Education, Genetics, Top Stories

Narrow Roads of Bozo Land: How We Came to Be Governed by Online Mobs

We all know the routine: an academic publishes some data that are incompatible with left-wing ideology, or maybe even just makes a non-PC joke, as in the case of the Nobel laureate Tim Hunt. They are then targeted by an online mob, the university administrators side with the mob and the thought-criminal is duly defenestrated. The firing of James Damore shows that a similar routine operates in tech giants such as Google.

It’s not the first time intellectuals have enforced extreme left-wing views — just think of the U.S.S.R. during Stalin’s reign. But one can at least understand such behavior because failure to implement political correctness on campus in 1930s Russia would lead to a 4 a.m. date in the Kurapaty forest with a leather-aproned N.K.V.D. executioner.

But the situation is different in today’s universities, tech giants and government departments – the administrators aren’t going to be executed if they ignore a cis-heteronormative microaggression by one of their employees and the demands for PC enforcement aren’t coming from a paranoid tyrant and his pistol-wielding henchmen. Instead, our new overlords are a bunch of pudgy, blue-haired manimals who can barely wash themselves, let alone dig a mass grave in the Siberian permafrost. As Toby Young pointed out following his purging from public office, this crowdsourced form of orthodoxy enforcement is a new thing and, considering it has no legal standing, a puzzling thing.

It’s true that academics tend to lean left, especially in the social sciences and humanities. And judging from the recently leaked video showing Google staff lamenting Trump’s election victory in 2016, a similar bias exists there too. But that’s no explanation because leaning left is not the same thing as trying to destroy the careers of those who don’t share your beliefs, just because “some people from the internet” say you should.

Governance-by-online-mob raises all sorts of questions, such as how many members does such a mob need to contain before it must be obeyed? What qualifications are required to wield such awesome power? How does the mob decide which opinions are correct? But the big mystery is how have organizations that were once the bastions of bold, visionary thinking been converted into dens of timid, conformist souls who are ruled by the fickle wind of social media opinion? In academia the proximal cause is obviously commercialization.

But this doesn’t tell us what has caused commercialization in the first place. One possibility is what’s known in Silicon Valley parlance as a “bozo explosion.” This occurs when a relatively small, visionary business enters a phase of rapid expansion. The larger it becomes, the more promotion depends upon corporate box-ticking rather than good ideas. Since visionaries are less suited to this than implementers (the so-called bozos), they tend to be outcompeted in the struggle for corporate power as the business grows. And because implementers don’t have the vision to tell a good product from a bad one, the business usually goes belly up once they are in control.

But there is a twist in this tale because implementers are in many ways the heroes and heroines of our world. They are the doctors and nurses who calmly and conscientiously perform the medical procedures that keep us alive. They are the lawyers whose attention to legal detail saves us from wrongful conviction. They are the engineers whose meticulous, error-free calculations hold up the bridges we drive over and the planes we fly in. They are the farmers who reliably grow our food, the truckers who deliver it and the supermarket workers who sell it to us so efficiently. In short, the implementer personality is key to making the world go around. But it’s not the whole story because there is one skill which implementers tend not to have — seeing the big picture. Visionaries may be moody, obsessive loners but without them to provide a good idea in the first place, implementers end up working diligently to implement a faulty vision, like clockwork toys set off in the wrong direction.

Our modern, developed world of air travel, antibiotics and smartphones is therefore the product of a delicately balanced tango between visionaries and implementers. But the visionary/implementer tango is not a partnership of equals: for a successful outcome, implementers must be subordinate to visionaries. The importance of that hierarchy is illustrated by the footage of John Lennon fending off a barrage of bad ideas from his entourage during the recording of ‘Imagine.’ Luckily for us listeners Lennon not only had the vision to compose the song, he also had the corporate status to overrule bad ideas, allowing his minimalist utopian masterpiece to make it safely onto record without being thrown off course.

When a visionary loses the power to make the key decisions that delicate balance is lost, with disastrous consequences for the quality of the product and, ultimately, the organisation. This famously happened at Apple between 1985 and 1997 when Steve Jobs was temporarily ousted. But perhaps the most extreme example of an implementer-takeover lies not in Silicon Valley, nor in a national government, but in U.K. universities. These institutions are bankrolled by the tax payer but are not subject to elections and hence are immune to the self-correcting tendency for implementer-dominated entities to go bust or, in the case of governments, get voted out. As a result, we are still feeling the effects of a bozo explosion initiated by the huge expansion of U.K. universities in the 1960s.

The atmosphere of this period was captured by the evolutionary biologist Bill Hamilton in the first volume of his autobiography Narrow Roads of Gene Land when he described getting his first academic job in 1964:

I had applied for a lectureship advertised in genetics at Imperial College, University of London, and, by standards of academic jobs today, obtained the post with ridiculous ease. All my appointment had needed was an application letter and an interview by Professor O. W. Richards, the then head of the Department of Zoology and Applied Entomology. Richards introduced me to two or three of his colleagues, who I suppose were asked their opinions about me, but there was no committee and nothing remotely resembling a job seminar. I had no PhD and no thesis; I did have two published papers and Richards had read the long one. Universities were expanding and jobs for academics almost fell from the trees. I learned much later that for my job there had been only one other applicant, that he was offered it and he declined.

This was a departure from the norm in British universities, which had until then been relatively small, elite organizations that tended to promote on the basis of intellectual excellence rather than corporate box-ticking — a bit like Apple in the early days. For example, Isaac Newton’s moody, abrasive personality made him unpopular with undergraduates, to the extent that they boycotted his lectures (he usually spoke to “Ye bare walls” as a colleague described it). Nevertheless, Newton’s genius outweighed his interpersonal problems and the University of Cambridge appointed him Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at 26.

But by the 1970s British universities had become a hostile place for a socially awkward genius, as Bill Hamilton found out. His personality was different to Newton’s — he was a shy, mild-mannered soul – but it was still a barrier to acceptance by undergraduates as his gentle, dreamy style of delivery was unsuited to capturing the attention of bored teenagers in large lecture theaters. Moreover, Hamilton’s integrity prevented him dumbing down his lecture content to in the hope of boosting his popularity. In earlier, less corporate eras, Hamilton’s scientific genius would have trumped his lackluster teaching performance, as it did with Newton. But not at 1970s Imperial College and as a result Hamilton was passed over for promotion each year, remaining stuck on the same low-paid, entry-level rank to which he was appointed in 1964.

In 1976 things came to a head when Hamilton returned from a research trip to Brazil to find that he was once again being passed over for promotion. This decision was particularly upsetting because 1976 saw the publication of Richard Dawkins’s international bestseller The Selfish Gene, which showcased Hamilton’s work and cemented his public status as a genius. Hamilton was a modest man, but this book made it obvious even to him that he was a scientific superstar who should be recognized as such by Imperial College. Moreover, Hamilton’s desire for a professorship was not just ego-driven because he had a growing family to provide for and needed the pay rise that a chair would bring.

Imperial College refused to budge — in their opinion his scientific genius was insufficient to compensate for his low scores on their teaching performance metrics and that was that. Hamilton immediately sent out feelers for jobs in the USA and was snapped up by the University of Michigan which in 1977 appointed him professor at the Museum of Zoology. As his fellow biologist (and sometime rival) John Maynard Smith lamented, Hamilton was “the only bloody genius we’ve got and we didn’t look after him.”

The Imperial College implementers who ousted Bill Hamilton have joined him in the big faculty lounge in the sky, but their corporate progeny are still around and things have only got worse. A recent illustration of this is the implementation of unconscious bias training across U.K. higher education. The big picture problem with this decision is that research shows unconscious bias training is invalid. Yet it is a useful gesture for corporate advancement and so university administrators are busily implementing it, like the proverbial clockwork toys.

Another product of the implementer-takeover of academia is grade inflation. Anyone with a big-picture perspective can see that grade inflation is a bad thing as it cheats the tax payer and hurts the economy. But it looks good from a short-term corporate perspective because it creates the illusion that standards in universities are improving. And so implementers have got busy implementing it. As a result, the proportion of U.K. students awarded a first-class degree has quadrupled since the mid-1990s and, even at the University of Cambridge, awards of first-class degrees have more than doubled from 10 percent to 24 percent from 1960 to 2014. The damaging effects of grade inflation on the economy were exposed in the 2018 O.E.C.D. report on standards in U.K. higher education, which found that 70 percent of British graduates fail to pay back their student loans after 30 years, primarily because they lack the basic maths and literacy skills to obtain a sufficiently well-paid job. Andreas Schleicher, the O.E.C.D.’s Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills, remarked: “They don’t have the maths and English needed for a graduate job. The lack of numeracy skills is pretty basic, I’m not talking about someone doing advanced analysis. You ask yourself how someone could leave the school system without these skills, let alone getting in to and even out of university.”

But the really interesting thing about these examples is that there is no online mob of extreme left-wingers calling for grade inflation just like there is no mob calling for or unconscious bias training to be implemented or, back in the 1970s, for Bill Hamilton to be passed over for promotion. This presents a more subtle and nuanced perspective, which suggests that governance-by-online-mobs is a symptom of something deeper than the mere commercialization of academia — that deeper thing is, I believe, implementers trying to do the job of visionaries.

As we have seen implementers in many cases are well-meaning people, but they can’t see the big picture, hence they favor the short-term small payoff rather than the long-term large payoff. I believe that it is this quirk of the implementer personality that causes them to obey online outrage mobs, implement unconscious bias training, enforce grade inflation, oust geniuses, and so on. If implementers could see the big picture, they would see that their decisions are hindering societal progress. But that takes vision and implementers don’t have it. Unless we find a way to reset the visionary/implementer balance in our institutions we will — with apologies to Bill Hamilton — remain confined to the narrow roads of bozo land.

 

Adam Perkins is a Lecturer in the Neurobiology of Personality at Kings College London. Follow him on Twitter @AdamPerkinsPhD.

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34 Comments

  1. Jack B Nimble says

    W. D. Hamilton is a complex figure in evolutionary biology–totally brilliant, author of several important papers, and personally and intellectually fearless. His death at age 63 from medical complications was a huge loss to science.

    Yet he only graduated 2 PhD students over a 20+ year academic career [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._D._Hamilton]. That low number usually suggests someone who is distant or uninvolved in graduate education; Bill Hamilton’s career was research-oriented, and he let formal classes take care of themselves [see above link]. British and American universities would do well to create safe harbors for such individuals! An appropriate model would be the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ.

    I recommend Marek Kohn’s book [ https://books.google.com/books/about/A_Reason_for_Everything.html?id=YGCQHAAACAAJ ] if you want to locate Bill Hamilton in the competitive British natural history & evolutionary biology tradition. AR Wallace, RA Fisher, JBS Haldane, Hamilton, JM Smith and R. Dawkins are all there.

    • Alistair says

      Jack: Agreed. The “All must Teach” requirement is madness.

  2. tarstarkas says

    The article is disjointed. It switched from discussion of social mobbing and its effects to commenting on visionaries versus implementers in enterprises and academia to a defense of Dr. Hamilton. In effect three different articles mashed up into one. It would have been better if Mr. Perkins had stuck to one topic and expanded on it.

    • I.P. Andressen says

      At the risk of speaking for the author: my understanding was the single topic for which you quest and which runs through the three areas of discussion is “the failure of implementer hegemony in organizations.”

      Implementer hegemony causes mob rule; it holds back the really capable “visionary”; and it ends up eviscerating organizations, because organizations without big-picture vision to guide them end up implementing inanity or insanity.

      The reduction is a fascinating way to look at organizations. The questions I have run to (1) what can we do with this reduction (or is it just an intriguing thought landscape)? And (2) what is the nature of the visionary-implementer “balance”? It would seem complex adaptive, and that raises some really intriguing questions about the dynamics of human organizations.

      Thanks for the insight!

  3. “In academia the proximal cause is obviously commercialization.”

    It is not obvious to me. Kings College or the University of Cambridge can hardly be said to be more commercialized than Tescos, BP or Burger King, but they seem to be a lot more influenced by this nonsense. That suggests to me that the real difference is that we have a better idea of what a successful supermarket looks like, than what a successful university looks like. That makes it harder for managers to hide their failures (and their rivals successes) beneath politically correct waffle.

    Likewise, this problem seems to be greater in the humanities and the social sciences than in the hard sciences. Again, I do not believe that Departments of English Literature are more commercialised than Departments of Engineering, but it is a lot easier to tell if the products of the Department of Engineering actually work, and if their theories are actually true.

    So I suspect that part of the problem is that the humanities and social sciences have been conducted with less objectivity and rigour than the physical sciences or mathematics.

    The other half of academia is teaching. Again, there is a lack of clarity. If I want to know which school is the best in England, I can go to this website: https://www.compare-school-performance.service.gov.uk/

    It will tell me that the school with the best exam results is a selective school called The Henrietta Barnett School. It has the best GCSE results in the country, according to the Attainment 8 metric. Of course, if I want to find the best school, rather than the smartest pupils, I should probably look for the Progress 8 metric, which compares the students exam results when they leave secondary school with their SAT scores when they started it. So the best secondary school in England is Tauheedul Islam Girls’ High School.

    But which university is best at educating its students? Students at different universities sit different exams, which are not comparable, or at least not compared, so there is simply no way of telling. A GCSE grade 9 from any school in the country means exactly the same thing as a GCSE grade 9 from any other school. A first class degree from a university, on the other hand, means only whatever that university wants it to mean, and they don’t even have to tell anyone else what that is.

    It is no wonder academia shows signs of corruption and failure, when we have no way of telling if half its research means anything, or if any of its education is worth the years spent on it.

    • Someone says

      I have studied both engineering and humanities and I have the same feeling. It is not about commercialization.

      In engineering some of my friends struggled with calculus but they understood that they should know about it even if they could not use all that knowleage as they should (computer eng., no bridge is gonna shutter).

      In humanities, when faced to a more logical and precise subject, I have seen people complain and feel entitled to be ignorant. They dont have interest in it because they think it is useless for them, yet they are prone to fallacius arguments.

      When talking about this with a PhD student from comp. eng. he reduced to: “the good thing about not knowing about something is that you can say everything about it”.

      And it is a pitty. Best humanities profs I had teaching cualitative analisys knew that is something that must be treated with caution and that there is much bullshit being produced. It is a pitty because while they want to teach something that they think it is valuable they know that there is so many laughdable cualitative investigation going on.

  4. Problem is that you actually are quite a bit of a racist.

    It is quite something how “Toby Young” in particular has given you a voice.

    • Innominata says

      So I have questions:

      Why is Toby Young in quotes? I took you to mean he’s not a real person. And yet I’ve received emails from him. I’m suddenly concerned I’m being hoodwinked.

      What is your understanding of “racist”? Is it “someone who races”? The word gets used a lot of ways these days…

      What something is it quite?

      Cheers.

  5. Interesting article, thanks.
    However, you misunderstand the idea of a “bozo explosion” and have created a false distinction between visionary and implementer.
    The actual idea of a bozo explosion is not that implementers will choke an organization like kudzu; rather, it’s simply that A players will hire A players to help themselves (and the org) excel, but B players will hire C players so they can more easily manage and control them, and Cs will hire Ds, and on you go down the line until the organization collapses under the weight of its bozo-ness.
    There is no inherent connection between a “bozo” and an implementer. In business (which is my area, I can’t comment on academia…) the value of the visionary is often overvalued, and the value of the implementer is often undervalued. Ultimately the most visionary strategy will fail miserably if poorly implemented (eg Apple was not the first to come up with touchscreen smartphone tech), but even a mediocre strategy can sustain if flawlessly executed. If you build a team with great “implementers” with an apolitical, positive culture aligned around the institution’s stated vision, you should generally have a pretty decent, sustainable outcome.
    If you build a team of petty, zero-sum, politically motivated order-takers (which may be a subset of, but not in any way a synonym for, implementers) then you will lead to highly suboptimal outcomes. In a commercial enterprise (at least in a non-corrupt system; this is a separate, challenging and broader discussion to have!) you have the mechanisms for failure and renewal, but in a public enterprise such as academia it becomes more difficult because there’s a much more tenuous link between real institutional value and their ability to sustain themselves economically over time.

  6. Christian says

    A compelling article up until the part where he inexplicably tries to argue that “Imagine” is a great song…

  7. Aylwin says

    “And judging from the recently leaked video showing Google staff lamenting Trump’s election victory in 2016, a similar bias exists there too.” What? You’re an academic, yet you infer a huge generalisation from one correlation that is much more readily explained by the obvious fact of Trump being a self-serving, egotistical buffoon without a hint of credentials that are required to be POTUS. Perhaps you’re a product of the the debasement of academia you lament.

    • Better than the election of the rape collaborator war criminal who said she was “sick and tired” of hearing about her passing state secrets to hostile powers.

      To be fair, she does always look sick, and tired.

    • petros says

      “…the obvious fact of Trump being a self-serving, egotistical buffoon without a hint of credentials that are required to be POTUS. Perhaps you’re a product of the the debasement of academia you lament.”

      *Settles in with popcorn to enjoy what promises to be yet another a thoughtful and productive internet discussion among intellectual giants*

  8. Charlie says

    Anthony Sampson explains some of the problems in his book “Changing Anatomy of Britain”. The massive expansion of universities in the 1960s was largely due to expansion of humanities departments and by 1980s, Vice Chancellors had realised they appointed duds. York, East Anglia, Sussex, Essex ,Kent, Keel, had few engineering departments . Also from the 1960s, polys which had been vocational started to create humanities departments. Many of the comprehensive schools allowed pupils to take only two and not three A Levels. Also many comprehensives ( especially former secondary modern ) lacked staff to teach S Level/Oxbridge exams. Many grammar/public schools had their pupils take A levels in the Lower Sixth and the Upper Sixth was first year degree standard but this requires staff from top universities who have masters or doctorates.

    Consequently, the expansion of new universities and polys offering humanities degrees meant their was at least a two or not three tier university system. Someone who was awarded a First in Greats had probably started Latin at years of age and Greek at 9-10 years of age. Yet one could enter a polytechnic two read a humanities subject with two grade E’s at a level.

    The O levels and former High School certificates had high standards in French such that someone could work/live in France for 3 months and could become fluent enough o hold down a job. Those with French and Latin could easily learn Spanish, Italian, etc, etc.

    Combining CSEs and O Levels has meant that pupils are at least 1 year behind. Many bright pupils tool O level Math which included Calculus a year or two years early at the age of 14 – 15 years of age. This meant the first two years of the Cambridge /Imperial degree was equal to a degree and a third year was masters. This meant people could complete doctorates(without a masters ) in 2- 2.5 years and have been awarded them by the age of 22;, for. example William Penney, Rector of IC. I knew someone who had undertaken 8 months of doctoral work by the time he had completed his undergraduate degree at Imperial. Huxley, winner of the Nobel Prize in the 1950s, said the British approach enabled bright people to reach academic standards several years ahead of American and Continental scientists; which saves money for those studying.

    By taking separate a Levels in Pure and Applied Maths or Maths followed by Further Maths and taking Scholarship level papers in these subjects it allowed exceptionally high levels of maths knowledge to be obtained by the age of 17 or 18 years. One could also take separate A levels in Botany and Zoology. Those who had done well at Polys could attend a top university in the second year. These engineers were often very good as they had very broad practical experience and good academic ability. I have textbooks which says the content covers A level and first year of poly degree.

    Prior to the early 1960s many people entered work at 16 years of age and studied at polys in the evening to become architects, lawyers, accountants, surveyors, engineers, chemists by either taking U of London External Degree of the Part 1( HND) and Part 2( Degree ) of the various professional bodies. The part 2 exam of the Inst of Mech Eng’ was considered tougher than a degree as s people such as the Chief Engineer of Rolls Royce was part of the examination process. Engineers who undertook study by evening study include Mitchell, -Spitfire, Chadwick Lancaster , De Havilland – Mosquito and B Wallis- Wellington Bouncing Bomb, etc.

    The above system was cheap for the student. Most professions could be entered with A levels and some with O Levels.

    So why change?, Cui bono ? as Cicero would say? Basically , the primary beneficiaries of the expansion of the humanities and A levels have been those who were not able to obtain positions at top universities and schools. If we returned to standards required for A Level and university entry of pre mid 1960s, probably 75% of staff in the humanities would be sacked. Education has become a Ponzi Scheme for many children where they do not receive accurate guidance from teachers and parents:those from non-professional families are hit the hardest. If parents are wealthy, they can the debts off but this is not possible for the vast majority.

    To teach Oxbridge entrance level in Greek, Latin, French, German, English, History is beyond most of the teachers at comprehensives. If one looks at Heads of top public and Grammar Schools the ideal person had a First and Blue from Oxbridge. The problem is that there not enough people of this high calibre for every school. Maths departments at Cambridge, Imperial ,Warwick , etc, now require STEP in Maths and many school are now undertaking Cambridge Pre U- rather than A levels, which are probably beyond many comprehensive teachers.

    The Roman Catholic Church was better at promoting academic ability than many comprehensives, especially those which were not former grammar schools. Wolsey was a butcher’s son.

  9. Torin McCabe says

    Laws, courts, and police were created to move society away from mob justice. I think we should look into online courts that would allow a distinction between our current news (opinion) and accepted news we can trust since it goes through a legal process (rules, argumentation, impartial judgment, proportional punishment).

  10. Jonny Sclerosis says

    Lennon’s Imagine sessions were not as you describe. In the film ‘Gimme Some Truth’ he is seen taking counsel from Yoko Ono during the recording of ‘How Do You Sleep?’ Ono keeps whispering instructions to him, which Lennon relays to the band. The gist of her advice is “Don’t play so much… keep it spare” – which is exactly how the record ends up and is all the better for it. Perhaps she is at the top of that particular hierarchy, but Lennon was generally a collaborative worker in the studio, so he is not a good example of the omnipotent, visionary dictator. McCartney or Brian Wilson would have been a better example.

  11. I agree with most of the article but must take issue with this assertion: “70 percent of British graduates fail to pay back their student loans after 30 years, primarily because they lack the basic maths and literacy skills to obtain a sufficiently well-paid job”

    That is nonsense.

    The reason UK grads don’t pay back their loans is simple: They dont’ have to. Nothing happens to them if they don’t. I know this because my kids were in the system and it was common ‘wisdom’ amongst students to not pay back anything at all.

    When you incentivize not repaying a loan, then people won’t repay a loan. Period.

  12. orionblastar says

    Groupthink is the standard choice of mobs. Mostly political affinity groups them together.

  13. Clarence Lawton says

    Again, “The Left” is mentioned as a cause of the many problems in modern society. But then, the article describes a problem in which universities, mainly, actually are being shaped by market forces (universities compete for students, as they are to a large degree dependent on student fees).

    Two more related points about the disastrous “Conservative” policies in regard to UK higher education:

    1) The current UK university system in which many of the former vocational institutions (“polytechnics”) became universities in 1992 was a right wing “Conservative” decision. This is partially related to the problems in the article (because they make it harder to distinguish between pure research-based institutions and teaching oriented institutions — they are all under the same pressures)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Further_and_Higher_Education_Act_1992

    2) Universities are subject to market forces, and this has become a lot worse under the UKs right wing (Conservative) governments that have been in power since 2010. The latter also have shrunk research funding considerably.

    • Charlie says

      The Dept of Education and most academics were left wing since 1945. The reality is that in many departments, the politicians have no control or interest in what is happening. Most politicians and especially conservative ones do not send their children to inner city comprehensives so do not know what is happening at the chalk face.

      Britain has gone from a aristocratic right wing contempt for trade and technology to a left wing middle class arts graduate public sector one. Thatcher read chemistry at Oxford and became a barrister. It is difficult for someone like her to appreciate that one could read at humanities degree at a poly with 2 E grade A levels when the Oxford Entrance papers in Greek and Latin were so high..

      in the UK, pre 1914 universities were private institutions and received no money from government. Since 1945, universities have been funded by government and those running humanities departments have done it for their benefit. Where Nobel prizes can be won in science or where scientific research is undertaken for external bodies, there is a significant amount of third party validation. Who judges the quality of the output from a humanities department- it is inherently subjective. Where a humanities academic can point to works translated into English, there is a high degree of objectivity in assessing performance.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilbert_Murray

      The lower the entry standards, the more students and the more academics employed. The less work set by academics, the less marking they have to do. Compare the work load between someone reading Greats at Oxford and a humanities degree at ex poly. The academic at the ex- poly has a far lighter workload.

  14. Rivers says

    I agree with one of the first commenters that the article is incoherent. Remind me: what happened to mob rule? Visionaries and implementers? Sure, there must be problems in higher education today. That much is clear. This article might be playing to my biases, but it doesn’t give much substance.

  15. X. Citoyen says

    Whatever defects this piece has, the author is on the right track. The big story is not the mobs; there have always been mobs. The big story is why mobs that would’ve been dismissed in paper form or pepper-sprayed in physical form now receive instant and total compliance with their whims from the very same institutions. That needs explaining.

  16. Adam Perkins says

    Thanks Citoyen, yes mobs are nothing new. What’s weird is the way that modern institutions bend over backwards to obey them. I’d be fascinated to hear alternative explanations to mine.

  17. Hey, I was promised this article would be about genetics?

    “It’s not the first time intellectuals have enforced extreme left-wing views — just think of the U.S.S.R. during Stalin’s reign.”

    …And we’re going 0-to-100 straight for the Stalin comparisons. Okay, have fun kids.

  18. Pingback: How We Came to Be Governed by Online Mobs – The winds are changing

  19. The idea that “visionaries” would resist is belied by Sergey Brin at the Google all-hands meeting right after the 2016 election, among plenty of other examples. And, if you think the decision to fire Damore was just some middle manager operating in a vacuum, wow are you on another planet.

    How about the college administrators (and much of the tech company hierarchies in “new tech”) basically agree with the totalitarian impulses of the children, and that “popular” support combine with Twitter and their positions in the hierarchy to give them the rationale and power to do what they always wanted to do–stamp out any opposition.

    Long before the current campus insanity started ca. 2013-14, even before Twitter existed, Ralph Peters wrote that “Inside the breast of the social sciences chair beats the heart of a commissar.” This tendency has been their for a LONG time, what is new is that it has now been enabled.

    Cross that with Haidt and Lukianoff’s “Coddling” theory as to why the children are now against free speech and you don’t have to stretch to explain it all. The kids throw a tantrum, a Twitter mob is organized, and the administrators do what they wanted to do for years, shut down the opposition,” and have cover if any pesky trustees ask questions.

    It would help to be clear that there are “liberals” and there are “leftists.” The former placed some value on freedom, and I use the past tense advisedly because they are a dying (off) breed. Leftists want ideological victory. Period.

    And you sell the “implementers” short–why do you think they are stupid? They are NOT stupid and they know exactly what they are doing. To write that they don’t is at the same level as the wives of NKVD victims writing to Stalin during the Great Terror, on behalf of their unfairly arrested husbands.

    This is a war but only one side is fighting.

  20. Adam Perkins says

    Thanks MHJ – yes, you make some excellent points. Some visionaries are indeed left wing – for example, George Orwell fought on the side of the left in Spanish Civil War. As are some implementers, hence it is like a dream come true for them when a Twitter mob gives them the excuse to purge non-left wingers from their organisation. My point is that not all are, yet we still have left-wing enforcement across the board. So that means non-leftie implementers in universities, Google etc. must be going along with these left-wing purges for reasons other than sincere ideological belief. I suggest short term gains for their career. What do you suggest?

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