David Thompson


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May 24, 2009



Kamm: "If politics concerns itself with mental states, there is no limit to how far legislation can intrude on people's lives."

Cue speech codes, "dialogue facilitators", classroom lessons in "self esteem"…


I await the brave defendant who asks the court to please define which law makes "offense" illegal.


"classroom lessons in "self esteem"…"

The last thing most kids today need is lessons in that. They are full of it.



A preferred tactic is to claim that unflattering comments concerning, say, religious beliefs are by default “hateful,” “hatemongering” and “discriminatory” – or an incitement to such - even when the comments happen to be true and carefully substantiated. The idea is to insist that some Designated Victim Group is being “oppressed” by statements of fact. The factual veracity of the supposed “hate speech” doesn’t seem to figure highly in such disputes – compared to, say, the complainant’s feelings or some group-based calculus of who should be entitled to preferential treatment. These were among the arguments presented during the recent Ezra Levant / Syed Soharwardy HRC case, and the license for abuse is pretty hard to miss. As is the selectivity of which beliefs are deemed in need of protection by means of bureaucratic harassment.




From Bauerlein:

"This is the bare and banal advantage of social constructionism: it saves time. Truth, facts, objectivity–those require too much reading, too many library visits, too much time soliciting interlibrary loan materials, scrolling through microfilm records, double-checking sources, and looking beyond academic trends that come and go. A philosophy that discredits the foundations of such time-consuming research is a professional blessing. It is the belief-system of inquirers who need an alibi for not reading the extra book, traveling to the other archives, or listening to the other point of view. This is why constructionism is the prevailing creed in the humanities today. It is the epistemology of scholarship in haste, of professors under the gun. As soon as the humanities embraced a productivity model of merit, empiricism and erudition became institutional dead ends, and constructionism emerged as the method of the fittest. "

I suspected the same thing as well. It's a classic case of religion. Social constructionism is a prism through which the complex can be easily reduced to a few colors by which an iterative work can be hastily produced. It's like asking "What would Jesus do?" instead of carefully considering actions onesself.

I blame the insane model of the Academy of requiring some volume of output from every professor. Perhaps it discourages sloth, but often it seems to encourage simple noise.



I’d agree with the “epistemology of scholarship in haste” bit and the doctrinaire tendency is hard to miss. Some adherents get incredibly reactive if their suppositions on the subject are challenged. Some of the reactions I’ve encountered suggested I’d done something scandalous and indecent, like belching loudly in church. It’s just not done.

If anything, Bauerlein is perhaps being a little generous. Many hardline proponents of social construct theory are surprisingly ignorant of the scientific terms and methodologies they presume to denounce. Their objections are ultimately political rather than epistemic, and on points of fact and logic they’re often simply wrong. (When not describing Newton’s Principia as a “rape manual,” Sandra Harding is busy claiming that “witchcraft, prelogical thought and superstitions” should be regarded as “science.” Presumably, that would be much fairer and less haughty.) That Harding, Ross, et al have been taken seriously, to the extent they have been, tells us something about the academic environment they inhabit and its political prejudices. That Bauerlein should have to spell out the obvious, as above, is a measure of that prejudice.




You may find this quite scary:




It amuses greatly to hear Newton's Principia called a "rape manual." I didn't know there were such things. Perhaps a list of such tomes would be useful to compile?

It's a shame that the understanding of science as something divorced from individual biases and perceptions (while of course being limited by human faculties) doesn't seem to be taught if one studies the Humanities. I thankfully started my higher education in Engineering. So perhaps I actually understand the limitations of physics slightly better than Sandra Harding.

The one glimmer of merit in Harding's entire argument is in a historical understanding of the life and times of Newton and others. As for superstition, that can seem as valid as science, and frequently is far more credible to people. See Intelligent Design. But wishing something to be true does not make it so. Asserting that medicine men have a more useful and valid model for the universe than modern quantum theory is rediculous.

The one great appeal of religions/superstitions over science is that one is simple, easy, and seemingly infallible while the other is complex, difficult, and useful only because it is limited. One is as close to the truth as is possible, while the other is wishful thinking. That's a hard pill to swallow. Being educated, powerful, or respected doesn't make it any easier to swallow.

Methinks Harding is either being provocative simply just to shock, or she sees science as being more worthwhile than the humanities. Why else would she want to equate Newton's works with rape? The farthest I will go in armchair psychoanalysis is to propose that she and others of her ilk feel that they aren't being taken seriously. I'm not sure how their efforts can change that.



Thanks. The second letter was interesting:

“None of this material is in the specification, nor can a pupil reliably deduce the answers from the given information. Physics isn’t a pedestrian subject about power companies increasing their profits, or jobs in a rural community; it is about far grander and broader ideas. […] The rigors of physics have been torn down and replaced with impotent science media studies.”

I’m not very familiar with UK physics exams, but I did get a look at my nephew’s homework and the framing of the questions sometimes follows not dissimilar lines. Social issues intrude, supposedly in the name of “relevance,” yet the wording is often ambiguous.


“[Harding] and others of her ilk feel that they aren’t being taken seriously.”

I’d guess Harding wants to be taken very seriously indeed; though her attempt to get noticed, which is what I think we’re dealing with, is at odds with that objective.

Right, it’s a bank holiday. I’m off to the coast for a few hours, so play nicely. Here’s some music.



Newton's laws are universal because they are based on mathematics, which is not based in any racial,cultural, or gender factors - just the movements of physical bodies through space.

However, although those laws are generally applicable and usable for most purposes, Einstein showed that they do not explain all observed physical phenomena, and have to be modified, which is why we have general and special relativity. And those phenomena are also independent of any racial, cultural or gender aspects - people of all races, genders, and cultures understand the physics, and have used it to make all sorts of things, from nuclear power plants to bombs.


It’s important to understand that the objection to scientific and mathematical thinking typified by so-called “science studies” is overtly *political* in nature. Specifically, it’s egalitarian and thus at odds with realism. It’s the academic left’s equivalent of “creation science” or “intelligent design.”

Which is why we find such befuddled claptrap as “ethnomathematics,” the purpose of which is “to supplant the tyranny of Western mathematical standards.” (Note the word “tyranny.”) Proponents of “ethnomathematics” argue that, “mathematics is absolutely integrated with Western civilization, which conquered and dominated the entire world. The only possibility of building up a planetary civilization depends on restoring the dignity of the losers.” And dignity is apparently restored by eliminating the difficult bits, like deductive reasoning and mathematical proofs, which allegedly favour Evil White Males.



I've often thought there's a massive overlap between creationists who say that complexity and improvement can't be created by darwinian methods therefore we need a god that created the species, and marxists who say that a modern economy can't meet the needs of the people by supply/demand and thus we need a economic "absolute" to create the institutions.

I'm a Georgist BTW, so I'm hated by the right AND the left.


I don't know what Oliver Kamm has been smoking. The idealized left of the past that he remembers with nostalgia is one that I never encountered. I do remember Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh. You know, the guy who restarted the Vietnam war, belonged to a party that assassinated and co-opted other nationalists, starved somewhere around 200,000 people in trying to institute collectivization, and generally screwed up in the way that all communists screw up. I also remember the veneration for Castro and Che, the little red book and the wonders of Maoist China and barefoot doctors, but I don't recall mention of the some 40-70 million who died in that damned socialist experiment. Nor do I recall protests when the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, nor when Pol Pot was slaughtering his millions. The humanity of the left has generally been of the BS variety. Sidney Hook and Burnham were the genuine article and both, starting as communists, ended up as conservatives. As all genuine humanists seem to do.

Peter Risdon

You might also like the new physics exam put online by Wellington Grey, author of the second letter mentioned above.



I disagree with chuck.

There has always been a disreputable left that excused tyrants. Nevertheless the mainstream left was firmly anti-Communist. eg. Kennedy. When I think of the Labour Party of the 1930s, I think of Workers Education Associations assisting people to better themselves; Friendly Societies assisting people out of work or providing doctors and nurses; I think of struggling people who declared themselves "respectable". Clearly the left has changed. Can anyone imagine a left wing academic discussing why certain people were not respectable (except in terms of being a BNP voter)?

The problem is as Kamm says, the mainstream left has bought the relativist narrative. This isn't a fringe phenomena anymore. Having said that some on the left still haven't abandoned their support for enlightenment values. For example


One hopes that the David T's, Norms and Olivers win but my gut feel is that the left they believe in has lost.



“This isn’t a fringe phenomenon anymore.”

Well, quite. Ophelia Benson refers to Kamm’s targets as the “pseudo-left,” which suggests they’re somehow inauthentic and unorthodox. But the views in question are pretty much the mainstream default of the UK left’s national newspaper and are aired on radio and TV by mainstream figures with widespread acceptance and depressing regularity. Which makes me wonder if Ophelia, Norm and David T are, sadly, the ones in the minority.



I wasn't around in the 1930's. Nor was Kennedy "left," Kennedy was a liberal, as were Hubert Humphrey and Lyndon Johnson. The new left is what I am familiar with and it was always reactionary.



The name under the comment is the poster. So I presume you mean TDK.

Social Democrat parties have generally placed themselves as being left of centre. Kennedy era Democrats were no exception.

Jason Bontrager

On a lighter note, an entertaining (in a depressing sort of way) treatment of the triumph of feeling and superstition over thought and logic can be read at: http://writings.mike-combs.com/condemnd.htm

I have no connection to the author, I just enjoy the story and thought others here might as well.


David & TDK,

It's Wednesday. Must be time for another Guardian love letter to Che.

"The friendship of Guevara and Castro reminds us what Latin Americans can achieve by taking politics into their own hands"



From that article, the commenter cbarr obviously does not order punctuation in bulk but pays a high price for each and every one.


Oliver is deeply confused. Can he not see that the erosion of liberty follows from progressive liberalism? Its a feature, not a bug.


“It’s Wednesday. Must be time for another Guardian love letter to Che.”

Oh lord. This Simon Reid-Henry chap is practically touching himself as he types. And an academic, no less. How lucky his students must be. Is this the third or fourth Che blowjob to appear in the Guardian this year?



> Oliver is deeply confused. Can he not see that the erosion of liberty follows from progressive liberalism? Its a feature, not a bug.

Exactly. When you tax peoples TIME either by taxing what they earn, or what they spend it on, you are lowering their liberty.


" ... When you tax peoples TIME either by taxing what they earn, or what they spend it on, you are lowering their liberty."

Their point is that THEY know how to use YOUR time/money better than you do, so this is not really a problem. You still have the liberty to earn more money/time for THEM to spend.

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