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The Stifling Uniformity of Literary Theory

In 1976, the Nobel-prize winning economist, F.A. Hayek, published The Mirage of Social Justice, the second volume of his magnum opus Law, Legislation and Liberty.1 Despite being widely regarded as the definitive critique of social justice, today one would be lucky to find advocates of social justice in the academy who are familiar with the name ‘Hayek’, let alone those who have read him. Among classical liberals, libertarians, and conservatives alike, Hayek is one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century whose The Road to Serfdom represents one of the most powerful arguments against socialism ever written.2 But those in the academy who have perpetuated socialist ideas since the 1980s have practically ignored it. In this article, I will argue that this unwillingness to engage with the ‘other side’ is not only endemic in the radical intellectual schools that have overtaken literary studies, but also that it is symptomatic of their entire way of thinking which, being hermetically sealed and basically circular in its argumentation, has no language to deal with critics beyond reactive moral condemnation.

Many universities and colleges currently advertise literary theory courses which purport to introduce students to a range of different approaches to literary texts. On paper, it looks like as many as ten or fifteen different approaches. The labels proliferate: new historicism, cultural materialism, materialist feminism, ecofeminism, postcolonialism, deconstruction, structuralism, poststructuralism, race theory, gender theory, queer theory, postmodernism … the list might go on. This extensive list of labels seems to signal genuine range and diversity; however, in terms of their ideas, these approaches are somewhat narrower in scope and focus than one might expect. Virtually every approach listed here lays claim to be ‘radical’, which is to say politically of the left or even hard left – with roots in Marxist theory – hostile to capitalism, the Enlightenment, classical liberalism, liberal humanism, and even to the West itself. Virtually all are also committed to ‘social justice’. It must be noted that, since about 1980, these labels accurately register the genesis of literary studies as a discipline, but what they do not register is that, as they were rising, dissenting voices were systemically hounded out of the academy.

Roger Scruton

For example, in 1985, Sir Roger Scruton – now famous as a philosopher and public intellectual – wrote a book called Thinkers of the New Left in which he was strongly critical of continental theorists such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Louis Althusser, Jacques Lacan, and others.3 In stark contrast to the sometimes-wilful obscurantism of those he critiqued, Scruton wrote in plain prose and expressed ideas with clarity. Perhaps precisely because it laid the ideas bare, the book was greeted with howls of derision, and viciously attacked by scholars who had become disciples of Foucault et al. The publisher, Longman, was threatened with boycotts and risked being sent to the academic equivalent of the gulag if they did not stop selling the book, going as far as withdrawing copies from bookshops. As far as I can see, one thing that the episode did not produce is an intelligent response to any of the criticisms Scruton raised or, indeed, a single moment of critical self-reflection from any of those who had reacted so angrily. In effect, he was shut down and chased from academia.

In another infamous case, in 1988, Richard Levin, who was a Professor of English at the State University of New York, published an article in the PMLA – one of the premier journals in literary studies – outlining some of his problems with recent feminist studies of Shakespeare. The gist of Levin’s critique was that feminist readings of Shakespeare all seemed to reach similar conclusions. In his own words, ‘the themes employed in [feminist] interpretations are basically the same. Although the terminology may vary, these criticisms all find that [Shakespeare’s] plays are about the role of gender in the individual and society’.4 Now, one might expect a firm rebuttal to this charge from the scholars he was critiquing, and rightly so, but this is not what Levin received. Instead, the following year, a letter was published in the PMLA signed by twenty-four literary critics lambasting the journal for having the temerity to publish such an essay.5 It was not so much an academic response, but the public denunciation of a heretic – made more chilling because so many of the signatories worked on the Reformation, an era in which such burnings at the stake were de rigueur. Professor Levin, they argued, should not even be teaching literature. I remember when I first read of this episode while conducting research for my doctorate;6 I was not only appalled at Levin’s treatment, but also confounded by the utter refusal of these twenty-four scholars to engage in substantive argument. I remember it as a moment of profound disillusionment with the profession I was about to pursue, and it marked a turning point in how I would view the work of some of those who had signed it. Years later, during a podcast interview, I asked one prominent Shakespearean, who is strongly associated with the radical new approaches of the 1980s (but not a signatory of the letter), if he remembered Levin.7 The answer I got back was, ‘no one paid any attention to him; Levin was nowhere’. Again, I was struck by reasoning that seemed based entirely on what Aristotle would have called ‘ethos’, that is, the judgement of the person’s character as opposed to their arguments.8

If one understands the underlying theories, then it is not difficult to see why this happens. Despite significant differences, all the approaches I listed above assume that:

  1. There is no universal human nature.
  2. Human beings are primarily a product of their time and place.
  3. Therefore, power, culture, ideologies, and the social institutions that promulgate them have an extraordinary capacity to shape and condition individuals.
  4. In Western societies, since these institutions have been dominated by people who were predominantly rich, straight, white, and male it has tended towards pushing the particular interests of rich straight white men to the detriment of all other groups.
  5. Furthermore, these rich straight white men have done this by acting as if their sectional interests were universal and natural – a flagrant lie.
  6. Importantly, however, few if any of these rich white straight men were consciously aware of doing this, because they were themselves caught in the matrices of power, culture, ideologies and so on.
  7. Where subordinated groups have gone along with these power structures, they have been exploited and the victims of ‘false consciousness’.
  8. Now is the time to redress this balance by exposing the ways in which old texts have promoted the sectional interests of the rich straight white men and by promoting the voices of the historically marginalised groups.

Once this basic structure is understood, one can quickly see that the extensive list which seems like it represents a diverse range of approaches, in fact only promotes different flavours of a single approach. All that changes from one to the next are the specific groups of oppressors and oppressed as well as the structuring principle to which all individuals are invisibly in thrall. One might begin to represent it as follows:

Approach Oppressors Oppressed Structure
Marxist Bourgeoisie Proletariat Capitalism
Feminist Men Women Patriarchy
Postcolonial Theory Coloniser Colonised Power
Race Theory White people People of colour White supremacy
Queer Theory Straight people Gay people Heteronormativity

We might continue the table to list other approaches, but the point is made. It is also obvious that these various critical schools might easily be combined, because they represent variations on the same basic idea. What is interesting to me from a philosophical point of view is that all of them are hermetically sealed, which is to say that if you accept the eight premises I outlined above, there is no way to attack them. We are all ‘always already’ in ideology, in the patriarchy, under power, which is implicitly white supremacist and heteronormative. And there’s no way out of this except to recognise it and to do our best to mitigate it. This is not a scientific hypothesis that can be falsified or a philosophical argument that can be countered with other philosophical arguments, it is more of a theological proposition. In fact, it functions in a near identical way to John Calvin’s notion of ‘total depravity’ and original sin:

To man we assign only this: that he pollutes and contaminates by his impurity those very things which were good. For nothing proceeds from a man, however perfect he be, that is not defiled by some spot.9

We are each ‘contaminated’ and ‘defiled’ by capitalism, patriarchy, power, white supremacy, and heteronormativity. Once this is understood, it is obvious why Scruton and Levin – as well as countless others – received the treatment they did. Either you are with the oppressed, and therefore on the side of the angels, or you are implicitly supporting the side of the oppressors, and a damnable and unrepentant sinner. It is a straightforward binary moral choice and its missionaries will take no prisoners.

As an educator, and as someone who cares passionately about my discipline, and especially Shakespeare – who, after all, might be the all-time poster boy for ‘viewpoint diversity’ – my main concern is about balance and the promotion of genuine critical thinking. As a schoolboy, Shakespeare would have trained in classical imitatio, the practice in which the student would try to embody the mindset of a given thinker and argue from their point of view. As his plays show, he was a natural master at thinking from another person’s perspective. One wonders whether the students that the academy is producing today could if asked to, provide the arguments of their ideological or political counterparts, without resort to crude caricature or ad hominem. My concern is not so much that some or even all of these 1980s postmodern approaches are taught at undergraduate level – they have undeniably each had their own impact on the discipline – it is rather that students seldom, if ever, encounter any of the available counter arguments. And there are many powerful ones, underpinned with empirical data: from evolutionary theory, from economics, from philosophy, from history, and so on. Such studies seldom make it onto recommended reading lists, let alone onto syllabus lists. This is one reason why in my recent book, Shakespeare and New Historicist Theory (2017), I ensured that the angry voices of an older generation of historians of the early modern period, epitomised by G.R. Elton, were not only registered but given a full and fair hearing. Elton’s problems with the way those who are influenced by Foucault’s synchronic approach to history have still, to my knowledge, not been properly addressed.

It is one thing to do this in research, but quite another to do it on undergraduate courses. What might a module that pits Michel Foucault against someone like E.O. Wilson look like? The bourgeoning of evolutionary and cognitive approaches to literary texts in recent years, epitomised by the work of Joseph Carroll, Brian Boyd and others – there is now a dedicated journal for such interdisciplinary work called Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture10 – might soon justify such a pairing. Incidentally, Wilson wrote in the 2004 edition of his landmark On Human Nature of his struggles within the academy when his Pulitzer-prize winning book about humans and evolution came out in 1978:

[T]he fashionable mood in academia was revolutionary left. Elite universities invented political correctness, enforced by peer pressures and the threat of student protest. Marxism and socialism in this ambience were all right. Communist revolutions were all right. The regimes of China and the Soviet Union were, at least in ideology, all right. Centrism was scorned outside the dean’s office. Political conservatives, stewing inwardly, for the most part dared not speak up. Radical professors, the heroes on campus, repeated this litany: The Establishment failed us, the Establishment blocks progress, the Establishment is the enemy. Power to the people it was, but with an American twist. Because ordinary working people remained dismayingly conservative throughout this sandbox revolution, the new proletariat in the class struggle had to be the students.11

Does any of this sound familiar?

Thomas Sowell

What might a course look like if a race theorist such as Derrick Bell was studied alongside someone like Thomas Sowell? For about thirty years both Bell and Sowell were consistently among the top five most cited black scholars in American Academia according to The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.12 However, as with so many prominent intellectuals, while Sowell is revered among classical liberals, libertarians and conservatives, he is practically unheard of on the left, despite his pioneering work on the economics of race and ethnicity.13 To borrow Jonathan Haidt’s phrase, liberal intellectuals are in danger of being ‘blind’ not only to the other side’s moral taste buds, but also to their most important thinkers.14

However, it is not simply a matter of which thinkers are taught, but also how they are taught. Whenever I teach literary theory, I always ensure that I stress to students that what they are studying is not Gospel, but rather ‘highly opinionated men and women making very contentious statements about the world’. Critical thinking cannot flourish in conditions in which students cannot question the material they are being taught. We should not expect or even encourage students to inherit our own ideas, least not of all political beliefs. Universities are places to learn how to think not what to think. It seems somewhat ironic that a set of literary approaches so committed to deconstructing and uncovering the supposed processes of social indoctrination should also be so oblivious to their own role in indoctrinating a generation of students.

 

Neema Parvini is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Surrey. He is the author of five books, the most recent being Shakespeare and New Historicism Theory (2017) and Shakespeare’s Moral Compass (forthcoming 2018). He also presents a popular podcast series called Shakespeare and Contemporary Theory.


References:

1 F.A. Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty (1982; New York and London: Routledge, 2013).
2 F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom: Texts and Documents – the Definitive Edition (1944; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).
3 It has since been republished as Roger Scruton, Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left (New York and London: Bloomsbury, 2015).
4 Richard Levin, ‘Feminist Thematics and Shakespearian Tragedy’, PMLA, 103 (March, 1988), p. 125.
5 See PMLA, 104 (January, 1989), 77-79
6 It was published as my first book Shakespeare’s History Plays: Rethinking Historicism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012).
7 See my podcast, Shakespeare and Contemporary Theory here: https://blogs.surrey.ac.uk/shakespeare/
8 Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, ed. Lesley Brown (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 23.
9 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 Vols, ed. John T. McNeil, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1960), 3.15.3, pp. 790-1.
10 See http://journals.academicstudiespress.com/index.php/ESIC/index
11 E.O. Wilson, On Human Nature, rev. ed (1978; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), p. xv.

12 See https://www.jbhe.com/
13 See especially Thomas Sowell, Race and Economics (Philadelphia, PA: David McKay Company, 1975), and Ethnic America: A History (New York: Basic Books, 1981).

14 Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Religion and Politics (New York: Random House, 2012).

74 Comments

  1. Willy says

    You missed the glaringly obvious addition to your table:
    Approach Oppressors Oppressed Structure
    Politcal correctness , SocJus Warriors , White men or anyone who disagrees, Ivory tiwersof academia.

  2. Willy says

    Otherwise a great article, thanks. It had the desired effect on me, I am off to learn about Scruton and then buy your book.

  3. Daniel Tebbe says

    “There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped.” – G.K. Chesterton.
    The real question is whether Critical Theory, as described above, is the sort of ideology that will brook no other thinking — no other thinking whatsoever. In practice, we can see that’s absolutely what it has become. I strongly suspect that such elitist, bass-ackwards dogmatism is inevitable, given the 8 premises of Critical Theory. If so, it should be stopped.

  4. Like Jordan Peterson, who I quite like when he isn’t making a fool of himself rambling on about Derrida and Foucault and others he hasn’t read, Parvini’s reductio ad bullet list of the common assumptions shared by all the bad theorists is a measure of his failure to engage seriously with anything but reductive parodies of the various elements of those theoretical practices.

    1)There is no universal human nature.

    The general tendency of poststructuralist critics to question metaphysical assertions regarding “universal human nature” does not result in a denial of any and all consideration of a human nature.

    That is what the blank-slate SJWs natter on about when they engaging in Twitterkrieg online.

    In literary criticism the rejection of “universal human nature” is a rejection of the Western traditional tendency to adapt Christian metaphysics to a version of “humanism” that with breathtaking arrogance then takes idealized notions of “Europeanness” and generalizes them to the billions of others living outside the European sphere.

    There is nothing wrong with adopting a metaphysics from some Christianized view of human nature, and post-Christian types are welcome to do so.

    But those of us with a less than idealized view of Christianity, to say nothing of the majority of human beings whose cultures never were and never will be expressions of post-Christian hangover, do not have to sit still for a small coterie of white men at elite institutions in England and the US to lecture us on what “human nature” really is.

    The assumption (that Parvini makes here) that “there is no universal human nature” is equivalent to an anti-science, anti-biological view of human being is just not warranted. In order to understand the point of denying the metaphysical assumptions lying behind so much of traditional western thought, one must take into account the history of that metaphysics, the way someone like Derrida did, exhaustively and with admirable, tentative care. Parvini has apparently not done so.

    2) Human beings are primarily a product of their time and place.

    One can only suppose that in place of recognizing the rather obvious influence on individuals and their values and practices as members of human communities the time and place of their existences, we must again resort to some quasi-religious metaphysics that would force us all to agree with Ben Affleck when he so resonantly intoned that we all just want “to eat some sandwiches”, that universal imprint on all our “souls”.

    I’ll stop there. Inasmuch as I share the disdain of many for the cheap-seats version of Derrida and Foucault and other big names in so-called “postmodernism” that I don’t doubt have a dominant role in many humanities departments around the western world at this time and since I left my own pomo studies in the late 80s, I have equal disdain for uninformed critiques of what the actual texts of “postmodernism” do and say,

    You really cannot equate the crude assumptions of SJWs on Twitter or the lazy narcissistic productions of some academics presently seeking out crevices into which to insert the publications they so desperately need in order to have even a vague hope in hell of getting tenure with serious interrogations of philosophy and literature undertaken under something like a poststructuralist rubric.

    And it’s clear under which category Parvini’s critique falls.

    • You read way too much into Derrida and Foucault. It seems that their goal was achieved in your particular case and, thus, you see substance where there is just flesh.

      Hopefully one day you will see through the jungle of their sophistry.

      • Aldousk says

        There is no jungle. There is no sophistry. There is just unrelieved claptrap.

    • Sarka says

      I entirely agree that the original founders of critical theory (or more widely post-modernism) were far more interesting and challenging thinkers than it would appear from their “cod” versions in various SJW forms today.
      One of the many obvious reasons why this is the case, is that a Foucault or Derrida was already formidably – classically well educated in the philosophical, history and literary traditions to which they directed their critical investigations. This cannot be said of many of their enthusiastic successors – even in academic posts – let alone their students. I remember back in the eighties my senior professor in a history department in a British University telling me that he thought the introduction of a course on critical theory for first years in the literary department was “child abuse”, since the students – poor things – had as yet no strong grasp of the bodies of work and approaches to be “critiqued”…and those who did not merely end up drowning in confusion would be seduced into believing that they were being given a sure-fire cheap way to sound intellectual and “above” the material they were critiquing, without ever really bothering to study it.

      Another thing I noticed, as a somewhat irritated historian, was that critical theory-post-modern stuff in literature departments (where it caught on like wildfire) was seductive for yet another reason. It enabled literary scholars (and students), to escape what were traditionally rather restrictive disciplinary limitations and “do” history and philosophy too, though usually without the tedious obligation to learn and abide by the techniques and customs, even the standards of historians or philosophers…without even the tedious obligation to read their books on the subjects (political theory, theology, or social history, history of ideas), on which a new generation of lit and “soft culture” academics felt free to pontificate freely and in grandiose style, while still only referring to a few plays or novels. That’s what I call the Edward Said syndrome….I bought Orientalism as a pg at Oxford, keen to be modern and dabbling in social theory, and very left wing. I couldn’t believe how bad it was – how pretentious yet how slight in terms of real argument and evidence – at least by the standards of my own discipline. And I also noticed immediately how debased poco-pomo (as we sometimes playfully call it) approaches in the humanities have come to exhibit the very features – the closed self-perpetuating discourses – that they claim to “deconstruct” or “unmask” in their own work on bad old texts or bad old attitudes.

      • Precisely.

        Another discussion we used to have as the pomo wave was breaking over Canadian Eng Lit grad programs was that it was most attractive to those who couldn’t actually bear to read things like Paradise Lost or The Prelude.

        Ideally, doing Literary Criticism of whatever ‘theoretical’ stripe should involve deep study of the both the literary context backwards and forward in time and the ‘historical social-political’ context.

        Unfortunately, pure theory mavens lacking the love of literature and the energy to study it have taken pomo and run with it as a method of generating text without needing to immerse oneself in the relevant contexts.

        And that has to be appealing to people raised on television and online and who have been praised to the skies for reading Harry Potter in the original print versions.

      • Pizza Pete says

        “One of the many obvious reasons why this is the case, is that a Foucault or Derrida was already formidably – classically well educated in the philosophical, history and literary traditions to which they directed their critical investigations.”

        Something that I haven’t been able to wrap my head around as someone without a literary background: I’ve only read Madness and Civilization, but it’s totally unclear to me what is so compelling about Foucault. I get that he’s useful as a template for a million papers in low impact journals that will never be read much less cited. But what he says is just so obvious. Why the excitement?

        • Paul says

          It’s not. Foucault is considered compelling because he writes in such an abstruse way such that one can pick and choose whatever he/she wants out of it. I would also strongly disagree about Foucault’s historical training. He makes major factual errors in many of his works, especially when he stops discussing 18th century France.

          One of the more interesting elements of Foucault’s work is how unoriginal it truly is.

          • cacambo says

            If only Foucault had managed to write clearly in the manner of real philosophers such as Hegel and Kant.

    • Pizza Pete says

      I can’t tell if this is farce or if you actually wasted a couple years of your life on learning how to slap together these rhetorical constructs.

    • PKD says

      What are these “christian metaphysics” you’re referring to? I honestly can’t think of anything you could reject that would allow you to label “the rejection of “universal human nature”” as anything *other* than “an anti-science, anti-biological view”, unless what you’re rejecting is materialism. But it would be weird to have someone who rejects materialism appeal to science and biology, so I must be wrong.

    • Al Brown says

      “The actual texts of postmodernism” are not rightly defined as the texts from thirty and forty years ago that pioneered it. The actual texts of postmodernism are the texts written now. The former are the past texts of postmodernism. Similarly, the actual texts of economics are not Adam Smith, but they are Rabin and Cochrane and Krugman and others. Postmodernism is actually putting out articles (and has been for twenty plus years) that say exactly what this article wrote.

      • Al Brown: Casper Maree: LL:

        Inasmuch as it is somewhat pointless to compare “literary theory” of any kind to a “social science” like economics or any science at all, it is true that there are still texts being written in the general idiom of “postmodernism”. From what I can glean, Queer Theory seems to be pretty much a form of deconstruction (Derrida) married to the digging out of discourses of power (Foucault) and it does have its own “foundational texts” (eg Butler).

        That said, unlike the sciences, where a new discovery tends to obviate previous ways of understanding and working in particular fields, disciplines like English Literature or Philosophy do not follow that pattern at all. Aristotle is as likely to be referenced in a study of King Lear as G Wilson Knight is, which would be the equivalent of a refereed journal article in theoretical physics relying heavily on the insights of Thales of Miletus via Newton.

        There are really only so many papers that can be written about King Lear just as there are only so many ways one can illuminate the corpus of Shelley or Keats. People who do boring repetitive pomo papers on these writers are following in the footsteps of people who did boring repetitive papers in the idiom of the New Criticism or the old “triumph of the human spirit” school of literary critique.

        The virtue of any form of Literary Theory is it keeps the study of literature and that part of the historical culture more alive than it would be if it were left to Netflix or reddit.

        The generalized fear and loathing of postmodernism is beyond silly when you look at it in a literary context, as I assumed we were doing here. To get those A+ papers as an undergrad and those remarked-upon theses and dissertations in grad school one has to do the same thing as academics have to do when they generate publishable material for that tenure track CV: do discursive things with texts in a way that is different from the gazillion things that have gone before.

        It occurs to me that people with zero interest in literary criticism, and even less real knowledge of the field, “having opinions” about what approaches are adopted at a given time in the struggle to keep humanities courses alive is at least as vacuous as Sokal demonstrated postmodern takedowns of science were. (Obviously this is not the case for the author of the piece, who I take it is engaged in an “ideological struggle” over the lineaments of “historicism or New Historicism” in the field of Bardolatry.)

        I highly recommend applying the old “man vs man”, “man vs nature”, “man vs himself” schema if that suffices to illuminate your reading of Paradise Lost. You might want to give “man vs God” a shot while you’re at it as well, at least for Milton.

        Or you could just read the thing and enjoy.

        • Alistair says

          “The generalized fear and loathing of postmodernism is beyond silly when you look at it in a literary context, as I assumed we were doing here”

          I think here we have our disagreement. If Literary Theory could keep it’s PoMo techniques on its own reservation, fine. But the deconstructionist and racial and queer theory types have broken loose and rampaged through the humanities, doing real damage to the corpus of human knowledge, and the increasingly our politics. I’m not sure I’d rather consign Lear to Reddit than suffer such things.

          Fear and loathing of PoMo is based on the entirely rational fear by classical liberals that PoMo doctrines _in the real world_ are overwhelmingly both nihilistic and in entirely in service of very nasty authoritarian politics of a Marxist or quasi-Marxist persuasion. Not what they think about King Lear.

          • Yeah, Alistair. You’re just repeating the Peterson line, which is the right’s version of the kind of moral panic we all despise when it’s the SJWs doing it.

            Sociology, political science, and god forbid things like cultural anthropology, are just so much ideological guff to begin with from one perspective. Philosophy and history will weather the storm without too much difficulty since they are the areas that Jacques and Michel emerged from and that remained immune to their ravishment for a very long time.

            As to how the SJW/PC Classics Illustrated version of theory is being used in our increasingly anti-democratic political environment, I think we are witnessing the inevitable working out of the internal logic of the classical liberalism that people like to make so much of.

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  6. Christopher Rivera says

    Blame the Christian values of pity and equality.

    Alex Kierkegaard: 670. The Armenians: a people primarily known for insisting on reminding everyone and commemorating the day that they were slaughtered. It took them billions of years of evolution to arrive at this, hitherto unknown, survival tactic and perfect it: “the art of using one’s own misfortune like a credit card” (Baudrillard).

    196. The beggar doesn’t beg because he has no other choice — would he beg in the jungle? who would he beg? — he begs because YOU are around. It’s a form of attack. He takes your highly developed sense of empathy and uses it against you. If the lifeforms around him were not so highly empathetic, he’d look for other ways of sustaining himself. The beggar then is feeding off your empathy, a strategy which even a starving jungle rat has too much self-respect to employ — he’d never stoop so low. And it’s hypocritical to say that you pity beggars, since you create them by your actions. Wealth is a relative concept, after all. Hate seeing poor people? Then stop being rich. Stop “doing well”. Better yet, just kill yourself — and make all the beggars happy.

    830. It is in fact equality that would have been unfair, since it would render the accumulated effort of generations — both in the biological and cultural spheres — utterly worthless and superfluous. And that’s why equality is impossible in the universe, because as we’ll be seeing shortly, the words “fairness”, “justice” and the like are synonyms of “universe”. “What is justice?”, the super-children of the future will ask. And their robotic tutors will reply with one voice: “The universe is justice”, i.e. what actually exists and occurs, and not the delirious vindictive fantasies of the defeated, conquered and enslaved.

    “There’s nothing for it: civilization/evolution and inequality are synonyms (with evolution being the biological form of civilization, as civilization is the technological form of evolution), and the idea that we’d go through all this trouble to create them with the goal of becoming equal is so preposterous that only someone who is utterly uncivilized could believe it, much less want it.”

    • kn83 says

      This sounds very similar to Nietzsche’s criticism of Christian values.

  7. Stephen Henstock says

    Mjw51
    Interesting response. Thanks for adding your opinion. I’m wondering if empirical studies into human universals can be used to overcome the Judeo-christian background that you see driving our views of human nature.
    I have found that teaching immigrant students from around the world that we hold many values in common and I refer, when I can to religious interpretations of human nature from their backgrounds that we see a lot of universal themes.

  8. Christopher Rivera says

    Nietzsche: The slave revolt in morality begins when the ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of those beings who are prevented from a genuine reaction, that is, something active, and who compensate for that with a merely imaginary vengeance.(9) Whereas all noble morality grows out of a triumphant affirmation of one’s own self, slave morality from the start says “No” to what is “outside,” “other,” “not itself.” And this ”No” is its creative act. This transformation of the glance which confers value—this necessary projection towards what is outer instead of back onto itself—that is inherent in ressentiment. In order to arise, slave morality always requires first an opposing world, a world outside itself. Psychologically speaking, it needs external stimuli in order to act at all—its action is basically reaction. The reverse is the case with the noble method of valuing: it acts and grows spontaneously. It seeks its opposite only to affirm its own self even more thankfully, with even more rejoicing—its negative concept of “low,” “common,” “bad” is merely a pale contrasting image after the fact in relation to its positive basic concept, thoroughly saturated with life and passion, “We are noble, good, beautiful, and happy!” When the noble way of evaluating makes a mistake and abuses reality, this happens with reference to the sphere which it does not know well enough, indeed, the sphere it has strongly resisted learning the truth about: under certain circumstances it misjudges the sphere it despises, the sphere of the common man, of the low people. On the other hand, even if we assume that the feeling of contempt, of looking down, or of looking superior falsifies the image of the person despised, we should note that such distortion will fall short by a long way of the distortion with which the suppressed hatred and vengeance of the powerless man assaults his opponent—naturally, in effigy. In fact, contempt contains too much negligence, too much lack of concern, too much looking away and impatience mixed in with it, even too much of a personal feeling of joy, for it to be capable of converting its object into a truly distorted image and monster. We should not fail to hear the almost benevolent nuances which, for example, the Greek nobility places in all the words with which it separates itself from the lower people—how a constant form of pity, consideration, and forbearance is mixed in there, sweetening the words, to the point where almost all words referring to the common man finally remain as expressions for “unhappy” and “worthy of pity” (compare δειλός [deilos: cowardly], δείλαιος [delaios: mean, low], πονηρός [poneros: oppressed by toil, wretched], μοχθηρός [mochtheros: suffering, wretched]—the last two basically designating the common man as a slave worker and beast of burden)—and how, on the other hand, for the Greek ear the words “bad,” “low,” and “unhappy” have never stopped echoing a single note, one tone colour, in which “unhappy” predominates. This is the inheritance of the old, nobler, and aristocratic way of evaluating, which does not betray its principles even in contempt. (—Philologists should recall the sense in which οϊζυρος [oizuros: miserable], άνολβος [anolbos: unblessed], τλήμων [tlemon: wretched] δυστυχεῖν [dystychein: unfortunate] and ξυμφορά [xymfora: misfortune] were used). The “well born” simply felt they were “the happy ones”; they did not have to construct their happiness artificially first by looking at their enemies, or in some circumstances to talk themselves into it, (T)to lie to themselves into it (the way all men of ressentiment habitually do). Similarly they knew, as complete men overloaded with power and thus necessarily active, that they must not separate action from happiness—they considered being active necessarily associated with happiness (that’s where the phrase εὖ πράττειν [eu prattein: do well, succeed] derives its origin)—all this is very much the opposite of “happiness” at the level of the powerless and oppressed, those festering with poisonous and hostile feelings, among whom happiness comes out essentially as a narcotic, an anaesthetic, quiet, peace, “Sabbath,” relaxing the soul, and stretching one’s limbs, in short, as something passive. While the noble man lives for himself with trust and candour (γενναῖος [gennaios], meaning “of noble birth,” stresses the nuance “upright” and also probably “naive”), the man of ressentiment is neither upright nor naive, nor honest and direct with himself. His soul squints. His spirit loves hiding places, secret paths, and back doors. Everything furtive attracts him as his world, his security, his refreshment. He understands about remaining silent, not forgetting, waiting, temporarily diminishing himself, humiliating himself. A race of such men of ressentiment will inevitably end up cleverer than any noble race. It will also value cleverness to a completely different extent, that is, as a condition of existence of the utmost importance; whereas, cleverness among noble men easily acquires a delicate aftertaste of luxury and sophistication about it:—here it is simply far less important than the complete functional certainty of the ruling unconscious instincts or even a certain lack of cleverness, something like brave recklessness, whether in the face of danger or of an enemy, or those wildly enthusiastic, sudden fits of anger, love, reverence, thankfulness, and vengeance, by which in all ages noble souls have recognized each other. The ressentiment of the noble man himself, if it comes over him, consumes and exhausts itself in an immediate reaction and therefore does not poison. On the other hand, in countless cases it just does not appear at all; whereas, in the case of all weak and powerless people it is unavoidable. Being unable to take one’s enemies, one’s misfortunes, even one’s bad deeds seriously for any length of time—that is the mark of strong, complete natures, in whom there is a surplus of plastic, creative, healing power, as well as the power to make one forget (a good example for that from the modern world is Mirabeau, who had no memory of the insults and the maliciousness people directed at him and who therefore could not forgive, merely because he—forgot). Such a man with a single shrug simply throws off himself the many worms which eat into other men.(10) Only here is the real “love for one’s enemy” even possible—provided that it is at all possible on earth.—How much respect a noble man already has for his enemies!—and such a respect is already a bridge to love. . . . In fact, he demands his enemy for himself, as his mark of honour. Indeed, he has no enemy other than one in whom there is nothing to despise and a great deal to respect! By contrast, imagine for yourself “the enemy” as a man of ressentiment conceives him—and right here we have his action, his creation: he has conceptualized “the evil enemy,” “the evil one,” as, in fact, a fundamental idea from which he now also thinks his way to a complementary image and counterpart, a “good man”—himself! . . .

  9. dirk says

    This winter season, our National Theater came with an Othello where the race cart was played out again, Shakespeare was rewritten and given another performance, Othello (not a white blackface but a real blackman) did not kill his wife at the end, that was just a “white phantasy”, in the view of the socially more just remake. In the critiques and discussions afterwards, Shakespeare came out as a racist after all. A thorough remake of all the classics is in the making (joke!!).

    • I saw a production of King John with Blanche (Blanc, white) as a black woman. I have trouble suspending disbelief when I see these types of characters.

  10. Sign me up for this guy’s class. Maybe we’ll agree, maybe we won’t, but I think I will come out of it a better thinker.

  11. Alistair says

    To MjW51

    “The assumption (that Parvini makes here) that “there is no universal human nature” is equivalent to an anti-science, anti-biological view of human being is just not warranted. In order to understand the point of denying the metaphysical assumptions lying behind so much of traditional western thought, one must take into account the history of that metaphysics, the way someone like Derrida did, exhaustively and with admirable, tentative care. Parvini has apparently not done so.”

    This is illustrative of the complete Bad Faith shown by Literary Theory and its adherents.

    Claims about “universal human nature” are either true, or not true, for common meanings of the term. The metaphysics and historical origins of them are irrelevant here. It doesn’t matter where they came from; are they true? Address the claim!

    But rather than debate actual knowledge, Literary Theory adherents takes refuge behind a metaphysical defence which degenerates into extreme scepticism or relativism which faults every other position as hopelessly parochial/biased/unsound but which never submits the same questions to its own premises (or those of its political allies, strangely enough).

    We both know the High Priests of Literary Theory are not stupid enough to come straight out and say something like “there is no universal human nature” and risk looking like fools. Instead we get endless dissembling; “Ah well, we’re not denying the possibility of there being one, just that we’re exploring…”. We are presented with endless dissembling about what the terms mean, or epistemological scepticism, or critiques of privileged positions, or plain ad hominem against opponents. And all the time there’s the constant political undercurrent that you think everyone else is too stupid to see.

    It’s infuriating. There’s no seeking after knowledge, or attempt to achieve closure, or even assemble evidence and bound the disagreement. We just have this mad spiral of obscurantism, bad writing, and sophomoric philosophy masquerading as cleverness. Can’t you see that educated people in other disciplines are utterly frustrated by the plain bad faith the whole affair? Can’t you see that those of us with education in other disciplines, (including the really hard ones like maths, logical philosophy and engineering that you can’t understand) are enraged by this shiftless behaviour?

    We just don’t believe you. Crudely put, the whole field is made up to appear (and perhaps feel) clever and get attention and grant cheques. But it’s all unsupported nonsense (anti-scientific, if you will – how many of Literary Theory’s tenets have been tested or falsified?). You’ve wasted your intellectual life.

    • I wonder if you could give an example of a Literary Theory adherent who “takes refuge behind a metaphysical defense”.

      In my experience most critical theory falling under the Pomo Sign takes aim at the metaphysical assumptions underpinning the textual approaches it undermines and, if I dare say, deconstructs them.

      My point, probably not clearly enough expressed, is that there is more than one way of looking at “universal human nature”. Generating a metaphysical account is quite an altogether different thing from a more empirical approach. It is the metaphysical universal that postmodernism tends to deflate, and that is in no way antithetical to either science or reason.

      • You cannot separate science and reason from specific culture.

        For a start the words for it and its meaning: Science, Reason.
        Do they exist in how many cultures/languages?

        How postmodernism deflates when in fact it makes a labyrinth of language attracting precisely metaphysical junkies?

        “that is in no way antithetical to either science or reason.”

        No? Why engineers, doctors and many other empirical persons want nothing with Postmodernism or see the need for it?

      • Alistair says

        “In my experience most critical theory falling under the Pomo Sign takes aim at the metaphysical assumptions underpinning the textual approaches it undermines and, if I dare say, deconstructs them.”

        Firstly, I’m not sure you are using the word “metaphysics” in the accepted sense that it is used in its parent discipline, philosophy. I think you really mean epistemology or ontology. Most PoMo stuff isn’t Kant, and doesn’t have radical metaphysical contentions. Insofar as they do, they are generally positions which have been explored better in general philosophy. (Hint; the fact that PoMo authors don’t turn out work like Kant might indicate their metaphysics ain’t all that great).

        Secondly, PoMo generally (if not exhaustively) falls into the trap of sophomoric scepticism through relative epistemology. “Ah-ha; your claims are based on a local (you horrible cis-genedered male oppressor, you) framing (and therefore untrustworthy). Gasp as we unveil your hidden prejudices and limits behind your (socially conditioned) thought!”

        But of course, PoMo’s own claims to truth are not examined with its own methodology. Because at which point its own techniques might be revealed as the rhetorical device of second-rate minds in academia and the left to gain power and grant cheques. Who benefits from the “readings” it gives? Isn’t it just itself a device of power, like all the others it critiques? Why do all its proponents seem to share the same political background? Hmmm?

        Rather like Marx and Hegel conveniently placed their thought not only at the culmination, but actually above history, PoMo grants itself a “privileged” epistemological space (if you’ll forgive the term)) space that it denies all others. As a logical system it is formally incoherent.

        • Alastair:

          1)Ontology is a branch of metaphysics.
          2)Pomo for the most part rejects any and all metaphysics. Like Hume.
          3)I don’t think you have a clue what folks like Derrida et al have written or said; you’re just parroting the standard Cultural Marxist!!! knicker-twisting.

          So I’ll withdraw now and “knickers away!”

          • Alistair says

            Point 1 is Fair, I was trying to narrow scope of disagreement down.

            Point 2. is also Fair.

            Point 3 doesn’t convince. I’m with the analytics, It’s all nonsense, I’m afraid.

            And nonsense which has been appropriated by some rather vicious real world types; the practical politics of Derrida et al have flowed overwhelmingly to the Left. There’s a point where honest men have to say “Look, maybe there’s some actual value here, but in practise this corpus of thought has become a tool in the hands of evil men”.

            Like Marxism, really; the genuine insights into political economy are swamped by the evil done in its name.

  12. Sylvia Rose-Ann Walker, Ph.D. says

    Mjw51, the assumptions listed in the commentary are perceived by the writer as underpinning the slew of literary theories she identified. You can disagree without resorting to ad hominem vitriol. Her article unwittingly justifies a forthcoming text entitled “The window is open: Caribbean literary theories and perspectives”. Stay tuned.

    • One woman’s vitriol is another man’s blunt speech I suppose.

      The very suggestion that the work of someone like Derrida could be reduced to the silly “white men bad- power everywhere” absurdities in that list is far more “vitriolic” to a sensitive nature such as my own.

  13. dirk says

    The thesis- There is (or there is no) universal human nature- is, in Wittgensteinian, or Popperian sense, a sentence without veracity claim, nonsense. Some sentences (Satze) are true, either not true, others (God has three personalities,is a trinity) are beyond this potential claim. Because ……..you can not define human nature and the concept universal in a human context. At least, that’s how I see it.

    • Techne and nomos are clearly variable, but don’t all groups of humans possess techne and nomos in some form? Don’t all people who don’t suffer extreme cognitive deficits have the same capacity for language, grammar, and reason?

      • dirk says

        Language and grammar (but very variable forms) yes, but reason? That depends! Levi-Strauss’ Wild Thinking is more about myths and symbols than about western reasoning.

        • Ugh! If you take an African baby, an Asian bay, a North American baby, and you raise them in Germany by Germans, they will grow up speaking German. And German is German, some better speakers, some worse.

          Likewise, a logically valid argument is a logically valid in China and Brazil, and a fallacy is a fallacy, and anyone capable of understanding logic understands the same logic.

          • dirk says

            KD, now you are talking about DNA and genetics, about potentials, I wonder whether this is meant in the thesis about a universal human nature. In the very first extensive handbook on anthropology, -Die anthropologie der Naturvolker-, by Theodor Waitz (150 yrs ago), the title was changed soon afterwards in -Die Anthropolgie der Primitieve Volker-, (nature= genetics, primitive=culture)! Waitz already thought that all people had basically the same capabilities, where given the chance and education.

          • I am saying all humans, unless they have significant cognitive impairment, have an innate aptitude for language, making it a universal feature of human societies. Likewise, all human societies have systems of kinship, customs, taboos, art and technology, and more complex societies have laws and bureaucracies. All this indicates a common human nature (not to mention the capacity to breed with each other).

          • The question of what something is can not be distinguished from what something does. For example, a screw driver is a screw driver because it inserts screws. The question of what is a human, or what is the universal human nature, is related to what humans do in distinction to other things.

            This is complex because humans have different languages, customs, taboos, religions, laws, traditions of art, music, letters, etc. They do very different things, so it is harder than looking at ducks. But that does not mean humans don’t do similar things that can be distinguished from other animals, making the notion of a universal human nature sensible, in my mind.

  14. I think saying Literary Theory is analogous to the Christian Doctrine of Original Sin is erroneous.

    Original Sin is universal, and afflicts all people. Matthew 27:25 places collective guilt on the Jews for the slaughter of Christ. This is a form of racialized guilt, not universal.

    If we look at the typography, the “Oppressed People” represent the scapegoat of atonement, sacrificed by the evil “Oppressors”. The “Oppressed” represent the Body of Christ, the Oppressors stand in for the Jews. In times of old, European Christians viewed themselves as the oppressed, persecuted people, and used Matthew 27:25 to justify pogroms and expulsions of Jews. Today, there is some shuffling of categories on political lines, but the same political theology, justifying racial enmity and racial violence.

    Once again, to understand the modern Left, it is necessary to understand Anti-Semitism.

    • dirk says

      Original sin is indeed Christian, although I myself, Christian by birth and baptised, do not feel any universal guilt, because humanism has become too strong, since Enlightenment. But Matthew was not an anti-semite, his mountain sermon was purely Judaic, Moses like, and he also often preached not to do away with the old thora and their laws. But, true, he also warned strongly against the farizeans and law obedience.Therefore, theologians think, that whole Matthew was not written by one and the same person, but by 2 or more persons, end 1th century.

      • Dirk:

        I have no intention of arguing the point about Matthew. The point is how these verses were used by Christians in history, and the isomorphic relationship between Christian “Anti-Semitism” and Literary Theory.

        • dirk says

          O.K., lamentably I am not familiar enough with Literary Theory (no classes done in that stuff) to be able to see isomorphic patterns there, but just read about early Christian movements and interpretations, therefore jumped at Matthew.

    • Elwood says

      Matthew 27:25 Is reporting an event eye. To read anti semitic political intent into it with the hindsight of the 20th century is absurd. It is entirely plausible that the ruling class would have pushed to remove their nemesis. But this does not mean Matthew is placing special guilt on the Jews. It was Rome who was equally complicit in approving. So Gentiles were no less guilty. God “laid on him the iniquity of us all.” There is equality of opportunity for all. When that passage was used to justify anything—it is a perversion of the teachings of Jesus. Jesus is; “King of the Jews.” And “Salvation is of the Jews.” So on and so forth. The sons are not held guilty for the sins of their fathers. The new covenant adds an entirely new dimension of grace. It speaks of christians as being “grafted into” the tree which is the existing covenant between God and the Jews. You don’t graft people into a tree you intend to destroy.

        • This is from Wikipedia:

          St John Chrysostom made the charge of deicide the cornerstone of his theology.[10] He was the first to use the term ‘deicide'[11] and the first Christian preacher to apply the word “deicide” to the Jewish nation.[12][13] He held that for this putative ‘deicide’, there was no expiation, pardon or indulgence possible.[14] The first occurrence of the Latin word deicida occurs in a Latin sermon by Peter Chrysologus.[15][16] In the Latin version he wrote: Iudaeos [invidia] … fecit esse deicidas, i.e., “[Envy] made the Jews deicides”.[17]

          St. John Chrysostom is one of the Fathers of the Christian Church and a critical source of its development in the Ancient and Medieval world. What we are seeing in the academy is the adaption of the Christian concept of “blood curse” into a secular racialist religion, whether the author of Matthew actually meant it that way, and whether Christians should still hew to these doctrines.

  15. Raymond Inauen says

    I though that dogmatism was what we call people with a blind spot, or tunnel vision. The chart is a prefect summary of what has been a constant in human civilization, of every new dogmas that try to explain complex ideas with simplistic ideas based on absolutely no facts. Only beliefs based on ideal, based on personal experiences and personal ideas. Facts don’t care about feelings, but as always feelings seem more important than the hard facts.

  16. mjw51 –
    Your contention that Jordan Peterson hasn’t read Foucault or Derrida is without evidence and contrary to the man’s methods.

    I think you meant to say, “Peterson doesn’t see the beauty and wisdom that’s so obviously there.” Or, “He simply misunderstands the things he’s read.” IOW, “He disagrees with me about some particularly and intentionally obtuse text.”

    In general –
    Given the extensive discussion of human nature, I’m surprised no one mentioned Steven Pinker and _The Blank Slate_.

    • There is no evidence in anything Peterson says about Derrida, Foucault or Marx that he has read any of them.

      That is what I meant to say, thanks.

      For a thorough examination of Peterson’s hilarious mischaracterizations of the “postmodernists” and their contentious to the point of hostile relationships with Marxism of the non-Groucho kind I highly recommend Shuja Haider’s exemplary piece here:

      https://www.viewpointmag.com/2018/01/23/postmodernism-not-take-place-jordan-petersons-12-rules-life/

      • I’ll check that out. OTOH, I’ve found Peterson’s statements on postmodernism to line up well with several others’ analyses. Mischaracterization seems to be widespread.

        Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences
        Pauline Rosenau

        Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science
        Paul R. Gross

        Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science
        Alan Sokal

        Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
        Stephen R. C. Hicks

        Rosenau, in particular, has read very deeply in postmodernist authors and presents – in my characterization – a balanced, thoughtful look.

        • Sokal for one has moderated much of what he had to say way back when the “takedowns of pomo” became rife. I read all the early denunciations of postmodern nihilism and radical relativism and so nothing in those books would either surprise or offend me and little would I likely disagree with.

          I happen to agree 100% that once you take the poststructuralist-deconstructive paradigm outside its adopted home in Eng Lit departments, it becomes noxious.

          I remember many intense debates in the 80s as to whether or not the “postmodern turn” would drive the final nails into the coffin of leftist politics. In my opinion, it has done so. Flabby applications of (mainly) Foucault once he got run through Judith Butler have just about killed serious leftist politics on North American campuses and given us Identity Politics as the perfect “rebel yell” to suit neoliberalism.

          But this article is about Literary Theory, not the ridiculous applications of pomo to science or the social sciences (which have validity problems of their own without any help from Derrida). There are no “truth claims” in literary criticism and anyone looking for them needs to learn what “ficiton” means and where poetry comes from. (Hint: The Muses live there)

          And I feel certain that none of those studies of the pernicious effects of postmodernism in disciplines it has no place infecting develop the argument that one more repetition of “always and beforehand” will dump us all in the gulag or that one more autoethnographic study of flatulence as gender marker will breed a population of Red Guards ready to force dissidents to eat themselves as Peterson does at his worst.

          Peterson sells himself short in his odd rants about postmodernism. He would do better to stick to pointing out the absurdities of PC language policing and the all-round offensive reek of the SJW worldview. He wouldn’t find the roots of either in Derrida and it takes a rage-fueled case of resentiment to go directly from Foucault to the unsubtle whine of “privilege-power-punish punish punish” that Peterson is so skilled at provoking.

          The people that have developed PC orthodoxy and bolstered intersectionality by reference to the greatest hits of pomo are intellectually dishonest or even possibly just not very bright.

          Peterson is and should be better than that.

          • Casper Maree says

            mjw51: I must say, Peterson expressly acknowledges the merit and advantages of a Post Modern approach – but simply says that it can be taken too far and that it IS taken too far by many; I.e. that an infinite number of possible interpretations of something can exist, yes, but only some of them can provide you with a practical or sensible tool to navigate the world. And he also states (rightly in my view) that Post Modernism’s only comfortable nest, politically, to be found ultimately is Marxism.

  17. Pingback: The Stifling Uniformity of Literary Theory - Sovereign Nations

  18. dirk says

    Peterson is a new Saint (for most of us here), not to be attacked, por favor! Saints are beyond that!

    • He’ll be a new martyr soon enough. The God of Social Justice is hungry.

  19. TarsTarkas says

    The reason why Hayek, Scruton, Sowell, et al are unknown to the advocates and acolytes of Social Justice and Critical Theory is simple; they, and all their writings, are wrong and evil. You don’t teach the viewpoints of people who are wrong and evil because they are wrong and evil. Not only that, you must silence them, to ensure that they do not contaminate the minds of the easily misled.

    • dirk says

      There was a time, Tars, that books with strange ideas were gathered and burned ( and sometimes even the people who came with those ideas as well), very effective way to eradicate unwellcome ideas and thoughts. There is progression in society, at least, in general.

  20. Pingback: Gemeinsamkeiten der linken „Radikalen Theorien“ | Alles Evolution

  21. dawkin says

    The scary thing is that Foucault argues that life was better for many people in the medieval ‘dark ages’ than it was after the invention of liberalism. Also Foucalut was already an archivist with an encyclopedic knowledge of the historic examples he refers to. He even makes you question whether Galileo has been accurately portrayed as a prophet of the modern world and a step in the great march of progress. Heaven forbid that anyone should ask such terrible questions. Never mind that the ancient Greeks like Plato invented relativism by questioning prevailing assumptions, because relativism is ‘bad’ children, I said ‘baaaaaaaad’.

    • “Also Foucalut was already an archivist with an encyclopedic knowledge of the historic examples he refers to.”

      Does that encyclopedic knowledge extended to the saying of many negroes slaves in USA XIX Century? Does Foucault defend slavery then? that slavery?

      Or that is a relativist question?

      A Life “is better” is judged by whom? And by what values?

    • Your mom says

      He was also an intellectual charlatan (i.e. “Ship of Fools”) and an avid sexual deviant (i.e. S&M much?) determined to normalize his behavior.

      Lukács would be proud.

      • dirk says

        He also was, to the horror of the modern West, in favour of Ayatollah Khomeiny , and I fear, even for women wearing the chador again. But then, a general outcry in France resulted, but only then! What would he have said of Trumps bombing Syria?

    • Yes, it is scary that a grown man would think life was better in the dark sges. No wonder he supported the revolution in Iran. Putting the clock back hundreds of years was a wet dream for him.

      Also, relativism isn’t ‘questioning prevailing assumptions.’

      If you are a relativist all assumptions, prevailing or otherwise, are equally valid.

  22. David J says

    I recently read somewhere that the social sciences, arts and humanities in central European countries are far less rigidly left-wing, and one is able to discuss and put forward more centrist and conservative views without fear of being derided. Does anyone know if that is true of literary criticism courses there too, in places like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, for example? I get the feeling – but could of course be wrong – that the dominance of the left in academic literary criticism is mainly an Anglo-American phenomenon.

    • dirk says

      David: I really hope that somebody, preferably from the Centre or East, Europe, will react to this question, I myself am also very curious. In the NL, the Anglo Saxon influence dominates all the chairs in Humanities , Theology and Arts, although, a few outlaws try breaching, without much succes, I fear.

  23. Emblem14 says

    Bret Weinstein, formerly of Evergreen, had an interesting formulation. The moral consensus in the West is that racism, sexism, colonialism and other forms of bigoted hierarchies were defining characteristics of our societies’ past, were immoral and unjustified, still exist to lesser degrees or as cultural residues that affect people today, and every decent person is obligated to be aware of these facts and support corrective action/damage mitigation in order for our social reality to match our self-proclaimed ideals of freedom and justice for everyone.

    In the process of a corrective move away from the unjust social structures of both the distant and recent past, the “pendulum” will swing toward some hypothetical equilibrium, where an ideal state of universal “normalcy” would be created and subsequently maintained by people of good faith. This new normal would be free of all of the past’s baggage, through some combination of reform, restitution, compensation and reconciliation, while preserving everything good we already take for granted. Just the baby, no bathwater.

    There are people who want to stop at this equilibrium point – we can call them “liberals”, and there are people who want to keep pushing the pendulum farther, to overcompensate for past unfairness. They want payback with interest, and may also want to restructure society so that the interests they identify with become the primary beneficiaries of a new distribution of power – we can call them “leftists”. (there are also people who want to reinstate and strengthen the old hierarchies – we can call them the reactionary right)

    The problem is, we’re not yet at the equilibrium point, so liberals and leftists are still pushing in the same direction. Therefore, ideological distinctions become muddled and unpopular ultimate goals can be camouflaged by shared proximal goals.

    At key points, one camp will say “that’s enough” and the other will say, “we’re just getting started”. We’ve reached some of these divergences on matters of principle, like the value of free expression.

    The focal point of ideological debate and critique should be at these points of divergence. When is the last time anyone had to defend their ideological premises in explicit terms? We’re constantly fighting proxy battles over instrumental or proximal concerns while core incompatibilities go unaddressed. Debates are had where the parties involved inhabit different moral and conceptual universes but rhetoric is exchanged under the dumb assumption that there is a mutually shared linguistic and moral map that could facilitate persuasion. When foundational motives do come up, the prevalent approach is to indulge in conspiracy theorizing, pathologizing, demonization and dehumanization, instead of any sincere attempt to understand each other. It’s almost as if we don’t really want to honestly confront these fundamental differences because we know there’s no breaking the impasse, and don’t want to face the implications forthrightly.

    In any case, there are a lot of very bad, very unpopular ideas that are camouflaging themselves among a herd of more reasonable propositions, waiting for the right political climate to hijack people’s general support of social change toward ends few would agree with. This has to be challenged on it’s own terms and territory, not through the repetitive partisan fights over proxy issues that amount to little more than virtue signaling to one’s own tribe.

  24. Christopher A Rivera says

    Nietzsche: Morality as a means of seduction.— “Nature is good, for a wise and good God is its cause. Who, then, is responsible for the ‘corruption of mankind’? Its tyrants and seducers, the ruling orders—they must be destroyed”—: Rousseau’s logic (compare Pascal’s logic, which lays the responsibility on original sin). Compare the related logic of Luther. In both cases a pretext is sought to introduce an insatiable thirst for revenge as a moral-religious duty. Hatred for the ruling order seeks to sanctify itself— (the “sinfulness of Israel”: foundation of the power of the priest). Compare the related logic of Paul. It is always God’s cause in which these reactions come forth, the cause of right, of humanity, etc. In the case of Christ, the rejoicing of the people appears as the cause of his execution; an anti-priestly movement from the first. Even in the case of the anti-Semites it is still the same artifice: to visit condemnatory judgments upon one’s opponent and to reserve to oneself the role of retributive justice.

  25. mjw51
    “I happen to agree 100% that once you take the poststructuralist-deconstructive paradigm outside its adopted home in Eng Lit departments, it becomes noxious.”

    Isn’t that precisely what Jordan Petersen is arguing?

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