Posts Tagged ‘Postmodernism’

Academics Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose On the Dangers of Post-Modern ‘Social Justice’ Ideology

May 21, 2021

I’ve commented before attacking Critical Race Theory and its rejection of conventional academic standards and norms, as well as its dangerous anti-White intolerance. But CRT is only one of a number of similar disciplines that can be grouped together under the title of ‘social justice’ ideologies that share a similar outlook and origin. These arose in the 1980s and 1990s from Post-Modernism and represent a real attack on the fundamental concepts and values of Enlightenment liberalism, individualism, science and objectivity.

The Grievance Studies Hoax

I found the video below on YouTube, entitled Applied Postmodernism – How ‘Idea Laundering’ Corrupting American Universities. It’s of a talk given by the scholars Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose at the Aspen Jewish Centre in Aspen, Colorado, on 30th July 2019. These three were so fed up with the quality and venom of ‘social justice’ pseudo-scholarship that they devised the ‘Grievance Studies’ hoax. They submitted 20 spoof papers to various postmodern academic journals, drawing on these disciplines’ previous literature to support deeply morally repugnant conclusions. One of these papers concluded that men should be trained like dogs not to participate in rape culture, while another said that straight White men at college should be trained to the floor to teach them about their privilege. Seven of these papers were accepted and a further seven were under consideration before the group ‘fessed up and they were withdrawn. Not only were these spoof papers accepted, but they were even praised approvingly by the journals’ editors. The reviewer of the paper about treating men literally like dogs called it ‘an important contribution to knowledge’.

Student Unrest at Evergreen College

The group were prompted to stage this hoax by a violent, extremist student protest at Evergreen University. This was one of the least racist universities in the US, but radical students took it over, wandering about campus with bats and dragging people out of cars, claiming that it was intolerably racist. Only one of the academics, Brett Weinstein, stood up to the students. He committed the unconscionable crime of asking them what their evidence was. This was vehemently rejected and Weinstein himself pilloried because the postmodern ideologies that motivated these students does not permit any questioning. If someone simply asks for evidence, or presents any criticism, this is seen as proof of their racism or bigotry.

Two of the academics speaking, Boghossian and Lindsay are American. The third, Helen Pluckrose, is British. She begins the talk by explaining that she was moved to start investigating and opposing these ideologies through her research as a feminist historian. She was interested in 14th century women’s spiritual writing, but was told that her research would not be accepted unless she examined it through the postmodern feminist ideological lens. If she continued pursuing her own ideological independent view, she would be blocked from doing a Masters and a doctorate. She sees herself as being attacked for standing up for the reality of biology and traditional liberal values in the broadest sense. The group are critical of the modern college environment with its safe spaces intended to protect people from encountering opposing ideas. This has created a generation of brittle students, who are unable to cope with opposing ideas when they encounter them.

Postmodern Ideologies of Power and Identity

The ‘social justice’ disciplines they attack and expose are the theoretical humanities which have arisen since the 1990s – Critical Theory, Post-Colonial Theory, Queer Theory, disability studies, fat studies and so on, which are all part of the general Cultural Studies movement, which is based on postmodern philosophy. These are founded on the ideas that knowledge isn’t something that exists independently and objectively, but is invented. Western knowledge is an oppressive system of knowledge that has been created by White men through language. It is not objective, but represents instead the universalisation of the values of these elite White men. Instead of seeing society as consisting of individuals, these disciplines see it as composed of different demographic groups with different relationships to power. White men speak with power, women and ethnic minorities have no power. The ideologies are prejudiced against great White men and western knowledge, but are favourable to women’s and eastern knowledge. These different demographic groups have different values. Science is consciously rejected as an instrument of oppression of elite White men. These disciplines demand instead that it should include feelings, personal experiences and cultural traditions. But these demands are made without any supporting rational argument.

Idea Laundering

The term ‘idea laundering’ was coined by Brett Weinstein. Just as money laundering allows criminals to present tainted money as really coming from legitimate sources, so idea laundering allows deeply flawed scholarship to gain a false respectability. It’s the process by which opinions, rather than solid fact, are published in academic journals as established, peer-reviewed research. This is then given further respectability through references in the work of other, succeeding scholars. One of the examples of this Helen Pluckrose cites is the feminist text, Doing Gender. This starts with the idea that men and women are cognitively identical, but have been socialised into different roles. The book has been immensely influential, and has spawned a number of other books with similar titles expanding and applying its ideas. And some of these are absolutely crazy. One of these books states that heterosexual men are only attracted to women because they have been socialised to do so, a complete rejection of the reality of human sexual reproduction. Another example cited is Critical Dietician Studies. This was founded by a group of postmodernists as a venue for their own papers after they were rejected by mainstream journals of nutrition. One of their papers approvingly refers to Lenin for his ideas about nutrition, despite the fact that Lenin is one of the very last people to be considered an authority on it.

Social Justice Movements’ Intolerance

The group state that they weren’t the first people to comment on this poor and highly ideologically driven scholarship, but no-one else knew what to do about it. When another critical academic, Bruce Gillie, tried to publish a paper defending colonialism, not only was it rejected but he himself received death threats. They state that their academic opponents do not play by the conventional rules of engagement. Boghossian later describes how he had someone follow him into a gents’ toilet in order to beat him up, but was fortunately prevented by the presence of Brazilian judo instructor. These highly intolerant ideas aren’t just in academia, but are increasingly found outside it. For example, there was a recent article in the Washington Post entitled ‘Why Can’t We Hate Men?’. The group state that they have received emails and inquiries asking for help from professors, students and others, including a lawyer from the Canadian equivalent of the Bar Association, the EU parliament, and even knitting and hiking groups, which have become divided by these ideologies.

Another part of this new, postmodern, ‘social justice’ scholarship they attack is the notion of White privilege. This is based on Peggy MacKintosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. This is simply concerned with perceived racial privilege rather than economic or educational privilege. It would not accept that a Black millionaire is more privileged than a homeless White man. These ideas have developed so that it states that the mere recognition by White people that they are privileged isn’t enough. They are actively complicit in it because they are born into and speak with a system of White privilege and oppression. The fundamental attitude is that racism exists everywhere, and the question is never whether it exists, but how it manifests in a particular circumstance.

Personal Politics and Strategies to Tackle Postmodernism

The group state that they aren’t Conservatives. They’re actually liberal atheists, but they believe there should be a place for Conservative scholarship in the academy. They coined the term ‘Grievance Studies’ not to deny that there were genuine grievances, but to look at the scholarship based on postmodernism using particular grievances and issues. This pseudo-scholarship is based on a profound cultural relativism, denies universal values and standards, and the individuals. Pluckrose states that as a feminist historian she wants to examine issues of social justice rigorously without deny biology. But this is impossible with postmodernism.

When asked how they intend to combat these movements, they state that they aim to do so by clearly explaining the issues and providing resources. Lindsay and Boghossian wrote a book together, How To Talk to Someone You Disagree With. Pluckrose is writing a book on the origins of the ‘social justice’ movement. I think someone has made a film about the hoax, as the group several times refer to it and the video seems to be about the panel discussion that followed a screening of the film. Boghossian talks about going into the ‘belly of the beast’, showing the film in colleges and building a movement there. They’re also constructing a website.

One major obstacle is the educational establishment. They state that teaching in the US is now based very much on a postmodern, ‘social justice’ book, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. This is designed to look for and attack racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry at the expense of factual learning. Another problem is that liberals aren’t pushing back against these ideas as there doesn’t seem to be a good alternative. Decent people don’t want to be seen as against social justice. The issue is therefore to show that this ‘social justice’ scholarship is illiberal by those who genuinely want equality and a level playing field.

Attacks by Opponents

The three are asked about how they have been personally affected by this affair. Pluckrose states that as an independent scholar, she isn’t at the same risk as Boghossian, a tenured academic. Nevertheless she has had her views extremely misrepresented, been called a fascist and had her family’s internet accounts cloned so that trolls can attack her online. Lindsay says that he is also independent and that his experience is therefore almost the same as Pluckrose’s, and that he has lost friends and family. He states he is against racism and sexism, but just wants the scholarship about it to be better.

It is Boghossian who has suffered the most. He states that he is hated by his colleagues at the university, and has been the target of a persistent campaign of harassment and smears. There have been hit pieces on him in newspapers. He has been accused of criminal activities and maltreating his family, who have also been targeted. Less seriously, he has also been accused of supporting Trump and being pro-life, as well as being a Nazi and a grifter. The group give a further example of how this postmodern ‘social justice’ movement is pushing ideology at the expense of fact. They cite a book for maths teachers that urges them to use the subject as a way of indoctrinating students with this ideology.

Social Justice Postmodernism Not as Popular as Appears

They believe, however, that these ‘social justice’ movements are really just a small, but very powerful and influential minority and that it is opposed by many on the left. This is the old economic left and the socialists against the new identitarian left. There is also opposition from liberals, centrists and the centre-right. I think they are quite amused by the fact that, although liberal atheists, their ideas have been adopted by the Conservative religious right and are now taught in Southern Baptist seminaries. But they believe that this small, but highly influential ideological minority is nevertheless exercising a chilling culture. They talk about performative falsification. This is when people appear to go along with ideas they don’t hold, and even become enforcers for them out of fear that they will be targeted otherwise. They talk about receiving letters from students apologising for signing petitions against them, who felt that they would suffer if they didn’t. As far as the universities go, it appears to be the elite universities that suffer the most from this ideology. Pluckrose cites here recent demonstrations at Oxford and Cambridge. The lower tier universities aren’t quite so affected, as they have more students from working class backgrounds, who want practical knowledge and can’t afford to be concerned so much with social theory.

The group believes that these ideas could not have gained their power without the internet. However, they existed in the universities as far back as the 1980s. Postmodernism first arose in the 1960s as a movement by disaffected Marxists to analyse and deconstruct the existing power structures. This petered out as they seemed to be of no practical use. They were taken up again in the 1980s at the tail end of the Civil Rights movement by scholars and activists determined to give them a practical application. An example of this is Kimberley Crenshaw and the Black identity politics, which drew very much on postmodernism.

Regarding the future, Pluckstone has great hope in student groups, who have contacted her to speak to them and send information. There is a counterbalance to the ‘social justice’ movement, but at present it can’t speak. It needs resources and to find others like them. People do need to speak freely about it. University professors want to challenge it, but feel silenced. They describe how they have been contacted by a left-wing psychologist, who wishes to tackle social justice issues, but objects to the way the ‘social justice’ movement handles them. He wanted advice on what he could do.

What Parents Can Do

The group are asked what parents can do to resist this indoctrination. This is an issue that particularly affects Pluckstone, as she is also a parent. She explains that she talks to her fifteen year old daughter about issues like freedom and equality, and that reverse racism and sexism are still racism and sexism. She advises parents that when they get messages from the school stating that they are going to teach diversity and equality, they should ask the school why they are going to teach it that way. This shows the school that they will get pushback if they are too ideological. She states that it is rather different in England, where Christianity is present in schools, but she advises them to concentrate on the rules, which are rather stronger in America, preventing religious or political indoctrination in schools.

The group also advises people to be aware of language, as there are certain ‘trojan horse’ words which smuggle in the ideology. One such is ‘equity’. This does not mean ‘equality’, but simply making up for past injustices. Another code word is ‘critical’, which in this context does not mean ‘critical thinking’. They also recommend the book Kindly Inquisitors by Jonathan Rausch, which is suitable for 12-13 year olds, and which lays on the need to defend freedom of speech. They also attack Robin Di Angelo’s White Fragility as an example of the type of best-selling ‘social justice’ book they oppose.

They also believe that children know when they’re being lied to, and this could result in the baby being thrown out with the bath water. If the teaching becomes too ideological, not only will children reject the ideology, but also the solid teaching in which the ideology is embedded. As an example of how unselfconsciously intolerant ‘social justice’ ideology is, the group describe how they took the twelfth chapter of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, in which he describes his aims for the Nazi party, and carefully edited it to be about intersectional feminism. This was one of the spoof papers that were successfully submitted to various postmodern journals. In this instance it was taken up by a feminist journal.

A member of the audience suggests that they should produce soundbites that would appeal to fifteen year olds. The group say that they are going to produce a variety of books aimed at beginners’, intermediate, and advanced levels so to be intelligible to different people of all ages and ability. Boghossian also says that he is compiling a ‘turnkey’ syllabus for university professors.

Postmodern Attacks on Medicine

As an example of how this ideology is negatively affecting people, they talk about the use of pronouns. People are now being required to give their pronouns not as a statement of their own gender identity, but to show they are in line with the gender ideology. One of the three talks about how he personally knows one woman, who was a rape victim and very uncomfortable when she was asked what her pronouns were because of her experience. They also describe how cancer researchers have been placed under pressure by pro-fat activists not to say that obesity is a factor in some cancers because this is prejudicial against fat people. At the same time, extreme disability activists have placed medical professionals under pressure to withhold information on autism and deafness because it would be ‘ableist’ not to want to have a disabled child. This shows the power of the movement. When money corrupts academia, it’s immediately recognised and opposed. But this ideological corruption of education is much more difficult to see and so more acceptable. They also state that young people speak the jargon of postmodern social justice fluently, because they are surrounded by it all the time.

I’ve put this video up not to support the Conservative right, but because, as this group has shown, the postmodern ‘social justice’ movement is viciously intolerant and attacks fundamental ideas of individual freedom, dignity and individual worth on which western liberal society is based and which are at the heart of the politics of both the mainstream left and right.

And its because of their intolerance, divisiveness and racism and sexism that these ideas need to be fought by those on the left.

History Debunked Refutes Critical Race Theory’s Rejection of Objective Fact

April 16, 2021

In this video from History Debunked, YouTuber and author Simon Webb attacks Critical Race Theory’s epistemology. Critical Race Theory is the theory of racial politics, devised by American Marxists, that Blacks are the victims of institutional racism. As the video states, Critical Race Theory has largely been confined to the US for the past 40 years, but is now being adopted in Britain. It was the McPherson report following the murder of Stephen Lawrence, which introduced the idea of institutional racism in Britain with its conclusion that the Met was institutional racist. Since then a number of other organisations have also been accused of institutional racism, including the NHS.

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy dealing with knowledge. There is a difference between subjective and objective knowledge. The statement that light moves at 186,000 miles per second is objectively true. It can be tested. But the statement that X hates someone is subjective, as it is difficult to prove objectively. In the West, knowledge is generally regarded as objective fact. But Critical Race Theory rejects objective fact in favour of ‘Standpoint Epistemology’. This is the view that the opinions and perceptions of minorities are what matter, and these should be accepted uncritically, as demanding objective proof or questioning them is a form of oppression. The video also states that the theory also promotes instead of facts the stories Black people tell amongst themselves. These stories, which may include myths, are to be regarded as incontrovertible truth, and should similarly not be subjected to criticism or testing.

The video illustrates this by citing the views of a young Black woman, Yomimi, in an article published by the Beeb, and the Oprah Winfrey interview with Meghan Markle. The Beeb article is about the higher percentage of graduate unemployment among Blacks. Yomimi is quoted as saying that she feels it is due to institutional racism, and that employers automatically reject applicants from Black and Asian candidates, whose names are difficult to pronounce. This was the subject of a previous video by History Debunked yesterday, in which he argued against this assertion. Official statistics show that Chinese and Indians are slightly better at obtaining jobs than Whites, but Chinese names are notoriously difficult for westerners to pronounce. However, the Chinese generally do better in education than Whites, while fewer Blacks than Whites obtain two or more ‘A’ levels. Black unemployment may therefore have more to do with poor Black academic performance than institutional racism amongst employers. But what is important about the article is that Yomimi is not asked to provide supporting facts for her arguments. It is just how she feels or sees the situation.

Similarly, Markle said little in her interview with Winfrey that could be objectively verified. Significantly, Winfrey thanked Markle for speaking her ‘truth’. This sounds strange to British ears, but it’s part of the same viewpoint that rejects objective truth in favour of feelings and perceptions.

I’ve no doubt that racism exists in this country, and the police force, especially the Met, has been notorious for the racism of some of its officers. Racism appears to be one explanation for the Met’s failure to prosecute Lawrence’s murderers, but they were also the sons of notorious London gangsters. An alternative explanation was that the cops were afraid of prosecuting them because of their fathers, or else were corrupt and on their payroll. Private Eye also stated a few years ago that an Asian and White lad were also separately the victims of racist murders, and the Met was similarly negligent about finding and prosecuting their killers but that there was no mention of this.

The rejection of objective fact, however, is a fundamental element of Postmodernism and its moral and cultural relativism. Instead, it sees every culture and viewpoint as equal. Way back in the 1990s I tried to do an MA on British Islam at my old College. As part of it, my supervisor sent me to several Cultural Studies seminars, which were thoroughly postmodern. These were on colonial or western views of extra-European cultures. The attitude really did seem to be that westerners really couldn’t understand or appreciate other cultures, who should thus be exempt from western criticism. Any attempt to do so was dangerously prejudiced and ‘othering’.

Unfortunately, parts of the women’s movement have also been contaminated by this irratrionalism. In their book Intellectual Impostures, Sokal and Bricmont, one an American left-wing mathematician and physicist, the other a Belgian philosopher, attack postmodern philosophy and particularly its appropriation of scientific concepts. These are used nonsensically to give an appearance of depth and profundity to arguments that are actually absurd and incoherent nonsense. In one chapter they attack a number of postmodern feminist writers, who refuse to use conventional logical argument because logic and objective are patriarchal concepts that mentally imprison women. I am not joking, and this is most definitely not a wind-up.

A friend of mine came across this attitude, also back in the 1990s, in the women’s committee of the local branch of the National Union of Students. He was told by someone who worked with it, that it was one of three autonomous committees, whose conclusions were automatically passed as NUS policy. The other committees were for Black and LGBTQ students. The women’s committee similarly rejected logic and objective fact. Instead their debates supposedly consisted of them largely talking about their experiences of sexual abuse before concluding with their recommendation on a particularly issue. Which was passed with no debate. This situation should have been unacceptable. I have every sympathy for anyone who has been sexually abused, but official decisions need to be based on logical argument and proper debate, not entirely subjective feelings and personal history unless these are directly relevant to the matter.

Sokal and Bricmont were highly critical of this feminist rejection of logic, not least because it was based on a very traditional view, that has been used to exclude women from authority. For centuries women were largely excluded from a number of professions and political power on the basis that they, unlike men, were emotional rather than reasonable and logical. The Nazis used the same argument to justify their removal of women from the workplace and politics. They also believed in Cultural Relativism, and what was appropriate for one race was unsuitable for others. This is shown in their denunciation of democracy as ‘Jewish’. Now cultural relativism and the rejection of objective fact in favour of feelings and perceptions is being promoted as empowering for Blacks and women.

Proper discussion of racism is entirely appropriate, especially given the continuing poverty and marginalisation of the Black community. But this has to be done through rational discussion and argument, backed up with facts and statistics. And this means a rejection of Postmodernism and Critical Race Theory’s theory of knowledge.

Thunderfoot Attacks Black South African Student Who Claims Western Science Is ‘Racist’

October 27, 2020

Thunderfoot is another YouTube personality like Carl Benjamin aka Sargon of Akkad, the Sage of Swindon, whose views I categorically don’t share. He’s a militant atheist of the same stripe as Richard Dawkins. He’s a scientist, who shares Peter Atkins’ view that science can explain everything and leaves no room for religion or mysticism. He’s also very right wing, sneering at SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) and attacking feminism. So he’s also like Sargon on that score. But in this video, he does make valid points and does an important job of defending science against the glib accusation that it’s racist.

Thunderfoot put up this video in 2016 and it seems to be his response to a video circulating of part of a student debate at the University of Cape Town. The speaker in this video, clips of which Thunderfoot uses in his, is a Black female student who argues that western science is racist and colonialist. It arose in the context of western modernity and excludes indigenous African beliefs, and if she had her way, it would be ‘scratched out’. One of the African beliefs it excludes is the fact, as she sees it, that sangomas – African shamans – can call lightning down to strike people. She challenges her debating opponent to decolonise their mind and explain scientifically how the sangoma is able to do that. Her interlocutor is not impressed, and laughs out loud at this assertion, which gets a sharp response from the moderator who claims that the debate is supposed to be a circle of respect and they should apologise or leave. The anti-science student states that western science is totalizing, urges her opponent to decolonize their mind, and calls for an African science. She also rejects gravity because Isaac Newton sat on a tree and saw an apple fall.

Thunderfoot answers these assertions by pointing out, quite rightly, that science is about forming models of reality with ‘predictive utility’. It is the ability of scientific model to make useful predictions which shows that the model is an accurate description of reality. Science’s discoveries are true for everyone, regardless of whether they are male or female, Black or White. He shows a clip of militant atheist Richard Dawkins talking to another group of students, and explaining that the proof that science works is that planes and rockets fly. The equations and scientific models describing them have to, otherwise they don’t. Dawkins is another personality, whose views I don’t share, and this blog was started partly to refute his atheist polemics. But the quote from Dawkins is absolutely right. Thunderfoot goes on to say that if African shamans really could call lightning down on people, then surely someone would have used it for military purposes. And to demonstrate, he shows a clip of Thor getting hit with a lightning bolt from an Avengers movie.

As for African science, he then hands over to another YouTuber, who talks about an attempted scam in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. A women claimed that she had a rock which produced refined diesel oil, and called on the government to see for themselves. Which they did. If the woman’s claim was genuine, then Zimbabwe would be entirely self-sufficient in diesel. However, such hopes were dashed when it was revealed that the rock had a hole bored into it from which diesel was being pumped.

The video goes on to make the point that such ‘science denialism’ is dangerous by pointing to the claim of the former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, that HIV didn’t cause AIDS. He tried to stop people using the retroviral drugs used to treat HIV in favour of herbal cures that didn’t work. As a result, 300,000 people may have lost their lives to the disease.

Thunderfoot concludes that this is the situation this student would like to create: an African science which rejects gravity, asserts shamans can strike people with lightning, and in which hundreds of thousands of people die unnecessarily from AIDS. Here’s the video.

Racism and the Rejection of Conventional Science

Thunderfoot is right in that one current view in the philosophy of science is that science is about forming models of reality, which can make predictions. This is the view I hold. He is also correct in that science’s findings are valid regardless of where they are made and who makes them. And I’d also argue that, rather than science, it is this young Black woman, who is racist. She rejects science on the racist grounds that it was created by White Europeans. This is also the genetic fallacy, the logical mistake that a statement must be wrong because of the nature of the person who makes it. The Nazis, for example, made the same mistake when they rejected Einstein’s Theory of Relativity because Einstein was Jewish. They also believed that science should reflect racial identity, and so sacked Jewish mathematicians and scientists in an attempt to create a racially pure ‘Aryan’ science.

Science and the Paranormal

I don’t believe, however, that science automatically excludes the supernatural. There are very many scientists, who are people of faith. Although it’s very much a fringe science – some would say pseudoscience – there is the discipline of parapsychology, which is the scientific investigation of the paranormal. Organisations like the Society for Psychical Research and ASSAP have existed since the 19th century to carry out such investigations. Their members do include scientists and medical professionals. I don’t think it would be at all unreasonable for parapsychologists to investigate such alleged powers by indigenous shamans, just as they investigate appearances of ghosts, psychic powers and mediumship in the west. And if it could be demonstrably proved that such shamans had the powers they claim, then science would have to accommodate that, whether it could explain it or not.

On the other hand is the argument that science shouldn’t investigate the paranormal or supernatural, not because the paranormal doesn’t exist, but because it is outside the scope of scientific methodology to investigate it as different field altogether. Thus science can ignore the general question of whether tribal shamans are able to conjure up lightning bolts as outside its purview and more properly the subject of metaphysics or theology. In which case, it’s left up to the individual to decide for themselves whether these shamans are able to perform such miracles.

Muti Witchcraft and Murder

Thunderfoot and his fellow YouTuber are also right to point out the harm that bad and fraudulent science can do. And there are very serious issues surrounding the promotion of indigenous African magic. Years ago a South African anthropologist defended African muti at an academic conference here in Britain. Muti is a form of magic in which someone tries to gain success and good luck through acquiring amulets made of human body parts. These include the fingers and the genitals. It’s believed they are particularly powerful if they are cut off the victim while they’re still alive. There’s a whole black market in such body parts and amulets in South Africa, with prices varying according to the desired body party. Way back in 2004-5 the police found the remains of a human torso in the Thames. It had been wrapped in cloth of particular colours, and it was believed that it had belonged to a boy, who’d been killed as part of such a ritual.

Indigenous Beliefs and the Politics of Apartheid

Years ago the small press, sceptical UFO magazine, Magonia, reviewed a book by the South African shaman Credo Mutwa. This was supposed to be full of ancient African spiritual wisdom. In fact it seems to have been a mixture of South African indigenous beliefs and western New Age ideas. The Magonians weren’t impressed. And one of the reasons they weren’t impressed was Mutwa himself and the political use of him and other African shamans by the apartheid government.

Before it fell, apartheid South Africa had a policy of ‘re-tribalisation’. This was the promotion of the separate identities and cultures of the various indigenous peoples over whom the White minority ruled. This included the promotion of traditional religious and spiritual beliefs. These peoples had intermarried and mixed to such an extent, that by the 1950s they had formed a Black working class. And it was to prevent that working class becoming united that the apartheid government promoted their cultural differences in a policy of divide and rule. Mutwa was allegedly part of that policy as a government stooge.

Attacks on Science and Maths for Racism Dangerous

I’ve put up several videos now from Sargon attacking the assertion that western education and in particular mathematics is racist and somehow oppressed Blacks. I’m putting up this video because it does the same for the assertion that western science is also racist.

Not only are science and maths not racist, it is also very definitely not racist to reject some forms of African magic. Killing and mutilating people for good luck is absolutely abhorrent and should be condemned and banned, and those who practise it punished, regardless of its status as an African tradition. At the same time it does need to be realised that the South African government did try to keep Black Africans down and powerless partly through the promotion of indigenous spiritual beliefs. It’s ironic that the young woman shown arguing against science does so in an apparent belief that its rejection will somehow be liberating and empowering for Black Africans. And Thunderfoot has a chuckle to himself about the irony in her arguing against science, while reaching for her ipad, one of its products.

Belief in the supernatural and in the alleged powers of indigenous shamans should be a matter of personal belief. Disbelieving in them doesn’t automatically make someone a racist bigot. But this young woman’s rejection of science is racist and potentially extremely dangerous, because it threatens to deprive Black South Africans like her of science’s undoubted benefits. Just like Mbeki’s rejection of the link between HIV and AIDS led to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of desperately ill men, women and children.

Conclusion

What is particularly irritating is that this young woman and her fellow students are affluent and, as students, highly educated. If the woman was poor and uneducated, then her views would be understandable. But she isn’t. Instead, she uses the language and rhetoric of postmodernism and contemporary anti-colonialism. It does make you wonder about what is being taught in the world’s universities, arguments about academic freedom notwithstanding.

In the past, there has been racism in science. Eugenics and the hierarchy of races devised by 19th century anthropologists as well as the Nazis’ attempts to create an Aryan science are examples. But attacks on conventional science and mathematics as racist, based on no more than the fact that modern science and maths have their origins in contemporary western culture is also racist and destructive.

Glib attacks on science by people like the young student in the above video not only threaten its integrity, but will also harm the very people, who most stand to benefit. They should be thoroughly rejected.

History Debunked Refutes Ethnomathematics/Rehumanizing Mathematics

September 8, 2020

This is another video from History Debunked. In it, youtuber and author Simon Webb attacks Ethnomatics, sometimes also called Rehumanizing Mathematics. This is a piece of modern pseudo-scholarship designed to help Black children tackle Maths. The idea is that Blacks perform poorly compared at Maths compared to other ethnic groups. This is held to be because Maths is the creation of White men, and this puts Blacks off studying and mastering it.

The solution has been to scrutinise African societies for their indigenous Maths, especially the Dogon of Mali. They have been chosen as the chief model for all this, as they possessed extremely advanced astronomical and mathematical knowledge. In the 1970s there was a book, The Sirius Mystery by Robert K.G. Temple, which claimed that they owed this advance knowledge to contact with space aliens. Apparently this claim was subsequently dropped 10 – 15 years later, and the claim made instead that they were just superlative astronomers and mathematicians themselves. But Dogon Maths is held to be different from White, western Maths because it’s spiritual. History Debunked then goes on to demonstrate the type of pseudo-scientific nonsense this has lead to by providing a link to an Ethnomathematics paper and reading out its conclusion. It’s the kind of pretentious verbiage the late, great Jazzman, Duke Ellington, said stunk up the place. It’s the kind of postmodern twaddle that Sokal and Bricmont exposed in their Intellectual Impostures. It’s deliberately designed to sound impressive without actually meaning anything. There’s a lot of talk about expanding cognitive horizons and possibilities, but History Debunked himself says he doesn’t understand a word of it. And neither, I guess, will most people. Because it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just there to sound impressive and bamboozle the reader into thinking that somehow they’re thick because they don’t, while the fault is entirely the writers.

I think History Debunked is a man of the right, and certainly his commenters are Conservatives, some with extremely right-wing views. He’s produced a series of videos attacking the pseudo-history being pushed as Black History, and apparently Seattle in America is particularly involved in promoting this nonsense. But he expects it to come over here in a few years. Given the way Black History month has jumped the Atlantic, I think he’s right.

There’s been a particular emphasis on find ancient Black maths and science for some time I know. For a brief while I got on well with a Black studies group when I was a volunteer at the slavery archives in the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum. That was before I read their magazine and got so annoyed with it and its attitude to Whites that I sent them a whole load of material arguing to the contrary, and pointing out that in places like the Sudan, Blacks were being enslaved and oppressed not by White Europeans, but by the Arabs. I also sent them material about the poor Whites of South Africa, who also lived in grinding poverty thanks to Apartheid. This was stuff they really didn’t want to hear, and I was told that if I wanted to talk to them further, I should do so through someone else. They were also interested in finding examples of Black maths and science. I sent them photocopies and notes I’d made of various medieval Muslim mathematicians. These were Arabs and Persians, like al-Khwarizmi, who gave his name to the word algorithm, Omar Khayyam, best known in the west for his Rubayyat, but who was also a brilliant mathematician, al-Haytham, who invented the camera obscura in the 12th century and others, rather than Black. But they were grateful for what I sent them nonetheless, and I thanked me. This was before I blotted my copybook with them.

I’m reposting this piece because, although it comes from the political, it is correct. And you don’t have to be right-wing to recognise and attack this kind of postmodern rubbish. Sokal and Bricmont, the authors of the book I mentioned early attacking postmodernism, were both men of the left. Sokal was a physicist, who taught maths in Nicaragua under the left-wing Sandinista government. They wrote the book because they took seriously George Orwell’s dictum that writing about politics means writing clearly in language everyone can understand. And even if you believe that Black people do need particular help with maths because of issues of race and ethnicity, Ethnomathematics as it stands really doesn’t appear to be it. It just seems to be filling children’s heads with voguish nonsense, rather than real knowledge.

I also remember the wild claims made about the Dogon and their supposed contact with space aliens. Part of it came from the Dogon possessing astronomical knowledge well beyond their level of technology. They knew, for example, that Sirius has a companion star, invisible to the naked eye, Sirius B. They also knew that our solar system had nine planets, although that’s now been subsequently altered. According to the International Astronomical Association or Union or whatever, the solar system has eight planets. Pluto, previously a planet, has been downgraded to dwarf planet, because it’s the same size as some of the planetoids in the Kuiper Belt. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince discuss this in one their books,The Stargate Conspiracy (London: Little, Brown & Company 1999), which claimed that the American intelligence agencies were secretly preparing a fake UFO landing in order to convince everyone that the space gods really had arrived, and set up a one-world dictatorship. This hasn’t happened, and I’ve seen the Fortean Times and other weird magazines trying to explain their book as a high-level hoax which people took too seriously. I don’t believe this, as they seemed very serious at the time. The Dogon believe that the first human ancestors, and some of their gods, came from the sky. Hence Temple’s claim that they were contacted by space aliens. Picknett and Prince, however, sided with sceptics like Carl Sagan. They argued instead ithat the Dogon owed it to a French priest, anthropologist or colonial administrator, I’ve forgotten which, who visited them in the 1920s and who was extremely interested in astronomy. This seems to me to be far more likely than that they either got it from space aliens or that they far better mathematicians and astronomers than they could have been at their level of development.

The Dogon are fascinating as their homes and villages are laid out to be microcosms of the male and female human body and the universe. The book African Mythology by Geoffrey Parrinder, London: Hamlyn 1967, describes the layout of a Dogon house thus:

The shape of the Dogon house is symbolical. The floor is like the earth and the flat roof like heaven. The vestibule is a man and the central room woman, with store rooms at her sides as arms. The hear at the end is her head. The four posts are the man and woman entwined in union. So the family house represents the unity of man and woman and God and the Earth. This is accompanied by the elevation and ground plan of a typical Dogon house. (p. 49).

There’s also this diagram of an idealised Dogon village:

The caption for the diagrame reads:

Like the house, the Dogon village represents human beings. The smithy is at the head like a hearth in a house. The family houses in the centre and millstones and village represent the sexes. Other altars are the feet. (p. 51).

Truly, a fascinating people and I have no problem anybody wanting to study them. But it should be in anthropology, ethnography or comparative religion, not maths.

But it struck me that if teachers and educators want to enthuse and inspire young minds with what maths Africans were studying, they could start with ancient Egypt and the great Muslim civilisations of the Sahara and north Africa, like Mali. Aminatta Forna in one of her programmes on these civilisations was shown an ancient astronomical text from the medieval library of one of these towns, which she was told showed that Muslims knew the Earth orbited the sun before Copernicus and Galileo. I doubt that very much. It looks like a form of a combined helio-and geocentric system, first proposed by the ancient Greeks, and then taken up by some medieval astronomers not just in Islam, but also in Christian Europe. In this system, all the other planets when round the Sun, which orbited the Earth. Close to the modern system, but not quite. But it showed that the Black citizens of that civilisation were in contact with the great currents of Muslim science, and that they would have had learnt and taught the same kind of Maths that was being investigated and researcher right across the Muslim world, from India to Morocco and further south to Mali. One of the Black educationalists would like to translate one of these books from Arabic, the learned language of Muslim civilisation, and use it as an example of the kind of maths that was also taught in Black Africa.

Or you could go right back to ancient Egypt. Mathematical texts from the Land of the Nile have also survived in the Moscow and Rhind mathematical papyri. These have various maths problems and their solution. For example, problem No. 7 of the Moscow papyrus is about various calculations for a triangle. This runs

Example of calculating a triangle.

If you are told: A triangle of 2 thousands-of-land, the bank of 2 of 2 1/2;

You are to double the area: result 40 (arurae). Take (it) 2 1/2 times; result [100. Take its square root, namely] 10. Evoke 1 from 2 1/2; what results is 2/5. Apply this to 10; result 4. It is 10 (khet) in length by 4 (khet) in breadth. From Henrietta Midonick, The Treasury of Mathematics: 1 (Harmondsworth: Pelican 1965) p. 71.

It’s amazing to think that the boys at the scribal school were being taught all this millennia ago. It gives you a real sense of connection with the ancient schoolkids reading it. You can imagine them, hunched over with their pen and ink, busily cudgeling their brains while the teacher prowls about them. The Babylonians were also renowned as the pioneers of early mathematics. They even uncovered a school when they excavated Ur of the Chaldees in the 1920s, complete with the maths and other texts the schoolboys – female education didn’t exist back then, but I’m willing to be corrected – were required to learn. As a schoolboy character in the Fast Show used to say: ‘Brilliant!’ You don’t need to burden modern African societies like the Dogon with spurious pseudo-history and pseudo-science, when the real historic achievements of ancient Egypt and medieval Africa are so impressive.

It struck me that even if you don’t use the original Egyptian maths texts to teach maths – which would be difficult, as their maths was slightly different. Their method of calculating the area of a field of four unequal sides yields far too high a figure, for example – you could nevertheless inspire children with similar problems. Perhaps you could do it with assistance of a child or two from the class. You could bring them out in front of everyone, give them and ancient Egyptian headdress, and then arranged the lesson so that they helped the teacher, acting as pharaoh, to solve it. Or else pharaoh showed them, his scribes, and thus the class. This is certainly the kind of thing that was done when I was a kid by the awesome Johnny Ball on the children’s maths and science programme, Think of a Number. And every week, as well as showing you a bit of maths and science, he also showed you a trick, which you could find out how to do by dropping him a line. It was the kind of children’s programme that the Beeb did very, very well. It’s a real pity that there no longer is an audience for children’s programmes and their funding has subsequently been cut.

Here’s History Debunked’s video attacking Ethnomathematics. He also attacks a piece of ancient baboon bone carved with notches, which he states has been claimed is an ancient prehistoric African calendar. He provides no evidence in this video to show that it wasn’t, and says its the subject of a later video. If this is the one I’m thinking of, then that is a claim that has been accepted by mainstream archaeologists and historians. See Ivor Grattan-Guinness, The Fontana History of the Mathematical Sciences (London: Fontana Press 1998) p. 24.

If you want to know more about ancient and medieval maths, and that of the world’s many indigenous cultures, see the book Astronomy before the Telescope, edited by Christopher Walker with an introduction by the man of the crumpled suit and monocle himself, Patrick Moore (London: British Museum Press 1998).

This has chapters on astronomy in Europe from prehistory to the Renaissance, but also on astronomy in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, India, Islam, China, Korea and Japan, North and South America, traditional astronomical knowledge in Africa and among Aboriginal Australians, Polynesia and the Maori. It can be a difficult read, as it explores some very technical aspects, but it is a brilliant work by experts in their respective fields.

Old ‘Financial Times’ Review by Caryl Phillips of Books on Afrocentrism and Black Identity

August 1, 2020

This is another very old clipping from my scrapbooks. Titled ‘Burdened by white men’s perceptions’, its a review by the Black British writer Caryl Phillips of the books Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes by Stephen Howe, and Masks: Blackness, Race and the Imagination by Adam Lively. Its from the Financial Times’ edition for August 15th/16th 1998, and so nearly a quarter of a century old. Nevertheless, these are issues that are still present and which are still strongly influencing contemporary racial politics and motivating activist movements like Black Lives Matter.

Phillips begins his review with the book on Afrocentrism. This is a Black historical view that sees ancient Egypt as a Black African civilisation and the true source of the western cultural and intellectual tradition, which was appropriated by the ancient Greeks and Romans. He then moves on to the second book, which is about the issue of Black identity in majority White culture and the effects of White perceptions. Phillips writes

Stephen Howe’s candid book goes right to the heart of one of the most vexing of contemporary America’s problems: the question of “Afrocentrism”, and its legitimacy as an alternative system of thought to the “white racism” which has dominated American intellectual, social and political life. Howe (who is white) quotes the African-American professor, Manning Marable, who defines Afrocentrism as a system of thought which “looks to a romantic, mythical reconstruction of yesterday to find some understanding of the cultural basis of today’s racial and class challenges.” Howe agrees with Marable that Afrocentrism is not only romantic and mythical, but he sees it as ultimately dangerous.

His book is divided into three parts. In the first section Howe looks at the “roots” of Afrocentrism, rightly identifying the writings o the 19th-century writer Edward Wilmot Blyden as being perhaps at the head of this tradition. In 1866 Blyden travelled to Egypt, determined to see evidence of great Black achievements. He was overwhelmed by a sense of racial pride on first seeing the Pyramids: “This, thought I, was the work of my African progenitors … Feelings came over me far different from those I have ever felt when looking at the mighty works of European genius. I felt that I had a peculiar heritage in the Great Pyramid built … by the enterprising sons of Ham, from which I am descended …”

In the second part of his book, Howe focuses largely upon the Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop (1923-86), identifying him as the originator of many of the ideas that form the basis of modern Afrocentrism. Diop believed that the biological origin of humanity took place in Africa, and that Egypt was the cradle of a Black civilisation that was appropriated by the Ancient Greeks. His writings and scholarship all speak to a need for those of Africa to see beyond the obfuscation created by European racism and colonialism,  and reclaim their glorious past.

The final part of Howe’s book looks at the current manifestations of Afrocentric thought, particularly in American academic life. He rightly castigates the anti-Semitism of Afrocentric “scholars”  such as Leonard Jeffries and Tony Martin, and is tough but even-handed in his case against Molefi Asante (whom Howe calls the “Godfather of Afrocentrism”). The pseudo-scientific racism, the homophobia, and the lack of any serious scholarship which underpins the work of modern-day Afrocentrism is laid bare in a devastating, and at times humorous manner.

This book performs a great service for all who are interested in the intellectual study of race and racism in the US. Howe builds his case upon facts, which most Afrocentric “scholars” seem incapable of doing. However, what Howe does not do is to ask the pressing question which arises out of his book: why is it that so many African Americans both leaders and followers, are prepared to invest in such an ahistorical sense of their world and their history?

The first half of Adam Lively’s book provides some kind of an answer, castigating as it does the European attempts to place Africa and people of African origin at the bottom of the evolutionary chain. Lively traces what he terms “the invention of race” in the modern world, and looks at racial theories in 18th and 19th-century Britain, examined how they clashed with Christianity, and Darwinism.

The second half of the book turns to the US. Lively announces his shift of locale and time, by stating that in the earlier period “If the African answered back, the European didn’t hear. In America by contrast … the American Negro could and did answer back to the White man.” This is not strictly true. Olaudah Equiano’s autobiographical narrative published in 1789 went into eight British editions, and was also published in German, Dutch and Russian. Equiano was but one of a host of contemporary Black writers who were undoubtedly heard by Europeans.

The American half of Lively’s book is largely composed of readings in 20th century American literature which support his central thesis that the contemporary imagination has great difficulty coping with a blackness that has been so deeply demonised by theories which originated in earlier centuries. However, whereas the first half of his book is underpinned by solid research, the second half becomes more speculative.

The book concludes with a short epilogue entitled “Beyond Race?” Unfortunately, here the text collapses into the infuriating academic doublespeak that the author has so eloquently avoided. “The idea of postethnicity accords with the modern tendency to see ethnicity as performative than essentialist. Blackness becomes a cultural style, a signifier that has floated free of its moorings in pigmentation. Stripped of any deterministic associations, its gift is the freedom (or, negatively, the alienation) of the mask.”

Blackness is not, and never will be, simply “a cultural style”. Being Black in the western world still means that one is burdened by White people’s perceptions of  one as either an object of taboo or one of sentiment. To scamper off into an imagined past of Afrocentric “achievement” is as foolish as the attempt to construct an imagined present of redemptive cultural equality based around baggy jeans and rap music. Lively ends his book with the following sentence: “The racial past cannot be erased, but it can be rendered impotent.” Neither Lively’s faith in postmodernism nor the Afrocentric’s “fake” history, will produce any viable solution to a problem that will dog us far into the next millennium.

I hope this prediction is far too pessimistic, and that this millennium won’t be as burdened with issues of race and racism as the previous. Regarding Afrocentrism, there is a serious point behind the romanticism. Egypt is geographically part of Africa, and the ancient Egyptians certainly portrayed themselves as darker skinned than the European peoples to the north. They traded extensively in the Mediterranean, including as far west as Spain, and did influence Greek and Roman culture. The White Afrocentrist historian, Basil Davidson, states that he believes that the Romans took their intellectual culture from Egypt because the Romans themselves said they did. On the other hand, it appears that the ancient Greeks took their mathematical knowledge from the ancient Near East, particularly Phrygia, rather than Egypt.

My problem with Afrocentrism is that, at its extreme, it just becomes a form of anti-White racism, the mirror image of White racist views of Black and African history. In the view of Afrocentric writers like Garakai Chengu, ancient Egypt was a superior Black civilisation that bestowed culture and learning on the backward White tribes of Europe. The Moors of Islamic Spain were ‘obviously Black’, and through their conquest brought backward, superstitious White Europeans enlightened philosophy and science. This isn’t history so much as a Black racist fantasy of imperialism and benign colonialism projected into the past. Chengu has apparently taught at Harvard, but when Counterpunch saw fit to publish a piece by him on their website the standard of scholarship was so poor that I really wondered how he got the job.

Ancient Egypt and the other great civilisations of Africa are awesome, inspiring and worth studying along with all the world’s great cultures. But this needs to be done without the grotesque distortions of racism, whether by Whites or Blacks.

LBC’s Maajid Nawaz Blames Protests and Riots on Postmodernism at Universities

June 4, 2020

It seems that it isn’t just Donald Trump and members of the far right, like Andy Ngo, in America who are blaming the current unrest on bogus, mythical far left conspiracies. On this side of the Pond one of the presenters on LBC radio, Maajid Nawaz did the same yesterday. And he then got terribly shirty when an American philosophy professor, Jason Stanley, called him out on it.

Nawaz had tweeted

The hard-left has fucked up our youth. These are fruits of their Long March & a consequence of us all giving the hard-left an easy pass on their morally relativist, post-modernism”.

To which Yale prof Stanley replied. asking if his Tweet was a joke and saying that it was impossible to take him seriously when he mentioned post-modernism in that context.

Nawaz replied in turn that he was a Muslim, who had lived through torture and racist violence, and accused Stanley of White privilege and having the dismissive racism of the American left. This did not impress Stanley, who stuck to his guns. He continued asking if Nawaz’s thread was a parody, and pointed out that postmodernism had nothing to do with the protests in his country, and that Marxists aren’t postmodernists. This upset Nawaz even more, who accused him of ‘Whitesplaining’. It didn’t stop Stanley from asking further if Nawaz’s thread was a parody. Mehdi Hasan then joined in to criticise Nawaz’s own, contradictory position:

Maajid Nawaz has this whole anti-identity politics schtick but as soon as someone calls him on his BS – as my friend Yale professor & fascism expert [Jason Stanley] did earlier – he instantly reverts to a ‘you-cant-criticize-me-because-youre-a-white-man’ line. He is beyond parody”.

Quite.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/06/maajid-nawaz-post-modernism-fail.html

I’ve come across the same view before from the transatlantic right. The hard left, it is maintained by Conservatives on both sides of the Pond, is trying to destroy western culture through postmodernism and its radical destruction of traditional western society and questioning of objective truth.

Postmodernism, Architecture, Linguistic Theory and History

Postmodernism actually started out as an architectural movement. It meant a style of modern architecture which ‘quoted’ features of past building styles. For example, it might include turrets like a medieval castle, or the volutes above the doorways of the Baroque. It was then taken over into French philosophy, where it mixed Marxism with with poststructural linguist theory. Radical philosophers like Liotard, Derrida, Lacan and Irigay argued that, just as there was no innate link between the signifier – a word – and the signified – the object or concept that word represented, so there was no objective truth and all historical accounts were equally valid. Althusser in the late 60s demanded a ‘semioclasm’ – the liberation of words from their bourgeois meanings, In history, postmodernism also sought to attack traditional Eurocentric history which privileged White men. It’s fair to say that postmodernism continued to be strongly associated with the radical left into the 1990s. I can remember attending a seminar at my old college in the 1990s in which postmodernism was invoked to argue that White Europeans could never really understand extra-European cultures, and people talked about being ‘othered’ and alienated by conventional Western discourse.

Sokal and Bricmont’s Attack

But that, dear friends, was a long time ago. Things have changed somewhat since then. In the mid-1990s Sokal and Bricmont, one an American Maths professor, the other a Belgian philosopher, gave postmodernism a thorough intellectual drubbing with their Intellectual Impostures. This was an attack on the way postmodern philosophers, like the above, tried to use scientific and mathematical concepts in their writings without actually understanding them. They simply used them in order to show off. The results were articles that were nonsense scientifically, and really just plain gibberish whose impenetrability was meant to make them look profound. One the offenders the two critiqued was a piece which seemed to claim that philosophy’s job was to quiet down and smooth out the quantum foam, the phenomenon at the subatomic level where particles suddenly pop in and out of existence randomly. The targets of Sokal’s and Bricmont’s fierce demolition hit back by claiming that the two were right-wing reactionaries. They weren’t. Sokal was a member of the American Left, who had taught in Nicaragua under the Sandanistas. They were partly motivated to attack the postmodernists because they followed Orwell’s maxim that if you want to write politics, you should do so clearly.

Postmodernism Passe

By the late ’90s and certainly by the first years of the 21st century, the vogue for postmodernism had passed. When I did an MA history course around 2003, it included postmodernism in the historiography section, but only as one school of history. The others included Historicism, and the French Annales school amongst others. One of these is Marxism, which shows how Marxism and Postmodernism are two separate ideologies. The reading on it we were given accepted the premise that you couldn’t produce a completely objective account of an historical event or movement, but nevertheless considered that postmodernism was important in that it should spur the historian to try as hard as possible to approach this unattainable goal. This was very different from accepting the radical postmodernists’ claim that as objective truth doesn’t exist, all accounts and narratives are equally valid.

Colin Bennett, Postmodernism and the Far Right

By that time, postmodernism had also changed its political affiliation. It was no longer a movement of the left. This was stated very clearly by one of the lecturers. This is demonstrated very clearly by the writings of the Fortean author Colin Bennett. Bennett appeared in the 1990s, when he published a book on the UFO Contactee, George Adamski, Looking for Orthon. He’s now considered a fraud by most UFO researchers, not least because one of the photos he was trying to pass off as a picture of Venusian spaceship was of a chicken coop. He’s also supposed to have remarked in private that he founded his mystical organisation as a way of obtaining alcohol during Prohibition by claiming he was using it for spiritual purposes. Bennett appeared on a panel at the Fortean Times Unconvention one year to talk about his book, and got very irate and refused to give a straight answer when he was asked by another panelist if he thought Adamski was genuine. Bennett definitely considered himself a postmodernist, but he was very far from being a Marxist. He’s an ex-soldier, whose views on multiculturalism and non-White immigration in my view come very close to the White European Fascist fringe. He is Jewish, and so is also very critical of them for their anti-Semitism. As for sexual politics, from what I saw of his writings a few years ago, he was very definitely traditional in his view of gender roles and very bitterly opposed to homosexuality. Several of his pieces contained rants against the British cultural elite for refusing to accept postmodernism, and trying to drag British literature back to the Bloomsbury group and promote what the Beeb used to delicately call ‘effeminacy in men’.

From starting as a left-wing movement, postmodernism had, at least in Bennett’s case, been taken over by the far right.

Anti-White Racism at University

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t radical left-wing postmodernists teaching at universities. There was a scandal a couple of years ago when a White student at Wash University in Utah recorded the rantings of the Black professor teaching the communications course. The professor rejected space because science was a White invention. The student also recorded his Black students screaming racist diatribes against Whites, some of which were tantamount to genocide. On the recording, one of them can be heard shouting that Whites should all be rounded up and shot into space. The recording caused immense controversy, and was the subject of a number of YouTube posts from American Conservative channels and individuals.

Conclusion

I doubt, however, that there are very many university professors like that one. I don’t doubt that there are others, but they’re going to be in a minority. The vast majority of scientists, for example, are utterly convinced that there is indeed an objective truth, and that their disciplines are finding it. It’s why Richard Dawkins has also strongly attacked postmodernism. Many scientists are themselves critical of some of Dawkin’s views on evolution and the existence of God, but I think they nearly all agree with him about this. Postmodernism is largely confined to the arts and humanities, and even there I very much doubt that very many academics and students really believe in it. I am also extremely sceptical of right-wing claims that universities are dominate by the left. In my experience, teaching staff are of all political opinions. Many of them also take seriously the difference between education and indoctrination, so that some of the most left-wing keep their private views very separate from what they say in the class room and lecture hall.

And it should be very obvious that on its own, no academic discipline, no matter how sophisticated, can get people on to the streets demonstrating. The people marching and protesting in America and Britain do so because of real social, political and economic grievances.

It has zero to do with any bogus conspiracies of far left, postmodernist College professors.

 

Three Arrows Attacks the Right-Wing Myth of ‘Cultural Marxism’

October 13, 2018

Three Arrows is a German vlogger, who makes videos attacking and refuting the lies and assertions of the internet far right. These are reactionary, anti-feminist and anti-immigrant – some would also say racist – personalities like Stefan Molyneaux, Jordan Peterson, Carl Benjamin AKA ‘Sargon of Akkad’ and Paul Joseph Watson, who was formerly Alex Jones’ little Brit buddy on Infowars. In the video below, he tackles the myth of ‘cultural Marxism’. This is the belief amongst the transatlantic extreme right that a group of Marxist intellectuals are trying to destroy western culture from within through feminism, immigration, postmodernism, gay and trans rights and other radical movements. They trace this movement back to the German Frankfurt School of radical Marxist thinkers, which included Horkheimer, Jurgen Habermas and Theodor Adorno.

I’m putting up this video as it is directly relevant to the issue of some of the extremist literature that was found at the Tory conference this week. Mike over at Vox Political reported a piece by Vice that an extremist pamphlet, Moralitis: A Cultural Virus, had been found at a meeting of the Thatcherite, right-wing organization, the Bruges group, at the conference. This used the metaphor of a virus to describe the spread of left-wing ideas, particularly a positive attitude to immigration and Islam. These were attacking western culture, and were being promoted and orchestrated by ‘Cultural Marxists’.

Three Arrows shows how similar the modern Right’s ideas of Cultural Marxism to the Nazi idea of Cultural Bolshevism. The Nazis also believed that the Bolsheviks were spreading radical cultural and intellectual movements to bring down traditional western, and especially German culture, with the Jews at the centre of this Marxist conspiracy.

The modern right-wing myth of cultural Marxism started with two Americans, Pat Buchanan and William S. Lint. Buchanan wrote two books, The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilisation and Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost its Empire and the West Lost the World. Three Arrows states that Buchanan is a palaeoconservative who has complained that there are too many Jews on the American supreme court. In the first book, he argued that the cultural Marxists, referring to the Frankfurt School, were trying to de-Christianise and subvert the country. This meant making America more open to issues like homosexuality. The second book argued that Britain should never have declared war on Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust was the consequence of its doing so.

Lint is more overtly right-wing and racist. He calls for hanging as the punishment for crime, but only in ‘urban areas’. Which is a dog-whistle reference to Black ghettos. In 1989 he told a conference that political correctness and cultural Marxism had turned American universities in little ‘North Koreas’, in which dissenters would be persecuted and punished by ‘gender feminists’ and homosexual activists. In 2002 Lint spoke at a conference organized by the Barnes Review, a Holocaust revisionist rag, in front self-described Holocaust revisionists, anti-Semites and neo-Nazis. The character of the rag is shown by the cover of the issue Three Arrows puts up, which shows Adolf Hitler at a rally, with the caption, ‘In Defence of Adolf Hitler’. Lint is not, however, a Holocaust denier. He again talked about how the Frankfurt school were responsible for the ideas destroying America, and said that they were all Jewish. For which he was greeted with rapturous applause from the stormtroopers.

Three Arrows then goes on to discuss how, contrary to what Buchanan, Lint and their successors believe, the Frankfurt school were very definitely not supporters of postmodernism, and wished to preserve western culture. Indeed, Jurgen Habermas was one of postmodernism’s fiercest critics. He attacked the founders and major figures in postmodernism – Jacques Derrida, Foucault and Nietzsche contradicted themselves by using the methods of western rationalism to attack western rationalism. He also criticized Nietzsche for destroying the unity religion had given wester culture. The Frankfurt School were also appalled at the uniformity and coarseness of modern culture and expressed this in terms that resemble some of the comments of right-wing mouthpieces like Paul Joseph Watson. The difference, however, was that Theodor Adorno, who voiced these criticisms of the modern culture industry, placed the blame for western cultural decline on capitalism. Horkheimer, Adorno, Lowenthal and the other members of the School wished to preserve and promote western values like rationality and personal freedom. They believed that capitalism itself threatened Enlightenment values, and some of them attacked postmodernism, pop culture and ‘political correctness’. Three Arrows also makes the point that they wouldn’t have supported changing the culture to bring about Communism, because this contradicted the Marxist doctrine that this could only be done through changing society’s economic base.

Three Arrows also makes the point that there is absolutely no evidence for this ‘cultural Marxist’ conspiracy. Wikipedia had to move its entry for it to that of the Frankfurt School, because none of its readers could provide any. There are no Marxist countries in the West. And in Three Arrows’ homeland, Germany, in which Marx was born, the two biggest Marxist parties – the German Communist Party and the Marxist-Leninist Party together got less than 0.1 per cent of the vote combined. He suggests that instead of a secret Marxist conspiracy, these changes in western society owe more instead to politicians and businesses adopting ‘political correctness’ to appeal to a wider audience. As for left-wing students, they have always been around, and some of them do stupid things. Like the two young women in the late ’60s who took off their clothes and started kissing Adorno as a protest against ‘patriarchal structures’. For which Adorno called the cops and had them removed.

Three Arrows then argues that the similarity between the Nazis’ Cultural Bolshevism and the ‘Cultural Marxism’ of modern right-wing internet pundits like Stefan Molyneaux, Sargon of Akkad and Paul Joseph Watson isn’t coincidental. They both require their audience to accept the existence of this conspiracy on their word alone, without any supporting proof. The only difference is that Molyneaux, Sargon, Watson and the others aren’t anti-Semites. For them, the group responsible for this conspiracy aren’t the Jews, but the globalists. But their opinions do validate the Nazis’ own conspiratorial beliefs about Marxism, even while they decry the Nazis’ actions and murder of the Jews.

Three Arrows also makes the point that Molyneaux et al are massively wrong about the ‘Decline of the West’. According to them, Germany should have collapsed several times over by now. But Three Arrows declares with biting irony that he has no doubt that the Caliphate will be declared soon.

This is a good, short account of the idea of cultural Marxism, which makes it clear that it is just another extreme right-wing conspiracy theory, advanced and promoted by fringe ideologues with no real understanding of what the Frankfurt School actually was. Buchanan, Lint and the rest of them have mixed it up with the ideas of the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, who did believe that a change in culture could be use to alter social relations and society’s economic base.

As for Buchanan himself, he’s a Republican politician notorious for his extreme ideas. A pro-gun nut, he and his followers once went through a crowd
holding their guns in the air, crying ‘Lock and Load’ – basically, ‘take aim and fire’. Back in the 1990s he won an election in New Hampshire as part, I think, of the presidential primaries. The edition of the Radio 4’s Postcard from Gotham, a weekly show covering events in America over the previous week, began with a piece of Italian dialogue from the film Il Postino, which was then in cinemas. The show’s presenter, Joe Queenan, instead joked that it was Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini congratulating Buchanan on his success. He and his guests discussed the rise of the Right in America and Europe, and one of them, a Jewish woman, stated that despite his denials Buchanan was an anti-Semite. Going back to the subject of New Hampshire, Queenan joked yet again that now Buchanan had won the nomination for that state, all you could hear up there were cries of ‘Duce! Duce!’

Cultural Marxism doesn’t exist. It’s just a malicious conspiracy theory promoted by extreme right-wingers to attack the Left, and provide a spurious explanation for the social changes they fear and dislike – like gay rights, immigration, particularly Muslim communities and the decline of traditional morality. But while Cultural Marxism is a myth, those promoting it are a real threat to today’s culture of tolerance and pluralism.

Israel Based Journo Shows How Censorship of Steve Bell Cartoon Plays into Hands of Real Anti-Semites

June 11, 2018

Last week the editor of the Groaniad, Kath Viner, spiked a cartoon by the paper’s Steve Bell for supposed anti-Semitism. The cartoon commented on the complete indifference to the murder of 21 year old Palestinian medic, Razan al-Najjar by the IDF shown by Netanyahu and Tweezer. Bell depicted the two having a cosy chat by the fire, in which al-Najjar was burning. This was too much for Viner, who immediately did what the Israel lobby always does whenever the country is criticised for its brutal treatment of the Palestinians: she immediately accused the critic of anti-Semitism. The cartoon was anti-Semitic, apparently, because al-Najjar’s place in the fire was supposedly a reference to the Holocaust and the murder of the Jews in the Nazi gas ovens. Despite the fact that Bell denied that there was any such intention in his work, or indeed, any overt references to the Holocaust at all.

Bell was naturally outraged, and issued a strong denial. I’ve blogged about this issue, as has Mike, and Bell’s denial was also covered by that notorious pro-Putin propaganda channel, RT. And an Israel-based journalist, Jonathan Cook, has also come down solidly on Bell’s side and against censorship.

Mike posted a piece reporting and commenting on Mr Cook’s view and analysis of the case on Saturday. Cook is a former Guardian journalist, who now lives in Nazareth, the capital of Israel’s Palestinian minority. Cook praised Bell’s cartoon because of the way it held power to account, and indicted the powerful and their calculations at the expense of the powerless. He stated

In other words, it represents all that is best about political cartoons, or what might be termed graphic journalism. It holds power – and us – to account.

He then went on to describe how, by siding with Israel over the cartoon, the Guardian was siding with the powerful against the powerless; with a nuclear-armed state against its stateless minority. He then goes on to make the point that when criticism of Israel is silenced, the country benefits from a kind of reverse anti-Semitism, or philo-Semitism, which turns Israel into a special case. He writes

When a standard caricature of Netanyahu – far less crude than the caricatures of British and American leaders like Blair and Trump – is denounced as anti-Semitic, we are likely to infer that Israeli leaders expect and receive preferential treatment. When showing Netanyahu steeped in blood – as so many other world leaders have been – is savaged as a blood libel, we are likely to conclude that Israeli war crimes are uniquely sanctioned. When Netanyahu cannot be shown holding a missile, we may assume that Israel has dispensation to bombard Gaza, whatever the toll on civilians.

And when we see the furore created over a cartoon like Bell’s, we can only surmise that other, less established cartoonists will draw the appropriate conclusion: keep away from criticising Israel because it will harm your personal and professional reputation.

He then makes the point that doing so plays into the hands of real anti-Semites, and generates more:

When we fail to hold Israel to account; when we concede to Israel, a nuclear-armed garrison state, the sensitivities of a Holocaust victim; when we so mistake moral priorities that we elevate the rights of a state over the rights of the Palestinians it victimises, we not only fuel the prejudices of the anti-Semite but we make his arguments appealing to others. We do not help to stamp out anti-Semitism, we encourage it to spread. That is why Viner and the Guardian have transgressed not just against Bell, and against the art of political cartoons, and against justice for the Palestinians, but also against Jews and their long-term safety.

Mike goes on to make the point that we need to be more critical about the raving paranoiacs, who see anti-Semitism in Steve Bell’s cartoon, and also in Gerald Scarfe’s depiction of Netanyahu building his anti-Palestinian wall using the blood and bodies of the Palestinians themselves. This was attacked by Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador, as ‘anti-Semitic’, who claimed that it was a reference to the Blood Libel. It wasn’t, but the I apologised anyway. Mike goes on to say that there is no such thing as an unintentional anti-Semite, but authorial intentions are routinely ignored in these cases.

He then goes to state very clearly that as the authorial intentions of these cartoons weren’t anti-Semitic, Viner was wrong about Bell’s cartoon. Just as the Sunset Times, as Private Eye dubbed the rag, was wrong about Scarfe and Mike himself, as was the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. And so are the people, who’ve accused Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein and so many others of anti-Semitism. And in the meantime, Netanyahu gets away with mass murder.

Mike concludes

But Mr Cook is right – these attitudes only fuel real anti-Semitism among those who draw the only logical conclusion about what’s going on in the media, which is that the Establishment is protecting the Israeli government against censure for its crimes.

It suggests to me that all those involved in this charade have been creating problems that will come back to harm all of us in the future.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/06/09/israel-based-journo-shows-how-guardian-editor-helped-anti-semites-by-censoring-steve-bell/

Now part of the problem here could be certain developments in anti-racism and postmodernist literary theory. For example, some anti-racist activists have argued that there is such a thing as unconscious racism, and have used it to accuse people and material they have seen as spreading or legitimising racism, but without any conscious intent to do so.

In postmodernist literary theory, the author’s intent is irrelevant. In the words of one French postmodernist literary theorist, ‘all that exists is the text’. And one person’s interpretation of the text is as good as another’s.

Hence, those arguing that the above cartoons are anti-Semitic, could do so citing these ideas above.

Now there clearly is something to unconscious racism. If you look back at some of the discussions and depictions of racial issues in 1970s popular culture, they are often horrendously racist by today’s standards. But they weren’t seen as such then, and I dare say many of those responsible for some of them genuinely didn’t believe they were being racist, nor intended to do so. And unconscious racism is irrelevant in this case too. The accusers have not argued that these cartoons are unconsciously racist. They’ve simply declared that they are, without any kind of qualification. Which implies that their authors must be deliberately anti-Semitic, which is a gross slur.

As for postmodernist literary theory, the accusers haven’t cited that either. And if they did, it could also easily be turned against them. If there are no privileged readings of a particular text, then the view of someone, who thought Bell’s cartoon was anti-Semitic, is no more valid than the person, who didn’t. Which cuts the ground out from such accusations. That argument doesn’t stand up either, though here again, the people making the accusations of anti-Semitism haven’t used it.

Nevertheless, their arguments about the anti-Semitic content of these cartoons and the strained parallels they find with the Holocaust, or anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, are very reminiscent of the postmodernist texts the American mathematician Sokal, and the Belgian philosopher Bricmont, used to demolish the intellectual pretensions of postmodernism in their 1990s book, Intellectual Impostures. One of the texts they cited was by a French feminist arguing that women were being prevented from taking up careers in science. It’s a fair point, albeit still controversial amongst some people on the right. However, part of her evidence for this didn’t come from studies showing that girls start off with a strong interest in science like boys, only to have it crushed out of them later in their schooling. No! This strange individual based part of her argument on the medieval coat of arms for Brussels, which shows frogs in a marsh. Which somehow represents the feminine. Or at least, it did to her. For most of us, the depiction of frogs in a marsh in the coat of arms for Brussels is a depiction of precisely that: frogs in a marsh. Because, I have no doubt, the land Brussels was founded on was marshy.

But Cook and Mike are right about these accusations, and the favouritism shown to Israel, playing into the hands of anti-Semites.

The storm troopers of the right are very fond of a quote from Voltaire: ‘If you want to know who rules over you, ask who it is you can’t criticise’. Or words to that effect. Depending on whether the person using the quote is an anti-Semite or an Islamophobe, the answer they’ll give will be ‘the Jews’ or ‘the Muslims’.

Of course, their choice of the French Enlightenment philosopher is more than somewhat hypocritical. Voltaire hated intolerance, and in the early stages before it became aggressively anti-religious, the French Revolution stood for religious toleration. A set of playing cards made to celebrate it showed on one card the Bible with the Talmud, the Jewish holy book containing extra-Biblical lore and guidance, and the Qu’ran.

But by ruling that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, the Israel lobby very much appears to show – entirely falsely – that the anti-Semites are right, and that the Jews really are in control of the rest of us. It gives an utterly false, specious confirmation of the very conspiracy theories they claim to have found in the works of the people they denounce. The same conspiracy theories they claim to oppose, and which have been responsible for the horrific suffering of millions of innocent Jews.

It’s high time this was stopped, and accusations of anti-Semitism treated with the same impartial judgement as other claims of bias or racism. And false accusations should be firmly rejected as a slur, and apologies and restitution demanded from the libellers.

Books on God and Religion

March 17, 2018

On Thursday, Jo, one of the great commenters to this blog, asked my a couple of questions on the nature of the Almighty, which I tried to answer as best I could. I offered to put up here a few books, which might help people trying to explore for themselves the theological and philosophical ideas and debates about the nature of God, faith, religion and so on. I set up this blog about a decade and a half ago to defend Christianity against attacks by the New Atheists. I don’t really want to get sidetracked back there, because some of these issues will just go on forever if you let them. And I’m far more concerned to bring people of different religions and none together to combat the attacks by the Tories and the Blairites on the remains of the welfare state, the privatisation of the NHS, and the impoverishment and murder of the British public, particularly the disabled, in order to further enrich the corporate elite. Especially as the Tories seem to want to provoke war with Russia.

But here are some books, which are written for ordinary people, which cover these issues, which have helped me and which I hope others reading about these topics for themselves will also find helpful.

The Thinker’s Guide to God, Peter Vardy and Julie Arliss (Alresford: John Hunt Publishing 2003)

This book is written by two academics from a Christian viewpoint, and discusses the Western religious tradition from Plato and Aristotle. It has the following chapters

1. Thinking About God – Plato and Aristotle
2.The God of the Philosophers
3. The God of Sacred Scripture
4. Religious Language
5. The Challenge of Anti-Realism
6. Arguments for the Existence of God
7. The Attributes of God
8. Life After Death
9. Miracles and Prayer
10. Jesus, the Trinity, and Christian Theology
11. Faith and Reason
12 Attacks on God, Darwin, Marx and Freud
13 God and Science
14 Quantum Science, Multi-Dimensions and God

God: A Guide for the Perplexed, Keith Ward, (Oxford: OneWorld 2003)

1. A Feeling for the Gods
God, literalism and poetry, A world full of Gods, Descartes and the cosmic machine, Wordsworth and Blake, the gods and poetic imagination, Conflict among the gods, Friedrich Schleiermacher: a Romantic account of the gods; Rudolf Otto: the sense of the numinous; Martin Buber: life as meeting, Epilogue: the testimony of a secularist.

2. Beyond the gods
Prophets and seers; The prophets of Israel and monotheism; Basil, Gregory Palamas and Maimonides: the apophatic way; Thomas Aquinas: the simplicity of God; The five ways of demonstrating God; Pseudo-Dyonysius the Areopagite; The doctrine of analogy; Three mystics.

3. The Love that moves the sun
The 613 commandments; Pigs and other animals; the two great commandments; The Ten Commandments; Jesus and the Law; Calvin and the Commandments, Faith and works; Theistic morality as fulfilling God’s purpose; Kant, the categorical imperative and faith, God as creative freedom, affective knowledge and illimitable love.

4. The God of the Philosophers

God and Job; Plato and the gods; the vision of the Good; Appearance and Reality; Augustine and creation ex nihilo, Aristotle and the Perfect Being; Augustine and Platonism; Anselm and Necessary Being; Evil, necessity and the Free Will defence; Creation as a timeless act; Faith and understanding.

5. The Poet of the World

The timeless and immutable God; The rejection of Platonism; Hegel and the philosophy of Absolute Spirit; Marx and the dialectic of history; Pantheism and panentheism; Time and creativity, The redemption of suffering; History and the purposive cosmos; Process philosophy; The collapse of the metaphysical vision.

6. The darkness between stars

Pascal: faith and scepticism; A.J. Ayer; the death of metaphysics; Scientific hypotheses and existential questions; Kierkegaard: truth as subjectivity; Sartre; freedom from a repressive God; Heidegger and Kierkegaard: the absolute
paradox; Tillich: religious symbols; Wittgenstein: pictures of human life; Religious language and forms of life; Religion and ‘seeing-as’; Spirituality without belief; Non-realism and God; The silence of the heart.

7. The personal ground of being

God as omnipotent person; The problem of evil; Fichte, Schelling, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche: beyond good and evil; Omniscience and creative freedom; God: person or personal; Persons as relational; The idea of the Trinity; The revelatory roots of religion; Conclusion: Seven ways of thinking about God.

Bibliography

Teach Yourself Philosophy of Religion, by Mel Thompson, (London: HodderHeadline 1997)

Introduction
What is the philosophy of Religion?
Why study religion in this way?
What is involved?
The structure of this book
What this book aims to do.

1. Religious Experiences
Starting with experience
What happens when you experience something?
What is religious experience?
Induced religious experiences
Prayer
Conversion
Mysticism
Charismatic experiences
Revelation
Some features of religious experience
What can we know?
Authority and response
Conclusion

2.Religious Language
A private language?
Knowledge and description
Faith, reason and beliefs
The rational and the non-rational
Interpreting language
Cognitive and non-cognitive
Language games
The limitations of language

3. God: the concepts
God as creator
Eternal
Omnipotent
Omniscient
Transcendence and immanence
Theism, pantheism and panentheism
Atheism, agnosticism and secularism
Nietzsche: God is dead
Secular interpretations of God
A postmodernist interpretation
The Christian concept of God: the Trinity
Beliefs, language and religion
Saints?
Religious alternatives to theism
Basic beliefs

4. God: the arguments
The ontological argument
The cosmological argument
the teleological argument
the moral argument
the argument from religious experience
Conclusion

5. The Self
Bodies, minds and souls
Dualism
materialism
Idealism
Knowing our minds
Joining souls to bodies?
Identity and freedom
Freedom?
Life beyond death
Some conclusions

6. Causes, providence and miracles
Causes
Providence
Miracles
Summary

7. Suffering and evil
The challenge and the response
the problem
God as moral agent
Suffering and the major religions
Coming to terms with suffering
The devil and hell
Religion and terrorism
Summary

8. Religion and Science
The problem science poses for religion
the key issues
the changing world view
the methods of science and religion
the origin of the universe
evolution and humankind
Some conclusions

9. Religion and ethics
Natural law
Utilitarianism
absolute ethics
Morality and facts
How are religion and morality treated?
Values and choices
Conclusion

Postcript, Glossary, Taking it Further

God and Evolution: A Reader, ed. by Mary Kathleen Cunningham (London: Routledge 2007)

Part One
Methodology

1. Charles Hodge ‘The Protestant Rule of Faith’
2. Sallie McFague ‘Metaphor’
3. Mary Midgley ‘How Myths work’
4. Ian G. Barbour ‘The Structures of Science and Religion’.

Part Two
Evolutionary Theory

5. Charles Darwin, ‘On the origin of species
6. Francisco J. Ayala ‘The Evolution of life as overview
7. Michael Ruse ‘Is there are limit to our knowledge of evolution?

Part Three
Creationism

6. Genesis 1-2
7. Ronald J. Numbers ‘The Creationists’.

Part Four
Intelligent Design

10. William Paley ‘Natural Theology’
11. Michael J. Behe ‘Irreducible complexity: Obstacle to Darwinian Evolution’
12. Kenneth R. Miller, ‘Answering the biochemical argument from Design

Part Five
Naturalism

13. Richard Dawkins, ‘The Blind Watchmaker’
14. Richard Dawkins, ‘God’s utility function’
15. Daniel C. Dennett, ‘God’s dangerous idea’
16. Mary Midgley, ‘The quest for a universal acid’
17. Michael Ruse, ‘Methodological naturalism under attack’.

Part Six
Evolutionary Theism

18. Howard J. Van Till, ‘The creation: intelligently designed or optimally equipped?’
19. Arthur Peacock, ‘Biological evolution-a positive theological appraisal’
20. Jurgen Moltmann, ‘God’s kenosis in the creation and consummation of the world’.
21 Elizabeth A. Johnson, ‘Does God play dice? Divine providence and chance’.

Part Seven:
Reformulations of Tradition

22. John F. Haught, ‘Evolution, tragedy, and cosmic paradox’
23. Sallie McFague, ‘God and the world’
24. Ruth Page, ‘Panentheism and pansyntheism: God is relation’
25. Gordon D. Kaufman, ‘On thinking of God as serendipitous creativity’.

Book on the Evolution of the Human Brain

December 30, 2017

The Human Brain Evolving: Paleoneurological Studies in Honor of Ralph L. Holloway, edited by Douglas Broadfield, Michael Yuan, Kathy Schick and Nicholas Toth. Stone Age Institute Press, Gosport Indiana and Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. 2010.

This is another book I got much cheaper than the cover prise through Oxbow Books’ bargain catalogue. The book is a collection of papers from a two day conference by the Stone Age Institute in April 2007 to celebrate the life and work of Ralph Holloway, one of the great founders of the field. Holloway as he explains in the first paper in which he gives his personal perspective, started out studying metallurgy at Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia in the 1950s. He then moved to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he took courses in anthropology and geology. After this, he enrolled in the Ph.D. programme in anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. There he became interested in exploring how evolution had shaped the development of primate brains. His interest in this area led him to do research in the brain casts from australopithecine skulls in South Africa, where his mentor was professor Phillip V. Tobias. In 1969 he settled down to study paleoneurology fulltime. His decision was partly made by the testicular trauma he suffered the previous year by the cops while in a student demonstration in New York. This gave him considerable with Prof. Tobias as the struggles he was having against apartheid and the fuzz in South Africa.

As Holloway himself explains, any study of the evolutionary development of the specialised structure of the human brain was very strongly discouraged when he was a student. The simple assumption was that humans got more intelligent as their brains got bigger. There was no investigation about how the particular areas of the brain, in which specific brain functions are located, developed. Indeed this was actively and vehemently discouraged. He says that his first mentor at Berkeley was Professor Sherwood Washburn, who kindly suggested that he take various courses in anatomy. When Holloway told him that he wanted to take the course in neuroanatomy, however, Washburn was horrified, and said that he would no longer be Holloway’s mentor if he did so, fearing that it would make him too specialised to be a physical anthropologist, an argument Holloway found unconvincing. He goes on to point out the paucity of material in physical anthropological textbooks from the 1950s to the present, pointing out that only one, published in 2008 actually does because its co-author, John Allen, is a neurologist.

The book’s contents include the following papers.

Chapter 1: The Human Brain Evolving: A Personal Retrospective, Ralph L. Holloway.

Chapter 2: The Maternal Energy Hypothesis of Brain Evolution: An Update, Robert D. Martin and Karen Isler.

Chapter 3: The Meaning of Brain Size: The Evolution of Conceptual Complexity, P. Tom Schoeneman.

Chapter 4: Human Brain Endocasts and the LB1 Hobbit Brain, Ralph L. Holloway.

Chapter 5: The Fossil Hominid Brains of Dmanisi: D 2280 and D2282, Dominique Grimaud-Herve and David Lordkipandze.

Chapter 6: The Evolution of the Parietal Cortical Areas in the Human Genus: Between Structure and Cognition, by Emiliano Bruner.

Chapter 8: Study of Human Brain Evolution at the Genetic Level, by Eric J. Vallender and Bruce T. Lahn.

Chapter 9: Brain Reorganisation in Humans and Apes, by Katerina Semendeferi, Nicole Barger and Natalie Schenker.

Chapter 10: Searching for Human Brain Specializations with Structural and Functional Neuroimaging, by James K. Rilling.

Chapter 11: Structural and Diffusion MRI of a Gorilla Brain Performed Ex Vivo at 9.4 Tesla, by Jason A. Kaufman, J. Michael Tyszka, Francine “Penny” Patterson, Joseph M. Erwin, Patrick R. Hof, and John M. Allman.

Chapter 12: The role of Vertical Organisation in the Encephalisation and Reorganisation of the Primate Cortex, Daniel P. Buxhoeveden.

Chapter 13: The Evolution of Cortical Neurotransmitter Systems Among Primates and their Relevance to Cognition, Mary Ann Raghanti, Patrick R. Hof, and Chet C. Sherwood.

Chapter 14: Sex Differences in the Corpus Callosum of Macaca fascicularis and Pan troglodytes, by Douglas C. Broadfield.

Chapter 15: Dental Maturation, Middle Childhood and the Pattern of Growth and Development in Earlier Hominins, by Janet Monge and Alan Mann.

Chapter 16: Perikymata Counts in Two Modern Human Sample Populations, by Michael Sheng-Tien Yuan.

Chapter 17: Mosaic Cognitive Evolution: The case of Imitation Learning, by Francys Subiaul.

Chapter 18: The Foundations of Primate Intelligence and Language Skills, by Duane M. Rumbaugh, E. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, ,James E. King and Jared P. Taglialatella.

Chapter 19: Hominid Brain Reorganisation, Technological Change, and Cognitive Complexity, Nicholas Toth and Kathy Schick.

Clearly this is a written at an advanced, technical level for a specialist academic audience. I’ve done little but skim through it so far, but have found some fascinating facts. For example, Holloway’s paper on the brain of the Flores Hobbit recognises that it does share some features of modern microcephalics, but also others that are very different. This could mean that the creature could have been an archaic hominid suffering from a peculiar form of neurological defects that now no longer exists.

Emiliano Bruner’s paper argues from the study of Neanderthal and Early Modern Humans that modern humans’ parietal lobes are actually larger than would have been predicted by evolutionary theory for hominids of our size.

Anne Weaver’s paper argues that, in contrast to the standard view that this area of the brain has not evolved in the course of the development of modern humans, 30,000 years ago the size of the Cerebellum increased relative to the Cerebrum. The cerebellum is the part of the human brain dedicated to motor coordination and related tasks.

Douglas Broadfield’s paper on sex difference in chimp brains takes further Holloway’s and Kitty Lacoste’s 1982 paper, which controversially showed that that the corpus callosum in women was larger than those of men. His study of this part of the brain in chimps shows that this development is unique to humans.

Paleoneurology is still controversial, and Holloway holds some very controversial opinions. He’s an evolutionary reductionist, who considers culture to be the sole product of evolution, and religion and politics to be intrinsically evil. It’s an opinion he recognises is not held by the vast majority of people.

He also laments how the anthropology course at Columbia has abandoned physical anthropology, and been taken over completely by social anthropology, stating that the majority appear ‘postmodern, post colonialist, feminist and political’. This led to him being marginalised and isolated at the faculty.

He also states that it is stupid, for reasons of ‘political correctness’ not to consider that the same evolutionary processes that have shaped the different physical forms of the various human races, have not also affected their mental capacities and evolution too. He describes this research as intensely political and near-suicidal, and describes how he was accused of being a Nazi because of his investigation into it. He states that one critic described it as the kind of research that got his relatives put into concentration camps.

Professor Holloway is clearly a decent, humane man, who has in his day stood up for liberal values and protested against institutional racism. However, while he states that the neurological differences between male and female brains are ‘more or less accepted’ today, there are still women neurologists, who argue against them. More recently they’ve argued that sex difference in the brain are a continuum between the extremely male and extremely female, with most people lumped somewhere in between. In fact, the sex differences in the brain are so small that you simply can’t tell by looking whether a brain is male or female.

Furthermore, anthropological science was used in the period of full-blown European colonialism to justify White rule over their non-White subject peoples, and certainly has been used by Nazis and Fascists to justify their persecution of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and other ‘subhumans’. After the War, the British Fascist leader Oswald Mosley cited scientific papers on the differences in intelligence between the races to argue for a form of apartheid that would lead to the complete separation of Blacks and Jews from White, gentile Brits. This would affect only those, who were allowed to remain in Britain, because their culture was compatible with White, gentile British civilisation. See the section 13, ‘The Colour Question in Britain, Immigration, the Racial Question’ in his wretched book, Mosley – Right or Wrong, published by Lion Books in 1961. And of course, like all Fascist after the War, Mosley denied that he was actually racist!

Holloway knows from personal experience just how touchy this subject is, and is aware that the lower IQ scores made by Black Americans is still a subject of intense and acrimonious debate. But he thinks it silly to rule out the question of racial differences in human brain structure because of current political dogma.

This is too complacent. My impression here is Prof. Holloway has this rather more tolerant view of the acceptability of this direction of neurological investigation, because he is a White man from a privileged background. After all, in the 1950s very few working or lower middle class Americans could afford to do a university or college degree. It simply has not affected him personally, although he has stood on the barricades to denounce racism and support other liberal causes during the student unrest of the late ’60s. The same applies to women. In the second edition of the BBC popular science programme QED in the ’80s, a female scientist presented a programme on how male scientists down the centuries had tried to argue that women were biologically inferior, before concluding that ‘the tables are turning’.

Racial neurology and the neurology of gender differences is particularly dangerous now with the rise of the Alt Right and real White supremacists and Nazis surrounding Donald Trump, and the whole milieu of the Republican party and Libertarians in America. These are intensely racist, despising Blacks, Asians and Latinos, and using scientific evidence like the highly controversial ‘Bell Curve’ to argue that Blacks are intellectually inferior to Whites. I’ve also seen the islamophobes argue that Muslims also shouldn’t be allowed into Britain from the Middle East and Pakistan, as the average intelligence of the people from those regions is 75! Which to my mind is just ridiculous.

I’ve also heard from a friend, who keeps up with the latest neurological research by talking to some of the scientists involved, that recent studies of neuroplasticity have cast doubt on the amount of specialisation of brain function in specific brain regions. Moreover, everyone’s brain, male and female, is weird up differently. We may in fact know far less about the nature of the human brain, a point made by the neurologist and Humanist Professor Raymond Tallis in his book, Aping Mankind, written against precisely this kind of reductionism, which tries to reduce human cognition and culture by viewing it solely in terms of Darwinian theory in which humans are simply another species of ape.

This is a fascinating book, and offers many insights into the evolution of the human brain. But this is an area that is still developing, and intensely controversial. As such, other scientific opinions are available and should be read as well.