The hypocrisy of Boghossian’s academic defenders

I was listening to the latest Serious Inquiries Only podcast, on the Boghossian affair, while I was pumpin’ iron down at the gym, and Eli Bosnick made a really, really good point. After reading these various serious statements of support for Boghossian from people like Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker — they’re piously declaring that demanding he follow IRB requirements is a threat to academic freedom — he mentioned a curious omission. While they rush to the defense of their alt-right, Intellectual Dork Web colleague who has violated university policy and faces a rebuke from the university administration, they’ve never said a word about…Turning Point USA.

You know TPUSA is a Koch-funded far-right organization that trains students to incidents at universities so they can get left-leaning professors fired. They’re kind of incompetent at it — wearing diapers to show that left-wingers are babies isn’t very impressive — but you still don’t get to accuse universities of Orwellian behavior when right there, right in front of their faces, with no apologies and forthright insistence, TPUSA is maintaining an Orwellian Professor Watchlist (fair notice: I’m on it).

On the one hand, you’ve got a university calling in bigoted anti-feminist employee to a meeting (oh god, that’s torture!) because he violated university policy; on the other, a well-funded right-wing organization making an enemies list of professors and encouraging action against them. Which one do you side with? It says a lot about you.

Boghossian in a panic!

He thinks he’s going to be fired from his position at Portland State. That’s not necessarily the case, but Boghossian has been found guilty of ethical misconduct for his “grievance studies” exercise.

Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University and the only one of three researchers on the project to hold a full-time academic position, was found by his institutional review board to have committed research misconduct. Specifically, he failed to secure its approval before proceeding with research on human subjects — in this case, the journal editors and reviewers he was tricking with his absurd but seemingly well-researched papers.

Their defense is peculiar. James Lindsay literally says “It’s not actually scholarship”, Pluckrose says, “They can’t say we needed IRB approval…because there weren’t any real human subjects”, and that they couldn’t ask for IRB approval because that would tip off the (human) reviewers they were trying to trick. But that’s nonsense — of course you can do blind and double-blind studies on humans, IRBs approve those all the time. Here’s what they actually expected:

“An IRB protocol application should have been submitted to the Office of Research Integrity,” reads a determination letter from Portland state’s IRB dated last month. “University policy requires that all research involving human subjects conducted by faculty, other employees and students [on campus] must have prior review and approval by the IRB.”

Exactly. As an extra bonus, having an official declaration of exactly what they were trying to do and how they planned to analyze it ahead of time would have been more persuasive that they were actually doing a real study. But they weren’t, and they’ve even admitted it — if it’s not really scholarship, then what was it? I don’t know. Garbage? A publicity stunt? Propaganda?

It’s also the hypocrisy.

Over all, Christensen said he and Sears believe that Boghossian “wants to have it both ways.” That is, publicly presenting his project as a “rigorous study that exposed flaws in the peer-review system” while also “claiming that the hoax wasn’t a genuine study, and therefore IRB approval doesn’t apply.”

I don’t do research on humans, but even I know this kind of work demands IRB review (spider research doesn’t, at all), and I’m a bit shocked that they didn’t even discuss it with an IRB officer. I don’t even see any reason to expect that the application would be turned down, except possibly over its lack of rigor and poor foundation. By not going through the protocols — which even Boghossian admits are important and necessary — they did a disservice to research.

I agree with this assessment.

“We think that he did commit academic fraud, by design, and that some professional sanctions might be warranted,” Christensen continued. Boghossian and his colleagues “did misrepresent themselves, they did falsify their evidence and they did commit a serious infraction of research misconduct by deceiving these editors, wasting the time of the readers and then publicly slandering the journals and their fields. It is the right of any university to investigate fraud perpetrated by its employees.”

They also wasted the time of reviewers — you know that reviewing papers is unpaid service work for professors, right?

But guess who is defending Boghossian: Jordan Peterson and Steven Pinker. Of course.

At least we’ve got the authors on record now admitting that their “study” wasn’t a study, and wasn’t even any kind of scholarship at all.

Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose are simply incompetent hacks

There are many reasons why that inane fake article “study” was bad. Here’s a good summary from HJ.

But we also know bullshit gets published, with relatively little effort, in non-“grievance studies” journals. SCIgen is a program that automatically generates Computer Science papers. The authors were able to get one such paper accepted to a scientific conference in 2005. Eight years later, some researchers discovered that a whopping 120 SCIgen papers had been published across thirty conferences. That same year, John Bohannon submitted a paper on “medicinal lichen” that was machine translated from English to French and back again to 300 open-access journals; it was accepted in 157, and of the 36 submissions where peer reviewers caught the hoax a whopping 16 journals published the paper anyway. Not recent enough for you? While Boghossian and his two friends were toiling away on twenty papers, one person submitted an obvious hoax paper to fourteen biology journals; it got published in three journals and accepted in a further five.

Again, their core claim is that “grievance studies” journals are more prone to hoaxes than non-“grievance studies” journals. If we use my examples as controls, their hypothesis lacks sufficient evidence to be considered true; if we do not, then they don’t have control group and their hypothesis lacks sufficient evidence to be considered true.

Boghossian, Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Mounk do not have the science knowledge of an alert High School student. They should be deeply ashamed and laughed out of academia, instead of rewarded with wingnut welfare.

They used the same hatchet science denialists employ to criticize everything from evolution to climate to physics to medicine: find a few deficiencies — and that peer-review in general can be gamed is a recognized, ongoing problem — and use them to pillory an entire field of study. And like the denialists, they focus on one thing they don’t like, in this case feminism, and selectively criticize narrow, specific problems while generalizing to the whole. This is precisely the kind of game kooks play to claim that evolution is unsupported by evidence, that the earth’s climate isn’t changing, that cigarettes aren’t really that bad for you, and that the AMA is hiding a secret cure for cancer.

I agree. All of them have demonstrated a sophomoric understanding of science and a weird ideological bias that taints everything they do, and they’ve just earned a universal thumbs-down from academia.

Give it a rest, Boghossian and pals

You’d think they’d learn. When Boghossian and Lindsay published their phony “conceptual penis” paper, they were roundly mocked and ridiculed for concluding that academia was corrupt because they got a badly written paper published in an obscure journal, proving nothing. It’s the skeptical equivalent of p-hacking — yes, if you carry out a badly designed experiment, you will sometimes get a positive hit, but you can’t conclude anything from it. No one is surprised that, in the volume of papers submitted to the peer-reviewed literature, clunkers get through. We know the system is not perfect.

But now we learn that, after their initial ‘success’ with the “conceptual penis” article, they sat down and repeated the same thing, over and over again. They intentionally flooded journals with “fake news”, and when some of it leaked through, cried triumph.

Beginning in August 2017, the trio wrote 20 hoax papers, submitting them to peer-reviewed journals under a variety of pseudonyms, as well as the name of their friend Richard Baldwin, a professor emeritus at Florida’s Gulf Coast State College. Mr. Baldwin confirms he gave them permission use his name. Journals accepted seven hoax papers. Four have been published.

What I have learned from this is that the familiar trio of frauds — Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay, and Helen Pluckrose — have a real talent for writing garbage papers, which I’d actually kind of already known from their activities on social media. Now they’ve gone beyond their original efforts of making nonsensical interpretations to making up data, as in a paper about observations made at a Portland dog park, which made a number of people suspicious, and which led to an unraveling of their game.

All of this prompted me to ask my own questions. My email to “Helen Wilson” was answered by James Lindsay, a math doctorate and one of the real co-authors of the dog-park study. Gender, Place & Culture had been duped, he admitted. So had half a dozen other prominent journals that accepted fake papers by Mr. Lindsay and his collaborators—Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University, and Helen Pluckrose, a London-based scholar of English literature and history and editor of

The three academics call themselves “left-leaning liberals.” Yet they’re dismayed by what they describe as a “grievance studies” takeover of academia, especially its encroachment into the sciences. “I think that certain aspects of knowledge production in the United States have been corrupted,” Mr. Boghossian says. Anyone who questions research on identity, privilege and oppression risks accusations of bigotry.

You know, if you’re a left-leaning liberal, there are plenty of gigantic targets you could be taking aim at: all you need to do is look at all three branches of the federal government, or police activities nation-wide, or the military-industrial complex, or the undermining of regulations by big corporations, or wealth inequality. We have no shortage of big, serious problems. But for some reason, these left-leaning liberals have decided that academia is too left-leaning, and must be exposed. And what have they exposed? A set of problems that Francis Bacon railed against in the 17th century.

Bacon was well aware that science had a weakness, that it was done by flawed humans who had their own biases (he was rather deeply flawed himself), and strove to make people self-aware of their own weaknesses and make efforts to use a rigorous methodology to circumvent those problems. Even the big name journals in technical fields occasionally publish terrible work because it meets pro forma conventions and is backed by lots of money (<cough, cough&> the ENCODE project), but you don’t see PluckBogSay going after those — instead, they have an agenda of conspiring against feminist and social science journals, which says something about their intent.

It might have been interesting if they’d chosen journals in their own fields, and written articles that satirized weaknesses in their own discipline…oh. Hey. I just realized — maybe Boghossian’s entire career has been a performance art piece criticizing how lackluster frauds can get academic jobs in philosophy. He may yet pull a valid criticism out of his hat.

But punching down at marginal journals because they have a soft spot for tendentious prattle ain’t it. It’s also exploiting a feature of academia that I rather like — trust. Even Alan Sokal has problems with what they’re doing.

This isn’t the first time scholars have used a hoax paper to make a point. In 1996 Duke University Press’s journal Social Text published a hoax submission by Alan Sokal, a mathematical physicist at New York University. Mr. Sokal, who faced no punishment for the hoax, told me he was “not oblivious to the ethical issues involved in my rather unorthodox experiment,” adding that “professional communities operate largely on trust; deception undercuts that trust.”

I could agree that many disciplines can be too trusting, and that more self-discipline is warranted. We do, however, have an ethical mechanism for addressing that problem: it’s called writing rebuttals and critical arguments that directly address bad work. It’s what I do with creationism, for instance. I’ll write a confrontational article pointing out why their claims are bogus, using knowledge of my own field to explain why they are wrong. I don’t sit down and write 20 garbage creationist articles (even though that would be trivially easy to do) and contribute to their body of work, which they’ll then use to justify creationism.

If you can find a bad article accepted for publication in a feminist journal, please do jump on it and tear it apart. That contributes to the strength of the discipline. Don’t write a bunch of bad articles of your own, which are clearly intended only to weaken the whole discipline and provide a set of easy, straw-man arguments that you can use to pretend you’re a smart guy.

They seem to know deep down that what they’re doing is wrong and unethical, and they have a rather fatalistic view of their future prospects.

Mr. Boghossian doesn’t have tenure and expects the university will fire or otherwise punish him. Ms. Pluckrose predicts she’ll have a hard time getting accepted to a doctoral program. Mr. Lindsay said he expects to become “an academic pariah,” barred from professorships or publications.

Interesting that they frame the anticipated consequences in terms of being punished or barred. That’s not the case at all. They’re going to have serious problems with a future in academia because they’re writing trashy papers that don’t further the knowledge in their disciplines at all, and seem to be more interested in policing people they don’t like than in advancing philosophy, mathematics, or literature. Maybe if there were a department of anti-feminist studies somewhere, they could fit in. Or maybe their real specialty is “grievance studies,” the very thing they are complaining about.

Otherwise, setting themselves up as martyrs is all the qualification they need to get a position in some right-wing think-tank, which is clearly the appropriate destiny for these “left-leaning liberals.”

What is this “pride month” of which you speak?

Would it be OK if I called this an example of toxic masculinity, or will it hurt young men’s feelings?

Arrests have been made, at least.

A 16-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of robbery and aggravated burglary on Saturday morning, Scotland Yard said.

Four other men between the ages of 15 and 18 have already been arrested on suspicion of robbery and aggravated grievous bodily harm and are being questioned separately.

We also get an example of why it’s called pride.

“I was and still am angry. It was scary, but this is not a novel situation,” said Chris. “I’m not scared about being visibly queer. If anything, you should do it more.

“A lot of people’s rights and basic safety are at risk. I want people to feel emboldened to stand up to the same people who feel emboldened by the rightwing populism that is, I feel, responsible for the escalation in hate crimes. I want people to take away from this that they should stand up for themselves and each other.”

Geymonat added: “The violence is not only because we are women which are dating each other. It’s also because we are women.”

Maybe somebody should explain this to Peter Boghossian.

No. A Portland professor is not being railroaded.

“No” is usually the right answer when an article is headlined with a question. Jesse Singal has authored an article in NY Magazine titled, Is a Portland Professor Being Railroaded by His University for Criticizing Social-Justice Research?, and think we can cut through all the garbage by simply saying “no.” Singal tries to present both sides, but one side is not at all convincing.

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a mini forum which showcased a variety of different views on the subject. “The entire force of their stunt lies in the fact that they managed to get several satirical papers published,” wrote the University of Washington biologist Carl T. Bergstrom. “But it makes no sense to judge the health of a field by looking at what an insincere author can get through peer review.” On the other side was Yascha Mounk, a Harvard lecturer in government, who condemned the circling of the academic wagons and what he viewed as unfair attempts to undermine the hoaxsters. “[E]ven if all of the charges laid at the feet of Lindsay, Pluckrose, and Boghossian were true, they would have demonstrated a very worrying fact,” he wrote. “Some of the leading journals in areas like gender studies have failed to distinguish between real scholarship and intellectually vacuous as well as morally troubling bullshit.”

I think Bergstrom already answered Mounck’s objection. You can find bad papers getting published in every field, even, for instance, molecular biology. That there are swarms of worthless submissions and that a few of them leak through is inevitable and to be expected; we shouldn’t be blithe about it, of course, and we should act to tighten up procedures where ever the problem arises, but there was no serious, responsible call to action by the “grievance studies” experiment, other than to simply abolish all of gender studies.

I would point to one extreme example of bad science in molecular biology: the ENCODE project. Does the existence of that badly executed and interpreted project mean that all of molecular biology has “failed to distinguish between real scholarship and intellectually vacuous as well as morally troubling bullshit”? I don’t think so. And before you whine about the inclusion of morality as a criterion, I remind you that ENCODE cost $200 million dollars, and if you don’t think sucking away that much money lacks both scientific and moral consequences, well, I don’t think you’ve got much in the way of an intellectual contribution to make.

Here’s the money shot from Singal’s article, though, and why it’s safe to answer “no” to that question.

For the purposes of Peter Boghossian’s case, three facts about IRBs matter a great deal: “study” is defined rather broadly in the federal guidelines; possible risks to humans — even ones that non-IRB nerds may view as negligible — are taken very seriously; and IRBs tend to look especially closely at studies involving deception. For these and other reasons, each of the four IRB experts I spoke or emailed with agreed that yes, the grievance-studies hoax needed IRB approval; yes, it clearly involved human subjects; and no, PSU’s decision to investigate it on that front cannot be reasonably viewed, on its own, as politically motivated. In other words: This particular aspect of the university’s response smells more like a standard reaction to improperly vetted research than a witch hunt.

All the rest is noise; yes, people complain about the onerous paperwork of IRBs, and sometimes the committees tie up research, but only a fool would suggest that we get rid of them altogether.

One other point is that Boghossian is afraid he might get fired. He should be! Not because this one “study”, but because he’s already on somewhat shaky ground. Boghossian is a non-tenured, non-tenure track assistant professor! He has no path to promotion, and he’s probably on a year-by-year contract. This is not to say that it is a good thing how PSU manages their faculty: they have 9 tenured/tenure track philosophy faculty, an equal number of adjuncts, and 6 full time non-tenured instructors, of which Boghossian is one. He’s employed as long as his department finds him a useful contributor to their teaching needs, but if the negatives start to outweigh his utility, they could easily let him go at their next contract review. And this is academia…it’s not as if there aren’t heaps of philosophy Ph.D.s who’d love to get a full-time appointment in a lovely city like Portland.

I doubt that this fuck-up he’s made will get him fired, but it will put a black mark on his record, and administrators will remember it. I would suspect that he’s already signed a contract for next year — no one likes last minute, rushed job searches to fill an abruptly vacated position — so what will be interesting is what PSU does next year, after all the hubbub about this issue has died down, and it’s decided whether his appointment is renewed.

If I were him, I’d be shopping my CV around right now. Although he might be instead banking on notoriety to help him squeeze donations out of alt-right fanbois, since he’ll have his very own grievance to tout.

Someone has finally figured out Jordan Peterson

Elizabeth Sanderson’s explanation makes perfect sense.

Never before have I encountered such a complex, intelligent, and daring work of satire. This “Jordan Peterson” character is the most cutting-edge performance art I have ever encountered. No sincere leftist commentary has ever exposed the link between seemingly banal conservativism and borderline-fascism in such an easily understandable way. This one-man-show is the bumbling Canadian answer to Laibach. As an expert in pseudo-academic nonsense, I have to salute my superior on this one.

“Jordan Peterson” is a work of parody known as stiob: “an overidentification with the person or idea at which it is directed and that it is often impossible to tell if stiob is sincere support, ridicule, or a mixture of the two.” Stiob arose from the late Soviet years, during the Brezhnev era. There are many eerie similarities between that time and our own – the government was largely ran by a cadre of septuagenarians, wages had stagnated, yet all official narratives insisted that there was no alternative. The horizon of possible futures was closed. Into this fray, a new form of parody emerged, one that was often indistinguishable from the thing it was criticizing.

Take, for example, the Slovenian industrial band Laibach. Their artwork and performances are rife with totalitarian imagery, which leads many to wonder whether or not the band themselves are fascist. Laibach can be seen as an example of “stiob”, employing a strategy of subversive affirmation or over-identification in order to tease out truths that cynical distance could not. It is not “satire” as we would usually understand the word.

I’d never heard of “stiob” before, but it seems to be a real and useful term. So I’ve also picked up a new addition to my vocabulary!

Despite his recent notoriety, the most towering accomplishment Peterson leaves behind is his earlier book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. This is the greatest academic practical joke ever conceived. Despite its name and intimidating 500+ page length, the book manages to pull off the impossible, and leave the reader with no meaning whatsoever.

It reads like a cross between Joseph Campbell and Timecube, interspersed with diagrams of the auto-fellating dragon of chaos. Peterson seems hellbent on finding every hokey pseudo-science and subsuming it into his personal worldview. Jungian psychology, evolutionary psychology, social Darwinism… the man has spent decades on what is fundamentally unprovable quackery. It’s sprawling, pedantic, repetitive – a commentary on the demand for quantity over quality that has become so common in academia today.

Move over, Boghossian. Maps of Meaning is the satire you wish “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” could have been. You missed the mark by failing to notice that the social movement ripe for parody is the centrist/alt-right/pseudo-skeptical gang you belong to.

For years I’d been hearing leftists claim that conservative thought is always mobilized in defense of the ruling classes. In response, many right-wingers have taken to insisting they are, in fact, “classical liberals”, and that their politics flows from a respect for freedom and markets rather than defending the powers that be. Enter Jordan Peterson. On the surface he seems like a milquetoast conservative. But when it comes time to defend inequality, Peterson points to animal hierarchies as a justification. His individualism does not arise from a place of ethical consideration, but out of biological essentialism and social darwinism.

The bumbling professor, despite all of his appeals to the contrary, keeps accidentally rediscovering fascist ideas.

There are moments where he almost breaks character – take his story about lobsters, in his more recent book. Peterson knows nothing about biology, but he plunges forward with complete confidence, shamelessly preaching an understanding of evolutionary psychology that sounds like it was ripped straight from a Pick Up Artist forum.

If taken seriously, he is moronic and dangerous. But taken as a work of intellectual Outsider Art? Goddam brilliant.

Dang. Am I going to have to rethink my opinion of Peterson?

At least I’m not going to have to rethink my opinion of his followers — all dupes.

New professorial challenges for those teaching philosophy

The new academic problem is the bad information spread by Peterson, Boghossian, Lindsay, that ilk. I suspect it wasn’t so bad when these ignoramuses just turned up their noses and ignored philosophy, but now they’ve decided that they completely understand it, and they don’t like it, nosir, so they’ve begun active disinformation campaigns that are infecting college-aged students. A professor writes in to Reddit to vent:

But in the past few months internet outrage merchants have made my job much harder. The very idea that someone could even propose the idea that there is a conceptual difference between sex and gender leads to angry denunciations entirely based on the irresponsible misrepresentations of these online anger-mongers. Some students in their exams write that these ideas are "entitled liberal bullshit," actual quote, rather than simply describe an idea they disagree with in neutral terms. And it's not like I'm out there defending every dumb thing ever posted on Tumblr! It's Simone de fucking Beauvoir!

It's not the disagreement. That I'm used to dealing with; it's the bread and butter of philosophy. No, it's the anger, hostility and complete fabrications.

They come in with the most bizarre idea of what 'post-modernism' is, and to even get to a real discussion of actual texts it takes half the time to just deprogram some of them. It's a minority of students, but it's affected my teaching style, because now I feel defensive about presenting ideas that I've taught without controversy for years.

Peterson is on the record saying Women's Studies departments and the Neo-Marxists are out to literally destroy western civilization and I have to patiently explain to them that, no, these people are my friends and colleagues, their research is generally very boring and unobjectionable, and you need to stop feeding yourself on this virtual reality that systematically cherry-picks things that perpetuates this neurological addiction to anger and belief vindication–every new upvoted confirmation of the faith a fresh dopamine high if how bad they are.

I just want to do my week on Foucault/Baudrillard/de Beauvoir without having to figure out how to get these kids out of what is basically a cult based on stupid youtube videos.

Honestly, the hostility and derailment makes me miss my young-earth creationist students.

I haven’t had to deal with this yet in my classes — post-modernism isn’t part of the biology curriculum, and since I address sex and gender from the ground up with genes and molecules and signaling in my genetics class, by the time we would get to cultural aspects (we don’t, they’ll have to go to the social sciences or humanities for that), they’re already accustomed to the fact that the biology is complex and plastic and variable. But I’ve definitely seen this intransigence and stupidity online. Peddling simplistic misrepresentations of science and philosophy seems to be a major money-maker for those who understand neither.

That last line, though…yeah, I’d rather deal with young earth creationists. The difference is that creationists, whether they’re aware of it or not, have a serious case of science envy. They’re all wanna-bes who are constantly trying to rephrase the Bible in sciencey-sounding terms, thinking they can explain the Flood with geology, or constraints on evolution with genetics. That’s the whole point of Intelligent Design creationism, to provide pseudo-scientific, rather than religious, justifications for their beliefs. They can’t, but it means their arguments can be spanked by somebody who understands the scientific discipline better than they do.

It’s their greatest weakness, actually. It’s why they don’t make greater inroads into academia, because everyone who is well-trained in the sciences can see right through them.

But these anti-philosophy gomers are taking a completely different approach. They don’t want to be philosophers, or sound like philosophers, because they hate philosophy and women’s studies and sociology and all those other disciplines. Rather than trying to learn just enough of what they’re complaining about to try and turn the jargon against them, they’re in flat-out denial and a total rejection of everything to do with, for instance, post-modernism. They’re engaged in simple-minded anti-intellectualism (creationists come out of a religious tradition that usually respects an intellectual foundation, or at least a pretense to one), and the know-nothings who eat that crap up won’t even listen to word one from someone who has the educational background to know what they’re talking about.

Maybe the alt-right is non-binary

Jason Wilson writes about the alt-right’s tactics. Here’s one perfect example: Andy Ngo is a kind of inflammatory yellow journalist whose specialty is capturing tiny slices of left wing events that he then distorts into the kind of lie useful for enraging the Fox News/Breitbart crowd. For instance, here’s how he handled a visit by James Damore to Portland State:

In the lead-up to Damore’s appearance, Ngo penned an article for the Wall Street Journal alleging that the event had been threatened, writing that that “we expected controversy. But we also got danger.” The evidence of danger, as reported in Willamette Week, was “two violent threats on Facebook, three diversity events held on campus as counter-programming, and a scornful blog post”.

This was more than enough for Fox News, who ran an item under the headline “Antifa targets ‘Google memo’ author James Damore’s talk at Portland State”.

Impressive. Everything is coming up antifa nowadays. I suspect this post makes me antifa, at this rate.

Then the ever-ridiculous Peter Boghossian chimes in. This is where it gets really interesting, because there is a phenomenon many of us have noticed before: people who like to claim to be on the Left, usually referring to themselves as “classical liberals” or “centrists”, who are remarkably consistent in siding with the Right to deplore anything and everything anyone on the Left does, yet also pay lip service to rejecting the traditional Right. Maybe we ought to start recognizing that the usual political binary is often invalid, and that there are multiple axes of polarization. Maybe we ought to appreciate that someone like me can despise, for example, Bill Donohue, and so can a Boghossian, and at the same time, Boghossian and I can mutually reject each other. It’s amazing! More than two categories? Brains will explode!

Still, people will cluster in domains of mutual sympathy, it’s just that there are definitely many more than two of them. Boghossian helpfully engages in a little taxonomy for us, in the process of saying stupid stuff.

Boghossian does seem to see members of her discipline in a dark hue. At the Damore event, he said that “diversity is a Trojan horse for a political agenda.”

When asked later what was inside the Trojan horse, he said “the diversity they try to create is the most superficial kind of diversity and doesn’t include ideological diversity.”

When asked who “they” were, Boghossian replies “all disciplines infected by postmodernism, and women’s studies and gender studies in particular.

“It’s intersectionality, it’s diversity, it’s those values which are riding in the wake of postmodernity,” he added.

“Jordan Peterson speaks about this, Gad Saad speaks about this, Steven Pinker speaks about this, there’s a whole circle of us speaking about this.”

Despite his criticisms of the campus left, however, Boghossian insists that he is not rightwing, that he “can’t stand Republicans”, and complains about recent accusations that he is “alt-right”. He insists it’s all about Enlightenment values.

Ngo too. “I identify as a centrist if I was forced to answer”, he writes, adding that “Freethinkers is a nonpartisan organization”.

Strange, then, that they, and the movement that Boghossian claims membership of, take such trouble over antagonizing the left, and drawing rightwing attention.

I’m actually kind of impressed here. There are quite a few people mentioned in the article who I, as an outsider to their group, would have lumped together, and there’s Boghossian, unconsciously affirming my taxonomy. Yes — Boghossian, Peterson, Saad, Pinker, they all belong in a single taxon. The defining character seems to be, at least in the context of this excerpt, that they are all pretentious academics who do not understand the meaning of the word “post-modern”, while hating it fiercely, all while huddling under the banner of the Enlightenment, an 18th century movement that they believe entitles them to consider themselves progressive. They also consider themselves liberal while hating diversity in a multicultural nation, and despising gender and women’s studies at universities that are encouraging students, who are mostly women, to examine the complexity of our social and cultural environment.

They’re a weird, regressive bunch. Their clique also includes other people mentioned in the article, like Christina Hoff Sommers, the anti-feminist who calls herself a feminist, and Dave Rubin, the cheerleader for right-wingers who insists he is a centrist, Enlightenment liberal.

I’m perfectly willing to recognize that this is an ugly mess of a beast that is completely different from the ugly mess of a beast called the Republican party. The American landscape is filling up with a diverse collection of shambolic monsters, united only in their willingness to shit on anything that resembles a progressive vision of our future.