I'm not sure I have a coherent thought here, but I wanted to get it out in some version, if only to see what the flaws are. I'm just going to state the concern in a really sketchy form, and then come back to it asap. The concern goes like this:
Political correctness / illiberal leftism--which seem as if it's mostly limited to the internet and college students--is strongly linked to the intellectual
leftism that is so powerful among university professors (especially in the humanities and social sciences). (For a related point see: Heterodox Academy
) These forces are working together to push certain theories that are largely un- or pseudo-scientific / irrational--or, to say the very least, unproven and supported by weak reasons. These theories seem to have their origins in activism or activist-oriented academia (women's/gender studies, racial studies, sectors of sociology, etc.) They are poorly-supported in terms of actual evidence and argument, but motivated by the powerful emotional and political commitments of their advocates. And liberals tend to be very hesitant to disagree with the left and left-academia, and often do not even recognize that illiberals on the left are illiberal.
One such theory is the view that human race is not physically/biologically real. This theory comes in two forms: (a) the concept race captures no natural kinds, no biologically real groupings, therefore race is not real and (b) race is not a natural kind, but it is real in some sense in that it is "socially constructed." These views are a train wreck of confusions and fallacious reasoning--though the former is at least coherent whereas the latter probably is not. This overall generic view is such a disaster that one can quickly become frustrated and start looking around for psychological or social explanations for its prevalence--why do so many at least reasonably intelligent and well-educated people believe it?
I mean--look: we can always be wrong, and I might be missing something... And perhaps the view will even turn out to be true in the fullness of time... But: the arguments and evidence commonly proclaimed to be (basically conclusive) proof of these trendy theories about race are terrible
. Perhaps there are good arguments I haven't run across, or extremely technical arguments that I've misunderstood, or good arguments that haven't been disseminated yet... But that would still leave this puzzle: if the arguments being loudly and indignantly represented as conclusive are not only not conclusive but positively terrible...what's motivating the theory?
In this case, the explanation is fairly clear: what is motivating anti-realism/eliminativism/"social constructionism" about race is politics
. The view basically depends on a moral/political argument that is never articulated, but goes something like this:
Believing in the (biological) reality of race is racist (or at least makes racism possible)
If race is unreal then racism makes no sense (?)
Race is (biologically) unreal
The goal of anti-racism is unimpeachable...but this sort of mixing of the political and the philosophical/scientific is Lysenkoism and must be unequivocally rejected. The question of the reality of race has to be addressed on its own merits, and cannot rationally be supported by political arguments for the political (or even moral) desirability of one of the outcomes. Furthermore, race eliminativism/anti-realism is in no way necessary for moral and political anti-racism. In fact, the view that anti-racism is impossible without eliminativism/anti-realism itself betrays a loss of faith in the liberal project, which is built on the view that e.g. skin color should be morally and politically irrelevant.
The weakness of eliminativism/anti-realism about raice is one relevant fact. But the fact I'm most concerned about is that this unsupported/unsupportable position has been made into virtually unquestioned/unquestionable orthodoxy in certain sectors. If you question the position, then you're almost guaranteed to be accused of racism--which is what one would predict if the position were motivated by anti-racism rather than philosophical/scientific considerations.
The fact that any
strange theory can be made into the orthodoxy--eve unquestionable orthodoxy!--so quickly should concern everyone. Even if the theory were true, it should concern us all that its acceptance on the left is motivated by politics. In fact, it should concern us that there exists unquestionable political orthodoxy with respect to a largely scientific question.
And race isn't the only topic with respect to which this is happening. Obviously an unquestionable orthodoxy about "transgenderism" was instituted at about the same time. This theory has it, for example, that a man who thinks of himself as a woman is
a woman. It's even been said of Caitlyn (nee Bruce) Jenner that that (a) Jenner is a woman, period, in as full a sense as any biologically female person, and (b) Jenner has always been
a woman, even when fathering children. Again, the arguments for these views are extraordinary weak to say the least, and outright fallacious to say the most. And, again, they are politically motivated. And, again, even if they were true, the (in social terms) instantaneous institution of a new and unquestionable orthodoxy should worry everyone--especially liberals...
One common feature of the two cases is that both typically make appeal to "social construction," a term used in so many incompatible ways that it is basically an equivocation machine--which means: a machine for pulling rabbits out of hats, logically speaking... Allow someone to equivocate at crucial points in an argument, and he can "prove" any number of outlandish things... "Social constructionism" has become a kind of unofficial philosophical cornerstone of the illiberal left, and that's not helping anything...but it's a different topic for a different time.
My main point here is: whatever the details of the particular arguments and positions in play, one important, general, worrisome aspect of the problem is that unquestionable orthodoxies in science and social science are being produced on the basis of bad reasons and political arguments. Since the positions are in some sense moral and not descriptive/scientific, questioning them brings moral condemnation.
This is a very worrisome state of affairs.
Labels: instant orthodoxy, left, Lysenkoism, orthodoxy, race, social construction, transgender