Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Peter Boghossian: Idea Laundering In Academia

God bless Boghossian.
   I've been saying similar things, but I never quite thought of it on analogy to money laundering. That's Brett Weinstein's analogy, apparently--and a pretty good one, I say. (Here's the full text if you can't access the WSJ.)
   One thing I've been saying--and this is less clever and less effective: the humanities and humanities-adjacent social sciences simply don't produce knowledge of the relevant sort. Women's and gender studies is/are the paradigm example(s). They employ a literary/interpretive method, and, to some extent, a historical one. Such disciplines can make historical discoveries. But they don't make science-like discoveries. So while they assert that woman is a social--and not a biological--kind...in fact they insist on it...they do not--and, given their methods, probably cannot--prove it. Even philosophy--which, for all its failings, is something like an order of magnitude less ridiculous than women's studies--basically never proves anything. That is: nothing non-historical outside the realm of formal logic. I doubt that we're doing nothing at all...but we don't typically (or ever?) acquire knowledge of a non-historical, non-logical kind. The arguments for the proposition that woman is a social kind are preposterously weak. Embarrassing, really. (That's one thing philosophers are often reasonably good at--shooting down crap arguments from nearby disciplines.) Pretending that women's studies (etc.) produces knowledge or something like it--something that could plausibly be the basis for public policy changes--is something like a category mistake. It's kind of like thinking that literary criticism of "The New Colossus" could form the foundation for overhauling our immigration system.
   But anyway, the "idea laundering" idea gets at something else as well--that the left bootstraps its way up from activism to pseudoscience. Begin in the '80s by establishing the "x studies" departments, e.g. women's. Women's studies is, of course, really feminist studies. And that's to say: it's a political, activist department. That is: it's not an academic discipline. But, once ensconced, it starts producing pseudo-scholarship--writing with a scholarly veneer that actually has political ends. Activists can then cite the "scholarship," and the circle is closed. Basically, grievance studies fields provide an academic ventriloquist's dummy that will say whatever activists want it to. Imagine him sitting on their knee in his little regalia, spewing nonsense words like "phallogocentrism" and "social construct."
   So, anyway: 'idea laundering' is pretty much right on the money.
   Oh and: it's not just grievance studies. This literary/political method/approach has spread to almost every discipline that you can do without too much math. You'll find such "scholars" in philosophy, history, poli sci, sociology, anthropology, literary criticism...foreign language is now apparently full of it...as is education (an academic slum already)… Sadly, it sometimes seems like the rule rather than the exception.


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