Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science – Paul Gross and Norman Levitt

I do go into this with a bias. While I am something of a fence-sitter on postmodernism, I lean towards doubt, particularly when a conflict comes up with science (or perhaps I should specify and say the hard sciences). I actually come from a philosophy background that jumped both feet first into a whole lot of post-modernism, and boy did I get an education from it. It’s an education I largely regret, but here I am (largely unemployable). The unemployable part is largely a joke. What I did come away with is more than enough cause to be skeptical of people working in the soft-sciences.

Thrice while reading the first chapter alone did I stop to think to myself “am I reading a right-wing screed”. We get a little of this from their distinction of academic left. To be fully charitable, they likely did this out of a desire to reach across the table to left leaning people who are not science-deniers. But their phrasing here is a bit poor. I might as well codify all supporters of intelligent design as the academic right, and then try to reach out ‘the good right-wingers’ who don’t deny science. Worse still, the authors play right into the ethno-racial baiting that REAL science is meant to avoid: “Japan, to take the obvious example – can simultaneously succeed and maintain their identities only to the degree that they naturalize the science and technology of Western culture.” Nothing about science is Western, There is not a western theory of gravity and an eastern theory of planetary motion. The whole point of science is that if you put in the work, the results will be the same. What the authors are guilt of here is poor phrasing at best, chauvinism at worst.

Remember that this is just the first chapter. I am already leaning towards the latter.

Which brings me to my final point of the three mentioned above. Trying to demonstrate what FoxNews would call ‘the real objective of the left,’ the authors say “By the same token, racial justice, on this view, does not mean peaceful assimilation of blacks into the dominant culture, but the forging of an entirely new culture, in which “black” (or “African”) values – in social relations, economics, aesthetics, personal sensibilities – will have at least equal standing with “white” values.”

I asked a “black” friend of mine what his values are, and I got the following “Perseverance, charity, openness faith and communal focus”. Heaven forfend!

But that these two ‘champion of science’ are stupid enough to think that values is linked to melanin in the skin (as opposed to being a product of one’s upbringing) shows just how little seriously I should take the work. So yea, this book is a right-wing screed. But, I did steal this book, so the authors got no money from me. And with that, I continued to read in good conscience.

The authors of this book seem to think that ‘science’ writ large belong on one side of the field or the other. It is hard to see to what extent that is the case. Nor have the years been particularly kind to this book, as seen by some of the stances they take. The ‘science’ the authors subscribe them to seem to have lead them to the conclusion that AIDS affects minority communities by some nature of the virus itself, and that it is foolish to think a straight suburban white male would ever have to worry about the disease. I do not understand how anyone can take the science these people mean to defend seriously. Even scientist.

So yes. This is a right wing screed. But should it be taken seriously? This is a harder thing to answer. But at the end of the I look at the world around me and I am not particularly concerned that the world is being dominated by the readers of Foucault and Derrida. Do some intellectuals have some really bad fucking ideas? Yes. I have seen them first hand. But I still think it is a lot more likely that most of these thinkers will one day be unremembered historical blips.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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