The repeated outbreaks of fascination with the question of whether women and racial minorities are inherently unequal were not quite the product of the disinterested pursuit of the truth, [philosopher Philip] Kitcher argued; otherwise, the same unpleasant questions would not keep appearing in radically different pseudoscientific forms. Instead, the recurrent interest stems from public and elite eagerness to believe that discrimination against women and minorities was justified.
This was reinforced by individual intellectual incentives to cultivate contrarianism for the sake of fame, or, as Kitcher describes it, the “temptation to gain a large audience and to influence public opinion by defending ‘unpopular’ views” — views that, in truth, mirrored widespread societal prejudices.
Henry Farrell on the dark web.
The article in general is about that little cadre of right-wing wannabe intellectuals who’ve been having a bit of a whinge about how their “freedom of speech” is being “oppressed” by the Intolerant Left who won’t let them Just Ask Questions on, for example, women or people of color or the Holocaust. Farrell’s take is that this group is getting so pissy lately because the academic and social Overton windows have, in fact, shifted—and shifted quite a lot—in favor of progressive positions. It’s not a take I’d entirely agree with, if only for the fact that even the very framing of things like “hey, did you know the Holocaust kinda sucked?” being considered a “progressive”/left-wing position shows that something has gone very wrong.
I’m also kinda reminded of that Four Horseman video that was going around like a million years ago. There was some talking point along the lines of, “What would be your ethical position if it was scientifically proven, say, women were inferior to men?” This was before everyone realized that Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins were huge flaming assholes,1 and I remember thinking how it was… funny that the question is always framed that way. It’s always “what if it was SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN women are irrational” or “SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN black people are less intelligent”. Funny how it’s never “what if it were SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN white men are bias-reinforcing assholes unfit for public intellectual life”. Just asking questions, y’know…
- Everyone always knew that about Hitchens—being an asshole was kind of His Thing—and as far as I can tell Dennett has mostly just faded quietly back into academia or whatever, which makes him the obvious winner of the four. [↩]