There is currently a ‘great awokening’ burning across our university campuses, energised by the elixir of social media. It is the third major spasm of what I term Left-modernism, a hybrid of egalitarian and expressive individualist ideas. This anti-rationalist ideology is leaving scorched earth in its wake as it shuts down intellectual freedom and diversity of thought in our great educational institutions.
Right now, if academics dare to challenge orthodoxy in the hot-button areas of race, sexuality and gender, their job may be on the line. But each time opponents of reason and free enquiry win, our society loses a little more of its hard-won liberty. That’s why I applaud the young researcher, Noah Carl, and have donated to his campaign to raise the legal funds needed to challenge his wrongful dismissal by St Edmund’s College, Cambridge.
Noah won his place at the university rightfully, in an extremely competitive process. But he didn’t reckon on the influence of the ‘social justice’ Left. They wield extraordinary power as they mobilise flash mobs and perform on camera to win plaudits from their international, social media, ‘social justice’ subculture. They targeted Noah and his so-called ‘racist pseudoscience’ and mustered 1500 to sign a letter calling for his dismissal. Cambridge bowed to their demands.
These activists, and people like them, justify themselves and their actions with a worldview constructed from two conceptual sleights-of-hand.
The first involves expanding the remit of words – what psychologist Nick Haslam terms ‘concept creep‘ or political scientist Giovanni Sartori would call ‘conceptual stretching’. The meaning of ‘harm’ is extended to encompass the psychological ‘harm’ of hearing uncomfortable ideas. Often the harm that such ideas pose may not be clear to their supposed victims, so activists must work hard to frame these ideas as ‘offensive’ to a protected group.
The second trick is to take ‘justice’ and apply it, not to equality of opportunity, but to equality of outcome. This means that they can take any group differences of outcome – i.e. white people earning more than black ones – as evidence of ‘systemic’ discrimination.
In this way, the shadowy notion of fighting ‘systemic’ or ‘structural’ racism becomes the end, which justifies the suspension of reason and the violation of the liberty of the ‘oppressor’ (read: white, male) who stands in the way of righting historic wrongs.
In short, their perfectionist, no-holds-barred vision justifies their illiberalism and unreason – much as fascism once did, and as socialism continues to in North Korea and Venezuela. Though sometimes violent, more often they use the perceived wrongdoing to gun for people’s jobs, reputations and livelihoods.
Failing this, they aim to make the purported offender’s life as uncomfortable as possible in the hope they will be forced out. One way of doing this – and something I’ve encountered on several occasions – is by bombarding a university’s social media account with complaints in order to force a (mandatory) investigation by administrators.
The net result is to purge the campus of wrongthink. And the activists have almost succeeded: cultural conservatives in the social sciences and humanities in the anglosphere are nearly extinct, and libertarians are scarce outside economics.
Their struggle for ‘social justice’ is a sacred one, as are its sites of resistance. Noah Carl’s presence at Cambridge was held to profane the sacred, since it violated the role the social justice Left demands of the modern university: that it act as a progressive safe space from the unjust world beyond.
But scrub away the patina of guilt-by-association, conceptual stretching and innuendo, and the radicals’ case quickly evaporates. What emerges is a thoroughly dishonest smear campaign, in which ideologues created a superficial narrative and used political pressure to ruin an individual’s career.
Noah does a nice job of responding to his critics point-by-point, but for brevity’s sake, I’ll summarise their stitch-up. The signatories’ defining charge is that Noah is a ‘race scientist’. This is incredible given that Noah hasn’t worked on, or made any definitive claims about, the relationship between race and intelligence. What he has done is to make the libertarian and rationalist case that scholars should be free to seek the truth, however uncomfortable.
We won’t know whether race really is connected to intelligence until the gene-level relationships that define the two are mapped at some point in the future. I suspect the data will show a mess of weak and contradictory correlations, which may be why current work has difficulty with anomalies such as why black Americans are so much more successful than (ostensibly more intelligent Asiatic) Inuit and Eskimo. In any event, inter-racial marriage and – who knows? – gene-editing mean race and IQ is unlikely to be much of a talking point a century from now.
But this is beside the point. Noah’s argument is that university researchers need to have the freedom to conduct research on all manner of subjects – indeed, James Flynn, who argues that environment rather than genes is responsible for race-IQ differences, has decried the stigma attached to research in this area. How else could he prove his case?
Indeed, there is nothing nefarious about this research. Even measuring skulls is not inherently sinister. The early 20th-century eugenicists who used this technique to argue that southern and eastern European immigrants to America were inferior to the ‘Nordic’ natives were hoist on their own petard by Franz Boas, who showed that the US-born children of non-Nordics had the same skull sizes as American-born Nordics.
And a properly functioning scientific culture would have just as swiftly debunked the ad hoc excuses used to explain away African-Americans’ lower criminality rate (than whites) in the early 20th century.
Noah also points out that the Nazis actually opposed the study of race and intelligence because the results favoured Jews. Instead they, like all ideologues, cherry-picked what they wanted from both religious and secular belief systems. The fact anti-minority eugenics won out wasn’t due to science, but to dominant ideologies which stood in the way of rigorous analysis.
Today’s social justice ideologues are much closer to the spirit of the Nazis than social scientists such as Noah whose methods are transparent and findings falsifiable.
If someone tries to broadcast the claims of race science, a case can be made that this harms the self-efficacy of black people and so should be discouraged. We know that when methods of suicide are widely publicised in the media, suicide goes up.
But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t study suicide methods. As African-American linguist John McWhorter argues, the subject of race and intelligence can be quietly investigated without broadcasting the results. When progressives kick up a storm about this, they publicise the very findings they claim to be harmful.
Of course, one may disagree with all this using data or logic. But disagreement is Noah’s point. He has not done work on race and intelligence; he has only defended the right of other academics to do so. He is a libertarian and contrarian, but – and I say this as one who has lost relatives in the Holocaust – he is certainly not a racist. His interest in academically taboo subjects stems from his contrarian curiosity and belief in the importance of academic freedom.
He was also accused of attending a ‘secret’ conference on intelligence to discuss race science; but it turns out to have been an innocuous invitation-only event (common in academia) attended by a multiracial array of scholars studying numerous aspects of intelligence, few of which concern race. The supposedly ‘far Right’ journals he published in, also cited as evidence of his unsuitability, turn out to be publications with similarly global editorial boards and varied interests.
Furthermore, the allegedly ‘shoddy’ methods used in some of his lower-tier publications are actually the standard methods used in thousands of academic papers that focus on country-level data. Finally, in contrast to the charge levelled by his critics, he didn’t hide any of his published work from the evaluation committee.
The links in the progressive activists’ join-the-dots story of ‘race scientist helping the far Right’ are spurious – based on guilt-by-association or outright ignorance. Like his Oxford doctoral supervisors, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Noah, and to know that he is an honest, personable scholar. He has done nothing wrong and his struggle is vital if we are to restore reason and freedom in academia and beyond.