Thanks, But No Thanks
regard for truth has been broken down, or even slightly weakened,
all things will remain doubtful."
a philosopher who uses his professional competence for anything
except a disinterested search for truth is guilty of a kind of treachery."
I never thought of it as a game."
Inspector Harry Callahan
I received a final notice from a professional organization I have
belonged to for 15 years, the American
Philosophical Association (APA), the largest organization of
professional philosophers in the country. It made sense that I would
receive it: I am a trained philosopher with a doctorate in the field,
had been a member in good standing for all except one of those years
(even though I only taught the subject full time for seven of them),
but didn’t send in my dues for the 2000-01 academic year.
this year I have to reply, "Thanks, but no thanks." My
reasons boil down to one basic claim: some time ago the University
of Delaware-based APA ceased to be a philosophical organization
and became just one more club of career academics, rife with factions
and driven by compulsory conformity to all the politically correct
fads. Last October I received a mass emailing from APA headquarters
announcing this year as the organization’s 100th anniversary.
It called on philosophers to write op-eds, articles, etc., communicating
the value of philosophy to those outside the field. Let this be
one philosopher’s contribution to this project though I doubt
this is what the club’s 100th anniversary celebrants
had in mind.
to the value of philosophy as I understand the term, I’ve
no doubt. Regarding the value of academic philosophy in its
present condition, I’ve grave doubts.
joined the APA back in 1985 as an enthusiastic but naïve graduate
student having just seen the appearance of my first article
in a refereed journal. A couple of years later, I got my first taste
of things seriously amiss with academic philosophy. I was in Boston,
at the annual meeting of the APA’s huge Eastern Division meeting
between Christmas and New Years Day of 1987, a newly minted Ph.D.
with his first full-time job (a sabbatical leave replacement position).
I was there to present a paper, and I had what turned out to be
a half-hour job interview. While passing by a conference room with
one door standing open and an overflow crowd spilling into the hall,
I chanced to hear raised female voices. Curious, I inched forward
until I was able to see inside the room. I watched as a slightly
diminutive woman at a lectern was verbally assaulted by other panelists
and an audience of mostly women, for reasons I was not to discover
until months later.
woman was Christina Hoff Sommers, and she had read a paper critical
of what so-called feminist philosophers had to say about the family.
Of course, what they had to say, in essence, was that the traditional
American family is an institution created by men to oppress women
and ought to be done away with. Sommers apparently hadn’t realized
that so-called feminist philosophers can’t stand to have their Marxist
view of the world criticized. For a woman, it is even worse: Sommers
was a traitor to her gender. To so-called feminist philosophers,
having anyone stand up and do what Sommers did, at a national meeting,
no less, was literally a new experience. As a result, the meeting
disintegrated into chaos. I could barely believe what I had seen.
Silly me. I had thought that professional people eschewed outraged
gasps, catcalls and efforts to shout down those they disagreed with.
I wondered about the physical safety of the woman whose name I didn’t
yet know but would go on to write a blistering indictment entitled
Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women (1994) This
important book would be among the first to blow the whistle on the
kind of rubbish that passes for scholarship in academic feminist
couple of hours later that same day, I had a conversation with a
fellow I’d met at a graduate-student conference at a Midwestern
campus. (Graduate-student conferences are held to encourage enthusiastic
but naïve graduate students.) I had applied for a position
in his department, and he informed me his voice lowered to
just above a whisper that the hiring committee was under
severe pressure to hire a woman. I, with my publications, presentations
and other credentials, very likely had no chance whatsoever. A woman
was indeed hired, I learned later. This was my first encounter
one of many with the academic non-search, in which committees,
often under marching orders from deans or other higher-ups, decide
in advance of looking at applications to consider women and minorities
sort of women who would disrupt a presentation they didn’t agree
with were the ones obtaining the jobs. Moreover, this was not communicated
to job applicants. As sociologist Frederick R. Lynch put it in his
groundbreaking Invisible Victims: White Males and the Crisis
of Affirmative Action (1989) "word comes down but does
not go out." The marching orders are limited to internal memos
and various enticements. At one university where I taught for a
few years, the administration had a standing offer of a new permanent
appointment to any department who could recruit a black. So much
for the idea of "institutionalized discrimination" against
blacks by universities. It struck me then that the leftists who
claim that universities discriminate against women and blacks either
just don’t know what they were talking about or are part of a massive
1989, I had become aware of and increasingly horrified by
the clout wielded by race/gender special interest groups
in academe. One such group in academic philosophy, calling
itself the Committee for the Status of Women in Philosophy, is by
any measure the most aggressive leftist organization in the discipline.
Those involved masquerade as "victims" despite the absence
of visible opposition to their agenda. A few other whispered conversations
plus a handful of internal documents I had obtained led me to affirmative
action as the main culprit explaining how these people got so much
clout. Two years later, we began hearing about political correctness.
I was not surprised. After all, I and quite a few others had begun
inveighing against affirmative action in both articles and letters
to the editor in fairly prominent periodicals like The Chronicle
of Higher Education. Ripples of discontent, usually by white
students, older white male faculty members or young job seekers
such as myself, were growing. Moreover, a number of recent Supreme
Court decisions (Croson and Ward’s Cove, for example)
held out hope that affirmative action would be rolled back. Political
correctness was a natural step in efforts to block the slowly mounting
criticisms of race/gender preferences and the victimology worldview.
It was a means by which cadres of tenured radicals would secure
their rapid march to the centers of power in universities.
"life of the mind" or some such was clearly not what motivates these
people. As Gramscians in the sense I wrote about two
weeks ago, their endeavor was transformative, and they had begun
to bend academic disciplines, philosophy included, to fit their
agenda. For example, "feminist critiques of science" become all
the rage in the early 1990s – one of the fads I alluded to above.
While established scholars paid this sort of thing no attention
whatsoever, newcomers such as myself were expected to confront the
"issues" raised and participate as true believers.
"issues," however, were utterly and totally nuts. To a
rational person, they invited ridicule, not serious evaluation.
The basic idea behind a "feminist critique of science"
is that science is fundamentally sexist, exhibiting a skewed "masculine
view of the world" because its founders and most of its practitioners
have been men. This goes all the way down to the basic Western way
of conceiving laws of physical nature. One radical feminist actually
used the phrase rape manual to refer to Isaac Newton’s writings
because he and Sir Francis Bacon spoke of "penetrating"
nature’s secrets. (Masculine science. Feminine nature. Get it?)
Part of the feminist agenda for scholarship and education was to
critique "masculine science" and set the stage for replacing
it with a more "female friendly" enterprise.
Levin, a woman philosopher of the old school, responded to this
by wondering sarcastically (in an article entitled "Caring
New World: Science and Feminism," published in The American
Scholar in 1992) if feminist airplanes would stay aloft for
feminist engineers. Others simply pointed out that the books and
articles appearing in a steady stream by radical feminists would
not have been considered publishable as recently as ten years before.
world of academic publishing, however, is also in the special-favors
business, as academic presses and journal editorial boards have
filled up with sympathizers to radical-left causes. At one point
I prepared a detailed critique of the very idea of a "feminist
critique of science." A journal rejected it on the basis of
a referee’s report two sentences long. When I phoned the editor
to complain about the obvious bias, she openly told me that
critics were held to a higher standard than believers.
of course, the situation is worse. We do not have scholars, we have
"superstars." The radicals’ march to the centers of power
is complete. Their mindset is in control. Victimology rules academe;
its critics, either vanquished or reduced to frustrated impotence.
Many have been forced out, taken early retirement or resigned in
disgust. Administrations have been co-opted. Support for "diversity"
is now written into the job descriptions for high-level administrators
in all major universities. All one need do to verify this is check
the jobs section in any recent issue of The Chronicle of Higher
Education. As for academic philosophy, there are sessions, committees,
APA-sponsored newsletters, and even full-fledged academic journals,
dedicated to every alleged victim group imaginable: blacks (some
of whom are now being paid six figure salaries at places like Harvard
real class of victims, there!), Hispanics, Asians, gays and
lesbians, and so on. With the public attacks on the Boy Scouts,
one wonders when philosophy-for-pedophiles will emerge from this
is presented in the intellectual ambience of "postmodernism"
which rejects the objective truth of which St. Augustine and Bertrand
Russell spoke of in two of my three lead quotations in favor of
a mixture of historical relativism, cultural Marxism and cynicism
about academe’s former self. Objective truth, we learn from
postmodernist writings, is a "white, male, Eurocentric social
construct" and therefore oppressive and evil. The "disinterested
search" for it is a bad-faith exercise in self-deception, since
it doesn’t recognize the dominance of straight white males. Intellectual
relativism makes it possible to portray all groups and lifestyles
as, in some sense, equal; actually existing inequalities, therefore,
result from "oppression." Cultural Marxism continues the
attacks on capitalism because it is so unegalitarian. What results
are bizarre proposals such as that of Peter Singer, Princeton’s
latest "star." He argues that the United States should
immediately, on "moral" grounds, transfer massive amounts
of wealth to third world nations to alleviate their poverty. Singer,
also a veteran of the nutty animal-rights movement, is the kind
of "professional philosopher" that makes one want to dissociate
himself completely from the enterprise.
sum: well over ten years have passed since the first warnings were
sounded, and I have to say: folks, you were warned! Over
ten years ago, we younger scholars began to write about what affirmative
action was doing to higher education. We were ignored, denounced
as racists, and then excommunicated from your churches of "diversity."
I still recall the hate blast from a black professor writing
from a tenured chair at a certain Ivy League university, naturally
replying to a letter to the editor I had written in The
Chronicle of Higher Education about affirmative action. He compared
yours truly to Dan Quayle and David Duke because "I see no
difference between any of you." I also received letters from
hostile readers always with secure academic employment
that had a distinct tone of fear in them. These people were actually
afraid that points of view other than the far left-liberal
one would gain currency. I had to retort (and did, on occasion),
what are you afraid of?
where do we go from here? First, one has to admit that despite academic
philosophy’s near-collapse during the political correctness era,
much of what came before wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire.
Much of 20th century philosophy had been the scene of
a cleavage between the "analytic" philosophy done in the
English speaking world and that of the French and German "Continental"
approach. The former focused on the analysis of language and the
production of, for example, close studies of inductive reasoning
in science. Some of these, I hasten to point out, displayed considerable
logical skill. The latter was either an existentialism that focused
on the individual acting in a meaningless world, or a reconstructed
Marxism setting out to change it. This, then, is what the philosophical
community offered: exercises in (mostly trivial, however skillful)
linguistic analysis, nihilistic wails of angst or howls of
rage against "capitalism." Typically, too, 20th
century "scientific" philosophers took materialistic naturalism
for granted (although there are important exceptions such as the
University of Notre Dame’s Alvin Plantinga and the remaining devotees
of Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophy of organism).
wonder academic radicals found a haven in academic philosophy! They
rushed in to fill the intellectual vacuum that academic philosophy
had largely become. Academic philosophy had become a kind of decoration
little more than a game played by career academics trying
to impress each other and win tenure. Funny thing. Rather like Clint
Eastwood’s character also quoted at the outset, I never thought
of it as a game. To my mind, serious people including at
least some university undergraduates had serious questions,
and some of them they brought to professional philosophers expecting
that those Ph.D.s, large corner offices and long lists of publications
meant something. Many of these undergraduates were very troubled
kids. They didn’t look all that hot, with their shaved heads
or dyed hair and black clothing, but some of these kids were surprisingly
bright. Their questions, when they opened up, were often the right
ones. They sought answers, and the philosophers indeed, the
entire academic enterprise influenced by materialism, cultural relativism
and moral nihilism, was telling them that there are no answers and
they might as well "do their own thing." I had come to
care about some of those lost kids; because of this, I cannot forgive
academic philosophers their abdication.
out how 20th century philosophy got into this state would
take an article much longer than this. (I can almost hear the sighs
of relief!) Suffice it to say, one sees none of the kind of discussion
that is needed today usually, because there is no one with
both the will and the resources to carry it on. Academic searches
might as well be labeled, "No white males or conservatives
or paleolibertarians need apply." The kind of hate the Southern
Poverty Law Center doesn’t mind has become the hallmark of our time,
and the most that white males can do to succeed is acknowledge their
role as history’s villains and work within that.
refuse! I would much rather produce analyses "deconstructing"
the uses of the very expression affirmative action, showing
how the original legal texts (a favorite term of the deconstructionist
crowd) left the term undefined. It took on meaning when the courts
gave it meaning as preferential treatment for some at the
expense of others. I would like to see analyses of how diversity
means a diversity of faces but not of ideas. In fact, there is plenty
of evidence that the purveyors of diversity are scared stiff of
the open discussion of ideas.
would also like to see blowhards like Peter Singer cut down to size,
using arguments that should not be too difficult to produce. They
would show how proposals such as his would not only fail to bring
third world nations with no tradition of liberty up to our status,
but turn the United States into a third world nation.
I would like to see more philosophical examination of ideas such
as secession in the light of our own Declaration of Independence
and of the ideas of a Constitutional republic. What merits does
this idea have? Should it be advocated, just in case it turns out
(as some have reasonably argued) that reforming the bloated Washington
empire in the direction of Constitutionally limited government is
no longer possible at the voting booth. What drawbacks does the
idea have? Does the South’s attempted secession back in 1860 have
any bearing on similar movements afoot today, and if so, why? (Nobody
today is advocating bringing back slavery, for crying out loud!)
Such discussions exist, but mostly on the Internet and well off
the radar screens of the dominant voices in academe.
I would like to see the question raised, somewhere within the halls
of Ivy, just what is so great about the materialist view of the
universe, which many philosophers who ought to know better practically
equate with science. Why is it that a few other brave scholars who
choose to explore the possibility of intelligent design, are run
out of their jobs on a rail instead of answered with arguments?
Of course, carrying this kind of project forward will mean rejecting
much of what passes for scholarship in academic philosophy today.
In particular, it will mean rejecting the Gramscian intellectual
left. This will be a tall order, given the number of folks who have
built comfortable careers around the preservation of its fantasy
world. It may take another generation to recover real scholarship;
because of the tenure system, we may have little choice but to wait
until the politically correct generation retires. At the rate things
are going, it will leave a wrecked, intellectual wasteland behind.
This wasteland is already a place where, for example, Christians
can be kidnapped by administrators and hauled against their will
to campus psycho wards for protesting plays depicted Jesus Christ
as a homosexual; or where feminist
lunatics declare snowmen to be sexist and racist. (I guess the
kids building them should have looked around for some affirmative
action snow). An environment that is the laughingstock of any person
of genuine learning and taste.
The APA’s statement
on nondiscrimination is well known to its members – a morass
of contradictions which "rejects as unethical all forms of discrimination"
but then turns right around and denies that it should be interpreted
as "preclud[ing] explicitly stated affirmative action initiatives."
These convenient lapses in logic have become typical of academic
clubs. If the APA becomes a philosophical organization again, its
members discussing the big questions and rejecting such nonsense
as that produced by radical feminists without fear, I will rejoin.
Yates has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and is the author of
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (ICS Press,
1994). He is presently compiling selected essays into a single volume
tentatively entitled View From the Gallery and a work on a second
book, The Paradox of Liberty. He also writes for the Edgefield
Journal, and is available for lectures. He lives in Columbia,