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Objectivity Has a Poor Reputation in the Humanities, and Universities are Paying for it

A lot of the so-called ‘social justice warrior’ rhetoric that alienates people on both the left and right (concepts like cultural appropriation, microaggressions, etc.) comes directly from academia. News stories about hypersensitive students acting ridiculous are typically interpreted as a reflection of millennial attitudes. However, the type of students who show up in these news stories are taught these concepts in a matter-of-fact manner by the same departments who publish papers on topics of social justice. That’s fine, that’s how university works, but the issue is that the academic quality of a lot of humanities papers is incredibly poor.

It’s natural that there is a lesser standard of proof in academic writing about social issues (i.e. not every claim can be supported by statistically significant data), but under normal circumstances the ideological diversity of the field would keep everyone from making claims that are too outlandish. However, there is no longer any ideological diversity present in humanities departments across the US and Canada. In history, for example, democrats outnumber Republicans by a factor of 34 to 1. Numbers like these are consistent across other humanities and even some social sciences. These fields are political in nature, which has led to a situation where papers are evaluated based on ideology, not merit, and inevitably resulted in a significant decline in the integrity of the field.

When I first started reading humanities literature, I thought that the bad logic and bizarre claims were a way for the field to endorse and legitimize far-left viewpoints while retaining a veneer of objectivity. After all, objectivity is the pillar of academic discourse and it’s not even possible to reconcile a disagreement without it. I was surprised (like others) to learn that many fields explicitly reject the concept of objectivity. The following is a quote from a widely used textbook in gender studies:

“The idea that objectivity is best reached only through rational thought is a specifically Western and masculine way of thinking – one that we challenge throughout the book.”

Andersen, Margaret, and Patricia Hill Collins. Race, Class, & Gender: An anthology. Nelson Education, 2015. [cited by 1191]

It can’t be overstated that this is a textbook used in undergraduate courses that explicitly declares the concept of objectivity through rational thought untenable. Not only is it completely inexplicable why rational thought is either ‘Western’ or ‘masculine’, it’s interesting that in the context they are used, ‘Western’ and ‘masculine’ are bad things. The ironic part about this statement is that the group most likely to agree with it is the alt-right, though they would see the words ‘Western’ and ‘masculine’ in a positive light. The premise of rejecting objectivity or rationality before presenting subjective arguments is common in the humanities. However, the key ‘problems’ associated with objectivity are always based on a complete misrepresentation of what it actually is. Consider this famous quote from radical historian Howard Zinn:

“Why should we cherish “objectivity”, as if ideas were innocent, as if they don’t serve one interest or another? Surely, we want to be objective if that means telling the truth as we see it, not concealing information that may be embarrassing to our point of view. But we don’t want to be objective if it means pretending that ideas don’t play a part in the social struggles of our time, that we don’t take sides in those struggles.

Indeed, it is impossible to be neutral. In a world already moving in certain directions, where wealth and power are already distributed in certain ways, neutrality means accepting the way things are now. It is a world of clashing interests – war against peace, nationalism against internationalism, equality against greed, and democracy against elitism – and it seems to me both impossible and undesirable to be neutral in those conflicts.”

What he doesn’t seem to understand is that neutrality doesn’t require acceptance of any sort. A jury is neutral (and as objective as possible), but is still able to sentence a peer to life in prison. They are also not disinterested in the least, but they’re certainly disinterested in narratives that exist outside of reality. Neutral just means not starting with a conclusion and cherry-picking information required to support it. The turn against objectivity is intellectually dishonest. It has nothing to do with intrinsic problems associated with objectivity, only that reality does not support the far-left narrative of the West being an imperialist, patriarchal, racial hierarchy, where the only reason anyone does anything is to gain power in order to use that power to oppress the outgroup. The narrative also paints any form of ‘power’ (e.g. a high paying job) as purely a reward, completely neglecting the fact that it’s a also a responsibility. Connor McDavid’s $100M contract is obviously rewarding, but he would quickly become the most hated man in Edmonton and forever known as a boondoggle if he doesn’t continue to be one of the league’s best players for the next decade. The immense pressure that comes with apex positions just is completely left out when ‘power’ is discussed in the humanities.

In some cases, academics do actually try to expand on their disdain for objectivity.

Acker, Joan, Kate Barry, and Joke Esseveld. “Objectivity and truth: Problems in doing feminist research.” In Women’s Studies International Forum, vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 423-435. Pergamon, 1983. [cited by 1041]

“For example, the assumption that the researcher must and can strive to be a neutral observer standing outside the social realities being studied is made by many who use quantitative and qualitative methods in a natural science model. This assumption is challenged by the feminist critique of social science that documents the male bias of theory and research which has previously been taken as a neutral account of human society. A feminist methodology must, therefore, deal with the issues of objectivity in social science and, in the process, deal also with the issue of the relationship between the researcher and the researched.”

In other words, objectivity is bad because it somehow excludes women. In other cases, academics recognize that objectivity is important, but they choose to make strange qualifications for that statement. For example, here is a quote from a textbook on education research:

Ladson-Billings, Gloria, and William F. Tate, eds. Education research in the public interest: Social justice, action, and policy. Teachers College Press, 2006. [cited by 226]

“…the alternative is not to give up the quest for objectivity in social science and education research. Rather, the goal should be to reformulate and reconstruct objectivity so that its formulation will involve the participation of scholar from diverse racial, ethnic, and gender groups”

The argument is that a group that isn’t ethnically diverse can’t be truly objective. This implies that there is an inherent difference in the way these groups think, which is the same thing that genetic determinists say. Genetic determinism is the foundation for eugenics and scientific racism, so it’s certainly an odd stance to take.

It should be pointed out that some academics prefer to claim they are postmodernist or post-structuralist in their writing, which are schools of philosophy that explicitly declare objectivity either negative or impossible to achieve. There are a number of roundabout ways that academics use to defend ridiculous subjective practices like ‘autoethnography’, but ultimately all of them are simply thinly-veiled excuses to write papers that are obviously ideologically motivated. Here are some examples of subjectivity run amok:

Rodriquez, Jason. “Color-blind ideology and the cultural appropriation of hip-hop.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 35, no. 6 (2006): 645-668. [cited by 119]

This paper is so stupid that it almost merits an entire article dedicated to making fun of it. It’s not the most important paper in the sphere of cultural appropriation, but an example of how these ideas build on each other to become dumber and dumber.

“Whites do not simply consume African American art forms. They also appropriate those forms for their own purposes”

“Indeed, whiteness seems to provide very little substance on which to base an identity, and the appropriation of hip-hop cultural forms suggests not that whites want a black identity; rather, they want characteristics of blackness (Perry 2002, 109). Furthermore, color-blind eyes interpret racialized cultural symbols in ways undermining their racially coded character, reducing race to little more than an “innocuous cultural signifier,” allowing whites to use culture to experience a felt similarity with people of color (Gallagher 2003, 5).”

White people who like hip-hop are posers, according to an academic paper cited over 100 times.

Gillborn, David. “Education policy as an act of white supremacy: Whiteness, critical race theory and education reform.” Journal of Education Policy 20, no. 4 (2005): 485-505. [cited by 724]

This paper (note the spicy title) is full of great quotes, but some selected examples are:

“Some scholars have penetrated even further the façade of contemporary politics, to argue that mainstream political parties, and the functioning of agencies like the education system itself, are actively implicated in maintaining and extending the grip that white people have on the major sources of power in ‘Western’ capitalist societies.”

“As Rosa Hernandez Sheets (2000, 2003) has argued, focusing on white people (their sense of self, their interests and concerns) has become such a fashionable past-time within parts of the US academy that there is a danger of whiteness studies colonizing and further de-radicalizing multicultural education”

“‘So-called “White” people’ (Bonnett, 1997, p. 189) do not necessarily reinforce whiteness any more than heterosexual people are necessary [sic] homophobic, or men are necessarily sexist. However, these analogies are useful because they highlight the forces that recreate and extend the kinds of ‘unthinking’ assumptions and actions which mean that very many (probably the majority) of heterosexuals are homophobic and most men are sexist”

These quotes speak for themselves.

Messner, Michael A. “Sports and male domination: The female athlete as contested ideological terrain.” Sociology of sport journal 5, no. 3 (1988): 197-211. [cited by 832]

This paper is full of unintentional comedy, as is to be expected from a Marxist paper about sports.

“Marxists have correctly criticized idealists and functionalists for failing to understand how sport tends to reflect capitalist relations, thus serving to promote and ideologically legitimize competition, meritocracy, consumerism, militarism, and instrumental rationality, while at the same time providing spectators with escape and compensatory mechanisms for an alienated existence”

“Women do have some physical differences from men that could be translated into athletic superiority. Different skeletal structures and greater flexibility make for superior performances on a balance beam, for instance. And women’s higher body fat ratio gives them greater buoyancy in water and greater insulation from heat loss, which has translated into women’s best time in swimming the English Channel both ways being considerably faster than the best times recorded by men. But the fact is, the major sports (especially the “money” sports) are defined largely according to the most extreme possibilities of the male body. If cross-sex competition is truly on the agenda, women are going to be competing at a decided disadvantage, “fighting biology all the way” (Brownmiller, 1984, p. 32), on male-defined turf.”

The paper starts off by claiming sports legitimize oppression, but spends the majority of the article complaining that women aren’t in on the oppression to the degree that men are. The argument is that women are underrepresented in professional sports because popular sports are engineered to give men a biological advantage. The solution is to force everyone to watch sports where men do not have an advantage, like the balance beam and ultramarathon swimming. The author also claims that the women’s best time swimming the English Channel both ways is ‘considerably faster’ than men’s, but there is no citation. That’s because it wasn’t true in 1988, and it’s not true today. The men’s fastest time swimming the channel both ways was 16:10, set in 1987 by Philip Rush. The women’s record is 17:14, accomplished by Susie Maroney in 1991. At the time the paper was written, the women’s record was 18:13, by Irene Van der Laan in 1983. This wouldn’t have gotten by the editor of a high school newspaper, yet here it is in an academic journal with 800+ citations.

Why would academics do this?

Equity studies and related fields are built on studying inequality (mostly based on group identity) and its effects on people. These fields have a symbiotic relationship with progressive activists in order to further the stated goal of equality, just as the field of chemistry has a symbiotic relationship with the chemical industry. Fifty years ago, when the civil rights act was only 4 years old and Canada still had an unwritten tradition of discouraging immigration from anywhere but Europe, there certainly was a pervasive system of inequality that would impede the success of certain groups of people. In a climate like that, there absolutely is a lot of content to for equity studies to produce. Because its necessity, competent individuals pursuing higher education would have been willing to study in this field.

Fast forward 40 years, things look a lot different. There are laws in place to prevent discrimination based on gender, race, disability, and sexual orientation. There are also hate crime laws that add additional penalty for crimes existing crimes motivated by bigotry. While still not perfect, all available metrics are trending in the direction of equality (between gender, race, and sexuality). When this inevitably happens, do the academics in equity studies just pack it up and go home? Of course not, this is their livelihood and they need to stay relevant. And if relevance is the necessity, the goal is to have a real impact.

Equity studies is indisputably less important than it was at its inception and incoming students recognize this. The other thing incoming students recognize is that a degree in equity studies and related fields are among the least marketable bachelor degrees one can hold, at a time where a high paying 9-5 career is harder to get without any technical skills. So, what does a competent student with a notion of personal responsibility do? They study something else. This leaves a field desperately in need of a rebranding and a prospect pool that is declining in quality.

A good analogy for the field would be MADD. The organization will continue to thrive while people continue to drive drunk, but what happens to MADD if the rate of drunk driving continued to decline until driverless cars make impaired driving a crime of the past? Would an organization with over $31M per year in revenue and over 400 employees just throw a party and go home? The employees of MADD who are in it solely for the cause surely would, but the those who aren’t (or those whose livelihoods depend on MADD) would simply shift the focus to something else. And with the wrong people at the helm, the cause could surely shift to something made up because the cause doesn’t even matter at that point. It’s about the money. This is not to disparage MADD in any way, but to provide an example of how a bureaucracy with a noble cause and good employees can become a shell of its former self if the original vision is lost with the departure of the real supporters. This is essentially what happened with the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

This loss of vision has certainly happened in the humanities. A good example is how second-wave feminist scholar Christina Hoff-Sommers made it onto ‘the worst people of 2016’ list by Vice and has also been branded an MRA (men’s rights activist, typically associated with the alt-right) simply for pointing out false statistics and warped narratives presented by the new mainstream academic humanities. However, this loss of vision was not a mistake, it was the seizing of an opportunity.

It’s hard to determine the exact time that instances of overt racism (and related isms) by a person, company, or institution (with something to lose) in North America started to generate huge public backlash, but it has become much more of a phenomenon recently. This is a good thing, as it is a sign that bigotry is something that is no longer tolerated. The effect can be a powerful force to diminish discrimination, but it can also be hijacked. One thing the public as a whole isn’t particularly big on is checking sources and following updates. This has been shown time and time again, whether it’s the success of Russia’s disinformation campaign, the infamous UVA story by Rolling Stone, or both the accurate and stupid claims of ‘fake news’. It’s easy to create a narrative on the internet, but it’s incredibly hard to remove it. For this reason, institutions with a lot to lose from negative publicity will bend to accusations they know are false.

In an incredibly calculated manner, the humanities quickly changed the definitions of many keywords associated with serious public backlash. This has served two purposes. The first is that the definitions are now broad enough that pretty much anything can be fit into one of these keywords, which allows these words to be added to charges that they wouldn’t have previously applied to. The second is that they have left convenient loopholes that makes them only apply to acts by the ‘dominant’ group on the ‘oppressed’ group, such that a keyword like ‘racism’ now only goes one way. This allows humanities scholars to criticize white people, heterosexuals, men, etc. as a group with impunity, as demonstrated by David Gillborn’s paper that was quoted earlier. Selected definition changes are as follows.

White Supremacy

The common definition is given in the first line of the Wikipedia entry: “White supremacy is a racist ideology based upon the belief that white people are superior in many ways to people of other races and that therefore white people should be dominant over other races”. The groups that espouse this belief are almost universally reviled and generate a ton of media attention every time they make noise, even if the group in question is small. The nationally-covered Charlottesville rally only had about 500 attendees (even though it was promoted by pretty much every alt-right organization in the US), who were outnumbered 2-1 by counter protesters. In the aftermath of the event, it would pretty difficult to be left with the impression that America is a country that believes in white supremacy. Instead of recognizing this a while ago, the humanities simply changed the definition of what constitutes white supremacy so that they could still argue that it exists everywhere in America.

Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic, eds. Critical white studies: Looking behind the mirror. Temple University Press, 1997. [cited by 606]

“[By] ‘white supremacy’ I do not mean to allude only to the self-conscious racism of white supremacist hate groups. I refer instead to a political, economic, and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings.” (page 592)

The key part of the definition is “…a political, economic, and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power”. He just means America (and the rest of the West). It doesn’t matter that there are powerful people of every race present within the system, because the ‘majority’ of the ‘power’ (neither of which are accurately defined or measured) is ‘controlled’ by white people, the entire system is white supremacist. Now that the definition is vague enough that it can be inserted everywhere, authors can claim that everything is white supremacy with reckless abandon.

Racism

Once again, Wikipedia provides the actual definition:

“Racism is the belief in the superiority of one race over another, which often results in discrimination and prejudice towards people based on their race or ethnicity.”

Because it’s hard to find people with anything to lose who believe this in 2018 (activists have nothing to gain by going after a random truck driver), the definition was broadened.

Here’s the new definition, from a textbook:

Bell, Lee Anne, Michael S. Funk, Khyati Y. Joshi, and Marjorie Valdivia. “Racism and white privilege.” Teaching for diversity and social justice (2016): 397-418. [cited by 27]

“We define racism as a pervasive system of advantage and disadvantage based on the socially constructed category of race. Racism is enacted on multiple levels simultaneously: Institutional, cultural, interpersonal, and individual. Institutional structures, policies, and practices interlock with cultural assumptions about what is right and proper to justify racism. Individuals internalize and enact these assumptions through individual behavior and institutional participation. Woven together, these interactions create and sustain systemic benefits for whites as a group, and structure discrimination, oppression, dispossession, and exclusion for people from targeted racial groups.”

This definition is vague, but the key part is “…create and sustain systemic benefits for whites as a group”. Racism as a whole is broken down into the subcategories of institutional, societal/cultural, covert, internalized, and color-blind. The silliest one is color-blind racism, about which the same textbook writes the following:

“Color-blind ideology (or color-evasiveness–purporting to not notice race in an effort to not appear to be racist), asserts that ending discrimination merely requires treating individuals as equally as possible, without regard to race, culture, or ethnicity. Color-blindness, by overlooking the cumulative and enduring ways in which races unequally shapes life chances and opportunities for people from different groups, actually reinforces and sustains an unequal status quo. By leaving structural equalities in place, color-blindness has become ‘the new racism’”

The cumulative effect of racism is the sum of all individual acts of injustice motivated by racism. If everyone manages to treat each other equally, the sum of these effects trends to zero. The definition change is a way to continue pointing the finger at people who are not contributing to these effects, based solely on group their identity.

Violence

Violence is defined in the dictionary as:

“Behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.”

The use of physical force intended to hurt someone is how the general public (and the courts) interprets the word violence. It is a crime except in cases of self-defense. Violent crime has been steadily decreasing since the 90s, and there just isn’t a lot of violence on university campuses for activists to feed off of. However, the word elicits a very strong public response, so academics decided it would be a good idea to broaden its definition. It started off by including actions that result in ‘psychological harm’, and even the WHO has adopted this definition. Under this definition, insults can be classified as violence. But the far-left was not done there. Here’s how Wilfred Laurier University’s current ‘gendered and sexual violence prevention and support’ office defines ‘gendered violence’:

“Refers to any subtle or overt action or attitude that establishes, exploits, and or reinforces gender inequities resulting in physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or mental harm. The phrase “gendered violence” is used to highlight when acts of violence that are specifically related to an individual’s gender or how they express their gender. Gendered violence includes sexism, gender discrimination, gender harassment, biphobia, transphobia, homophobia and heterosexism, sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, and intimate partner violence.

The majority of people affected by gendered violence are women, girls, and trans people. However, individuals of all genders can be victims of gendered violence, including men and boys. Gendered violence often intersects with ableism, racism, and other forms of oppression so that experiences of gendered violence may not only be about gender, but also about other aspects of an individual’s identity.”

This definition is so horrendously broad that a case could be made against almost anyone at any time. Under this definition, every interaction between genders is an act of violence. To give an example of how ludicrous a legitimate claim could be, imagine that the university chess club held an open tournament with a $10 buy in and a grand prize. If a man were to win this tournament and a woman who lost took it poorly, it could easily be argued that he performed a subtle action that ‘reinforces gender inequities’ that resulted in her economic and mental harm. By winning a chess tournament, that guy has committed an act of ‘gendered and sexual violence’.

The definition closes by saying that an act that has nothing to do with gender can be classified as ‘gendered and sexual violence’. This would just be considered violence, but it’s important to consider that bureaucracies like these want to have as much jurisdiction as possible. By claiming that all violence is also gendered violence, the office can insert itself in the maximum number of cases.

For more examples of insane definitions, see the rest of the entries on Laurier’s website.

The Results: Accusations Against Institutions

Now that the definitions of what the public understands to be reprehensible actions include basically anything, it’s time to make some public accusations against institutions. Consider this recent article in the Toronto Star, in which the GSU’s ‘race and ethnicity caucus’ is claiming that racial violence and harassment on campus has created a health and safety issue. That sounds very bad, so some heinous things must have happened in the last year. Here is a list of the incidents that led them to this conclusion:

  •      “In September, history professor Michael Marrus made a racially offensive remark to a Black graduate student and was pressured to resign his senior fellowship position with U of T’s Massey College, where there have been concerns over racism.”

The professor was sitting with three graduate students when the ‘master’ (his formal title) joined them. Marrus said to one of the students, who was black, “You know this is your master, eh? Do you feel the lash?” It was clearly a joke, riffing on the fact that the title ‘master’ seems outdated. The point of view of the joke is actually the progressive one, though the phrasing is awful and has horrible optics. He was forced to resign, and Massey changed the title of ‘master’ to ‘head’.

  •      In November, there were reports of razor blades hidden behind posters that read “It’s okay to be white,” a slogan associated with the white supremacist movement. Subsequent investigations found no evidence of razor blades but the posters — which U of T called “antithetical” to its core values — were reportedly part of a trolling campaign initiated on 4chan, the notorious imageboard website favoured by the alt-right.

The posters were put up for no other reason than to get a reaction from the far-left activists, the assumption being that getting upset about the phrase “it’s ok to be white” would make them look ridiculous. Instead, the activists got the last laugh because people actually took this seriously.

  •      That same month, a Black engineering student came forward to report several instances where students used the N-word and other racist language in online chats, prompting an investigation by the university.

Here is the article, complete with screenshots. This was an informal chat group where students were being purposely offensive. This only happened 3 months ago, so there is currently an ongoing investigation by the university which will likely result in the expulsion of the students, much like the infamous chat group that caused the acceptances of incoming Harvard students to be revoked.

To recap, in an entire calendar year at an ethnically diverse university with 80,000 students, the worst three incidents of ‘racial violence and harassment’ are a professor making a joke in private (and resigning over it), posters trolling social justice activists using a completely inoffensive slogan, and intentionally offensive material posted in a chat group (which has resulted in an ongoing investigation). Does anyone actually think that sounds like a climate where racial violence is a health and safety issue? The GSU certainly does, writing:

 

“The cases of racial violence at hand, and the lack of appropriate response on behalf of the university, have culminated in an environment of emboldened racism and white supremacy at the U of T”

This is patently ridiculous, but don’t feel bad for the university administration. It is completely their own fault that important groups can write letters like this and be taken seriously.

The Results: Policy Changes

Federal law already applies to everyone inside of an organization, but a member of an organization can certainly do something to warrant their removal without breaking the law. When an organization is sufficiently large, they adopt policies on how to handle negative behavior because there are just too many cases to be handled in an ad hoc manner. Every large company and institution has internal policies on how to deal with bad behavior by their members. In the past, these policies were boilerplate. They essentially consisted of ‘members are not allowed to behave in a way that a reasonable person would consider to be toxic’. It wasn’t even necessary for a member of an organization to read the policy, because the content of the policies should be obvious.

However, there is a lot of power in these policies, as they are a cut and dry way to remove or punish people in organizations. Far-left activists types have figured this out, and insisted on the adoption of policies that are as vague as possible. For example, it’s perfectly reasonable for a group to lobby for a policy concerning sexual harassment. However, because the groups lobbying for policy changes are the same ones who changed the definitions, the policies are Trojan horses that allow administrations to go after anyone at any time.

If that sounds like an exaggeration, consider that a TA (Lindsay Shepherd) violated the ‘gendered and sexual violence’ policy at Laurier by showing a clip from a TVO debate in a communications tutorial. She was called into a meeting with her supervising professor, another professor, and the ‘manager of gendered violence prevention and support’, (a useless mandated HR position) where she was reprimanded to the tune of “this is like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler or Milo Yiannopoulos”. Shepherd probably had some sense of what was going to happen when the meeting was called, so she recorded it and it promptly made national news.

In an official statement from the president of the university addressing the matter, Deborah McLatchy said “the errors in judgement were compounded by misapplication of existing university policies and procedures”. She’s right, but it’s not because Shepherd didn’t violate the policy, because she absolutely did. Applications of the policy are driven by formal complaints, so McLatchy’s statement is referring to the fact that there was no complaint about the ‘incident’, formal or informal. So what really happened is that Shepherd’s professor heard through the grapevine that she showed the TVO clip and decided to go after her, using the ‘manager of gendered violence prevention and support’, under the pretense that ‘one or more’ of the students complained.

While the reaction to the Shepherd story outside of campus was purely on the side of outrage against the professors (with the exception of far-left publications like Vice), many Laurier students and professors refused to take a side or actually took the side of the professor who lied about a complaint in order to threaten his student with a dishonestly written policy. One would think that a professor using his ‘position of power’ to chastise a TA who didn’t do anything wrong would be right in the wheelhouse of social justice activists who fight against exactly this type of abuse of power. But this is first and foremost an ideological movement, and in cases where ideology (support of professors) is pitted against principles (support of Shepherd), ideology wins.

All of this begs the question that if cases like these aren’t the intended use of these policies, then why are they specifically written in a way that includes them? Progressives are usually champions of workers rights, but vague policies make it much easier to fire people. Activists are fine with this, because the policies only target the ‘bad’ people, and they are the ones who decide who is ‘bad’. Anyone who has ever opened a history textbook will recognize this as a red flag, and it’s also why the activists who lobby for these policies are sometimes referred to as the ‘regressive left’.

Who is to blame?

It’s hard to blame the academics who muddle language to the extent that everything is racist and white supremacist, because they are acting to their own benefit, which is increasing the impact of their own work. Hilariously, what’s really going on is that a group of Marxists have created a racket (nice business you got there, it would be a shame if someone were to publicly accuse you of racism; please install these HR positions and have your employees complete sensitivity training – or else). It’s an incredible juxtaposition to openly despise ‘power structures’ while they grab as much power as they possibly can, but it was an inevitability in the current climate. The field exists to point out racism (and related inequalities); the public is increasingly sensitive to racism accusations (because they’re more tolerant). It was bound to happen. It’s as if the department of basket weaving created a much larger market for baskets simply by accusing anyone without a basket of being racist.

It’s also not really possible to blame business owners for caving to demands. Google, for example, is caught between a rock and a hard place. They’re currently being sued for discrimination against minorities and discrimination against white male conservatives at the same time. The latter is not a joke, given that the material in the lawsuit is real. All Google wants is to avoid negative PR, and they never had any hand in creating the types of activists that are coming after them.

The real blame lies on university administrators, for two reasons. The first is that they support the academic ecosystem of the humanities. Professors need to publish papers in order to have the credibility required to teach at a prestigious schools. While professors are publishing high impact papers (i.e. lots of citations), the university is not asking any questions. With citations comes research grants and prestige. The reason the university needs accomplished professors is so that they can accept as many undergraduates as possible, because undergraduates are money. In addition to the tuition paid by the students, the Canadian government provides roughly $20,000 per student per year. All of this is great, and how university is supposed to work, given that the area of research is credible. But in this case, it’s not.

So the universities have been perfectly happy to fund bogus research in order to offer undergraduate programs learning about that bogus research, because it’s not really harming anyone and it helps the bottom line. However, that same research is now being used against them by the same people that they taught it to. The University of Toronto, specifically, is now being accused of being an unsafe work environment due to racial violence (an objectively ridiculous claim) based on the very same research they helped legitimize in order to rake in that undergraduate cash. Under normal circumstances, the administration could just deny these accusations. But to do this, they’d also have to explicitly declare that some of the research conducted at their own university (and what they’re teaching) is illegitimate. It would be a hilarious catch-22 to watch from a distance, but the effects are real.

Instead, the administration decided that they would play the game. They have caved to every ridiculous demand. By submitting, they are tacitly admitting that the activists are right and that the UofT is indeed a racist institution. Because they refuse to take anything resembling a stand, the activists keep coming. UofT has not formally responded to the accusations in the GSU letter mentioned earlier, but there is no reason to think that they will do anything other than agree with them, even though the university has already taken heavy-handed disciplinary measures for every incident in the letter. There has not been a single instance of UofT disagreeing with so-called ‘social justice activists’. It doesn’t even matter whether the administration actually believes this crap or whether they’re too weak to take a stand, because the bar will keep moving either way.

Do the ends justify the means?

The tactics used by the academics in the humanities to wedge their way into government, HR departments, and offices they’ve forced institutions to invent are dishonest, and that’s not debatable. What is disputable for some is if anything good can come of this. After all, the tenets of equality, justice, and violence reduction are all worthy causes, and if oppressive people are in power then it takes extraordinary action to make a change. However, one has to question whether anything in line with their stated goals has been achieved.

Social justice activists think that they are the only group advocating equality in the form of anti-discrimination. If the existing climate is as horrible as they like to claim (even though the West is by far the most tolerant place the world), that means they think that the well-being of marginalized groups is dependent on the success of their movement. This explains the extreme tactics used to shut down dissent of any kind, but it’s incredibly short sighted. Coming across as stupid and hysterical does far more to damage a movement than carefully considered critiques, and the refusal to tolerate anything resembling rational discussion ensures the overzealous control the narrative. The competition to be the most ideologically pure results in increasing polarization, but there’s no moving backwards because as soon as a member of the group questions anything, they become a member of the outgroup (this is same thing Scientology does). This has the effect of turning away progressives who don’t embrace all of the nonsense brought along with the supposed commitment to progress. The problem with all of this is that the movement is not actually effective at doing what it purports to do (quell discrimination, promote equality), though it is effective at increasing the importance of humanities scholars who came up with these ideas in the first place and ‘creating’ jobs for those trained in the field.

The ‘you’re either with us or you’re against us’ tactic is the oldest trick in the book. George W. Bush used this line explicitly while trying to squash opposition to the invasion of Iraq. At the time, a patriotic American could absolutely have been against the Iraq war, just as people who are progressive and against discrimination can be against the social justice movement in its current form. Social justice activists have been incredibly effective at setting up this false equivalence, to the point that Canadian senator Ratna Omidvar could not wrap her head around how Jordan Peterson could be against discrimination and against Bill C16 at the same time.

Social justice activism has hurt the reputation of institutions of higher education to the point that the majority of US Republicans think that colleges have ‘a negative effect on the way things are going in the country’, which is a sharp increase from about 1 in 3 when the same polling was conducted in 2010. Some have even theorized that the huge media attention received by social justice activists helped Trump’s election campaign. The far-left will claim that it’s actually because Republicans are anti-intellectual racists, but this claim is not rooted in reality. Given how little respect conservatives receive on campus, it would be more surprising if they maintained a positive opinion of academics. Alarmists will point to a supposed rise in ‘white nationalism’, but of course there is going to be overly patriotic push-back when students publicly declare that symbols like the United States’ flag are oppressive.

If the far-left were a movement for real progress and the benefit of America, why would Russia spend time and money while risking worldwide backlash in order to promote it?”

 

In summary, the effect of overzealous social justice activism (other than draconian policy and useless bureaucracy) is increased polarization. Consider the fact that the Russian disinformation campaign focused its support on two things: ham-fisted ‘patriotism’ (‘murica) and social justice activism. If the far-left were a movement for real progress and the benefit of America, why would Russia spend time and money while risking worldwide backlash in order to promote it?

What is the solution?

University administrations are in the same pickle as the rich guy who doesn’t want to sell his summer home in order to pay off his debt to the IRS. In this case, selling the summer home involves conducting an audit of the programs and professors responsible for promoting anti-objectivity nonsense. Georgian College recently went through a similar process with it’s diploma program in homeopathy (a pseudoscience). Originally, Georgian actually defended the program, writing:

“All new Georgian programs must undergo an extensive and rigorous academic approval process and the three-year advanced diploma in Homeopathy is no exception”

This statement can’t be true, because a rigorous process would have never allowed homeopathy to slip through the cracks. The good news is that actual scientists took exception to this publicly, and Georgian cancelled the program. It wouldn’t actually take much more than this to clean up the offending fields in the humanities. These programs would fail miserably on questions like:

  •      Are they teaching critical thinking?
  •      Is the information they are teaching true?
  •      On subjective issues, are they teaching multiple viewpoints?
  •      Does the curriculum either a) teach technical skills or b) help the students become more well-rounded individuals?

An audit like this would certainly be painful for any university, because they would have to admit they’ve been teaching nonsense for years. But the alternative isn’t any better. The policies universities have been forced to adopt are draconian to the point that they often violate federal laws when they are applied as intended. When this happens, they get sued and lose.

Continued inaction makes both choices worse. Waiting to admit that an entire field is corrupt is another year that the university has to apologize and pay for (if they ever do). On the other hand, the bar for accusations of rampant racism, violence, or any combination of the two keeps dropping to the point that it’s impossible for universities to avoid public criticism. While this continues, universities will reap the negative PR from those who believe the accusations and from those who don’t (but don’t appreciate watching administrators fold under pressure).

The past actions of administrations are explained by one of two situations. Either they are simply weak or they are products of the corrupt fields that they have fostered. If one thing is for certain, the situation is going to continue to deteriorate before it improves.

 

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George McKeown is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in Chemistry at the University of Toronto and completed his undergraduate studies at McGill. His main work is at the Seferos Lab, and his hobbies include golf, hockey, and fantasy sports.

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