Posts Tagged ‘Universities’

History Debunked on Bristol University’s Statue to Henrietta Lacks

October 8, 2021

There was news yesterday that Bristol University had put up a statue of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman outside its medical buildings. This was accompanied with rather grandiose statements hailing her as the mother of modern medicine. This surprises me, as you would expect from such a description that Lacks herself was a doctor, surgeon or biologist of some kind. As Webb’s video shows, she was actually none of these. She was an ordinary Black American woman, who died of cervical cancer. What makes her different is that cells were taken from her body, cultured so that the line has carried on, and were studied by doctors and biologists. This has led to a number of cures and treatments for diseases like the Polio vaccine. Some of this research was done at the university. Hence the statue. I think the decision to put one up to her may well have been influenced by a book that was published about her a few years ago, The Case of Henrietta Lacks.

Webb considers that the statue is part of a general campaign to pull down monuments to White men and put up statues instead to Black women, even if their contribution to British history and culture is actually quite minor. He talks about a monument put up in Wales to honour a Black headmistress. He feels that while the woman would hardly warrant a statue if she were White, at least she did something more worthwhile than Smiley Culture. He was a pop star in the 1980s who was promoted yesterday as a hero of Black British history in an article in the Metro by Alicia Adjoa. But Culture’s end was rather less than heroic. He committed suicide after being caught importing a massive amount of cocaine. Bristol, in his view, is trying to put up a statue to a Black person to replace the one of Edward Colston, pulled down by Black Lives Matter protesters.

There is indeed pressure to put up statues of great Black British figures. The argument is that there are too few monuments to Black people and that this doesn’t represent to the diversity of contemporary British society. The problem is that while Blacks have been present in Bristol since the 16th century, they’ve only been here in large numbers since the Empire Windrush. And the majority of Black Britons led largely humble, unspectacular lives. Hence the fact that many of these statues honour people, whose achievements, while worthy, are relatively small.

I also think the statue has been erected for reasons quite specific to Bristol University. The University has considerably benefited from donations from the Colston charities. This, not surprisingly, is resented by Black activists, and so the University responded a few years ago by appointing a Black woman to be its first professor of the history of slavery. As far as I can make out, her job is really to work out what to do with the money from the Colston charities in the way of anti-racism and pro-Black policies.

The University was also in the local news this week for having set up a bursary solely for Black students. BBC Points West announced that the current Black population on campus is only less than 3 per cent of the total. This seems to me to be a response to another accusation. Bristol has a large Black population. I don’t know what the situation is now, but London, Birmingham and Bristol were the cities with largest Black populations in the UK. But the number of Black students at the university was small. The problem with this criticism is that Bristol, as one of the country’s leading universities, has, or used to have, very high entrance standards. Blacks perform less well academically than the other races, and so consequently have less opportunity to enter further education without the benefit of such affirmative action programmes. Also, when I was at school back in the 1980s you were actively discouraged from applying to the university in your home town. Thus it wouldn’t have mattered how large Bristol’s Black population were, they would have been advised by their teachers at that time to apply to universities and colleges elsewhere. Of course, this has changed somewhat with the ending of the student grant and the introduction of tuition fees. More students are applying to local universities through the sheer necessity of keeping costs down by staying in their home town.

Now the statue of Lacks is all very well, but I feel that if statues are going to be put up, it should be to people with some connection to the city. If we’re talking medicine, perhaps the first Black nurse to serve in one of the city’s hospitals. Or the person or people who started St. Paul’s carnival, if there isn’t one already. My mother also remembers there being a Black Bristolian boxer of her parents’ generation. A statue could have been put up of him as a local sporting hero. You could even go back to the depictions of Black Bristolians published in the 19th century.

While these people wouldn’t have been great scientists, they would at least have had a genuine connection to the city.

Zelo Street Mugs Mad Nads Dorries with Reality over Liverpool Council and Beeb

October 5, 2021

Great piece today by Tim Fenton, the sage of Crewe, demolishing some of the massive untruths told by Nadine Dorries, our new Culture Secretary. He starts off by reminding us all the Nads is no stranger to telling porkies. In 2006 she wrote a piece for Conservative Home containing the remarkable fact that every member of Liverpool council in 1955 was Tory. Did I say fact just then? Well, it was in the sense of Donald Trumps ‘alternative facts’. The real composition of Liverpool council at that year’s elections was 53 Tories to 65 Labour. She also said that there were eight MPs for the city at the time, all of whom were Tory. This is another falsehood. Liverpool had nine MPs, three of whom were Labour.

Now she is telling falsehoods about the BBC. The Corporation, she insists, must take action over breaches of impartiality. But former Groan editor Alan Rusbridger points out that Ofcom have found zero breaches of impartiality. He then says he has too much respect for her to accuse her of lying, and hopes she will produce some hard evidence to back up her assertions.

Steve Barnett of the University of Westminster also put the correct figures for the proportion of Beeb staff who went to private school. Nads has said that it’s 50 per cent. The actual figure is 11.5 per cent of all staff, and 17.5 per cent of the leadership

Zelo Street also quotes Peter Walker, again of the Groan, who said that Nads complained that those criticising her appointment as culture secretary were mainly people who benefited from nepotism. She also believes that the ‘groupthink’ at the Beeb excludes northerners and people from the working class. As the Street points out, this is a bit rich coming from the woman who employed two of her daughters at taxpayers’ expense. He also compares the Tory cabinet with the backgrounds of two of the Beeb’s favourite personalities:

“Meanwhile, the Tory cabinet is two-thirds privately educated, the BBC’s leading news anchor (Huw Edwards) was state-educated and his parents weren’t employed by the Corporation, and its leading sports presenter (Gary Lineker) began his working life helping his late Dad Barry – who ran a fruit and veg stall on Leicester Market.”

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2021/10/nadine-dorries-bbc-and-reality.html

In actual fact, I think the Beeb is biased. The Kushners pointed out in their great book, Who Needs the Cuts?, that the Beeb uncritically assumed that Austerity was justified and gave ample space to those economists and politicians who supported it. Dissenting voices, especially from the trade unions and other groups, were excluded or, if they did appear, shouted down. Analysis from the media monitoring groups at Edinburgh and Glasgow unis found that Conservative ministers and figures from industry and the City were far more likely to appear on the news than Labour politicos and trade unionists. And the Beeb showed massive bias in its treatment of Jeremy Corbyn, in which it supported the actions of the Thatcherite plotters and staunchly pushed the lie that the party was institutionally anti-Semitic. As, of course, did the rest of the media. If Ofcom didn’t find any breaches of impartiality there, then it probably doesn’t say much about the organisation’s own lack of bias. But whatever, the watchdog hasn’t found any bias against the Tories.

These figures also undermine mad right-wing YouTuber Alex Belfield’s own attacks on the Beeb. Belfield claims he was forced out of the Beeb through a mixture of jealousy – certain star broadcasters were envious he got more listeners than they did – and contempt for his background. Belfield says he’s a working class lad from a pit village. As opposed to his former colleagues at the Beeb, who were all middle class and university educated. Well, they may have been. Not having gone to private school doesn’t necessarily mean that you are working class. Many of the peeps who are state educated are lower middle class. And possessing a university education doesn’t necessarily exclude members of the working class. Way back in the early 80s the student grant was still around to support students from poorer backgrounds. That’s been ended, but higher education has been massively expanded to include 45 per cent plus of the population. Which must surely include members of the working class.

But since before the days of David Cameron the Tories have been trying to pose as the real representatives of the working class, as against the university educated, left-wing elites. Tweezer opened her first cabinet meeting by saying that none of them were members of the elite. In fact, damn near every single one of them was a millionaire. As for attacks on university education, there’s a massive streak of anti-intellectualism amidst the parties of the right. The attacks on university education are there to inspire prejudice against anything a university group might say criticising Tory policy. But it ain’t just universities that the Tories hate. Some of us also remember the remark of a Tory MP about opera: ‘What’s opera? A fat Italian, singing in Italian, dressed as a woman.’ Well yes, a fair number of the great operas were written by Italians in Italian. But not all are exclusively sung by Italians of a certain weight, despite Pavarotti. And I don’t think all of them involve crossdressing. But it shows the prejudice of a certain type of Tory towards high art.

But once again, the Tories have been caught lying again. And unfortunately, once again it’s no surprise. It’s a pity Keef Stalin is trying to copy them in his leadership of Labour.

Johnson’s Potemkin Hospitals

August 28, 2021

This government lies like Goebbels and the worst excesses of the former official Soviet press agency, TASS, combined. You cannot trust anything they say. Well, actually, I think there is probably a way to get to the truth from an official Tory statement. You do what Private Eye recommended you do for young Jacob Rees-Mogg’s father, William. You read what he says carefully, and then turn it all 180 degrees and then believe the exact opposite. Then you will have the real, exact truth.

Boris and his ministers have been boasting that they’re opening 40 or perhaps 48 new hospitals. They’re not. They’ve ordered the press to report every bit of building work on existing hospitals as the building of a new one. Yes, we’re dealing with ‘Potemkin villages’ here. Or rather, Potemkin hospitals. Potemkin was the Russian prime minister under Catherine the Great. Catherine shared Peter the Great’s determination to modernise and westernise Russia. It was she who opened the country’s first universities and imported western, chiefly German professors to teach there. The result was the growth of a Russian intelligentsia, highly educated, who were acutely aware of how backward their country was. Hence the development of a class of radically alienated, revolutionary intellectuals. Potemkin also claimed he was going to do something about the wretched condition of the Russian peasantry. New, modern villages were going to be built to raise their living standards. In practice, however, this is was impossible. So Potemkin had built a number of show villages, which I understand consisted simply of impressive facades with nothing behind, rather like the fake western towns built as movies sets for the cowboy flicks to display to Catherine. The term ‘Potemkin village’ has thus become proverbial for anything like that which is all done for show but lacks any substance. And this is what Johnson and his crappy crew are doing now.

Boris Johnson, our Potemkin prime minister, destroying the NHS by falsifying construction and improvement. All spouted by a compliant and complicity lying media.

Sokal and Bricmont on the Harm Done to Developing Countries by Postmodernism

July 10, 2021

I’ve put up a number of articles recently attacking various forms of postmodernism, such as Critical Race Theory, for their radical rejection of Enlightenment values of rational debate and liberalism. In the case of Critical Race Theory, this has produced an ideology with definite Fascistic characteristics in its appeal to irrationalism, feelings and racial feeling against Western rationalism, which is held to be a form of enslavement when taken up by or foisted on Blacks. This is exactly like the Nazi denunciation of democracy as a Jewish plot to enslave Aryan Germans. Postmodernism is modern philosophy that explicitly preaches radical scepticism. It states that there is no such thing as objective fact and questions scientific objectivity with the claim that scientific theories are merely the product of particular historical events. It was developed by radical sociologists of science, such as the French scholar Bruno Latour, from the work of Willard Quine and Paul Feyerabend. Latour’s anti-scientific scepticism went so far as to question the death of one of the pharaohs from tuberculosis, as suggested by medical researchers in the ’70s. He did so, not because of any medical evidence suggesting another cause, but because tuberculosis was only identified as a specific disease in the 19th century. He stated that the disease only began when it was discovered by Koch, and so couldn’t have existed back in ancient Egypt to kill the pharaoh.

One of the first major attacks on Postmodernism was by the American mathematicians and physicist Alan Sokal and the Belgian philosopher Jean Bricmont. Sokal had kept a dossier of postmodernist papers which cited scientific and mathematical concepts and terminology, but were in fact utterly nonsensical. The two published a book based on these, Intellectual Impostures, which showed how these philosophers abused science and maths. Sometimes they had a vague notion what they were talking about, but the concepts cited were used loosely with no explanation why they were supposed to be relevant to what was supposed to be the subject of their papers, like psychoanalysis. In short, they were attempts by the postmodernists to make their arguments sound more impressive than they really were by couching them in incomprehensible prose and arbitrarily selected bits and pieces of science and maths.

They write that postmodernism is harmful in the Developed World, but the real damage is being done in the Developing World through the postmodernist demand for respect for indigenous traditions, even when they are exploitative, citing a left-wing Indian activist and scientist, Meera Nanda. They write

Unfortunately, postmodern ideas are not confined to European philosophy departments or American literature departments. It seems to us that they do the most harm in the Third World, where the majority of the world’s population live and where the supposedly ‘passe’ work of the Enlightenment is far from complete.

Meera Nanda, an Indian biochemist who used to work in the ‘Science for the People’ movements in India and who is now studying sociology of science in the United States, tells the following story about the traditional Vedic superstitions governing the construction of sacred buildings, which aim at maximizing ‘positive energy’. An Indian politician, who found himself in hot water, was advised that

‘his troubles would vanish if he entered his office from an east-facing gate. But on the east side of his office there was a slum through which his car could not pass. [So he] organized the slum to be demolished.’

Nanda observes, quite rightly, that

‘If the Indian left were as active in the people’s science movement as it used to be, it would have led an agitation not only against the demolition of people’s homes, but also against the superstition that was used to justify it… A left movement that was not so busy establishing ‘respect’ for non-Western knowledge would never have allowed the power-wielders to hid behind indigenous ‘experts’.

I tried out this case on my social constructionist friends here in the United States … [They told me] that seeing the two culturally bound descriptions of space at par with each other is progressive in itself, for then neither can claim to know the absolute truth, and thus tradition will lose its hold on people’s minds.

From Sokal and Bricmont, Intellectual Impostures (London: Profile Books 1998) 94-5.

Now, 23 years after that was written, the philosophical and moral relativists who demanded a completely uncritical respect for indigenous tradition are demanding that it should be incorporated into western science and culture in order to decolonise them. Thus we had the squalid spectacle of a video that appeared a little while ago of a debate in a South African university in which a Black student angrily claimed that western science was racist because it did not accept that African shamans could cause it to rain. The reason why science does not do so is because the supernatural is, by its nature, beyond and outside science’s purview.

But such radical postmodernism and attacks on science and rationality threaten the very foundations of civilisation and spread ignorance and prejudice, leading to the further impoverishment and exploitation of the very people the postmodernists claim to want to help.

Two Fairy Sightings from 20th Century Britain

June 7, 2021

My last blog post was about a video I found on YouTube from Irish television in 1966. They were covering the attempt by an Irish docker, Tim Hayes, to spend 101 hours buried underground near a fairy fort in order to disprove the existence of the ‘Gentlemen’ or ‘Good People’. The film included a brief interview with a local man, who said he would definitely not want to interfere with the fairy fort, and would be extremely upset if anyone else were to do so or interfere with the field in which it lay. The film testifies to the continuing power of real belief in the fairies, despite the onward march of rationalism.

But it isn’t only in Ireland or the Celtic countries that belief in the fairies still persists. People are also still seeing them in England too. I found these two accounts from the 20th century in Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain, (London: Reader’s Digest 1973), p. 121.

All dressed in green

‘… When we were on holiday in Cornwall, my daughter and I came down a winding lane, and all of a sudden there was a small green man – all in green with a pointed hood and ears. We both saw him … we were cold with terror and ran for the ferry below.’ A 20th century description by a man from Shropshire.

A fairy guide

‘… It was on the Berkshire Downs, and we’d lost our way, and didn’t know what track to take. When I looked round, there was small man in green standing at my elbow. “You’ll be all right,” he said, “You take that one; you’ll be all right.” Then he didn’t disappear, but he just wasn’t there any more’. Described in 1962 by a Somerset farmer’s wife.

And sightings continue to the present day. I went to a folklore/ paranormal conference a few years ago here in Bristol on the fairies, which included people who very firmly believed in them. And when I was studying for my archaeology Ph.D. at Bristol university, I went to a seminar on fairies presented by the epic Ron Hutton. Hutton opened by singing the theme to the Southern vampire TV series, Tru Blood, before describing a sighting of a fairy one evening by a young man and a women in Glastonbury. Well, where else? The couple saw this strange light bouncing along the ground. One of them asked the other what on earth it could be, and got the reply ‘It’s a fairy. What else could it be?’

Having said that, you have to be careful of jokers. My mother had an old friend from college down in Cornwall. She went down there one year to visit her. They were out on a trip somewhere, and she, the friend, my father and the friend’s mother went on to wherever they were going, leaving the friend’s father behind to have a sit down and rest. When they returned they found that he’d been talking to an American woman. This was at a time when there was a spate of fairy sightings. The American had asked the old fellow if he’d seen any. Oh yes, he replied, he certainly had. They were at the bottom of his garden. That wasn’t remotely true, and when they challenged him on it, he replied, ‘Well, it’s what she wanted to hear.’ Sometimes that smiling old rustic telling you of his supernatural encounters may not be the naive, horny-handed son of toil in touch with the supernatural you believe him to be.

But in the spirit of this post, here’s another video I found on YouTube. It’s the folk-rock band Steeleye Span playing ‘Wee Wee Man’ about a fairy from the 1970s.

Book Setting British Empire and the Debate in Its Historical Context

May 31, 2021

Jeremy Black, The British Empire: A History and a Debate (Farnham: Ashgate 2015)

This is another book I got through the post the other day after ordering it from a catalogue. Jeremy Black is, according to the book’s potted biography, Professor of History at Exeter University, and the author of over 100 books. He’s also written for the Journal of Military History, RUSI, which is the journal of the Royal United Services Institute and History Today. The list of other publications about the British Empire lists another book edited by him, The Tory World: Deep History and the Tory Theme in British Foreign Policy, 1679-2014. From this, it might be fair to conclude that Black’s a man of the right.

I read his book, Slavery: A Global History a few years ago when I was writing my own book on the British Empire and slavery a few years ago, and really enjoyed it. Instead of dealing with the British transatlantic slave trade in isolation, it showed how slavery was widespread right across the world and described how the British imperialists tried to end it in their subject territories. I bought this because, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, British imperialism has once again become a matter for heated debate and violent denunciation. The motives of the people behind some of these denunciations and demands for justice seem more than a little suspect to me. For example, a month or so ago one of the speakers in an Arise Festival online meeting was the head of the Black Liberation Movement, the British branch of Black Lives Matter. In her speech she declared that Britain should take asylum seekers ‘because you oppressed us under colonialism’. The short answer to that is that this was supposed to be corrected when the former colonies were granted their independence. Instead, many of them very swiftly degenerated in horrific, murderous dictatorships, like Idi Amin’s Uganda and Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. There was a very deliberate decision in her speech to ignore and gloss over post-colonial misgovernment and oppression, no doubt because it doesn’t fit the narrative she wants to present of Britain being responsible for all her former colonies’ woes.

I am also not impressed by the very loud demands for Oxford University to remove Cecil Rhode’s statue. Don’t get me wrong, he was a blackguard. He’s supposed to have said that the people he liked to employ were greedy sycophants, or something like that. Some critics have also said that his imposition of the colour bar in Rhodesia was particularly hypocritical, as he didn’t personally believe in it. But pre-colonial east Africa was hardly some idyllic Wakanda. Many of the indigenous peoples practised slavery themselves, and were preyed on by Arab, Swahili, Marganja and Yao slavers. And you can argue that, as horrendous as White rule was, it was far better than Mugabe’s genocidal dictatorship. The people calling for the statue’s removal seem to me to be Black African nationalists, butthurt over what they see as a slight to their racial and national dignity. But I also wonder if some of its also motivated by a consciousness of their nations’ failures post-independence.

I bought the book as it promised to discuss the debate surrounding the British Empire as telling its history. Black states that it needs to be seen in its historical context and not judged by the standards of the present day. This is actually what I was taught in my first year of studying history at College. You’re not supposed to create ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ of history, because if things had turned out differently, our standards and culture would have been different.

The blurb for the book runs

What was the course and consequence of the British Empire? The rights and wrongs, strengths and weaknesses of empire are a major topic in global history, and deservedly so. Focusing on the most prominent and wide-ranging empire in world history, the British Empire, Jeremy Black provides not only a history of that empire, but also a perspective from which to consider the issues of its strengths and weaknesses, and right and wrongs. In short, this is a history both of the past, and of the present-day discussion of the past, that recognises that discussion over historical empires is in part a reflection of the consideration of contemporary states.

In this book Professor Black weaves together an overview of the British Empire across the centuries, with a considered commentary on both the public historiography of empire and the politically-charged character of much discussion of it. There is a coverage here of social as well as political and economic dimensions of empire, and both the British perspective and that of the colonies is considered. The chronological dimension is set by the need to consider not only imperial expansion by the British state, but also the history of Britain within an imperial context. As such, this is a story of empires within the British Isles, Europe, and, later, world-wide. The book addresses global decline, decolonisation, and the complex nature of post-colonialism and different imperial activity in modern and contemporary history. Taking a revisionist approach, there is no automatic assumption that imperialism, empire, and colonialism were ‘bad’ things. Instead, there is a dispassionate and evidence-based evaluation of the British Empire as a form of government, an economic system, and a method of engagement with the world, one with both faults and benefits for the metropole and the colony.

Black states that criticism of British imperialism is also a criticism of capitalism, which in many cases is very definitely and obviously true. However, he also criticises Kwesi Kwarteng’s history of the British empire for its denunciations of British colonial oppression in some of the colonies, like Nigeria. And while British imperialism may well have brought some benefits, much of it is still indefensible by modern standards. Like the plantations in Ireland, the genocide and dispossession of indigenous peoples, like aboriginal Australians and the American Indians, the seizure of native land in Africa and so on. He notes that the most successful colonies are White settler nations like Australia, Canada and New Zealand, but this hardly outweighs the disastrous consequences of the White invasion for the indigenous peoples.

I haven’t read it yet – I’m still making my way through a number of other books – but I hope to do so, and will probably blog about it in the future to give my views and conclusions about what looks like a timely and provocative book.

Book on Anti-Capitalism

May 29, 2021

Simon Tormey, Anti-Capitalism: A Beginner’s Guide (London: One World, revised edition 2013).

Like many people, I’ve been doing some reading during the lockdown. I found this in one of the mail order book catalogues I get, and ordered it as it looked interesting. I got through the post the other day. It was first published in 2004 and was republished in a revised edition nine years later. The blurb for it on the back runs

The financial crisis, bank bailouts, and the dash to austerity have breathed new life into protest movements across the globe, and brought anti-capitalist ideas into the mainstream. But what does it mean to be anti-capitalist? And where is anti-capitalism going – if anywhere?

Simon Tormey explores these questions and more in the only accessible introduction to the full spectrum of anti-capitalist ideas and politics. With nuance and verve, he introduces the reader to the wide variety of positions and groups that make up the movement, including anarchists, Marxists, autonomists, environmentalists, and more. Providing essential global and historical context, Tormey takes us from the 1968 upsurge of radical politics to the 1994 Zapatista insurrection, the 1999 Seattle protests, and right up to Occupy and the uprisings across the Eurozone.

This is a fascinating and bold exploration of how to understand the world – and how to change it.

A biographical note states that Tormey is a political theorist based in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Sydney. He was the founding director of the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice at the University of Nottingham.

The book has an introduction and the following chapters:

  1. The Hows and Whys of Capitalism
  2. Anti-Capitalism after the ‘End of History’
  3. A ‘movement of movements’1: ‘reformism’, or ‘globalisation with a human face’
  4. A ‘movement of movements’ II: renegades, radicals and revolutionaries
  5. The Future(s) of Anti-Capitalism: Problems and Perspectives

There is a timeline of contemporary anti-capitalism, a glossary of key terms, thinkers and movements, and a list of resources.

Although the book was published eight years ago, I think it’s still going to be very relevant. The world may have been in lockdown for the past year with governments supporting their economies, but the Tories have neither gone away nor changed their stripes. It’s been pointed out that they never let a crisis go to waste. Once the lockdown is lifted, they’ll revert back to cutting the welfare state, privatising the NHS and with further attacks on workers’ rights, increasing job insecurity and lowering wages. We will need to organise again and resist them. The book’s short at 181 pages, excluding the index, but it looks like a very useful and necessary contribution to combating neoliberalism and the poverty and misery it is inflicting on working people across the globe.

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.

Petition Against Holocaust Denial Being Considered Protected Free Speech on Campus

May 13, 2021

I got this email from the Hope Not Hate anti-racism, anti-religious extremism organisation. They’re concerned that the government’s legislation to protect free speech on campus will include Holocaust denial, and are petitioning the government to stop it. The email runs

‘The government is proposing a new law which they say will protect free speech on University campuses. But there’s a problem. Last night, the Universities Minister confirmed that the law will protect Holocaust deniers. In effect, it will pressure Universities to provide platforms to people who lie about the Holocaust being a historical fact.

It’s wrong and we can’t allow this to go ahead. We’ve launched a petition to pressure the government. Can you add your name?

Sign the petition!

In her media interview, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan essentially argued we must “protect and promote” the free speech of Holocaust deniers. That shows up the fundamental issue with the Government’s new so-called free-speech bill.

Pressuring universities to platform the views of Holocaust deniers would be completely unacceptable. The Holocaust is a historical fact. Those who deny that are seeking to spread hate.

The point of universities is to expand people’s knowledge. That includes hearing opinions they disagree with. However, whether the Holocaust happened is not up for debate. It is a historical fact. Ensuring people who lie about the Holocaust are given a platform is wrong.

There will be people in Government who will be nervous about this. If we can make enough noise about it, we might be able to get them to backtrack. Add your name to our petition, then share it on social media.

Thanks,

–Liron, Nick, Roxy and the HOPE not hate campaigns team’

Hope Not Hate is, unfortunately, connected to the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, which is one of the organisations that is pushing the anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. This is because the CAA isn’t against anti-Semitism so much as anti-Zionism, which it conflates with anti-Semitism in order to protect Israel from criticism for its vile persecution of the Palestinians.

However, you don’t have to be any kind of fan of the CAA to be concerned about the inclusion of Holocaust denial as ‘protected free speech’. It is historical fact, as an American judge ruled in California in the 1970s. The good law man’s decision was on a case brought by a Holocaust survivor against the neo-Nazi rag, National Vanguard. The magazine had run a competition with a substantial cash reward for an essay that would prove the reality of the Holocaust. The survivor wrote about his experiences in the camps and included the Nazi documentation and other details. National Vanguard refused to pay up, he sued and the judge found in his favour, ruling that there was so much evidence supporting the reality of the Holocaust that it couldn’t be credibly denied. The only people who wish to deny it occurred are Nazis, who’d like to repeat it if they could. Holocaust denial is already a crime in several European countries, like Germany and Austria. The petition doesn’t criminalise it, but it would stop it being promoted on campus. Holocaust deniers desperately seek a veneer of academic respectability, which is why they give their noxious journals names like ‘Historical Review’ or some such. Being allowed onto to campus to present their views gives them that respectability, which is why there was so much concern in the 1980s/90s when the historian and Holocaust denier David Irving was allowed to speak at the Oxford Union. I have therefore signed this petition, and am posting it here for anyone else to do so as well.

Richard Dawkins Stripped of Atheist Award for Questioning the Trans Ideology

May 5, 2021

This story was over a number of right-wing and gender critical websites last week, and it’s interesting as it shows the comparative power of the trans rights lobby against both organised religion and one of atheism’s fiercest polemicists. Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and anti-theist activist, was stripped of his Humanist of the Year Award because he’d posted a comment on Twitter comparing trans people to Rachel Dolezal.

Dolezal had been kicked out of the White chapter of NAACP – the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People – because she’d declared she considered herself ‘transracial’. Although White, she identified as Black. This obviously left many people very offended, and so she was expelled. Dawkins followed this with the comment ‘Now we have men identifying as women and women identifying as men. Discuss.’ As commenters like Graham Linehan and Sargon’s and his fellow Lotus Eaters said, it’s a very mild criticism, couched as an invitation for discussion. And indeed Dawkins tried to excuse it as just that – an invitation to discuss the issue. But it was enough to bring down on him the wrath of the trans rights activists and their supporters in the various atheist and sceptic groups. American Atheists accused him of minimising the persecution of marginalised groups, and the British Humanist Society stripped him of his Humanist of the Year Award, which he’d been given in 1996. Dawkins then made an apology, saying that he had no wish to minimise the suffering of trans people, and did not want to ally himself with ‘Republican bigots’.

This is the man, who has a deep, bitter hatred of organised religion and its supporters. Dawkins is the author of the God Delusion, which was published with the explicit aim of destroying people’s belief in the Almighty and converting them to atheism. He was the leader of the ‘New Atheists’, who were notorious for their bitter invective. Dawkins has described raising a child as a member of a particular religion as ‘child abuse’ and called religious people ‘faithheads’. He has also been accused of islamophobia because of comments he has made about that religion’s traditional attitude towards women and the practice among many Muslims of Female Genital Mutilation. HIs attitude towards religion is so bitter and intolerant, that it has actually alienated many more traditional, tolerant atheists. See for example Kim Sterelny’s foreword for his book, Darwin Wars, about the feud between Dawkins and the late Stephen Jay Gould over their differing interpretations of Darwinian evolution. But Dawkins has carried on undaunted with the same bitter polemic. But when faced with attacks for simply questioning trans ideology, he automatically caved in.

This shows the comparative power of organised religion compared to the trans rights lobby, at least within the sphere of progressive politics. Critics of the ideology have described how the trans lobby has captured a plethora of organisations, including the gay rights organisation Stonewall, various, mostly left-wing political parties and have advised organisations like the police and feminist organisations. The only political parties resisting them are those of the conservative right, which explains why Dawkins didn’t want to be seen supporting the Republicans. The problem is, however, that there is a feminist dimension to Republican opposition to trans rights, and that Dawkins asked a perfectly reasonable question.

Sargon of Gasbag and the Lotus Eaters made a video about this last week, pointing out that the academic magazine Hypatia had published an article defending trans-racialism. Hypatia describes itself as a journal of feminist philosophy. It had asked why it should be acceptable for people of one sex to identify as members of the other, but not people of one race to identify as members of a different ethnic group. Historically, there have been other Whites, whose admiration of Black America and its culture has led them to try to live as much as possible as Blacks. Years ago in the 1940s, I believe, one man went so far as to paint himself with melanin in order to live as a Black man. He then published a book about his experiences with the deliberate intention of challenging racism and bringing Whites and Blacks together. The Hypatia article stated that the arguments for transgenderism and trans-racialism are exactly the same, and there is no logical reason why one should be acceptable and the other not.

One of the objections to the transgender movement is the feminist concern that it will disadvantage natural, born women in sports. On average, men are stronger and more powerful than women. Hence there is the entirely justifiable fear that if biological men and boys are allowed to compete in female sports it will put biological females at a disadvantage. Natural women are at risk of being pushed out of their own sports. This has implications for university careers, as it means that sports scholarships to universities will go to transwomen rather than natural women. Hence Republican politicians in Maine and New Hampshire have put forward a bill banning biological men competing as women in women’s sports as a deliberate defence of the latter.

These are issues that at the very least need to be discussed calmly and logically, without accusations of bigotry and persecution. In my opinion, those attacking the trans ideology are right and are actually on the side of traditional feminism, and no amount of abuse will change this.

For all his deeply unpleasant intolerance towards religion, Dawkins was perfectly right in wanting it discussed.

Here’s the Lotus Eater’s video on the issue.

Here’s Black American feminist Karen Davies on the bill in Maine to protect women’s sports.