Surprise, motherfuckers! Simon “Slav Slayer” Elliot here, with my long awaited debut article. Now it may meander quite a bit and be poorly structured, but sod it. I’ll type as it comes naturally to me. What I’m going to walk you through here is a subject that I feel most of you on the alt-right need to understand more deeply, seeing as it plays such an integral role in the postmodern world. Relativism, perspectivism, opinionism, interpretationism; there are many terms for this insidious concept, but they all describe the same mode of thinking: that there are no objective truths that transcend individual and cultural perspectives. It affects every issue with which we grapple. It infests our body politic, dominates both academic and public discourse, and has paralysed philosophers and scientists alike. Before we begin to explore the origins of the relativist takeover that occurred during the last century, I want to emphasize that those who wield relativism in academia do so with a lethal finesse that can easily catch you off balance. Make no mistake; they are tireless and unrelenting in their intellectual assault, and reading their works, let alone engaging them in debate, is a nauseating experience that can cripple one’s morale. Do not underestimate them.
In this article, the first of what I (by no means definitively) expect to be a series, I shall be focusing on relativism in academia and the scientific community as a whole. We shall begin with an introduction to the “Science Wars” that began in the early 1990s and, despite reaching their peak in the late 90s, continue unabated to this day. A Wikipedia entry on the topic describes them thusly:
“The Science Wars were a series of intellectual exchanges, between scientific realists and postmodernist critics, about the nature of scientific theory and intellectual inquiry. They took place principally in the United States during the 1990s in the academic and mainstream press. Scientific realists (such as Norman Levitt, Paul R. Gross, Jean Bricmont and Alan Sokal) argued that scientific knowledge is real, and accused the postmodernists of having effectively rejected scientific objectivity, the scientific method, and scientific knowledge. Postmodernists interpreted Thomas Kuhn's ideas about scientific paradigms to mean that scientific theories are social constructs, and philosophers like Paul Feyerabend argued that other, non-realist forms of knowledge production were better suited to serve personal and spiritual needs. Though much of the theory associated with postmodernism did not make any interventions into the natural sciences, the scientific realists took aim at its general influence. The scientific realists argued that large swaths of scholarship, amounting to a rejection of objectivity and realism, had been influenced by major 20th Century poststructuralist philosophers (such as Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard and others), whose work they declared to be incomprehensible or meaningless. They implicated a broad range of fields in this trend, including cultural studies, cultural anthropology, feminist studies, comparative literature, media studies, and science and technology studies. They accused those postmodernist critics who did actually discuss science of having a limited understanding of it.”
The Science Wars have been enormous in their scope and scale, and I would the struggle is akin to the battle between atheism and religion. By far the most notorious event that took place was the Sokal affair.
In 1996, physics professor Alan Sokal submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies. The submission was an experiment to test the journal's intellectual rigor and, specifically, to investigate whether a leading North American journal of cultural studies - whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross - would publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if a) it sounded good and b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions. The article, titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity", was published in the Social Text spring/summer 1996 "Science Wars" issue. It proposed that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct. At that time, the journal did not practice academic peer review and it did not submit the article for outside expert review by a physicist. On the day of its publication in May 1996, Sokal revealed in Lingua Franca that the article was a hoax, identifying it as “a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense, structured around the silliest quotations from postmodernist academics on the subject of mathematics and physics.”
The hoax sparked an intense debate about the scholarly merit of humanistic commentary on the physical sciences, the influence of postmodern philosophy on social disciplines in general, and whether Social Text had exercised the appropriate intellectual rigor. Sokal later co-wrote with Jean Bricmont the book “Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science” in 1999, which goes into some detail explaining the epistemic relativism that has a chokehold on academia in the current era. Epistemic (or cognitive) relativism is a mode of thinking that extends relativism and subjectivism to factual matter and reason. In factual relativism the facts used to establish the truth or falsehood of any statement are understood to be relative to the perspective of those proving or falsifying the proposition.
Read that last sentence again. Is that not an accurate description of every liberal leftist you ever encountered?
What really kicked off the Science Wars in the realm of genes vs environment was the 1992 book “The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture” by John Tooby and Lena Cosmides. Widely considered the foundational text of evolutionary psychology, it effectively reduced the bulk of 20th century philosophical teachings and psychiatric diagnoses to a mere acronym: the SSSM. The term - which stands for “standard social science model” - was coined to describe, in a succinct and concise manner, the blank slate, social constructionist, cultural determinist and highly relativistic perspectives that have formed the dominant theoretical paradigm in the social sciences as they developed during the 20th century. According to this paradigm, the mind is a general-purpose cognitive device, shaped almost entirely by environment and infinitely malleable. A social engineer’s wet dream, in other words.
Steven Pinker’s landmark tome “The Blank Slate” of 2002, which I highly recommend, identifies several prominent individuals as proponents of the SSSM. Among these are Franz Boas, Margaret Mead, B.F. Skinner, Ashley Montagu (born Israel Ehrenberg), Richard Lewontin, John Money and Stephen Jay Gould. Others include Leon Kamin, Steven Rose, and Marxist geneticist Richard Levins.
But enough about the bad guys. Now I want to introduce you to some of the good guys, starting with Ernest Gellner. A Czech philosopher of Jewish descent, Gellner has been described as “a one-man crusade for critical rationalism.” Gellner fought all his life - in his writing, his teaching, and through his political activism - against what he saw as closed systems of thought, particularly communism, psychoanalysis, relativism, and the dictatorship of the free market. He published many books over his lifetime, but if there is one book that I feel compelled to recommend above any other, his 1985 publication “Relativism and the Social Sciences” has to be it. To give you an idea of what it covers, here is an abridged review from Amazon.
As noted by many who knew or were influenced by Gellner, he was a dying breed: a polymath who was equally adept at philosophy, sociology, anthropology and politics. That ability, always noticeable in these essays, is what makes this book so different from other such books on the subject. This is needed because the subject - the problem of relativism in the social sciences - has become such a commonplace one, that one could easily fill a Barnes & Noble with titles addressing it. For all that, one would be hard pressed to count on one hand the books that actually contribute anything useful to the discussion, as opposed to just rehashing the problem while pretending to have original thoughts on it. I ramble on that for a reason. Gellner's is precisely one of those books that would be counted on that hand. The reason is that he is both a philosopher and an anthropologist (as most writers in one discipline tend to ignore the methods of the other). Gellner's philosophic side wants to gravitate towards human universals and in this he resembles Kant and the Enlightenment. His anthropologist side, however, wants to gravitate towards the differences, and in this he takes after Herder and the Romantics.
As those who have read Gellner before know, he sides mostly with the Enlightenment on this one, but never all the way. As a brief synopsis, the first and fourth essay defend positivism and argue that the scientific process not only applies to the social sciences but is the best way for them to operate. The second and third essays deal with the problem of human universals in a world of seemingly different areas, approaches, cultures and - dare we say it - natures. The fifth, sixth and seventh essays (more anthropology and less philosophy) deal with and demolish structuralism and hermeneutic approaches to anthropology with the latter taking direct aim at Wittgenstein’s “community theory” of language.
While this collection is short (at 187 pages) the insights are fantastic and, as mentioned above, blend the theoretic prowess of the philosopher with the empirical tradition of the anthropologist.
“Postmodernism, Reason and Religion” is another book of note, in which Gellner turns his main guns on his fellow academics, especially those who espouse postmodernism and other allied forms of relativism. Gellner explains that the universities are dominated by the research model provided by the natural sciences in which scholars are expected to constantly churn out genuinely new knowledge. But he adds, "in fields such as the humanities, not only is it not clear that there is any cumulative development, any real progress, it is not always altogether clear what research could or should aim it." So, in lieu of true scholarship, the humanities are seduced into "a setting up of artificial obsolescence and rotation of fashion, characteristic of the consumer goods industry." Postmodernism is an academic fad, and Gellner demonstrates this in great detail in a case study of his own profession of anthropology.
And he argues that postmodernism and its assorted forms of intellectual relativism are by no means harmless fads; they distract us from understanding the most important historical development of the last thousand years. That development consists of the fact that, for the first time in human history, one civilization has discovered a method to reveal objective, practically indisputable, and culturally-independent knowledge about the natural world. Knowledge that offers incomparable power in controlling nature and doing good or harm to our fellow humans. I am of course alluding to what is known as the scientific method, and every civilization on this planet is frantic to reap its fruits.
Gellner, who died during the Science Wars, believed that, in the end, the only belief system which can survive long term is the empiricist rationalism created in the Western-European Enlightenment.
Another, more contemporary crusader for truth, is Paul Boghossian. A professor of philosophy at New York University, he is known to postmodernists for his contribution to the Sokal affair. He published a book in 2007 that I feel should be mandatory for all TRS readers, on the same level as Kevin MacDonald’s work. “Fear of Knowledge: Relativism and Constructivism in Academia” is the title. The blurb reads:
“The academic world has been plagued in recent years by scepticism about truth and knowledge. Paul Boghossian, in his long-awaited first book, sweeps away relativist claims that there is no such thing as objective truth or knowledge, but only truth or knowledge from a particular perspective. He demonstrates clearly that such claims don't even make sense.
Boghossian focuses on three different ways of reading the claim that knowledge is socially constructed - one as a thesis about truth, and two about justification. And he rejects all three. The intuitive, common-sense view is that there is a way things are that is independent of human opinion, and that we are capable of arriving at belief about how things are that is objectively reasonable, binding on anyone capable of appreciating the relevant evidence regardless of their social or cultural perspective. Difficult as these notions may be, it is a mistake to think that recent philosophy has uncovered powerful reasons for rejecting them.
This short, lucid, witty book shows that philosophy provides rock-solid support for common sense against the relativists. It will prove provocative reading throughout the discipline and beyond.”
I think that’ll be it for now, as I don’t want to flood you with too much information and recommendations in the early stages. And I want to emphasise that I am by no means an expert in these matters, and that this first article of mine is merely an introduction to the topic. I’m here learning along with you, and these books are a good place to start. Another essential volume is “Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science” by Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt. You can read an article written by the authors, summarising their positions on various issues, here.
And so, in drawing this article to a close, I want to share a few insights of my own. It is very unnerving to be proven wrong when you are in fact correct, and the person who is incorrect is the one who is proving you wrong and proving themselves, wrongly, right. I have learned from experience that relativism is the primary weapon in every leftist's toolkit. It must surely be the most disingenuous tactic in the history of intellectual debate. Observations and assertions based on taste would not pass muster with any relativist, since relativism is inherently opposed to descriptive words and value judgments. Relativism and its subsequent cult of subjectivity would have us forever sinking in a sea of uncertainty, where doubt plagues every thought, undermines every conviction. It works relentlessly as an agent of discord, convincing us that our reasoning, our senses, and even science itself cannot be trusted.
A recurrent problem is that whenever two (or more) sides are debating a difficult issue, each side always has a list of arguments supporting their own position, arguments which they find very convincing and which, inexplicably, their opponents do not. This is unavoidable. But sometimes the people arguing are reasonable and willing to switch sides if they think the evidence warrants, and sometimes they are true believers, who are utterly committed to a particular side for reasons that have nothing to do with the evidence, and care only about winning. Likewise, the people who argue that the concept of race is invalid because it is socially constructed are the same people who claim that everything is socially constructed, from sexuality to beauty and even morality itself. Taken to its logical conclusion, this would mean that everything is invalid. However, despite appearances, these people are not complete nihilists - they do believe in the ultimate validity of their own left-wing political values, after all. But science, the wisdom of the ancestors, our unwavering desire to seek definitive answers? No, as far as these people are concerned, all of these are invalid, worthy only of the dustbin.
Undermining the nature and even the existence of reality is the relativist’s most honed skill. To give you some idea of what we’re up against in the blogosphere, I’ll leave you with the following quote, taken from a left-wing site.
“A fact is a fact, like a table is a table. It is materialist and scientific. Social matters, on the other hand, are truths, not facts. They are about perspectives, subjectivity, emotions, interests, as well as observed facts. Thus, they are truths. Facts cannot be both A and B, but truths can be both A and B. That Jews moved into Palestine and pushed out native Arabs is a fact, but Palestinians and Jews interpret those facts differently and have arrived at and embrace different truths. Truth is an interpretation of facts embellished with emotions.”