Author: Uri Harris

“White Women Tears”—Critical Theory on Lindsay Shepherd

Two weeks ago, I analysed an incident at Wilfrid Laurier University, where teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd was reprimanded for playing a video clip from a televised debate on the compelled use of gender pronouns, and I connected it to the influence of Critical Theory in academia. Last week, I defended Jordan B. Peterson—a Canadian psychology professor who was part of the debate Shepherd played and who became a central figure in the Laurier media coverage—against criticism that he’s a far-right ideologue who misunderstands what he’s criticising. In this article, the final one in the series, I examine what I perceive to be two important flaws in Critical Theory, and show that understanding these flaws helps make sense of the seemingly inexplicable reactions to the Laurier incident by some students and faculty. *    *    * As I mentioned in the first article, Critical Theory is a methodology developed by a group of Marxian social scientists during the early-to-mid 20th century, motivated by the belief that traditional scientific methodology—which concerns itself with describing, explaining, and …

In Defence of Jordan B. Peterson

A few days ago, Canadian author and English professor Ira Wells published an essay expressing concern about popular Canadian psychology professor and social critic Jordan B. Peterson. The essay was written in the wake of an incident at Canadian university Wilfred Laurier, where a teaching assistant was reprimanded for playing a short clip of a televised Peterson debate over the compelled use of gender pronouns. (I analysed the incident in Quillette last week.) Regrettably, Wells’s essay is littered with inaccuracies and casual insults, accompanied by a moralistic undertone that is sure to turn off Peterson’s supporters, and perhaps even neutral observers. Nevertheless, I think he succeeds in condensing many of the common criticisms of Peterson, which makes the essay worth responding to as the foundation for a genuine debate of these issues. I suggest reading it if you haven’t already done so. Wells’s main criticisms, as I understand them, are as follows: Peterson is celebrated in the news media as a champion of free speech and liberal, democratic values, while in fact promoting a far-right …

Wilfrid Laurier and the Creep of Critical Theory

The social justice movement is known for routinely staging demonstrations, shouting down (and shutting down) speakers, and issuing demands. More significantly, however, its ideas and terminology have become part of the fabric of university culture. As psychologist Jonathan Haidt said in an interview earlier this year: This is all so new. There’s been, I believe, a kind of a moral revolution, a new moral culture emerging on campus but it really is only in the last two years. If any of your viewers graduated from college in 2013, they probably haven’t seen it. … [I]t’s organized around victims of oppression, it’s a vertical metaphor of privileged and oppressor people, and victims. This idea that everything is power. To make way for this moral revolution, values that historically have defined secular universities are increasingly being swept aside. The most recent example is perhaps the most chilling. Lindsay Shepherd, a young teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada, was reprimanded for screening a five-minute clip from a televised debate on public education channel TVOntario between …

Are the Social Sciences Undergoing a Purity Spiral?

A couple of years ago, six social scientists published a paper describing a disquieting occurrence in academic psychology: the loss of almost all its political diversity. As Jonathan Haidt, one of the authors of the paper, wrote in a commentary: Before the 1990s, academic psychology only LEANED left. Liberals and Democrats outnumbered Conservatives and Republican by 4 to 1 or less. But as the “greatest generation” retired in the 1990s and was replaced by baby boomers, the ratio skyrocketed to something more like 12 to 1. In just 20 years. Few psychologists realize just how quickly or completely the field has become a political monoculture. While the paper focuses on psychology, it briefly mentions that the rest of the social sciences are not far behind: [R]ecent surveys find that 58–66 per cent of social science professors in the United States identify as liberals, while only 5–8 per cent identify as conservatives, and that self-identified Democrats outnumber Republicans by ratios of at least 8 to 1 (Gross & Simmons 2007; Klein & Stern 2009; Rothman & …

Donald Trump and the Failure of Mainstream Social Science Part III

I published an article on Sunday where I argued that mainstream social science is pervaded by ideology and that this blocks good scientific methodology. I attempted to demonstrate this yesterday with a concrete example. Today, as the final part in the series, I suggest some methodological changes. First, let me briefly restate what I consider the core problem: prevalent use of morally charged terminology in the social sciences that serves to enforce an underlying ideology. Examples include terms like progressive, xenophobia, and authoritarian. Why does this terminology exist? The answer, I suggest, is that throughout Western society over the past couple of centuries, values have consistently shifted in a particular direction, and this has led social scientists to consider the trend universal. This leads to a conception of values as having a temporal direction. Some values are of the past, and some are of the future, and the more one travels in either direction the more pronounced this becomes. Which is reflected in the use of morally charged terminology. Values that are considered of the …

Donald Trump and the Failure of Mainstream Social Science Part II

I published an article Sunday where I argued that mainstream social science is pervaded by ideology and that this blocks good scientific methodology. In this article, I cover a concrete example that is relatively recent and available online, a paper titled Trump, Brexit, and the Rise of Populism: Economic Have-Nots and Cultural Backlash. Published in August 2016, the paper’s authors are Ronald F. Inglehart of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arber and Pippa Norris, McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. It’s part of the Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Research Working Paper Series. Harvard is one of the world’s most prestigious public policy universities, and Norris is one of the world’s most cited political scientists. The paper’s objective is to identify the main cause of the rise in support for ‘populist’ parties that have disrupted politics in many Western societies. Two causes are considered: economic disaffection and cultural disaffection. The paper examines each cause by connecting them to different demographics through hypothesis …

Donald Trump and the Failure of Mainstream Social Science

Donald Trump’s victory in the recent US presidential election was a shock to many people. Polls, media pundits, even political insiders almost universally predicted that Hillary Clinton would win comfortably. In the aftermath, there will surely be questions about why they misjudged the situation so badly. I would argue, though, that the problem runs much deeper. The occurrence of a very similar situation in the United Kingdom a few months earlier suggests that this is not just a polling flaw, nor is it just a group of pundits misreading a single event. The underlying problem, I propose, is in the social sciences. These are the institutions expected to study human behaviour scientifically, and whose theories are spread to the rest of society. Yet many social scientists have quite openly voiced surprise and perplexity at both the Trump and Brexit events, often supporting their statements with proclamations of immorality directed at the voters. There’s something disturbingly unscientific about this, in my opinion. Imagine a group of physicists responding to an event they are unable to explain …