My Rejection of Academia Over the Lindsay Shepherd and Jordan Peterson Affair
"Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman." - Justice Louis D. Brandeis, What Publicity Can Do
I did not finish high-school. For most of my adult life, I held the erroneous belief that our universities were producing high-quality intellectuals, while at the same time, advancing humanity toward the good. I am not sure exactly when it was that this belief began to crumble, but I do know that I have now been completely cured of my former delusion. This cure has presented itself in the form of a secretly recorded interrogation session, some public statements, and a written article, all involving "educated" individuals. Some of these people have PhD's.
I cannot be the only one who spent decades carrying the false assumption that a PhD carried with it an earned air of authority and intellectual superiority. And, I cannot be the only one who now thinks that all that a PhD really suggests is that the possessor simply hung around school for way too long. The result of this extended loitering on the taxpayer's dime appears to be that the student is eventually transformed back into an infant, just at the point when they should be heading out into the world to contribute something of value to the economy. Now when I see the PhD designation attached to an article, or some far-left propaganda, I wonder two things: What kind of hysterical bullshit is about to follow? And, how much has this extended childhood cost the taxpayer?
I do not feel this way about all university education. The world does need its lawyers, doctors, scientists, mathematicians, clinical psychologists, engineers, biologists, accountants etc., and I am grateful that some talented people undertake these heavy academic loads and then bring their well honed and valuable skills out into the world. I am also thankful that many of the above professions are competitive and naturally exclude people who ought not to be unleashed on an unsuspecting public; although, apparently law schools are becoming increasingly ideological. I also cannot forget the massive contributions that some university educated thinkers have made, and continue to make, to our civilization. These people are exceptions, though, and I suspect that they would have made admirable contributions no matter what path they had chosen in life. Bertrand Russell made much use of his university education and George Orwell hated school - as he makes clear in Such, Such Were the Joys - and never attended university. Both contributed much to the world, and so we can conclude that it is the individual and not the education that determines the finished product.
There are things about a university education that I must be honest about and admit that I am envious of. I cannot properly explain how to do a scientific study; I do not know how to write formally or properly cite sources; I missed out on learning to speak publically or make presentations in front of groups; and I think that I would have loved the opportunity to debate ideas in a classroom setting; although, it is now apparent that this has become forbidden so as not to "cause harm" to delicate students. That fact, I am not envious of, and perhaps I should be thankful that I escaped that type of indoctrination. Maybe H.L. Mencken was onto something when he wrote the following: “The plain fact is that education is itself a form of propaganda - a deliberate scheme to outfit the pupil, not with the capacity to weigh ideas, but with a simple appetite for gulping ideas ready-made. The aim is to make 'good' citizens, which is to say, docile and uninquisitive citizens.” I think that he must have been onto something, because lately, whenever someone in academia introduces contaminants into the echo-chamber, the rest of the institution reacts like a supercharged immune system, attacking the new and foreign idea in the hope of killing it off before it spreads, thereby purifying the sterile echo-chamber.
Nothing says that Mencken was right quite like the recent scandal involving teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd. Ms. Shepherd is a teaching assistant in a first-year communications class at Wilfrid Laurier University. She committed the crime of showing her students a three minute clip from a public broadcaster's current events program in order to allow the students to evaluate competing ideas on the topic of gender pronoun use. The clip contained an exchange between the frequently cited University of Toronto Psychology Professor, Jordan Peterson, and the controversial anti-biology, Transgendered Studies professor, Nicholas Matte. Apparently, someone complained about this, although, there is no record and no one has come forward. So we will never know if the offended party was offended by Peterson, by Matte, by the show's host, or by the idea of public television in general, and we may never know if the complainant actually even exists. I will not go into a lot of detail on what happened next because it has been covered sufficiently by many media outlets. I will simply say that due to Ms. Shepherd's wrong-think, she was subjected to an Orwellian re-education experience by the University.
I have studied this scandal closely and have now watched three interviews with Ms. Shepherd. I have also carefully studied the related bizarre and disgraceful actions of two professors, each of whom has a PhD. What I have learned from this is that Ms. Shepherd appears to be intelligent, tough-minded, inquisitive, and highly rational; the other two, not so much. Despite their best efforts, the University seems thus far to be incapable of ruining Ms. Shepherd's mind to the point where she might fit into the University's bland and dogmatic sanctuary. The two professors, who have degraded the once prestigious Canadian university PhD into a junky mail-order diploma-mill designation, are Ira Wells, and Nathan Rambukkana. Rambukkana was directly involved and Wells was not. Wells chose to embarrass himself, while simultaneously ruining the PhD designation, by way of writing a careless, sloppy, and emotionally leaky article in The Walrus, shortly after the incident.
We'll begin with Rambukkana, who has recently been outed as a taxpayer-funded manipulative bully, a radical ideologue, and a fraud. Ms. Shepherd is lucky, in that in addition to being intelligent and tough-minded, she also possesses some pretty good instincts - she had the sense to know that recording the exchange between her and Rambukkana would be a good idea. The Orwellian re-education and interrogation experience that Ms. Shepherd was directed to attend was apparently cooked up by Rambukkana, who also invited Adria Joel, the university’s manager of "Gendered Violence Prevention and Support", or astrology, or unicorn studies, or whatever. Isn't unsolicited violence illegal? If you became a victim of violence, wouldn't you just call the police? Anyway, Rambukkana is the assistant professor for the course that Ms. Shepherd was serving as a teaching assistant in. As I work in the private sector, it seems to me odd that a course would have a teaching assistant, an assistant professor, a professor, and that all of that would be labouring precariously and struggling to breath under a massive administrative system, complete with "equity and diversity" and "gender based violence" departments. Perhaps we have reached peak-bloating in academia and this incident could be the pinprick that is required to deflate this massive wretched balloon.
While I listened to the recording that Ms. Shepherd generously offered to the world for evaluation, I had the very same thought that I have heard others express: "I wish I could have been there". Rambukkana was spewing the most incoherent garbage imaginable. This man holds a PhD - he and the taxpayers should get a refund. Ms. Shepherd was accused of creating a toxic environment and doing the equivalent of peddling Hitler to young and vulnerable children. Yes, Rambukkana actually said Hitler. It was immediately apparent that Rambukkana occupies a world where facts do not exist and rational discourse is something to be avoided. He is a dishonest ideologue and nothing more. His repeated insistence that adult students are children, and that they cannot face the fact that there could be more than one perspective on any topic, is obscene and idiotic. There are not really any words to accurately describe what was on the recording - you have to hear it to believe it. And all of this was done on the taxpayer's dime.
As odd and as dangerous and people like Rambukkana are, their presence is made worse by the fact that they are not alone. It appears as though universities have been infected by the most insane ideas that have been cooked up since humans began to speak. Speaking was one of our species’ most beneficial developments, and now, people like Rambukkana and his ilk wish to deprive others of the gift. And where does Rambukkana get off asserting that adult students are too fragile to hear opposing viewpoints? I suspect that what is actually at work here is not a desire to protect vulnerable "children", but rather, the fact that Rambukkana is either consciously or subconsciously aware that his personal ideologies are idiotic and fragile. It is all too obvious that the slightest brush with logic will turn them to dust, after which, they will be washed into the sewer, where they belong, at the first sign of rain.
Ira Wells, another taxpayer funded excess and proud owner of a PhD, wrote about the incident shortly after it happened. But he used the Lindsay Shepherd incident to segue into a jealous rant directed at Professor Peterson. Wells somehow managed to get almost everything wrong in his article, and it is very easy to see why. Wells' writing drips with emotion - jealousy and resentfulness, more specifically. And in an attempt to hide this fact, he has had to be dishonest and at the same time use meaningless categories. Here is a paragraph from the piece:
To which the correct response is: Right about what? Peterson may be correct that, in some cases, universities have failed to strike the right balance between protecting minority rights and preserving liberal, democratic values, including freedom of speech. The Laurier incident is one of those cases. The problem is that Peterson folds this argument into a politically reactionary and often downright paranoid world view that appears designed to curry favour with the alt-right.
Upon inspection, this paragraph falls to pieces and the entire article is simply more of the same. Wells asserts that "in some cases..." But, as anyone who follows this topic knows, it is not some, but almost all universities that have failed to "strike a balance". And what does it mean to strike a "balance"? We either have free-speech or we do not. There is no "balance" to be struck. It is illegal to promote violence and that's where the suppression of free speech should end. Perhaps Wells is unaware of the fact that the offended class would be entitled to the same free-speech rights as everyone else. Next, Wells attempts to invert reality by labeling Peterson's views as "reactionary". It is actually the universities who are behaving in a reactionary manner by forbidding new information or ideas to be introduced. As for Ira's claim of a "paranoid worldview", we only need to look to the long list of casualties that the universities have been producing. I cannot speak for Peterson, but his warnings about university culture have so far been based on actual events. If all of my neighbour's bicycles were stolen over the last year, would Wells say that my pointing out a bike thief or buying a bike-lock would be a symptom of a paranoid worldview?
And what is this "alt-right" that people keep casually tossing around? It seems to now be a slur directed at anyone who questions any deeply emotional notion held by a Marxist. Does Wells not see the error in criticizing Peterson's "moral seriousness" and then using the term "alt-right"? Is Wells hoping to land a job at the CBC?
Then there is this gem that I must dwell on, because it demonstrates Wells' severe dishonesty and blinding determination to discredit Peterson:
In a conversation with Camille Paglia, he lamented that men can’t exert control over “crazy women” by physically beating them.
I watched the conversation between Peterson and Paglia, and that's not what he said. I recommend that everyone watch the exchange because it was very interesting, but also watch it so that you can see how much Wells struggles with reality. What Peterson actually said was that the rules for men communicating with each other are well established. He laid out, in logical order, the steps that men go through when communicating with each other before things get physical. He went on to say that the threat of physicality that is just under the surface acts to keep things civilized. He said that this dynamic does not exist when men are dealing with women. Any decent man who has been alive for any length of time instantly and instinctively knows exactly what Peterson is talking about here.
Although Wells' entire article is transparent nonsense, this is really where he skewers himself:
That brand has become immensely profitable: after Peterson was denied a SSHRC grant this year, his friends at the Rebel launched an Indiegogo campaign that has netted him, at the time of writing, $195,230. Meanwhile, his Patreon page is now bringing in more than $60,000 each month from approximately 6,400 supporters. His YouTube channel, where he uses material filmed during his U of T lectures to flog his fundraising programs—which should raise serious ethical concerns for the university—has more than half a million subscribers. It seems indisputable: Peterson is now the most famous professor in Canada.
What he is not, however, is the author of any lasting work of scholarship, the originator of any important idea, or a public intellectual of any scientific credibility or moral seriousness. Peterson’s sole discovery is that “postmodernism” can be usefully exploited alongside the more familiar, established populist scare tactics. His message, as the intellectual guru of the alt-right, is that humanity’s natural hierarchies are under attack, that the future of Western civilization hangs in the balance of this “war of ideas.”
The fact that Professor Peterson is being offered compensation by people who feel that he is producing work of tremendous value, seems to be too much to take for some professors. Some of these professors are resentful about being perpetually trapped on a high-end taxpayer-funded dole, and producing nothing of real value. Another careless mistake, that Wells makes here and again, is the idea that Peterson's supporters belong to the "alt-right", whatever that is. Many of the people who find value in Peterson's work are Liberals or former leftists who are now centrists. Why does Ira repeatedly use this cheap and trite slur? He sounds exactly like many dingbat members of the radical Left, who, after running out of arguments, simply start calling their opponents names. Wells has much, much, more education than I do, but even I am aware of the ad hominem fallacy.
The future of Western civilization does hang in the balance. If we continue on the path we are on, it's going to end in disaster. Look at Britain, for example. They are about twenty years further down this road than we are and they are in real trouble. There is no question about that. They are fast wading into chaos, as anyone who prefers to attend Christmas markets that do not require a heavy military presence can attest. I am not mixing problems here - they're all symptoms of the same disease.
I will put Wells and Rambukkana aside, to tell you about another interesting fact that, unless you are involved in university life, you might be unaware of. In universities, there are many overpaid people, with offices, and with nothing at all to do. You might think that simply hanging around and wasting tax dollars is bad enough. The university where Wells' spends his time waiting for payday had an overall annual budget of $1.9 billion for 2013-14 - and that's just one university. What do they do with all of this money? Only a taxpayer-funded organization could get away with being so free with other people's money. If you had access to that amount of money, what would you do with it? You could rid our country of homelessness or Marxists. Here is what one "researcher" thought might be good use of the endless windfall. This cost taxpayers at least $200,000.00:
A Transmaterial Approach to Walking Methodologies
Embodiment, Affect, and a Sonic Art Performan
Stephanie Springgay is an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. She is a leader in research-creation methodologies, with a particular interest in theories of matter, movement and affect. With Sarah E. Truman she co-directs WalkingLab. Her research-creation projects are documented at: www.thepedagogicalimpulse.com, www.walkinglab.org, and www.artistsoupkitchen.com. She has published widely in academic journals and is the co-editor of M/othering a Bodied Curriculum: Emplacement, Desire, Affect; co-editor of Curriculum and the Cultural Body; and author of Body Knowledge and Curriculum: Pedagogies of Touch in Youth and Visual Culture. She and Sarah E. Truman are co-authors of Walking Methodologies in a More-than-human World.
Sarah E. Truman is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Education and Social Research Institute, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canada. Her research focuses on reading and writing speculative fiction in high schools. She also conducts ongoing research on walking methodologies and public pedagogy, and co-directs WalkingLab with Stephanie Springgay. Sarah’s research is informed by the feminist new materialisms with a particular interest in theories of affect, queer theory, and speculative pragmatism. Sarah is co-editor of Pedagogical Matters: New Materialism and Curriculum Studies and author of Searching for Guan Yin. Her research is detailed at: www.sarahetruman.com and www.walkinglab.org
Bodily methodologies that engage with the affective, rhythmic, and temporal dimensions of movement have altered the landscape of social science and humanities research. Walking is one such methodology by which scholars have examined vital, sensory, material, and ephemeral intensities beyond the logics of representation. Extending this rich field, this article invokes the concept trans to reconceptualize walking research through theories that attend to the vitality and agency of matter, the interconnectedness between humans and non-humans, the importance of mediation and bodily affect, and the necessity of acknowledging ethico-political responsibility. While theoretical and empirical research about embodied, emplaced, and sensorial relations between moving bodies and space are well developed in the field of walking studies, their entanglements become profoundly altered by theories of trans – transcorporeality, transspecies, and transmaterialities. Taking up trans theories we experiment in thinking-with a sonic art performance, Walking to the Laundromat, which probes bodily, affective, and gendered labour.
It gets better. This was shared on Twitter by New Real Peer Review. If you are not familiar with them, and you pay taxes, I recommend that you check them out.
...some bodies remain less than human. Inhumanism is exemplified in the sonic walk as the extra-sensory sounds and smells of the laundromat signal migratory crossings of domestic (illegal) labour. In opposition to posthumanism, which they contend is grounded in neoliberal Western European conceptualizations of subjectivity, interspecies 'offers a broader geopolitical understanding of how the human/animal/plant is unstable and varies across time and space' (Livingstone and Puar, 2011: 5). Interspecies also departs from privileged sites in posthuman work - the human and the animal - or what Haraway calls companion species ... The performance voice on the audio file says: I believe in me... I am swimming in a sea of wealth... and money keeps flowing to me... I am open to receiving money now... I am brilliant... I am open...
I am not making this up. That's what the study contains. You, my fellow taxpayer, funded this. You have no choice - they stand on your neck, grab and empty your wallet, and then give the contents to these people. I know that that money would be better used to house the homeless; but then, if they weren't pickpocketing the taxpayer, Wells, Rambukkana, and the people who did the above study, would be homeless as well. Is that a good enough reason to keep this lumbering inebriated albatross going?
As I wrote at the beginning of this piece, I have never been to university. So while I can't speak with any authority on what it's actually like there, I think it's fair to say that I have been given a peek behind the curtain, and it's not pretty. I and many others went out into the economy at an early age, and began paying taxes, so that people like Wells and Rambukkana could labour in academia and hopefully produce something of value to benefit society at large. Peterson has long ago squared his account and made good on this deal. Rambukkana and Wells should put some effort into doing the same, or, give us our money back, move along, and free up the time and space that they are so arrogantly wasting.
I am more than happy to keep funding universities if they continue to produce people like Jordan Peterson, Lindsay Shepherd, and Bertrand Russell. If however, they insist on producing people like Wells and Rambukkana, bullying students who like to think, and spending small fortunes on studies about walking near transgendered plants at the laundry - or whatever that was - I think we should bulldoze the universities, before we all end up bankrupt and stupid.