Beware The Orthodoxy of Heterodoxy

A two-day “festival” was held earlier this month in the bowels of hipsterville called “Dissident Dialogues.” It had been my plan to attend for a day, and I requested an agenda so I could decide this day to attend. I was told it would be forthcoming. It never was, so I never went. Fortunately, Cathy Young did and wrote a brilliant post about the good and the bad wrapped up in the current iteration of dissidence.

IN AN AGE OF POLITICAL POLARIZATION and tribalism, “heterodoxy” has become an increasingly popular concept for the tribeless, denoting people and ideas that defy traditional left/right descriptions. The Heterodox Academy, cofounded by renowned psychologist and author Jonathan Haidt in 2015 in reaction to progressive groupthink in academia, is the most prominent example; but the label is also embraced by what Radley Balko identified as the “new genre of heterodox punditry”—as found in publications like QuilletteUnHerd, and the Free Press. Amid competing and stultifying orthodoxies, the concept of heterodoxy can feel like a refreshing alternative.

To be fair, Radley wasn’t really addressing heterodoxy, but the Trump-type right wing’s adoption of the “new genre” as opposed to the unTrumped liberal rejection of woke progressivism, Radley’s new religion. An unfortunate game is played on the left by pegging all unwoke liberals as Trump supporters to dismiss them as racists and haters. It’s always easier to vilify those who disagree with you than rationally deal with their arguments.

But then, is the same criticism true for the new dissidents?

Yet problems can arise when heterodoxy becomes not just an inclination but an identity—as illustrated by the trajectory of the “Intellectual Dark Web,” the network of self-proclaimed dissidents that has largely devolved into crankery and contrarianism. And now there’s a new heterodox venture: “Dissident Dialogues,” a self-styled “place for dangerous ideas” that has British organizers but held its inaugural two-day festival in Brooklyn earlier this month.

It’s become the norm in progressive academia to have panels where the only disagreement is how high the heretics should be hung. And yet, the panels at Dissident Dialogues wasn’t much better.

FOR ALL THE “DISSIDENTS,” many panels had surprisingly little dissent; Marshall conceded that there was “room for improvement” on diversity of opinion.

Take the session on “gender medicine,” with Irish psychotherapist Stella O’Malley, British journalist Mia Hughes, and Manhattan lawyer and “anti-woke” Democrat Maud Maron. It featured a solid consensus against gender-affirming care for minors and more generally against progressive gender theory, which is indeed a “dissident” position in mainstream culture; but while the panel offered some thoughtful discussion, several highly debatable claims—for instance, that “gender identity” itself is a myth rooted in sexist stereotypes—went unchallenged. Ironically, on an earlier panel about feminism, liberal feminism was almost unanimously trashed for rejecting stereotypical views of masculinity and femininity—two mutually contradicting positions united by the fact that both are “unwoke.”

It may be that the concept behind Dissident Dialogues was to bring together voices that were either rejected or canceled by progressive academic orthodoxy, and provide a platform for the otherwise unplatformable. It’s an understandable purpose, given that there is no shortage of opportunities for the righteous to sit on the dais with like-minded “scholars” nodding in approval. But then, if one takes issue with a panel consisting only of people who agree with each other on the woke end, is it any better when the panel is on the less-than-woke end but in similar agreement?

If mainstream institutions can benefit from the checks and balances provided by “heterodox” alternatives, “heterodoxy” definitely needs checks and balances from mainstream institutions.

Cathy’s Bulwark post is better than merely a brilliant recounting of one of the more interesting groups of heterodox thinkers: it’s brutally honest. Much as the woke would cast heretics as Trump-loving wingnuts to dismiss them as unworthy of consideration, heterodox thinkers need to similarly beware that they don’t become a silo unto themselves and create their own orthodoxy that refuses to consider the “dissident” voices of progress.

5 thoughts on “Beware The Orthodoxy of Heterodoxy

  1. Elpey P.

    H(egelian)arvey D(ialectic)ent: “You either die a heterodox, or live long enough to see yourself become the orthodoxy.”

    Maybe it’s better to just *be* some things (heterodox, liberal, dissident, etc.) without turning them into tribal identities and corporate brands. Labels last about ten seconds these days before being subsumed by our culture’s narrativized incoherence, becoming useful across ideological lines mainly for trolling and bad faith priggishness.

    1. PK

      How dare you bring up Hegel without a trigger warning. I’m scarred and now retraumatized. Not that he has anything whatsoever to do with what you said, but still.

  2. B. McLeod

    Just the fact that it has “hetero” in it should be a sufficient red flag. How can it be anything but bad, bad, bad?

  3. Shahid

    Perhaps Cathy can explain why they are actually contradictory positions rather than resting on the fact that some similar words are used.

    It’s as if there’s no nuance in her world. It is, unfortunately, a shockingly common perspective among our “thinkers”.

Comments are closed.