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Damore, Diversity, and Disruption at PSU

I held my breath as the protesters stood up and began their walk-out. “Please, let it be peaceful,” I said to myself. In the weeks leading up to the event, we had received threats of violence. One person on social media said he would bring explosives. The university administration found the threats credible enough to send a team of armed campus police to patrol the lecture hall. As the protesters neared the exit, a woman suddenly lunged for the audio equipment, pulled leads out indiscriminately, and knocked some of the equipment to the floor. The microphones stopped working. Another protester shoved a student volunteer into the door.

What caused this extreme reaction?

Ex-Google engineer James Damore had been invited to speak as part of a panel discussion on diversity, held at Portland State University on February 17. As I had previously written in the Wall Street Journal, we were anticipating controversy. After the incident, however, the disruption and violent misconduct were downplayed. Willamette Week, a left-wing alternative newspaper, was dismissive: “[The Freethinkers] expected controversy. They warned of violence. None arrived.” Perhaps not the kind of violence that had been threatened, but there was intentional “criminal mischief,” hundreds of dollars in property damage, and unnecessary disruption lasting just over four minutes (not the 30 seconds the Willamette Week incorrectly reported).

I belong to Freethinkers of PSU, the skeptic student group that organized the event and was responsible for inviting Damore. To correct the record, we didn’t warn of violence; those who threatened us did that. The paper’s scornful editorial surprised me, particularly given the timing of the event. Only days earlier the nation had learned that the Florida school shooter’s violent social media threats hadn’t been taken seriously. We weren’t about to take any unnecessary chances and nor were the campus police. Organizing a student event to discuss any topic — including diversity — should not be a safety hazard. In the present climate, however, security measures have become a regrettable necessity.

A protest campaign to hoard free tickets claimed more than half the seats, suppressing turnout. Nevertheless, surrounded by officers and protected by an entourage of private security, James Damore spoke to an audience of 270 people. He was joined on the panel by former Evergreen State professors Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein, PSU philosophy professor Peter Boghossian, and critic of third wave intersectional feminism Helen Pluckrose.

Explaining what had moved him to write the “Google memo,” Damore said that he found the analyses of the company’s sex disparity, offered during a conference on diversity and inclusion, to be unsatisfactory. “They went through these different things, like microaggressions and unconscious bias, and said that is why we only have 20 percent women,” he recalled.

After the conference, Google solicited feedback from staff. Damore obliged with a ten page document entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo-Chamber,” in which he argued that sex differences on average may help explain the male/female disparity at the company. He also offered suggestions about how the workplace environment could change to appeal to more women. But when his memo was leaked to the press and published, it was stripped of important nuance and links to supporting data, and Damore was viciously mischaracterized as a misogynist and a racist.

“James argues, accurately, that there are differences between men and women,” evolutionary biologist Heather Heying said during the panel discussion. “This is a strange position to be in, to be arguing for something that is so universally and widely accepted in biology. . .You can be irritated by a lot of truths, but taking offense,” — here, Heying paused as hecklers shouted and began to walk out — “is a response that is a rejection of reality.”

A non-student protester then yanked the cables from the sound system and shoved the equipment to the ground, breaking an antenna. She was promptly detained by police. “[Damore’s] a piece of shit!” she screamed as she was issued a citation for criminal mischief in the second degree. “Even the women in there have been brainwashed!” Another protester stated: “Nazis are not welcome in civil society.”

Undeterred, Peter Boghossian said to the audience: “Fringe elements of society do not have the right to hold you hostage.” The speakers pressed on in spite of the disruption. First Boghossian and then Heying stood and projected their voices to the back of the auditorium. “If your belief system cannot stand up to scrutiny,” Heying told me later, “it is weak, and attacking those who say so will not change that fact.” Fortunately, the sound was restored just over four minutes later.

Heying explained how variation is distributed in the sexes. “Male and female aren’t a binary but they are strongly bimodal,” she said. “We cannot change what may be true at a societal level unless we understand why things are true.”

Helen Pluckrose added that denying the existence of sex differences may paradoxically help confirm sexist attitudes. “If we are assuming that the choices men make are the ultimate, best, absolute choices, [then] we are making men the default humans,” she said. “The areas that women dominate — healthcare, education, psychology, publishing — these are all hugely influential areas on society.”

In his closing remarks, Damore said that he doesn’t regret writing the memo but conceded that using technical language from psychology literature made his writing more susceptible to misinterpretation. “There are definitely still issues of discrimination happening in many sectors,” Damore said. “[But] men and women tend to approach the workplace differently so maybe if we changed the workplace then we could actually solve the problem.”

The discussion was followed by a Q&A. A PSU alumna from the women’s studies department complained that the stage-to-audience dynamic presented an intimidating power imbalance. “You guys are high [up]. You have microphones. We don’t,” she said. “This is perpetuating the status quo in the hierarchy.” Boghossian invited her to join him at his next (stageless) panel on intersectionality the following Monday. She didn’t come.

After the event, police and security escorted the speakers out of a back entrance. I caught up with them and asked for their reactions. Helen Pluckrose recalled what one of the police officers had told her: “So why are you so radical and extreme and dangerous that I have to escort you off campus? You seemed very reasonable to me.” She still doesn’t have an answer.

Reflecting on the evening’s events, the panelists discussed how they didn’t recognize the picture of themselves that the protesters were painting. “The mob acts against a fiction of its own creation,” Bret Weinstein told me.

Our event was titled “We Need to Talk About Diversity.” On stage, Boghossian had strongly criticized the institutionalization of diversity as a mechanism to enforce ideological conformity. The current understanding of diversity, he said, demeans people and reduces them to their immutable characteristics. The panelists also discussed how ideologues have appropriated morally important terms like ‘inclusion,’ and given them different meanings. I experienced this firsthand last year when a high-level student government leader and intersectional activist confronted me on campus. He said he could not celebrate me as a person of color in higher education because of my conduct and worldview. To activists like him, diversity means color plus conformity.

No thanks. I’ll pass.

UPDATE 26 Feb: A video of the entire event is now available on YouTube.

 

Andy Ngo is a graduate student in political science at Portland State University. Follow him on Twitter @MrAndyNgo.

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64 Comments

  1. Terre says

    Thanks for the concise run through of the event. All I could find on YouTube was the Q&A, and well there were some moments in there where I was as confused as the panelists. I look forward to hearing the entirety of the event.

    You are extreme because you blasphemy Ms. Pluckrose, that is the only reason they need.

  2. I do love Quillette, but at some point I think we need to say that there have been enough articles about (a) James Damore (b) Jordan Peterson and (c) Evergreen State. Those three topics might each have merited one or two full-length articles, but surely by know enough has been published about all of them. More actual science, please!

    • Andrew says

      I, for one, could use as many as possible – if only to track this strange phenomena of outrage possession. I need to know when it’s going to leave, if ever.

      • Natasha says

        But what does this incident prove? Some anonymous non-student at a college kicked some equipment. You right-wingers are milking this tiny minor incident for days, but outside of the alt-right bubble do you think you’ve convinced anybody there’s some organized cabal working against James Damore? It’s striking how you seem to have no interest at all in the identity in the person(s) involved. Surely if they were ANTIFA you’d mention it.

          • Ellen O'Day says

            Articles such as above are important because increasingly this fringe nonsense is spilling over into mainstream discourse and mores. The MSM is replete with talking heads heavily influenced by these nutty women (and men) and universities, once places of free thought, have become anything, but places for free thought.

            And it is happening in the large corporations like Google and Apple too. It is no longer just fringe. Science is also starting to be impacted with nutty concepts like 57 (or whatever) genders being shoehorned into the biology agenda for starters. There are similar oddities emerging in psychology.

            If you want proof just view (or view again) the absurd Cathy Newman interview of Jordan Peterson on Channel 4. A knowledgeable scientist trying to reason with a star British journalist.

            So it is important to listen and follow the brave men and women who are fighting for freedom of thought. Science depends on it. I welcome Andy Ngo’s articles.

        • “there’s some organized cabal working against James Damore?” you mean like the people that got him fired? Yes.

        • It is just more proof that the batshit loons who call themselves “social justice warriors” lose their minds when confronted with some of the most basic, universally acknowledged facts of reality. Pretty pathetic, isn’t it?
          I have a hard time imagining that large children who can’t hear a pronouncement such as “women are shorter than men” without having a panic attack, are warriors.

      • Another clash between truth and narrative. I was truly impressed with the delicacy of the panel when presenting critical thinking, logic, and facts to a group so brainwashed in the opposite it inspired an incoherent babbling tantrum. I thought the panel was masterful in treading the waters of groupthink and mob intimidation. Chalk up one more for the good guys.

    • Cris1024 says

      We still need articles about those subjects because even to this day people still have the wrong idea. Almost every single article coming out about James Damore is written by someone who never read his memo. Every single article that has the slightest left lean calls Jordan Peterson “alt right”. These matters are far from settled. Mainstream media are still publishing lies about them. We can’t just let them do it unchallenged.

    • One or two articles may suffice had the issues surrounding their “fame” subsided. It’s only getting worse, though, so I would expect to continue hearing about them for some time. You say “More actual, science!” but the Damore detractors are fighting science at every step.

    • Louis B says

      The response to this is simple: if the radicals continue to disrupt, there will be no science to speak of. Look at climate science if you want to see the future. The conclusion comes first, the evidence is chosen to fit the narrative.

    • Nathan says

      So, don’t report a current event that demonstrates a troubling pattern of science denial, simply because it involves people who’ve been featured in previous articles?

      Seems like a great editorial policy.

      • I did not say that no one should report it. My post specifically said that there should be articles about Damore and Peterson. However, as long as Quillette sticks to publishing one article per day, endless streams of articles about those two means fewer chances for publishing actual scientific findings as well as other relevant cultural issues. Regressive anti-science leftists on campus are an important topic, however, there’s no need to exaggerate their influence when 99% of colleges are free from this kind of thing.

        • I think what he said is dead on. Men and women are different. Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean it isn’t the case. DEAL with it. There’s no misogyny there, no bigotry. It’s just biology. These liberals and their self-created “struggle” is laughable.

        • Gringo says

          Regressive anti-science leftists on campus are an important topic, however, there’s no need to exaggerate their influence when 99% of colleges are free from this kind of thing.

          “99 % of colleges are free from” “regressive anti-science leftists”?
          If that were the case, then 99% of the times that people like Damore or Peterson speak on campus, there would be no disruptions such as occurred at Portland State.

          Considering the track record of the last several years, that sounds like a very dubious claim.

    • Jason says

      Seriously, can we stop talking about professional victim Damore? He didn’t get fired for doing science, he got fired because he forgot he was at work. Find a scientist embroiled in political resistance and then I’ll give a shit. Office politics aren’t real politics. I don’t get along with plenty of people at work; it doesn’t mean anything.

      • Natasha says

        It is funny how all these conservatives seem to think that some radicals got Damore fired, when it was a public company that answers to shareholders. And Google has HQ in California an at-will employment state. Suddenly the Right is uncomfortable with the results of capitalism.

        • Chester says

          Natasha, maybe you should read the actual memo and the details of James Damore’s lawsuit – which provides ample evidence of the presence of violent, radical ideologues at Google – before you write more supercilious comments that do not accomplish anything except make you look ignorant and arrogant. Disingenuously downplaying that fact that it is almost exclusively left-wingers who have used violent, immoral means of suppressing free speech recently (placing them snugly among the most vile, oppressive dictators of the past 100 years, who have also been left-wingers for the most part), betrays your intellectual and moral dishonesty.

          • Natasha says

            You’re the one who is dishonest – you can’t admit that Google made a lawful decision to fire someone for its own reasons. Because you’re so devoted to blaming leftists for everything.

          • Chester, supercilious is too big of a word for a liberal. Might wanna try to dumb it down.

        • It is apparent in your ignorant rant that you do not know anything about the truth on the subject that you are speaking. Do more research and actually read his complete memo as well as his law suit and you will see there is a huge difference.

        • It’s funny how easily right-thinking people characterize those with whom they disagree by labeling them as “other.” “These conservatives” is a perfect example. It’s almost as if the writer believes that all conservatives share a single, un-nuanced point of view. Or, that all persons who hold a specific point of view are by definition a member of one, monolithic groups which shall be labeled, “Conservative.”

      • Chester says

        I’m not surprised that you don’t get along with plenty of people at work. You sound like an angry idiot.

      • He was told as a member of the diversity conference audience to give feedback and he gave honest feedback and was fired. What does that say about the company? Feedback is only honest if it agrees with company policy? He has a strong case for wrongful dismissal and I hope he wins it.

      • Grantley says

        His workplace literally asked for feedback on the subject. He gave them feedback backed by many many references. And then they fired him. So he was in fact fired for telling the truth.

      • It means something if you get fired when those that don’t like you gang up against you and then twist your words and make them something that you didn’t say.

    • augustine says

      “These matters are far from settled.”

      That answer should be sufficient.

    • DiscoveredJoys says

      Attitudes often crystalize around particular people who happen to be at the right place at the right time (or wrong place at the wrong time). James Damore, Jordan Peterson and Evergreen State may or may not become long-standing examples, but then some people bang on about Karl Marx even today.

    • ga gamba says

      … but at some point I think we need to say that there have been enough articles about (a) James Damore (b) Jordan Peterson and (c) Evergreen State.

      Yet, you keep reading them and posting comments. Gosh, why is that?

      Here’s a helpful hint: look at the title of the article. For example, this article is titled Damore, Diversity, and Disruption at PSU. You can be assured it will mention Damore. Seeing that, you have a choice. You may choose to read it, as you have done, or you may choose not to read it. Have you stopped to asked yourself, “Why am I choosing to read things I dislike?” That’s a great question. Answering it may lead to better self awareness and understanding.

      My suspicion is that you think these types of articles may make progressives look ludicrous and are very damaging to them and their cause, and rather than urge your fellow travellers to change their behaviour, you want to limit reports because you recognise the effectiveness of the game progressives play when the amplify certain stories and downplay others.

  3. ga gamba says

    Just want to thank Mr Ngo for organising his student group and the speech.

    Uni students, these activities are paid for with your money. If you look at student participation in student government elections, it’s often less than 15% of the electorate, which means that a small group of often extreme leftists control a large sum of money and channel much of it to their allies. They’re living fat and mighty on your hard-earned money, and this reinforces their attitude of entitlement that carries on throughout their lives. Whilst you’re slogging though tough work they’re being paid to plot and agitate, and often what they demand are other ways to put their hands in your wallet. You’re paying for your own robbery.

    Though they have a difficult time zero budgeting a recognised group, they do try to restrict the amount awarded, and over the years student government leaders have increased the barriers to gain the required recognition. By organising groups, petitioning for funds to hold speeches and other events, and standing for election, centrist and right-leaning students can wrest this means of control from the progressives’ hands.

    • See, Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

      “The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority”.

      This explains just about everything, I think.

  4. PdxStudent says

    As a PSU student (unaffiliated with freethinkers/college republicans/etc), I would like to say that I appreciate all that the freethinkers do to bring diverse viewpoints to campus. All my life, I have been taught to analyze the evidence, and make my own decisions, politics be damned.(Amusing, considering I’m Chinese-American) Viewpoint diversity is arguably more important than any other form of diversity, as it allows one to logically interrogate the universe and come to some conclusion as to the correct path of action. Suppressing viewpoint diversity can lead to erroneous views becoming commonplace, resulting in catastrophies such as the Great Chinese Famine. (Thanks, Mao)

    I was sadly unable to attend the event, despite buying a ticket, specifically because of the non-zero chance that I would be doxxed, and have any potential at a future career in STEM destroyed.

    From my perspective, the person that caused the vandalism shouldn’t have gotten off so lightly. It doesn’t matter if the person was or wasn’t a student, actual property damage should be taken seriously.

    Finally, considering what the women’s studies alumna stated, if this is a view common among the graduates of that program, perhaps Boghossian is right about their department being in need of defunding… Or at the very least, critical thinking and basic logic classes need to be added as mandatory prerequisites for all majors.

  5. Natasha says

    I find it odd that nobody has identified the “non-student protestor” but the alt-right seems to have coordinated to claim ANTIFA.

    https://tinyurl.com/yc9thcog

    Did anybody bother to get the identity of the non-student protestor?

  6. Wisam says

    “He said he could not celebrate me as a person of color in higher education because of my conduct and worldview. To activists like him, diversity means color plus conformity.”

    I love this line. I’m a person of color and a fairly liberal person but those of my friends who heavily engage in identity politics have no problem using me as a token of their open-mindedness when I agree with them. I’m proof of the fact they interact with “oppressed” groups when I agree with them and then my opinion is taken more seriously by them.

    However, when I disagree, then I’m the straight male, and those qualities are used against me to invalidate whatever I have to say. The activists only care about you when you agree with them.

    • Fonduman says

      Why would anyone want to be celebrated based on their skin colour? I would rather be celebrated due to my achievements.

    • Dr. Necessitor says

      Do you have any idea what the student leader meant by “celebrate [you] as a person of color”? That is the oddest phrase I’ve come across in a long time. Seems both pandering and insulting to POC but maybe I’m mistaken.

      • The full quote is: “he could not celebrate me as a person of color in higher education”. I’m guessing the “in higher education” bit is the important part. It can be a major accomplishment for the whole family when children of POC immigrants attend college. Often they are first generation college students and this is celebrated by their family, friends, and woke allies. Andy is the child of immigrants from Vietnam. So in theory, he should be celebrated for attending college. Except apparently not because he doesn’t hold the right views to be a POC worthy of celebration. The statement is just outrageous. The student is basically telling Andy that he’s only useful as a tool if his politics help them advance their ideology but not if no, then he is persona non grata.

        https://www.opb.org/news/series/racenw/immigrants-vietnam-oregon-conservative-worldview/

      • I agree, it’s weird to be celebrated for the color of skin you were born with. For that matter, why do we have Gay Pride Parades? I have no issue with gay people but why celebrate it? Shouldn’t it be just like being straight except not? Or why celebrate any alternative lifestyle choice at all?

  7. Pingback: The insane social justice thread - Page 571

  8. Pakpoom says

    Apologies for the nit-picking, but it has annoyed me how neomarxists equate racism as being “prejudice plus power”, as this does not parse logically. As such, the claim is more correctly rendered: “power is a prerequisite for racism”. Similarly, “colour plus conformity” struck me as a bit rough.

    That aside, I can very much identify with the point. Being born mixed race, I sometimes find myself disqualified from certain opinions on being a minority ethnicity because I have lighter skin. I wasn’t born or raised in the west, have no family in my current country of residence, English isn’t my first language – whatever, I’m basically white, what would I know about being a minority? I can only conclude that, were I well and truly, authentically foreign, I would simultaneously possess unquestionable authority AND be in complete lock-step agreement with all of my progressive mates.

    A shame.

    • The conformity requirement exists all over the place. I have a terminal degree, therefore I should be enlightened and vote Democrat. I am very pro military so I should vote Republican. I’m actually socially liberal and fiscally conservative, something neither party embraces. Blue dog democrats are extinct as even Feinstein is now “too far to the right.” Granted, I don’t have the challenges of skin pigmentation (is that biology or a social construct?) that many of my peers do but the demand for conformity of face being an outcast exists all over. Ask any non-radical-Left college professor or Dem voting military member.

      • DiscoveredJoys says

        In the UK being socially progressive and financially conservative is the description of a ‘Classic Liberal’. Like me. While the language carries differing meanings either side of the Atlantic, it seems to me that none of the main political parties represent people holding similar Classic Liberal views.

  9. “Helen Pluckrose added that denying the existence of sex differences may paradoxically help confirm sexist attitudes. “If we are assuming that the choices men make are the ultimate, best, absolute choices, [then] we are making men the default humans,” she said. “The areas that women dominate — healthcare, education, psychology, publishing — these are all hugely influential areas on society.”

    This is an excellent point that should be emphasized more in these debates.

  10. Peter Kriens says

    This article made me slightly uneasy since it only appealed to the choir that is looking to feed their confirmation bias. I am not immune to that, I love the kick it gets to read those articles when I agree but it is also padded proof filter bubble material and I would be disappointed if I ended up in a Quillette bubble.

    However, I do not think the Damore case is just clickbait. There are certain angles here that are far beyond Damore as an individual. The NLRB decision to make scientifically backed speech sexual harassment (when it points at differences between the sexes (or races)) is extremely worrying. This is a culmination of a trend of over 20 years where in business the men have become more and more careful not say certain things in the workplace that they are clearly (and imho mostly correctly thinking).

    Damore is a very important topic but I find the opposition to this events old news. I would love to read an article from the lawyer who wrote the decision. (Or any lawyer that provides some solid background how the NLRB can make such a far reaching decision?) Or an interview with that woman Clark who got a restraining order. Or the Google HR director.

    Don’t confirm my bias, challenge it!

    • DiscoveredJoys says

      “This is a culmination of a trend of over 20 years where in business the men have become more and more careful not say certain things in the workplace that they are clearly (and imho mostly correctly thinking).”

      The more people make it illegal to speak of pink elephants the more likely people are to think about pink elephants. The idea that by controlling speech you can control thoughts is seriously flawed – after all each upcoming generation creates *their* own slang to reflect *their* experiences.

  11. I’m confused. The anti-science crowd on this topic say that all variations are due to social construct/influence…men and women are the same and biological sciences showing differences are wrong? Aren’t these the same who INSIST that homosexuality and transgenderism are biological and NOT social constructs that can be “converted away?” How can you say there are no biological differences between men and women and that society makes them so, but also argue that society can’t “convert” the LGBTQ back to CIS-hetero-normative?

    • Great point Bill. I think the generally strategy is to alternate between “social constructivism” and “innateness” when the narrative calls for it. Nurture or nature when your talking point depends on it.

  12. Emblem14 says

    I wonder how many people realize that this “conflict” is not really about what it claims to be about. There are two camps fighting about whether or not our social structures are more or less “just”, insofar as they either reflect morally legitimate distributions of human effort and potential, or the unjust and arbitrary social sorting policies of systematic bigotry.

    But these arguments about biology vs. culture, nature vs. nurture, are merely instrumental to a deeper set of political and moral commitments. They are brought on board as prerequisite rationales for why a particular set of social outcomes are justified, not the other way around.

    Even reason-bots who like to think their social ideals are derived from empirical evidence, and will shift their moral values based on the best scientific consensus, can’t escape that figuring out the “best” social structures and policies require an a priori commitment to a a standard of “good” and “bad” that exists outside of a strict empirical framework. In other words, there is no discussion about how society “ought to be” that is not loaded with implicitly ranked values judgements.

    So why get into these intellectual pissing contests about innate vs. socially constructed sex differences (for example)? Because these arguments are instrumental, and not central to what people actually want, an idea’s validity is only meaningful insofar as it is useful to justifying a preferred mapping of values.

    Be honest, if it were “proven” that people’s life outcomes were mostly biologically determined, would that dissuade any SJW from pursuing their favored ideals using some other novel argument? Conversely, if it were proven that outcomes are mostly socially constructed, and human society is as malleable as the pomo left says it is, would that convince any non-leftist to “join the revolution”?

    Of course not, because these positions are post-hoc supporting arguments for more deeply held personal values. We’re foolish if we think that by discrediting certain concepts people use to support their ultimate goals, that their goals would change, and not the concepts they appropriate to justify their goals.

    This controversy of nature vs. nurture is just a proxy war for a more intractable ideological conflict. It’s being fought because it’s an issue, the ultimate resolution of which would probably strengthen one side and undermine the other side of the deeper dispute, and must therefore be a battlefield so as to prevent the opposing side from gaining a rhetorical advantage. It’s what people fight about to avoid fighting about their core values, and how those values inform the society they WANT to live in.

    I for one am tired of these proxy wars. There’s probably a good argument for why they have to be fought, but there’s also the case that time spent on instrumental issues is a distraction from time needed to properly discuss normative issues, which are the real reasons for why people believe what they do.

    At this point, it should be crystal clear that persuasion via (cherry picked) facts and evidence is self-indulgent flattery, something we like to tell ourselves works (we’re rational!), but most psychological research shows is not the case. Our values come first ,and those are shaped by ideology, psychology, religious belief and philosophy. Unless you’re fighting on that territory, you’re wasting your time.

    • augustine says

      Are you sure that groups left and right of center enjoy similar concepts of “instrumental” vs. “normative” issues? I think there is less equality of ideation here than we might wish to see, perhaps providing a partial answer as to why the current political tactics of either side are so very different (defense vs. offense, etc.).

      “It’s what people fight about to avoid fighting about their core values…”

      This is key. We do that in order to avoid bloodshed. Historically the track record is not good.

    • Caligula says

      I would vastly prefer to discuss the science of nature vs. nurture (for example, Pinker’s, “The Blank Slate”) than to descend into the morass of ” speech just reflects relationships and assertions of power.”

      Because there is real science here to discuss, and in any case to dismiss rational arguments is to leave little beyond a Hobbsian universe in which power is all, for evidence and logic are held to account for nothing. May I then summarize your message as, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever”?

      Here’s Orwell on the subject:

      “‘Do you remember,’ he went on, ‘writing in your diary, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four”?’

      ‘Yes,’ said Winston.

      O’Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended.

      ‘How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?’

      ‘Four.’

      ‘And if the party says that it is not four but five-then how many?’

      ‘Four.’

      The word ended in a gasp of pain …”

      And here’s Lewis Carroll:

      “I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.
      Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t- till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

      ‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

      ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less.’

      ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

      ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.'”

      • Emblem14 says

        Look, we can concern ourselves with how people ought to interpret reality, or we can observe how they actually behave.

        My point is simply this. Of course it is valuable to fill in as much of the scientific landscape as we can. It helps us make decisions that better comport to the constraints of the physical world, and satisfies the human thirst for knowledge.

        However, If a group of people are going to try to undermine biology, for example, it isn’t out of some irrational hatred for homeostasis. They don’t give a shit about biology per se, it’s just a conceptual tool that either supports or undermines their worldview. That worldview, of what is Right And Good, and Bad and Evil, outside and beyond the scope of empiricism, is what knowledge serves. If they perceive the field of biology as threatening to an ideal they hold sacred – let’s say, the goal of radical social equity, but it could be any ideology or religious system. – they will grasp at any rationalization they can find to dismiss or discredit it. John Haidt’s work on moral psychology illustrates this.

        Their attack on biology is in the service of this more central commitment to their Greatest Good. If Biology was made completely unassailable, believers in radical equity would simply drop that line of attack and latch on to some other argument or theory they could use to bolster their case, or weaken their opponents’.

        This shouldn’t be shocking – people will always prefer to believe in self-serving tautological bullshit unless and until reality is smacking them directly in the face. Sometimes Bullshit can be sustained for a long while before it runs into enough reality to forcibly knock some sense into someone.

        This is how most people operate. How many individuals do you know who are open to constantly questioning and reevaluating their foundational moral beliefs? It’s possible, but uncommon and very psychologically stressful. There’s good reason why people don’t do it regularly or easily – it can drive you insane.

        Nevertheless, I draw the conclusion that it is more productive to have an upsetting, potentially traumatizing discussion about the merits of radical social equity (or Christianity, or Liberalism, or Capitalism or what-have-you), with the goal of unsettling some foundational assumptions, than trying to win the battle for biology’s validation. Even if you win that battle, the battlefield will simply shift under your feet.

        Better to attack the base.

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  14. Stephen J. says

    “If your belief system cannot stand up to scrutiny,” Heying told me later, “it is weak, and attacking those who say so will not change that fact.”

    Here again it’s worth spotlighting one of the essential assumptions of critical-theory intersectional progressivism, in order to understand why this criticism holds no water for its adherents: Thanks to a largely simplified misunderstanding of Freud, filtered through Marx’s godsend concept of “false consciousness” and the doctrines of cultural and moral relativism, progressivist theory holds that “rational scrutiny” is not a valid litmus test of a belief system, because there is no such thing — all self-proclaimed “rational scrutiny” is more often than not only a cleverly disguised, or possibly even unconscious, attempt to smuggle in axioms, standards, premises and assumptions that already predispose the scrutinizer towards his preferred, predetermined conclusions.

    Nobody ever really analyzes a belief system rationally to decide if it is true, in other words; what we do is we decide whether to accept or reject it based on our biases and then retroactively rationalize that decision (or so this philosophy believes). To submit to a critic’s “rational scrutiny” is to lose the argument before it begins, in other words; it’s not that the belief system “cannot stand up to scrutiny”, but that no belief system can “stand up” to what its critics call “scrutiny” because that scrutiny is never more than the excuse for why you’ve already made up your mind. Thus the only viable tactic is to silence criticism from the start, because the criticism in itself only proves the criticizer beyond redemption.

    Which is one of the logic traps rendering this philosophy inescapable, once it is fully accepted, and guaranteeing conflict with it forever: if you really do believe that everything is political, then any claim that not everything need be political is only going to look like a political tactic.

    • Emblem14 says

      This is the closed loop of unfalsifiability. Anything that makes you question your “faith” is by definition the devil’s work.

      It’s not as inescapable as it seems though – you just have to keep questioning up until you hit the bottom most premises, and then keep questioning. People quickly realize that the foundation of their worldview rest on unsupported assumptions, and questioning the assumptions reveals the void underneath where they expected the bedrock to be.

      At that point, they’ll either lash out in anger and their mind will snap shut, or they will…lash out in anger, but a seed of doubt will grow until the cognitive dissonance is unbearable, they have an existential crisis, and either have a nervous breakdown, run panicked to the refuge of another totalizing ideology, or evolve into a more thoughtful, skeptical, introspective person.

      • augustine says

        That can happen with some small proportion of individuals but not in significant groups of people. “thoughtful, skeptical, introspective” people are individuals with personal (vs. social or political) motivations. A small contingent of such persons sometimes makes a big difference at critical junctures, but just as often, or more often, they are made irrelevant by the mentality of the masses.

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