Social Constructionism’s Epistemic Rabbit-Hole

This is the Samizdata quote of the day from yesterday, and it leads to a most interesting article by Kåre Fog in Quillette. Not a particularly easy read, but very valuable and highly recommended.

From this laborious work, and from all my other efforts in this field, I have drawn the conclusion that the evidence for social constructionism is a mirage in the desert. It does not exist. Most people in the humanities – including those who are able to express their opinions freely without fear of being fired – presuppose that gender roles are social constructs, and that the results obtained by natural scientists are determined by their social and political environment. Thousands of pages of academic ‘research’ express such notions, and thousands of university students are taught that this is how things are. But it is all hot air. The whole scenario is reminiscent of The Emperor’s New Clothes – nobody listens to the little boy who alone has the courage to point out that the Emperor is naked.

Much of this material – and Judith Butler’s obscurantism, in particular – functions like a Latin liturgy. It is not meant to be understood. About 600 years ago, the clergy in England supposedly existed to combat evil and make the world a better place. The sermons were in Latin, and the Bible was only available in Latin, so laypeople had no means of verifying what the clergy told them about religious doctrine. When a number of idealists translated the Bible into English so that common people could read and understand it, the idea – in principle, anyway – was that this would give more people direct access to God’s word. But instead of embracing this opportunity, the clergy fought all attempts at translation. And when the Bible became available in a language that people understood, the clergy burned the English translations, and those who distributed them were caught and executed. Given the choice of either supporting the wider dissemination of God’s word or preserving their own power and authority, they chose the latter.

A similar pattern of motivated self-interest is in evidence today (although opponents are no longer executed). Social constructionism has transformed the humanities departments of many universities into a kind of postmodern clerisy. In its own understanding, this clerical class strives to improve the world by insisting that all differences between groups of people are social constructs that testify to the unfairness of society. Society, therefore, can and must be reconstructed to dismantle these iniquities. But if wide-ranging social change is being demanded, then the basis for those demands needs to be firmly established first. Scholars ought to be labouring to prove the extent to which such differences are indeed social constructs and the extent to which disparities can be mitigated or dispelled by the radical reorganisation of social policy and even society itself. But this step in the process is simply absent. Instead, theorists make claims without bothering to substantiate them. Confronted with a choice between the disinterested pursuit of truth and understanding, or preserving their ideologies and positions of influence, they consistently opt for the latter.

And so, large swathes of the humanities and social sciences have been corrupted by ideology. Pockets of integrity remain but they are the minority, and they are only tolerated so long as they do not contradict the central planks of the accepted narrative. The unhappy result is that our universities are corroding, and our students will graduate with nothing more than the ability to further corrode the rest of society.

These are the concluding paragraphs of the paper and summarize very well what is documented in it. Many of us often wonder why the scientific method is falling into disrepute, and here is our documented answer. Do read it, and take it to heart, it will clarify many things.


Saturday Videos

This video is nearly viral this week, I think I may be the last conservative site to run it 🙂 That’s OK.


Preach it, Brother. Why? Here’s why!

Governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky

This is interesting

These are fun in small doses, but it doesn’t make a hill of beans difference, really

As far as the founders were concerned, well, Tenche Cox who served under Presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison said this:

The power of the sword, say the minority…, is in the hands of Congress. My friends and countrymen, it is not so, for The powers of the sword are in the hands of the yeomanry of America from sixteen to sixty. The militia of these free commonwealths, entitled and accustomed to their arms, when compared with any possible army, must be tremendous and irresistible. Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress has no power to disarm the militia. Their swords and every terrible implement of the soldier are the birthright of Americans.

Note that phrase “every terrible implement of the soldier“, he was quite prepared to see private citizens own anything up to warships, as citizens did in those days, as well as artillery, and the founders thought the citizens should not have ‘military grade’ weapons, they should be better than that. Pretty clear to me.

Here’s a woman who lost her job in one of Canuckistan’s kangaroo courts. What for? She ran a tape of a debate (it had already been televised) in her class, and horrors, it had Jordan Peterson in it.

How about a little history, from Jordan Peterson? Good stuff.

The Hardest Course in the Humanities

Most of you know that while I’m appalled at what passes for the humanities today, I’m a huge supporter of the real teaching of them. Yesterday, at Powerline, Scott Johnson had some good news for us. This comes to us from Mark Bauerlein, in The Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s out from behind their paywall, at least for the present. Do read it all.

For most of my professional life, the future of the humanities was a conceptual matter. That’s no longer the case. When enrollments are down, majors are down, funding and jobs are down, adjuncts are up, and departments are being closed, abstract debates over which new theory or interdisciplinary vision is on the rise don’t much count. When a formation as renowned as the Humanities Center at the Johns Hopkins University is proposed for shutdown (it later was saved in modified form), we know that the prosperity of the humanities doesn’t rest with people at the top.

No, it depends on the people at the bottom, undergraduates who vote with their feet. If an English department’s chairman tells the dean, “We’ve got to hire someone in this new area of ____,” the dean replies, “But you can’t even get your existing courses half-filled.” If, however, a parent calls and grumbles, “I’m paying lots of money, and my daughter can’t get into any of the English classes she wants,” well, that calls for action.

It’s a situation that few humanities professors are equipped to overcome. Graduate school and assistant professorships don’t impel you to attract freshmen and sophomores. Instead you learn how to impress senior professors. But right now, nothing is more crucial than the preferences of 19-year-olds.

Hopefully, and their parents, at least indirectly, but it is true enough, it’s a somewhat competitive market. But what to do?

Nothing could be further from it than what W.H. Auden did at the University of Michigan in 1941. Auden had left England in 1939 and became for a time a visiting professor at Ann Arbor. He called his course “Fate and the Individual in European Literature,” a timely theme in the days of mass killing and existentialist moods. Its syllabus resurfaced a few years ago and provoked much commentary on its mass of 6,000 pages of the most powerful and challenging literature in the canon: The Divine Comedy in full, four Shakespeares, Pascal’s Pensées, Horace’s odes, Volpone, Racine, Kierkegaard’s Fear and TremblingMoby-DickThe BrothersKaramazovFaust, Baudelaire and Rimbaud, Kafka, Rilke, T.S. Eliot. Auden even included nine operas. Opera in the 1940s was a popular art form, with millions of people tuning in each week to the Met’s Saturday broadcast, but it’s hard to imagine anything less consonant with millennials’ attention span than one of Wagner’s Teutonic enormities. Auden assigned three of them.

Sounds to me like a fascinating but quite difficult course, I’d have loved it, but it would surely cut into the time spent drinking and chasing girls. Continuing:

[..]  “Where on earth today would one find institutions or teachers or students so audacious as to attempt something similar?”

That question, in fact, appears on the syllabus of LTRS 3803, the first part of the two-semester, team-taught course at the University of Oklahoma that goes against all the conventional wisdom. It’s modeled on Auden’s course, with a few changes. The instructors — Kyle Harper, a classicist and the university’s provost; the historian Wilfred McClay; and David Anderson, a professor of English — have spread it out over an entire year, and they’ve excised a few books (Dante’s Paradiso, Baudelaire and Rimbaud, Kafka). But they added The OdysseyThe AeneidBeowulfSirGawain and the Green KnightParadiseLostRobinsonCrusoePride and Prejudice, Nietzsche, InvisibleMan, and other 20th-century masterpieces such as Derek Walcott’s neo-Homeric epic Omeros. They dropped most of the operas but kept Don Giovanni and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. They speak frankly in the course description of taking “delight in the Western canon” and hold fast to themes of little currency in the research world: destiny, God and “the gods,” a meaningful life, authority.

When enrollment opened last semester, the unexpected happened. The course filled up within minutes. Harper had already warned his students, “This is the hardest class you will ever take.” The syllabus was posted online in advance, so that students knew exactly what they were getting into. The course meets a general-education requirement at Oklahoma, but so do many other courses with half the workload. To accommodate the unexpected demand, the class was expanded from 22 to 30 students, the maximum number that the assigned classroom could hold.

Well, how about that!

[…]There, without the professors present, I asked the key question: Why did they sign up for Western-civ boot camp?

One fellow grumbled that he had to do three times as much work as he did in his other classes. The rest nodded. But you could hear in his words the self-respect that comes from doing more work than the norm, from climbing the highest hill while your peers dog it. Another student said that the page-count of the syllabus had flattered her, that it showed the professors respected her enough to demand that she take on a heavy load of historic literature. “This is what I came to college for,” another said. One more chimed in, “This class is changing my life.”

They acknowledged, too, the distinctiveness of the works they read, one student calling them a “foundation” for things they study elsewhere. They admired the professors, to be sure, but the real draw was the material. When I asked what they would change about the course, they went straight to the books: add The Iliad and some of the Bible.

Their attitude was enlivening. But the only thing that really matters is enrollment. “Will you sign up for next semester’s course?” I asked. “Definitely,” they replied, all of them. (This semester has 32 students enrolled, more than the original cap of 22 because many more petitioned to get in.)

(emphasis mine) The precise opposite of the bigotry of low expectations.

I advise the traditionalists to try the Oklahoma way. Design your Western-civ or Great Books course and ramp it up to Auden levels. Be frank about the reading challenge. Boast of the aged, uncontemporary nature of the materials. Highlight the old-fashioned themes of greatness, heroism and villainy, love and betrayal, God and Truth, and say nothing against intersectionality and other currencies. Your antagonists are mediocrity, youth culture, presentism, and the disengagement of professors and students. You occupy a competitive terrain, and your brand is Achilles, Narcissus, the Wyf of Bath, Isolde, and Bigger. Let’s see what happens. Let the undergrads decide.

I agree completely!!

Huzzah, Huzzah, Huzzah!

May this trend spread widely, and well. This is what the liberal arts are supposed to be all about.

Autonomous Mayhem, and Poor Advisors

Well, the autonomous automobile passed a milestone over the weekend. One of Uber’s autonomous vehicles struck a woman pedestrian and killed her. Here is the story from Gizmodo.

Last night a woman was struck by an autonomous Uber vehicle in Tempe, Arizona. She later died of her injuries in the hospital.

The deadly collision—reported by ABC15 and later confirmed to Gizmodo by Uber and Tempe police—took place around 10PM at the intersection of Mill Avenue and Curry Road, both of which are multi-lane roads. Autonomous vehicle developers often test drive at night, during storms, and other challenging conditions to help their vehicles learn to navigate in a variety of environments.

According to Tempe PD, the car—later clarified as a grey 2017 Volvo XC90—was in autonomous mode at the time of the incident, with a vehicle operator sitting behind the wheel. The self-driving vehicle had one operator and no passengers, Uber said.

I’m sorry for the woman, and her family, but it was going to happen someday, and there will be more.

Apparently, the car showed very little sign of slowing down

And here comes a major can of worms for the lawyers to sort. The car was running autonomously, but there was a driver in it. There is video from several angles that has not been released. So who is at fault here? Uber, whoever built the control system, the driver, or the victim. Interesting times, what?

This follows on from yesterday, from The American Spectator.

Mark Twain is supposed to have said of the prospect of being tarred and feathered that, “Except for the honor, I’d as soon skip it.” (Though with Twain you can never be sure. It may be in his case, as Yogi Berra put it, “I didn’t say everything I said.”) Except for the honor of having a (very expensive) sheepskin, young Americans today may find there are many more profitable ways to spend four years than idling at a dumbed down, overpriced, and highly politicized university.

In Friday’s edition of TAS, our Allen Mendenhall calls out a woman history professor for her exercise in misandry poorly disguised as an academic article in that progressive newsletter, the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The men-are-useless-at-best-and-swine-at-worst genre is popular among female academics just now. It mostly derives from free-floating hostility that unhappy women have decided to attach to an easily available and approved target, to wit: men. Annoying, but not to be taken too seriously. In her Chronicle rant, our complaining professor (no point in naming her, there are so many of her out there) rides the usual feminist hobby-horses, too dreary and predictable to enumerate here.

From Professor Discontent’s laughable survey, one cannot conclude, as she invites us to, that women academic advisors are competent and helpful, whereas men advisors are, well, just a bunch of men so what should we expect? But from personal experience I can assure TAS readers that slothful academic advising is hardly a new problem. Perhaps not even a problem at all. At the bachelor’s degree level I managed, not entirely by choice, to dispense with it altogether.

When I filled out an academic course schedule for my first semester at the University of South Florida in Tampa, it was with precious little help from my assigned academic advisor. He was a man with a string of degrees from a certain toney Ivy League University, the annual tariff to attend which now amounts to about what I earned in my first 10 years in journalism. This fellow was cordial enough, and was helpful to the extent that he gave me a sharp pencil to fill in my course schedule with. But it took me mere minutes to determine that on the basis of a quick browse through the USF catalogue, I knew as much about what courses I needed to take as he did, and was far more interested in the matter. (I’m sure other faculty members at USF, and elsewhere, took the advising chore more seriously.)

Keep reading it’s interesting.

I know the feeling, I did much the same thing. My advisor wasn’t from a fancy school, like his, well as far as I know. She was, however head of the department, and apparently had better things to do than advise undergraduates. So I did what he did, figured it out for myself, the information was all published, so it was merely a matter of looking it up, and marking the appropriate tick boxes.

So my experience says that a woman advisor is useless.

What the three of us writing these accounts have really done is demonstrate the weakness of anecdotal data, each of us generated a true set of data points, leading to entirely different conclusions.

That was rather fun, but what he really was talking about in the article (you should read it) is this, and yes, I think the same way.

I’ve no clue about the quality of advice currently handed out to college students, though some of my speculation is truly dreadful. The often daft news out of academe today — about what both professors and students are saying and doing — makes one wonder if perhaps the best advice for a brand new high school graduate today, unless he/she is aiming at medicine, engineering, or the hard sciences, is to not waste four years and a ton of money at one of the most anti-intellectual institutions in the republic. It will just take new degree-holders years in the real world after graduation to de-louse their thinking and to learn something useful. About as long as it will take them to dig out from under the enormous debt they accumulated in order to pay to attend today’s overpriced university.

Shaking up the Universities

This is interesting. I don’t have all that much contact with education anymore, other than college sports on TV occasionally. But I read a lot, and a lot of the nonsense on the internet comes out of various colleges. There is a backlash starting, just ask Mizzou or Evergreen, even Oberlin is starting to feel it. I don’t think that Harvard’s stupidity with its endowment is part of the backlash, but it sounds like that investment officer may well be a product of the left wing academy.

In any case, this is from Steven Hayward of PowerLine who is trapped at Berkeley.

I’ve been predicting, […] that universities would soon begin to divide into two entities—the STEM fields and related practical subjects (i.e., business and economics), and the social sciences and humanities, which would start to shrivel under the weight of the degradations the left has inflicted over the last 40 years. The number of students majoring in the humanities has declined by two-thirds since around 1980.

Here’s part of what I said at Arizona State:

I think we’re already seeing the beginnings of a de facto divorce of universities, in which the STEM fields and other “practical” disciplines essentially split off from the humanities and social sciences, not to mention the more politicized departments.

At this rate eventually many of our leading research universities will bifurcate into marginal fever swamps of radicalism whose majors will be unfit for employment at Starbucks, and a larger campus dedicated to science and technology education.

I added, incidentally, the interesting fact that a new trend is starting to occur in economics. Not only is the discipline subdividing itself into “general economics” and an even more math-centric “quantitative econometrics,” but several economics departments are formally reclassifying themselves as STEM departments for a variety of reasons, but among them surely has to be wishing to disassociate themselves further from other social sciences.

Well, now we have some concrete evidence of this crackup starting to happen. The University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point campus announced last week that it intends to cut 13 majors from the humanities and social sciences. Inside Higher Ed reports:

Programs pegged for closure are American studies, art (excluding graphic design), English (excluding English for teacher certification), French, geography, geoscience, German, history (excluding social science for teacher certification), music literature, philosophy, political science, sociology and Spanish.

The even better news is that some tenured professors are going to be laid off. Naturally, the faculty are not happy. Who’s next?

More at the link, of course.

That is on the whole good news, I think. You all know that I have a firm belief that the humanities provide the solid foundation for a well-rounded man or woman. But they are no longer, in many cases, teaching the humanities, they are indoctrinating left-wing ideas in the kids.

But departments that think Howard Zinn writes history, or that one can teach English without Shakespeare, have no salvage value. They are totally useless. Time to send them to the landfill, and find something of value to replace them.

This may be the only way to fix it, knock it all down, salvage what little might be usable and start over, and pay attention this time.

This is going to take some time, so one is advised to buy futures in popcorn. Gonna be a lot of leftist shrieking. It’ll sound better than most of what passes for music these days, at least.

Peter Hitchens in Copenhagen

Peter Hitchens recently spoke to the Danish Free Speech Society. His message, while quite downbeat, is also quite (I fear) true. Perhaps, more so for Europe and Britain than for the United States, but perhaps we are all in this boat together. Sadly you young people will see. Listening to him put me in mind of King Arthur, to wit: The Once and Future King, the dream we share with the Roman Britons, that thing will be once again put right, but unexplained in that thought is exactly who will put them right.

In any case, a powerful and moving speech.


There is also a fairly long question and answer session that followed. To be honest, I haven’t made it all the way through it, but what I have, it is quite illuminating, so here it is.

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