## Should I join Heterodox Academy?

Happy new year, everyone!

An anonymous commenter wrote:

Scott, you seem to admire Steven Pinker, you had problems with SJW attacks for your now famous comment 171 and, if I remember well, you said you have some “heterodox” ideas that you think it’s dangerous to make public.  [Actually, I’m not sure I ever said that—indeed, if it were true, why would I say it? 🙂 –SA ]  Why aren’t you in the Heterodox Academy? Didn’t you know about it?

Heterodox Academy is an organisation of professors, adjunct professors, post-docs and graduate students who are for freedom of speech, founded by Steven Pinker, Jonathan Haidt and a few other academics, and now has over 1000 members.

(I’m not a member, because I’m not an academic or graduate student, but I sympathize very much with their fight to protect freedom of thought.)

By coincidence, just last week I was looking at the Heterodox Academy website, and thinking about joining.  But then I got put off by the “pledge” for new members:

“I believe that university life requires that people with diverse viewpoints and perspectives encounter each other in an environment where they feel free to speak up and challenge each other. I am concerned that many academic fields and universities currently lack sufficient viewpoint diversity—particularly political diversity. I will support viewpoint diversity in my academic field, my university, my department, and my classroom.”

For some reason, I’m allergic to joining any organization that involves a pledge, even if it’s a pledge that I completely agree with.  And in this case, maybe the issue goes a bit deeper.  My central concern, with university life, is that academics share a baseline commitment to Enlightenment norms and values: e.g., to freedom of speech, reason, empiricism, and judging arguments by their merits rather than by the speaker’s identity.  These are the norms that I’d say enabled the scientific revolution, and that are still the fundamental preconditions for intellectual inquiry.

A diversity of viewpoints is often a good diagnostic for Enlightenment norms, but it’s not the central issue, and is neither necessary nor sufficient.  For example, I don’t care if academia lacks “viewpoint diversity” in the UFO, creationism, or birther debates.  Nor do I care if the spectrum of ideas that gets debated in academia is radically different from the spectrum debated in the wider society.  Indeed, I don’t even know that it’s mathematically possible to satisfy everyone on that count: for example, a representative sampling of American political opinions might strike a European, or a Bay Area resident, as bizarrely clustered in one or two corners of idea-space, and the reverse might be equally true.

More pointedly—and bear with me as I invent a bizarre hypothetical—if some sort of delusional, autocratic thug managed to take control of the United States: someone who promoted unhinged conspiracy theories; whose whole worldview were based on the overwhelming of facts, reason, reality, and even linguistic coherence by raw strength and emotion; whose every word and deed were diametrically opposed to any conceivable vision of the mission of a university—in such an extreme case, I’d hope that American academia would speak with one voice against the enveloping darkness, just as I would’ve hoped German academia would speak with one voice in 1933 (it didn’t).  When Enlightenment norms themselves are under assault, those norms are consistent with a unified response.

Readers: what do you think?  In the comments, give me your best argument for why I should or shouldn’t join Heterodox Academy.  Feel free to call my attention to anything the organization has been up to; my research has been less than comprehensive.  I’ll credit the most convincing argument(s) when I make a decision.  Like, not that it’s especially consequential either way, but if commenters here are going to argue anyway, we might as well make something actually hinge on it…

### 189 Responses to “Should I join Heterodox Academy?”

1. Sniffnoy Says:

Well said! I think this is exactly the issue.

One note though, I do think it’s a mistake to view the leftists you’re talking about as “the illiberal wing of liberalism”. These people simply are not a wing of liberalism; if you project everything onto a particular one-dimensional axis that many people are used to using, one oriented around the major American political parties, then it may look like that, but to do this is a mistake. I’d say more on this (as I have here before) but I don’t have time at the moment.

2. Ash Says:

I can’t tell you whether to join Heterodox Academy or not, but let me ask some questions I’ve long had as layman, citizen, taxpayer.

If you see a professor, or a department, that is not upholding enlightenment values, whose teaching, research, classroom behavior, violates enlightenment values, what is your duty to the academy, to students, to society to call that professor or department out?

It seems that the academy, in the name of academic freedom, demands that society layoff professor’s research, teaching behaviors, speech, etc.

Pay our salaries, ignore our behavior, ignore what you think is shoddy research, pay our salary, and that’s academic freedom.

But I don’t know how the academy can demand that without saying “don’t worry, we will police our own” and that’s what I don’t see happening on campus.

I apologize if this is not germane to your question, or if you think I am building strawmen, but that is my honest perception.

When I read about what occurred at Evergreen, when I read of “autoethnography” used as the research basis of a Ph.D dissertation, I wonder, where are the STEM faculty, and the anthropology emiriti to ask how is this valid research?

When I read of professors tweeting out “All I want for Christmas is white genocide”, blaming all white people for the Las Vegas shooting, and actively performing on twitter his derision of many groups, I wonder where are the other faculty?

How is it that his tweets are defended by the AAUP as part of academic freedom?

Who is to stand up for the students in his class who are members of the groups he derides?

Why would such a student feel he will be graded fairly in class?

So that’s my question.

If you don’t wish to join heterodox academy, fine. But tell me how layman, taxpayers, society, should understand the feedback loop that keeps the academy on course.

3. 895158 Says:

When people advocate for “viewpoint diversity,” I often respond that diversity trades off against truth. That is, the more diverse your community’s viewpoints, the less truthful the average viewpoint might be, at least past some diversity threshold.

I wonder whether we can gain some insight from modeling this formally. Start with a one-dimensional model: suppose the truth was some point X on the real line. And suppose your community’s views are clustered around a different point Y, hopefully not too far from X. What you get to control is the “diversity” of your community, i.e. the variance of the distribution of opinions (the mean always stays at Y; you don’t know X). Let’s assume the distribution of opinions is Normal, N(Y,sigma^2), and you want to pick sigma to maximize the probability mass of X under this distribution.

What’s the best choice for the “diversity” sigma? Naturally, it depends on the distance between X and Y, that is, on your community’s bias relative to the truth (in the above setting, I think the optimum is literally sigma=|X-Y|). If you think the community’s viewpoints are close to the truth, you should want less diversity; if you think it is far from the truth, you should want more diversity. In some sense it is a trivial conclusion, but it does predict the type of people who care a lot about diversity in different communities.

What happens if you are not sure about the distance between X and Y (though perhaps you have some prior over it)? In that case, the desired diversity level depends not only on your expectation for |X-Y|, but also on your “risk tolerance,” i.e. how you weigh a small chance of being very wrong versus a large chance of being a little wrong. Are the worlds in which only one faculty member is close to the truth 10 times worse than the worlds in which 10 faculty members are close to the truth? More than 10 times worse? Less than 10 times worse?

4. amy Says:

Pledges, feh! Also, I’m sure that if I hung out with them on the reg I’d start calling them Heterodyne Academy by accident. Which on reflection sounds like a better idea anyhow. Maybe you should suggest it. Maybe I should suggest it! Neh, the whole thing sounds boring.

Since this new year doesn’t promise to be particularly happy, I’ve been wishing friends a good endurance instead, with courage and warmth and something also resembling perspective and the understanding that times like this don’t last forever.

Ash: who keeps the list of EnlightmentValues(TM)?

5. someone Says:

#2 Ash, what is Evergreen and what happened?
You seem to be confused about a few things. How as a laymen, citizen, taxpayer are you paying their salaries? Maybe you are a student, or a parent of a student? You didn’t mention that in your list. Do you mean as a taxpayer? Many universities are private, but anyway saying you pay the salary of a public school professor just because you are a taxpayer is silly. It’s equally valid to say you pay the salary of many people, like politicians good and bad, or policemen who shoot dead innocent people, or policemen who don’t shoot dead innocent people.
Professors have the same right to tweet trash as non-professors. They have the same right to freedom of speech as any other human. No more, no less. I don’t actually believe in uncontrolled freedom of speech, but it has to be equal for all. What does tweeting have to do with being a professor? Maybe you only read professors’ tweets? You can also read non-professors’ tweets, or ignore everybody’s tweets.

6. Greg Says:

You should join HA because that thing you talked about in the Kolmogorov Option. You know where people join forces to take a stand? That’s what that is. It’s a group championing liberalism that will protect you, and you will protect them.

It should be clear our society survives on an intellectual equilibrium that is being torn apart by extremes. Help us patch it up Scott before it’s too late. HNY!

7. Ken Miller Says:

Hi Scott, You’re right, don’t join. ‘Diversity of political viewpoints’ means we need to represent those who lie to serve the greedy elements of the rich and powerful as well as those who search for the truth regardless of the interests of power. You can see the problem in Haidt’s article too — the extremism of the Republican Party, which has tremendous power, holds every branch of gov’t, and is doing so many things to destroy the country, to give the greedy side of the rich what they paid for, to leave the powerless on their own, and to stir up race hatred; and the extremism of some basically powerless college kids at a small number of colleges whose outrage at injustice leads them to crazy intolerance; these two are equal threats to our democracy? We don’t need affirmative action for Republicans. Republicans, like Democrats or Socialists or anyone else, should enter the academy because they are good scholars, because they excel at using and developing the methods of seeking truth to discover new things or new understandings, not because they represent a political viewpoint that is not well represented in the academy. We don’t need to counter those who use scientific methods to understand climate change with those who, due to politics, reject climate change. Diversity of political viewpoint as a principle is antithetical to academic standards. There should be neither artificially imposed uniformity nor artificially imposed diversity of political viewpoint.

8. Ken Miller Says:

One other thing. If you look at the article in Brain and Behavioral Sciences that the heterodox academy said was at the root of their founding — it treats the fact that the % of researchers in Social Psychology that vote Republican has gone way down since 1990, as prima facie evidence that political diversity in the field has been lost (see Fig. 1 of the paper). This assumes that “Republican” meant the same thing in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s as it does now — that the change is in Social Psychology, rather than in the Republican Party becoming more and more extremist and anti-reality. This assumption that both sides are equal, this refusal to notice that one side, the Republicans, has become an extreme and dangerous party, is just dangerously wrong-headed, but that seems to be the assumption on which the Heterodox Academy is founded.

9. Ashley Says:

But does not all what you said just imply that you should not join?

You said a diversity of viewpoints is not a NECESSARY diagnostic for Enlightenment norms. But then it is a part of their pledge that you be concerned with this diagnostic (but it is the Enlightenment norms that you are concerned about, precisely). So you would be joining a group who has a pledge that you DON’T completely agree with.

10. Ashley Says:

Remember, it is a pledge. The emphases matter.

11. Jay L Gischer Says:

Ash #2 You say that it seems that the academy demands that society layoff shoddy research, among other things.

There’s no polite way to say this, but the academy runs on peer review, which is to say, it the opinion of other academics that counts as to whether research is shoddy or not, and not the opinion of the general public, and in particular, the opinion of politicians.

This is a very necessary thing for the academy to function. You can basically make anyone look stupid and shoddy by quoting a line from one of their papers, because science, for one thing, often engages in proving things that seem obvious to the layman, for instance.

I think the academy very much is accountable to the public for general behavior, though, and criminal activity, for instance, is one of the few things that can get a tenured professor fired.

I don’t really have an opinion vz. Heterodox Academy, though.

12. Ron Says:

Diversity of opion, and it cousin diversity of fact only works if all parties involved are acting in good faith towards the enlightenment ideal of finding the truth. Bad actors can game the system by putting out a large number of flawed arguments with little to know merit which then all need to be addressed on an individual basis, and it’s more work to debunk a bad idea than it is to present on. You see this a lot with conspiracy types and creationist.

At any rate the issue underlying the problems we see in academia and the media and politics has nothing to do with diversity and everything to do with the erosion of trust. If you can’t trust those you disagree with to be making an host effort to seek the truth as opposed to pushing their own agenda then it’s rational not to engage with them.

13. rob c Says:

Scott,
I think your instincts are right…a pledge is not a good idea. However, the benefit of joining could outweigh the downside of the pledge, and only you can decide that.
rob

14. Ash Says:

Jay #11

I think there is plenty of evidence peer review is failing.

There is the replication crisis, there is the increasing use of autoethnography in ph.d. dissertations, there are the ridiculous studies pointed out by @realpeerreview, there is the enormous sexism and racism now present throughout the academy but spread by the various identity politics and studies departments. Just google peer review broken. And of course the Sokal hoax.

Those are the sorts of research that a diversity of viewpoints in the academy might push back against.

Failing that, taxpayers do fund most of this research, and most of this research is claimed to be done for the benefit of society.

If there is strong evidence that the sole feedback mechanism that the academy admits has failed, why would society fund the experiment any longer?

I do think there are other feedback mechanisms, or were at some point, but that’s why I ask, what duty does a STEM professor have or any professor, when they see other departments go wildly skew to protest against it? What can they actually do? If the answer is nothing, then again, the contract is broken.

I think sometime last year we heard Scott say that something X was happening, and he felt the best way to deal with it at this moment in time was to keep his head down. Now, that’s probably a terrible misrepresentation of what happened, and badly insults Scott, for which I apologize, but when you have a university faculty of hundreds or thousands and yet they all are keeping their heads down, for fear of getting them chopped off, well, where’s the academic freedom in that!?

Why should society fund that? In fact, society refusing to fund that and giving reasons probably supports the faculty who find this to be troubling times.

If the feedback mechanism is broken, then the fundamental contract, “give us academic freedom and we’ll police ourselves” is broken.

And I think this is related to viewpoint diversity. There are huge assumptions made and terrible arguments made in academia and no one to push back.

More practically, if undergraduates are attending for 4 – 6 years and coming out and having no idea of how they will find a job with their new degree and saddled with a hundred thousand dollars in debt, … the university is broken.

I think these are aspects of what the Heterodox academy is about.

At some point, Scott’s hypothetical, delusional, autocratic thug in control of the United States, or the party he represents is going to put a bill forth to make graduate students pay taxes on their tuition waivers, … and the taxpayers who see their kids graduating colleges with no jobs and burdened with debt and seeing a lot of the campus craziness each night on the news might just go along.

15. Shecky R Says:

I don’t like pledges either, but would lean slightly toward joining to make a statement about academic freedom — you can always UN-join (I suppose) if things don’t proceed as desired.
I spent most of my adult life voter-registered as an Independent. And deep down, still feel I’m independent, but when I last moved, I registered as a Democrat because I can’t foresee ever voting for a Republican in my life. Now I’m assured of voting in Dem. primaries and other Democratic discussions. I certainly don’t consider myself 100% Democrat, but as “rob c” says above the benefit of joining seemed to outweigh any downside.

16. Ash Says:

Someone #5

> Many universities are private, but anyway saying you pay the salary of a public school professor just because you are a taxpayer is silly. It’s equally valid to say you pay the salary of many people, like politicians good and bad, or policemen who shoot dead innocent people, or policemen who don’t shoot dead innocent people.

Police and politicians are subject to various forms of oversight from citizens and taxpayers. The academy says “no way” we want our academic freedom.

My assumption, perhaps wrong, is that in graduate school, almost everything is paid for by grant.

As Berkeley says:
https://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/who_pays

> Who pays for science?

> Today, we all do. Most scientific research is funded by government grants (e.g., from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, etc.), companies doing research and development, and non-profit foundations (e.g., the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, etc.).

> The US government spends more than other countries on military R&D, although the proportion has fallen from around 30% in the 1980s to under 20.[citation needed] Government funding for medical research amounts to approximately 36% in the U.S. The government funding proportion in certain industries is higher, and it dominates research in social science and humanities.

It’s taxpayers all the way down.

> Professors have the same right to tweet trash as non-professors. They have the same right to freedom of speech as any other human. No more, no less. I don’t actually believe in uncontrolled freedom of speech, but it has to be equal for all. What does tweeting have to do with being a professor? Maybe you only read professors’ tweets? You can also read non-professors’ tweets, or ignore everybody’s tweets.

For most of us, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, but professors can tweet racist trash and shield themselves with *academic freedom*.

17. Jeffo Says:

Loss of “viewpoint diversity” is a problem for the 1% of academia.

I, like most university faculty, am overworked, underpaid, and dealing with an administration that actively works against my ability to uphold academic standards. My students are poorly prepared for success and highly focused on receiving a credential with a minimal application of effort. In this context, the idea of even having a political opinion that can be expressed meaningfully is risible. We are cogs in a machine that churns out diplomas.

18. Steve Herb Says:

I would go with the intuition on pledges. I avoid pledges because they make me feel dishonest, regardless of their content. It may also be better to respond to individual cases than to sign up for general principles.

19. Scott Says:

Jeffo #17:

In this context, the idea of even having a political opinion that can be expressed meaningfully is risible.

I’m really sorry about how badly things suck at your university, but I’m genuinely curious: why does that make the idea of having a political opinion “risible”? Historically, poor working conditions and political engagement often went hand in hand…

20. John Sidles Says:

This comment (and comments to follow) will present to Shtetl Optimized (SO) readers, first some scholarly references, then concrete career opportunities in four SO-relevant areas:

• computational simulation of quantum dynamics
• gravitational wave astronomy
• Quantum Supremacy–(anti)theses & syntheses
• transdiagnostic psychiatry and neuroscience

With reference to the Heterodox Academy’s website-statement of “the problem”, “research”, and “solutions”, the references provided (below), and especially the career opportunities associated to those references, will affirm the following thesis:

Resolved (for purposes of SI debate): The Heterodox Academy’s problem statement is inadequate to 21st century challenges; its cited research is deficient in method and scope; and its proposed solutions are — for young people especially — substantially irrelevant to scientific, moral, economic, and political opportunities.

Before considering career opportunities, it’s a good idea to follow Tony Zee’s advice and study history.

Two references that speak cogently and foresightedly (as it seems to me) to emerging career opportunities for young people are (1) J. Thomas Cook’s “Spinoza and the Plasticity of Mind” (Studia Spinozana, 1998, text here), and (2) Susan James’ “Freedom and Nature: A Spinozist Invitation” (108th Presidential Address, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 2016, text here, audio here).

Here are some excerpts, first from Cook and then from James, which are presented to establish (in a nutshell) that Cook asks well-Enlightened questions, to which James suggests well-Enlighted answers.

Cook’s essay begins:

In the opening pages of the TIE [the ] and in the opening sentences of Part 2 of the Ethics, Spinoza makes it clear that the high road to human blessedness goes by way of knowledge of the mind. But the phrase “knowledge of the mind” is ambiguous in its scope. It might refer to a general understanding of the nature, structure, and dynamics of the human mind — in short, a scientific psychology. Or it might refer to an individual’s knowledge of his/her own mind — informed, of course, by theoretical understanding, but focused on oneself as a specific instance. It is clear, I think, that Spinoza intends both of these. To attain blessedness, in Spinoza’s terms, one must have a theoretical understanding of the human mind in general, and one must be able to comprehend the nature and activities of one’s own mind in terms that reflect that theoretical understanding.

Nowadays psychologists and philosophers of mind do not normally expect to achieve beatitude as a result of their studies. But even without that incentive the effort to understand the mind is as vital and active today as it has ever been. And some theorists do ask what it would be like to not only possess a well-developed scientific understanding of the mind, but to employ that theory in thinking about — and even in experiencing — one’s own mental life. Could that be done? How might that change our perspectives on ourselves? Would it be difficult to reconcile that more advanced way of thinking about our minds with our familiar, everyday understanding and experience of ourselves?

Here this comment will pause to issue a trigger alert: Cook’s following paragraph composes a post-modern analysis of Spinoza “in a nutshell”.

These are the questions that arose for Spinoza and that arise for us today. He worked out answers to these questions in the context of his age and his philosophical system, and we think about them now in the context of current research in the fields of psychology and cognitive science. The respective contexts are worlds apart, yet there are enough similarities in approach and in underlying theory to tempt the Spinoza scholar to make comparisons, investigate differences, and highlight parallels. Any number of commentators have yielded to this temptation (especially in the English-speaking world), and they have brought to light a number of interesting and sometimes remarkable points of convergence between Spinoza and today’s theorists. It seems to me, though, that there is still more to be said on this subject and that a slightly different angle of approach might produce useful insights. Such, at any rate, is my hope.

Hmmm … that wasn’t so bad, was it? Perhaps blanket condemnations of post-modernist scholarship are comparably counter-Enlightened to blanket condemnations of climate science?

Having reflected upon Cook’s questions, let’s consider at least the scientific and moral contexts in which James develops answers. In James’ words:

Greenhouse gases accumulate. Sea levels rise. Weather patterns become more violent. Some of the gravest threats to our way of life, and even to the survival of humanity, are undoubtedly environmental, and have at least in part been brought about by our own activities. Yet, as our individual and collective attitudes attest, we are finding these threats difficult to confront. […] Among people who live in the wealthier parts of the world, an unwillingness to embrace environmentally friendly measures is sometimes grounded on the conviction that they demand an unacceptable sacrifice of liberty — our liberty to choose how much we travel, to shop without regard to air miles, to live in brightly lit cities, and so on, in a seemingly endless list of potential privations. The costs of an environmentally sustainable way of life appear to be exceptionally damaging to our freedom. No surprise, then, that we drag our feet.

As long as we view the problem in these terms, we face a stark dilemma: we either continue to put our ways of life in danger or try to reconcile ourselves to diminished levels of liberty. But we may also wonder whether this is the only way to characterize our options. Is the conception of freedom presupposed in this account the only one available to us? Must we envisage an environmentally friendly way of life as one in which we lose freedom, or might we somehow come to see it as liberating? Even posing the question is liable to make people sigh, as images of living in yurts and growing vegetables swim before their eyes. Nevertheless, if our attachment to a view of freedom puts our way of life in danger, it may not be a bad idea to consider whether we are working with our fullest and most productive understanding of liberty.

In comment(s) to follow, the four quantum-career options that began this comment will be scrutinized through the Enlightened lens that Cook and James provide. This scrutiny will establish that the program of the Heterodox Academy sheds scant light upon what is (in James’ phrase) “our fullest and most productive understanding of liberty” — and this is how the Cook/James Enlightenment lens shows us that the Heterodox Academy’s program is (metaphorically speaking) a weak and non-intoxicating academic beer.

Which is not how some folks like their beer! 🙂

21. Scott Says:

Ash: I’ll confess that I didn’t shed too many tears when that professor who “jokingly” tweeted his wish for white genocide—and other disgusting things for which he never apologized—quit his position because of the volume of hatemail he received. (Though I never condone threats, and certainly not threats against the guy’s family.) In some sense, him quitting was the best solution, since it removed someone who should not have been a professor without the university having to shred its rules about academic freedom and tenure.

But it’s very important to understand something. On a traditional understanding of academic freedom, I have no more power over, e.g., what some professor in UT Austin’s history department might say on Twitter, than an ordinary citizen has. I can write an editorial or sign a petition expressing my outrage about the tweet. I can join a protest march. In a sufficiently extreme case, I could even vote with my feet and leave Austin. But there’s zero collective responsibility on the part of the UT community to support or repudiate what he says, or even to be aware of what he says, any more than such a responsibility exists in the city of Austin or the world at large. People are busy, each research group is its own planet, and each department is its own galaxy.

Now, some people today are trying to change this. E.g., some activists want the ability to punish professors under Title IX for writing books, academic papers, or editorials that they consider racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive. That’s exactly what happened to Laura Kipnis; she recounts the story at length in her fascinating book Unwanted Advances (tl;dr: after a huge, Kafkaesque process, the Title IX investigation finally cleared her of all wrongdoing).

It flabbergasts me that these activists don’t understand that, if and when they succeed at their goal, the new weapon they’ve created might just as easily be deployed against “their” side as against the opposing side.

22. Peter Morgan Says:

After the pledge comes the interpretation of the pledge and the evolution of the interpretation of the pledge.
The pledge tells too little about how the people who have currently signed up are interpreting the pledge and about the worldviews of the people who moderate and claim to speak for the people who have signed up for the pledge. The pledge as it is could as easily be a front for an alt-right organization as for “enlightenment values” or could become subverted over time in any direction.

23. Scott Says:

Peter Morgan #22: Well, you can look through the list of people who’ve signed up. Besides the founder, Jonathan Haidt, it includes some people who I admire—Steven Pinker, Nicholas Christakis, the string theorist Joseph Conlon—some well-known evolutionary psychologists, and many who I hadn’t heard of. I didn’t notice any alt-right figures. But of course, as Shecky R #15 points out, I’d always have the option to quit if things went in a bad direction.

24. Steve Herb Says:

Here is another idea. Suggest to Stephen Pinker and his friends that they institute a ‘non-pledging membership category’. It could say on the website ‘if you are sympathetic to our goals but feel that a pledge is inappropriate, consider joining as a non-pledging member’. I suspect that there is a substantial fraction of people, perhaps particularly in academia, who dislike pledges. To me, they carry a smell of religion and belief, two things with which I don’t get along.

25. Don Lemon Says:

Scott writes: “My central concern, with university life, is that academics share a baseline commitment to Enlightenment norms and values: e.g., to freedom of speech, reason, empiricism, and judging arguments by their merits rather than by the speaker’s identity.”

Note that this is a philosophical, not a scientific, description. It is one I generally agree with, although see below. I think Scott is 100% right not to sign on to the Heterodox Academy, because it is entirely vague about what it means about “viewpoints.” It makes a completely tendentious assertion–that academics are not free to express different viewpoints, in particular about the subjects they teach–and then builds an edifice out of it.

I submit that this is, as nearly as these things can be, entirely false.

Unless one is overtly hostile to the academic enterprise. Our job as academics is to be what everyone dismisses as “gatekeepers”: arbiters of what does and does not pass the test as competent work in our given fields. By design, our opinions about this will vary. Different schools and different departments will disagree. Good. They should.

This brings me back to the quotation I opened with. Scott writes about “Enlightenment norms and values” as if that names something clear. It doesn’t. The very figures who we identify with Enlightenment disagree about its nature: Voltaire, for example, could not disagree more with Leibniz, and Kant disagreed with both. Scott puts “reason” and “empiricism” together, but one could do worse than to say that Leibniz was all “reason” and Voltaire (and after him Locke) was much more “empiricism” and that none of these people thought you could just list these values as obviously compatible.

Further, if we do believe in promoting “Enlightenment values,” what does that say about teaching figures who don’t fall neatly into that history? Are the thousands-year heritages of Chinese and Indian philosophy, for example, off-limits? Why? Let’s bring that closer to home: is Plato–often thought to be starkly against the values Scott names–off limits? Nietzsche, who more or less loathed those values?

These are vital, real, questions, questions that are within the broad description of “Enlightenment” even if not in the specific canon of “Enlightenment norms and values,” and as far as I can tell they are taught all over the contemporary university. That is, we have the “viewpoint diversity” that the Heterodox Academy claims we don’t. Which means they want something else.

26. Scott Says:

Ash: On your broader point, I really do think it’s important to distinguish the different ways universities are publicly funded.

First there’s federal grants, which in principle are ultimately under the control of Congress. But grants for the hard sciences, engineering, and medicine are a far bigger piece of the pie than grants for any of the postmodernism-infested disciplines. (Does anyone have numbers?) This was a central point in our earlier thread about the thankfully now dead PhD student tuition tax: if you try to attack postmodernism by slashing federal research funding (whether directly or indirectly, via the tax code), you’re just going to destroy hard science as collateral damage.

Next there are the state universities—but if you haven’t heard, the percentage of their budgets funded by the states has been going down dramatically in recent years, with the universities making up the shortfall by accepting more out-of-state and international students to whom they can charge full tuition. Even so, professors at state universities making outrageous or controversial statements have sometimes become political issues, with e.g. governors threatening to withhold funding as a result. In any case this doesn’t apply to private universities (the “white genocide” guy was at Drexel, which is private).

Then there’s the other stuff, like Pell grants and interest-free student loans. But these programs are popular with the public, and only “pay the salaries of professors who make outrageous statements” via quite a few layers of indirection.

With all three of these, I’d encourage you to look at the big picture: what is the overall return that the country, or a given state, gets for its investment in research universities?

To take a related situation that I know in some detail: For decades it’s been in a sport in Congress to find, e.g., NSF grants that sound silly when you describe them to a layperson (“teaching utilitarian ethics to rats?!?”), in order to highlight government waste in an easily remembered way. And yet, in nearly every such case, when you actually spend 15 minutes looking into it, it turns out that the research in question could easily be defended as plausibly worth $200,000 or whatever other infinitesimal drop in the federal ocean was spent on it. Research, by definition, is a foray into the new and unknown, so it’s no surprise that it can often be described in such a way that it sounds stupid. (“Spacetime bending like a mattress?? A cat in a box that’s alive and dead at the same time until someone looks at it??”) Yet the consensus of economists is that, in the aggregate, it’s an unbelievably good investment. DARPA, for example, could’ve funded nothing but ARPANET and joke projects for its entire history, and ARPANET still would’ve justified its budget many times over. And if a granting agency doesn’t fund any real duds, that’s almost certainly a bad sign, that it’s not taking the kinds of risks that would maximize the return to the nation. So the next time you read about a professor tweeting something reprehensible and beyond the pale—and I’ll assume for the sake of argument that it really is reprehensible and beyond the pale—I’d encourage you to ask yourself: is this one of the duds that we can’t avoid if we want a world-class basic research system at all? Or, if there’s a systemic problem that led to this professor being hired, then how would we go about fixing the problem without killing the golden goose? 27. someone Says: Ash #16 I see Scott has already started replying to you. Some things he didn’t say. Those research grants are not used to pay professors’ salaries. (In some cases, rules of the grant and the university allow a small amount to be used for salary.) A lot of the grant money ends up going to the university. You may not like that either, depending on what you think of universities. Research grants are not spent on tweeting racist trash either. You have to be able to justify how you spend research grants. If you reported to the funding agency that you spent it on racist tweets, you’d be screwed, not because the tweets are racist but because tweeting is free. Tweeting racist trash is not a research area. If you do that in your private time, it just means you’re a jerk. Whether being a jerk in private should lead to you losing your job is the question. The answer is it should to the same degree that it should if you had any other job. Tweeting racist trash isn’t a part of any real job. The only one who thinks tweeting racist trash is his main job is the hypothetical person Scott made up just for fun. 28. Jay Says: Ash #14 >the fundamental contract, “give us academic freedom and we’ll police ourselves” That’s your fundamental contract? Mine was: “First accept to work very hard for about 5-10 years at very low wage, then extremely hard for about 5-10 years at decent wage. Then this process will get you about 3% chance of getting tenured by the age of 40-45, on average”. It’s kind of safe to say that many persons would prefer your contract, so please don’t hesitate to publicise your available positions. 🙂 (not the same Jay) 29. Jeffo Says: Scott #19: Having a political opinion (in the only sense that matters, the ability to share it productively with others) is risible for me and others in my position in the following sense. First, almost none of my students attend university to engage intellectually. Courses are a means to an end. (I don’t judge them on this; virtually everyone in their life, including my university’s admissions office, encourages this viewpoint.) Second, my colleagues around me are exhausted and discouraged; they would much rather have easy conversations (e.g., how terrible their students are) than explore political topics. Maybe you can see a way to have a meaningful political life in that context, I can’t. 30. JimV Says: The purpose of most social organizations is to speak with a single voice (and therefore a greater volume) on some target issues. That seems a bit contradictory or ironic in this case. (I’m sure I’m not the first person to point this out.) (There may be a Groucho Marx joke in there somewhere.) As somebody already said, if you can’t agree with the pledge, you’ll be fighting yourself to fulfill it. 31. Benoit Essiambre Says: Good post and I agree. This pledge does seem to overemphasize viewpoint diversity in a time when false facts and conspiracy theories are already amplified too much by the media. This academy’s efforts might still be worthwhile. Modifying the information filters of academia to let pass truths more purely based on verifiable and measurable (or at least probabilistically weightable) evidence rather than based on ideological, political or tribal preferences has obvious benefits. To me, liberalism, science and enlightenment values are about unbiased samples of real verifiable truths, being accepted by all as having the greatest weight in all debates. But while sampling being unbiased is important, facts being real and verifiable is even more fundamental and crucial. 32. Russ Abbott Says: I was convinced by the issues you raise and joined. So far I’ve been disappointed. Much of what I’ve seen has been written by angry conservatives — who don’t seem to be looking for an honest exchange of opinion. The preceding may be a bit unfair since it’s from a very small sample. I joined a few months ago. I read the first few newsletters and followed the links. Since then I’ve stopped reading the newsletters — not because I disagree with the principles but because I’ve found them mostly boring. I still think it’s a good idea. But so far I wouldn’t give it a very high grade. 33. Michael Says: Scott, you might find it ironic that Marcotte defended Maher: https://www.salon.com/2016/12/28/white-supremacist-christmas-right-wing-media-spent-the-holiday-snuggling-up-to-overt-racism/ @Ken Miller#7- I think there’s a problem, though, when the subject involves something like the Hollywood Ten and not climate change. A left-wing professor might think that the Hollywood Ten are free speech heroes. A right-wing professor might think they’re monstrous apologists for ethnic cleansing. So if you have many more left-wing professors than right, the negative view of the Hollywood Ten might be underrepresented. There’s a difference between arguing that universities should present both sides in the Hollywood Ten case (which involves value judgements) and climate change (which involves objective reality). @someone#5- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evergreen_State_College#2017_protests 34. Scott Says: Sniffnoy #1: I do think it’s a mistake to view the leftists you’re talking about as “the illiberal wing of liberalism”. These people simply are not a wing of liberalism; if you project everything onto a particular one-dimensional axis that many people are used to using, one oriented around the major American political parties, then it may look like that, but to do this is a mistake. I did intend “illiberal wing of liberalism” as an ironic turn of phrase. 🙂 35. Scott Says: Don Lemon #25: I intentionally didn’t define “Enlightenment norms and values,” since it’s a cluster of many related things, and anyone who cares enough to dispute which of the things is most fundamental is probably on board with the cluster for my purposes. 🙂 A few other responses: – For me personally, probably the central Enlightenment norm is what I called “judging arguments by their merits rather than by the speaker’s identity.” I can’t think of a single anti-Enlightenment philosophy—whether fascism, Communism, postmodernism, or religious fundamentalism—that hasn’t failed this test. And conversely, for me maybe the highest exemplar of Enlightenment values is the famous scientist who admits his theory is wrong because of a mistake pointed out by an undergrad. – Yes, I’m well-aware that the conflict between reason and empiricism was hugely important in the history of philosophy. But it’s hard for me to think of an intellectual dispute that was resolved more amicably! We now know that, while reason by itself can do some impressive things, and empiricism by itself can also do some impressive things, reason and empiricism feeding off each other gets you relativity, quantum mechanics, and natural selection, and is generally the most powerful truth-discovering engine the human mind has come up with. – Yes, a good Enlightenment education would certainly include studying some anti-Enlightenment figures—how could it not? 36. Scott Says: John Sidles #20: the Heterodox Academy’s program is (metaphorically speaking) a weak and non-intoxicating academic beer. Which is not how some folks like their beer! I don’t think it’s meant to be beer at all, but more like cold water or coffee. 😀 37. Anon Says: Scott, I hope you could reconsider if the continuous use of Trump-Hitler analogies like in this post are really necessary (e.g. read Scott Alexander’s “You are still crying wolf”). A minority of people are feeling more and more unwelcome in academia because of the atmosphere such comparisons have created for anyone not strictly following the “one voice” of academia. Affiliating yourself with heterodox academy or any other wrongthink will only make your life harder. 38. Peter Says: I see the organization as an implicit endorsement of the idea that undergraduates over-eager to try and get people to be nice to people are a threat to free speech of equivalent power and risk as the current president. You should join if you believe that (as many of its members seem to) and you should not if you don’t. I don’t think that the two threats are equal, and I think that encouraging people to think that they are equal is profoundly irresponsible and even dangerous. 39. Scott Says: 895158 #3: When people advocate for “viewpoint diversity,” I often respond that diversity trades off against truth. That is, the more diverse your community’s viewpoints, the less truthful the average viewpoint might be, at least past some diversity threshold. Yes, even in subjects with definite right answers, there’s an interesting tradeoff between exploration and exploitation in hypothesis-space. E.g., it might pay for a research field to have some of its members advocate hypotheses that are almost certainly wrong, because those hypotheses will need champions if they turn out to be right—or even just because constant pestering by the wrong side is the only thing that will force the right side to understand why it’s right. (Happens more often than you’d imagine.) Of course, in reality these decisions are made in a distributed manner, not by any central authority. Heterodox Academy, by contrast, is mostly interested in political disagreements, where often it’s not clear whether all the factual information in the world would settle things, or whether we should think about viewpoint diversity in epistemic terms at all. They seem to see it more in terms of having many competing value systems represented in classroom debates, so that students can learn to simulate how each system would approach a given issue, whether the students agree with the result or not. I did nod along to the following passage in Haidt’s “Age of Outrage” piece: When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a Utilitarian or a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any one situation. But nowadays, students who major in departments that prioritize social justice over the disinterested pursuit of truth are given just one lens—power—and told to apply it to all situations. Everything is about power. Every situation is to be analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult… 40. John Sidles Says: Scott remarks (circa #26) Grants for the hard sciences and engineering are a far bigger piece of the pie than grants for any of the postmodernism-infested disciplines. (Does anyone have numbers? Philosopher Heidi M. Ravven’s 1998 article “Did Spinoza Get Ethics Right? Some Insights from Recent Neuroscience” (1998) appeared alongside J. Thomas Cook’s (above-cited) article “Spinoza and the Plasticity of Mind”. The Ford Foundation subsequently awarded to Prof. Ravven a$500,000 grant to “rethink ethics”. By the standards of philosophical research — heck, by any academic standards — $500,000 is Big Money 🙂 The result was Prof. Ravven’s 2013 book The Self Beyond Itself: An Alternative History of Ethics, the New Brain Sciences, and the Myth of Free Will (a book that I happen to be reading right now). So yes, it can and does sometimes happen that substantial research monies flow even to disciplines like academic philosophy; disciplines that are (in Scott’s dubiously evocative phrase) “postmodernism-infested.” With the benefit of 20 years of hindsight, we can appreciate that Ravven’s and Cook’s were two of the most foresightedly enlightened articles in 1998’s volume 14 of Studia Spinozana … a volume whose focus was Spinoza on Mind and Body. Indeed the entire 16-volume series of Studia Spinozana contains dozens of juicy articles (receiving the complete set as a Hanukkah gift has made for a wonderful holiday season). It is surprising (to me at least) that the alt.right is not pushing back harder against “postmodernism-infested” philosophical works like J. Thomas Cook’s, Heidi Raven’s, and Susan James’, because historian Jonathan Israel is entirely right (as I see it) when he reminds us, as he did in his recent Benjamin Franklin lecture “Changing the World: Enlightenment and Basic Human Rights“: The world is being totally transformed and the main agent of change is philosophy. Here the communities, disciplines, and practices that Prof. Israel calls “transformed”, the alt.right calls “infested” … and what Israel calls “change”, the alt.right calls “convergence.” So long as these differences in language are sustained, there will be scant alt.right acceptance of “the infestation of convergence”. The considerations illuminate an outstanding virtue (to my way of thinking) of the Heterodox Academy — a virtue that its membership pledge reflects — namely, the Academy broadly rejects the incendiary alt.right rhetoric of “infestation” and “convergence”. 41. Eric Says: “A diversity of viewpoints is often a good diagnostic for Enlightenment norms, but it’s not the central issue, and is neither necessary nor sufficient. For example, I don’t care if academia lacks “viewpoint diversity” in the UFO, creationism, or birther debates.” It’s counter-intuitive but looking at the situation historically, you should probably care about diversity in these kinds of viewpoints. The Enlightenment philosophy paradigm suggests that there will be strong belief convergence on ‘true’ beliefs (whatever that means) and weaker convergence on other beliefs but in fact this is not what we should expect nor what we observe. In fact, we see strong convergence on tons of ideas. It is often the case that all of the best people, say prominent scientists, will also believe something completely crazy, that alchemy is the one true science. Recent examples include uncritical adoption of Freudianism, Marxism, UFOs (in the 1960s), and tons of other stuff. Even if you had a perfect truth-viewpoint filter, it would still filter out some of the best people. In particular, you’re very likely to filter out people with high openness which is the most important psychological trait for generating radical new ideas. 42. Scott Says: Peter #38: I completely agree that it’s laughable to compare the damage being done by the president and Congress to that done by some militant undergrads at Reed College; indeed, the asymmetry practically leaps out at you when you read Haidt’s essay. But I don’t agree that it’s irresponsible or dangerous to worry about the latter. I’ll give four reasons for this: First, we naturally care more about issues close to us, like university life if we’re academics. (And as I’ve mused before, while Trump and Congress are the ones destroying the world, it’s the only certain ideologues on the other side who ever tried to destroy me personally.) Second, some might argue that as academics, or progressives, or whatever, we have a special obligation to “police our own”—especially if it’s felt that failure to do so is a major factor leading to PR disasters that Fox and Breitbart and so on then gleefully exploit. (Ironically, there’s near-universal agreement about this point when it comes to, say, Al Franken: even if he’s a fundamentally decent person who could do far more good in the Senate than out of it, he still needs to be purged forever, just to show the world as clearly as possible what kind of male behavior will no longer be tolerated. I ask: why shouldn’t the same principle apply a hundredfold to anyone on the left who’s actually motivated by malice, hatred, or resentment?) Third, there’s simply no obligation that everyone focus on the biggest problem in the world. E.g., the fact that I’ve spent years thinking about the quantum query complexity of Boolean functions, doesn’t imply that I consider it more important than global warming. And fourth, by fretting so much about some undergrads at Reed College, the right is actually paying the left a backhanded compliment. The right is effectively saying: “look, we understand perfectly well that the tide of history has been in the left’s favor for hundreds of years. We understand that what starts out as a fringe movement of campus radicals, can easily spread until it’s common wisdom around the world, as happened with the sexual revolution in the 60s. That’s precisely why we’re so concerned to nip this microagression and safe space and white male tears stuff in the bud: because we realize that if it spreads further, then in a decade or two we won’t stand a chance.” And indeed, despite all the terrifying political power that they wield right now, I can’t say for sure that the right-wingers are wrong about this. 43. Scott Says: Eric #41: I completely agree; there’s a clear need to tolerate people with crackpot ideas if they’re sufficiently brilliant in other domains. Please believe me that the math, theoretical physics, and theoretical CS worlds all have firsthand experience with this issue. 🙂 And I probably part ways from many when I say: in deciding just how much hectoring about crackpot ideas (or plain rudeness or asshole behavior) a research community needs to tolerate from one of its geniuses, it matters just how much of a genius the person actually is! I.e., rather than bright lines that no one can cross on pain of eternal banishment, I just see tradeoffs, where (e.g.) James Watson or Lynn Margulis or Serge Lang may have run up vast reserves of Crackpot Points or Offensiveness Points, and thereafter have been free to spend them down however they wished. (But I’d also say that these points depreciate rapidly with time: current evidence of genius counts for much more than past achievements.) 44. Daniel Weissman Says: I would not join Heterodox Academy, for precisely the reasons you describe. My own field, evolution, is one where researchers represent a narrow spectrum of the American public’s views — and this is a very good thing, considering that >40% of Americans are creationists! But Heterodox Academy specifically mentioned us on its very first paragraph as an example of a field that needs more “viewpoint diversity”: “But do we want everyone to share the same presuppositions when it comes to the study of race, class, gender, inequality, evolution, or history?” https://heterodoxacademy.org/2015/09/10/welcome-to-heterodoxacademy/ I was surprised to see this, since I thought Haidt and others believed in evolution, but I’m very suspicious of any organization that would put evolution in that list for any reason. 45. amy Says: Eh…just out of curiosity, how many people commenting here have ever spent substantial, recent time working or studying in a humanities or non-STEMified social science department? Because what I’m hearing here sounds increasingly like ALEC talking points, and not like the voice of people who actually spend time with what they’re positing as the enemy. And I wonder how much of this is about STEM dudes wandering around full of STEMmy arrogance and finding that other people don’t like it much when they ignore and belittle the work and scholarship in other fields without even bothering to understand it on its own terms — including the diversity of viewpoints that exists within those fields. What I see instead, repeatedly, is a STEM guy who comes in for criticism and then stands around demanding that other fields justify themselves and legitimize themselves to him, to his satisfaction, and on his terms. Unsurprisingly, they don’t oblige. I keep thinking of Sokal’s rude awakening at NYU; he came away horrified and breaking out in a rash, but somehow never arrived at any genuine acknowledgement that science, as a human endeavor, is indeed a fit subject for study and critique by the humanities. And that indeed it was the humanists who legitimized it in the first place. Are there excesses among the SSK crowd? I don’t know why there wouldn’t be. Is SSK a monolith? Absolutely not. But you’d have to take the time, and walk in openminded, in order to know that. My sense is that at the bottom of Sokal’s outrage is *they can’t tell me what to do*, but the reality, again, is that science is a human and social endeavor, and in the end they can indeed tell you what you may not do, and what they want from science. I think you will also find that science has been remarkably free nonetheless, and that the most insistent points that have worked their way in from the humanities and social sciences, in this country, are generally viewed a few decades later as having been good things for biological, physical, mathematical sciences. I don’t know anyone who loves an IRB, for instance, but I also don’t know many in biology who believe that the ideas of societal awareness and humane constraints on experimentation on living organisms are bad ones. As for silencing of unpopular views: I’ve been in and around universities for most of my life, which is getting pretty long now. In social sciences, arts, STEM, humanities. I’ve also had tenured professors sotto-vocing at me for decades about how they CAN’T SAY ANYTHING, which in fact is not true. They’re better-protected than anyone else except maybe the independently wealthy. Not a week goes by that I don’t hear professors saying bigoted things. Racist, sexist, classist, you name it. The joint is full of them. And when the academy finally gets around to surveying not just students and faculty on sexual harassment but staff, look out. Because there’s not a staff member alive who believes her word will count for more than a full professor’s. Upstairs and downstairs are alive and well in the academy. tl;dr: Maybe take a few hundred steps back and consider that the picture is more complex than you’re imagining. 46. a reader Says: Happy New Year! I’m quite surprised that my first comment here had such an echo. Scott, I’ll try later to make the case for joining Heterodox Academy (it’s more difficult for me because my English isn’t very good), but if you want a really wise advice, I think you should ask Scott Alexander. 47. Douglas Knight Says: I wonder if you would feel differently if they used a different word than “pledge”? So I changed it to “statement.” Do you feel differently? 48. Scott Says: Daniel Weissman #44: FWIW, I’m almost certain that the “viewpoint diversity” Haidt had in mind in that passage had nothing to do with creationism, but concerned things like: is evolutionary psychology relevant for the social sciences? Is group selection an important force? Do spandrels and punctuated equilibrium and neutral evolution constitute major revisions to the basic neodarwinian synthesis? Correct me if I’m wrong, but the impression I’ve gotten is: in much of the humanities, the Gould and Lewontin view on each of these questions is almost universally believed, even though within evolutionary biology itself, the views of Hamilton, Trivers, and Dawkins are much more widely accepted. In any case, my guess is that Haidt was trying to allude to that set of controversies, and to his desire for more heterodox views on them within the humanities. 49. John Sidles Says: Datum: According to its own website, the Heterodox Academy is controlled by six-member Executive Committee, that in turn is guided by an eleven-member Advisory Board. Red Flag #1: No public bylaws. Red Flag #2: No public method for election/appointment of board members. Red Flag #3: Among the seventeen members of the two central committees, there are listed (as far as I can tell) no mathematicians, physicists, chemists, biologists, physicians, engineers, or computer scientists. The sole Heterodox Academy board member who has a discernable track-record in any math-intensive and/or logic-intensive academic discipline is the Georgia Tech emeritus professor of climate-science Judith Curry, some of whose heterodox opinions are collected here. In a nutshell From the outside, the Heterodox Academy is not readily distinguished from an insular, self-propagating, chiefly ideology-driven “bubble” community, whose governing members individually show scant evidence — by academic standards and solely insofar as the hard sciences are concerned — of proficiency in disciplines that require high-level mathematical reasoning. For me, a name that stood out was Steven Pinker’s. To borrow a phrase of Groucho Marx, why is “Heterodox Academy” a club to which Pinker cares to belong? 50. Ken Miller Says: Michael #33: agreed there’s a difference between viewpoint diversity on the Hollywood 10 and on climate change. This is a reason to support free speech, tolerance, respectful consideration of all views that are respectfully given (although I think this is dicey when applied to, say, explicitly racist views … but that’s a long and separate discussion). and Scott #42, yes, it’s the academic’s burden to clean up our own house, but again, the thing to be opposed is intolerance, unwillingness to hear reasonable expression of opposing views. That is very different from the assertion that we need to seek out ‘political diversity’ in the academy — especially if, as is true in the “founding article” of the Heterodox Academy, that political diversity is judged by representation of Republicans and Democrats, rather than, say, diversity in viewpoints on the Hollywood 10. I suspect there are very good reasons why very few academics now are Republicans and there used to be many more, and it has to do with the party becoming extreme, anti-factual, anti-reasoning, anti-enlightenment-values, not with the academy becoming cloistered and intolerant. Focus on the real problem of intolerance, not on the fake problem of insufficiently representing both sides of current American discourse when one side has exited the realm of reason and empiricism. 51. Ryan Says: @Ash, you have some things right and some things horribly wrong. First, the academy is really, really big, so if you put on blinders and only focus on the fringes, what you see is going to look pretty bleak. But the same is true of almost anything: if you only consider the cops who kill innocent people, cops look bad; if you only consider members of the KKK, white people look bad; if you only consider members of ISIS, muslims look bad; if you only consider members ms 13, Salvadorians look bad; if you only consider George Ciccariello-Maher and autoethnographers, the academy look bad. But forming your opinion about a group based on its fringes is, well, about the polar opposite of the enlightenment values that Scott is speaking about and the vast majority of academics live by. I am going to go out on a limb and assume you are white. If you’re not white, then feel free to substitute in whatever scourge forms the extreme of a social group to which you belong. What happened at Evergreen and the ramblings of George Ciccariello-Maher say precisely as much about the average academic as the actions of James Alex Fields Jr. say about you and your family, no more no less. Also, I work at a public institution. We receive about 22% of our budget from the state and federal government (which is slightly above average for public schools in the US). If you exclude the school of medicine, then that amount plummets rather precipitously. It is true that research by us STEM profs is typically funded by NSF or some such public institution, but I do not believe that the autoethnographers are getting much money out of these pots, and graduate students outside of medicine and STEM typically pay their own tuition. You are absolutely correct that academic freedom should not shield people from tweeting racist garbage–what you tweet, no matter how objectionable, has nothing to do with your research or teaching. With that said, I didn’t hear much outrage when Drexel forced the tweeter in question out of their university. You also have a reasonable point about students not being able to expect to be graded fairly by a person who wishes for white genocide for Christmas, yet it seems asinine to spend your days worry about the impact of tweets of a single political scientist at a single university on the handful of students who choose to take his classes when we have a POTUS who tweets equally outrageous stuff that puts some 200+ million Americans (not to mention billions more worldwide) in a similar situation. Let’s deal with the big fish before we worry about the nobodies. 52. Carroty Says: It strikes me that heterodox academy feels like a political response and weapon to be wielded. It doesn’t speak like a therapist that tries to genuinely solve a social ill, but like a mechanism to express a point. Consider the difference between a organization that acknowledges the social ills that causes the outrage, simultaneously assuaging the fears of those with the outrage, but also pointing out the problems with the outrage. That’s very different than a org that makes an emotional point based on vaguely justified fears. How can you decide whether to join if you cannot predict how this weapon will be wielded? I would find them much more credible if they weren’t so reactionary and if their listed “research” wasn’t so self selecting. My point is that if they have scientific criticisms of the social sciences, then they should state it. Otherwise, talking about how we need to have more representation of opinions feels just reactionary. As opposed to something reactionary where you don’t know where the weapon will point to next, if they clearly also showed that they actually cared about social equality then I’d be more inclined to trust them. But I don’t think they showed that, rather that they are afraid of recent change, without really justifying why they think it’s bad in a real and not hypothetical way for everyone. 53. Sniffnoy Says: Peter #38, Scott #42: In addition to what Scott’s already said, I’d like to note in addition — these problems are of the same nature. If we imagine that to fight one group we must ally with the other, then we might worry about which was the bigger threat. But in fact we can say, both of these are the problem of illiberalism, and possibly we can even use the same methods to deal with both. And if you have two problems that are of the same nature, or can be handled by the same method, then it makes sense to group them together, regardless of whether they are equal in magnitude (as these certainly aren’t). 54. Sniffnoy Says: Also, Scott #42: First, we naturally care more about issues close to us, like university life if we’re academics. (And as I’ve mused before, while Trump and Congress are the ones destroying the world, it’s the only certain ideologues on the other side who ever tried to destroy me personally.) Let’s not forget also… it’s the academy whose whole job it is to get the right answer, and to do so even in the face of social pressures that would distort it! If it can’t do that, if the social pressures indeed overwhelm it, then, well, what hope is there for anywhere else? (I mean, I imagine at that point you’ll start to get academics going underground as a solution, but that’s, y’know, not exactly much of one.) To my mind that’s a lot of why I care. 55. Sniffnoy Says: amy #45: People point out a problem in certain universities. You reply, ah, but at my university, we have different problems, that could, in a pretty rough sense, be construed as opposite! What of it? The one doesn’t negate the other; the former is still a problem. A more complex picture may be necessary, yes, but perhaps also a more heterogenous one. 56. Sandia Says: Form your post: “Nor do I care if the spectrum of ideas that gets debated in academia is radically different from the spectrum debated in the wider society. Indeed, I don’t even know that it’s mathematically possible to satisfy everyone on that count: for example, a representative sampling of American political opinions might strike a European, or a Bay Area resident, as bizarrely clustered in one or two corners of idea-space, and the reverse might be equally true.” Do you really mean this? I think this is one of the main issues they are trying to address….if you do believe this – why? 57. Sniffnoy Says: OK, so to continue what I was saying in comment #1: (Yes, I’ve said much of this here before) So, my own personal model of political-space is one of three poles. The usual alternative to a one-dimensional spectrum is one built around multiple perpendicular axes, but I think this is a mistake. Paraphrasing Taymon Beal, opposing ideologies don’t see each other in reverse, they see each other at an angle. “Opposite” ideologies don’t exist. Libertarians label their opponents “statists”, but who calls themself a statist? There’s no such thing as statism. And the same phenomeon holds more generally. Thus I speak of poles rather than axes. Or to put it another way — think simplices, not cubes. 🙂 I tend to label the three poles I see as “liberalism”, “leftism”, and “traditionalism”, although take note that these are just the names I’ve assigned them and should not be taken as definitions (my “leftism” pole is much broader than leftism proper; the “liberal” pole includes many called conservative; etc). (In a previous thread I called the third one “authoritarianism”, but I’ve decided now I don’t like that name; regardless, none of these names should be taken as definitional, they’re just my attempt to point to something. If you don’t like the names I can use different ones or just arbitrary labels like “A,B,C”.) There’s a few things worth noting about this 3-pole model. One is an explanation of a type of outgroup homogeneity bias. Different ideologies care about different things. Each pole sees the thing it cares about as the most important thing — and thus the axis of “cares about this thing vs. does not” as the most important axis. Thus all of a pole’s opponents look similar to it; leftists lump everyone they disagree with as “the right”, libertarians as already mentioned talk about “statists”, etc. These groupings do reflect a real similarity but are ultimately a mistake when taken beyond the context where that similarity is indeed the most important thing. Another thing it explains is the horseshoe theory (ugh). Rather than orienting oneself around a “agrees with us vs. disagrees with us” axis, you might orient yourself around a particular opposition between two poles (so that rather than your two alternatives looking the same, instead one looks halfway to the other). So now imagine that you’re a liberal, seeing things primarily in terms of liberal-vs-illiberal; but also you’ve got this left-right (leftist-traditionalist) political spectrum in your head, i.e. a leftist-traditionalist axis (on which liberal would appear in the center if you take a projection), and the latter is the one you think of as the political spectrum. Then when you judge it based on what’s actually relevant to you — liberalism vs illiberalism — it sure seems like the “ends” have more in common with each other than they do with the “center”, doesn’t it? But rather than bending your line into a horseshoe to explain this, the more sensible thing to do is not project onto one dimension (and especially don’t project onto one dimension while actually judging similarity based on a different dimension, that’s just a road to confusion). (On that note, it really bugs me how the word “extremism” is basically used to mean two different things, one of which is perfectly fine and one of which is awful. The object-level practice of carrying ideas things to their logical conclusion, taking to their extreme, has nothing necessarily wrong with it and is often correct. But the meta-level practice of trying to shut up those who disagree with you — i.e., illiberalism — is obviously very bad… but it has no necessary connection to the object-level sense. I mean, OK, I guess in actual people they often unfortunately go together, but that’s a psychological connection, not a logical one. Still, we should be clear on where exactly the problem lies. It’s not in taking things to their logical conclusion, it’s in illiberalism.) (Really, there’s all sorts of dumb things people will blame for illiberalism. Like, in the Jonathan Haidt article you link, he blames the idea of intersectionality as leading to illiberalism, and indeed it certainly is an idea often championed by the illiberal left as a justification for what they do. But the idea of intersectionality is also just, well, correct. What’s going on here? Are we to believe that it’s correct, but also that it’s dangerous and bad? No. The truth is that intersectionality simply doesn’t justify illiberalism; if you already buy into the pole I’ve labeled “leftist” and reject liberalism, then this might be a justification for further illiberalism, but if you don’t, if say you’re a liberal, then it’s not going to justify illiberalism in the first place. Haidt is simply mistaken to take at face value the claims that intersectionality justifies illiberalism, rather than recognizing that the justification referred to is one that will only be accepted by those who already reject liberalism. So yeah, frequently when I hear someone talking about “intersectionality” I get a bit nervous — but I recognize that this connection to illiberalism is a social one, not a logical one.) (Note: I don’t actually think the three poles I set out are actually completely symmetric with respect to one another; there are some definite asymmetries there that I see, but I’m going to skip talking about those here.) There’s one other point I want to make here. Scott makes the point in the post and comments that what we really care here is not about diversity but rather such things as freedom, judging things on their merits, and disregard for such ideas as authority; diversity is just a diagnostic. I think this is a principle that can be applied more generally! And it’s worth noting that if your diagnostic says there’s a problem, and on looking further you conclude that yes indeed there is a problem, the thing to do is to intervene on the problem — not to intervene on the diagnostic. That just masks the problem, and likely means you now have two problems instead of one. 58. Peter Says: Joining is a social signal which says “people, we need to focus on this problem”. If you want to use your social capital to get people to focus on that problem, then you can. But right now you seem pretty focused on “Trump is doing bad things” and “Quantum computation is fascinating”. It just doesn’t feel like this rises to an equal level? As to your arguments for joining: Somehow, one side is required to “police our own” while the other side is not – holding our own people to a higher standard is a tactic or strategy, not an axiom. I don’t think in the current environment for this issue it is a good one. I also submit that by caring about the overeager undergrads, you are playing into the hands of people who are using this as misdirection. Where you perceive an acknowledgement of power, I see a “look at the birdie” distraction tactic, as well as a method of generating intra-community fighting in an effort to reduce available resources for combating outside-of-the-community problems. If one problem is tiny, and the other problem is scary in a 1930s way, then doing anything that provides a false equivalence is aiding the scary problem. However, as I said, if you perceive the problems of being equal in importance, then you should join. From your response, it sounded like you were talking yourself into thinking they were “equivalent enough”, which I think is uselessly contrarian. “Bad thing X is actually good!” or “Tiny thing Y is actually a big problem!” is a fundamentally boring take when everyone else in the conversation is also good at definitional sophistry. 59. James B Says: Sniffnoy #1: Indeed. Over the last few years I’ve noticed a worrying trend of “liberal” becoming a dirty word among left-of-centre groups as well as right-. I think this is mostly driven by US politics, but I’m not in a position to say for sure. Either way, it’s alarming. On topic: I share Scott’s intuitive distrust of “pledges” and the like. I would watch this thing for a little longer, and see what it actually ends up doing. I can see this all-to-easily becoming a political tool for some unsavoury group. 60. amy Says: James B #59 – the thing about pledges is that they’re really loyalty oaths. It hardly matters what the words say; the intent is to bind, and make an us and a them, and in and an out. It’s not a thing you find in friendship, and it’s why you feel like a damn fool raising your hand and reciting along. Even a thinking Girl Scout has trouble much beyond “on my honor I will try”, surely one of the more innocuous beginnings to a pledge you’ll find, followed by a list of things mostly about being a decent and civil person. Which means in the end the problem is not the words of the pledge but whether you really want to hang out and associate yourself with people who think that a good way of beginning is to write a pledge and hand it to other people to recite. 61. jaytac Says: They start with what is incontestably a requirement for university life: “… university life requires that people […] encounter each other in an environment where they feel free to speak up and challenge each other.” Then they *weaken* this requirement by restricting the requirement to “people with viewpoint diversity.” “… university life requires that people with viewpoint diversity encounter each other in an environment where they feel free to speak up and challenge each other.” Let me underline- this is a *strictly* weaker property *that underspecifies university life*. In what sort of environment should people, in the absence of viewpoint diversity, encounter each other? *Undefined*. Substantively, university life clearly requires that , even in the absence of viewpoint diversity, people are free to challenge each other. In the second and third sentences, this same “viewpoint diversity” *which got in the way of the first sentence being a good specification of a requirement for university life* is treated as *the* requirement. I propose a counterproposal for the pledge of a heterodox academia. “… university life requires that people […] encounter each other in an environment where they feel free to speak up and challenge each other.” There, I fixed it. 62. The problem with gatekeepers Says: You shouldn’t. In fact, nobody should. Not because I disagree with Jonathan Haidt’s assessment about the state of academia. I have been following his work ever since he gave this famous TED talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vs41JrnGaxc in 2008 . I largely agree with his diagnosis. Where I disagree is with his solutions. Simply put, I don’t believe that the current American academic system -save for its professional schools- is worth saving. It needs a revolution. And as with any revolution -whether it’s the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution or Mao’s Cultural Revolution- it means bringing it completely down in hopes that a new -hopefully better- system takes over. American universities stopped being market places of ideas decades ago. I couldn’t put a a firm date to “when” the change happened but I believe the 1960s/1970s is a good guess. What we are seeing these days is just the logical consequence of having made the ivory tower an insular, ideologically monochrome institution. If you think about the reasons why people go to college to begin with, most people go there not to get an education, but rather a “branding” that will allow them to differentiate themselves from other people when accessing high paying jobs or entry level jobs that will lead to high paying jobs later on. That’s what college is today for most people. Most universities are structured around this goal. Long, long ago, American universities were also places where vibrant intellectual dialogue took place. Who can seriously claim that this is the case today? For God’s sake, not even in the hard sciences you get the type of vigorous debate that should be bias free. A sure path to being blacklisted as an aspiring faculty member in physics is to question the value of string theory as a theory of everything. While not every physics professor does work in string theory, what no professor with ambition can do is to question the cult of string theory or its fearless leader Edward Witten. For academia I say this: keep the professional schools (law, medicine, business, engineering, perhaps sections of physics, biology, math and chemistry) and blow up the rest. When I look 100 or 200 years into the future, I fail to see how this current system commands any respect. One always needs the perspective of time to make sense of things gone wrong. There has never been more careerism in academia than there is today. At the same time, there has never been more hyped junk produced by academia than there is today. It’s sad to watch this famous warning by Feynman about what he called “cargo cult science” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWr39Q9vBgo . Academia today suffers from this more than it ever did during Feynman’s time. It would seem astrologers, and their methods, have taken over academia and corrupted everything, even areas, like physics, once thought to be incorruptible. 63. Ken Miller Says: One other thing — Scott, you wrote “When I read of professors tweeting out “All I want for Christmas is white genocide”, blaming all white people for the Las Vegas shooting, and actively performing on twitter his derision of many groups, I wonder where are the other faculty? How is it that his tweets are defended by the AAUP as part of academic freedom? Who is to stand up for the students in his class who are members of the groups he derides?” I’m no expert on this, but Ciccariello-Maher has been the subject of a right-wing assault that has greatly distorted his message — just the kind of illiberalism and speech suppression that we are talking about here. What were his tweets about? From the wikipedia page on him, “On Christmas Eve 2016, Ciccariello-Maher tweeted, “All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide.”[24] Ciccariello-Maher stated the tweet was sent in response to a racist backlash against State Farm Insurance for purportedly advancing “white genocide” by depicting an interracial couple in an advertisement.[25][26][27][28] … [he stated] that “white genocide” is an “imaginary concept… invented by white supremacists,” adding that “It is a figment of the racist imagination, it should be mocked, and I’m glad to have mocked it.” He was mocking a concept of white supremacists, but the right used this to launch an assault on him, and Drexel folded. What about his tweet on the Las Vegas shooting? His op-ed in the Washington Post explains this, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/10/10/conservatives-are-the-real-campus-thought-police-squashing-academic-freedom/?utm_term=.bc9275cf378f An excerpt: “I sought to answer a question about mass shootings in the United States: Why are these crimes almost always carried out by white men? “It’s the white supremacist patriarchy, stupid,” I tweeted, before then diagnosing a sense of double entitlement — as white people and as men — that, when frustrated, can occasionally lead to violent consequences. My argument was not new, but rather reflects decades of research on how race and gender function in our society. To be both white and male is to be subject to a potent cocktail of entitlement to economic and political power, and to dominate nonwhite and female bodies. When that entitlement is frustrated, it can lead to what the criminologist Mike King calls “aggrieved whiteness,” an ambient furor based on the idea that white Americans have become oppressed victims of politically correct multiculturalism.” You might not agree with his argument, but it is a perfectly valid, reasoned argument, that he at least asserts has empirical evidence behind it, how certain senses of entitlement can lead to being aggrieved and “occasionally lead to violent consequences”. This is a far cry from “blaming all white people” for the shooting. His words and his intentions have been badly distorted by a right-wing attack machine that whipped up a large body of hate mail, death threats, and ultimately, given Drexel’s unwillingness to back him, to his leaving his tenured position. This is exactly the kind of illiberal attack on free speech that we should be opposing. 64. Scott Says: Ken Miller #63: First of all, I didn’t say what you quoted me as saying. Ash said it—and then I pushed back against the implications he wanted to draw from the example. But second of all, I completely disagree with you. There’s no wider context that could possibly make Ciccariello-Maher’s tweets decent or reasonable, and we can see that by varying the example. If someone tweeted their Christmas wish for a genocide against Hispanics, could they later explain they were just joking, mocking the idea that a Hispanic genocide is a serious possibility? Are you OK when people theorize about mass killings perpetrated by Muslims in terms of generalized “Muslim grievance”? 65. amy Says: Scott #64, I uh…think you got this wrong and that you’re still misreading the tweet. Read Ken again carefully. The “white genocide” ref was the white supremacists’; the guy was sardonic in response (“if white genocide=acceptance of interracial couples, then that’s what I want for Christmas”). If the prof was guilty of a crime, it was the crime of stupidity in using twitter for political humor more complicated than a fart joke. He’s not alone, though. The various Nazi troll factions have been making a practice of finding these things and blowing them up, knowing that keyword outrage will win the day. I went and had a look at the LV-shooting tweet and column, too, and again, I agree with Ken. 66. Scott Says: amy #45: I fear that your discussion of Sokal was a serious tactical error. For if the decision of whether to join Heterodox Academy were turned into a referendum on whether Alan Sokal was right or wrong—well then, I would not only sign up immediately, but volunteer for their executive council or whatever! 🙂 Have you actually read Sokal and Bricmont’s book? I have, and it’s full of positive comments about the humanities, and about the general idea of studying scientists sociologically. Yet by the end of the first chapter or so, I’d say it’s conclusively shown that many of the most revered figures in postmodernism and “critical science studies,” as those fields actually existed at the time, are intellectual frauds. Then the remaining chapters reprove the same conclusion about 200 times over, until by the end, the reader feels much more doubt about other questions, like what year the War of 1812 was fought. Yes, Sokal and Bricmont are shooting large, slow-moving fish in a barrel—except that these fish are the ones my housemates at Cornell were assigned to read in their humanities courses, not some obscure strawmen. I don’t think about this as some simplistic “STEM vs humanities” battle. In the twenty years since I read Sokal and Bricmont, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting novelists and other humanists who told me, in various words: “look Scott, the fact that the postmodernists are frauds when they talk about science isn’t even the half of it. They’re frauds about literature, about psychology, about everything.” Every time I met a humanist like that, it made me eager to read their stuff (indeed, they were invariably 10000x better writers than the postmodern theorists), and it made me optimistic that the humanities have the internal resources to fight this cancer. Incidentally, one of the most striking features of the Sokal-Bricmont book is how scrupulous they are about confining their critique to those cases where the postmodernists make garbled or absurd claims about math and science (and even there, they specifically exclude garbled claims about quantum mechanics, because that would make their job too easy 🙂 ). Those claims—a famous example being that turbulence is such a hard problem because male physicists privileged the study of hard, rigid objects over the study of soft, wet ones—do indeed reveal a gobsmacking incuriosity about the natural world. But when you read the long extracts that Sokal and Bricmont dutifully quote, it quickly becomes obvious that the postmodernists’ failure to think or write clearly about science is just a very special case of their failure to think or write clearly about anything. Like, their entire schtick is based on constantly equivocating between the banal (“science is done by human beings with human biases”) and the ridiculous (“reality is a social construct”), and hoping no one will notice the switcheroo if the language is obscure enough. One more point before I’m done. It’s tempting to say: so let the postmodernists have their self-contained little discourse, and we scientists have our discourse, and neither presumes to pass judgment on the other. Call that the two-state solution—or in homage to Steven Jay Gould, the “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” solution. The trouble with it is that if you actually read what the postmodernists write, if you take it seriously, it leads to conclusions like: quantum field theory is no “truer” than any other culture’s conception of the world, but is an arbitrary creation of the white male power structure to justify itself in its logocentrism, and to serve the practical needs of capitalist exploitation and war. (Alas, I can’t simulate this stuff as well as Sokal could; the real thing is worse than my attempt.) It’s that sort of constant encroachment on science—the aggressive refusal (peddled to millions of undergrads) to see science as anything more than yet another linguistic game played against marginalized groups—that leads to a dynamic where “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us.” 67. someone Says: Ash #2, #16. Apart from what’s said in #21, 26, 27, 28, 51 by several posters. You said there was all this oversight of police and politicians that there isn’t for academics. There actually are all sorts of rules to stop academics abusing students, you know. What oversight has prevented terrible politicians getting power and doing terrible things? What oversight has stopped the police shootings of innocent people? Maybe I only got really worried about police killings when one of them shot dead a white woman wearing pajamas who had called the police to report noise in the alleyway behind her home. Maybe that makes me racist. It still hasn’t been decided if the officer will be charged. His bodycam was off at the time, when it shouldn’t have been. What do you think about that? I haven’t heard of any professor shooting his students. 68. Doug Says: It would appear that a few opinions contrary to a prevailing progressive academic wind do not necessarily make Scott a revanchist, much to the revanchists’ dismay. 69. Daniel Weissman Says: Scott #48: Ah, that makes much more sense! Not nearly as bad as I feared. For the standard answers within evolutionary biology to your questions: I think it’s a pretty solid “no” on all counts. There’s diversity of opinion on all of them (e.g., I’m more sympathetic to group selection than most), but I don’t think any of them would get more than ~30% of the field saying “yes”. Who’s on which side in the group selection debate? I have trouble keeping track of these things. 70. Scott Says: amy #65: So under the most charitable reading I can figure out, Ciccariello-Maher genuinely believes that the existence of white people, and especially white men, is a fundamental problem of civilization that needs solving. But he also favors a much more humane approach than extermination: namely, intermarriage until “whiteness” ceases to exist. I hasten to say that, unlike the white supremacists, I don’t mind in the slightest if that happens, as I guess some futurists and demographers predict. But unlike Ciccariello-Maher, I also don’t mind if it doesn’t happen. By analogy, would you agree that it’s possible to be the kind of antisemite who thinks that Jews must never contaminate gentile blood through intermarriage, but it’s also possible to be the kind of antisemite who thinks that all Jews must intermarry until “Jewishness” is obliterated? The only humane approach, it seems to me, is to treat people as individuals and these decisions as matters of individual choice, while also affirming people’s right to try to preserve whichever cultural traditions they care about (insofar as those traditions are not about hating other cultures, and are otherwise compatible with the modern world). In his defenses of his tweets, Ciccariello-Maher seems to be aggrieved (if I can borrow one of his favorite words 🙂 ) that he took so much flak just for stating the received wisdom in the critical studies fields. I see no reason to doubt him on that. But I would say: the received wisdom is rotten, illiberal, and anti-Enlightenment, as if specifically designed to nurture the paranoid fantasies of the alt-right. Ciccariello-Maher’s big mistake was to state some of the uglier implications of the received wisdom plainly, in tweet form, so everyone could see and understand them. 71. fred Says: Maybe most of this is to blame on the abysmal US undergraduate system, with its lack of focus and lack of expectation? I’ve seen many kids come out of it totally confused and without any job skills, and no more “enlightened” than their European/Asian counterparts (where, at 18, you basically pick a school in engineering, law, medical, … and focus from the start on a more rigid program). It looks like the US undergrad system’s raison d’être is basically to fund the graduate/post-doc system, where the majority of the students are actually foreigners who have avoided the US undergrad system… 72. Atreat Says: Agree with you completely Scott. Framing this as “viewpoint diversity” is completely missing the point. Not all ideas are of equal value! I want to shout that to the rooftops when I see this kind of message. That said, room to debate new or heretical ideas and to fully air them out *is* important. I like your framing of enlightenment norms as the goal to be striving for rather than viewpoint diversity as a goal in-and-of itself. 73. Atreat Says: Instead of joining, why don’t you debate with them to get the pledge changed so as not to reflect emphasis on “diversity of viewpoints”, but rather enlightenment values as you suggest? Let the best idea (*ahem* pledge *ahem*) win! 74. Scott Says: Doug #68: It would appear that a few opinions contrary to a prevailing progressive academic wind do not necessarily make Scott a revanchist, much to the revanchists’ dismay. LOL, you might say that! 75. a reader Says: Scott, you are so good at defending, in your comments, Heterodox Academy and the ideas they stand for, that it seems you already joined them in your heart 🙂 76. fred Says: Scott #70 “[…] intermarriage until “whiteness” ceases to exist. I hasten to say that, unlike the white supremacists, I don’t mind in the slightest if that happens, as I guess some futurists and demographers predict.” Heh, I remember reading a sci-fi novel by Robert Silverberg where the hero decides to drop by a gene clinic to alter his DNA to reverse the effect of generations of intermarriage, in order to remove any “whiteness” and become as 100% pure African as possible (whatever that even means). But looking at all the crazy stuff that’s being done right now with CRISPR, this doesn’t seem that all farfetched anymore. 77. a reader Says: If the “pledge” looked a little different (in some essential points): “I believe that university life requires that people with diverse viewpoints and perspectives encounter each other in an environment where they feel free to speak up and challenge each other. I am concerned that many academic fields and universities currently lack sufficient FREEDOM OF SPEECH — particularly ABOUT political CORRECTNESS. I will support FREEDOM OF SPEECH in my academic field, my university, my department, and my classroom.” would it be more acceptable for you? I have no idea if they are open to negotiate on this, but I can ask. 78. Ken Miller Says: Scott, Very sorry I misread Ash’s comments as yours. Sloppy of me, and at this moment puzzled as to how I could have made that mistake. As for the content: perhaps you know more about Ciccariello-Maher’s writing than I do. I don’t know much more than what I wrote, plus that Corey Robin, who is a voice on social media that I respect (and from whom I’ve never heard a trace of postmodernist nonsense) has been a strong defender of him. But the interpretation of what he wrote as postmodernist nonsense isn’t obvious to me. The ‘white genocide’ tweet was an attempt at a joke, at mocking of those who were calling interracial marriage white genocide; in the context of those calls, it’s not the same as just out of the blue making a joke about, say, Hispanic genocide. I don’t know the whole context of the conversation he was having or who he was having it with, I can imagine the idea that it was a joke may have been obvious in context, but that’s the point, that this attempt at mocking stupidity was ripped out of context by the right to smear him. He should be judged by his work and by his actual arguments, not by a tweet ripped out of context. (I also don’t see in it a serious call to intermarry away all whiteness; I just see a joke that, out of context, sounds horrible.) Similarly, the Las Vegas comment: I don’t at all see this as saying that “the existence of white people, and especially white men, is a fundamental problem of civilization that needs solving”. I think he is saying that the privileges that go with being white and male in our society present problems. And that, this power can lead to a sense of entitlement that, when thwarted, leads to a grievance, which occasionally can even lead to violence. That doesn’t sound crazy or out of bounds to me, it sounds like it comes from a specific analysis of specific effects of specific social relations, rather than some generalized statements about the essence of whiteness or maleness; and it sounds to me like a plausible account of some of the impetus behind the Trump vote and some of the impetus behind Dylan Roof. I’m not going to try to argue that the whole account is correct, though it sounds reasonable to me, just that I can see it as part of a reasoned analysis and not some out-of-bounds craziness on its face. Similarly, some ahistorical general statement about ‘Muslim grievance’ would be a problem; but some specific analysis of the specific situation of those young Muslim men who, here and now, are being drawn to Jihadi violence, and what in their specific historical situation and social relationships leads to feelings that, occasionally, take such an extreme form as Jihadi violence — that on its face sounds to me like a reasonable subject for scholarly investigation. Reduced to a one-line tweet, these things can be made to sound crazy. But if you imagine he may have been in conversation with peers for whom the meaning of that one line was obvious to unpack, and then someone comes along searching for those one-liners that they can rip out of context to destroy someone — well, it leads me to a very different conclusion that what you argued. 79. Scott Says: Atreat #73, a reader #77: Sure, maybe there’s some other pledge that I’d like more, but TBH, I don’t have the time or desire to attempt a whole negotiation about it—particularly since more than a thousand highly opinionated people already signed up under the previous pledge, and they’d obviously all need to be consulted about any change! FWIW, the action that I’m currently leaning toward is: don’t join, but express my strong support for HA in the many cases where I agree with them. Open to being convinced otherwise. 80. Scott Says: Ken Miller #78: OK, thanks! No worries about the misattribution. I suppose I’d need to know the full details about how Drexel handled the case before deciding whether I approved. (E.g., was there really a safety justification for putting him on administrative leave, or was that just a pretext?) 81. David Says: Very good post! This is definitely the issue at stake. However, you make it sound rather as though this trade-off is unique to Heterodox Academy, rather than present in nearly any attempt to coordinate. People want different things. Sometimes we have different values, sometimes different priors, sometimes just different personal styles. In any endeavor that requires more than a few members, one has to balance being inclusive enough to get allies with being exclusive enough that your overall goal gets accomplished, rather than some other goal you do not share. It’s a concern with HA, but no more than with any other good but not-perfect group. You are absolutely correct that HA’s focus on viewpoint diversity is a red herring, if not a red flag. Diversity should never be a goal in itself-if everyone in an institution agrees because they actually managed to correctly answer a question, this is a good thing, yet would be treated as a bad one by the diversity metric. However, the question should not be whether HA is perfect. It should be whether or not HA is net worthwhile. In an age where the Left enforces ideological conformity around hatred of Whites, males, and anyone else they see as privileged, and the Right sees this poison as originating vaguely from the direction of the Enlightenment, and concludes that the correct response is to attack the Enlightenment as a whole, we need people to stand up to both problems! Sadly, today the Enlightenment is under attack from both ends of the political spectrum, to the point that most of the nation will not understand you if you seek to promote tolerance, rather than Left or Right bigotry, empiricism rather than blind faith in somebody’s shibboleths. Heterodox Academy is fighting against that, and deserves support. Yes pledges feel icky. Yes “viewpoint diversity” isn’t quite what we should be aiming for. But you once wrote that you would make common cause with Amanda Marcotte to stand up to Trump. How much more should you make common cause with people who are far more kind and reasonable, and will stand up to anti-Enlightenment threats from both sides of the aisle? 82. Doug Says: For one thing, one may correctly find Both-Sidesism and Whataboutism to be highly problematic. 83. Mark Says: I would support joining, but I do agree the ambiguity around their mission statement could be taken a lot of different ways, some of which would not be right. I see Heterodox Academy as supporting a continuum of philosophical diversity that includes people with different perspectives on how to get to a better world. I don’t see them as supporting a “diversity of facts” that would include creationists or flat earthers, and I don’t see them as supporting such a broad enough range of opinions that would include national socialists. I think they’re pretty clearly trying to stake a flag for enlightenment norms against certain intolerant practices, and that the material they put out serves a valuable purpose. If I were you, I would consider amending/clarifying their pledge to match the ideals you support, and put the question to them on whether you can join on those terms, and if your understanding of their mission is compatible with theirs. I don’t think their pledge is perfect, but they seem like one of the largest and most effective organizations arguing for enlightenment norms, and I think there may be more to be gained by joining (and clarifying what that stance means to you) than debating whether the Judean People’s Front or the People’s Front of Judea is the superior organization. Joining is a two way street since you can leave if circumstances change, and in the meantime I think it sends a worthwhile message that the issues on which they advocate are important. Seeing Stephen Pinker’s name on the list raised my willingness to take their organization seriously and read their material, and there are no doubt people who would think similarly for seeing your name there, even just in terms of how their membership count. So, similar to any other organization, I would suggest joining on your terms for so long as you find them worthy. 84. amy Says: Scott #70 – yes, I knew the Sokal bit would probably set you off. 😀 I posted it precisely because I’d read that book and found it painful to get through precisely because Sokal was so dunderheaded about what was going on in the humanities. It was almost as bad as reading Dawkins the Tin-Eared on arts. It’s exactly what I mean about STEM dudes insisting the humanities come justify themselves on the STEM dudes’ own terms, and the humanities, entirely sensibly, declining. (I have no problem at all with the bits where they’ve pointed out how the humanities have gotten STEM wrong, and agree that the humanities ought to be *much more diligent* about their end of the two-cultures bargain. I’ve had this argument repeatedly with humanists, who generally insist it’s not necessary because end of the day they’re scared of science textbooks and found high school physics either incomprehensible or painfully boring. Something I hadn’t thought of till just now, and I’ll use it at the next opportunity, is to look taken aback and sad, and suggest that if this is really how they feel about STEM, then maybe they’re exactly the wrong people to be writing about it, since surely they can’t give it a fair shake. Of course, this won’t work at all on a lot of the SSK people, who did some sort of STEM before going to humanities.) Remember when we had that conversation about abstract expressionism? I don’t think that non-overlapping magisteria are necessary here, either. (Never liked the idea anyhow; okay for shalom ha-bayit maybe, but in the end not defensible past that.) But I do think it takes some willingness to say (as you normally do), “I have no idea what’s going on on the other side and am willing to believe that it’s something not only reasonable but interesting, and that if I’m not finding it interesting, it’s possible I’m being a boob in how I’m looking at it.” (Ftr, yes, you’re being a boob in how you’re looking at what the SSK/cultural-studies people are doing.) I say this, incidentally, as someone who used to break out in a rash at the very idea of most of the humanities. Couldn’t understand what they were doing, why it was worth anyone’s time, or why it was in any way a good idea to go about their work that way, which offended my nostrils. Took maybe, oh, 15-20 years of being neighbors, and repeated sallies into humanities disciplines with a determinedly open mind — which is to say curiosity — to begin to see that they were really doing serious things and being smart about them, even if in ways I found uncomfortable, and that most of the problem I had was the same problem you find in any discipline: most of the people teaching and doing scholarship in it aren’t very good or particularly smart, and you can’t go by them. (Which I should’ve known, I mean I did read Owen Meany, but apparently I take a while to pick up.) You have to go read the revolutionaries on their own terms, which is an (often tedious) exercise in masochism, but you do come out the wiser for it. They force you to because, like it or not, they’re bright and keenly insightful, and once you’ve seen down their lines you can’t unsee what they’ve shown you about the nature of wandering around as a person in the world. It was a postmodernist who showed me that, incidentally. A French postmodernist whose name still induces a malarial shiver. I think I was about 40 when I finally got impatient with hearing people talk about him and using his name as an adjective to say apparently stupid things, and actually read some of his work. Witty guy, as it happened. With a Formula One mind. I see similar things all the time, btw, when it comes to STEM ed, with STEM people being dismissive because they want the ed people to behave like physical/biological scientists, and the ed people are working in a social science, which works differently for good reasons — but the STEM people won’t bestir themselves to learn about that. And the net effect is to make the social scientists, who have to try to persuade STEM people, disguise themselves as STEM people and make their STEM-ed papers look like they’re about physical experiments, which (a) they do badly; (b) doesn’t make a lot of sense; and (c) gets in the way of what could be good and useful research and thinking. (And then every so often you get a STEM guy who does see the difference, but not the reason for the charade, and calls the soc sci people stupid for trying to ape physical sciences and ruining their own work.) As for Ciccariello-Maher’s comments — again, I think Ken has it right. (I only just heard of the man yesterday, btw, don’t know any more about it than Ken does, but the tropes are nothing unusual.) He’s not saying the things you’re suggesting he’s saying. And actually now that we’re talking about it, this is just a repeat of a conversation we had a couple of years ago, about a Judith person. She, like he, was using shorthand common in her area to refer to a bunch of well-developed and reasonable ideas, only hers was technical and his wasn’t. (Scientists do the same all the time.) Is it good humanities comm? No. Is that was he was trying to do? No. Within his own circles, was it reasonable comm? Probably. It’s only a problem when the talk leaves the humanities playground. STEM would have the same kinds of problems if its language were less artificial, and by artificial I mean that STEM very often makes up words for things and tries to give them very precise meanings, rather than using language from ordinary human life (as humanities often does) and giving the words specific meanings within the scholarly disciplines. So there’s much more scope for misinterpretation, especially since the conversation is about human things rather than, say, subatomic things. On the other hand, when humanities does develop a technical language and STEM people wander into it, you get this fireworks of irony-zero complaint about the impenetrability of humanities language and how this proves that humanities is just a bunch of oversubsidized mumbo-jumbo, surely they ought to be able to talk plainly. 85. Lawrence D'Anna Says: I think you should join, because I think you are in greater agreement with Jonathan Haidt than you realize. I forget where he said it, and I’m paraphrasing, but he’s said something like: “The point isn’t to have a balance of views or to have every view represented, it’s no dogmatism. It must be possible to make any argument, and to have that argument be met with counterarguments, not out-of-band attacks like shoutdowns” I think you and Haight and most most of the sane people of the world are all basically in agreement on what liberal, enlightenment values are, and that they’re a thing worth protecting. That’s what Haight’s project seems to be about, so it looks to me if you have a disagreement about that it’s only about the way he’s phrased things. 86. jaytac Says: I was being coy, flip, *and* glib- the subtext is, not only do commitments to “viewpoint diversity” and “political diversity” not constitute sufficient or necessary conditions for university life. Such commitments could easily become a push *for political diversity through student and faculty recruitment practices.* Viewpoint and political diversity are a *result*. The pledge seduces people into signing on because they think they are signing on to defend a kind of canonically academic process. That’s why I proposed: “I believe that university life requires that people […] encounter each other in an environment where they feel free to speak up and challenge each other.” Of course, no one whose work is impactful enough to lend weight to push back against this sort of thing should devote their time to pushing back against this sort of thing, since their work is so impactful.* * Unless, of course, this weird HA thing starts to actually impact university life. 87. Ken Miller Says: Scott #81: I don’t know anything about the details of what Drexel did, administrative leave and so forth. But just the general fact that they instantly capitulated to the right-wing smear/assault, instantly responded along the lines of ‘yes these tweets are horrible/indefensible’, and didn’t make any attempt to defend him or his scholarship or even, I believe, to investigate his actual scholarship/arguments to see if the tweets ripped out of context were being used to misrepresent his actual arguments. My impression is they just hung him out to dry. And if that’s correct, that in my book is a horrible capitulation to the forces of illiberalism, anti-reason, anti-scholarship. 88. Spoon Dude Says: “if some sort of delusional, autocratic thug managed to take control of the United States” if you think winning the Presidency is equal to “taking control of the United States” I recommend you stick to the Comp Sci stuff. ridiculous hyperbole. 89. Chad Says: Why would it be important to you that, in the unlikely event of some sort of “Trump” elected President, that the academy “speaks with one voice?” Are you afraid that only 90% agreement wouldn’t be enough to stop him…but that 100% would be? And in the event that the “unified voice of the Academy” is, to use just as far-fetched and unbelievable a hypothetical as yours was, WRONG about an issue, wouldn’t it be desperately important that at least 10% of them were willing to disagree? IOW, does it really seem more likely to you that “lack of uniformity” will be the one thing preventing the Academy from stopping some horror than it is that “lack of lack of uniformity” will be the thing allowing the Academy to do some very bad harm? 90. Arpit Chauhan Says: I’d suggest that thinking oneself as a member of the “good guys” tribe (e.g. all liberals), while thinking of the rest as the “bad guys” is part of the problem. In my experience, people who complain about “bothsideism” or “centrists” do so much more often because they do not really understand the other side and thus end up demonizing it (e.g. a liberal should ask himself: do I understand what’s NAP? And, why it’s so important to thinkers on the other side? Or, do I understand that in many cases the other side wants the same outcomes but with different means (i.e. without using govt in a way that violates NAP/property rights.) If I think the other side is guilty of proposing simplistic solutions, have I cared to read the best of their thinkers and think hard enough about it?) I do not like David Brooks because he doesn’t really believe in a limited government (technically, minarchy) or anything close to it, but I still admire these words he wrote: “Haidt and Bruckner are very different writers, with different philosophies. But they both point to the fact that we’ve regressed from a sophisticated moral ethos to a primitive one. The crooked timber school of humanity says the line between good and evil runs through each person and we fight injustice on the basis of our common humanity. The oppressor/oppressed morality says the line runs between tribes. That makes it easy to feel good about yourself. But it makes you very hard to live with.” And, yes I think you should join the academy. 91. John Sidles Says: Here is a question that has been just now posted (by me) to the Heterodox Academy weblog’s Weekly Roundup of Heterodoxy–December 22, 2017 Edition Asked by John Sidles on January 2, 2018 at 7:14 pm Your comment is awaiting moderation (non-public/author link here). It appears, from the Heterodox Academy’s own website, that neither the present Executive Committee of the Heterodox Academy, nor its present eleven-member Advisory Board, includes any mathematicians, physicists, chemists, biologists, physicians, engineers, or computer scientists. How can prospective members learn the bylaws that govern the election/appointment of the membership of the Executive Committee and Advisory Board? This question is asked with a view toward assessing the potentialities for further evolution of the Heterodox Academy. Not many websites tolerate questions that are politely & respectfully heterodox … it will be interesting to see the Heterodox Academy’s own tolerance-level in this respect. Meanwhile, appreciation and thanks are extended ALL of the (many) magnificently heterodoxy-tolerant quantum physics and computational complexity webblogs — everyone knows which weblogs they are 🙂 — that have long supported, and long have been supported by, enduring academic traditions of vigorous civil reasoned discourse. 92. Sandia Says: The real question is will you stand up for one of your colleagues when they come for him or her. 93. Sandia Says: I think the idea of HA is to make it easier to do that. 94. Finn Says: >The ‘white genocide’ tweet was an attempt at a joke, at mocking of those who were calling interracial marriage white genocide; in the context of those calls, it’s not the same as just out of the blue making a joke about, say, Hispanic genocide. I just want to reiterate this. “White Genocide” is a phrase invented and utilized by ethno-state proponents to refer to interracial marriage. The ‘joke’ here is making fun of the ethno-state proponents who call other people choosing to marry someone who isn’t their same race people who are committing genocide. 95. Michael Says: Regarding Ciccariello-Maher, he didn’t just say that he wanted white genocide for Christmas, he added “When the whites were massacred during the Haitian Revolution, it was a good thing”. And he actually wrote an article defending the massacres of the Haitian Revolution: http://www.academia.edu/8440492/So_Much_the_Worse_for_the_Whites_Dialectics_of_the_Haitian_Revolution Nor were these his only offensive tweets: http://www.philly.com/philly/education/How-a-Christmas-Eve-tweet-roiled-a-university.html In 2016, he tweeted “Off the pigs”. In 2015, he tweeted he treated about Ben Fields, who lost his job for body-slamming a black female student during an arrest, “Bring back Fields, then do him like Old Yeller”. He later claimed that he didn’t know Old Yeller died. In 2017, he tweeted “Some guy in first class gave up his seat for a uniformed soldier. People are thanking him. I’m trying not to vomit or yell about Mosul.” In addition, he’s a hypocrite- he protested Charles Murray speaking at a university but claimed academic freedom when people called him out. To my mind, the most disturbing one of these is the one about Ben Fields, since that’s a specific person. Not the most ethical of people but his misdeed doesn’t make Ciccariello-Maher’s behavior okay. 96. John Sidles Says: This week’s Existential Comics — a website that ranks among the elite few that are commended by Slate Star Codex’s sidebar — critiques anti-postmodernism with comparable vigor and acuity to Scott’s recent critiques of postmodernism. See EC#218 “Philosophy News Network: Postmodernism Special Report.” Recommended to fans of heterodox discourse … especially the explanatory postscript. 97. Shmi Says: Joining any group puts one in danger of in-group bias, and you identify with a number of groups already (yes, the bias is slight, but noticeable), so expressing your vocal “support for HA in the many cases where you agree with them” without any formal association leaves you free to disagree with them without any qualms where you see it being warranted. 98. Scott Says: Michael #95: Thank you for the additional context! It might be true both that Ciccariello-Maher should never have been a professor, given his apparent inability to stop himself from repeatedly, publicly wishing violence against groups of people who could have included his students, and also that Drexel mishandled the case in various ways. I’m curious, what was the stance of his department in all this? 99. Ken Miller Says: Michael #96: That philly.com article is worth reading, as it repeatedly gives his account of what he meant by the tweets. He’s sarcastic, ironic, angry, willing to defend the rights of the enslaved to murder their masters and to say inflammatory things like ‘off the pigs’ in response to police shooting unarmed blacks. He’s occasionally obscure — I have no idea what the old yeller tweet is supposed to mean; old yeller was a beloved heroic family dog who is killed to prevent his dying of rabies after being bit by a rabid wolf while saving his family, so what does ‘do him like old yeller’ mean (particularly if he didn’t know Old Yeller died when he said it)?? But nowhere do I see him calling for, rhetorically or otherwise, or condoning violence against groups of people defined by race, and indeed that seems antithetical to everything he seems to believe. He rhetorically exclaims support of a violent uprising by slaves against slaveowners (explaining in philly.com that “He meant, he said, that it’s always legitimate to resist white supremacy and slavery”), uses violent rhetoric against police who kill unarmed blacks while also stating (philly.com article) that he doesn’t actually want to see police killed; those exclamations are rhetoric, not exhortations to violence. You don’t have to approve of all that, or think he’s wise and not inflammatory, to see that he hasn’t crossed lines that should banish him from academia, and he hasn’t wished violence against groups of people that could have included his students. As for the article on Haiti, I glanced through it — it’s a complicated critical analysis of what others have written about it, but I don’t see where in it he defends the Haitian massacres. Could you point out the passage you have in mind? But he did defend them in his tweet and his explanation in the philly.com article, quoted above. 100. amy Says: I would very much recommend actually reading the Haiti paper before deciding that this is what it’s about. Michael #95 – have you read it? 101. Ken Miller Says: Or to say it more simply: he appears to be someone who is deeply opposed to, and enraged by, racism and racist oppression. On twitter he used sarcastic, sardonic, or over-the-top/inflammatory rhetoric in reacting to racism, but none of that was actually racist nor actually calling for violence. However, it provided a great tool for the racist alt-right to grab, distort, and beat him over the head with (and Drexel capitulated). If my glance through the Haiti article is any indication, his scholarship is serious and analytical and not prone to the same kind of rhetoric as his tweets. 102. amy Says: About Franken (Scott #42): no, the pressure on him to step down was not about virtue-signalling. Nor was it about specifically male behavior (a Democratic woman in Kansas recently shut down her campaign after sexual-harassment allegations emerged against her). After the initial allegation against Franken — which got a “this happened” response from Franken about 20 minutes after I read it — I thought, oh boy, there’s going to be a line of women telling their Franken stories now. And indeed there was. I expect there are many more women who declined to come forward. The pattern is unsurprising to women who’ve spent a life working with men, and no, there is nothing particularly nice or respectful about men who routinely behave this way. Is it rape? No. The message, however, is loud and clear: I get what I want, and you’re here to please me; you’re not a person, even your body isn’t really your own. I run this place, not you. It’s not flattering, not flirtatious, not bawdy. It’s not at all a novelty for women who work with men, and this is why you’re seeing this kind of reaction to harassment generally. The novelty is that suddenly there are a lot of women who are unafraid of publicly naming the guys who did it. (You’ll note, incidentally, that in each case the reporter did the obligatory and, at bottom, misogynistic “assume she’s lying”, and found that in each case the woman had told friends and family immediately, and that often the timestamped messages were retrievable.) I do not see that anyone who has spent decades thinking of women this way, and behaving reflexively about it when he’s thought he could get away with it, can well represent even half of his constitutency. I would not want such a person representing my interests, and I don’t see why I’d support a party eager to throw me and my kid under the bus by ignoring what he’d done. It took me about 20 minutes to get over the prospect of the loss of a pol I’d admired; there are others who can do the job. Might Tina lose the seat? Yep. Is that a reason to keep Al on? No. And I hear the whole chorus of guys shouting that I’m missing the important things, but I also know that the guys who do that shouting are perfectly happy to keep bumping everything from equal pay to abortion rights to childcare funding to caregiver compensation to DV funding to refusal to accept harassment as business as usual right down to the bottom of the list when anything that matters more to them pops up, which is almost always. And no, I am not willing to wait more turns for my own interests or for my daughter’s. None of the exciting freedoms and boons we like to talk about “for the nation” are all that exciting if, in the midst of it, you’re essentially enslaved by guys who really want you to go home and have their kids there, or discriminated against by people who have no intention of respecting you at work and believe they actually have the right to use you for sexual happiness, that this is what you’re for. Is it fair? Given that Al’s a guy who grew up when grabass was widely encouraged, and that he worked in comedy, which has a serious streak of misogyny in it? Well, I think it depends on how stupid you figure the guy is. We live in an age when animals are presumed to be stupid, without self-consciousness, incapable of feeling much pain, there for our use, etc. You can accept all that if you don’t think very much about it, and you can inflict all kinds of cruelties on animals, and then say 50 years down the line that you didn’t know, that this was how everyone thought. Except that it isn’t how everyone thinks. I think you have to consider what you’re willing to excuse yourself for just because the society around you will excuse it. In any case, I can’t think of any excuse whatsoever past, oh, 1990 or so, but the reports go all the way into Al’s gig as senator. Anyway, in the weeks after that story broke I spent maybe five or six hours on the phone with Senate staffers. Franken’s, mine, various others’. And it was an interesting thing. The Republican staffers were, I think, surprised to find that actual voting Democrats were *not* wagon-circling around Franken, and had no ready comebacks to the “and you guys?” They were also willing to (guardedly) discuss the issue for much longer than I expected, and their stonewalling about a certain president was a little pro-forma. The Dem staffers, otoh, were extremely interesting to talk to. I’d expected Franken’s staffers to have a whole song and dance ready to go — but no. They sounded gutted. And while they weren’t going to come out and say “yeah, he’s gotta resign,” they said in pained and genuine ways, “I understand what you’re saying.” The most interesting conversation, though, was with a young staffer in Manchin’s office (WV), who was clearly torn between “man up and accept sexual abuse, it’s the way of the world, girl, and always will be so” and “obviously this is wrong”. She was also explicit, even impatient, about these being her own views, and that she wasn’t merely defending her guy. That one was interesting partly because I’m approximately twice her age, and I’ve seen tremendous change in how we regard and deal with such things just over my lifetime. So I found myself trying to persuade this young woman to have more hope about what can change in the world. And once again she was willing to stay on the line for a very long time. The people who seemed most surprised that anyone cared were the DNC staffers, who seemed to have been caught totally unaware. I’m not sure why that is, but I’d suggest it has something to do with the generational divide about Franken. On the whole, Boomer women (who’re still the women at the top in the DNC), who come from a time when it was still thought of as maybe a plus for the boss to harass you at work (he might marry you! The big win!), don’t see this as a thing worth fighting over, wear their own scars proudly, and fear backlash. Pretty much anyone younger, on the left, sees no virtue anymore in braving this, sees the disrespect and how the behavior’s just part of a more general discrimination, and seems not to be afraid of backlash. (I’m not.) But it’s the millennials who are the first to be unafraid of naming the men publicly, speaking up. In any case the whole thing seemed to me to mark the end of Boomer dominance of the cultural conversation — all the Joannes and Gails and Kathys in the world, all the Johns and Pauls and Bills could come out and defend Franken, but the world wasn’t really interested. That’s a big change. In a strictly political sense — well, I think it’s also good politics. The thing about the Boomers is that they were so overwhelmingly middle-class and white, so gifted with opportunities, and the same can’t really be said about millennials and Z. My daughter’s prairie classrooms are far more diverse along many lines than my east-coast mill-town classrooms ever were. And there are oceans of poverty that didn’t exist then. And jail is an ordinary thing for the fathers of classmates of middle-class kids. Sixth-graders are already thinking about how they’re going to pay to go to a state university. It’s not for nothing that the media made a big deal about an administration that “looked like America”. And the next elections — as far as we have anything resembling real elections, and Scott, I’m still thinking about Burr’s behavior at your friend’s testimony — will I think be very much about what America looks like, will look like. If you make a point of telling those millennials who suddenly noticed that voting is important that neither big party is about them, I think they turn right back off again. 103. Scott Says: Sandia #56: Yes, I really meant it. I thought I was making a banal observation about the geometry of ideology-space, something that’s obvious once pointed out, but to flesh it out a bit more: If you threw a Silicon Valley coder into a focus group made up of average Americans, the coder would notice a bizarre underrepresentation of libertarians, crypto-anarchists, and transhumanists—not to mention all the different shades of leftism. Conversely, throw a typical heartland American into a Silicon Valley focus group, and she immediately notices the paucity of gun owners, pro-lifers, union workers, and traditional religious people. So, let’s suppose we’re founding a new university in Palo Alto, on some land that we’ve bought for the low price of$100 trillion. And we’re very concerned to recruit professors whose spectrum of political views “reflects the surrounding society’s.” Then we’d first have to answer the question: which spectrum? which society?

104. Scott Says:

Ken Miller and amy: Thinking further about the Ciccariello-Maher case, I confess that my intuitions change significantly if I imagine him as having been a tenured professor of (let’s say) math, or archeology, or sports medicine, who also enjoyed going on Twitter on a regular basis to share sentiments like “Off the Pigs.”

For I’d then be open to an argument of the form: there are really two people inhabiting the same head. We put up with the “Off the Pigs” guy, in order to benefit from the insights of the brilliant and accomplished researcher.

But Ciccariello-Maher is a political scientist. His entire job is to think and write carefully and analytically about political topics. That’s why it strains credulity for me that sharing brainspace with the “off the pigs / all I want is white genocide” guy is a wise and thoughtful political scholar whose insights students from diverse backgrounds might benefit from. But if I knew for a fact that that was somehow, nevertheless, the case, I’d have to update on it.

Incidentally, I see Ciccariello-Maher announced just yesterday that he was hired by NYU, although NYU hasn’t confirmed it. Maybe he’ll land on his feet.

105. Scott Says:

Chad #89: I can think of examples where, say, 60-70% of academics agreed about some political issue, and I’d nevertheless regard them as having been totally wrong. But I’m having trouble thinking of a single case where 90+% of academics agreed politically and I think they were wrong. The thing is, you can’t get to 90% with just firebrands from “studies” departments. You can only do it with a broad coalition that includes economists, physicists, engineers, the law school, the business school, the medical school … basically, anyone on campus who might have any advanced training in anything conceivably relevant to the issue at hand.

Now, even assuming that ~90% of academics oppose Trump, which seems like a reasonable guess to me, I don’t think any action whatsoever should be taken against the other 10%. Nor do I think winning them over is some political imperative: why does some heartland Trump voter care whether it’s 100% of academics who disagree with her, or merely 90%? I say only that, if the 10% were to change their minds, I wouldn’t mourn the loss of “viewpoint diversity,” but would welcome my colleagues to the world of sanity and reason. I am praying for their souls.

106. Scott Says:

John Sidles #96: I confess I hadn’t seen Existential Comics before! I found many of them amusing, but I also found that the gobs of explanatory text below each comic sort of marred the experience for me, even though I knew I could skip them. The humor should stand on its own.

107. Scott Says:

amy #84: The thing is, I don’t care if the leading postmodernists have “Formula One minds,” if they use those minds mostly as getaway cars after intellectual robberies.

And I do think all academics should be able to justify themselves to each other—no, not in STEM terms, but in terms of the Enlightenment norms and intellectual curiosity that are, or should be, shared by everyone at a university.

This doesn’t mean everyone fully understands everyone else. I certainly won’t fully understand the algebraic geometer or the molecular biologist. But crucially, I don’t have to, in order to satisfy myself that there are real questions there, and the person I’m talking to knows them extremely well. If you ever read my P vs. NP survey like you said you would, 😉 then it’s a lot like that: it’s hard to be an expert in something, but much easier to verify that someone else is.

And what makes me unsympathetic to the claim that the postmodernists are exempt from this—that they only need to justify themselves to each other and not to anyone else—is the fact that there are so many others in the humanities and social sciences who can do what little I ask. A historian, a linguist, a field anthropologist, can all probably teach me many interesting new things about the reality that I also live in. And even if, say, a philosopher of mind or a writing instructor doesn’t have any particular domain knowledge that I lack, if I find that they can write beautifully or expose contradictions in my thinking, then I can certainly learn from them as well.

So why is it only a specific subset of humanities scholars—ones who also harbor what I consider extreme, anti-Enlightenment political views; and who write more obscurely than I thought was possible; and who say ludicrous, disparaging, and uncomprehending things about the fields I love—why is it only they who have to be understood on their own terms and only on their own terms?

108. Michael Gogins Says:

Spoon Dude #88:

I and probably many others here have read the Constitution and also are familiar with recent law and practice of Executive powers and their limits.

The, in my view entirely rational, fear is that Trump (or his potential successor Pence) will trample these limits and become an authoritarian leader who is elected by sham and erodes the Constitutional limits on his power.

109. Michael Gogins Says:

First, evaluating arguments by merit rather than by person is a paramount value not only to those persuaded by the Enlightenment, but also in some religious traditions at some times.

Second, the Heterodox Academy is not fully consistent with this value if they do not open their leadership ranks (see Sidles #49).

Third and last, I am not an academic, but if this value is losing ground in schools, that is indeed a fundamental problem. Whether the Heterodox Academy is a good way to address the problem is another matter. There does I think need to be some sort of organized response with some sort of public message.

110. Nilima Nigam Says:

I’ve no opinions to offer on the merits of the Heterdox Academy, because I haven’t researched it enough. It is wise to not pledge fealty to an organization without adequately researching it – and I applaud you in this, Scott. May this thread yield the information that helps you arrive at a decision.

I am struck by the comments by Jeffo. His description sounds quite reflective of the conditions described by other friends and colleagues in smaller/’less prestigious’ institutions. Heck, it’s even somewhat familiar to me. Holding a public political position takes effort, and it’s hard to make that effort whilst teaching a class of 500 unwilling students. Why is someone teaching a class of 500? Because we needed, in our wisdom, to support a large swathe of administrators who are not from the professoriate. We’re ridiculously busy, ergo quiet on issues of public substance. And the tenuousness of our positions may be imagined and far more illusory than the real job uncertainty of everyone in the private sector, but we’re certainly getting the message about tenure meaning nothing if the funding dries up.

In my own institution, administration is growing while academic positions are not. In fact, redundancies occur in the professoriate, but I’ve yet to see an administrative position dry up.

All of this to say: Jeffo, I hear ya. Not sure what to tell ya. Happy 2018, nevertheless.

111. Doug Says:

Well, if you’re already familiar with the philosophers mentioned and their work, then you can skip the explanations. But some folks are familiar with de Beauvoir but not Rorty, and it is nice. But yeah, taste for comics that launch Wikipedia binges may be quite variable.

Regarding post Modernism vs Enlightenment, I think it is not so much anything anti Englightenment on its own, but against the privilege of particular narratives. As a thing which happened among certain landed classes in Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was a fine thing worth talking about. Other narrative and rational descriptions exist. Even a notion of “logic,” do you want to do Thomist logic? Dharmakirti’s? Goedel’s? For a philosophy of science, do you like Popper, Kuhn, or Feyerabend? What actually happens if people claim they are shutting up and calculating?

My take on the post modern things is very much like a natural development of Hume, who observed that reason is always a slave to the emotions – and he certainly is a shining exemplar of the Enlightenment tradition! Epistemological frameworks are tools, about which we make choices. For reasons. Scratch the reasons.

112. Sandro Says:

Some interesting discussion here. I understand the hesitation with the pledge, but it’s a) not a pledge of unbounded servitude, so you can withdraw anytime, and b) the open ended language is kind of a feature.

By which I mean, the members of the organization shape the interpretation. You can’t meaningfully influence that interpretation if you’re not a member. Others might have a slightly take on the norms that you find the most valuable, and you can learn from each other.

113. Scott Says:

amy #102: To be honest, the Al Franken thing depressed me for weeks, so much so that I was proud of myself for avoiding publicly commenting on it until now. I really did feel like Franken was the strongest candidate to defeat Trump in 2020, because his books (which I enjoyed as a teenager) showed him to have the command of policy and the passion for taking the fight to the Republicans, and because who better to put up against a joke president than a professional comedian?

I condemn what he did. Certainly, the thought wouldn’t even cross my mind that it might be OK to touch the butt of some woman I had just met. (Quite the contrary, as I hope a certain comment a few years ago made clear…)

At the same time: what percentage of men do you think have been guilty, at some point in their lives, of some interpersonal offense “as bad as” Franken’s? Also, what percentage of women? My personal guesses would be somewhere around 50% and 25%, respectively. At least with regard to men, I’m not saying anything different here than every feminist commentator has been saying: that such behavior is common, way too common.

But as I said three years ago: if you want to give society new and better sexual norms, then it’s not enough to teach people what behavior is unacceptable. You also have to teach them what is acceptable, what they definitely won’t lose their careers over, not now and also not 20 years from now. The bar, having moved, has to stop moving, and everyone has to know where it stopped.

I don’t think I’ve ever sexually harassed anyone, or even come close. And yet, if every woman I ever dated, or ever wanted to date, were encouraged to come forward at the same time with the worst story she knew about me—and if those stories were the only basis on which I was judged, and if any attempt to defend me were to be considered derailment and victim-blaming and further proof of guilt—I’m sure I wouldn’t come out looking great. I expect that the same is true of at least ~95% of men, and also ~95% of women—probably including you, Amy, just given the base rates together with what you’ve shared on this blog! Of the ~5% who could withstand this level of scrutiny, many probably belong to populations such as the asexual or the Amish.

In 1946, there was a process by which even the most enthusiastic Nazis, save a few at the very top, could be returned to society, sometimes after fines, probation, or a short jail sentence. The process was famously far too lenient—and yet it’s clear that some such process was needed, or else you’d end up with half of Germany behind bars or on death row, and the war wouldn’t be over. Likewise, after apartheid in South Africa came the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

I encourage my social-justice friends to think carefully about the following question: what happens after you win the current just war on lechery—as I think you inevitably will, in all the branches of the multiverse where the Trumpists don’t completely succeed at halting the engine of human progress? Assuming you don’t envision permanently banishing most men and a large fraction of women from society, what’s the process of confession and restitution and penitence, after which someone should be allowed to return to their life? Or is that a bad question? In this journey that we’re undertaking to a better world, is it impossible that the concept of “truth and reconciliation” will eventually need to be applied, not just to little-league stuff like apartheid or the Holocaust, but all the way down the scale of human depravity, even (say) to touching someone’s bare back?

114. matt Says:

Not an advice, just my point of view. Enlightenment is a matter of attitude, not one of pledges. And maybe exemplify.
Pledges, metoo, Trump etc. are examples of child speech, result of the inherent dialectic of enlightenment. Your personal (=genius in the enlightenment sense of the word) way, leads, as far as I can tell, back to adult speech. “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity”. So not a good idea to waist time with something like Heterodox Academy.

115. fred Says:

matt #114

“Enlightenment is a matter of attitude, not one of pledges.”

When it comes to Enlightenment, Scott has already achieved buddhahood(*) anyway.

(*) attained when all limitations have been removed from the mind and one’s positive potential has been completely and perfectly realized. It is a state characterized by infinite compassion, wisdom and skill.

116. Sandia Says:

So I don’t get how you square your comment #103 with the cherished Progressive ideas of diversity, unless you mean only cosmetic diversity. Shouldn’t Universities (not Community Colleges) aspire to be a bit broader in composition and outlook than the cartoon you drew? And if so is that best accomplished by insular group-think as now exists? You seem to be accepting it with a shrug. In fact one could argue that your comment is a very good portrayal of the problem being discussed here.

117. Scott Says:

Sandia #116: I don’t understand your point. I reread comment #103, and it’s not “accepting insular group-think with a shrug”—just explaining why the same group could strike person A as all over the ideological map, and person B as narrow and conformist, just depending on where A and B stand ideologically themselves. Like, if I try to imagine Hawaii from where I am now, it seems like a homogeneous mass of beaches and volcanoes and hotels and people dancing around in leis, and all of it is in the same direction from me (south and west). But if I were there, it would be all around me, and it would seem as internally diverse as any other place.

I also pointed out in the OP that a university doesn’t need diversity in everything (e.g., in beliefs about astrology). Reasonable people will differ about the axes along which universities should strive for diversity. I prefer to take as my starting point that the goal is to discover and disseminate knowledge for the benefit of humankind, while upholding Enlightenment norms and values, and then ask what kinds of diversity help to achieve that goal.

118. PauB. Says:

Scott #117 Re: Astrology

Actually, astrology in particular is less clear-cut example than it sounds, and could probably be made into corner test-case of what diversity, academic freedom and overall mutual respect really is (or, should be)!

1) Would it be unacceptable for someone in Biology, Neurosciences or Psychology departments to study possibility of correlations between human personality trends and amount of sunlight during the first months of their lives (or, at their conception)?

2) Would it be unacceptable for some (generally considered “crazy professor”) in Astronomy to muse if space is locally anisotropic and can influence biological processes? (Certain well-respected scientist talking about microtubules comes to mind here… 😉 ).

3) (Probably most relevant to the whole diversity discussion here) If someone in Arts or Literature departments literally believes in astrology, or does not outright vocally reject it — is it sufficient grounds for her to be ostracized? Fired? Publicly humiliated?

4) Would your University fire Newton? 😉

119. Scott Says:

PauB #118: I didn’t say anything about firing, ostracizing, or humiliating believers in astrology—only that viewpoint diversity with regard to astrology doesn’t strike me as an important goal for universities to achieve.

1) and 2) sound fine to me. It only becomes an issue when people keep obsessively studying the same thing despite finding zero connection (as with cellphones and cancer, or vaccines and autism), because they can’t accept that “zero connection” is the right answer. (But even then, if it’s what you want to do, tenure protects you.)

As far as I’m concerned, academics are free to believe whatever they want on their own time—whether astrology, Bigfoot, or young-earth creationism. Of course, if they bring up such beliefs at department lunch, their colleagues might argue with them. If they won’t drop it, their colleagues might get annoyed. And if they try to publish a paper about it, they better have evidence! Otherwise, though, at least in CS we tend to be extremely live and let live about such things.

I know at least two CS theorists who believe that humans don’t cause climate change—something I regard as nearly as absurd as astrology and much more consequential. I know at least one who denies Shakespearean authorship. And I get along totally fine with them, as long as we avoid those topics. 🙂

I think Newton would do fine in today’s job market: it’s true that he hasn’t published anything of note in nearly 300 years, and also that he claims to have invented calculus in his spare time (never a good sign), but have you seen his impact metrics?

120. Michael Says:

@Scott#113- First, being a senator is a privilege, not a right and not an ordinary job. So there SHOULD be higher standards for a senator than a “normal” job.
Second, there was an important reason to get rid of Franken- getting rid of him makes it easier for the Democrats to attack Trump for his bad behavior without being accused of hypocrisy.
Third, I don’t think that 50% of men have behaved as badly as Franken. His behavior was not in the context of trying to have sex or start a relationship, it was serial and it took place when he was an adult.
So yeah, he definitely deserved to be removed. You’ve condemned both Trump and Lewin- how is Franken’s behavior any better?

121. Scott Says:

Michael #120: I absolutely did condemn Franken’s behavior. I don’t know how it compares to Lewin’s. I take it as obvious that Trump’s behavior was worse than either, but I’ll leave it to others to hash the sordid details if they want.

I agree with the #MeToo movement that behavior as bad as Franken’s is extremely widespread, I agree with it that such behavior must be condemned, and finally I agree with it in the logical implication of those two facts: namely, that a large fraction of humanity stands condemned.

It’s an incredibly difficult question how one moves forward in a situation like that, but a formal “truth and reconciliation” process, as was instituted post-Nazism and post-apartheid, seems to me like a possibility worth exploring.

122. Douglas Knight Says:

Scott 119, to whom does the professor attribute the plays?

123. Ken Miller Says:

Just a comment on postmodernism. I appreciated the definition in the Existential Comic postscript, as skepticism of any “grand narrative of all humanity which we are collectively working towards in some way” and “a more careful analysis of what “reason” is” and, I take it, the relationship of what a culture regards as reason to its culture and structures of power. All totally reasonable stuff, if you don’t go off the deep end of saying there is no meaning to ‘truth’ and everything is just a reflection of power, and so I don’t doubt there is a field there with real content. But there is also postmodernist nonsense, of the kind exposed by Sokal. Saying “postmodernist nonsense” doesn’t imply that all postmodernism is nonsense, it just refers to that subset of it that obviously is. I’m curious about whatever subset of it is not, has real substance, but I don’t know much about what that is. Any pointers? Amy, what was the book by the French guy that helped open your eyes to some of the substance of this?

124. Ken Miller Says:

Scott, I appreciate your comments about truth and reconciliation commissions and more generally the process of rehabilitation or repentence and re-engagement in society. We seem to be in a moment of reacting to a long-standing situation of consequence-free violation with a demand for purity. Keillor being kicked out for once reaching to touch a woman in a normal and comforting way and finding his hand on her bare back instead of her clothing, that seemed completely crazy — it wasn’t obvious he did anything at all wrong, nor was there any allegation of repeated behavior. Casting a guy like Franken out of public service, when he is so obviously good in so many ways — well, there was more to it than with Keillor, more clearly unacceptable behavior and repeated behavior, but it still made me kind of cringe to toss him out for this, when you weigh the level of the offense against the level of the good he has done for women and for so many others. I understand the arguments for tossing him out, I don’t dismiss them, but just wasn’t totally convinced by them and wished there were a different alternative. And that’s what you’re getting at more generally — how do we keep from tossing out so much in so many of us that is good and useful, while trying to utterly change the culture that allowed these behaviors?

125. Michael Says:

Regarding Cicciariello-Maher, I think that benign interpretations of his views are stretching it. The entire point of his article on Haiti was that violence is justified against the oppressor class. The only way to make sense out of the Old Yeller tweet is that “doing him like Old Yeller” meant shooting him like Old Yeller- he was being disingenuous when he claimed he didn’t know how it ended. He called himself an “actual communist” on twitter. He wrote an article defending rioting:
https://www.salon.com/2015/05/04/riots_work_wolf_blitzer_and_the_washington_post_completely_missed_the_real_lesson_from_baltimore/
He helped get a teacher named Fitzgibbons fired for racist comments she made and then complained when he was hoist by his own petard:
He wrote an article celebrating liberatory violence:
When you look at the totality of his comments, you get a pretty clear picture.

126. asdf Says:

I stopped reading about halfway through the thread, but yeah I think Ken Miller #7 has it right way at the beginning: don’t join, it sounds like a right wing scam clothing itself in the pretense of tolerance. See also this:

127. amy Says:

Scott #113: curiously enough, I started thinking about these questions you raise about six or seven years ago, because the writing was on the wall: women, primarily younger women, were talking very openly about all manner of sexual abuse in ways that I had never heard before, and the only thing left of the old silence was the unwillingness of nearly all women to name names publicly. And I really wondered how we’d handle it, as a society, because I think you’re right, the proportion of people wandering around sexually harassing and assaulting other people is not small at all, and it’s predominantly men. Which meant that if something like #metoo came with names every time, we’d have this epidemic of people recognizing that all kinds of people around them had been guilty of this, perhaps routinely. Mentors, parents, husbands, co-workers, old friends. How do you cope when you find out that your close friend of 20 years goes around sexually assaulting young women he’s mentoring? What do you do with that? Of course a society does not want to deal with something as disruptive as this, but at the same time the excuses brought to bear so that a society can deal with it would also be untenable when things are so out in the open. So yes, this is something I’ve thought about for a long time.

Here’s something I wrote a few weeks ago about amnesties and truth and reconciliation, and of course I write this as someone old enough to have taken part in the collegiate anti-apartheid/divestiture movement and watched the Commission’s work begin:

The point is that there will have to be, at some point, an amnesty. I think that once again we come around to the South African experience. The only reason that Truth and Reconciliation had any chance was that ANC came to power, so that the whites, once T&Red up, could not go back to enforcing apartheid and committing atrocities in the name of race. Had white South Africans held the government, T&R would’ve been useless — it would have been an extorted amnesty, a figleaf. And amnesty here will have meaning only if men have ceded power. Not a little bit of power, not token power, but enough power that the very notion of “women’s issues” is obsolete, because there is no pay gap or hiring/advancement bias, household duties are equitably shared, we don’t have these ludicrous bell-curve conversations and gender disparaties at management and board levels, pregnancy and childrearing have no effect on career trajectory, etc., etc. Do I think that will happen…oh, I think we may be going there.

I wonder, too, of course, not just about my own past, but about what new lights will reveal in it, as surely they will someday. Though that’s not new for me; any thoughtful writer will wonder about these things, particularly a literary writer, since the very use of language demonstrates the writer’s freight of assumptions, and these things can mar beautiful writing decades later, when those assumptions finally emerge as the ugly things they always were. I’m thinking particularly now of James Agee’s writing, which is some of the most beautiful I know, and even as he’s crying out in these stark and tormented scenes about the curses of racism and his helpless complicity, his very language betrays his own racism so starkly that I can’t assign it now without an explanatory frame, and even then I hesitate. Because my ear is hearing him mostly from maybe 1987, and to that ear his language is less violent than it is to an ear formed in 2012 or so. Also because you always ruin a piece of writing a little bit with explanations anyhow.

So — what can I do? The best I can, is the answer, which means examining my own behavior as a chronic thing, and watching and listening and talking with younger people and trying to understand various nows, and accepting that the judges will always be the younger people who’re making the new world as they go. My daughter will be the judge of what kind of parent I am. My students will judge me as a teacher. People not yet born will judge my writing, if I’m lucky. Historians not yet born will define and advertise and interpret the times that made me, and that I helped make. All I can hope is that they do better, and are wise and more humane than my cohort and I were.

(Curiously enough, too, we’ve been talking in some of my classes about this question of denazification and the process of Germany’s rehabilitation. Arendt, whom I don’t generally enjoy reading, has a discussion of the trials that my classes have found interesting, to do with the inadequacy of anything in our jurisprudence to handle something on the scale of the Holocaust. It’s also interesting watching them grapple with these things — WWII is as far away for them as WWI was for me, and most of them know only slightly more about WWII than I did about WWI, which is to say nothing at all.)

128. amy Says:

Michael #125: again, did you actually read that article, or are you kneejerking to keywords? Because I have to tell you, I bet I’ve got a deal more humanities background than you do, and I don’t have enough to read that paper well. Certainly not enough to come back and say, “Boils down to ‘violence against oppressor class: go for it’.” Not even enough to say whether his actual arguments are any good. The best I can do here is say that he appears to be “problematizing” a newly-refurbished approach to critique of dialectics by discussing how impoverished it is, and how impoverished the old dialectical discussions were, with regard to their treatment of race and in their unselfconscious and staggering eurocentrism. Essentially that there can’t be a new dialectics without dealing with these problems. But I don’t have backgrounds in postcolonial theory or Hegelian dialectics, and I don’t know what I’m missing in here. The bulk of what I’ve read of Haiti’s slave revolt is in Faulkner. You?

If you want to step away from Cicciarello-Maher, though, and deal just with the question of whether slave revolts are justified: are you saying that no, enslaved people should sit tight and behave well until the enslaving society debates in a parliament and comes to the conclusion that slavery is wrong and sends a marshall to free them?

129. amy Says:

As an aside: I kinda miss Bigfoot. In the same way that I miss ads for Huffy bikes. Both terrible, but they had a certain flavor.

there was something else….

130. Fly on the Wall Says:

Chiming in a bit late here.

The problem with “the university”, at least in many departments, is that there is little actual diversity w.r.t. gender, age, economic status, etc. So what does the Heterodox Academy mean when it say people should feel free to speak up and challenge? What if there is a preponderance of the children of the well off, or in some departments, a preponderance of men versus women, or a racially homogenous clique, or a religious clique? What if the person you are challenging is a minority to the extent that they are too afraid to speak? Or if they do speak, that they are ostracized? Shouted down? Where is the freedom of expression for the minority?

The Heterodox Academy misses an obvious tenant of freedom: freedom of expression is not the only freedom, and freedom for oneself, or one’s group, must be balanced against the larger freedoms of broader groups. The freedom to express of oneself must be balanced with other freedoms. To the maximum extent possible, all peoples should be permitted basic human dignity and a consideration for compassion. One should not gain ones freedom by dominating or humiliating another.

Unfortunately, most universities, especially at the faculty level, are still quite homogeneous in many respects, so they are ill positioned to consider the rights of various minorities in the broader society.

https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/origin-silicon-valley-dysfunctional-attitude-toward-hate-speech

It’s a long read, but does suggest that the Peter Thiels, Steven Pinkers, John McCarthys, and the Heterodox Academies of the world, and their cries for absolute freedom of expression over so much else, likely ring hollow for most people.

131. amy Says:

Scott #107 partial: So about postmodernism, first of all, and its fraudulence or non-fraudulence.

I’m writing as a native of late modernism: I understand it, I find its arguments absorbing, I love the aesthetic of the *thing*, I appreciate its forms of heroism, I’m deeply at home in its concreteness. I heard Schiff playing and conducting Bartók recently in Chicago and it was a revelation, but it was a revelation partly because I understood what it was about, and partly because Schiff understood it even better. I also understood that that world was foreign to my daughter, sitting next to me.

I also think we have no choice but to move on — the world moves on, and the things it made begin to decay. I just read On the Road for the first time, and it’s a beautiful, if sometimes disappointing, book that’s chin-deep in modernism, I mean I know it’s usually described as a 60s-hipster bible but I hear John O’Hara and his ilk in it (which should be unsurprising; Kerouac was born in ’22). And it’s from a world that doesn’t exist anymore, hasn’t existed for several anymores now.

Postmodernism just baffled me for a long time — I didn’t understand what it was, couldn’t find satisfactory definitions, didn’t believe that most of the people talking about it had any idea what it was, thought it might be a fraud perpetrated by people who don’t actually like art but want to be scholars of arts. It sounded altogether too intellectual and schematic, deracinated, and as far from WC William’s trusty red wheelbarrow as one could get. The problem was what I said before: I was listening to and reading the wrong people. If you go back to the people who invented the stuff — well, I still find the aesthetic deeply troubling, even offensive. Even nihilism seems more straightforward. But in the end I think they’re dealing with the problems of keeping deep and troubling contradictions in mind simultaneously, and in that they’ve got a radical honesty and are quite brave. I think the problems appear when the proponents aren’t smart enough to see why the contradictions are troubling. Which is maybe why you need to go back: the reasons why they’re troubling have to do with modern notions of humaneness. Which means you need to talk with, or listen to, a postmodernist who is aware of those notions and violently rejects them, rather than a postmodernist who doesn’t know they exist, can’t feel them.

I could be all wrong. But this is what I see so far. I can’t remember the problem I saw accidentally where I recognized that the only viable solutions were essentially postmodern, but it let me understand the kind of problem postmodernism exists in response to. You have two (or more) mutually contradictory and important things, you cannot ignore either thing, there is no synthesis, they remain at least semitransparent to each other. AND and NOT exist simultaneously, but OR does not exist except by subterfuge. It’s a very radical headfuck: what kind of reality can exist on this basis? How can you be a person? Again, two modern questions.

This whole show is apparently obsolete, btw, and we’ve been on to something called post-postmodernism and other things for several years. I have no idea what those are. I’m still reading de Broglie, after all.

132. quax Says:

Never join an organization that demands a pledge.

Works for me.

133. quax Says:

Amy #128:

“Are you saying that no, enslaved people should sit tight and behave well until the enslaving society debates in a parliament and comes to the conclusion that slavery is wrong and sends a marshall to free them?”

Funny you should mention that, I once met a priviledged white dude from the deep South, who was explicitly arguing this point.

134. Scott Says:

Amy #128 and quax #133: One can regard slave revolts in particular as 100% morally justified, while not generalizing that to extol massacres of “the oppressor classes” as an all-purpose moral ideal—especially given the latter idea’s less-than-sterling track record. I don’t know whether Ciccariello-Maher does the latter—maybe someone who’s studied his corpus of papers and tweets, and whose basic understanding of the world is close to mine, could tell me.

135. Scott Says:

amy #131: I didn’t understand most of your comment, but regarding this:

AND and NOT exist simultaneously, but OR does not exist except by subterfuge.

Once you have AND and NOT, you can create OR by using de Morgan’s law:

x OR y = NOT(NOT(x) AND NOT(y)).

Is that really a “subterfuge”? 🙂

If you didn’t understand my survey, try The Golden Ticket by Lance Fortnow—as far as I know, it’s the most elementary introduction to P vs. NP that exists.

I didn’t know that Avi had written a “critique” of my QCSD book! Where?

136. Scott Says:

Fly on the Wall #130: The trouble is, platitudes like “free speech is nice but it needs to be balanced against other freedoms” are what every repressive regime in history has offered as it’s cracked down on dissidents. I think there’s an excellent reason why the US Bill of Rights puts free speech in the first amendment: because it strikes me as the most fundamental human right, the meta-right, the one that safeguards all the others. Where and when it operates well, it’s what gives you some semblance of an error-corrected process, where injustices can be made common knowledge rather than merely things that everybody knows.

This is why, when I see people on social media use phrases like “freeze peach,” or otherwise mock nerds, “tech bros,” and other groups for their fanatical interest in free speech (not just as a legal concept but as a cultural aspiration), I quickly lose interest in whatever else they might have to say. Free speech is not merely a nerd value; it’s an Enlightenment value.

137. Scott Says:

amy #127: Your conditions for amnesty—i.e., no forgiveness of male sexual misbehavior until there’s no more gender pay gap, no more male/female housework gap, and no more discussion of bell curves—seem directly analogous to a situation where the ANC had said, “it’s not enough that we formally hold the reins of power. There can be no amnesty, no Truth and Reconciliation Commission, until the average black income is equal to the average white income.”

I can’t help wondering: what if the statistical goal, the “equality of outcomes,” just keeps receding into the infinite distance, because of whatever complicated mix of social and early-childhood and whatever other factors we don’t understand and don’t know the levers to control? What if, even in a condition of perfect equality, more women choose certain kinds of life trajectories and more men choose others, and those choices show up in the metrics you care about? (Note that I didn’t say anything about bell curves here—you brought them up, not me! 🙂 ) I take it that you’re perfectly comfortable, in that case, with Swords of Damocles continuing to hang over maybe a third of the population, dropping or not dropping depending on what sorts of enemies someone has?

138. fred Says:

amy

“the proportion of people wandering around sexually harassing and assaulting other people is not small at all, and it’s predominantly men.”

It’s predominantly men because it’s clearly based on ape sex biology – males are programmed to compete for female attention, and sex is one of the top obsessions/drivers for males.
There’s also now the compounded issue that a big part of the world population (China, India) have to deal with a huge imbalance of male/female ratio. So, even if all males were behaving as gentlemen, this is creating a lot of tensions in society (because the need to find a partner goes unfulfilled).

I’ve been wondering in what ways a society could try to solve these issues.
Maybe a combination of the following ideas (some nightmarish/scifi, some already in happening):

– the old idea that human “reason” should trump “emotion”. E.g. education focusing on the idea that controlling sexual urge is a virtue. Failure would be punished with public shaming, fines, prison,…

– defensive solutions, like forced segregation of males and females, e.g. in Japan some subway cars are “female only”.

– surgery at birth and/or hormonal therapy to make all males behave more like females, or to make all females behave more like males.

– ways to perfectly fulfill male sexual drive by using very realistic artificial female simulacra. E.g. VR porn (this is already a thing, esp in Japan), or “girlfriend AI” like in the movie “Her”.

– ways to perfectly fulfill male social competition and urge for domination using competitive video games (or cooperative games to tame competitive urges).

– entire removal of one of the two genders (a society without males or females), and procreation becomes entirely artificial, and sex becomes entirely virtual (many gay couples are already raising kids, so it’s not super farfetched).

– virtualization of inter-personal relations. Every human interaction would be through the indirection of an avatar. This lets each individual control the type of interactions that’s allowed (you can mute and report anyone) and how they choose to appear (male, female, neutral, … same goes with race, etc). Physical strength becomes meaningless, only intellect matters (although it could be possible to make someone who is “dumb” virtually smarter by supplementing their avatar with AI).

139. Fly on the Wall Says:

Scott #136

“The trouble is, platitudes like “free speech is nice but it needs to be balanced against other freedoms” are what every repressive regime in history has offered as it’s cracked down on dissidents.”

Freedom of speech in United States: As you mention, US Bill of Rights puts free speech in the first amendment.

Freedom of speech in Canada: Freedom of speech in Canada is not absolute; Section 1 of the Charter allows the government to pass laws that limit free expression so long as the limits are reasonable and can be justified in a free and democratic society.

So are you saying that Canada, that limits speech in some cases, is a repressive regime?

I would argue that Canada does at least as well a job as the US in creating an environment where the everyday freedoms of the individual are upheld:

(1) equality rights
(2) the right to life, liberty and security
(3) freedom of movement
(4) freedom of association
(5) the right to a democratic government
(6) freedom of peaceful assembly, and
(7) and freedom of religious assembly

No, absolute freedom of speech over the other freedoms does not necessarily result in a repressive regime, and in some cases, too heavily weighting the freedom of speech and expression creates an oppressive environment for many people, even the majority of people.

140. Scott Says:

Fly on the Wall #139: Yes, I absolutely do think that the US’s free speech regime is superior to Canada’s—one of only a minority of things that the US does better! I love Canada, having lived there for two years, visited dozens of times, and come close twice to moving there for good. But Canada is great despite, not because of, the restrictions it puts on “hate speech” (not a legal concept in the US) and the like, which have predictably been abused. (Of course, Canada’s restrictions are very mild by global and historical standards, but are still more than I want.)

141. Fly on the Wall Says:

As a woman engineer, one who often has found herself, and often finds herself as the only woman in a room full male engineers, online and in person, I would choose the Canadian “freedom of speech is not absolute” over the American “freedom of speech is first” any day.

I’ve lived in both countries as well, and worked professionally in both countries. I’ve too many times been the dormouse at the mat hatter’s tea party to have faith that absolute freedom of speech, as promoted by the Heterodox Academy, has much to do with real freedom and a real free society, as far as that is possible.

142. Scott Says:

Fly on the Wall #141: I’m now imagining a future where American women move en masse to Canada, to escape the US’s repressive free speech, and then American men move en masse to Canada as well because they can no longer get dates in the US… 😀

143. Fly on the Wall Says:

Scott (#142)

: )

Most people (men and women), both in the US and Canada, would very rarely need to exercise the kind of absolute freedom of speech that the Heterodox Academy is talking about.

Most people in the US work in places of work where “employment at will” is the law of the land. Speech is generally curtailed in these places of work. Frankly, it is curtailed outside work as well, as for instance, you cannot do something outside of work that would tarnish the reputation of the employer, without expecting to jeopardize one’s employment.

So, in spite of the ultimate right to absolute freedom of speech in the US, the practicalities of remaining employed generally mean that like in Canada, speech is limited for the vast majority of Americans.

Academia is not an employment at will workplace, but people in Academia do have to worry about funding, so to some extent, they also cannot exercise absolute freedom of speech.

There are of course some wealthy individuals and some poor and unemployed individuals who do not have to worry about remaining employed or fund raising. These individuals probably can exercise more freedom of speech than the average person.

For me, I guess the question is, what do I as an employed individual, who cannot exercise absolute freedom of speech, get from those who not so limited in their speech?

I would argue that very little of value is gained for me personally, or anyone else, when somebody can post a murder, the body of a suicide victim, a rant against women or other minority, or a beheading online.

Very little is gained for me, or anyone else, when I am expected, for instance, to endure within an academic setting a rant about the supposed hysteria of women, or a diatribe about the intellectual superiority of one group over another (both of which I have experienced on almost a monthly basis for my entire career.)

The Heterodox Academy and its privileged and mostly wealthy supporters, or the Milos of the world, so far on the fringe that it is almost comical, try to imply that there is a place for absolute freedom of speech.

I would argue that there really isn’t, and vast majority of Americans and Canadians do limit their speech in order to be respectful toward their coworkers, family and friends, and respectful in their day to day business in the community.

I am not religious, but the “Do Unto Others As You Want Done To You” must go hand in had with the goal of freedom of speech and expression.

144. Ken Miller Says:

Amy #132: don’t know if you saw my previous request (in comment #124) but I’ll ask again — can you recommend any reading on the meaningful/sensible side of postmodernism (as opposed to what appears to many of us as the nonsense side exposed by Sokal)? For example, what was the book by the French person that opened your eyes to postmodernism? Thanks.

145. fred Says:

Free speech has to be the #1 principle because the only ways to “resolve” any disagreement is either through force/coercion or through discussion/reason.

Bad actions should always be punished, but no-one in a free society should be afraid of people expressing ideas, no matter how crazy/hateful they are, and you fight them with debates, not threats. If the other side is too confused to be reasoned with, then you have to trust that the “free market” of ideas will eventually prevail, or seriously examine why people are so confused…
otherwise what’s the point of the entire human enterprise? If good ideas can’t survive, then the human race is doomed no matter what, and no amount of rules and legislation will prevent that.

Besides, who’s to decide what forms of speech are okay and which ones should be disallowed?
It’s all fine and dandy when it’s your side/tribe that’s in charge, but the day you’ll be in a minority, your ideas will be the ones that are suppressed.

The serious issue with free speech is that the new generation of kids has been brainwashed into thinking that speech/words/ideas/drawings can actually really hurt… the irony is that we’re slowly lowering ourselves to the level of religious fundamentalists, where the wrong words/drawings are punishable by death.

146. Scott Says:

Fly on the Wall #143: Indeed, like most people, I don’t choose to exercise my First Amendment rights to gratuitously demean or offend anyone—or certainly not on purpose. Nevertheless, as someone who long suffered from what you might call “scrupulosity”—specifically, terror that I didn’t understand society’s rules (especially around dating) and might be inadvertently violating them—I prefer to have free speech rights that are much more extensive than I’ll ever have occasion to use. That way, I can feel confident that whatever I’m saying is not only within the rules, but well within them.

I completely agree that, in practice, the “speech restrictions” imposed by employers (or, I’d add, by social media shaming campaigns) are often much more consequential than legal restrictions. So I’ve long been very concerned with the former. And Heterodox Academy is also focused not on the law, but on university culture.

I don’t know anyone who disputes that harassment, intimidation, violating family confidences (as with the body of a suicide victim), etc. etc. are well within what a university can punish its students and faculty over. The real question, I think, is how much space there’s going to be in classrooms, or academic papers or conferences, for sober discussion of ideas even if they might shock or offend people.

“Shock or offend people in what way?,” you ask. My friend Julia Galef recently, and helpfully, compiled many examples of “unpopular ideas” that I think would be quite interesting to debate in a humanities or social science class, so let me just link to those:

147. fred Says:

A way to rephrase all this is that Western societies are currently very confused about one thing:

How to deal with intolerance when your core value is tolerance?

By putting restrictions on free speech we’re slowly backing ourselves into a corner.

As an example, speech that’s clearly racist is now totally forbidden (and this may look like a reasonable thing to do), well, at least as long as it’s targeting some oppressed minority (e.g. targeting a white majority is seen as a valid and important form of speech). We’ve even moved beyond that …. “punching a nazi” is the right thing to do (it’s okay to become an actual fascist to combat fascist speech?)

Criticizing the ideas of Islam is now seen automatically as racism, because a majority of Muslims are non-white (even though most religious doctrines aren’t very discriminate based on race, i.e. Islam and Christianity are designed to maximize the quantity of converts).

As a logical extension it becomes a no-no to criticize any religion or hurt anyone’s “belief” in general, no matter how crazy they can be (are we on the side of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists?)

Belief has become more sacred than reason.

As a result, the rule to judge the merit of any speech/idea/image is now whether it offends *anyone*, especially if that *anyone* perceives themselves as belonging to some minority (this even now applies to white supremacists).
As soon as it does, it’s bad, in some sort of absolute way.
Outrage becomes the stick with which to measure anything.
If what you say is offending me, you’re in the wrong in an absolute sense and there’s no need for debate at all.

I’m not sure what’s the end game here… sitting in the lotus position with our eyes closed, and not utter a single word, in fear that it could drift around and eventually hurt someone’s feelings?

148. quax Says:

Scott #130, absolute principles work great in science, when it comes to organizing a society I think more flexibility is in order. Human language and cultural ideas are just too fluid.

Case in point, as you know, even in the US freedom of speech is infringed by the “Shouting fire in a crowded theater” argument.

In democratic societies with hate speech laws, propagandization is regarded as similarly damaging. This constrain on free speech is typically balanced by even stronger protections for religion, the press, art and academia.

To give a tangible example: If you deny the Holocaust and rail against Zionists running the world, you will be fine doing this in a private party in Germany. Even in a semi-public space like a restaurant. If you do it on Twitter, not so much.

On the other hand, if you are an academic who came up with a well-researched paper that somehow completely overturned how we understood the Holocaust, your right to publish this is much stronger. But of course it is rather absurd to think that any paper that claims the Holocaust never happened could withstand 2 seconds of academic scrutiny, at which point the sanctity of academia no longer applies, and it will be considered at what is is: A propaganda screed.

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather live in a world were the Protocol of the Elders of Zions would have been exposed early on for what it was, and the authors held responsible.

149. peter Says:

Would joining this academy merely be a revenge against the SJW who attacked you or do you genuinely have a new social science theory that you can’t publish from Austin?

The “left” is far from being a monolithic bloc, I don’t see how a well formulated idea wouldn’t find support somewhere.

150. amy Says:

Scott: https://www.ams.org/notices/201410/rnoti-p1218.pdf . A review, really, not a critique, at least until the end. Nice, eh?

About your #137: the nice thing about things that have actually happened are that they actually happened, so you don’t have to deal entirely in hypotheticals. SA really did have a T&R process; there was enough trust in democratic elections for enough people to see equality down the line. Which did get shaky when ANC went through significant growing pains a few years later; but it was enough to get the ball rolling. In retrospect, it’s a little wonderful and amazing that this trust did exist, but it was important in the process to dismantle much of the institutional machinery of oppression right away: in the courts and prison systems in particular. Because there’s always risk that the newbs in power will fumble it and the old guard will just lie there waiting for its chance. And that in the end is the thing that needs the safeguard. You might compare it with how we’ve managed, or not managed, the Civil Rights Act, EEOC, ADA, and other civil rights safeguards in this country. Where we not only put in new law but actively broke machineries of oppression, opposition’s had a much harder time re-establishing itself. Compare, say, the energy that’s gone into school desegregation and voting rights v. fair housing, and also how dealing inadequately with the machinery of housing discrimination has managed, in some areas, to undo the work in desegregation and voting rights.

If you want to make the comparison to a hypothetical power-for-women one, my first thought is the German corporate board model, which has a quota for seats for labor reps, and also now a quota for seats for women. Is that a magical fix, not necessarily, but we do see that in organizations where women make up — I think it’s 30% or more — of leadership, conditions for women in the organization improve tremendously. You see more women being promoted, pregnancy being treated as a normal part of life rather than an imposition and an expensive nuisance, better representation in most or all areas of the organization, and so on.

It’s not hard for me to see why, either, after my experience with the March for Science, which I organized here with an undergraduate woman. As I drew up the program, I realized our speaker list was half men, half women, with good representation for both across professional ranks; we had some but not enough nonwhite speakers; we had a speaker with a disability (and no accommodation). We hadn’t set out to do that, but that’s how it fell out. It’s not hard for me to see why that happened, either. We’d invited people we knew who we thought were likely to speak well and say yes. And, disproportionately, we spend our time talking with women in STEM and medicine. Does it matter, yes. Some of those people turned around and put the speaking turn on their CVs, used it in major-fellowship applications, etc. Some of them used the opportunity to recruit and gain exposure; one of our speakers will be running for governor next term.

So I am not sure that a sexual-abuses T&R amnesty for those who were behaving, at the time, in ways the society largely overlooked or tacitly encouraged, actually requires reaching a Promised Land before it can begin. I think the credible promise that this is where we’re going is probably enough. But — and this was my intent in talking about the ANC’s election win — I think we would actually need to see enough women in power, and in powerful enough positions, for that promise to be credible.

151. fred Says:

quax

“Case in point, as you know, even in the US freedom of speech is infringed by the “Shouting fire in a crowded theater” argument.”

Obviously that doesn’t fall under the concept of an idea or a discussion…
It would be like expecting that free speech covers my shouting into your ear non-stop until your ear drum bursts or you become sleep deprived.

The right places and times when you can physically express an idea (and whether you can somewhat “force” them upon others) is different from free speech itself, and can be quite a complicated topic.
It’s a bit like the confusion between free beer and free software, heh.

152. Kevin S Van Horn Says:

Scott #21 writes: “It flabbergasts me that these activists don’t understand that, if and when they succeed at their goal, the new weapon they’ve created might just as easily be deployed against ‘their’ side as against the opposing side.”

Yes! This is a message that should be shouted from the rooftops.

153. Dan T. Says:

Amy #131: Your description of postmodernism reminds me of “doublethink” in Orwell’s 1984, which is one of the concepts promoted by the totalitarian government to stifle rational thought.

154. amy Says:

Ken #144 – At the time I was reading Deleuze, whom Sokal went after pretty hard (though that wasn’t why I was reading him). But I hesitate to say “read x and you’ll see”, for the same reason that I couldn’t, say, send Scott to go stand in front of any particular AbEx painting and tell him that if he did that he’d understand what AbEx painters were doing. For me it took about ten years of playing hooky and just going and standing in front of these paintings and looking before I began to understand what was happening there. I wasn’t taking art history classes (though sometimes I was painting), and frankly I didn’t want to hear explanations; it was just me and the paintings, and I trusted that if this was something then eventually it would show me what it was. And it did. (Which I then went and confirmed with the explanations. The difference between me and the best art critics was generally that they had more context and they saw faster; they also had a critical language, but between the critical language and the eye, the eye is the more important thing. It’s possible that the reason it took me so long was that I was in the meantime acquiring context, looking at a lot of other painting, too — painting and other art that was easier for me to understand.) The hint for me that it was worth sticking around that long to see wasn’t so much the social anointing but the intelligence that was obvious in so much of the brushwork and composition. In other words, I guess, I could see that it was something; I just didn’t know what it was. As opposed to, say, the kitsch art you see from Jeff Koons and a whole host of horrifying but spectacular artists. I’m thinking now of a woman whose work I saw at a museum in Minneapolis, probably the Walker: it was an entire beaded room. Everything was beaded. The whole thing glittered like a Halloween sugar-fever dream of a five-year-old girl. Something like this is not worth ten years, as far as I’m concerned — you can see you’re looking at a puddle, not an ocean.

Anyway. It’s entirely possible that the reason I was able to read Deleuze at that time was maybe 15-20 years’ worth of knocking around in other, related ideas, and slowly noticing (usually not happily) how my own practices were described by some of these critics, and the repeated efforts. But that’s how it often goes. I couldn’t read _Ulysses_ at all the first time I opened it, but five years later I discovered that it was a giant, maybe the giant, of the 20th century. No idea how these things happen.

155. quax Says:

Fred #151 “It would be like expecting that free speech covers my shouting into your ear non-stop until your ear drum bursts or you become sleep deprived.”

That is exactly what flooding social media with disinformation noise accomplishes. It renders a society incapable to distiguish between true and false and shortly thereafter between right and wrong.

The East German counter-intelligence called this technique legendization. It used to be expensive and could only be done on smaller scale when using old media. Now social media allowed it to become mass weaponized, and Russia ran with it.

156. Jay Says:

Scott #140

Suppose Jeremy was Lily… I find hard to reconcilate this kind of “freedom of speech” with the idea of making a better world for both our daughters and fellow nerds.

To me freedom of speech is not an excuse for ostracizing a kid, and in the same vein I’m 100% ok with forbiding hate speeches as well. Maybe you could point a case of abuse that would make change my mind?

157. Michael Says:

@Amy#128- I tried reading the article. But honestly, I wasn’t sure I understood it all. Maybe I was “kneejerking to keywords”. I might have come to that conclusion because he identified as a Communist, tweeted about the whites’ deaths during the Haitian revolution being a good thing, defended rioting, etc. So it’s entirely possible I was wrong.
(Incidentally, I cannot understand why writers feel the need to speak in jargon when we’re discussing a subject like violence that everyone understands. I mean, yeah, jargon is necessary when we’re discussing a subject that most people don’t understand, like quantum mechanics. But violence? Feminists sometimes argue that Dworkin was misunderstood and didn’t mean “all sex is rape” but the truth is we wouldn’t have had that debate if Dworkin wrote in plain English.)
I don’t think slave revolts are wrong. But what I do think is wrong is a concerted effort AFTER the victory has been won to get rid of the “oppressor class”, including their children. It was that that I assumed Ciccariello-Maher was in favor of. Again, I could have been wrong.

158. Scott Says:

Jay #156: That’s a tough case. It reminds me of Rush Limbaugh calling Chelsea Clinton a “dog” on TV when she was 13 years old (she was wearing braces and going through puberty, but of course later grew up to look rather glamorous…).

Does anyone know what the law is in the US regarding such things? I know there are heightened protections of various kinds for minors, but even if so, they might not apply to minors who are also “public figures.”

I tried looking up American defamation law regarding minors just now, and found the following:

The four legally established ways to defame a person or organization are: making allegations that cause injury to a trade, business or profession; accusing an unmarried woman of being unchaste; making accusations of criminal conduct; and imputations of loathsome disease.

!

More relevantly:

For a judge to accept a defamation case, you need some plausible claim of damages, “something more than ‘he defamed me to aliens and now it’s all over the Galaxy,’” Carroll writes. The two claims that succeed most often are financial harm and emotional distress … To prove a claim of emotional distress, there usually needs to be a physical manifestation such as an intestinal disorder, inability to complete schoolwork, bulimia or another condition that is visible to a doctor, teacher or social worker. In addition to seeking damages by filing a lawsuit, you can also ask the court for an injunction to stop further defamation.
159. Scott Says:

amy #154: One of the key features of science, as I understand it (or for that matter, of the kinds of humanities I like), is that you don’t have to study something for ten years just to satisfy yourself that it’s for real. For example, I think a curious and intelligent outsider could convince themselves in a day or two that quantum mechanics or general relativity must be “for real”—in the sense of there being clear-cut phenomena that no one has a better way to explain—even though it takes a lot longer if you actually wanted to understand those things, let’s say starting from no math beyond high school.

Interestingly, I think what makes some people uncomfortable about string theory is precisely how it moves away from that ideal, how it falls back on “study for 10 years and you’ll see the beauty and rigidity of this still-unknown structure that we’re only getting glimpses of.” Even there, though, you can again very quickly convince yourself that regardless of whether string theory is a true description of nature, there must be something there of great interest for math and for quantum field theory. (And not just because authorities say so, but because they’ve given you actual examples of things they can do in those areas that they couldn’t do pre-strings.)

160. Scott Says:

peter #149:

Would joining this academy merely be a revenge against the SJW who attacked you or do you genuinely have a new social science theory that you can’t publish from Austin?

Come on, the reason to join would be if I wanted to lend my name, or my time, to help advance their ideals.

Even supposing I had a “new social science theory” (which I don’t), how would joining would help me publish it? That seems sort of like joining the Sierra Club in the hope that they’ll stop your next-door neighbor from cutting down some trees.

Yes, someone might see the thousands of SJWs who chose to shame and attack me (like Amanda Marcotte), rather than engage in constructive dialogue (like Laurie Penny), as one small illustration of the cultural problem that HA was created to solve. But even there, note that it never got any worse than lurid online denunciations. The MIT provost asked if I was holding up OK, explicitly assuring me that I hadn’t violated any rule. Even when Dana and I went on the market for new jobs shortly afterward, it wasn’t an issue that ever came up. Others, like Laura Kipnis or Bret Weinstein or the Christakises, have had it much, much worse in “real life.”

161. Scott Says:

Incidentally, Amy #150: Whoa! My former postdoc adviser, and one of the most important people in my life, reviews my book in Notices of the AMS, and I only find out about it from Amy on my blog. One of the stranger things that’s ever happened to me. (Or maybe I did see that review, and just forgot about it?)

162. amy Says:

Scott #159 – well, I don’t know about that first paragraph. I mean here I am in chemistry, which would’ve come as a tremendous surprise to 13-year-old me, who could make no sense whatsoever out of talk of “valence” and these mysterious e-minuses with their twos and eights, not to mention 15-year-old me, who was so baffled by “per second per second” and talk of “forces” that she was mystified completely by the entire year of high school physics. These things have all come very, very slowly to me — just reading Six Easy Pieces with comprehension has taken over 30 years! And it’s not even complete comprehension! (Seriously, it’s taken me this long to catch on to the point of the two-slit experiment.) Why did I trust that these things were worthwhile, and that, say, graphology was not? I think it was nothing more than the tenor and structure of the conversation and something quite arresting in the scientific images I saw. I saw and heard intelligence, earnestness, beauty, so I kept going back and hanging around and trying again. Which is why I laughed when a chemistry professor told me, when I was about 30, that I had talent for these things — no, I know what talent feels like, and that certainly wasn’t it. Fifteen years later, though, I went to work for the same professor, and together we and several other people put a paper in Science; I wrote the introduction. I expect though that it’ll be another 15 years before I can see that work with much better understanding, because it involves tunneling, and again we’re in the world of quanta and forces and I’m still in the shallow end there.

It’s actually de Broglie who was showing me this week how this notion of fields and forces is connected to this modern question of continuity v. discontinuity — is there something all the way, or are there somethings in the middle of nothing. After 30 years of this kind of reading I see these questions and they’re huge; had they been explained to me this way 30 years ago I’m sure I wouldn’t have understood why they were important, and for a long time maybe the conversation would’ve seemed so banal that it wasn’t worth thinking about. But it is.

But then I’ve never had a problem with the idea that it can take a very long time just to recognize that you’re looking at something significant, much less what it is, its meanings and implications. Whether it’s about electrons or people or anything else. And that doesn’t even get to noticing the other people standing around the thing and also recognizing things about it, maybe very different things. It’s why I’m less impatient than I used to be with technical languages — I can see now both the struggle to affix language to some new idea or intuition that’s felt to be somehow, however amorphously, important, and how most people seem to struggle with language in the first place. I trust that if an idea is really important or useful that the language for it will be refined over time, and it’ll be the work of many people.

It’s a funny thing, too, what sticks easily to the mind and what slides off, and how those stickinesses change over time. I grew up with good music around me, but I was and am useless as a musician, and I would go to concerts and really have no idea what was happening there. Classical music was mainly a stream of instrument sounds with tunes in it, nice sounds, sometimes exciting sounds, often synaesthesia-inducing sounds. And then, for no reason I understand, maybe six or seven years ago my ears opened. I hear and understand this music in a way I just wasn’t capable of 20 years ago, even though my actual hearing range is much smaller than it was then. I understand now why so many musicians can’t have music on as background noise: it imposes itself, there’s a structure and richness and voice that must be paid attention. And it means that I have to learn music theory, because this is the language musicians use when they want to talk about it, which is a bit daunting because after dozens of attempts over 40 years I still can’t read music, even though plenty of ten-year-olds can. I still have to go Every Good Boy every damn time, and keep letter stickers stuck to the piano keys.

I’m also willing to believe that there are plenty of people who could hang around paintings or music or quantum mechanics for five hundred years and nothing would happen.

163. Scott Says:

Michael #157:

I mean, yeah, jargon is necessary when we’re discussing a subject that most people don’t understand, like quantum mechanics. But violence? Feminists sometimes argue that Dworkin was misunderstood and didn’t mean “all sex is rape” but the truth is we wouldn’t have had that debate if Dworkin wrote in plain English.

Actually, Dworkin sounds almost nothing like a jargon-loving postmodernist: she’s a very good writer, in her way. No, you never really understand what her policy proposal is, or specifically what she plans to do with the men come the Revolution—and probably the ambiguity on her part is deliberate. But you definitely understand what she’s feeling.

164. amy Says:

Michael #157 – I think some of the jargon in those kinds of papers happens for the same reasons it often happens in STEM papers — you have to prove to someone who’s not too swift that you’ve written a Real Scholarly or Scientific Paper Appropriate to the Field. And sometimes it’s political signaling to colleagues (“no, I really mean *this*, don’t even think about trying to string me up for *that*.”) Some of it happens because the writers are just terrible writers and don’t have any other language (I don’t think that’s the case with Ciccariello-Maher). But some of it’s that you’re not writing popular science or humanities; you’ve got a language that defines things that few people care about, and you’re duking out ideas along fronts nobody else cares about really. Here, for instance, he’s not just talking about violence; he’s talking about what’s informed the violence, why there’s violence and what it means, and there are Marxist and other political theories about these things, and you have to have language for them that reflects whatever Marx (or whoever) was talking about. (You’d run into the same trouble if you were asking psychologists about the psychology of violence — and the ideas would be very different.) So it’s a matter of audience — if you’re publishing in a scholarly journal you’re talking to people who have this language too.

About turning on the oppressors after the oppression is over: it seems to be unbelievably difficult to restrain people from seeking retribution. I was watching a doc not too long ago about South Africa’s renunciation of apartheid, and the amount of political and physical infrastructure, not to mention wisdom and work, that was necessary to keep that moment from turning into slaughter was quite extraordinary. One of the things that made it possible was the fact that there did exist anti-apartheid political organization of long standing across the country: there was trust, there was authority, there were means of communicating ideas and persuading people to do a difficult thing on trust. One of the things they did in a big hurry, for instance, was to print up and distribute copies of the new constitution — consider what it takes to do that across a country even in very poor areas, starting with “find someone credible to draw up a workable constitution”. I don’t know how much it mattered that this political organization itself had a significantly Western cast, that in a sense it was able to talk easily with the organization of last week’s oppressors.

Peaceful transitions appear to be deeply exhausting gifts, iow.

165. Sniffnoy Says:

About turning on the oppressors after the oppression is over: it seems to be unbelievably difficult to restrain people from seeking retribution.

That’s a serious question-swap there. What was being discussed was whether seeking such retribution is good or bad, not whether keeping people from doing it is hard.

166. amy Says:

Sniffnoy #165 – it’s possible to be interested in both.

As it happens, though, I’m more interested in the latter. Partly because it says something about the nature of the first question. If you’re going to talk about these things as though actual people and societies are involved, rather than pins and angels, I think you have to consider why it’s necessary to take up the question of “is this bad” in the first place.

167. Sniffnoy Says:

It’s certainly possible to be interested in both! However, when you silently swap one for the other without explicitly noting this, it looks like you’re identifying the one with the other. And unfortunately there really are people out there who will be misled by such an inferred identification instead of immediately noticing that there’s a conflation going on here which has to be peeled apart. As such, silent question-swapping like that is really not good practice and is frequently an easy way to utterly confuse a discussion.

168. Scott Says:

Thinking further about the Ciccariello-Maher case: I now feel bad that I rushed to judgment, in a way not entirely dissimilar from how thousands of people rushed to judgment about me in the wake of comment 171.

To clarify, this doesn’t mean I feel any confidence that my original judgment was wrong. I did just spend some time reading through his Twitter feed, and I found it uniformly hateful and rancid: Israel is a “shitty little colony” that should be destroyed, those fighting to overthrow capitalism need to arm themselves for “self-defense,” if you see people shoplifting “mind your fuckin’ business,” the battle against oppression (presumably, including lovely comments like the previous) should not be left out of the classroom, and most of all, endless streams of profanities hurled at people and groups he dislikes. The few tweets discussed earlier in this thread are not at all unrepresentative. (Also, the cover of his book is a painting of a slave triumphantly beating his master to death with a tree branch, which seems a little … I don’t know, on the nose?)

In the comments that I was attacked over, I honestly have a hard time finding anything parallel: did I wish harm on any person or group? did I celebrate any form of lawbreaking or violence?

So, it’s possible that if I took the time to examine Ciccariello-Maher’s whole output, I’d affirm my original judgment. But I should have taken that time before opining about his fitness to be a professor, and for that I apologize.

169. Eric Van Nevel Says:

I would be similarly reluctant to join anything that had a pledge of any kind as well.

I think the only thing that needs to be considered is if you think that joining would actually help you to maintain Enlightenment norms significantly more than you’d be able to without actually joining. It doesn’t seem like anything prevents you from furthering those goals without being a member, nor would not being an official member prevent you from working with anyone who was.

170. Anonymous Says:

#158:

How is it different for defamation laws for adults?
Does it matter if what’s said is true?
Does it matter how publicly the statements are made?

171. Jay Says:

Scott #158,

Thanks for looking. Then I guess the legal status is the same for both USA and Canada: unclear enough we won’t know until it will be tested a few times in court (Ward was condemned, but there’s an appeal with non trivial chance of success). But I still don’t understand what specific cases of abuse or potential abuse you were thinking at in #140?
The only clear case that I’m aware of was when scientists working in federal institutions were silenced under the former conservative governement. But I doubt that’s what you were thinking better in the USA… amusingly (?!) freedom of speech is arguably better protected in the USA for white supremacists than for climate scientists working for the US government.

172. amy Says:

Okay, so I had a look at the guy’s twitter feed, and the main difference between what I’m seeing there and what I’ve heard from many other angry young men on the far left is that the guy apparently knows what poverty is. (True story? I don’t know.) Difference between him and Zinn: Zinn was polite. I don’t think there are substantial differences otherwise between what I’m seeing in his feed and Zinn’s work. It is clear to me that C-M doesn’t think that politeness is useful at all. I think there are many situations in which he’s correct. But there’s nothing new about that argument.

I’m not surprised that Drexel wouldn’t protect him; it’s the wrong kind of school for that kind of thing. My guess is he will find another academic home.

Book jacket: you’ll notice the slave master is still literally clutching the whip handle. I also think it’s a mistake to look at the picture without looking at the words. The words are what the book is about; the picture is about the central crisis in the theory. I think he’s actually going to have a long career in this, because he’s right when he says that there is no way currently to use 19th-c European dialectics in interpreting global 21st-c riots and other political struggles unless you’re going to do something about the old dialectics’ iffy relationship with colonialism and race. And “doing something” has to be a large, large project. So if dialectical thinking really has become and will go on being a big thing again, I think he’s probably found a tremendous vein to mine (and I’m sure he’s not the only one, but he does seem to be vigorous in his self-promotion). Whether or not he’s any good at it I have no idea and I’m sure I’m not any kind of judge.

I’m guessing because I don’t know the area and I am not a philosophy or lefty-theory person, but my guess is that his arguments share a lot of cable with those that so exercised Sokal and Bricmont, and it has to do with social assumptions underlying and rigidities inherent in Enlightenment-era thought.

173. amy Says:

Sniffnoy #168: Quite right. 🙂

174. James Hanley Says:

I joined HA. It doesn’t do anything for me except give me the satisfaction of identity with a group that’s fighting intellectual intolerance.

If you’re not a prof or grad student, I’m not sure you’re eligible for membership. But I’d say the reason you shouldn’t join is that you’re not deeply committed to their perspective.

I don’t say that as criticism, just as what seems to be the case from your post. Since you probably can’t do a lot for them through membership (I certainly haven’t) and they probably can’t do a whole lot for you, that really only leaves strong identity commitment about shared values — signaling, if you will — as the reason to join. If you’re not confident that’s what you want to signal, why signal it?

On the other hand, it doesn’t cost anything, so there’s not much downside. 😉

175. Michael Says:

@Amy#172- Angry young men? He’s 38.
Zinn minimized Mao’s crimes. There’s something ugly about the far left that a lot of people don’t want to admit.

176. kg Says:

I guess I’ll less forgiving than you, Scott. I’d have put every Nazi in jail for a few years (maybe in shifts, chosen randomly or by severity of crimes to solve the logistical problem).

177. Scott Says:

kg #176: As I said, I also would’ve supported a much, much more severe punishment regime than there actually was (I took flak, years ago on this blog, for saying that I would have supported death sentences for those Nazis who directly participated in atrocities—nothing of the kind happened on any significant scale). But it’s clear that you couldn’t have killed, or imprisoned for life, every German who’d enthusiastically supported or aided the Nazis, whatever some abstract concept of justice would seem to call for.

Mostly, I was simply trying to call attention to the irony of the present moment, which says that amnesty may have been justified for those who loaded the Jews onto trains, shot the ones trying to escape, etc., but never, ever for a guy who put his hand on a woman’s bare back while trying to console her. Like, I get the anger that’s driving this, but I don’t see how it’s morally sustainable.

178. josh Says:

So in case it would have been possible you would have supported (Nazi-)German genocide?

Do you support the way the American soldiers continued to run the concentration camps they ‘freed’, imprisoning German civilians?

179. Scott Says:

josh #178: No, that’s not what I said at all. Punishing people who directly participated in atrocities isn’t even in the same moral universe as genocide.

I didn’t know about the Allies holding German civilians in concentration camps—do you have a reference? I do know that they forced the people who lived near the camps, dutifully not asking for years about the black smoke, to tour them and help clean up the remains.

180. Michael Says:

@Scott#176- I’m not sure if I buy Keillor’s story that he was fired for touching a woman’s bare back. He wrote an entire column defending Al Franken without mentioning that he was under investigation for sexual harassment, which arguably raises questions about his honesty. MPR said that that there were multiple allegations:
Yes, I know, in the absence of real information to the contrary, we should be charitable.

181. Michael Says:

@Scott#179- I think that he’s referring to the tens of thousands of suspected Nazis held in internment camps after the war, some of whom were housed in Dachau and Neungamme:
https://history.army.mil/books/wwii/Occ-GY/ch21.htm
http://www.kz-gedenkstaette-neuengamme.de/en/history/the-site-after-the-war/

182. Scott Says:

Everyone: OK, so my decision is not to join Heterodox Academy for now, but to wish them well and try to support them in the many areas where we agree. The decision might change in the future, for example if the problems they’re addressing get worse, or they do something really important that I want to be part of, or they address some of the issues that have been raised in this thread with their pledge.

There was no single argument that was decisive for me—mostly, just the combined weight of all the arguments here, together with the absence of a counterargument from HA members or others that successfully answered my concerns. Amy did almost convince me to join, just to signal the depth of my disagreement with her about Alan Sokal. 😉

I’ll be closing down this thread today. Thanks to everyone who offered advice or otherwise participated, and please get in any final comments now.

183. Scott Says:

Michael #180: In that case, it comes back to a principle that I enunciated in the Walter Lewin post, and that I still stand by: if a public figure is going to be ‘erased’—doesn’t matter whether for sexual harassment or for anything else—then the exact nature of their offense should be made public, so that all can join in the just condemnation, and everyone who admired the figure can make a clean break.

184. josh Says:

@Scott #179. Ok, I see, sorry for the misunderstanding. But the sentence ‘But it’s clear that you couldn’t have killed, or imprisoned for life, every German who’d enthusiastically supported or aided the Nazis, whatever some abstract concept of justice would seem to call for.’ had the flavor of ‘that would’ve been the best way, though, if logistically/etc. possible’. But I think it’s a complex topic and possibly no single sentence can express an opinion about it comprehensibly.

I don’t know what kind of reference you are looking for. Buchenwald, for example, was continued by the Soviets and the US soldiers, like many other camps, imprisoning NSDAP people but also juveniles, denunciated persons and whomever they deemed a threat to themselves. And the methods did not change much, starvation and torture were common. So let’s say only people ‘who’d enthusiastically supported or aided the Nazis’ were held there (which unfortunately is not true), would you say this is justice or the right kind of punishment?

185. Jack Says:

Scott,

The reason your concern about the viewpoint diversity pledge is unwarranted is that we know that viewpoint diversity is what is causing a great deal of problems on campuses right now. Your concern that we do not need viewpoint diversity on some issues, like creationism, is easily nullified.

First, who gets to decide which issues do not require further debate? Some say that viewpoint diversity on matters such as understanding transgenderism is unnecessary because there is nothing to talk about and any inquiry into understanding the science behind it is transphobia. Second, you seem like someone who might be a fan of John Stuart Mill. Well, what is his view on this matter? Clash ideas against one another. Even if you know you are correct your position becomes stronger and more clear by encountering resistance. In addition, some views can become merely dogma and not living truths if they are not contested.

Finally, given these points, it seems like your priorities might be misplaced. We have a real and demonstrable threat to institutional disconfirmation that is having a strong negative impact on the validity of the university, so I do not think that your concern about a hypothetical problem that may arise is warranted. In addition, those ideas can easily be contested and shown to be false by the same process.

186. Michael Says:

@josh- I think it’s a mistake to compare the American camps to the Soviet camps. In the Soviet camps 42,889 people died of mistreatment by the Soviets’ own figures and 756 were executed. Moreover, the Soviet camps contained political prisoners as well as actual Nazis. They were basically an attempt to recreate the gulag on German soil.
OTOH, the US camps didn’t have anywhere near as high a death rate. I’m sure some prisoners were mistreated- there was a lot of anger at the Germans- but there weren’t systematic deaths of large numbers of prisoners.

Scott #160:

Come on, the reason to join would be if I wanted to lend my name, or my time, to help advance their ideals.

Even supposing I had a “new social science theory” (which I don’t), how would joining would help me publish it?

Of course, you don’t have a “new social science theory”, but remember that you have an old and neglected problem for social sciences – “the problem of the shy male nerd.” You said that:

These problems are (thankfully) no longer the slightest bit relevant to my life, but they affect so many young people in math and science—and the stigma against mentioning them in “respectable” circles is so immense—that using my tenured freedom to talk about these things does seem like one of my best hopes to do some lasting good for humanity.

The psychologists don’t have a “Psychology Overflow” – but maybe Heterodox Academy would have been an opportunity…

188. Scott Says:

josh #184: If Germans, including children, who’d had nothing to do with supporting Nazi atrocities were starved or tortured, then absolutely, that was a great injustice. (As, in some sense, every innocent German killed by Allied bombs was the victim of injustice, and deserves to be remembered.) At the same time, I find it difficult to condemn those fighting on the “right” side of a horrific long-ago war, except in cases that were jaw-droppingly horrible even by the usual standards of wartime atrocities prevailing then. While I like to think that I would never have been a Nazi (to whatever extent I was still “me”), I’m not sure how much better you or I would have acquitted ourselves in place of (say) General Eisenhower in 1945-46.

189. Scott Says:

OK everyone, closing the thread. Thanks for participating!