, feminism can be solidified internally first.

Put another way, if more feminists had, rather than becoming distracted by seductions of choice, the baubles of neoliberalism, or male approval, implacably guarded the interests of oppressed people—especially those dominated by racism, colonialism, imperialism, ableism, homophobia, classism, and all other manners of oppression that intersect with feminism and if in matters of remaking society more — feminists had avowed only their commitment against all oppressions with equal intensity as they defended their will to female choice, and if with equal firmness they had demanded justice for all those oppressed by systems of power (cf. hooks, 2000), today we would very likely have equality. And how exiguous all concessions to this choice-based pet project or that neoliberal aim even the greatest among them would have been as compared against the greater importance of disrupting oppressive systems of dominance. Ultimately, a feminism that hopes to overthrow oppression by remaking society in a way that is free of it, however unrealistic that ideal may be in practice, must apprehend that making sacrifices of choice, individual autonomy, and opportunity are of minor importance so long as they imperil the opportunity for others to be freed from oppression.

In other words, the paper calls on feminists to destroy individual liberty for the sake of liberating oppressed collective groups, and blames those who insist on individuality as obstacles on the road to utopia. The scholars rewrote part of Chapter 12 from Volume I of Mein Kampf. Here’s part of the Intersectional Hitler’s tome that you can see in the above rewriting:

From a tactical standpoint a number of demands resulted from this.

(1) To win the masses for a national resurrection, no social sacrifice is too great.

Whatever economic concessions are made to our working class today, they stand in no proportion to the gain for the entire nation if they help to give the broad masses back to their nation. Only pigheaded short-sightedness, such as is often unfortunately found in our employer circles, can fail to recognize that in the long run there can be no economic upswing for them and hence no economic profit, unless the inner national solidarity of our people is restored.

If during the War the German unions had ruthlessly guarded the interests of the working class, if even during the War they had struck a thousand times over and forced approval of the demands of the workers they represented on the dividend-hungry employers of those days; but if in matters of national defense they had avowed their Germanism with the same fanaticism; and if with equal ruthlessness they had given to the fatherland that which is the fatherland’s, the War would not have been lost. And how trifling all economic concessions, even the greatest, would have been, compared to the immense importance of winning the War!

Thus a movement which plans to give the German worker back to the German people must clearly realize that in this question economic sacrifices are of no importance whatever as long as the preservation and independence of the national economy are not threatened by them.

(2) The national education of the broad masses can only take place indirectly through a social uplift, since thus exclusively can those general economic premises be created which permit the individual to partake of the cultural goods of the nation.

(3) The nationalization of the broad masses can never be achieved by half-measures, by weakly emphasizing a so-called objective standpoint, but only by a ruthless and fanatically one-sided orientation toward the goal to be achieved. That is to say, a people cannot be made ‘national’ in the sense understood by our present-day bourgeoisie, meaning with so and so many limitations, but only nationalistic with the entire vehemence that is inherent in the extreme. Poison is countered only by an antidote, and only the shallowness of a bourgeois mind can regard the middle course as the road to heaven.

The authors of the fake paper explain their purpose here:

That we could find Theory to make anything (in this case, part of Chapter 12 of Volume 1 of Mein Kampf with buzzwords switched in) acceptable to journals if we put it in terms of politically fashionable arguments and existing scholarship. Of note, while the original language and intent of Mein Kampf has been significantly changed to make this paper publishable and about feminism, the reliance upon the politics of grievance remains clear, helping to justify our use of the term “grievance studies” for these fields.

What James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian have accomplished here is heroic. They have revealed the sham that is Grievance Studies. And, as the Quillette reactions show, the claims made by Grievance Studies scholars have great impact elsewhere in the university, and are spreading into business, journalism, and other areas.

It’s mostly a politico-religious ploy. It has to be resisted, fiercely. Fight the power! One great thing about the ingenious Lindsay-Pluckrose-Boghossian prank is that none of them are conservatives; all three are left-liberals who care more about truth than about ideological warfare. And they’re sick and tired of the bullying.