We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

From this laborious work, and from all my other efforts in this field, I have drawn the conclusion that the evidence for social constructionism is a mirage in the desert. It does not exist. Most people in the humanities – including those who are able to express their opinions freely without fear of being fired – presuppose that gender roles are social constructs, and that the results obtained by natural scientists are determined by their social and political environment. Thousands of pages of academic ‘research’ express such notions, and thousands of university students are taught that this is how things are. But it is all hot air. The whole scenario is reminiscent of The Emperor’s New Clothes – nobody listens to the little boy who alone has the courage to point out that the Emperor is naked.

Much of this material – and Judith Butler’s obscurantism, in particular – functions like a Latin liturgy. It is not meant to be understood. About 600 years ago, the clergy in England supposedly existed to combat evil and make the world a better place. The sermons were in Latin, and the Bible was only available in Latin, so laypeople had no means of verifying what the clergy told them about religious doctrine. When a number of idealists translated the Bible into English so that common people could read and understand it, the idea – in principle, anyway – was that this would give more people direct access to God’s word. But instead of embracing this opportunity, the clergy fought all attempts at translation. And when the Bible became available in a language that people understood, the clergy burned the English translations, and those who distributed them were caught and executed. Given the choice of either supporting the wider dissemination of God’s word or preserving their own power and authority, they chose the latter.

A similar pattern of motivated self-interest is in evidence today (although opponents are no longer executed). Social constructionism has transformed the humanities departments of many universities into a kind of postmodern clerisy. In its own understanding, this clerical class strives to improve the world by insisting that all differences between groups of people are social constructs that testify to the unfairness of society. Society, therefore, can and must be reconstructed to dismantle these iniquities. But if wide-ranging social change is being demanded, then the basis for those demands needs to be firmly established first. Scholars ought to be labouring to prove the extent to which such differences are indeed social constructs and the extent to which disparities can be mitigated or dispelled by the radical reorganisation of social policy and even society itself. But this step in the process is simply absent. Instead, theorists make claims without bothering to substantiate them. Confronted with a choice between the disinterested pursuit of truth and understanding, or preserving their ideologies and positions of influence, they consistently opt for the latter.

And so, large swathes of the humanities and social sciences have been corrupted by ideology. Pockets of integrity remain but they are the minority, and they are only tolerated so long as they do not contradict the central planks of the accepted narrative. The unhappy result is that our universities are corroding, and our students will graduate with nothing more than the ability to further corrode the rest of society.

– The concluding paragraphs of Kåre Fog’s essay for Quillette, entitled Lost Down Social Constructionism’s Epistemic Rabbit-Hole

12 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • I think this controversy was around long before Latour. One of Lenin’s books, “materialism and empirio-criticism,” for example, is a brutal attack on philosophers of science in his time (the style is rather like that of Ayn Rand when she’s in a vitriolic mood, actually); his whole point is that, for example, aniline compounds *actually existed* in coal tar before organic chemists figures out how to isolate them, and were not just made up by some scientist somehwere—that is, that physical reality is not socially constructed. Of course, logical positivism and its even earlier antecedent, Humean empiricism, didn’t emphasize the “social” part so much, but they both treated physical objects as convenient hypotheses rather than as objectively real.

  • Paul Marks

    There are good reasons for being wary of saying that the Bible speaks for itself (“just give ordinary people the translated text”) – the Bible is a record of lots of different people written over centuries, the idea “it is in the Bible so it must be what God wants” is an open door to mass murder and virtually every other crime, so priests were not just being wicked in trying to keep the interpretation of the Bible to people who had been trained in the context of the words. In Judaism as well the idea “the Torah says X so we must do X” has NOT been the line for about two thousand years (if ever), the Talmud shows how to interpret the Torah – and unless one is Muhammed (it says stone this woman to death – so that is what we are going to do) interpretation (not literalism) is the way to go. As Richard Hooker (the intellectual founder of Anglicanism) put it – there is a three legged stool, scripture, tradition and reason (and someone who relies on scripture alone, without either tradition or reason, ends up like a rabid dog).

    However, there is a vast difference between medieval Christian Scholastics or Talmundic Jews on the one hand – and modern leftist academics on the other. The Scholastics and Talmudic scholars were TRYING TO BE UNDERSTOOD – they use difficult (specialist) language, but it is well worth the effort learn and understand. The leftist academics are NOT really to be understood – they are not using reasoning, they are just trying to confuse and browbeat.

    All the writings of the “Social Justice” crowd are intellectually worthless – utterly so. They just seek POWER – and are prepared to lie-and-lie-and-lie.

  • Zerren Yeoville

    “All the writings of the “Social Justice” crowd are intellectually worthless – utterly so.”

    So much so that their essays and books could be churned out automatically, evoking the memory of the book-writing kaleidoscopes in Orwell’s 1984. We do have empirical evidence for this in the form of the ‘Postmodernism Generator’ website which creates a new essay every time the page is visited or refreshed. The essays are entirely computer-generated and are totally devoid of meaning – but I defy anyone to tell the difference from bona-fide academic literature in this field.

    The New Zealand novelist Craig Harrison also lampooned the trend back in 1991 in his campus comedy ‘Grievous Bodily’ in which the jargon-dense language was dubbed ‘Educanto’ and was exploited by one of the characters who advanced his career by “loading his word-processor with the twenty-seven key words and then playing it like a musical synthesizer, generating reams of the academic equivalent of heavy metal which, while it sank without trace, enabled him also to rise without trace.”

  • hennesli

    Confronted with a choice between the disinterested pursuit of truth and understanding, or preserving their ideologies and positions of influence, they consistently opt for the latter.

    The ideas of what is today called ‘postmodernism’ or ‘social constructionism’ really go back to
    Nietzsche. I remember reading ‘Beyond good and evil’ where he dismisses the very notion of some ‘disinterested pursuit of truth’, isolated from any social or political context on the grounds that power is always implicated to some degree in systems of knowledge.

  • bobby b

    So, does this mean that Jordan Peterson will be the Martin Luther of the academic Reformation? And who will then be his John Calvin?

  • Sean

    As an older Catholic I think the Latin rites just sound better. I recall being initially impressed by the vernacular – but now think they are vulgar in comparison.

  • George Atkisson

    Equality of outcome is far too important to leave to science, biology, historical experience or any other tool of Patriarchal Oppression. For the PC/SJW crowd, we should follow the wise words of a long ago Pharaoh:

    “So Let It be Written, So Let It be Done! ”

    Much easier and quicker than debate. All that’s needed is Power.

  • Stuck-Record

    The original conflict that brought down the sanctity of religious thought was the clash with the undeniable reality of hard science. That is where it will happen again.

    Social determinism is coming after Biology. It will win in the short term, through oppression, but will lose in the long-term.

    They’ve picked a bad fight.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Reading this quotation rather put me in mind of when I attempted to read Keynes’s General Theory. I eventually came to the conclusion that it was meant to be incomprehensible.

  • Philip Scott Thomas

    The sermons were in Latin, and the Bible was only available in Latin, so laypeople had no means of verifying what the clergy told them about religious doctrine.

    No, not quite. The liturgy was in Latin, but sermons were in the vernacular.

    And like Sean, I also prefer the pre-Vatican II Latin liturgy (as does, ahem, the Moggster 🙂 ). And it really doesn’t take much knowledge of Latin to follow it.

  • Thailover

    The idea that gender much less gender roles are 100% the product of social construction is itself an unscientific claim. No scientist with one eye and half sense would say that since these factors exist no other factors can. The whole thing is obviously made up with the intent of discrediting the idea of innate tendencies.

    The sad thing is, we know that we have these innate tendencies and these tendencies differ by sex, among other things.

    Ask any male to female transsexual who is on hormone therapy how it has affected there emotions and world perspective. Ask any female bodybuilder who is taking steroids i.e. testosterone, how it has affected her temperament, emotions and world view.

    The testosterone is physically changing her body and not just increasing her muscle size. It changes her genitals. Why would it not also change her brain physiologically?

  • […] is the Samizdata quote of the day from yesterday, and it leads to a most interesting article by Kåre Fog in […]

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