richard dawkins

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LBC’s Maajid Nawaz Blames Protests and Riots on Postmodernism at Universities

It seems that it isn’t just Donald Trump and members of the far right, like Andy Ngo, in America who are blaming the current unrest on bogus, mythical far left conspiracies. On this side of the Pond one of the presenters on LBC radio, Maajid Nawaz did the same yesterday. And he then got terribly shirty when an American philosophy professor, Jason Stanley, called him out on it.

Nawaz had tweeted

“The hard-left has fucked up our youth. These are fruits of their Long March & a consequence of us all giving the hard-left an easy pass on their morally relativist, post-modernism”.

To which Yale prof Stanley replied. asking if his Tweet was a joke and saying that it was impossible to take him seriously when he mentioned post-modernism in that context.

Nawaz replied in turn that he was a Muslim, who had lived through torture and racist violence, and accused Stanley of White privilege and having the dismissive racism of the American left. This did not impress Stanley, who stuck to his guns. He continued asking if Nawaz’s thread was a parody, and pointed out that postmodernism had nothing to do with the protests in his country, and that Marxists aren’t postmodernists. This upset Nawaz even more, who accused him of ‘Whitesplaining’. It didn’t stop Stanley from asking further if Nawaz’s thread was a parody. Mehdi Hasan then joined in to criticise Nawaz’s own, contradictory position:

“Maajid Nawaz has this whole anti-identity politics schtick but as soon as someone calls him on his BS – as my friend Yale professor & fascism expert [Jason Stanley] did earlier – he instantly reverts to a ‘you-cant-criticize-me-because-youre-a-white-man’ line. He is beyond parody”.

Quite.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/06/maajid-nawaz-post-modernism-fail.html

I’ve come across the same view before from the transatlantic right. The hard left, it is maintained by Conservatives on both sides of the Pond, is trying to destroy western culture through postmodernism and its radical destruction of traditional western society and questioning of objective truth.

Postmodernism, Architecture, Linguistic Theory and History

Postmodernism actually started out as an architectural movement. It meant a style of modern architecture which ‘quoted’ features of past building styles. For example, it might include turrets like a medieval castle, or the volutes above the doorways of the Baroque. It was then taken over into French philosophy, where it mixed Marxism with with poststructural linguist theory. Radical philosophers like Liotard, Derrida, Lacan and Irigay argued that, just as there was no innate link between the signifier – a word – and the signified – the object or concept that word represented, so there was no objective truth and all historical accounts were equally valid. Althusser in the late 60s demanded a ‘semioclasm’ – the liberation of words from their bourgeois meanings, In history, postmodernism also sought to attack traditional Eurocentric history which privileged White men. It’s fair to say that postmodernism continued to be strongly associated with the radical left into the 1990s. I can remember attending a seminar at my old college in the 1990s in which postmodernism was invoked to argue that White Europeans could never really understand extra-European cultures, and people talked about being ‘othered’ and alienated by conventional Western discourse.

Sokal and Bricmont’s Attack

But that, dear friends, was a long time ago. Things have changed somewhat since then. In the mid-1990s Sokal and Bricmont, one an American Maths professor, the other a Belgian philosopher, gave postmodernism a thorough intellectual drubbing with their Intellectual Impostures. This was an attack on the way postmodern philosophers, like the above, tried to use scientific and mathematical concepts in their writings without actually understanding them. They simply used them in order to show off. The results were articles that were nonsense scientifically, and really just plain gibberish whose impenetrability was meant to make them look profound. One the offenders the two critiqued was a piece which seemed to claim that philosophy’s job was to quiet down and smooth out the quantum foam, the phenomenon at the subatomic level where particles suddenly pop in and out of existence randomly. The targets of Sokal’s and Bricmont’s fierce demolition hit back by claiming that the two were right-wing reactionaries. They weren’t. Sokal was a member of the American Left, who had taught in Nicaragua under the Sandanistas. They were partly motivated to attack the postmodernists because they followed Orwell’s maxim that if you want to write politics, you should do so clearly.

Postmodernism Passe

By the late ’90s and certainly by the first years of the 21st century, the vogue for postmodernism had passed. When I did an MA history course around 2003, it included postmodernism in the historiography section, but only as one school of history. The others included Historicism, and the French Annales school amongst others. One of these is Marxism, which shows how Marxism and Postmodernism are two separate ideologies. The reading on it we were given accepted the premise that you couldn’t produce a completely objective account of an historical event or movement, but nevertheless considered that postmodernism was important in that it should spur the historian to try as hard as possible to approach this unattainable goal. This was very different from accepting the radical postmodernists’ claim that as objective truth doesn’t exist, all accounts and narratives are equally valid.

Colin Bennett, Postmodernism and the Far Right

By that time, postmodernism had also changed its political affiliation. It was no longer a movement of the left. This was stated very clearly by one of the lecturers. This is demonstrated very clearly by the writings of the Fortean author Colin Bennett. Bennett appeared in the 1990s, when he published a book on the UFO Contactee, George Adamski, Looking for Orthon. He’s now considered a fraud by most UFO researchers, not least because one of the photos he was trying to pass off as a picture of Venusian spaceship was of a chicken coop. He’s also supposed to have remarked in private that he founded his mystical organisation as a way of obtaining alcohol during Prohibition by claiming he was using it for spiritual purposes. Bennett appeared on a panel at the Fortean Times Unconvention one year to talk about his book, and got very irate and refused to give a straight answer when he was asked by another panelist if he thought Adamski was genuine. Bennett definitely considered himself a postmodernist, but he was very far from being a Marxist. He’s an ex-soldier, whose views on multiculturalism and non-White immigration in my view come very close to the White European Fascist fringe. He is Jewish, and so is also very critical of them for their anti-Semitism. As for sexual politics, from what I saw of his writings a few years ago, he was very definitely traditional in his view of gender roles and very bitterly opposed to homosexuality. Several of his pieces contained rants against the British cultural elite for refusing to accept postmodernism, and trying to drag British literature back to the Bloomsbury group and promote what the Beeb used to delicately call ‘effeminacy in men’.

From starting as a left-wing movement, postmodernism had, at least in Bennett’s case, been taken over by the far right.

Anti-White Racism at University

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t radical left-wing postmodernists teaching at universities. There was a scandal a couple of years ago when a White student at Wash University in Utah recorded the rantings of the Black professor teaching the communications course. The professor rejected space because science was a White invention. The student also recorded his Black students screaming racist diatribes against Whites, some of which were tantamount to genocide. On the recording, one of them can be heard shouting that Whites should all be rounded up and shot into space. The recording caused immense controversy, and was the subject of a number of YouTube posts from American Conservative channels and individuals.

Conclusion

I doubt, however, that there are very many university professors like that one. I don’t doubt that there are others, but they’re going to be in a minority. The vast majority of scientists, for example, are utterly convinced that there is indeed an objective truth, and that their disciplines are finding it. It’s why Richard Dawkins has also strongly attacked postmodernism. Many scientists are themselves critical of some of Dawkin’s views on evolution and the existence of God, but I think they nearly all agree with him about this. Postmodernism is largely confined to the arts and humanities, and even there I very much doubt that very many academics and students really believe in it. I am also extremely sceptical of right-wing claims that universities are dominate by the left. In my experience, teaching staff are of all political opinions. Many of them also take seriously the difference between education and indoctrination, so that some of the most left-wing keep their private views very separate from what they say in the class room and lecture hall.

And it should be very obvious that on its own, no academic discipline, no matter how sophisticated, can get people on to the streets demonstrating. The people marching and protesting in America and Britain do so because of real social, political and economic grievances.

It has zero to do with any bogus conspiracies of far left, postmodernist College professors.

 

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Three

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Socialism and Marriage, Children, Liberty and Religion

Shaw also discusses what socialism would mean for marriage, liberty, children and the churches, and these are the most problematic sections of the book. He looks forward to marriage being a purely voluntary commitment, where people people can marry for love instead of financial advancement. This will produce biologically better children, because people will be able to choose the best partners, rather than be limited to only those from their class. At the same time incompatible partners will be able to divorce each other free of stigma.

He defines liberty in terms of personal freedom. Under socialism, people will be freer because the amount of time they will have for their personal amusement and recreation will be greater. Legislation might go down, because the laws currently needed to protect people will become unnecessary as socialism is established and society advances. Shaw also believes that greater free time would be enough to attract the top brains to management positions in the absence of the usual inducement of greater pay. Shaw realised that not everyone could run industries, and that it was necessary to hire the very best people, who would be a small minority. Giving them greater leisure time was the best way to do this, and he later criticises the Soviet government for not equalising incomes.

But this is sheer utopianism. The Bolsheviks had tried to equalise incomes, and it didn’t work, which is why they went back to higher rates of pay for managers and so on. And as we’ve seen, socialism doesn’t necessarily lead to greater free time and certainly not less legislation. The better argument is that socialism leads to greater liberty because under socialism people have better opportunities available to them for careers, sport, entertainment and personal improvement than they would if they were mere capitalist wage slaves.

Religious people will also object to his views on religion and the churches. While earlier in the book Shaw addressed the reader as a fellow Christian, his attitude in this section is one of a religious sceptic. The reader will have already been warned of this through the foreword by Toynbee. The Groaniad columnist is a high-ranking member of the both the Secular and Humanist Societies, and her columns and articles in just about every magazine or newspaper she wrote for contained sneers at religion. Shaw considers the various Christian denominations irreconcilable in their theologies, and pour scorn on orthodox Christian doctrines such as the Atonement, that Christ died for our sins. Religion should not be taught in school, because of the incompatibility of the account of the Creation in Genesis with modern science. Children should not be taught about religion at all under they are of the age of consent. If their parents do teach them, the children are to be removed from their care. This is the attitude of very aggressive secularists and atheists. Richard Dawkins had the same attitude, but eventually reversed it. It’s far too authoritarian for most people. Mike and I went to a church school, and received a very good education from teachers that did believe in evolution. Religion deals with ultimate questions of existence and morality that go far beyond science. I therefore strongly believe that parents have the right to bring their children up in their religion, as long as they are aware of the existence of other views and that those who hold them are not wicked simply for doing so. He also believed that instead of children having information pumped into them, the business should be to educate children to the basic level they need to be able to live and work in modern society, and then allow the child to choose for itself what it wants to study.

Communism and Fascism

This last section of the book includes Shaw’s observations on Russian Communism and Fascism. Shaw had visited the USSR in the early ’30s, and like the other Fabians had been duped by Stalin. He praised it as the new socialist society that was eradicating poverty and class differences. He also thought that its early history vindicated the Fabian approach of cautious nationalisation. Lenin had first nationalised everything, and then had to go back on it and restore capitalism and the capitalist managers under the New Economic Policy. But Russia was to be admired because it had done this reversal quite openly, while such changes were kept very quiet in capitalism. If there were problems in the country’s industrialisation, it was due to mass sabotage by the kulaks – the wealthy peasants – and the industrialists. He also recognised that the previous capitalist elite were disenfranchised, forced into manual labour, and their children denied education until the working class children had been served. At the same time, the Soviet leaders had been members of the upper classes themselves, and in order to present themselves as working class leaders had claimed working class parentage. These issues were, however, gradually working themselves out. The Soviet leaders no longer had need of such personal propaganda, and the former capitalists could reconcile themselves to the regime as members of the intellectual proletariat. And some of the industrialisation was being performed by criminals, but this was less arduous than the labour in our prisons.

Shaw is right about the NEP showing that nationalisation needs to be preceded by careful preparation. But he was obviously kept ignorant of the famine that was raging in the USSR through forced collectivisation and the mass murder of the kulaks. And rather than a few criminals in the gulags, the real figures were millions of forced labourers. They were innocent of any crime except Stalin’s paranoia and the need of his managers for cheap slave labour. It’s believed that about 30 millions died in Stalin’s purges, while 7 million died in the famine in the Ukraine.

Shaw’s treatment of Fascism seems to be based mostly on the career of Mussolini. He considers Fascism just a revival of the craze for absolute monarchy and military leadership, of the kind that had produced Henry VIII in England, Napoleon, and now Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, the Shah of Iran and Ataturk in Turkey. These new absolute rulers had started out as working class radicals, before find out that the changes they wanted would not come from the working class. They had therefore appealed to the respectable middle class, swept away democracy and the old municipal councils, which were really talking shops for elderly tradesmen which accomplished little. They had then embarked on a campaign against liberalism and the left, smashing those organisations and imprisoning their members. Some form of parliament had been retained in order to reassure the people. At the same time, wars were started to divert the population and stop them criticising the new generalissimo. Industry was approaching socialism by combining into trusts. However, the government would not introduce socialism or truly effective government because of middle class opposition. Fascist regimes wouldn’t last, because their leaders were, like the rest of us, only mortal. In fact Mussolini was overthrown by the other Fascists, who then surrendered to the Allies, partly because of his failing health. That, and his utter military incompetence which meant that Italy was very definitely losing the War and the Allies were steadily advancing up the peninsula. While this potted biography of the typical Fascist is true of Mussolini, it doesn’t really fit some of the others. The Shah, for example, was an Indian prince.

Anarchism and Syndicalism

Shaw is much less informed about anarchism. He really only discusses it in terms of ‘Communist Anarchism’, which he dismisses as a silly contradiction in terms. Communism meant more legislation, while anarchism clearly meant less. He should have the articles and books on Anarcho-communism by Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin believed that goods and services should be taken over by the whole community. However, rather than a complete absence of government and legislation, society would be managed instead by individual communities and federations.

He also dismisses syndicalism, in which industry would be taken over and run by the trade unions. He considers this just another form of capitalism, with the place of the managers being taken by the workers. These would still fleece the consumer, while at the same time leave the problem of the great inequality in the distribution of wealth untouched, as some industries would obviously be poorer than others. But the Guild Socialists did believe that there should be a kind of central authority to represent the interests of the consumer. And one of the reasons why nationalisation, in the view of some socialists, failed to gain the popular support needed to defend it against the privatisations of the Tories is because the workers in the nationalised industries after the War were disappointed in their hopes for a great role in their management. The Labour party merely wanted nationalisation to be a simple exchange of public for private management, with no profound changes to the management structure. In some cases the same personnel were left in place. Unions were to be given a role in management through the various planning bodies. But this was far less than many workers and trade unionists hoped. If nationalisation is to have any meaning, it must allow for a proper, expanded role of the workers themselves in the business of managing their companies and industries.

The book ends with a peroration and a discussion of the works that have influenced and interest Shaw. In the peroration Shaw exhorts the readers not to be upset by the mass poverty and misery of the time, but to deplore the waste of opportunities for health, prosperity and happiness of the time, and to look forward and work for a better, socialist future.

His ‘Instead of a Bibliography’ is a kind of potted history of books critical of capitalism and advocating socialism from David Ricardo’s formulation of capitalism in the 19th century. These also include literary figures like Ruskin, Carlyle and Dickens. He states that he has replaced Marx’s theory of surplus value with Jevons‘ treatment of rent, in order to show how capitalism deprives workers of their rightful share of the profits.