psychic pressure

Contrasting modern and post-modern discourse

Always, the question is why. An instance of workplace mobbing presents itself. Collective hostility, ganging up, offensive and defensive maneuvers, draining of time and energy, damage to names and careers, working lives robbed of joy — all these are plain to see. The challenge is to know why. Without sound explanation for why the mobbing has occurred, the odds of effective intervention are slim. Correction, remedy, prevention, making things somehow better, depend on knowing why.

Any idea helpful toward this end is a gift. My books, articles and website on academic mobbing include many such gifts: distinctions and hypotheses offered by varied authors past and present, collected, packaged, and passed on from me to you.

In December of 2012, as the Christmas season was unfolding, I received an especially useful gift, a distinction that helps answer the question of why for roughly half of the academic mobbing cases I have studied these past twenty years. The giver was American conservative pundit Steve Sailer, whose blog is a year-round Santa’s sleigh. Sailer, however, was on this occasion just regifting a distinction he had picked up from British Christian blogger Alastair Roberts. I resolved to pass the distinction on to fellow students of workplace mobbing, regifting it here for Christmas. It was well into 2013 before I got the distinction packaged up and posted, so it has turned out to be a new year’s gift. No matter. I hope you find it worth keeping and passing on.

The distinction is between two modes of discourse. Here is Sailer’s summary, with key excerpts from Roberts’s blog, and here is Roberts’s original post, written to make sense of a dispute among Evangelicals. Both Sailer’s and Roberts’s posts are worth reading, in addition to my summary and reworking here. Neither of them labels the conflicting modes of discourse, and both present them in reverse order to my preference. I call the temporally earlier mode of discourse modern, since it reflects rules of intellectual procedure associated with the Enlightenment, to which most of humanity’s transformations, good and bad, these past few hundred years can be attributed, but traceable farther back (as Sailer points out) to the ancient Greeks. I call the second, temporally more recent mode of discourse postmodern, meaning the relativist, constructivist, anti-scientific mentality, the wholesale inversion of Enlightenment values, that has arisen since the 1960s, similar in some ways to traditional, premodern mentalities.

Drawing and quoting freely from Roberts and Sailer, the paragraphs below profile first the modern mentality and then the postmodern one, and show how this difference helps answer the question of why certain conflicts occur. Then I describe some cases from my own research that illustrate the point. Essentially, what I argue is that in many mobbing cases, a professor cultivating modern discourse in the classroom and other scholarly venues is charged, punished, humiliated, and sometimes eliminated by students, colleagues, and/or administrators of a postmodern bent.

Modern discourse

Following are ten key characteristics of modern discourse, what many professors and students even now consider the normal or standard way to think, study and argue in the academy:

  • “personal detachment from the issues under discussion,” the separation of participants’ personal identities from subjects of inquiry and topics of debate;
  • values on “confidence, originality, agonism, independence of thought, creativity, assertiveness, the mastery of one’s feelings, a thick skin and high tolerance for your own and others’ discomfort”;
  • suited to a heterotopic space like a university class, scholarly journal, or session of a learned society conference, a place apart much like a playing field for sports events, where competitors engage in ritual combat before returning with a handshake to the realm of friendly, personal interaction;
  • illustrated by debate in the British House of Commons;
  • epitomized by the debates a century ago between socialist G. B. Shaw and distributist G. K. Chesterton;
  • playfulness is legitimate: one can play devil’s advocate, speak tongue in cheek, overstate and use hyperbole, the object being not to capture the truth in a single, balanced monologue, but to expose the strengths and weaknesses of various positions;
  • “scathing satire and sharp criticism” are also legitimate;
  • the best ideas are thought to emerge from mutual, merciless probing and attacking of arguments, with resultant exposure of blindspots in vision, cracks in theories, inconsistencies in logic;
  • participants are forced again and again to return to the drawing board and produce better arguments;
  • the truth is understood not to be located in any single voice, but to emerge from the conversation as a whole.

Postmodern discourse

Over the past half century, a competing mode of discourse, the one I call postmodern, has become steadily more entrenched in academe. Following are ten of its hallmarks, as Roberts and Sailer describe on their blogs:

  • “persons and positions are ordinarily closely related,” with little insistence on keeping personal identity separate from the questions or issues under discussion;
  • “sensitivity, inclusivity, and inoffensiveness are key values”;
  • priority on “cooperation, collaboration, quietness, sedentariness, empathy, equality, non-competitiveness, conformity, a communal focus”;
  • “seems lacking in rationality and ideological challenge,” in the eyes of proponents of modern discourse;
  • tends to perceive the satire and criticism of modern discourse as “vicious and personal attack, driven by a hateful animus”;
  • is oriented to ” the standard measures of grades, tests, and a closely defined curriculum”;
  • lacking “means by which to negotiate or accommodate such intractable differences within its mode of conversation,” it will “typically resort to the most fiercely antagonistic, demonizing, and personal attacks upon the opposition”;
  • “will typically try, not to answer opponents with better arguments, but to silence them completely as ‘hateful’, ‘intolerant’, ‘bigoted’, ‘misogynistic’, ‘homophobic’, etc.”;
  • has a more feminine flavor, as opposed to the more masculine flavor of modern discourse;
  • results in “stale monologues” and contexts that “seldom produce strong thought, but rather tend to become echo chambers.”

When competing discourses collide

Roberts’s original post describes the competing modes of discourse in rich detail and shows how differences between them play out in today’s culture wars, as “offense-takers” and “offense trolls” use “human shields” and accusations of “hate speech” to silence opponents. That entire post, long as it is, merits close reading. For present purposes I highlight just one of Roberts’s hypotheses: “Lacking a high tolerance for difference and disagreement, sensitivity-driven discourses will typically manifest a herding effect.

Dissenting voices can be scapegoated or excluded and opponents will be sharply attacked.” This is but another way of saying that proponents of the postmodern mode of discourse have a tendency to engage in workplace mobbing, that is, to gang up on opponents and run them out of their jobs. Scapegoating and mobbing, so I have argued elsewhere, are pretty much the same thing. Roberts’s use of the former term probably derives in part from his reading of René Girard, the world’s foremost student of scapegoating, a wise scholar from whom I myself have learned a lot.

Michael Mason’s elimination from Queen’s

I first learned of Roberts’s distinction and hypothesis in early December of 2012. It was an especially opportune time. I had just returned home from lecturing at Queen’s University in Kingston, and was puzzling over a strange and much publicized case of professorial elimination at that university (click here for the lucid report about it by the Canadian Association of University Teachers). A senior historian named Michael Mason, retired from a career at Concordia University in Montreal, was living in Kingston and teaching part-time at Queen’s, where students generally rated him an excellent teacher. He was giving a fall-term course on “Asia, Africa, and Latin America since 1945.”

Barely two weeks into the term, a small number of students in the class complained that he had made “borderline racist comments.” In addition, Mason’s teaching assistants accused him of using “racist and sexist language.” The department chair and other administrators sprang into action. Mason was summoned to meetings, threatened with suspension, informed that the chair might henceforth be sitting in on his class from time to time, and told that the grading scheme would need to be changed. The administrators judged that Mason had “failed to create a safe space” for students and thereby violated the university’s “Educational Equity Policy.” On his doctor’s advice, Mason went on medical leave. In effect, he was forced out as instructor for the course, and that ended his teaching career at Queen’s.

As I understand Mason’s ouster, “academic mobbing” is too fancy a term to place on it. Margaret Wente called it a “mugging” in her column in the Globe & Mail. The most fascinating thing about the attack on him is that, so far as I can tell, he was not teaching anything especially contentious or provocative, just acquainting students with the historical record. He positioned himself, moreover, as opposed to racism, and eager to alert students to American racism in the postwar period. Mason’s “offense,” such as it was, was reading aloud in a lecture a passage from a book that quoted an American admiral calling the Japanese “little yellow sons of bitches.”

Similarly, quoting from an article in the Atlantic Monthly, Mason informed the students that a U.S. Senator had called the South Carolina Governor, a woman of Punjabi origin, a “fucking raghead.” Mason did not himself indulge in any name-calling, instead just documented that certain American officials had done so. For this he was himself accused of making “borderline racist comments.”

The charges of sexism against Mason were similarly tenuous. It was claimed that he had said female students should be mistresses. What he had said was that he wanted his students to become “masters and mistresses” of the course material. He had told the TAs that in his organization of the course, he would not actually have much work to assign them, joking that maybe he would have to ask them to wash his car. This was taken to be demeaning of women.

For explaining why the incursion on Mason’s reputation and job occurred, some observers may chalk it up to moral or intellectual deficiencies of his accusers and detractors. Maybe they were mendacious and mean, or perhaps so ill-educated they did not know the multiple meanings of the word mistress, nor the difference between using racial slurs and criticizing other people for using them. Other observers, less sympathetic to CAUT’s version of what happened, may suspect that there is more to the story, that by his tone of voice and classroom manner, Mason probably did display bias against women and nonwhites, and that the administrators were in fact responding to a real violation of university policy and human rights.

To either of these quick-and-dirty explanations, Roberts’s distinction between modes of discourse offers a more adequate and satisfying alternative. Mason, like most history professors of mature years, saw his course as an arena of modern discourse. He was leftist enough to include American racism as a topic, but his priority was on communicating historical facts about that topic, not on the personal feelings or identities of his students. In the back of his mind he probably knew that if there were any students of Japanese origin in his class, they might wince at hearing the American admiral’s term, “little yellow sons of bitches,” but Mason assumed their skin would be thick enough to shrug off any feeling of discomfort.

The name of the game, as he saw it, was to learn history. Like generations of modern professors before him, Mason considered mastery of the subject the prime objective of his course. One can imagine his impish smile when, bending over backwards not to offend female students by sex-specific language, he uttered that phrase, “masters and mistresses.” As for the joke about asking his TAs to wash his car, well, a joke is a joke. If Mason had seriously ordered them to take buckets of water to the parking lot after class and wash his car, they might legitimately object. How could they possibly object to a droll way of letting them know his demands on their time would be relatively few? Such is the modern mode of discourse Mason appeared to be practicing.

His accusers, by contrast, were engaged in the postmodern mode of discourse. They were not lying, nor were they displaying ignorance. They were living in a somewhat different world. They did not separate, as Mason did, the personal from the pedagogical. Their priority was higher than his on making sure all students in the class were comfortable all the time. Their key values (I’m quoting Roberts) were “sensitivity, inclusivity, and inoffensiveness.” Maybe one or another of the students was an “offense troll” on the lookout for hidden racism and sexism, eager to expose these vices as proof of personal righteousness.

In a letter defending Mason, one of his former students, Helen Mo, wrote that “Like most excellent teachers, Professor Mason used quotations, irony, and other rhetorical devices in his Socratic-style lectures.” This is typical of the modern mode of discourse, wherein questions are always more important than answers. Postmodern discourse, by contrast, tends to be more lliteral, even leaden, and there is rarely much room for humour or whimsy. It is answers that count, even if they turn out to be “stale monologues” and “echo chambers.” I would guess that the impishness in Mason’s reference to “masters and mistresses” or to the washing of his car went right by the students who later complained. They expected him to conform to a “closely defined curriculum.” He failed the test. They therefore, as Roberts could have predicted, came together in a menacing little herd and made an “antagonistic, demonizing, and personal” attack on Mason that ended his job at Queen’s.

Three more examples

I said in my lecture there that I felt in a time warp as I read the accounts of Michael Mason’s ouster. Dozens of academic mobbing cases over the past quarter-century show the same clash of modes of discourse that Roberts has perceptively described. In each of them, a professor teaching in a standard modern way was attacked by students or colleagues playing by a different set of rules, living in a different mental universe. Here are just three examples:
• At the University of Western Ontario in 1991, psychologist Heinz Klatt made the mistake of injecting humour into his class on child psychology (click here for his brief account). He called a student named Lucretia “Lucky Lucy.” She found the epithet charming but four other students found it demeaning of women, and therefore charged Klatt with sexual harassment and creating a “negative psychological environment.” Klatt spent the next two years in what he called “Kafkaland.”
• At the University of Michigan in 1992 (click here for discussion and links), statistician David Goldberg distributed in class a cartoon that poked fun at statisticians like him. Other handouts he distributed illustrated statistical techniques by applying them to actual data, and a few of these showed differences by race and sex. The upshot was that he was accused of racial and sexual harassment!
• At a conference at Harvard University in 2005, president Lawrence Summers offered some tentative, carefully reasoned, empirically supported hypotheses about why women are underrepresented on science and engineering faculties (click here for information and links). “Personal detachment from the issues under discussion” appeared to be impossible for one member of the audience, MIT biologist Nancy Hopkins, who spearheaded the campaign to hound Summers out of his position on grounds of sexism. Summers backtracked and grovelled, but the campaign won out.

Can you see why I considered Sailer’s and Roberts’s blog entries gifts so valuable as to be worth passing on? It is because the ideas they offer go a long way toward explaining why odd academic autos da fé like these occur.

One more example: Philippe Rushton (1943-2012)

Philippe Rushton was yet another mobbing target on my mind in December of 2012, when I came across Roberts’s distinction between modes of discourse. Rushton had died two months earlier. He and I were about the same age. Both of us were immigrants to Canada. For three years in the 1970s, we had been faculty colleagues at the same university, Western Ontario, where he spent the remainder of his career. We had corresponded a few times, exchanged papers.

He had written a generous review of one of my books. I believe Roberts’s distinction helps illuminate the attack on Rushton that began in 1989 (here is his account), and continued off and on for the rest of his life, even on the occasion of his death.

Rushton embodied (what I call) modern discourse. Virtually all of the key characteristics listed above for this mode of discourse applied to him, the main exception being literary devices like satire and humour. I suspect he knew better than to make jokes. Even if his priority had been like mine, on social science, that is, on the empirical explanation of life in terms of cultural and historical factors, he might have gotten himself in trouble with the postmodern left. But he made himself still more vulnerable, by making natural science his priority, and seeking explanation through biological and genetic factors, among them race and sex.

He really was a racist, in the sense of treating race as an important independent variable for explaining all kinds of things — though I can hardly imagine a professor less likely than Rushton to discriminate against students or colleagues of a racial origin different from his own.

Rushton was unfailingly even-tempered, soft spoken, and polite, always willing to listen to opponents’ arguments and respond cooly and rationally, citing evidence. It was as if he took Kipling’s famous poem as a script for his own scholarly life: “If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too….”

Rushton was among the most cited psychologists in the world. In a front-page article in the Ottawa Citizen in 2005, Andrew Duffy described him as the most famous university professor in Canada (he might have said infamous). Apart from all else, Rushton’s prominence justifies the most rigorous effort to explain why the fierce campaign against him arose, why the mass protests, police investigation, demands that he be fired, restrictions on his teaching and research, incessant denunciations in the press, and collegial shunning. Of any adequate explanation, the distinction between modes of discourse that Roberts and Sailer have set forth could properly form an important part.

In conclusion, three qualifiers

I conclude with suggestions of how the gift this little paper passes on is best used. Difference in mode of discourse is an important variable for explaining some mobbing episodes, not all, and even in the cases where it is relevant, its explanatory power depends on other conditions being present, too.

No university is neatly divided into practitioners of modern discourse on one side, proponents of postmodern discourse on the other. Every academic weaves the fabric of his or her own pedagogy and epistemology in a distinctive way. No professor is entirely modern or postmodern, and every professor shifts from one mode of discourse to the other, depending on topic, setting, mood, and many other factors. The proper unit of analysis in the study of mobbing is the social process, not the individuals involved. I would imagine, for instance, that biologist Nancy Hopkins at MIT generally practices rigorous, empirical, dispassionate, truly modern discourse in her classes. She is an accomplished scientist, a specialist in the genetics of zebrafish.

Yet on the occasion of Lawrence Summers’s now famous remarks, Hopkins appeared to lose her dispassion and to respond in a postmodern way; she seized it as an occasion to testify and demonize rather than debate. Or consider Alan Dershowitz’s leadership of the campaign to prevent Norman Finkelstein from getting tenure at DePaul University in 2007. Dershowitz’s reputation as a brilliant modern legal scholar is sterling, but Finkelstein’s criticisms of the Holocaust industry were more than Dershowitz could stomach. All academics have soft spots and blind spots. Everybody’s vision is blinkered in some way. The goal in research on mobbing is to explain the specific episode or case. Typecasting the participants detracts from this goal.

A second caveat is that how a mobbing episode plays out depends not just on the modes of discourse of target and mobbers, but on which mode of discourse is more firmly institutionalized in university policies and relevant legislation. What John Furedy called “velvet totalitarianism” in a 1997 article depends not just on numerous academics subscribing to the postmodern mode of discourse, but on the enforcement of its values and priorities by administrative authority, acting on the basis of written rules.

In Mason’s case at Queen’s, it mattered that the university had an “Educational Equity Policy” that seemed to support the postmodern priority on sensitivity and inoffensiveness. When the faculty handbook includes provisions that put the comfort of students ahead of intellectual rigour and freedom of speech, administrators need not themselves be caught up in a campaign to oust a targeted professor; all they have to do is behave like faithful bureaucrats and follow the faculty handbook.

That is why the organization called FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, has pursued a long succession of court cases aimed at forcing colleges and universities to abandon speech codes and anti-harassment policies that infringe on freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. FIRE’s objective is to protect modern discourse in higher education by ensuring that it has institutional support.

Finally, a point made at the start of this paper bears repeating. It is in roughly half of the academic mobbing cases I have studied these past twenty years that the distinction between modern and postmodern discourse seems to have explanatory power. In the other half, it doesn’t.

Mobbing is a distinct, singular, momentous social process that can be triggered by any of numerous factors — whistleblowing, racial or religious prejudice, discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual orientation, the arousal of envy on any number of grounds, even for being good-looking or multilingual. The distinction that Alastair Roberts described on his blog, that Steve Sailer summarized on his, and that I regifted for visitors to my website, is hugely important for making sense of many mobbing cases, but beside the point in many others.

To everyone, regardless of discipline or specialty, whether in academe or outside it, male or female, young or old, white, black, or purple, who is puzzled by the organizational pathology called mobbing and eager to deepen our understanding of it, I give thanks and best wishes for much success in 2013.

Editor’s Note: the preceding article is re-published with the kind permission of Professor Kenneth Westhues, and was originally titled “A USEFUL DISTINCTION REGIFTED” FOR CHRISTMAS 2012″.

The explanatory power of comparing modernist and postmodernist discourse is something with which, in the opinion of AVFM’s editorial board, all members of this human rights movement should acquaint themselves.

About Kenneth Westhues

Kenneth Westhues is Professor Emeritus of sociology at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. In particular, he has researched the phenomena of mobbing as human bullying behaviour.

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  • JudgyBitch

    I did my undergraduate degree in film theory (useless!) and constantly warred with my professors over post-modernism’s insistence that all truth is subjective. It used to drive me completely insane. How is fucking gravity subjective? Helium balloons don’t disprove gravity! Black holes don’t disprove gravity! Quite the opposite.

    My argument was always that post-modernism is a type of fascism.

    ‘There is no truth except OUR truth that there is no truth”.

    It’s completely nutters.

    I did my graduate training in the faculty of business, and what a revelation! Business, engineering, science, mathematics – all still engaged in a modernist discourse because the idea that all truth is subjective isn’t very useful when you’re trying to price a futures contract or build a bridge.

    I won’t pretend to understand WHY rational disciplines and modernism appeals to men, while irrational, post-modern disciplines appeal to women, but there is no question that they do.

    Good thing I’m not the president of Harvard. I’d be run out of town for stating what is demonstrably, objectively true. Oops. Did I use the word “true”?

    My bad. There is no truth. Except OUR truth. That there is no truth.

    • TigerMan

      I never studied post-modernism at any level but to my laymans mind the only world where all “truth” is subjective is the dream world! lol

      • ikonografer

        i did study it, (did my graduate work in science-fiction and the postmodern, actually), and your layman’s perspective is right on the money.

    • Laddition

      my guess is that men weren’t interested in theoretical opinions on how to kill a mammoth, they wanted factually correct methods that didn’t get anyone killed – objective, accurate reality

      women were more interested in remaining in the herd, so fitting in was more important than whether red berries made for better eating than black ones

      seems to work for adults vs liberals too… :)

      physical sex does not absolutely determine mental competence when dealing with reality (so NAWALT, NALALT, NACALT etc)

    • Mark Trueblood

      Selective subjectivity and skepticism is a favored weapon of petty intellectual tyrants.

    • Near Earth Object

      Thumbs up and …

      THE “Truth” and “Reality” are inextricably bound. They always have been and they always will be. Two exceptions—off the top of my head—to this rule are mental illness and garden-variety antisocial behaviour (some call that evil).
      Those among us, who utter the words “whose truth”, are either children, or children in adult bodies with a severe deficiency in the capacities of logic and reason.

      • Near Earth Object

        Someone didn’t approve of what I had to say and didn’t even say why.
        How helpful is that to anyone?

    • Dean Esmay

      There’s admitted something inherently “fascistic” or rigid and even a little dangerous about anyone who claims to have an absolute and definitive grasp on “The Truth” in many situations, but far more dangerous and totalitarian I would say is the notion that there is no truth except what we say is true.

    • Mr. J

      “post- modern” …an absolutely and utterly meaningless term………….only an imbecile would take a term like that seriously.

      • Mr. J

        HOW do people come up with crap terms like that, anyway?

      • Mr. J

        I hope no one thought I was insulting anyone on this site, that was not my meaning at all.

    • sevencck

      This warrants a response. There is confusion on this topic because people don’t know how to separate subjectivity from objectivity. The subjectivists tend to reduce objective reality to subjective perception. In other words, reality is perceptual.

      The objectivists are equally guilty. These people want to reduce all perception to the tangible, the observable, the empirical. Moral realism is a good example of this way of thinking. Morality is subjective. Yes, Sam Harris, it is. These people are so uncomfortable with that fact, indeed they lack any mechanism for ascribing meaning to the subjective, that they instead ascribe nature as being imbued with some kind of innate physical morality as though it were a law of physics. This backwards way of thinking gives rise to such phenomena as race realism, which really just goes to show that morality is subjective. They think nature itself is the signatory of their own racial superiority. They don’t realize that calling their subjective views objective doesn’t make it so.

      Fundamentally, the ancient Greeks had it right with their transcendental of truth, beauty, goodness. These are irreducible aspects of human existence. What is true will always be true regardless of what we view as good or beautiful. Water will always be H2O regardless of our perception of it. What’s good or beautiful will never have a damned thing to do with what’s true. Hume’s guillotine highlights this distinction nicely I’d say.

      Finally, people are utterly mistaken if they believe post modernism is necessarily irrational. Modernism is typically rational, but postmodernism isn’t necessarily or even often irrational. Modernism makes the map, and postmodernism is interested in critiquing the map maker. It’s really just this simple.

      • Raykyn

        No. It’s difficult to even find purchase in your comment to point out where you err, because almost every argument/observation you make is a non-sequitor. It’s a mess of deepities and truisms.

        • sevencck

          lol elaborate? If my opinion is riddled with non sequitur arguments, it should be exceedingly easy to point to one. I suspect you don’t understand what I’m saying. Mount a counter argument more sophisticated than “no” and prove me wrong.

      • Syme

        I agree with most of what you said there, except for the following statement:
        “Fundamentally, the ancient Greeks had it right with their transcendental of truth, beauty, goodness. These are irreducible aspects of human existence.”
        There’s nothing transcendental or irreducible about truth, beauty or goodness. Beauty and goodness isn’t out there in the world, they exist only as concepts in minds, which are a function of brains (or some other physical hardware). Therefore beauty and goodness are entirely reducible down to the subatomic level and beyond.

    • JJ

      You will love this then: . Even though I would say I don’t carry the intellectually literary reticence of the topic the author does; I feel my writing on it is a good read.

      The idiots who run these classes are a large reason why I left and just now feel the need to come back to school.

      From public school to college; these “geniuses” are the rectal cavity of intellectual thought; literally where pissed out and crapped filled liberal excursions of non-thought go to marinate and die.

      It was sad how these professors scurry to any whim of women in their class be it real or imagined. The women in the class when I started college way back when were a real treat. The younger ones I deal with now actually surprise me in my engineering courses. They are not these butch dyke, winner take all, self-described perpetual victims with an axe to grind. These girls actually want to be here. I have to say that those who make it, like a Marissa Mayers are refreshing in light of the conflicted, mob mental gender raunchy brutes who lined my class rooms of yester year.

      I totally understand your pain.

    • sevencck

      By the way @ judgybitch I wasn’t actually disagreeing with you, in fact your observation “There is no truth except OUR truth that there is no truth” is really quite astute and intelligent. It’s been called the performative contradiction of post modernism.

      Anywho, I just wanted to express my opinion that objectivists do the same thing subjectivists do, and that post modernism isn’t necessarily irrational. We don’t need to wage war on it just because feminism has coopted it. Feminism has coopted everything, remember?

    • operator oscillation

      “I won’t pretend to understand WHY rational disciplines and modernism appeals to men, while irrational, post-modern disciplines appeal to women, but there is no question that they do.”

      Well postmodernism definitely sound like the more illogical of the two. Usually, when someone is being illogical, it’s because they have something to loose if they discipline themselves to realize that they might be wrong about something. On the gender binary, I think we all know that women have more power than men do in society. Those with all the power have more to lose. Hence the appeal of postmodernism.

  • rake

    Thank you for this valuable gift.

  • gwallan

    Why write post-modernist bullshit when a machine can do it for you.

    • TigerMan

      Oh boy that was a very usefull link gwallan – thanks :)
      Just used it in a tweet about “The relevance of post-modernism in contemporary discourse” lets see who gets caught in the net! lol 😉

  • TigerMan

    Interesting article – when it comes to mobbing isn’t it just a case of “birds of a feather flock together”?

    • Sasha

      Sort of, though there are more complex dynamics at work in a case of mobbing. It’s a very little-studied subject, and Prof. Westhues (whose work on the subject I’m familiar with) is one of the very few people who writes about it.

      Workplace mobbing is a very common problem. It’s where a group within a workplace ‘gang up’ to exclude a colleague. It doesn’t have to be a manager picking on a subordinate, indeed it can be the other way round.

      It’s quite common for instance, that a new manager is placed in charge of a team to find that one of his reports has ‘been here for years’ and ‘knows how the place works’ and proceeds to undermine the manager at every turn, even to more senior management.

      For some reason mobbing is more common in some settings than others. It’s endemic in higher education settings for example, but less so in schools. The reasons for this aren’t fully understood.

      Mobbing is done by both men and women. The targets can be men and women too. My experience – and admittedly this is a personal view – is that in groups women can be extraordinarily vicious to both men and women; but that groups of men only very rarely victimise women (though as individuals men can be assholes like anyone else, clearly). Women in groups do seem to bully in a particular fashion; isolating, excluding, undermining and driving out their targets.

      One of the ways the group maintains its focus, is to continually re-emphasise the values of the group, and the importance of adherance to the group to its members, and to portray the target individual as less valuable, less human, than members of the group.

      It’s quite common – in fact I’d say it was universal – for men who are targets to be portrayed as ‘not a real man’, lacking in strength or resilience compared to some standard of macho manhood.

      This is one of the reasons that the false feminist ideological model of men as the patriarchy is so damaging. As when men show themselves to be flawed, suffer, struggle or fail, they are seen as not living up to this ideal.

      I personally know one couple where the wife was a feminist, who broke up after the husband experienced a breakdown due to the stress of losing one of the two jobs he was working to support the family (she didn’t work).

      She told me (and I quote) “I mean, men have been doing that [oppressing women] for centuries, and there was Mike in a ball on the floor. I thought immediately: ‘that’s not a man, who have I married?”


      • TigerMan

        Interesting observations – after further thought “mobbing” is dependent on a shared consensus of what is “in” so that someone not conforming to that can be identified as “out”. I have actually witnessed this phenomena in the workplace. Now in theory it just could “happen” that say out of a group of 6 people 5 all share similar views, attitudes etc say a company or union policy for example. In my actual experience though the consensus didn’t just happen but was traceable to often just one “alpha” personality and others choosing to conform to that persons views. This can be quite subtle because the alpha may not portray themselves as a “leader” and if fact often seeks to portray themselves as just “one of them” in sharing a consensus.

    • Near Earth Object

      For me, “mobbing” is one pathological outgrowth of “birds of a feather flock together”. One inherent quality of our species is that we have a tendency to form groups. All kinds of different and (hopefully) wonderful groups, where we share our common interests (and differences) with one another. From a psychological perspective, human beings are more different to one another, than they are similar to one another, yet we form groups. One of our strengths as a species is in our very diversity and our ability to form communities. I’ll leave the philosophising there …

      • TigerMan

        Yes we are social creatures and whilst we can “group” together in a cooperative way to benefit the group as a whole it can also result in something very negative (as you allude to in your post below). I also think a key word here is “conformity”. Conformity can be positive or negative though depending on ones perspective etc. Also there can be elements of coercion to conform despite ones personal feelings or views. There is much more that could be said about this but I can already see the topic is too complex to cover adequately in a comment section! lol

  • Near Earth Object

    Some years ago, I went to work for a Community Health Center. I walked into that position knowing full-well that the agency operated under a feminist philosophy. Given my—then infantile—understanding of feminism, I was okay with that.
    Soon came the testing, which was followed by an endless stream of THE MOST unethical and unprofessional conduct—authored by mental health practitioners—that I have ever witnessed in my entire life (I’m old). There seemed to be no end to the dirty tricks in their collective bag, and as the individual recipient grows exhausted, the perpetrators (mob) exit and enter like wrestlers in a tag-team match.

    One name for their game is ‘conform or be cast out’ … ‘no critical thinking’ and/or ‘individuals’ allowed. “Nuts!” (Lt. General Harry W. O. Kinnard).

    This was a great article to read. I am richer having read it.

    • Dr. Tara J. Palmatier

      No pointing out that the emperor is naked either. They really don’t like that or anyone who is more competent than themselves.

      • Near Earth Object

        I am so glad that I revisited this article, Dr. T, and found your comment.
        Your second sentence left me staring at my monitor for a good fifteen minutes—reflecting on past experiences.
        They claimed to value curiosity, yet seemed to have so very little.
        Credentialism was the practice and mediocrity seemed to be the rule.
        Evidently, I am still processing that nightmare.

        On another note and prior to the experience cited above, I worked with boys in a residential treatment facility. During one of our staff meetings, I found myself being criticized by one of my colleagues for using the word “melancholy” in one of my reports. She—twenty-five years old, or so—complained that she had to go to the dictionary before she could understand my report. Insightful … and it has this writer wondering how much of this behaviour goes on out there, but never hits the light of day.

  • Codebuster

    Workplace mobbing is an extremely important topic, and one that we should all get a handle on (I’ve read the book by Davenport & Schwartz). It is all too easy for normal people to become autistic and dismiss the feeyalings as irrelevant, but ultimately the people pulling the strings are the ones most able to harness the forces of the mob. Any of the outrages we are witnessing today have to be understood in the context of mobbing – eg, Mary Kellett in Maine and Daddy Justice’s experiences. You’ve got to understand what motivates these people, and it’s related to mobthink, reading between the lines, threatening and perceiving threats, etc… a related topic is relational aggression. And one of Ann Coulter’s most recent books (Demonic) is about the liberal mob. Why’s this stuff important? Because people in high places, today, are motivated more by mob conformity than by individualistic free thought. The Larry Summers story and our feminist dominated academia are manifestations of mobbing in action. Especially in our current dumbed-down zeitgeist, the idea of natural selection selecting for the best is a complete myth. If you don’t understand this miasma of stoopid that is mobbing, then the motivations of people are going to be mostly mysterious and unfathomable to you.

    • TigerMan

      Many good points there and I totally agree about the need for more awareness about group dynamics at play especially when they turn or are turned negative. :)

  • Robert St. Estephe

    “’masters and mistresses’ of the course material” – Not only was Prof. Mason suggesting that female students lend their concubinage to the material, but he was also suggesting that students begin purchasing slaves. No wonder the professor was mugged (justly corrected by members of a youth organization engaged in wealth redistribution activities).

    For an insensitive and inappropriate quick laugh, see:

    Sophisticated Feminist Intellectuals Just LOVE “Critical Theory”

    • John A

      Catch 22, if he just said ‘masters of the course’ he would have been sexist too…

  • James Huff

    Of interest and on topic.

    What really gets me is this statement in the article:

    “A McGill University student whose Facebook avatar bore the phrase “say yes to the press!” similarly applauded the action against the “heinous” Students for Liberty.”

  • Augen

    I would add a characteristic of modern discourse is rigor.
    Rigor as demonstrated in mathematical execution, as demonstrated in the study and mastery of foreign language (and often most offensively to some, in the classic languages of Latin and ancient Greek) and the reflecting exposition of rigor that we come to expect from someone who understands it and values it when applied to their argumentation.

    In post-modern discourse we don’t merely see an absence of value placed on rigor, we see it actively repudiated. We attribute all prowess in math and related fields as a gift, rather than a characteristic of a mentally strong individual, we can’t begin to wrap our minds around the study of a “dead” classical language and we agree in our distaste at the art from the furthest left to furthest right, and we are just to content in the power of English as the language of business and a North America surrounded by English speaking states to trouble ourselves with the necessary, irreplaceable rigor of practice required to acquire speaking skill in a 2nd language.

    To boot: we dismiss previous educational modalities that emphasized rigor as archaic systems of “rote” learning.

    Last of all – we “frame” – a practice which is explicitly hostile to rigor in debate formation.

    Having said all of that – I observe two things:

    1) Those who especially value a classical or “modern” as-used-here argumentative form seem to have a tendency to treat empirical approaches with suspicion, sometimes with outright rejection (ah those evil “positivists”) and often, at best, as being equal to the deductive method they are more comfortable with. This tendency is basically a closed door. In other words, on all other points we can vector in the right direction, but when we cannot subordinate to empiricism, we just spin back into the meta-debate octagon and circle-jerk again over the same debate points.

    2) Also – classical-leaners have a tendency to be conclusive on matters that are quite un-concluded, this results in locking out information that would actually serve to move forward a debate. We see this in folks who received the majority of their economic or philosophical education exclusively from Ayn Rand, “Economics in One Lesson” (which says most of what needs to be said about the problem with it) and The Road to Serfdom (in ignorance of the rest of Hayak’s body of work) … OR: in the simple form of subscribing to conservative economics while having no better than an econ-101 grasp of the field – to the effect of not understanding the market contradictions of free trade – how it is at odds with, ahem, Adam Smith and David Ricardo, and simply resistant to all sources of information about the real world where it comes to competing Republican and Democratic tax policies or the near total consensus on tax policy by the great 20th century economics thinkers – including the ones they assume are on their side.

    It’s a blind spot and again, a shut door on the way to breakthrough. We head in the right direction, then circle-jerk back around because the very people who would seem to have us start acting like adults all seem to suffer from the same cognition-limiting mental feedback look that takes us back to where we started.

  • hypergamic

    This was a great article and asks for several rereads.
    It reminds me of the conversations about how and why classical realist painting was replaced with modern art and why that is not a good thing. I wonder if the timing is concurrent? Pardon if thats off topic and obscure, the article really is thought provoking and new from my perspective.

  • Tawil

    Marvellous article! It gathers under one heading a collection of behaviours that are hallmarks of feminism. And such mobbing clearly goes further than appearing only in academe – it appears in jounalism, politics, sport…. in fact everywhere.

    Mobbing “has a more feminine flavor, as opposed to the more masculine flavor of modern discourse”

    Yep. It is feminism and female sociology writ large. While I’m sure mobbing/scapegoating is practiced by both males and females, i wager that it is statistically a far more common behaviour among groups of women. Just watch any group of under-10 school girls practicing mob behaviour, practicing it and honing the art. And while mobbing can be triggered by numerous factors like racism, sex, beauty, ugliness etc I’m assuming that on the social scene males are today, globally, the primary recipient of mobbing violence… compliments of feminist hegemony.

    The relevence and timing of this article here couldn’t be better.

  • Raykyn

    This is the sort of article that cuts deep into the heart of the character of modern discourse. Reading it was, for me, like a near death experience, in which I was bombarded with one eureka moment after another on what I found so troubling with many of the discussions I’ve had previously in other venues. This comment will probably come off as overly dramatic, but with a close cousin in graduate english courses, and feminism infecting a skeptic movement, the salience of your insights on the structure of those conflicts in my life can’t be overstated.

    Thank you, Professor Westhues. Thank you, AVfM.


  • Jay

    Great stuff. Academia in the social ‘sciences’ has long since descended into dishonesty, and the post-modern discourse is amongst the reasons for this.

  • http://none universe

    Post modernism. What?

    Appears to be an organized state of confused being following what once was reason.

    This is a keeper article.


    This is a rather useful article.
    Inspite of how PZ Myers and Ophelia Benson claim to admire and advocate for Modernist/Enlightenment values, it is also pretty clear that when it comes to sexual politics, they have Post-Modern sensibilities.
    I also think that the economics of academia holds some explanatory power. When intellectuals run out of real work to do, then there is an incentive to find useless things to do. Post-Modernism is what happens when decadent intellectuals run out of real work to do. When the demand for intellectual labour stems from boredom and a need for entertainment, rather than from problems and a need for problem solving, then you end up with Post-Modernism.