That brutal purveyor of unpleasant reality, Scientific American, is at it again.
In a 1946 essay in the London Tribune entitled “In Front of Your Nose,” George Orwell noted that “we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”
Notably, this quote can be used to challenge anyone, any side, any set of beliefs, and often is. Nobody owns Orwell. It’s a truism that will be seized upon to dispute whatever the other side says, because they’re twisting facts to show they’re right, when we all know it’s false.
But ultimately, Orwell notes, beliefs “bump up” against “solid reality, usually on a battlefield.” The battlefield today is college campuses.
The intellectual battlefields today are on college campuses, where students’ deep convictions about race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation and their social justice antipathy toward capitalism, imperialism, racism, white privilege, misogyny and “cissexist heteropatriarchy” have bumped up against the reality of contradictory facts and opposing views, leading to campus chaos and even violence.
Brett Weinstein, the “deeply progressive” Evergreen College prof who failed the orthodoxy, explained what he thinks went wrong in a WSJ op-ed.
How has it come to this? One of many trends was identified by Weinstein in a Wall Street Journal essay: “The button-down empirical and deductive fields, including all the hard sciences, have lived side by side with ‘critical theory,’ postmodernism and its perception-based relatives. Since the creation in 1960s and ’70s of novel, justice-oriented fields, these incompatible worldviews have repelled one another.”
Weinstein was shunned, forced out, attacked by students and his colleagues at Evergreen, for questioning the belief system. It wasn’t that Weinstein disagreed, but that he didn’t toe the line. And so they turned on him.
Students are being taught by these postmodern professors that there is no truth, that science and empirical facts are tools of oppression by the white patriarchy, and that nearly everyone in America is racist and bigoted, including their own professors, most of whom are liberals or progressives devoted to fighting these social ills.
Of the 58 Evergreen faculty members who signed a statement “in solidarity with students” calling for disciplinary action against Weinstein for “endangering” the community by granting interviews in the national media, I tallied only seven from the sciences. Most specialize in English, literature, the arts, humanities, cultural studies, women’s studies, media studies, and “quotidian imperialisms, intermetropolitan geography [and] detournement.” A course called “Fantastic Resistances” was described as a “training dojo for aspiring ‘social justice warriors’” that focuses on “power asymmetries.”
And so, the obvious “power asymmetry” eventually comes back to bite the teacher who fails to adhere to the mob’s latest sensibility.
If you teach students to be warriors against all power asymmetries, don’t be surprised when they turn on their professors and administrators. This is what happens when you separate facts from values, empiricism from morality, science from the humanities.
But this isn’t a novel idea? Fair enough, even though it’s particularly well explained. The problem, if there is one, is that there are studies that appear to be empirical that are crafted to prove and support the beliefs rather than to arrive at facts. And they are disseminated as if true, over and over, so as to create an inviolate myth of empirical proof.
After all, I know all the data.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center:
• One in five women will be raped at some point in their lives.
• One in five women are sexually assaulted while in college.
• Ninety-one percent of the victims of rape and sexual assault in the U.S. are female.
• Eight percent of rapes occur while the victim is at work.
• Rape is the most underreported crime; 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.
• More than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.
• The prevalence of false reporting is between 2 percent and 10 percent.
None of this is accurate, but there are studies that say so. There are studies that contradict it. There are studies that show why these statistics are inherently flawed. That the big soapboxes persist in disseminating false information under the guise of empirical data is no surprise, as they have a narrative and they’re determined to embed it so deeply that it will become true. And if all of this was true (not fact, but true), what becomes of any defendant criminally charged with a sex offense?
But then, Orwell’s truism, that it will eventually “bump up” against “solid reality” on a battlefield kicks in. The battlefield of the moment may be the college campus, but it is spreading, and will continue to spread as the fight is taken to politics, to statehouses, to governor’s mansions, to courtrooms, to jury boxes.
For those of you who fail to understand why a criminal-law blawg spends so much time addressing the kidz, social justice and shifts in the political paradigm, this is a reminder. Fighting the battle on college campuses is far less dangerous than fighting it in the jury room. What is at stake here is an authoritarian, illiberal approach to law, crime and constitutional rights.