OCCASIONALLY an academic emerges who is willing to break ranks and expose the intellectual vacuity and social dangers of woke culture. Professor Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University in Oregon, is one such, and has paid the price for intellectual honesty: his university has banned him from conducting academic research on a charge of ‘questionable ethical behaviour’.
In 2018 Boghossian and two other researchers set out to demonstrate the lack of integrity in peer-reviewed academic publications. They submitted radical hoax papers to various social justice journals. Seven of the papers were accepted for publication. These included one that focused on ‘dog park rape culture’ and a piece that was simply a section of Hitler’s Mein Kampf reworked to include a few academic buzzwords.
This was not just a prank, it was a serious attempt to demonstrate how university faculty and administrations are pushing their radical ideas on students and the outside world as if they were facts, or at least rooted in facts, even though they are pure conjecture without scientific basis.
The university officials were so alarmed at Boghossian saying ‘the emperor has no clothes’ and exposing the lack of credibility of the academic journals that it took measures to preclude him from humiliating them any further.
Boghossian received a letter informing him that he is barred from conducting any ‘human subjects-related research’ as well as any university-sponsored research. He is prohibited from conducting research until he ‘can show satisfactory evidence of understanding of the protections afforded human subjects’ by completing a ‘protection of human subjects’ training course and subsequently interview with the Assistant Vice President for Research Administration to ‘assure [his] understanding.’
The letter also warned Boghossian that the university president, as well as his department chair, dean and provost, will be advised as to his ‘lack of academic integrity’ and ‘questionable ethical behavior.’
The university’s stance means that in order to conduct an experiment exposing the lack of integrity of the journals, Boghossian should first have informed the journals of his intent and got their permission to expose their lack of integrity.
Professor Boghossian hit back. He has written an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal which is a incisive warning of just how far the social justice dominance of university campuses is spreading from the woke hothouses which universities are becoming and out into the real world. Boghossian claims that today more than ever social justice fever is infecting mainstream cultural life. There is a radical, anti-intellectual political philosophy being inculcated in college and university campuses and it is having an effect.
He warned how far-Left political concepts, propagated by lecturers and swallowed wholesale by students, regarding everything from LGBTQ activism to pushing the notion of ‘white privilege’, is penetrating our culture, from our politics to the workplace to the entertainment industry to the mainstream media.
‘You’ve almost certainly heard some of the following terms: cisgender, fat-shaming, heteronormativity, intersectionality, patriarchy, rape culture and whiteness,’ Boghossian wrote. ‘The reason you’ve heard from them is that politically engaged academicians have been developing concepts like these for more than 30 years – and all that time, they’ve been percolating . . .
‘Only recently have they begun to emerge in mainstream culture. These academicians accomplish this by passing off their ideas as knowledge; that is, as if these terms describe facts about the world and social reality. And while some of these ideas may contain bits of truth, they aren’t scientific. By and large, they’re the musings of ideologues.’
Boghossian argues that ‘social justice’ academics are pushing their ideas into the mainstream through a process called ‘idea laundering.’ This is the process by which far-Left academics propel their ideas into the social outlook. Idea laundering involves the conversion of an academic’s moral beliefs into a form of ‘knowledge’ based on his or her subjective sense of ethics.
Using the example of obesity, Boghossian illustrates how non-scientific moral positions become knowledge in academia and spread to the outside world. It begins when various academics have strong moral impulses about something, they perceive negative attitudes about obesity in society, and they want to stop people from making the obese feel bad about their condition.
They convince themselves that the clinical concept of obesity (a medical term) is mainly a social construct or story we tell ourselves about fat (a pejorative term) people. Obesity is not held to be true or false, rather it’s a reflection of the power structures of society. It becomes a mechanism by which those within a social power dynamic (thin people) unjustly ascribe authority to medical knowledge in order to bolster their own position in society.
This far-fetched ‘woke’ notion evolves into academic fact. Academics who share these views start a peer-reviewed periodical such as Fat Studies, which publishes articles like ‘Theorizing fat oppression: Intersectional approaches and methodological innovations.’
The journal grows like every other academic journal. Fat Studies conferences are arranged, they publish their own papers, have a panel of approved ‘experts’ in fat studies who vet submissions. Soon other academics holding similar viewpoints submit papers, quite quickly momentum is reached and fat studies becomes an accepted part of the academic programme. What began as a moral stance, that it’s unkind to call fat people fat, has become a branch of knowledge.
Ideas have consequences. Professors teach students pseudo-knowledge, and those students graduate and enter into society’s institutions bringing with them the ideological crusade into which their woke professors initiated them. Feelings masquerade as fact and society is altered, and progressivism relentlessly marches on.