Colin Brazier: Professor's resignation letter should serve as a warning to cancel culture lovers
'It’s a cancel culture tactic we’ve seen before. If you want to shut someone up, drown them in inquiries and investigations'
Tonight's Viewpoint now. You can see why some academics hate Peter Boghossian. Here was a professor, a professor of philosophy no less, who sensationally revealed how woke pseudoscience is a gigantic fraud. Today his resignation letter is ricocheting around the world and causing a sensation.
And although the story it tells is set in America, tonight I’m going to take you through it, because Peter Boghossian’s decision to resign ought to be a wake-up call for everyone who believes in intellectual courage, free speech and the right to show charlatans up for what they are. Until yesterday Peter Boghossian was a lecturer at Portland State University. Until recently, a university was a place where ideas were exchanged freely. That was sort of their purpose.
But Boghossian was unpopular. He encouraged his students to consider ideas they rarely came across and usually didn’t agree with, to see things from the other side of the woke screen. This was a recipe for outrage. His office door was daubed with swastikas and excrement. He was spat at and threatened on campus.
Flyers appeared depicting him as Pinocchio. His lectures were sabotaged. Wires were pulled out of PA systems, fire alarms set off. An anonymous complainant denounced him as a wife and child beater, allegations which were quickly repudiated, but not before they started up the rumour mill. Did the university protect him, throw his tormentors off their courses?
No, the only investigations were aimed at Boghossian. It’s a cancel culture tactic we’ve seen before. If you want to shut someone up, drown them in inquiries and investigations. Put them through Salem and they won’t have time to cause trouble.
All this just for asking woke students to think differently for a moment? No, Boghossian committed a much graver sin. Not against students, but the academics, the panjandrums who – in America enjoy what’s called ‘Tenure’ – in other words, a job for life. It’s meant to give them the financial security that will encourage intellectual risk-taking. In reality, it’s a sinecure, a sort of bribe that encourages professors not to rock the boat, but to toe the line.
And the line is social justice, critical race theory, transgenderism, trigger warnings, micro-aggressions, safe spaces….and so on. The whole damned panoply of drivel that has seeped across the Atlantic to narrow British, as well as American minds.
What caused all this academic animus? Boghossian effectively played the part of the little boy who said what nobody else would say – that the Emperor was not wearing any clothes. He revealed academia, or large parts of the social sciences at least, to be bogus. How did he do that? He did the thing that academics do to get on in their world, to get tenure.
He published papers in respected academic journals. The only thing is – the papers he and a couple of colleagues published were utterly bogus, meretricious hogwash. Fake theories, wrapped in buzz words and incomprehensible jargon. They sounded like the real thing, but if the academics who published them had engaged their brains for a second, they would’ve realized they were being spectacularly sent up.
One paper claimed that the phallus played a large part in causing climate change. Another argued that body-building discriminated against obese people. A submission about feminist spirituality was actually written by an algorithm. Another double-peer-reviewed paper, in other words, a theory that was pawed-over by two academics, was actually a chapter plagiarised from Mein Kampf.
The paper published in Gender, Place and Culture, claimed that a rising incidence of canine rape in parks was a result of sexism shown towards female dogs. The author suggested remedies, including asking men to wear a leash. All of this was done to show the world how the currency of academia had been debased. It caused a lot of red faces, as it should’ve done.
But then came the backlash. Boghossian was charged with ‘research misconduct’, an Orwellian phrase if ever there was. In his resignation letter Boghossian said: “Our purpose was to show that certain kinds of ‘scholarship’ are based not on finding truth but on advancing social grievances.” If you were making a film about cancel culture, Boghossian’s life would be a good biopic.
In his parting shot at academia, he says that for all they champion diversity and inclusion, the culture they’ve created is having exactly the opposite effect. If you’ve got five minutes free tonight, I strongly urge you to read his resignation letter, you can find a link to it on my Twitter page. It will give, even those of you who think cancel culture is just so much moral panic, some serious food for thought.