Identity Politics Has Nearly Destroyed the Humanities; Now It Is Threatening the Hard Sciences

This article by Heather MacDonald is a must-read! If you thought you could escape identity politics by going into the sciences, or possibly even into engineering, think again.

The article’s opening paragraphs spell out clearly what is happening in scientific organizations, academic or in government:

Identity politics has engulfed the humanities and social sciences on American campuses; now it is taking over the hard sciences. The STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math — are under attack for being insufficiently “diverse.” The pressure to increase the representation of females, blacks, and Hispanics comes from the federal government, university administrators, and scientific societies themselves. That pressure is changing how science is taught and how scientific qualifications are evaluated. The results will be disastrous for scientific innovation and for American competitiveness.

scientist at UCLA reports: “All across the country the big question now in STEM is: how can we promote more women and minorities by ‘changing’ (i.e., lowering) the requirements we had previously set for graduate level study?” Mathematical problem-solving is being deemphasized in favor of more qualitative group projects; the pace of undergraduate physics education is being slowed down so that no one gets left behind.

The National Science Foundation (NSF), a federal agency that funds university research, is consumed by diversity ideology. Progress in science, it argues, requires a “diverse STEM workforce.” Programs to boost diversity in STEM pour forth from its coffers in wild abundance. The NSF jump-started the implicit-bias industry in the 1990s by underwriting the development of the implicit association test (IAT). (The IAT purports to reveal a subject’s unconscious biases by measuring the speed with which he associates minority faces with positive or negative words; see “Are We All Unconscious Racists?,” Autumn 2017.) Since then, the NSF has continued to dump millions of dollars into implicit-bias activism. In July 2017, it awarded $1 million to the University of New Hampshire and two other institutions to develop a “bias-awareness intervention tool.” Another $2 million that same month went to the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M University to “remediate microaggressions and implicit biases” in engineering classrooms.

Back in the early to mid-1990s, I argued to anyone who would listen that if the preferential-admissions, preferential-hiring bandwagon was not stopped, and if the collective academic grievance industry was not exposed for what it was (at the time it was limited to English and comparative literature departments, and had crept into law schools) these movements would eventually inundate everything in their path, like successive tidal waves.

It was clear, at least to me, what was coming. I even detoured from my original intended academic career path (emphasizing history and philosophy of science, epistemology, and metaphysics) to write a book on the subject. My effort was not perfect. There were things I neglected. It was, however, researched from scratch and written on my own time without the sort of administrative support (e.g., grant money) that would likely have been available to someone on the other side of the fence and would have enabled a more complete job.

I argued, among other things, that we were dealing increasingly with a flood of people into academic disciplines, many of them already with tenure, who could not be reasoned with, arguing (incoherently) that reason itself as a “white male social or cultural construct.” Many are the intellectual equivalent of bullies who don’t care about anything except furthering their group-focused political agendas. Neither intellectual curiosity nor a desire for a better world for all of humanity is what motivates them.

The juggernaut, needless to say, was not stopped. It was not even seriously opposed. By serious opposition I do not mean holding a few seminars here and there, or putting together organizations and holding conferences once a year and putting out a journal filled with articles on how terrible things are getting in academia, as did the National Association of Scholars and a few similar groups characterized only by their utter ineffectiveness.

By serious opposition I mean putting financial resources behind the opponents, so they can get in front of and effectively use both national and social media, as Donald Trump did. Trump could do this because he’s a billionaire. Most of us are not billionaires, or anything close. The plain truth is, this is not a part-time job, or a hobby, something to be done on our own time! 

Read the above quote again. Governmental entities are now throwing millions into promoting “diversity” ideology!

I once contracted to write a piece critical of a “diversity” program in a city school district in Charleston, South Carolina. I was paid $2,000 by the organization that published my piece (long since taken down). I later learned that the author of the pro-“diversity” proposals I was criticizing was paid … are you sitting down?… $2 million!

That is the sort of thing critics of identity politics and “diversity” social engineering are up against!

Identity politics has advanced to the point where if you are known to oppose it, you will not be hired for a teaching position in a college or university, period. 

You cannot criticize it openly without tenure, or you will not be rehired, period.

You criticize it with tenure at your own peril, given at least one known case (Evergreen State) where so-called social justice warriors were successful in their efforts to drive a tenured biology professor (Bret Weinstein) off campus with threats of violence, which included protesters wielding baseball bats!

Cowardly administrators openly told Weinstein that if he returned to campus they could not guarantee his safety!

Telling the truth, or merely expressing points of view other than officially-approved ones, has thus become not merely difficult but dangerous, and not dangerous merely to individual academic dissidents but to Western civilization itself.

What happens when acceptability of scientific results starts to be dictated by whether or not it has the approval of what is become a national (and corporate) “diversity” police?

Do we want Western civilization to survive in any form our parents and grandparents would have recognized? If so, it will take organization, and it will take education: far more than it would have taken back in the 1990s!

What are we willing to do — if you are reading this, what are you willing to do — to help it survive?

I know of many authors and others who have given up, too many in fact to link to individually. Whether it is this issue, or the looming global debt bomb about which also nothing is being done, they figure the ship has sailed. They figure this is how empires gradually collapse.

Prove them wrong! This is a challenge! At present, no one I know of who stands on the side of more traditional forms of scholarship, in which truth and rationality in some sense of those terms meant something, is in a position to defend it in the way needed, with sufficient resources behind them. Having a blog and a website is clearly not enough. Writers with far more visibility than I have are unable to do it. Academic, governmental, and corporate entities are now almost entirely in the hands of the “diversity” committees and their thought-police forces.

What I would recommend doing, for educational background purposes, is returning to the original mindset that empowered the civil rights movement, a movement based on ideals of justice as basic fairness and encouraging of kindness (something today’s “diversity” crowd knows nothing about). I would also recommend abandoning materialism as a worldview, as I have argued elsewhere. One thing at a time, though. Read Dr. King’s letters, and other documents of the era, leaving aside cultural Marxists such as Herbert Marcuse, which was when things began to go off track; the Supreme Court’s catastrophic Griggs decision (1971) then threw everything into a tailspin from which it has never recovered. Read someone such as sociologist C. Wright Mills. Start with his The Power Elite (1956), to get a sense of how globalist forces looked to scholars at the time, in comparison to how those have advanced since. It is always helpful to remember that the globe’s real ruling class does not care about minority groups, it does not care about women as such, it does not care about homosexuals, it does not care about transgenders. It has no ideology other than money and power, although this does not prevent it from using ideologies, sometimes of the left and sometimes of the right, depending on what serves its purposes at a given time with a given audience.

In sum, there is no repairing this damage from the inside. The dominant organizations in the U.S. are gone. What needs to be done will require organization, education, and conversation directed from outside, including from outside of academia. It will require the eventual formation (and funding) of new institutions to carry whatever is left of Western ideas forward. If this is impossible, then we have indeed signed Western civilization’s death warrant. Given that identity politics is now affecting demographics on an enlarging scale, all we will have to do is wait for whites to become a minority group in the U.S., the one minority group with no legal protections, and then for the U.S. to end up like a much larger version of South Africa.

If you approve of ideas like these, support them! Go to my Patreon site and sign up to make a pledge. This is your civilization, too! If you want to preserve it, then do something about it! Remember, the promoters of “diversity” are receiving millions from centralized governmental and corporate entities to further their goals! A few pledges of, e.g., $25 or $50 per month won’t do much against that, but it is a place to start and it is better than nothing at all!


About Steven Yates

I have a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Georgia and teach Critical Thinking (mostly in English) at Universidad Nacionale Andrés Bello in Santiago, Chile. I moved here in 2012 from South Carolina. My most recent book is entitled Four Cardinal Errors: Reasons for the Decline of the American Republic (2011). I am the author of an earlier book, around two dozen articles & reviews, & still more articles on commentary sites on the Web. I live in Santiago with my wife Gisela & two spoiled cats, Bo & Princesa.
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3 Responses to Identity Politics Has Nearly Destroyed the Humanities; Now It Is Threatening the Hard Sciences

  1. Phil Tanny says:

    Hi Mr. Yates,

    Not being an academic myself I don’t feel I can comment on many of your claims, but perhaps the following reasoning might help balance the discussion.

    If I understand correctly, your argument is that 1) the further development of knowledge is very important, and 2) that diversity agendas are lowering academic standards, 3) thus endangering the quest for knowledge. Is that about right? A fair summary?

    What if slowing the development of knowledge was a good thing? In that case, lowering academic standards might not necessarily be the horror it appears upon first impression.

    If I understand correctly, you are asking us to take your first proposition (more knowledge=good) as a matter of faith, and then building the rest of your argument upon that faith.

    I’m reporting the first impression of one reader here, and don’t claim to be fully or accurately representing your point of view. Corrections are welcome.

    • Steven Yates says:

      Hi, Phil! Glad you found your way over here!

      Your question is an interesting one, one that I could write a much longer essay about than the above one. Unfortunately there are not sufficient hours in the day, & I’ve yet to get back to the APA blog with some further thoughts about philosophers & intellectual responsibility there.

      In response: it depends. There is mere ignorance, and then there is actual miseducation. On one level, students leaving universities actually believing, e.g., that all white males are racist, sexist pigs who ought to be ostracized from the tribal society of the future (& then getting addicted to opioids & killing themselves). What I was writing about above would be even worse: would you want to be operated on by a surgeon whose “best practices” had been shaped by diversity politics, i.e., by the idea that truths about the human body were (whatever this even means) cultural or racial constructs … or fly in a plane designed by “diversity” engineers? I know I would not!

      I doubt this juggernaut will be allowed to get that far. But I could be wrong!

      Knowledge untempered by wisdom is indeed a questionable thing … & tempering it with wisdom is one of the jobs philosophy should be doing in civilization. Sadly, “professional philosophy” was neutered decades ago. Analytic philosophy has produced some powerful techniques, but will never fulfill the goals Chomsky once identified: “to speak the truth & expose lies.” Orwell & Huxley did more along these lines than every philosophy PhD put together.

      What do we mean, “wisdom”? I tried to convey a little of that in my APA blog post, by looking at the various answers to the question of what philosophy should do, as a prelude to discussing their various strengths & weakness (a discussion expanded on elsewhere on this blog — do browse around!). Not sure if I succeeded in this or not. Like this one, that post was written very quickly. Nicholas Maxwell, whom I referenced (I think it the post on that comments thread & not some other) spoke of the need for a vast shift from a philosophy of knowledge to a philosophy of wisdom, in which we begin by articulating our aims in terms of what would bring about a better, i.e., happier, healthier, more abundant human world. While not a perfect stance, it is a place to start; Maxwell’s writings deserve to be studied (start with *From Knowledge to Wisdom*: A Revolution in the Aims & Methods of Science).

      Not a complete answer to your query, but a start, given limitations on the time of all of us who try to write on these topics without the luxuries provided by academic tenure, or at least academic work with the hours of leisure time it affords.

  2. Phil Tanny says:

    Hi Steven, thanks for your reply.

    Yes, I’m generally familiar with Nicholas Maxwell and participated on his listserve for a bit. I of course agree the relationship between knowledge and wisdom is very important with wisdom being, if you will, the driver of the car. As it stands there is no driver to the car, but rather an automated mechanism keeping the gas pedal nailed to the floor.

    I do hear you regarding the political correctness craze run wild. As your own writing perhaps represents, I do think the pendulum will swing back in time, as it always does. My main complaint with the current diversity obsession is that it seems to be distracting intellectual elites from far more pressing business, such as our relationship with knowledge. You know, if we crash civilization, it’s not really going to matter too much what percent of the philosophy department represents this or that minority, as there will be no philosophy department to argue about.

    You make good points regarding how substandard faculty could not only slow knowledge development (arguably acceptable) but could also introduce blatantly false understandings, which is not so acceptable. I hadn’t really considered this fully, and will keep listening to expand my understanding more fully.

    Thanks for engaging, and good luck with your projects. Will see you here and on APA as the opportunity arises.

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