Subversion of the institutions of higher learning is the hallmark of totalitarian mindset and rule…
Part I: Introduction
Something has gone wrong in the university—especially in certain fields within the humanities. Scholarship based less upon finding truth and more upon attending to social grievances has become firmly established, if not fully dominant, within these fields, and their scholars increasingly bully students, administrators, and other departments into adhering to their worldview. This worldview is not scientific, and it is not rigorous. For many, this problem has been growing increasingly obvious, but strong evidence has been lacking. For this reason, the three of us just spent a year working inside the scholarship we see as an intrinsic part of this problem.
We spent that time writing academic papers and publishing them in respected peer-reviewed journals associated with fields of scholarship loosely known as “cultural studies” or “identity studies” (for example, gender studies) or “critical theory” because it is rooted in that postmodern brand of “theory” which arose in the late sixties. As a result of this work, we have come to call these fields “grievance studies” in shorthand because of their common goal of problematizing aspects of culture in minute detail in order to attempt diagnoses of power imbalances and oppression rooted in identity.
We undertook this project to study, understand, and expose the reality of grievance studies, which is corrupting academic research. Because open, good-faith conversation around topics of identity such as gender, race, and sexuality (and the scholarship that works with them) is nearly impossible, our aim has been to reboot these conversations. We hope this will give people—especially those who believe in liberalism, progress, modernity, open inquiry, and social justice—a clear reason to look at the identitarian madness coming out of the academic and activist left and say, “No, I will not go along with that. You do not speak for me.”
This document is a first look at our project and an initial attempt to grapple with what we’re learning and what it means. Because of its length and detail, it is organized as follows, putting the factual information up front and more detailed explanations thereafter.
- Our methodology, which is central to contextualizing our claims;
- A summary of this project from its beginning until we were eventually exposed and forced to go public before we could conclude our research;
- An explanation of why we did this;
- A summary of the problem and why it matters;
- A clear explanation of how this project came to be;
- The results of our study, including a full list of all of the papers we submitted, their final outcomes, and relevant reviewer comments to date;
- A discussion of the significance of the results;
- A summary of what may come next
Part II: Methods
Our approach is best understood as a kind of reflexive ethnography—that is, we conducted a study of a peculiar academic culture by immersing ourselves within it, reflecting its output and modifying our understanding until we became “outsiders within” it.
Our objective was to learn about this culture and establish that we had become fluent in its language and customs by publishing peer-reviewed papers in its top journals, which usually only experts in the field are capable of doing. Because we came to conceptualize this project as a kind of reflexive ethnographic study in which we sought to understand the field and how it works by participating in it, obtaining peer reviewers’ comments about what we were doing right and what needed to change to make absurd theses acceptable was central to the project. Indeed, the reviewers’ comments are in many ways more revealing about the state of these fields than the acceptances themselves.
While our papers are all outlandish or intentionally broken in significant ways, it is important to recognize that they blend in almost perfectly with others in the disciplines under our consideration. To demonstrate this, we needed to get papers accepted, especially by significant and influential journals. Merely blending in couldn’t generate the depth necessary for our study, however. We also needed to write papers that took risks to test certain hypotheses such that the fact of their acceptance itself makes a statement about the problem we’re studying (see the Papers section, below). Consequently, although this study does not qualify as being particularly controlled, we did control one important variable: the big-picture methodology we used to write every paper.
Our paper-writing methodology always followed a specific pattern: it started with an idea that spoke to our epistemological or ethical concerns with the field and then sought to bend the existing scholarship to support it. The goal was always to use what the existing literature offered to get some little bit of lunacy or depravity to be acceptable at the highest levels of intellectual respectability within the field. Therefore, each paper began with something absurd or deeply unethical (or both) that we wanted to forward or conclude. We then made the existing peer-reviewed literature do our bidding in the attempt to get published in the academic canon.
This is the primary point of the project: What we just described is not knowledge production; it’s sophistry. That is, it’s a forgery of knowledge that should not be mistaken for the real thing. The biggest difference between us and the scholarship we are studying by emulation is that we know we made things up.
This process is the one, single thread that ties all twenty of our papers together, even though we used a variety of methods to come up with the various ideas fed into their system to see how the editors and peer reviewers would respond. Sometimes we just thought a nutty or inhumane idea up and ran with it. What if we write a paper saying we should train men like we do dogs—to prevent rape culture? Hence came the “Dog Park” paper. What if we write a paper claiming that when a guy privately masturbates while thinking about a woman (without her consent—in fact, without her ever finding out about it) that he’s committing sexual violence against her? That gave us the “Masturbation” paper. What if we argue that the reason superintelligent AI is potentially dangerous is because it is being programmed to be masculinist and imperialist using Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Lacanian psychoanalysis? That’s our “Feminist AI” paper. What if we argued that “a fat body is a legitimately built body” as a foundation for introducing a category for fat bodybuilding into the sport of professional bodybuilding? You can read how that went in Fat Studies.
At other times, we scoured the existing grievance studies literature to see where it was already going awry and then tried to magnify those problems. Feminist glaciology? Okay, we’ll copy it and write a feminist astronomy paper that argues feminist and queer astrology should be considered part of the science of astronomy, which we’ll brand as intrinsically sexist. Reviewers were very enthusiastic about that idea. Using a method like thematic analysis to spin favored interpretations of data? Fine, we wrote a paper about trans people in the workplace that does just that. Men use “male preserves” to enact dying “macho” masculinities discourses in a way society at large won’t accept? No problem. We published a paper best summarized as, “A gender scholar goes to Hooters to try to figure out why it exists.” “Defamiliarizing,” common experiences, pretending to be mystified by them and then looking for social constructions to explain them? Sure, our “Dildos” paper did that to answer the questions, “Why don’t straight men tend to masturbate via anal penetration, and what might happen if they did?” Hint: according to our paper in Sexuality and Culture, a leading sexualities journal, they will be less transphobic and more feminist as a result.
We used other methods too, like, “I wonder if that ‘progressive stack’ in the news could be written into a paper that says white males in college shouldn’t be allowed to speak in class (or have their emails answered by the instructor), and, for good measure, be asked to sit in the floor in chains so they can ‘experience reparations.’” That was our “Progressive Stack” paper. The answer seems to be yes, and feminist philosophy titan Hypatia has been surprisingly warm to it. Another tough one for us was, “I wonder if they’d publish a feminist rewrite of a chapter from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.” The answer to that question also turns out to be “yes,” given that the feminist social work journal Affilia has just accepted it. As we progressed, we started to realize that just about anything can be made to work, so long as it falls within the moral orthodoxy and demonstrates understanding of the existing literature.
Put another way, we now have good reasons to believe that if we just appropriate the existing literature in the right ways—and there always seems to be a citation or vein of literature that makes it possible—we can say almost any politically fashionable thing we want. The underlying questions in every single case were the same: What do we need to write, and what do we need to cite (all of our citations are real, by the way) to get this academic madness published as high “scholarship”?
What Did We Do?