As many of you know, there has recently been quite the internet dust-up about the Harvard Crimson editorial by Harvard undergraduate Sandra Korn regarding the need to replace academic freedom with a relatively newly-coined concept of “academic justice”.
The scope of the assertions in her article makes for interesting reading, if nothing else:
Yet the liberal obsession with “academic freedom” seems a bit misplaced to me. After all, no one ever has “full freedom” in research and publication. Which research proposals receive funding and what papers are accepted for publication are always contingent on political priorities. The words used to articulate a research question can have implications for its outcome. No academic question is ever “free” from political realities. If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of “academic freedom”?
Instead, I would like to propose a more rigorous standard: one of “academic justice.” When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.
The power to enforce academic justice comes from students, faculty, and workers organizing together to make our universities look as we want them to do.
What we see here is nothing less than the development of a new orthodoxy, together with the enforcement mechanisms which go along with any system of orthodox belief. That this is the case is made clear in the main example she uses to illustrate her point (emphasis added):
Over winter break, Harvard published a statement responding to the American Studies Association’s resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions until Israel ends its occupation of Palestine. Much of the conversation around this academic boycott has focused on academic freedom. Opponents of the boycott claim that it restricts the freedom of Israeli academics or interrupts the “free flow of ideas.” Proponents of the boycott often argue that the boycott is intended to, in the end, increase, not restrict, academic freedom—the ASA points out that “there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation.”
In this case, discourse about “academic freedom” obscures what should fundamentally be a political argument. Those defending the academic boycott should use a more rigorous standard. The ASA, like three other academic associations, decided to boycott out of a sense of social justice, responding to a call by Palestinian civil society organizations for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions until Israel ends its occupation of Palestine. People ontheright opposed to boycotts can play the “freedom” game, calling for economic freedom to buy any product or academic freedom to associate with any institution. Only thosewhocareaboutjustice can take the moral upper hand.
Clearly this is the enforcement of a moral orthodoxy — or, rather, an enforced set of rules about permitted academic investigation or engagement which are in turn based on a preconceived moral orthodoxy. It’s quite telling that the ultimate justification, the “punch line” if you will, is that of having “the moral upper hand”. This is the ultimate “moral” (in reality, ideological) basis which justifies the accepted orthodoxy of one’s actions, and which trumps the academic freedom of any dissenters from such “consensus” orthodoxy. Of course, while being both banal and unsurprising, it is nevertheless ironic (and an irony that appears completely lost on most of the academy, alas) that a group which has claimed inherited solidarity with Galileo in the face of his persecution for articulating ideas which went against the orthodoxy of his day has now completely turned around, and essentially become its own perceived caricature of what it has despised — namely fulfilling to a tee the academy’s caricature of the Christian church as an ideologically-based enforcer of an orthodoxy of ideas, based on a set of moral principles held in consensus by its own appointed few. What we are witnessing is nothing less than the “coming out party” of a new church — complete with a priesthood, monasteries and an emergent, and zealously enforced, orthodoxy.
This is, of course, nothing new. For the statements in Korn’s article were as broad as they were familiar, as ludicrous as they were obvious in light of their active development over the past several decades, based on what most of us have seen of the academy in that same timeframe. This is a phenomenon that has been building, or rather which has been deliberately built, over the course of several decades.
What is new, however, is the brazenness of it all. That approach and tone comes when people generally feel invulnerable to their critics. The ideological left (which is what the academy is – it isn’t a centrist, pragmatic left, it’s generally an out-there, radical, ideological left) is basically doing a socio-political-cultural celebratory dance. Virtually all of their goals have either been achieved or are well within reach. They know this. Hegemony is theirs – at least for the foreseeable future. So, this gives them the courage simply to state explicitly things that previously everyone familiar with the academy tacitly knew, but didn’t expressly say – it’s the most brazen stage of the entire development by which the academy has become monolithic in outlook while at the same time hugely increasing its influence over the state and the society at large.
Moldbug is not always right about everything, but when he portrays these people as contemporary Brahmins, and paints them as constituting a contemporary “Cathedral”, in function if not in form, he is actually very close to the truth. The ideology of the academy is a religion (a non-theistic one, but a religion nonetheless) and these people are its priests – while the universities are the monasteries. It makes perfect “sense”, seen in this light, for the output of these religious ideology factories to be constrained to the orthodoxy of the Brahmins – this is one of the core functions a priesthood serves in any religious group. This has been the case for some time, sub rosa, but now that there is no longer a need to be sub rosa, it is on the verge of becoming explicit in a brazen and obvious, gloves-off kind of way. Again, this makes sense, given the hegemonic position the new Brahmins currently enjoy.
Take a good long look at this, readers. Because this is what ideological, cultural and political hegemony actually looks like.
Ultimately what is opposed to us is not reason, and Korn’s op-ed, ironically, makes this quite clear. For reason is not afraid of academic freedom, regardless of the results of the inquiry, because it has truth as its highest norm. This is not about reason per se. It is about controlling the use of reason, labeling some inquiries as morally legitimate and others as not — based on a non-theistic religious moral ideology. It’s about applying controls on reason which are based neither on God, nor on reason itself, but on the caricature of reason that is coalesced ideology — something which stands over and against the fundamentally inquisitive spirit of reason. That — restraining reason’s domain within limits — is what a religion does, and like all religions, it is based on a set of beliefs which are not falsifiable. In this case, however, it is an entirely man-made religion and one which therefore is subject to virtually no constraints on what it may seek to depose and displace as unorthodox. Of course, for theists, never mind Christians, a man-made religion cannot but be demonic in nature. But even leaving aside that theistic perspective, it should be obvious to any truly reason-based (rather than non-theistic-ideology-based) observer that a clearly man-made non-theistic and yet non-reason-based religious system which can therefore be rejiggered to condemn as unorthodox anything it wishes based on the whimsical winds of its mercurial “consensus” is a monstrously dangerous thing — dangerous to society, civilization and the further survival of our species.
To those of us with our eyes open, again, this is nothing new, but it is refreshing to see it admitted so openly, because it underscores an important point, and that is this: what we are opposing is a new religion, with a new priesthood, and a new set of powerful monasteries which serve to generate and enforce a new non-theistic, non-reason-based ideological orthodoxy. It is nothing short of that, and to view it as otherwise is both to underestimate its power and misunderstand its motives. This is a religious fight, from start to finish. It’s best that we see it that way, that we may approach it properly and with the most appropriate tools.
Song inspiration for title (theme not completely, but somewhat, related)