Tuesday, January 17, 2017

George Will Reflects On The Sokal Hoax

Will writes:
Twenty years on, one lesson of Sokal’s hoax is that many educators are uneducable. Another is that although wonderful sendups have been written about academia...it now might be beyond satire.
Not to put too fine a point on it, I'd say: the most important lesson is that a mishmash of stupid theories has taken over many of the humanities and some of the social sciences. As usual, the culture (only) seems to absorb the worst ideas produced by the humanities, and the aforementioned mishmash has, sadly, influenced middlebrow culture. Members of the chattering class tend to have humanities backgrounds, and like to seem familiar with what's fashionable in the academy, and so they tend to speak the mishmash. Worse, the bad theory is bound up inextricably with extremist left-wing identity politics. Worst of all, that theory is bound up with a catastrophically bad theory of reasoning. That theory is the kind of theory you might expect to be favored by interpretive, non-empirical disciplines: it basically holds that you grab whatever conclusion strikes your fancy, and then you free associate, riffing on trendy ideas, until you can pretend that you've offered an argument for the conclusion you wanted all along. And (see above) these conclusions are almost always of a kind favored by far-left identity politics.
   People have long thought that the humanities are full of shit. But, for the last thirty years of so, the humanities have been full of shit--or largely full of it, anyway. And unsurprisingly, it's affected our public discussions and decisions. The thing about all this is that it doesn't just yield one or two bad conclusions. When you have adopted a defective method of reasoning, the error spreads far and wide, permeating almost everything you think. And that's a very bad thing indeed.


Blogger Aa said...

Maybe it's just lazy thinking. I sit in Faculty Governance meetings and simply stare at the lack of critical thinking being displayed by colleagues across the University/College. During a revision of our gen ed curriculum, I stared in awe at the "turf wars" wrapped in faulty reasoning, idealistic mumbo jumbo, and logical fallacies. Awe is probably the wrong word, I was appalled and disgusted (and I am not trained in critical thinking...but even I spotted it). Even from those in the so-called Hard Sciences.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Hm. Yeah...I should think more about that...

I don't mean that it's always this conscious commitment to the postpostmodern mishmash... often it's just habits people have absorbed because monkey-see-monkey-do...it's just in the air, absorbed by osmosis...

But, yeah, as for the more general point: it's pretty appalling how bad many university professors are at thinking. Then add in bad theories in the air, self-interest. departmental interest (turf wars), and all that...and it can all be pretty appalling...

Though I've often sometimes been pleasantly surprised...and I do have many colleagues scattered around the university who are reliably smart.

11:15 AM  

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