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“Unless someone can answer the simple questions that immediately arise in the mind of any reasonable person when claims about “theory” and “philosophy” are raised, I’ll keep to work that seems to me sensible and enlightening, and to people who are interested in understanding and changing the world.

Johnb made the point that “plain language is not enough when the frame of reference is not available to the listener”; correct and important. But the right reaction is not to resort to obscure and needlessly complex verbiage and posturing about non-existent “theories.” Rather, it is to ask the listener to question the frame of reference that he/she is accepting, and to suggest alternatives that might be considered, all in plain language. I’ve never found that a problem when I speak to people lacking much or sometimes any formal education, though it’s true that it tends to become harder as you move up the educational ladder, so that indoctrination is much deeper, and the self-selection for obedience that is a good part of elite education has taken its toll. Johnb says that outside of circles like this forum, “to the rest of the country, he’s incomprehensible” (“he” being me). That’s absolutely counter to my rather ample experience, with all sorts of audiences. Rather, my experience is what I just described. The incomprehensibility roughly corresponds to the educational level. Take, say, talk radio. I’m on a fair amount, and it’s usually pretty easy to guess from accents, etc., what kind of audience it is. I’ve repeatedly found that when the audience is mostly poor and less educated, I can skip lots of the background and “frame of reference” issues because it’s already obvious and taken for granted by everyone, and can proceed to matters that occupy all of us. With more educated audiences, that’s much harder; it’s necessary to disentangle lots of ideological constructions.

It’s certainly true that lots of people can’t read the books I write. That’s not because the ideas or language are complicated — we have no problems in informal discussion on exactly the same points, and even in the same words. The reasons are different, maybe partly the fault of my writing style, partly the result of the need (which I feel, at least) to present pretty heavy documentation, which makes it tough reading. For these reasons, a number of people have taken pretty much the same material, often the very same words, and put them in pamphlet form and the like. No one seems to have much problem — though again, reviewers in the Times Literary Supplement or professional academic journals don’t have a clue as to what it’s about, quite commonly; sometimes it’s pretty comical.

A final point, something I’ve written about elsewhere (e.g., in a discussion in Z papers, and the last chapter of “Year 501”). There has been a striking change in the behavior of the intellectual class in recent years. The left intellectuals who 60 years ago would have been teaching in working class schools, writing books like “mathematics for the millions” (which made mathematics intelligible to millions of people), participating in and speaking for popular organizations, etc., are now largely disengaged from such activities, and although quick to tell us that they are far more radical than thou, are not to be found, it seems, when there is such an obvious and growing need and even explicit request for the work they could do out there in the world of people with live problems and concerns. That’s not a small problem. This country, right now, is in a very strange and ominous state. People are frightened, angry, disillusioned, skeptical, confused. That’s an organizer’s dream, as I once heard Mike say. It’s also fertile ground for demagogues and fanatics, who can (and in fact already do) rally substantial popular support with messages that are not unfamiliar from their predecessors in somewhat similar circumstances. We know where it has led in the past; it could again. There’s a huge gap that once was at least partially filled by left intellectuals willing to engage with the general public and their problems. It has ominous implications, in my opinion.”

Source: http://www.mrbauld.com/chomsky1.html [accessed 30 Dec 2008]

How not to run an academic institution. My Alma mater is demonstrating some worrisome (read batshit fucking stupid) decisions regarding firing female staff for having the absolute gall of teaching the ‘unorthodox’ view that biological sex is important to women and their struggle against patriarchy.

Her feminist views are apparently causing a small segment of students to feel unsafe and thus because if we are not walking on eggshells around entitled gender deluded males one must be doing the whole academic thing wrong.

Something very wrong has happened at the University of Alberta. A professor has been fired from part of her academic job for views on sex and gender that break with current orthodoxy.

In late March, Kathleen Lowrey, an associate professor at the University of Alberta, was asked to resign from her role as the Department of Anthropology’s associate chair, undergraduate programs, on the basis that one or more students had gone to the University’s Office of Safe Disclosure and Human Rights and the Dean of Students, André Costopolous, to complain about her without filing formal complaints. All Professor Lowrey has been told is that she is somehow making the learning environment “unsafe” for these students because she is a feminist who holds “gender critical” views. 

Apparently, Lowrey’s very openness about her views is a problem. Should a course have gender or sex as a central theme, on day 1 she offers a summary of her views along with the declaration that no student need agree with her about any of it, as she did this year with her course “Anthropology of Women.” As she cleaves to a feminism that asserts the continuing importance of biological sex and feminist projects of resisting patriarchal oppression, her views put her out of step with much current thinking about the nature of gender, which from the seminal work of Judith Butler forward takes sex to be a social construct. Lowrey also posts statements related to her views on her office door — something she is entitled to do. She contends that in asking her to resign from her service role the University is endorsing ideological conformity. 

Lowrey refused to resign from her service role and insisted that if the University wished to dismiss her from it, it would need to put its reasons for doing so in writing. She subsequently received a letter from the Dean of Arts Lesley Cormack dismissing her from her service role without offering any specifics as to why. The letter simply declares that the Dean believes that “it is not in the best interests of the students or the University” for Lowrey to continue in it.”

This is unbelievable.  Exactly what part of a healthy part of academic debate does this help?

 

“The University of Alberta takes the position that Lowrey had to be dismissed from her service role “for the good of the department” because at least one student claims that for the University to let her continue in the role would be for it to run the risk of the department losing students to another field of study. The argument, in effect, is that Lowrey could not be allowed to let the Department suffer a financial penalty for her views. (In the University of Alberta’s budget model, government funding “follows” students to the departments in which they take their courses.) With its worry that Lowrey’s views will have financial consequences for the Department of Anthropology, the University of Alberta lets an unfortunate development of the academy over the last few decades, in which students have become tuition-paying “customers” upon whom universities rely for more and more of their revenues, come into direct conflict with academic freedom principles. This is a very serious problem. No department at any university in Canada should be taking the position that it has to concern itself with how a professor’s intellectual views may affect a department’s bottom-line. 

Finally, the University of Alberta takes the position that it had to dismiss Lowrey from her service role because if it did not do so students would feel that the University “cared more” about “supporting” the professor than it did about them. This is a terrible line of reasoning, which pits students against a professor when what ought to be of paramount concern to all is the commitment to intellectual engagement and critical scrutiny of ideas as fundamental to the University’s flourishing. Quite simply, at a university, unorthodox or controversial views must be actively debated, and never suppressed, if the university is to meet its societal obligations. 

The University of Alberta needs to restore Professor Lowrey to her role as associate chair, undergraduate programs, in the Department of Anthropology, and university administrators elsewhere need to make sure that they do not fall into the University of Alberta’s mistake. It is essential that our universities never become homes for orthodoxy of any kind. “Dogma is bad for people,” writes UBC professor emeritus William Bruneau elsewhere on this blog. But for universities dogma is much, much worse. It is anathema to the academic mission.”

 

Kathleen Lowrey needs to reinstated yesterday.  This sort of totalitarian anti-academic thinking has to stop.

 

Oh and email the Dean about this travesty – artsdean@ualberta.ca

 

 

But the kit, Sagan argues, isn’t merely a tool of science — rather, it contains invaluable tools of healthy skepticism that apply just as elegantly, and just as necessarily, to everyday life. By adopting the kit, we can all shield ourselves against clueless guile and deliberate manipulation. Sagan shares nine of these tools:

  1. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”
  2. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  3. Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
  4. Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
  5. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
  6. Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
  7. If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.
  8. Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
  9. Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.

Cheery stuff I know, but its interesting to see some of the trajectories we are on, and maybe if we shed enough light on them, we can can change them.  Optimistic?  Absolutely, but I’d rather have the motivation to continue the struggle than the gilded-glitz peace of the nihilist who has given up.

 

Greer estimates that it takes, on average, about 250 years for civilizations to decline and fall, and he finds no reason why modern civilization shouldn’t follow this “usual timeline.”[3]

But Greer’s assumption is built on shaky ground because industrial civilization differs from all past civilizations in four crucial ways.  And every one of them may accelerate and intensify the coming collapse while increasing the difficulty of recovery.

Difference #1:  Unlike all previous civilizations, modern industrial civilization is powered by an exceptionally rich, NON-renewable, and irreplaceable energy source—fossil fuels.  This unique energy base predisposes industrial civilization to a short, meteoric lifespan of unprecedented boom and drastic bust.  Megacities, globalized production, industrial agriculture, and a human population approaching 8 billion are all historically exceptional—and unsustainable—without fossil fuels.  Today, the rich easily exploited oilfields and coalmines of the past are mostly depleted.  And, while there are energy alternatives, there are no realistic replacements that can deliver the abundant net energy fossil fuels once provided.[4]  Our complex, expansive, high-speed civilization owes its brief lifespan to this one-time, rapidly dwindling energy bonanza.

Difference #2:  Unlike past civilizations, the economy of industrial society is capitalist.  Production for profit is its prime directive and driving force.  The unprecedented surplus energy supplied by fossil fuels has generated exceptional growth and enormous profits over the past two centuries.  But in the coming decades, these historic windfalls of abundant energy, constant growth, and rising profits will vanish.

However, unless it is abolished, capitalism will not disappear when boom turns to bust.  Instead, energy-starved, growth-less capitalism will turn catabolic.  Catabolismrefers to the condition whereby a living thing devours itself.  As profitable sources of production dry up, capitalism will be compelled to turn a profit by consuming the social assets it once created.  By cannibalizing itself, the profit motive will exacerbate industrial society’s dramatic decline.

Catabolic capitalism will profit from scarcity, crisis, disaster, and conflict.  Warfare, resource hoarding, ecological disaster, and pandemic diseases will become the big profit makers.  Capital will flow toward lucrative ventures like cybercrime, predatory lending, and financial fraud; bribery, corruption, and racketeering; weapons, drugs, and human trafficking.  Once disintegration and destruction become the primary source of profit, catabolic capitalism will rampage down the road to ruin, gorging itself on one self-inflicted disaster after another.[5]

Difference #3:  Unlike past societies, industrial civilization isn’t Roman, Chinese, Egyptian, Aztec, or Mayan.  Modern civilization is HUMAN, PLANETARY, and ECOCIDAL.  Pre-industrial civilizations depleted their topsoil, felled their forests, and polluted their rivers.  But the harm was far more temporary and geographically limited. Once market incentives harnessed the colossal power of fossil fuels to exploit nature, the dire results were planetary.  Two centuries of fossil fuel combustion have saturated the biosphere with climate-altering carbon that will continue wreaking havoc for generations to come.  The damage to Earth’s living systems—the circulation and chemical composition of the atmosphere and the ocean; the stability of the hydrological and biogeochemical cycles; and the biodiversity of the entire planet—is essentially permanent.

Humans have become the most invasive species ever known.  Although we are a mere .01 percent of the planet’s biomass, our domesticated crops and livestock dominate life on Earth.  In terms of total biomass, 96 percent of all the mammals on Earth are livestock; only 4 percent are wild mammals.  Seventy percent of all birds are domesticated poultry, only 30 percent are wild.  About half the Earth’s wild animals are thought to have been lost in just the last 50 years.[6]  Scientists estimate that half of all remaining species will be extinct by the end of the century.[7] There are no more unspoiled ecosystems or new frontiers where people can escape the damage they’ve caused and recover from collapse.

Difference #4:  Human civilization’s collective capacity to confront its mounting crises is crippled by a fragmented political system of antagonistic nations ruled by corrupt elites who care more about power and wealth than people and the planet.  Humanity faces a perfect storm of converging global calamities.  Intersecting tribulations like climate chaos, rampant extinction, food and freshwater scarcity, poverty, extreme inequality, and the rise of global pandemics are rapidly eroding the foundations of modern life.

Yet, this fractious and fractured political system makes organizing and mounting a cooperative response nearly impossible.  And, the more catabolic industrial capitalism becomes, the greater the danger that hostile rulers will fan the flames of nationalism and go to war over scarce resources.  Of course, warfare is not new.  But modern warfare is so devastating, destructive, and toxic that little would remain in its aftermath.  This would be the final nail in civilization’s coffin.”

Ahead of the discussion on The Moral Maze tonight I did a little digging around into the people who will be representing the TRA position. Up against Graham and Kiri will be Jane Fae and Torr Robinson, a person with they/them pronouns who is the Trans Officer for London Young Labour and one of the […]

via For Trans Liberation — Jane Clare Jones

Do Women Have the Right To Defend Their Sex – Michael Biggs

 

Three female academics spoke about women’s rights at Oxford on 25 October to an audience of about two hundred, composed mainly of feminists. Such a meeting would have been unremarkable in 2009, 1999, 1989, or 1979; even in 1969 it would have caused bemusement rather than outrage. Today, however, the meeting was so controversial that the University of Oxford deserves credit for allowing it to go ahead. Indeed, similar events were re-cently cancelled, or re-arranged, by Massey University in New Zealand and Simon Fraser University in Canada. At stake are two fundamental principles.The first is whether women have the right to defend their sex – to preserve, for example, female-only rape shelters and sports competi-tions. The second is whether we have a right to question fashionable doctrines of gender.

The event at Oxford – entitled ‘A woman’s place is at the lectern’ – was arranged by Woman’s Place UK (WPUK). This organization was formed in 2017 by left-wing feminists after an attendee, Maria MacLachlan, was physically assaulted on the way to a meeting discussing the government’s proposal to amend the Gender Recognition Act. To quote from WPUK’s manifesto:

‘We are against all forms of discrimination. We believe in the right of everyone to live their lives free from discrimination and harassment. Women face entrenched and endemic structural in-equality. … This is why sex is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act (2010) which we believe must be defended.’ 

I helped WPUK to book a room in Examination Schools for the meeting, for which it paid the normal rates. The Proctors’ Officers warned of a substantial risk of physical disruption. WPUK’s first meeting in Oxford, at the Quaker Meeting House in April 2017, was besieged by about fifty shouting protesters.2 Demonstrators outside the WPUK’s previous meeting, in Brighton, blocked the entrance and tried to kick in the windows.3 Therefore the University insisted that the organization pay for six pri-vate security guards as well as four University staff and obtain liability insurance for £10 million.

The meeting featured three speakers: Professor Selina Todd, Professor of Modern History at Oxford; Dr Susan Matthews, Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Roehampton; and Raquel Rosario Sanchez, doctoral student at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol. The chair was Allison Bailey, a criminal defence barrister at Garden Court Chambers who, incidentally, grew up in Cowley.

When the meeting was announced, transactivists (activists campaigning for the transgender cause, most of whom do not identify as transgender but style them-selves ‘cisgender allies’) reacted with predictable outrage. Trans Action Oxford emerged as a new account (@trans-actionox) on Twitter. It asserted ‘a direct correlation be-tween the proliferation of groups like “A Woman’s Place” and the rise in transphobic abuse in the UK’.4 To quote from their statement of 17 October:

‘A proper commitment to academic freedom uplifts voices from all marginalised groups, including those of trans people. It recognises that freedom of expression does not extend to bigotry, and that bigotry serves to silence the vulnerable.’

According to Trans Action Oxford, then, anyone who disagrees with their doctrines has no right to speak – and, as we will see, must be expelled from the University.  There is a real asymmetry here, because WPUK has never denied freedom of expression to those who disagree with its principles.

Trans Action Oxford’s statement was signed by several bodies including various groups within Oxford Univer-sity Student Union and the Oxford University LGBTQ+ Society. Other signatories were Beyond the Binary, a project at the Pitt Rivers Museum (paid £91,000 by the Her-itage Lottery Fund5), and the Queer Studies Network, funded by the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH). Should academic units of the University attempt to prevent one of their own colleagues – Todd – from speaking? Fortunately the transactivists decided to hold a rally in Broad Street rather than to intimidate people entering the meeting. The meeting proceeded without disruption. Todd emphasized the persistence of sex discrimination in the university sector. Matthews argued that we need to question the beliefs underlying gender ideology in the same way that earlier feminists exposed myths of their own time. Rosario Sanchez traced the transmogrification of Women’s Studies into Gender Studies and urged a re-turn to its roots. The speeches were followed by a lively question-and-answer session. What was said during the meeting would not surprise anyone who has encountered second-wave feminism.

Nevertheless, three of the four women on the platform have been targeted for harassment.  As a founding sup-porter of LGB Alliance, a new group for homosexuals and bisexuals, Bailey received a torrent of abuse and even death threats online.8 Complaints were made to her Chambers, instigated by Gendered Intelligence – an organization which Oxford pays to train staff – and she is now under investigation.  Rosario Sanchez has been bullied by students at her university ever since it was announced that she would chair a WPUK meeting in Bristol in 2018.  She has been forced to run the gamut of masked protesters at meetings inside her university campus and has faced almost two years of threats by students to assault her at multiple events, both inside and outside her university.

Rosario Sanchez and Bailey’s experiences, incidentally, perfectly illustrates the perversity of today’s identity politics. We are exhorted to defer to oppressed groups, but when orthodoxy is challenged by a woman from the Dominican Republic and a black lesbian, then their dissident voices must be silenced. Todd has likewise faced a persistent campaign of harassment. Because the perpetrators are staff and students at Oxford, it should be of particular concern to readers. Trans Action Oxford’s subsequent statement (28 October) literally demands her sacking:

‘Todd refuses to grant trans women the same status as cisgender women. A person who is so openly transphobic should not be in the University’s employment, let alone in a teaching position where she is directly interacting with students … . We demand that it [the University] review its employment of Selina Todd.’

The authors –‘A collective of undergraduate and postgraduate students, and staff, of the University of Oxford’ – lack the courage to sign their names. The statement was retweeted by the Oxford Feminist Society. The Society also tweeted using the hashtag #FuckTerfs. The acronym stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, and and the associated Twitter traffic is often accompanied by threats of violence.

Ponder the paradox of anonymous ‘intersectional feminists’ hurling obscenities at a feminist scholar because she believes that women face discrimination on account of their sex. As Selina Todd has told me, abuse is not confined to social media. After the WPUK meeting, activists planned to disrupt her lecture to undergraduates, causing the History Faculty to ask the Proctors for security. The front row of the lecture theatre was occupied by several transactivists displaying slogans. Such overt intimidation goes far beyond the bounds of any normal academic disagreement or political debate. Moreover, there is reason to conclude that transactivists are targeting Todd as a woman. She and I share similar views on the subject of sex and gender; if anything, I have been more outspoken.

Although I have not altogether escaped criticism, I have not faced anything like the continual campaign of harassment which she has endured, which, she tells me, has included an official complaint to St Hilda’s – dismissed as without foundation – as well as relentless defamation on social media, for over a year. The University of Oxford deserves real praise for al-lowing the WPUK to hire its premises. (The only other British university to do so is Northumbria.) The Vice-Chancellor’s reply to Trans Action Oxford struck just the right balance: Oxford ‘prioritises protecting academic freedom and robust expression of opinion and debate, while not tolerating any form of unlawful discrimination or harassment.’ But, in my view, the University has not done enough to protect Todd from harassment.

It has neither defended her reputation as one of the leading scholars of women’s history with a long record of mentoring female students, nor refuted the defamatory claim that her presence is ‘directly detrimental’ to the ‘well-being and safety’ of trans students.  Although the University has adopted robust principles on free speech (written by Professor Timothy Garton Ash and Lord Ken Macdonald), it evidently allows – as in the case of Trans Action Oxford – student groups and even academic units to violate those principles.  The debate around sex and gender is inevitably heated because fundamental rights are really at stake.

Needless to say, members of the University have an absolute right to disagree vehemently with Todd and to repudiate her views. It should not be acceptable, however, to call for a colleague and teacher to be sacked for believing that sex matters.

 

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