An account of the Sovereign Nations conference


It’s too bad that it’s a mess, because it’s by Melissa Chen, one of those anti-SJW phonies who was featured at the Mythcon event. It is a source of some unintentional comedy, though.

The conference, organized by Sovereign Nations and titled ‘Speaking Truth to Social Justice,’ featured the masterminds behind the so-called ‘Sokal Squared’ scandal: Helen Pluckrose, Peter Boghossian, and James A. Lindsay. … Last year, the three current and former academics, who are prominent speakers in atheist and humanist circles, published bogus research papers in several academic disciplines — gender studies, queer theory, critical race theory, intersectional feminism, fat studies and postcolonial theory — to highlight the charlatanism and obscurantism that stand in for scholarship, the lack of academic rigor and flaws in the publishing protocols of these fields.

First off, none of those three are particularly prominent — they are all self-promoting hucksters who inflate their importance. Most people who have heard of them at all have heard about them because of their self-aggrandizing attention-seeking, nothing more. But I do like the irony of the three publishing bogus papers to highlight charlatanism. They succeeded. They are charlatans.

The other half of this conference team-up is a conservative Catholic weirdo who is footing the bill.

They found in Michael O’Fallon, the evangelical Christian founder and editor-in-chief of Sovereign Nations, an ally who is likewise deeply concerned about our postmodern era in which ‘grand narratives that have guided our discourse are collapsing.’ What he fears is the encroachment of the secular theoretical perspectives that undergird social justice upon the gospel and the church, weaponizing identity to upend the Christian interpretation of doctrine.

And so an unholy alliance between a bunch of atheists and evangelical Christians was born.

It’s really strange. These people are finding common cause in opposing a boogeyman they don’t even comprehend, postmodernism, so they sat around in a posh library to tell each other scary stories about it. They’ve convinced themselves that this thing they don’t understand is so threatening that they’ll set aside fundamental differences in belief to unite in despising it, and work to generate more “obscurantism that stand in for scholarship”. Because that’s what this is, jaws flappin’ to render a lot of words in support of their incoherent position.

According to Boghossian, the fault lines in Culture War 2.0 center around the correspondence theory of truth and the role that intersectionality ought to play into our worldview. The correspondence theory of truth states that that there is a ‘truth’ and that our beliefs correspond to a stable, knowable world. Intersectionality is the idea that there are intersecting identities that comprise one’s identity (e.g., lesbian, white, disabled, etc.) that contribute to a framework of power dynamics and moral hierarchy. Much of social justice ideology and activism is predicated on intersectionality and standpoint epistemology, which in contrast to the correspondence theory states that it is one’s position in a system that determines what’s true. A liberal atheist, Boghossian says that ‘if the conservative Christians at the conference believe Jesus walked on water (that either is or is not true for everyone regardless of one’s race or gender) and they value discourse and adhere to basic rules of engagement, then they are closer to my worldview than an atheist who’s adopted intersectionality and does not adhere to the rules of engagement.’

Somehow, they’ve twisted around a belief in a knowable world into an appreciation of a simplistic, black-and-white universe where what’s valued is a willingness to close one’s eyes and engage in mutual dialogue with whatever nonsense the other side is espousing, as long as they let you talk (and pay the airfare and hotel bill). And they claim liberals are wishy-washy!

If you ask me (they didn’t, I wouldn’t expect them to), the virtue of intersectionality within a scientific context is that it recognizes that the world is extremely complex, that no one perspective, especially not an unthinkingly dogmatic one, can encompass its breadth, and that we ought to recognize that every individual is equally valuable and their perspectives an essential part of the whole. I can believe that there is a ‘truth’ while simultaneously recognizing that I don’t own it, and that my identity shapes how I perceive it. I can also disavow the kind of perspective that Boghossian and O’Fallon share, that they do believe they possess an absolute truth, and that that is the real reason they hate this poorly grasped intersectionality/postmodernism stuff — by its very nature, it challenges their claim to authority, because it breaks apart the notion of any authority at all.

But it’s nice that a group of epistemological despots can get along and pat each other on the back, just as real despots like Trump & Putin & Erdogan can agree to disagree, as long as they’re allowed to shoot the peons in the back. One must focus on the important stuff, you know, and in this case it’s about maintaining platforms of discourse that will profit them.

By the way, if they honestly valued discourse, where were the SJWs at this conference to present their position?

Comments

  1. says

    The whole “look, we managed to publish some bullshit to show that your ${magazine|blog|website|podcast} can’t tell bullshit from reality” meme is stupid, because it just shows that people can be fooled. Holy shit! In a world of not-very ground-breaking results that’s not very ground-breaking!

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Yeah, Chen’s account, to put it most concisely, sucks:

    The deeper problem is that wherever intersectionality goes, cognitive liberty is lost. One can no longer pursue truth and seek it for oneself; one must subscribe to the new secular dogma of intersectionality or risk being labeled a heretic or blasphemer.

    She takes the conference speakers’ ideology as a starting point – and goes nowhere.

  3. specialffrog says

    Is there any “truth” they are prevented from pursuing apart from race pseudoscience? I suppose an understanding of intersectionality makes it hard to argue that white Christian men are the real oppressed minority or that the US is a meritocracy.

  4. kome says

    It amazes me just how often these abject morons throw around terms, concepts, and phrases and then immediately reveal almost no understanding of them.
    -The Sokal hoax wasn’t really demonstrating what they claim, so calling their fraud “Sokal Squared” does a disservice to what Sokal was trying to draw attention to.
    -Correspondence theory ain’t really what they’re claiming, even after granting them room to simplify it because they only spent a few words describing it. Standpoint epistemology isn’t either, although that is almost certainly an intentional caricature. I’m not even 100% sure if they have a real grounded idea of what “truth” is beyond “what prejudices I already uncritically believe because I’m too lazy to engage in some reflection.” It feels like they’re trying to argue that their favorite flavor of ice cream is somehow objectively the actual best flavor of ice cream.
    -Their own hoax attempt wasn’t really all that successful when something like only 4 out of 20 articles ended up being published. If I threw 20 darts at a dart board and only 4 of them landed on the dart board, it wouldn’t make sense for me to strut around bragging about how awesome I am at darts. But, here we are.
    -Hell, even the practice of academic publishing doesn’t mean what these individuals (and their cult) seem to think. Quite a fair number of articles are published because the editors/reviewers think it can be useful for stimulating discussion about a topic, not because the field agrees with the conclusions of the authors. You just need to look at the “faster than light neutrinos” paper from a few years ago for a really good example of what I mean. The authors themselves didn’t strongly believe the findings they reported but they felt that publishing it (after replicating the apparent effect several times, no less) would help get discussion going about just what the hell really happened. Might as well whine that a highly respected physics journal publishing findings that the authors said they don’t really believe themselves means that the entire field of physics is just engaging in “charlatanism and obscurantism that stand in for scholarship.”

    This isn’t even all that subtle, either. Boghossian and crew are like Humpty Dumpty, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean. Nothing more nothing less.” Or, less charitably, they’re like Sartre’s conception of anti-Semites who knowingly play absurd word games because they feel they have a right to play and know their opponent is beholden to use words responsibly. It just really really sucks how effective it is as a strategy.

  5. raven says

    Michael O”Fallon spouting gibberish:

    What he fears is the encroachment of the secular theoretical perspectives that undergird social justice upon the gospel and the church, weaponizing identity to upend the Christian interpretation of doctrine.

    This is gibberish.
    If you try to decipher it, you can’t because it makes no sense.

    .1. What are these “secular theoretical perspectives” anyway?
    It is undefined, so anyone has to guess.
    .2. What is social justice?
    While he doesn’t define it, this at least has a definition.
    Investopedia: What Is Social Justice? Social justice is a political and philosophical concept which holds that all people should have equal access to wealth, health, well-being, justice, and opportunity.
    So what is wrong with Social Justice?
    Nothing, it is one of the foundational principles of our society.
    Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    .3. …encroachment…upon the gospel and the church,
    Gibberish.
    The bible and xian churches are not all opposed to Social Justice.
    In fact, many of them and parts of the Catholic church are advocates of…Social Justice.
    O’Fallon is pretending all xian churches are right wingnut fascists like himself.
    This is false.
    .4. “weaponizing identity to upend” This is meaningless.
    .5. “the Christian interpretation of doctrine.”
    There is no such thing as the xian interpretation of doctrine.
    Xianity is split into 48,000 sects that don’t agree on anything.
    The sects frequently hate each other and used to fight wars among themselves until
    we took away their armies and heavy weapons.

    What O’Fallon means is something you just have to guess because he refuses to put it in understandable language.
    It seems like he is one of those crackpots who misses the Dark Ages and hates the Enlightenment.

  6. says

    I’m actually kind of surprised that they even managed to correctly identify feminist standpoint theory as an epistemically-related position. They keep banging on about intersectionality cum postmodernism cum theory of truth that you have to wonder whether they know anything about either feminism or gender studies or epistemology at all.

    I would love, just love, for someone to flat out ask them,

    “Exactly what epistemic claims or assertions does intersectionality make?”

    To borrow a phrase from Rowling, whose Lovegoods show she actually does know something about epistemology, these folks are nuttier than squirrel poo.

  7. Kip Williams says

    By the way, if they honestly valued discourse, where were the SJWs at this conference to present their position?
    Not needed! As is customary in anti-SJW forums, they graciously make up SJW opinions in order to refute them. It also works for any group that they can’t stand to listen to in the flesh or any sort of representation of reality. Make up your own, knock it down, profit.

  8. says

    @raven:

    I don’t think that

    encroachment…upon the gospel and the church

    is actually gibberish. Arguing that its wrong isn’t the same as arguing that it’s unintelligible. Rather I think it’s much more intelligible and simultaneously much more tyrannical than you’ve described. IMO this statement can be best understood as saying,

    makes claims about topics on which the gospel and/or the church have already spoken

    the objection to “encroachment” here means solely that it is illegitimate to have and (especially) to express any opinion on any topic that also happens to be relevant to religion as O’Fallon understands religion.

    For someone like Boghossian, Lindsay, or Pluckrose who professes to value freedom to pursue truth across the boundaries of dogma, this should be an entirely disqualifying position in a potential partner. And yet, BLP joyfully collaborate with O’Fallon to produce this cri de cul in opposition to the women and people of color and queers who won’t stay in their own lanes.

  9. unclefrogy says

    I’m not even 100% sure if they have a real grounded idea of what “truth” is beyond “what prejudices I already uncritically believe because I’m too lazy to engage in some reflection.” It feels like they’re trying to argue that their favorite flavor of ice cream is somehow objectively the actual best flavor of ice cream.

    yes to question is to tread in the unknown and risk the outer darkness indeed like most “believers” they stick very close to what they learned as children. I do not spend too much energy trying to parse what they are saying because it is mostly full of No and aimed entirely in the negative
    uncle frogy

  10. John Morales says

    Not Catholic, but Calvinist (Reformed Southern Baptist).

    They really dislike Catholicism (“Popery”).

  11. chrislawson says

    Gotta love someone who hates postmodernism saying things like ‘the grand narratives that have guided our discourse are collapsing.’

    Intersectionality is one of those concepts that is so obviously right (in general, obviously some people’s specific takes of it can be poorly thought out) that anyone who opposes it is marking themselves as rampantly anti-rational. If someone opposes intersectionality, they are basically saying that there is no interaction between the different identity groups a person belongs to. That is, all lesbians have the same lesbian experience regardless of race. And all blacks have the same racial experience regardless of sexual orientation. You don’t need to be a genius to see what a bad take this is.

    And what can we say about a so-called skeptical atheist who claims to share a worldview with people who insist on the truth of transparently confabulated religious fables while rejecting the worldview of people who insist that the humans are complex? I’d say they’re a pretty jelly-legged atheist and the diametric opposite a skeptic. Is this just the skeptics’ version of ‘compassionate conservatism’?

  12. says

    @chrislawson:

    Since religion is one of the factors addressed by intersectionality, you can even go one notch more obvious for the white people who always want to deny differential (average) experiences among differently racialized group by stating:

    If someone opposes intersectionality, they are basically saying that there is no interaction between the different identity groups a person belongs to. That is, all lesbians have the same lesbian experience regardless of religion.

    Even the “I don’t see race” racists would have to admit the idiocy of assuming that religious upbringing and experiences have no effect on how one experiences queerness.

  13. unclefrogy says

    @12
    well maybe but all the racists I have ever talked to seem to be able to spout any kind of bullshit just as if it was real. They seem to be more willing to deny reality itself before they could admit they are wrong.
    uncle frogy

  14. notallhumans says

    The problems of these bogus disciplines have been known for decades though. Higher Supersition was published in 1994 for crying out loud, and they’ve done nothing to clean house. Instead what Sokal Squared demonstrated is how they’ve metastasized. At least in the Sciences there is a lot more public airing of dirty laundry and people trying to fix things. Probably because they’re still populated by people who actually care about truth (but would SciGen require IRB approval today?). Except for despicable traitors like Myers who are happy to consort with this nonsense. Most likely because they’re afraid of offending friends from the Humanities side of campus.

    Metz summarizes the state of the nonsense here

    There is a reason why primary research is eschewed so completely. Who wants the hassle of having to justify outrageous assumptions and indefensible claims?

    It’s why Nicholas “No Such Thing As Biological Sex” Matte can actually be a doctoral candidate, with no one ever requiring him to take a biology course or do primary research.
    It’s why the University of Wisconsin-Madison establishes a post-doc in “feminist biology” in the Department of Gender & Women’s Studies program, not Biology.
    It’s why “Critical Plant Theory” does not happen in a Botany lab.
    It’s why a rap song can count as a Ph.D dissertation.”

  15. John Morales says

    notallhumans, you do know this post is about your mob cosying up to the evangelicals, because those are the sort of people who buy into Metz’s nonsense, right?

  16. notallhumans says

    This is what the Regressive Left don’t get. Out of fear of causing offense, and unwillingness to defend the lessons of The Enlightenment (in the David Brin sense of the word, where Enlightenment = Reciprocal Accountability), you have created a moral vacuum to be filled by the right.

    The reason Sokal and successors worked is because their papers were indistinguishable from the “real” thing. And worse, the “real” thing is terrible and its defenders don’t care.

  17. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Regressive left = codes words used by s RW fuckwit. Allegation dismissed with prima facie evidence as a contemptible ignorant stupid troll.

  18. John Morales says

    notallhumans, if Sokal “had worked”, there would have been no need for successors, would there? And the “Sokal Squared” fiasco has been well-documented in this very blog.

    (Also, “Regressive Left” is an oxymoron; one of your tells is that you use it unironically)

  19. raven says

    Nonhuman troll ranting and raving:

    The reason Sokal and successors worked is because their papers were indistinguishable from the “real” thing. And worse, the “real” thing is terrible and its defenders don’t care.

    More gibberish from an alt right troll.

    The people who Sokal was criticizing were and are people like Boghossian and yourself (nonhuman troll)!!!
    You just put together a lot of assertions without proof or data.
    Which may be dismissed without proof or data.
    You are just wrong.
    You aren’t saying anything worth while with anything like proof or data.
    You are just ranting and raving like any other dumb right wingnut troll.

    Boghossian isn’t even trying to sound intelligent any more.
    He is just a typical right wingnut moron spreading hate for attention and money.

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