Philosophy Professor: ‘Don’t go to College! Become an Electrician.’

I don’t think you should send your kids to any universities.  [I told] my daughter, “Don’t go to college.  Become an electrician.”  I never would have imagined 10 years ago that I would [say] that. … It’s better to stare at a wall … [or] do nothing than to learn things that are false.  -- Peter Boghossian, former Philosophy Professor Portland State University, Feb. 28, 2023

It is astonishing when a liberal philosophy professor tells people, including his own daughter, not to go to university because they have become “indoctrination mills.”  Many other types of professors can make a living outside universities.  However, there is no real market for specialists in Kant’s transcendental deductions outside the university.  With slight exceptions, philosophers have little choice but to work in universities.  So, when Prof. Boghossian tells his own daughter not to go to university, he must believe that universities have become dangerously unhealthy.  Although Boghossian cites Harvard, Yale and Oberlin as “non-starters”, he says that all universities have been destroyed by “woke” nonsense and should be defunded.  University people, Boghossian says, “live in make-believe land.”

Boghossian was one of the professors who exposed the lack of academic standards in a set of “woke” journals in the 2017-2018 “Grievance Studies affair,” also referred to as the "Sokal Squared" scandal (referring to a similar case in 1996 perpetrated by NYU physics professor Alan Sokal). James Lindsay, Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose, using pseudonyms or borrowed identities, submitted absurd papers to journals in culture, race, gender, fat, and sexuality studies to test the integrity of their editorial peer review process. 

One of the articles by M. Smith (pseudonym) was titled "Going in Through the Back Door: Challenging Straight Male Homohysteria and Transphobia through Receptive Penetrative Sex Toy Use" was published in Sexuality & Culture in 2018.  Another was by Richard Baldwin (borrowed identity) "An Ethnography of Breastaurant Masculinity: Themes of Objectification, Sexual Conquest, Male Control, and Masculine Toughness in a Sexually Objectifying Restaurant" was published in Sex Roles in 2018. Another paper which consisted in a rewriting using feminist jargon of passages from Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf was accepted by leading feminist journal Affilia – which tells one about all one needs to know. 

The hoax was exposed when a Wall Street Journal writer became suspicious and began asking questions.  By that time four of the papers had been published, one had won an award, three had been accepted but not yet published, six had been rejected, and seven were still under review.  This highly successful record for getting deliberately absurd papers published, including a feminist rewriting of parts of Mein Kampf, seems to support their view that many of these “grievance” journals operate with little to no real academic standards.   Needless to say, the “grievance studies” sector of academia were none too happy at being exposed.

Although Boghossian and the others were attempting to expose academic fraud, Portland State University, naturally, charged Boghossian with academic fraud for submitting papers to journals that he did not actually believe were academically sound.  Boghossian was defended by some of the leading academics of the current era who belong to that fraction that still understand what a free society is and why one needs one, Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, mathematician and physicist Princeton Ph.D. Alan Sokal, Oxford DPhil philosopher Daniel Dennett, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Jonathan Haidt and former Harvard professor and current chancellor of Ralston College psychologist Jordan Peterson (people who actually know something).

Boghossian, who has himself studied jujitsu, MMA and stick fighting, employs an interesting martial arts analogy to illustrate his point.  There are some things that are real and some things that are not.  The martial arts are grounded in reality.  Anyone who has studied martial arts knows that one encounters all sorts of practitioners that have some theory about why their particular techniques are the best (e.g., the cultish reverence for superhuman Kung Fu fighters that grew up around the TV show of the same name, when, in fact, Kung Fu practitioners have not done well in MMA).  However, when these sophists step into the ring with a genuine fighter it becomes very clear very quickly, when they find themselves on the ground looking up at the flashing lights, what is real and what is not.

Unfortunately, academic work, which heavily depends on the use of words, all too easily degenerates into sophistry, that is, deceptive sham reasoning masquerading as serious philosophy.  In his dialogue, the Sophist (268c-d), Plato defines sophistry as, paraphrasing, a kind of contradiction-producing conceited mimicry that issues in a shadow-play of words.  Welcome to the “woke” contemporary university!

Boghossian also illustrates his point by comparing the attacks on professor of psychology Jordan Peterson by a gaggle of aggrieved academics.  Boghossian points out that if one searches for Jordan Peterson on Google one finds that his work is referenced by others over 19,655 times and that his H-index of 58 is “extraordinarily high,” but if one searches for the people who are trying to cancel him there is “no comparison”.  These “charlatans,” Boghossian states, are a bunch of “disaffected malcontents” who, using his martial arts analogy, cannot go after Peterson “on the mat”.  They cannot challenge Peterson in any arena that is real so they sit on committees where they can vote with other ideological charlatans to censure and cancel him (Plato: “a kind of … conceited mimicry [of real philosophy] that issues in a shadow-play of words”).  Frankly, such sophists don’t have the courage to get on the mat with Peterson where life gets very real. They’re not that stupid.

Boghossian posted another extraordinarily revealing video about what is really going on in our universities.  In the video he asks students at Portland State University what they think about the statement that there are two genders.   After a group of people from the top of the building give him the finger and shout “F*** you”, a group of people emerge from the same building to inform him that they are afraid that he is harming people by having such discussions.  It is worth noting that what they are accusing Prof. Boghossian of is exactly the same thing that Socrates was tried and executed for in 5th century B.C. Athens, namely, harming the youth of the city by having philosophical discussions with them (Plato, Apology, 25b-c), that is, by asking them soul-searching questions about their reasons for believing what they believe.  That is no longer permitted, once again.

The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David, 1787 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

If one wants to know how a seemingly normal people in a “liberal” democratic country could have executed Socrates for asking them to examine themselves in order to gain self-knowledge and become better people, that is, for doing precisely what Boghossian tried to do at Portland State, one need only observe the learned blindness and learned hatred unfolding everywhere in what remains of our former universities.  It is, in an irony Plato would well understand, being done by the same people who, with practiced sanctimony, teach classes about what evil corrupt people did to the great Socrates in Athens 2500 years ago.  Pay attention:  It is coming soon near you.

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