The Intellectual Hegemon

Sometimes even intellectuals get duped. But too often, they dupe us.

There is a journal called Social Text. Its own website describes it as follows.

Social Text covers a broad spectrum of social and cultural phenomena from a radical perspective, applying critical theory and methods to the world at large. Over the years it has provided a forum for important debates on marxism, feminism, postcolonialism, ethnic and critical race studies, postmodernism, queer theory, and popular culture [sic, sic and double-sic].

Some intellectuals who have been published in Social Text include Dr. Cornel West (magna cum laude Harvard, Princeton, Princeton professor, author of Race Matters) and the late Edward Said (Columbia professor, author of Orientalism). As an example of what gets published in this journal, here is an excerpt from a recent issue.

This essay inquires into the relationship between translation and empire in the United States. It argues that such a relationship cannot be understood apart from a critical appreciation of the Americanization, which is to say, translation of English from an imperial into a national language that required the reorganization of the nation's linguistic diversity into a hierarchy of languages resulting in the emergence of a monolingual hegemony[.]

Here is an example of what the journal published in 1996.

There are many natural scientists, and especially physicists, who continue to reject the notion that the disciplines concerned with social and cultural criticism can have anything to contribute, except perhaps peripherally, to their research. Still less are they receptive to the idea that the very foundations of their worldview must be revised or rebuilt in the light of such criticism. Rather, they cling to the dogma imposed by the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook[.]

You might note some similarities between these two excerpts, beyond the use of the word "hegemony." But there is a critical (no pun intended) difference: The author of that second article admitted that it was a hoax and a parody.

The author was Alan D. Sokal, Professor of Physics at New York University. He sought to answer this question: 

Would a leading North American journal of cultural studies -- whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross -- publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions?

The answer was a resounding "Yes!" In fact, it was so well-received that some readers refused to believe that it was a hoax even after Professor Sokal admitted that it was and explained why he did it.

Moral of the story: You can say anything, including complete nonsense, and "intellectuals" will accept it, embrace it, and praise it, as long as it flatters their preconceived ideology. Corollary: With intellectuals, facts do not matter.

I think I can go from corollary to theorem. As intellectuals become teachers and professors, they will tend to promote (give good grades to) those who flatter their preconceived ideology. Therefore, in time, schools, universities, and the entire education industry will become one big, fact-free, self-admiration society with one ideology. The anti-hegemons become the hegemon.

Facts will become like prayers and cigarettes: all but banned in public. More exactly, inconvenient facts will be banned. The few facts that support the preconceived ideology will still be allowed -- not because intellectuals believe in facts and rationality (such Western white male constructs!), but because facts can be useful propaganda tools.

Here's how it goes. The fact that satellite measurements since 1979 indicate that northern hemisphere sea ice has shrunk over the last thirty years is allowed in the public arena. Indeed, such a fact is extrapolated to prima facie evidence of catastrophic man-made global warming. The fact that similar measurements indicate that the southern hemisphere has more sea ice and that it grew is not allowed.

The fact that Christians killed heretics and non-believers in the Spanish Inquisition is allowed. In fact, it is trumpeted to push any of a variety of those preconceived ideologies: Religion kills, white people kill, Stalin was no worse than you. The facts that the Spanish Inquisition killed perhaps thirty-five thousand people some five centuries ago, while godless communism killed one hundred million within the last century, are not allowed.

The fact that perhaps a hundred thousand Iraqi civilians were killed in the last seven years is allowed. The fact that Saddam Hussein killed over a million and put hundreds of thousands in hundreds of mass graves is not allowed.

You will be taught U.S. history in terms of slavery, the Trail of Tears, robber barons, and stock market crashes. You will not be taught the U.S. history of over half a million white people dying in the war that ended slavery. Or the history that Native Americans sometimes annihilated each other, tortured for fun, killed buffalo by stampeding whole herds over cliffs, and cleared forests by burning them. Or the history that outside of Jay Gould, there really were no "robber barons," but that industrialization led to greater affluence throughout the population. Or the history of the failures of government interventions in the economy.

You will be taught parts of the Bill of Rights: free speech, no establishment of religion, no self-incrimination, and no cruel and unusual punishments. You will not be taught all of them: free exercise of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, no government takings of private property, and that the powers of the federal government are enumerated and limited, with the rest of the powers reserved for states and individuals.

I call this phony glass-half-empty logic. We are not even talking about a glass that is half empty or half full. To the postmodern intellectual, any glass that is not empty is therefore full, and any glass that is not full is therefore empty. Thus, any glass neither 0% nor 100% full can be described any way the intellectual desires, based upon his preconceived ideology. As such, Cuba is free and democratic, and the U.S. is oppressive. Rest assured, they will have facts to prove it. Cuba has free health care, and the U.S. drove Native Americans off their tribal lands, right? QED.

You are bombarded with facts, but not even half the facts. You are given only the facts that serve the preconceived ideology. You will be presented a problem, perhaps asbestos in crayons. Then you will be presented a solution: government regulation of crayons. Or maybe the problem is lack of jobs. The solution is a government stimulus or some other "jobs" program. Or the problem is global warming. The solution? You guessed it: government control of all use of fossil fuels.

To quote our current Intellectual-in-Chief (emphases mine),

"[A]t this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe. Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy ..."

Do you start to get the idea that "only government" can solve your problems? Oh, they realize that under normal circumstances, the private sector can do some good, but wouldn't you know it, we haven't been in normal circumstances for, oh, about eighty years. It's a crisis, you know.

Maybe, just maybe, you are not getting all the facts. Sounds like monolingual hegemony to me.

Randall Hoven can be contacted at randall.hoven@gmail.com or via his website, randallhoven.com.
Sometimes even intellectuals get duped. But too often, they dupe us.

There is a journal called Social Text. Its own website describes it as follows.

Social Text covers a broad spectrum of social and cultural phenomena from a radical perspective, applying critical theory and methods to the world at large. Over the years it has provided a forum for important debates on marxism, feminism, postcolonialism, ethnic and critical race studies, postmodernism, queer theory, and popular culture [sic, sic and double-sic].

Some intellectuals who have been published in Social Text include Dr. Cornel West (magna cum laude Harvard, Princeton, Princeton professor, author of Race Matters) and the late Edward Said (Columbia professor, author of Orientalism). As an example of what gets published in this journal, here is an excerpt from a recent issue.

This essay inquires into the relationship between translation and empire in the United States. It argues that such a relationship cannot be understood apart from a critical appreciation of the Americanization, which is to say, translation of English from an imperial into a national language that required the reorganization of the nation's linguistic diversity into a hierarchy of languages resulting in the emergence of a monolingual hegemony[.]

Here is an example of what the journal published in 1996.

There are many natural scientists, and especially physicists, who continue to reject the notion that the disciplines concerned with social and cultural criticism can have anything to contribute, except perhaps peripherally, to their research. Still less are they receptive to the idea that the very foundations of their worldview must be revised or rebuilt in the light of such criticism. Rather, they cling to the dogma imposed by the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook[.]

You might note some similarities between these two excerpts, beyond the use of the word "hegemony." But there is a critical (no pun intended) difference: The author of that second article admitted that it was a hoax and a parody.

The author was Alan D. Sokal, Professor of Physics at New York University. He sought to answer this question: 

Would a leading North American journal of cultural studies -- whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross -- publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions?

The answer was a resounding "Yes!" In fact, it was so well-received that some readers refused to believe that it was a hoax even after Professor Sokal admitted that it was and explained why he did it.

Moral of the story: You can say anything, including complete nonsense, and "intellectuals" will accept it, embrace it, and praise it, as long as it flatters their preconceived ideology. Corollary: With intellectuals, facts do not matter.

I think I can go from corollary to theorem. As intellectuals become teachers and professors, they will tend to promote (give good grades to) those who flatter their preconceived ideology. Therefore, in time, schools, universities, and the entire education industry will become one big, fact-free, self-admiration society with one ideology. The anti-hegemons become the hegemon.

Facts will become like prayers and cigarettes: all but banned in public. More exactly, inconvenient facts will be banned. The few facts that support the preconceived ideology will still be allowed -- not because intellectuals believe in facts and rationality (such Western white male constructs!), but because facts can be useful propaganda tools.

Here's how it goes. The fact that satellite measurements since 1979 indicate that northern hemisphere sea ice has shrunk over the last thirty years is allowed in the public arena. Indeed, such a fact is extrapolated to prima facie evidence of catastrophic man-made global warming. The fact that similar measurements indicate that the southern hemisphere has more sea ice and that it grew is not allowed.

The fact that Christians killed heretics and non-believers in the Spanish Inquisition is allowed. In fact, it is trumpeted to push any of a variety of those preconceived ideologies: Religion kills, white people kill, Stalin was no worse than you. The facts that the Spanish Inquisition killed perhaps thirty-five thousand people some five centuries ago, while godless communism killed one hundred million within the last century, are not allowed.

The fact that perhaps a hundred thousand Iraqi civilians were killed in the last seven years is allowed. The fact that Saddam Hussein killed over a million and put hundreds of thousands in hundreds of mass graves is not allowed.

You will be taught U.S. history in terms of slavery, the Trail of Tears, robber barons, and stock market crashes. You will not be taught the U.S. history of over half a million white people dying in the war that ended slavery. Or the history that Native Americans sometimes annihilated each other, tortured for fun, killed buffalo by stampeding whole herds over cliffs, and cleared forests by burning them. Or the history that outside of Jay Gould, there really were no "robber barons," but that industrialization led to greater affluence throughout the population. Or the history of the failures of government interventions in the economy.

You will be taught parts of the Bill of Rights: free speech, no establishment of religion, no self-incrimination, and no cruel and unusual punishments. You will not be taught all of them: free exercise of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, no government takings of private property, and that the powers of the federal government are enumerated and limited, with the rest of the powers reserved for states and individuals.

I call this phony glass-half-empty logic. We are not even talking about a glass that is half empty or half full. To the postmodern intellectual, any glass that is not empty is therefore full, and any glass that is not full is therefore empty. Thus, any glass neither 0% nor 100% full can be described any way the intellectual desires, based upon his preconceived ideology. As such, Cuba is free and democratic, and the U.S. is oppressive. Rest assured, they will have facts to prove it. Cuba has free health care, and the U.S. drove Native Americans off their tribal lands, right? QED.

You are bombarded with facts, but not even half the facts. You are given only the facts that serve the preconceived ideology. You will be presented a problem, perhaps asbestos in crayons. Then you will be presented a solution: government regulation of crayons. Or maybe the problem is lack of jobs. The solution is a government stimulus or some other "jobs" program. Or the problem is global warming. The solution? You guessed it: government control of all use of fossil fuels.

To quote our current Intellectual-in-Chief (emphases mine),

"[A]t this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe. Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy ..."

Do you start to get the idea that "only government" can solve your problems? Oh, they realize that under normal circumstances, the private sector can do some good, but wouldn't you know it, we haven't been in normal circumstances for, oh, about eighty years. It's a crisis, you know.

Maybe, just maybe, you are not getting all the facts. Sounds like monolingual hegemony to me.

Randall Hoven can be contacted at randall.hoven@gmail.com or via his website, randallhoven.com.

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