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Cancel Culture has captured campus Woke ideology has become increasingly powerful and intolerant. But can it be stopped?

Photo by Guy Smallman/Getty Images


October 21, 2020   8 mins

Here is all you need to know. Society is made up of invisible force fields, handed down by history and keeping oppressed groups in their place. The Force, designed by oppressor groups, in particular white men, controls you through the words you use, and the meanings attached to those words. Constructed by the evil Force in a bid to control your thought, what we think of as “knowledge” makes you accept and reproduce hierarchies of race, sexuality, gender, disability, even weight. The “real world” and science are illusions created by the Force to maintain the hierarchical system. Reality doesn’t exist, only perception.

But help is on the way, for we now have the cure for this problem: Critical Theory. The goal of “Theory” is to overthrow the Force, liberating the disadvantaged from their mental slavery to usher in an epoch of perfect equality, or even — dare we hope — turn the tables on the white cis-het male oppressor. If you fall into a hegemonic category, you must repent of your privilege and become an ally to the oppressed. If from a victim group, you must wake up and fight against lies about “objective truth”, “free speech” or universal standards, which are oppressing you and erasing your identity.

If you have the temerity to disagree with this conspiracy theory, or demand evidence for its sweeping claims, you’re part of the problem, helping to reproduce the Force and uphold the System. Time for your re-education, otherwise known as diversity training.

Critical Theory is the philosophy which underlies Wokeness. It consists of layers of assertions, built up over time, with each new generation of theories building on the inventions of previous theorists. Using moral self-righteousness and the leftist monoculture of the soft social sciences to shield them from scientific scrutiny, its practitioners have founded a series of fields such as queer theory, critical race theory, fat studies and critical gender theory.

Gradually, these have intersected and morphed into an all-encompassing Theory, which today’s identity politics activists use to justify a ratcheting programme of language policing, Twitter mobbing and re-education. When challenged, they wheel out Theory buzzwords like “white fragility”, “heteronormative” or “microaggression”.

Critical Race Theory, in particular, has become such a concern that last month the US president issued an executive order barring its use in federal institutions, while yesterday in Parliament Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch condemned it as a “dangerous trend” in race relations.

Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay’s Cynical Theories is the most thorough attempt yet to unmask this Social Justice religion, or, to use postmodernist lingo, to “deconstruct” its “metanarrative”. It tracks the genealogy of critical race, gender, queer and fatness theory, painstakingly pointing out logical leaps and flaws. The two authors, along with a third figure, Peter Boghossian, came to well-earned prominence in October 2018 when they revealed the scandal that they were able to get seven hoax papers published in established gender studies, fat studies and queer studies journals.

These included a purported participant observation study of a dog park alleging that canines engage in rape culture and a paper on the penis as social construct. Though designed to be ridiculous, these studies passed peer review because they ticked the right ideological boxes and demonstrated proficiency in postmodernist jargon. One even won an award. Like Alan Sokal’s similar hoax in the 1990s, Pluckrose and company exposed the fact that these studies trafficked in ideology and faux-knowledge, and could thus be manipulated in a way no scientific journal dedicated to understanding the real world can be.

As a Masters student in Sociology at the London School of Economics in the early 1990s, I encountered the prelapsarian world in which high theory and activism were still separate. Coming from an economics background, I was stunned to find myself in a sociological theory seminar that felt like a séance, in which participants riffed off each other, tossing in morsels of jargon or fragments from canonical thinkers like Michel Foucault, Claude Levi-Strauss or Homi Bhabha, while shedding little to no light on the workings of the social world beyond our classroom.

The big thing was still postmodernism, the idea that modernisation and progress are a myth, along with its bigger sister, post-structuralism, which holds that language is just a bunch of words which gain meaning from each other and have no relationship to anything in the real world. Postmodernism was an art rather than a science, a play on words instead of a serious attempt to improve our knowledge of society.

Of course, there may be a grain of truth to Foucault’s untested idea that knowledge affects power relations, or to the post-structuralist claim that context has some effect on the meaning of words. Phrases like “astral world of signs” or “liquid modernity” really are a lot of fun. Yet, rather than make such claims measurable and modest, its contemporary practitioners have elevated the idea of knowledge as oppression onto the plane of sacred values, with reality and theory two non-overlapping magisteria that science cannot solve. Relativism insulates Theory from scientific scrutiny.

After the seminar, I noticed one especially humourless classmate dressed in proletarian gear flogging the Socialist Worker in the quad, having swapped his postmodernist theory for Marxist practice. Nowadays, his high theory and activism would be better coordinated, united in the form of a strident intersectional identity politics which manifests in the form of open letters to cancel professors, Robin D’Angelo’s White Fragility training or the New York Times’s 1619 Project. Indeed a key theme of Pluckrose and Lindsay’s book is that the political radicalism of the 1960s-80s has commandeered the pretend-expertise of postmodernism, invested it with seriousness and pressed it into action as Cancel Culture.

Just as Salafi Islam was a quietist form of fundamentalism that ignited when mixed with Marxist theories of action, Theory has now entered its activist phase. It has migrated off campus into government, the media and the corporate world. This is why the sane mainstream can no longer afford to ignore its abstruse nonsense and why, whatever we think of Trump, we should applaud his executive order banning Critical Race Theory in the US government.

The book’s intellectual history is vital, and I commend its plea for a return to what Jonathan Rauch terms “liberal science”. This said, the authors fail to grasp the liberal roots of Theory, and how Left-liberalism’s well-intentioned and sometimes protective attitude to minorities has overreached and helped make the problem worse.

They believe a sharp emotional line can be drawn between a nice “left-liberal” who “favour[s] the underdog” and a totalising victim-oppressor worldview. Unfortunately, it can’t. Once your default position is warmth toward supposedly helpless minorities and suspicion of majorities, you have stepped across an affective abyss which sacrifices your objectivity, and this makes it far harder to resist the leftist good guys just trying to protect the meek. After all, the hearts of activists fighting for the underdog are in the right place and you wouldn’t want to be associated with the dark side.

Theory is set up as a form of science but it rarely advances through logical argument, and it can only be countered if it rests on a pre-cognitive base of emotional neutrality.

While the principles of reason and liberalism are opposed to extreme egalitarianism, there is no appeal to the heart in contemporary liberalism to viscerally counter the powerful Woke metanarrative of “defending the weak against the tyranny of the majority”. Until such a thing happens, liberal science will continue to mock Theory the way Sokal did in 1996 — while wokeness barrels on, capturing the hearts of young, educated and “right-thinking” people.

John Ellis’s The Breakdown of Higher Education is a case study of what happened at the epicentre of Theory, the university. It provides a first-hand account of how the cultural revolution that institutionalised critical theory and Cancel Culture began and spread. As a British-born emeritus professor of English at the University of California Santa Cruz who has taught there since 1966, Ellis recalls an exciting time when staff and students learned the western canon, and used it as a jumping-off point to freely discuss ideas without fear of being shamed or disciplined. He recounts how Social Justice ideology has, over the course of his lifetime, driven the pursuit of truth and excellence out of the social sciences and humanities in American universities.

This cultural change began with demographic shifts and was consolidated through political discrimination. In 1969, the authoritative Carnegie faculty surveys found that 45% of the professoriate leaned left, 28% right and 27% in the middle. By 2004, a study of party registration data for Berkeley and Stanford university faculty showed an 8:1 left-to-right ratio, rising to 49:1 among junior faculty. Trend-setting California offered a clue as to what was happening. By 2016, another study found that the modest 2:1 left-to-right nationwide faculty ratio of 1969 had given way to a yawning 12:1 tilt. By 2018, Mitchell Langbert’s study of the party registrations of faculty in the top 50 US liberal arts colleges discovered that 39% had zero Republican registrations, with most of the rest in single digits.

Ellis remarks on the confluence of chance events that allowed this capture to take place. In effect, during the sixties, a combination of baby boom demographics and rising affluence resulted in the universities undergoing massive expansion. This occurred at precisely the moment that the Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement delegitimated the country’s traditional narrative, a conjunction that created an opening for radical students to enter the professoriate in large numbers, transforming it.

Once in post, the new generation deepened their ideological grip by controlling recruitment. Instead of being inculcated into the dominant truth-seeking culture of the university, the radicals now possessed the critical mass to escape Rauch’s “liberal science” and transform the entire mission of academia. Now truth-seekers would have to bend to orthodoxy instead of the other way round. Instead of their traditional motto of veritas, the university now stood for radical activism, with a focus on disadvantaged race, gender and sexuality groups.

Ellis draws on John Stuart Mill’s argument that “the opposition of the other
 keeps each within the limits of reason and sanity” — bad ideas on the extremes are sidelined. Once academia becomes a monoculture, however, with conservative voices excluded or suppressed, there is no longer a battle of ideas at the centre, but rather a climate which empowers “the most extreme and exciting positions of the left”, in Ellis’s words, a group who come to exemplify the shared outlook of the campus. The result has been ever-more strident campus radicalism, culminating in disasters like the Evergreen State and Middlebury affrays, shoutdowns and no-platformings. Professors who fail to conform to campus orthodoxy face open letters, chanting students and Twitter mobs trying to end their livelihoods.

Meanwhile, says Ellis, the university is failing its students. A succession of studies show that graduateliteracy levels and general skills have slipped compared to past generations. In one study, 45% of students showed no skills development over their entire university course. Meanwhile, implicit racial quotas at leading universities have resulted in minority students with weaker results being improperly allocated to universities that don’t match their aptitude, producing high dropout rates or transfers to less rigorous courses — with their relative lack of success in prestige fields then blamed on a racist curriculum rather than a flawed admissions process.

Universities have stonewalled attempts to obtain data on graduation rates for preferentially-admitted students, Ellis writes, because “they don’t want anyone to know the damaging results of these policies
the harm they do to black students”.

The mushrooming of equity and diversity bureaucracies in recent decades has both increased the chilling effect on conservative and centrist scholars and replaced an ethos of excellence with one of “diversity”. Diversity training using Theory-inspired materials is now mandatory across most American universities, and some University of California departments are requiring job applicants to complete “diversity statements” outlining how they are advancing orthodoxy. Administrators, not scholars, weed the pile of applications, which is only then sent on to academic departments.

Ellis believes that universities have passed the point of no return and cannot be saved from within. The only hope is for outside intervention, from donors, trustees or the Government. However, time is short, for Social Justice is now taking root outside the campus, from K-12 schools to corporations. As new generations are raised to prioritise sensitivity to minorities (as interpreted by Theory) over truth, the common sense of the off-campus majority may no longer exist in sufficient strength to resist dogma.

Pluckrose and Lindsay, inhabiting the more intellectually plural world of commentary and journalism, believe good ideas will win out over bad. Ellis, who has seen the face of repression first-hand within the American university system, is, in my view, more realistic.

Conservatives and traditional liberals naively expected the political correctness and speech codes of the 1990s to fade away. They wasted their energy on economics and foreign policy, neglected the culture and are now in danger of losing it altogether. Only an active mobilisation, involving the intervention of elected governments, can hope to reverse Theory’s capture of elite institutions, the current slide toward collective unreason and the emergence of a truly Orwellian public culture.

 


Eric Kaufmann is Professor of Politics at the University of Buckingham and author of Taboo: How Making Race Sacred Led to a Cultural Revolution (Forum Press, 4 July).

epkaufm

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Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
3 years ago

The fact that there is such a thing as “fatness theory” fills me, as a fat person, with weariness.

Look. Here’s the full extent of what my fat self wishes of all you slender folk:

“Don’t insult me for being fat. I’m aware of it and I’m not happy about it. I would lose weight if I could, but I’ve been trying and failing my whole life, and you being mean to me won’t help.”

There. Done. No need for any academics to write long books on the subject. No need for any special sensitivity training. Definitely no need for any social engineering aimed at making people more fat-positive. Just be civil to me. That’s all I ask, and if anyone asks for more on my behalf, then I do not support them and I wish they wouldn’t.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

Unfortunately, today’s wokeltarians cannot accept mere politeness or civility as an approach. The rest of us must be dragooned into active affirmation of whatever your cause is.

Juilan Bonmottier
Juilan Bonmottier
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Good enough parents spend a number of difficult months/ years helping their young children develop the mental/ emotional faculties to stop throwing tantrums, and to process their distress with thinking. Now they go to college and someone seems to be encouraging them to do the exact opposite.

Marcus Alonzo
Marcus Alonzo
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Here in Berkeley a so-called Liberal Mecca, there is no tolerance for free speech that disagrees with the left wing narrative. Anyone who commits the crime of speaking out will be publicly shamed and risks their personal property with retaliatory graffiti. “white silence is violence” is scrawled on public buildings, and there is even talk of putting police on trial for hate crimes. Orwell could not have had it more spot on correct. Thoughtcrime is not tolerated.

Alex Wilkinson
Alex Wilkinson
3 years ago

It’s a tyranny of sentimentality isn’t it.

‘Either wear the t-shirt or you don’t care.’

F. that.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Wilkinson

Sentimentality and cruelty often go hand-in-hand.

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

Sadly true. I keep expecting sentimental people to be tolerant and kind, because surely having a lot of feelings should lead to empathy and gentleness? It doesn’t seem to work out that way in practice, though. Sentimental people tend to be downright draconean in stomping down on anything that threatens the things that makes them go “awwwwww.”

Not to say that cynics and nihilists are any nicer, but with them you at least see it coming from a mile away.

Nigel Blumenthal
Nigel Blumenthal
3 years ago

I also couldn’t believe that “Fat Studies” was a real thing. So I looked it up and, as you’ve also discovered, it is. The course description from the top result in my Google search reads as follows:

This course allows students to begin to reflect on the intricacies of fat as an area of oppression and as a contested site within the loaded discourses of the obesity “epidemic”. Through a shared analysis of scholarly writing on the topic, as well as popular representations of fat, this course aims to provide an overview of the field of Fat Studies and a critical understanding of the need for fat activism.

The real problem is that this has nothing at all to do with “fat”. If you copy the above text, and do a search-and-replace, changig “fat” to “being black”, for example, you’d probably be able to find exactly the same course summary for black studies too.

John Nutkins
John Nutkins
3 years ago

Thank you, Nigel, for a moment’s amusement when reading about ‘Fat Studies’! What unbelievable boll**ks – forgive my expression. I wonder who the utter morons are who peddle this trash. Who in their right mind would sign up to this adipose absurdity of a course, and would any employer find it remotely useful? No, of course not – in fact a job-seeker with such a ‘qualification’ would have the application rejected forthwith.

Peter LastSpurrier
Peter LastSpurrier
3 years ago
Reply to  John Nutkins

‘adipose absurdity’. Love it.

Alex Mitchell
Alex Mitchell
3 years ago

When your course outline includes the conclusion you should draw at the end, you know it’s indoctrination and not study

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
3 years ago

I feel vaguely uncomfortable with the idea of my lard being studied in so much depth…

Kelly
Kelly
3 years ago

This is absolutely on point. I fear we may be reaching the tipping point in the US. If Biden is elected the Woke will take everyone over the cliff.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  Kelly

This is my worry too.

Not because of the Democrats themselves per se, but what they might usher in. Comparisons to the 1930s are always dredged up at times of turmoil, but in this case I specifically think it is worth mentioning that the Facism of the early C.20 was brought in as a reaction to failed Communist/Socialist/Left governments in Italy (1919), Germany (1933) and Spain (1936).

Yes Trump might be bad to many, but if the Democrats don’t learn from it and go full throttle with the lunatic fringe they have espoused, we could see something far worse.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

The Dems will usher in an American version of China, especially at the Biden’s took 1.5 BILLION from the Chinese and are already owned by the Chinese.

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

must be true Donald Trump said it!

timothy.j.clarke01
timothy.j.clarke01
3 years ago
Reply to  Kelly

Things may have to get worse before they can get better.

A one term Democrat disaster might be exactly what we need. The Republican could in the meantime get their house in order and a popular groundswell will rise against this Wokenonsense.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Kelly

Probably not. Biden is an old-fashioned classical liberal. Harris is further down the rabbit hole, but even she still has some common sense.

It’s the ones who come after them we need to worry about.

Angela Frith
Angela Frith
3 years ago
Reply to  Kelly

I can’t help noticing that this is happening under a Republican government.
Maybe it has less to do with politics than you think.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago

“whatever we think of Trump, we should applaud his executive order banning Critical Race Theory in the US government.”

This is exactly why, if I was a US citizen, I would be voting for Trump.

Bronwen Saunders
Bronwen Saunders
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

As I would too. The urgency of this matter cannot be overstated.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago

Precisely.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

This is about the only thing Trumps done right. Otherwise, he’s been a disaster.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

The cynic in me says more people were marching for ‘black trans lives matter’ than there are black trans people. Never mind that no one said their lives, nor anyone else’s, do not matter.

The irony is how many of the woke are forever railing against “the fascists” while buttoning up their brown shirts on the way to some pre-arranged meet up for violence.

patjahsd
patjahsd
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

There is occasionally a bit of annoyance in the Black activists who are demonstrating for BLM against the White activists. The Blacks accuse the Whites of co-opting and redirecting the riots to White goals.

Marcus Alonzo
Marcus Alonzo
3 years ago
Reply to  patjahsd

Objectively, BLM is a political movement based on a racist premise: that ‘systemic racism’ is the cause of all problems, and can only be solved by a complete replacement of all normative behavior with ‘anti racism’. The problem with this is its all identity politics, which is racism.

Peter Kriens
Peter Kriens
3 years ago

Why is the elephant in the room ignored? This ascendancy of wokeness is aligned with the ascendancy of women in in the public sphere, women are a majority in Universities today, overwhelmingly in these ‘studies’ . This movement is largely emotion driven, lacks rationality, and aggressively opposes feedback, calling in the victim card to get mob sympathy. It detests fair competition because it makes winners and losers. It is just the feminization of society.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Kriens

Yes, I’ve said the same in other posts, an uncomfortable truth.
No idea what the solution is.
Though I would add that I don’t think it is “just” the rise of the feminine, I think liberalism and capitalism have played a significant part also.

Kiran Grimm
Kiran Grimm
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

One to watch is the fate of New Zealand as it succumbs to a female dominated far left agenda. As you’d expect, all the favourite intersectional sentiments will be on parade at the start of what I’m sure will be billed as a “great experiment”. There is even a suggestion that the country’s name be changed to “Aotearoa” ““ allegedly the old Maori name. A government by The Woke for The Woke (and their mascots).

Naturally, the chief villain in all this will be the white patriarchy ““ while there is still a legacy to blame. That old trope about socialism ““ that you eventually run out of other people’s money ““ could be adapted to fit the Woke tendency: you eventually run out of scapegoats.

Roger Sponge
Roger Sponge
3 years ago
Reply to  Kiran Grimm

“Aotearoa”. Sounds like a fungi that you get on your foot.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Kiran Grimm

A nation that is 70% white moaning about the white patriarchy. A 2020 moment.

Kiran Grimm
Kiran Grimm
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Yet another demonstration of those two pervasive liberal vices:
1. The urge to show one’s mettle by rebelling against the existing order.
2. The urge to show one’s moral soundness by confessing guilt at having benefited from the existing order.

if only they wouldn’t drag the rest of us down to their level.

Graeme Mochrie
Graeme Mochrie
3 years ago
Reply to  Kiran Grimm

The Maoris only reached NZ a couple of hundred years before the whites. Prior to that it was uninhabited.

jonskeletone
jonskeletone
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Kriens

It’s amazing that you can declare a movement to ‘lack rationality’ while clearly having absolutely no handle on it yourself.

r.moh61
r.moh61
3 years ago
Reply to  jonskeletone

guy’s comment literally denounces women as “all feelings, no rational thought” and everyone here cheers him on it. Unbelievable.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  r.moh61

I think you are failing to understand the comment.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Kriens

Fighting talk, but spot on. Even the magnificent Romans wouldn’t allow women into the Senate, for that reason, despite their other notable attributes.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Kriens

The ascendancy of women has delivered a bigger state (more social spending) but the originators of Critical Theory were all men.

Kirsten Walstedt
Kirsten Walstedt
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Kriens

Bollocks

Juilan Bonmottier
Juilan Bonmottier
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Kriens

But it is a very particular definition, and type, of ‘woman’. I think the danger of not recognising this is to fall somewhat into the same identitarian trap. Women have always been at the heart of the culture -it is the combination of men and women that makes the world -it seems silly to have to state such an obvious thing. Women are at the heart of mens’ lives too -we were all mothered and carry this experience with us (for better or for worse). Radical feminists believe that they are representative of all women but the truth is they really are not. At the core of their beliefs is something inherently dismissive and divisive in relation to men. I think we have to be careful, in our reaction to gross provocation (tyrannical patriarchy, systemic misogyny etc…) of falling into this trap.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago

I’ve only just come across your comment which makes an important point I think, but my interpretation of the rise of the feminine is that as an influence from the top down, compassion and tenderness (the good side of feminine) becomes inappropriate when running institutions, or the country. I don’t mean that it should be absent by any means, but effective management of large numbers of people needs to be rational and impartial, not emotional.
It’s as if compassion and feeling have mutated and become negative when allowed so much power.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Somebody claimed last night that for the first US GE since 2004, more first time voters are voting Republican than Democrat. If this is the case* we have evidence that this can be stopped. We have also seen a black, female Tory MP stand up in the Commons and denounce CRM and BLM. There is hope.

*If you watch the Trump rallies you see a lot of young people. And the lovely FogCityMidge doing vox-pops in Florida and elsewhere certainly finds a lot of young or young-ish Trump voters. So it could be true, especially as all the leftie student types are cowering at home due to Covid.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Every single study shows that older people are more likely to vote Trump than Biden.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

That’s not mutually exclusive to Mr Bailey’s point though.

Auberon Linx
Auberon Linx
3 years ago

I had to check, but yes, I can confirm that Fat Studies is now apparently a genuine academic field.

Regarding the current moment in campus culture, I believe Kaufmann is to optimistic in thinking that government action can improve the situation, and too pessimistic in believing that such action would be required.

Government intervention did not lead to the spread of the woke culture, and will not be the end of it. Rather, as the article notes, the root cause were demographic changes, the rapid spread in higher education, and also, I may note the rather benign economic outlook in the last few decades.

All those conditions are coming to an end. Even before Covid, young people were beginning to realise that frivolous academic disciplines can grant them an attitude of entitlement, but no means to have any objective achievements (with the exception of the very few who get a permanent position in academia). The epidemic will speed up the closing of silly academic programs and discourage young people from starting academic studies that confer them no advantages.

In a way, the current excesses of the woke culture are a sign that it is failing. With less legitimate grievances than in its heyday, and competing for the ever diminishing pool of funding, the activists are forced to make ever more lurid claims in order to gain attention. This of course has repercussions in the wider community, and the public discourse has suffered. But while significant damage to the society is possible, the most ridiculous forms of the movement are likely to become progressively marginalised in the near future.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
3 years ago
Reply to  Auberon Linx

I agree with what you affirm. The woke culture has within it the seeds of its own destruction not least its “more lurid claims”,especially those particularly ridiculous ones surrounding the gender issue.
I disagree with your contention that the government has no responsibility for the havoc being caused by the woke culture. It was the government which was responsible for the headlong rush to extend university education. In the process it produced hotbeds of wokedom. It is also the government which passed ill-thought out legislation asserting diversity and equality but not thinking through what the unintended consequences might be in terms of freedom of speech. It is only the government that can impose discipline on the universities insisting on an end to the cancel culture, the shutdown of free speech and the unhealthy preponderance of cultural Marxist teachers in the arts and social sciences. The university authorities show themselves to be either complicit or too weak to put their own houses in order so it must be done for them through heavy fines or withdrawal of funding.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Auberon Linx

On the contrary, our Government was/is deeply involved in wokism and Identity Politics; the Equality Act 2010 with it’s Hate Crime and Protected Characteristics legislation, drawn up by Harriet Harman and Trevor Phillips is very much to blame for the situation we find ourselves in.

Juilan Bonmottier
Juilan Bonmottier
3 years ago

If we offered them something useful to do or believe in they would not be so hell bent on pursuing useless objectives. That requires inspired leadership, inspired thinkers and actors; people who actively and passionately believe in the meaningfulness of life, of thinking, and who reject utilitarianism and nihilism.

At present it is not so much the case that these people are in short supply, but their voices are drowned out by an extremely powerful but deeply cynical, frivolous, manipulative and narcissistic media. No other message seems to be getting across.

patjahsd
patjahsd
3 years ago

Yes, this is important. Many young people today cannot do anything. They can’t knit, they can’t build anything out of wood, they can’t play instruments. They can do one thing only – protest those who can do things.

Graeme Laws
Graeme Laws
3 years ago

You cannot argue with the unenlightened. The woke are virtuous, and thus anyone who disagrees is evil. They think they are progressive. The irony is that they are borderline fascist.

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
3 years ago

Fatness Theory?
45% of students showed no skills development over their entire course?
And overseas students still flock to pay simply enormous amounts for ‘tuition’ – so much so that universities need their fees in order to survive. What could possibly go wrong?

Walter Lantz
Walter Lantz
3 years ago

IMO, when you strip away the pseudo-intellectual theories and institutional jargon what we’re really looking it is yet another socialist kick at the political can based on “every kid gets a prize” ie; equality of outcome.
“The fix is in for the winners and the losers have been screwed – we can fix that”
“How?”
“Simples. We’ll just change the rules of the game so we’ll all be winners”
Sure. With paint by numbers you too will be Rembrandt.

It’s a technique that always gets traction because it not only abrogates whatever responsibility the ‘losers’ have for their circumstance it also seduces particularly naïve ‘winners’ into believing they can redeem themselves through good works for the losers.

It never works of course because success depends on the unattainable.
The destruction of the individual human drive to make each day better than yesterday.

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
3 years ago
Reply to  Walter Lantz

This!

kate fox
kate fox
3 years ago
Reply to  Walter Lantz

Walter, I like your style!

Drew
Drew
3 years ago

IF YOU LOVE AND CHERISH YOUR CHILDREN, STOP SENDING THEM TO UNIVERSITY.

PERIOD. FULL STOP.

(Apologies for the caps, but a university degree, outside of a very, very few technical ones, will require decades of therapy and readjustment to reality. Your grandchildren, if they even exist, will be ruined. It’s an intergenerational disaster. )

Charles Rense
Charles Rense
3 years ago
Reply to  Drew

What if you have a parent who attended a university and received her degree in the last ten years, having been indoctrinated into this stuff which she neglected to question or challenge because of her blind faith in the moral and intellectual superiority of her younger classmates and professors?

sholtod
sholtod
3 years ago

I think the author hits the bullseye when he says the right have not ‘stooped’ to fight the culture wars. Here in Australia our ‘conservative’ Prime Minister said ‘free speech never created a job’. Well, maybe not directly, but without free speech the sort of creativity that does create jobs will wither.
Culture is upstream of politics, so what starts as a bizarre notion in some humanities faculty will, with the relentless and ruthless pressure from the left and the corresponding gelatinous acquiescence of the right, become mainstream.
Such a pity that the only conservative leader with the balls to stand up to this then ruins the narrative with his boorishness and asinine tweets and comments. Why can’t we find a leader with the policies minus the distractions?

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago

The entrance to the Grand Auditorium at Uppsala University displays a maxim by eighteenth-century alumnus and lawyer Thomas Thorild: “To think freely is great, but to think rightly is greater” (in Swedish “TÀnka fritt Àr stort men tÀnka rÀtt Àr större”). Interpreting that in the most obvious way, one may discern that educational institutions have been championing orthodoxy for a long time. Perhaps the genuine liberalism of the mid-twentieth century was the exception?

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

Only exceptional if you wish to exclude Socrates & Co.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Well… and we know what happened to Socrates in the end! At least these days dissenting academics only risk getting sacked…

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

Or “cancelled”!

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

Or “cancelled”!

However I agree with your premise about orthodoxy. As the Church controlled education, such as it was, in Europe for centuries, it could hardly be
otherwise.

So perhaps the mid-twentieth, and Socratic Athens are truly exceptional.

Not a good report on human kind in general is it?

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

No, well, that is one of the basic flaws in human nature with the various orthodoxies were intended to correct… but which, alas, they end up simultaneously exemplifying.

Graeme Mochrie
Graeme Mochrie
3 years ago

Don’t forget the censure experienced by Galileo, Copernicus and Darwin. Amusingly the woke generation still deny Darwin.

Miro Mitov
Miro Mitov
3 years ago

I agree with the author that there is a glimmer of hope that the wholehearted embrace of wokeness, grievances ‘studies’ and critical [insert name here] theory by the Universities will prove to be its own undoing.
Revolutionary ideas are seductive until the moment they become established as the norm, as the intellectual mainstream. When your support of critical something or other theory stops setting you apart from your near competitors then its appeal starts to wear off. Occupying the moral high ground over the herd, the unwoke, the normie, the cishet, denouncing their backwardness in fiery tweet or over a pumpkin latte in the university cafeteria is exhilarating, it creates a sense of belonging to a pioneering group on the right (or should it be left?) side of history. But when all those around you share the same woke
ideals, and after the university student years suddenly become the people you will have to compete against for jobs or funding, your shared ideology no longer helps but becomes detrimental to your own chances of success. In such situation you have the options to either go even more full-on into wokeness to outpace the rest, or pick another ideology, different from the mainstream, which can continue to support your sense of uniqueness. And this is when and where the wokeness of the professorial class in the universities would start to be perceived as something to rebel against by the new generations, eager to fight The Establishment.
The issue with this is that the process requires a generational change and there is no way of predicting what damage would have been done in the meanwhile.

Graeme Mochrie
Graeme Mochrie
3 years ago

We have reached a point in our culture where to comment favourably on any article critical of woke culture is to run the risk of having your card marked and being ostracised, marginalised and demonised. Like Erik Kaufman, I have watched this development over 50 decades. School children and students are no longer taught to have inquiring minds and certainly not encouraged to question and dispute. Instead they are largely taught to believe and to regurgitate what they have been taught. There has been an insidious permeation of the education system at all levels over this time, firstly into the social sciences, but thereafter into all areas of education and publication as disciples went forth to preach the word.

My first awareness of it was a training day on empathy in the 70’s. I had never heard the word, I had only heard of sympathy. Now no one has sympathy for anyone, instead we are all highly empathetic. I doubt if many could tell the difference between sympathy and empathy and I suspect that most highly empathetic are perhaps a little sympathetic.

My next awareness was at a race awareness training course in 1982, where I learned that you could not call a black board such, because it might cause offence. It must henceforth be called a chalk board! Even the black friend that was with me thought this was bonkers.

So it has gone on. What once would have been called an hypothesis has become the thesis. Nothing rigorously tested, nothing critically dissected by peers and certainly not by others in alternative fields who might spot flaws. “I think therefore it is true” – is the new academic approach. If nonsense is spouted by an authority figure, it must unquestionably be accepted and propagated.

Such manipulation of society is not new. My favourite example is JD Rockefeller. In the 1920’s Henry Ford thought that alcohol was a better fuel for cars than petrol and was seriously thinking on going down this route. Rockefeller, the cunning fellow that he was, covertly sponsored the temperance movement. It didn’t cost much, but he was able to cause moral panic, the consequences of which was prohibition for ten years. Ten years in business was long enough to ensure that petrol had an unassailable lead and the rest is history.

Lenin and Stalin, both knew the value of disrupting states from within and through the existence of the Soviet Union, they covertly funded lots of minority causes in the West. They did not particularly believe in the causes they sponsored, however they knew that zealots were a great tool to foment trouble for their enemies – divide and rule. They called the zealots useful idiots. I have little doubt that Many foreign states use these tactics to weaken states from within and I would certainly be surprised if the woke movement was not someone stirring the pot.

The other day I read about someone who wished to be referred to as they. This bamboozled my Scottish educated brain, since a single person should only be he, she, or it. They is a plural.

Today I realised that i have spent my life imprisoned in the tyranny of the culture that I inhabit and have decided to come out and truly be myself. From now on I am a deity. You will call me Polymorphus. I am pan-sexual, pan-gendered and spectral coloured. I will refer to myself as we and you must call me they. If you fail to treat me as a deity, I will be offended and will ostracise you and publicly shame you for your insensitivity

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago
Reply to  Graeme Mochrie

Polymorphus, obviously your “black board” example is just silly, but some of the terms that you no longer hear deserved to be replaced. “Black Africa” was offensive, and quite unnecessary since one could substitute “Subsaharan Africa” or more restrictively “Tropical Africa” depending on which countries you had in mind.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

We have known for some time how CC and various other toxic belief systems captured academia. The question is whether or not anything can be done about it.

If Trump wins, the long-suffering people of inner city America will, hopefully, have more access to school choice i.e. they will not be forced to send their kids to useless state schools that teach nothing useful whatsoever. In the same way, we need ‘university choice’ in the form of a number of universities named after people like Roger Scruton.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
3 years ago

Thanks for this timely and brilliant diagnosis of the problem. The obvious objection to the Woketalitarian Mystics is that if all knowledge is “perception” how can they, or anyone, have access to the “hidden truth” which orchestrates all perception? They cannot account for this of course, so dismiss it with reams of dense jargon, coupled with howls of hatred. But the howls are growing louder and the simple, irrational barbarism of the modern left is in ever plainer view. You are also right to pinpoint the way in which “bien-pensants” become hollering victims of the “woke” confidence trick. I happened to be chatting to a couple in their seventies – Brexiteers no less – who insisted that all the violence of BLM was the fault of “rednecks”, who – they claimed – ran America. When everyone is propagandised and cowed; when default positions of average, unthinking persons have been infiltrated – often by years of propaganda (the couple in question are frightfully “PLU” and “Green”), then the battle is even lonelier and the victory further off. The Conservatives – thanks to the complacency and narrowness of characters like Heseltine – lost interest in culture years ago. Heavens, they didn’t even have the “cojones” to defend academic selection – a crucial prop in the assertion of knowledge and skill against mere politics. Which is why it may be best, in the long run, if the Conservative party splits and consigns its flabby, defeatist, concessionary left to that swollen dustbin of history, leaving the field for people with a bit of conviction and fight in them.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
3 years ago

(Deleted)

Luft Mentsch
Luft Mentsch
3 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

I’m horrified by this. When I was at university, I was taught that the whole reason for my being there was to challenge the ideas I was presented with and come to my own conclusions. It was supposed to be about at least trying to present a reasoned argument of one’s own and not just parroting material from tutorials, lectures and books. I find the idea of university as political indoctrination a travesty of what a university education should involve.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Luft Mentsch

Yes, but this travesty has been dominant across (so-called) education for many years now.

Richard Powell
Richard Powell
3 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

What is the connection between your post and Brian Dorsley’s identical post of 12 minutes earlier?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Powell

One account expresses thoughts that I’m uncertain about and may change my mind about in two or three years time as my maturity continues to develop. This one I would like to keep separate for issues that affect me professionally.

Douglas McCallum
Douglas McCallum
3 years ago

This is an excellent article, intellectually sound and logically convincing. It has stimulated quite a lot of interesting comments, most of which I happily agree with.

I wish to focus my Comment on the shift of decision- and policy-making within universities from academics to bureaucrats. This was just starting in the early days of my UK university-teaching career (1969-1986), in response to ever-increasing paper-work demands from government for compliance with a huge variety of regulatory interventions – the price of financial support. These bureaucrats steadily took over responsibilities previously carried by the academics themselves – who were in any case constantly pressured to undertake ever more teaching and to more rapidly churn out shallow and intellectually meaningless ‘publications’. Anything which struck the fancy of the government of the day was quickly imposed on the universities, with fashionable social-political orthodoxies being imposed without any regard whatsoever as to their academic or intellectual merits or justification. This in turn led to a situation in which staff recruitment was increasingly ruled by compliance with current social orthodoxies, and increasingly removed from serious academic review; as a result, newly-hired staff were mostly not committed to the traditional canons of intellectual life and academic freedom. Similarly, any academic who wished to rise to the few key posts still available to them (e.g. Principal, Chancellor, etc.) had to learn to bend to the prevailing winds of orthodoxy – and certainly knew not to challenge them! This produced the current crop of supine university leaders who give in without demur to the most extreme demands. (What could be more shameful than the quick decision of Edinburgh University’s leaders to “cancel” David Hume, one of the true giants or philosophy?) This has become a vicious cycle of orthodoxy breeding more forcibly-imposed orthodoxy until little is left of the true soul of the university. How sad.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago

(Deleted post)

Richard Powell
Richard Powell
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

Why have you and Jack Devereaux posted identical responses to the article? What’s going on?

Vicki Robinson
Vicki Robinson
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

Goodness, I’m so sorry to hear what you’re going through. It sounds like a lot of people in your class are thinking the same as you — could you all meet together and discuss what you could do as a group? Are there others at your college who might support you? It’s a lot easier to challenge things en masse than separately.

ericaconrick
ericaconrick
3 years ago

I think the article has some interesting points about political diversity among faculty at university. But what’s with the photo? The picture of people holding signs that say Black Trans Lives Matter, can somebody explain the connection this picture has to the article? The article doesn’t mention Black Trans Lives. Or is the mention of trans people taken here as a sign left-wing excess? What were the editors thinking? Somebody help me out. Trans people are people, we’re not political shorthand for everything you consider wrong with the world. Cut it out.

angersbeagle
angersbeagle
3 years ago

Students, particularly first and second year undergrads have always had this Che Guevara T-Shirt mentality.

I agree with Eric Kaufmann that these activist academics are along with social media, manipulating these students into little more than mouthpieces for the Cancel Culture. Too many are being wooed into useless courses ( Fat Studies ?????) that have next to zero academic rigour thus leaving the student deeply in debt and unemployable.

I see no reason why the Govt should not make a start by auditing the universities and clearing out these faux-academics ( or should that be fraud ?). It needs to be pointed out to these kids that you cannot live your life in a “Woke” bubble………unless you plan to live with your parents for a very long time.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago

Conservatives abandoned the academia and fully embraced anti-intellectualism. If you are running for the Republican nomination YOU MUST say that their your favorite book is the Bible. That made it easy for the CRAZY LEFT to take over academia.
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States (and UK – my addition), and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
Isaac Asimov

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

No ‘intellectual’ has ever invented, built or made anything useful. (Unless you include the invention of demented social theories and programs that do infinitely more harm than good). To be sure, some of them have written some outstandingly good books and plays (people like Brecht come to mind) but on the whole their only function is to earn good money teaching nonsense to young people or, like Rousseau, Marx and others, develop belief systems that lead to the death of millions.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

“No ‘intellectual’ has ever invented, built or made anything useful. “

That is not their job!

Tom Graham
Tom Graham
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

The strain of fake-intellectualism described in this article but also seen in the UK has been a constant thread of left-wing politics for as long as I have been alive.

Stupid, narrow minded people with the mistaken belief that they are intellectually superior to everyone else because they have a degree in gender studies – that describes the modern left.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

What part of intellectualism loses its mind over “only women have periods”? What part of intellectualism whines about fascists and then adopts their tactics?

A lot of people take issue with pseudo-intellectualism, and those for whom Asimov claimed to speak do a thorough job of demonstrating ignorance.

sholtod
sholtod
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Yes the left always assume the mantle of intellectual superiority, and I guess there are more lefties than rightoids at universities. But let’s dig deeper and see what they are studying. When I was in the Dept of Maths and Computer Science, there were no hard core lefties in sight. No, for them the gentler demands of the humanities – the softer the science, the lefter its participants.
In fact if they were so smart, one would think they would try to win the debate instead of shutting it down.
Some might argue that a degree in Fat/Gender/Peace/Queer Studies requires the same cerebral horsepower as one in Physics, but I would respectfully disagree. In fact I maintain that many trades, such as motor mechanic or electrician, require a higher IQ than many of the ‘disciplines’ favoured by these lefties.

Adrian
Adrian
3 years ago

I do like the picture.
“Essential Gas Works” anyone?

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago

‘Only an active mobilisation, involving the intervention of elected governments, can hope to reverse Theory’s capture of elite institutions, the current slide toward collective unreason and the emergence of a truly Orwellian public culture.’ This sounds ominously as though the author is calling for the Brown Shirts to take control of the Universities.

Drew
Drew
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Let the universities rot. There’s no fixing the present ‘system’ of systemic stupidity and surreality.

Just don’t participate.

Peter KE
Peter KE
3 years ago

Interesting article. We must all have the courage to reject the woke thugs and their anarchist behaviours. Funding for all left social sciences and humanities should be removed.

Icarus none
Icarus none
3 years ago

A minor weakness with this author: he misinterprets, in a statistical sense, the evidence he makes up through questions based on false premises, later to be corrected as hypotheticals. Otherwise all good.

jonskeletone
jonskeletone
3 years ago

What a completely unhinged whinge, devoid of any grasp of facts, reality, objectivity or moderate sense.

But then, it’s increasingly the case that those who loudly declare themselves to be on the side of reality, or science, or even freedom of speech, have no genuine respect for such concepts, but merely heft them as clumsy verbal weapons against analysis that they’re too stupid or too lazy to intelligently engage with.

guyharris360
guyharris360
3 years ago
Reply to  jonskeletone

You appear to be complaining without offering solutions to the problem you are highlighting, in other words ‘whinging’. I would be interested to hear why you think it is ‘devoid of facts, reality, objectivity or moderate sense’, as I have come to a different conclusion.

christopherowens1986
christopherowens1986
3 years ago
Reply to  jonskeletone

That post is just word bolognese.

Miro Mitov
Miro Mitov
3 years ago
Reply to  jonskeletone

What a completely unhinged whinge, devoid of any grasp of facts, reality, objectivity or moderate sense

as clumsy verbal weapons against analysis that they’re too stupid or too lazy to intelligently engage with

Oh, the irony!

Kiran Grimm
Kiran Grimm
3 years ago
Reply to  jonskeletone

I don’t believe you have read and understood the article ““ hence your lack of any actual analysis of what was said. Did you just characterise this as an “anti-woke”, “anti-cancel culture” piece and trot out your stock, generalised response without bothering with difficult stuff such as detail? It certainly looks that way.

In short ““ your intelligent engagement is sorely lacking and your comment is no more than a pseudo-intellectual sneer.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  jonskeletone

So Jon please enlighten us by actually putting forward intelligent arguments against the points made in the article, eg, the statistics regarding the left and right wing views in academia; or the successful hoaxes played on gender studies etc; or the argument that liberalism was bound to end this way.

All you have done is tell everyone you disapprove of the article and insulted the writer, which is easy and signals your ‘virtue’ but is otherwise meaningless.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

I think Jon provides a sterling example of what passes for the intellectual movement these days – a string of ad hominem at the heretics who do not ascribe to every tenet of woke dogma.

Adrian
Adrian
3 years ago
Reply to  jonskeletone

You do sound rather like the people you are railing against.
Welcome to UnHerd!

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  jonskeletone

Reality like menstrual products in mens’ rooms? Science like claiming 57 genders? Do tell how the folks you rail against, in a semi-hinged whinge, are so different from yourself.

patjahsd
patjahsd
3 years ago
Reply to  jonskeletone

As usual for leftist wackos, you can’t identify in a coherent way what in particular bothers you. That’s because most leftists are simply not intelligent nor well-educated. Sad.

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago
Reply to  jonskeletone

I agree, this piece is confusion supreme. The opportunists, careerists amd charlatans that he so deprecates are, and have ever been, a fact of life; and petit (bourgeois) liberalism has ever had its motherlode. Social Justice is not to blame.

The will-to-power is one of the dialectical theses of human being. Social Science has long been corrupt, co-opted, for example, by the all pervasive Ad Industry. And in pursuit of today’s hottest resource, Big Data, the supreme achievement of social science, along with its sibling physical sciences and math, is not at all backward come to munificently funding University Chairs, Depts., and Colleges, and is openly intent on stripping all of humanity of autonomy for the monetary yield, …some aphorism re glass houses , eh?

Critical theory since David Hume and Manny Kant through Wittgenstein, the Frankfurt’rs, and Heidegger to Foucault have exposed the truth of, not caused, the groundlessness of Western narrative; and, historical, philological and archaeological researchers have provided abundant empirical data in proof of their theory.

I believe most serious thinkers now agree that the symbol systems of science and language are artifices conjured and elaborated out of primal factoids (like language out of the instinctive vocables “mama” & “dada”), … and, that the god is dead secular city is hurtling into the abyss, …while the last man stares up at the stars and blinks.

The present phenomenon of Cancel Culture is ‘only’ the morbid phase of bourgeois liberalism, eating itself.