By this time what has come to be called the Tim Hunt affair has pretty well become common knowledge, having gone “viral” in the pejorative sense of the term. A malignant virus has become a virtual epidemic, precipitated by the hordes of ideological do-gooders who clutter the social media and infest the roiling bowels of academia.
To recapitulate for those who may still be in the dark: Hunt, a Nobelized physiologist, made an innocuous, self-deflating comment at a scientific conference in South Korea, poking fun both at himself and his female students. As The National Post reports, citing the transcript of Hunt’s pre-luncheon toast to a group of female journalists hosted by a trade association representing Women’s Science and Technology Associations, he said:
It’s strange that a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women scientists. Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry. … Now seriously … Science needs women and you should do science despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.
Oh, the damage a joke can do in today’s repressive environment, despite the fatuous assertion that “science needs women” (science needs neither women nor men per se; it needs scientists). The poor man quickly found himself the object of a “baying lynch mob” (to quote biologist Richard Dawkins), resulting in his forced resignation from his honorary posts at University College London, the European Research Council and the Royal Society.
His most influential and virulent accuser, who helped launch the Twitter campaign which blackened Hunt’s reputation and enabled his subsequent ignominy, was a dubious academic named Connie Saint Louis, whose CV detailing her seemingly myriad accomplishments in journalism and academia is currently in the process of being serially discredited. Indeed, in some respects, according to the Daily Mail, her attestations are “demonstrably false.” St. Louis comes across as a self-promoting charlatan, her CV replete with misrepresentations regarding her career and her publication record. It beggars belief that the word of a semblant mountebank should take precedence over the lifetime achievements of a stellar member of the scientific community, who was not given the slightest chance to tell his side of the story and whose comments were not put in their facetious and exonerating context.
There can be little doubt that Sir Hunt (yes, he is knighted) is the triple victim of the radical feminist movement, the plague of political correctness that has polluted the wells of intellectual discourse, and the spineless accommodations of university administrators and institutional bureaucrats.
None of this should surprise us, but it should alarm us about the moral and intellectual degradation that has befallen the world of presumably informed opinion in the Western “social imaginary.” There is, however, even further cause for alarm, and that involves the manner in which the targets of such vendettas typically accept the prevailing cultural consensus. How often have we seen people who have committed youthful indiscretions tearfully apologizing for the putative evil of their ways? One thinks, too, of political figures caught out in sexual affairs abjectly begging forgiveness for their misdemeanors, reveling in mea culpas and mournfully vowing to reform. Why not, one may ask, simply man up and admit to what they have done with a certain virile impenitence?
In the case of Tim Hunt and his academic wife, Mary Collins, their surrender to the lie of political correctness discloses the extent to which they are complicit with their accusers. Hunt confessed that his remarks — remarks that any sane person would account as rather funny and harmless — were “inexcusable,” and claimed that he was “really, really sorry to have caused offense,” as he sat weeping on his sofa. His wife, while acknowledging in a Guardian article that “it was an unbelievably stupid thing to say,” rose to his defense by pointing to her credentials as a feminist “who would not have put up with him if he were sexist,” and revealing that “when Tim is not traveling for work, he does all the shopping and cooking.” Gadzooks! as the Brits used to say. What a decent, pro-feminist, socially benign, liberal thinking, house-broken exemplar of cultural rectitude Tim really is, were it only known to his attackers. How could he have been so misconceived? Despite his socially awkward and ineffably preoccupied air as a scientist who lives in another mental realm, when it comes to the crunch he truly is a progressivist at heart, a shining instance of swarm propriety.
And that is why I can feel little sympathy for Tim Hunt — not because he let a couple of offhanded and guileless observations slip that ignited a ridiculous firestorm or because, as some aver, he should have had the self-protective smarts to camouflage or suppress his mischievous temptations, but because he didn’t have the chutzpah, the manly dignity, to stand up for himself, respond with Swiftian indignation and launch a counter-offensive. I can imagine him saying something like:
I am a Nobel prize-winning scientist with a wry sense of humor and a sterling record of accomplishment, who has worked tirelessly to promote the collective advantage of mankind, and my accusers are a cabal of self-inflated ideologues and scandal mongers who have little to recommend them. If they don’t like it, they can lump it.
But that was not to be. Where is the pride in self and in professional attainment? Where is the refusal to be intimidated by a pack of self-righteous cowards who have nothing better to do than bottom-feed off Twitter and bring down their benefactors? Why accept the role of victim and appear to recognize the ostensible justice of an unjust cause instead of gearing up for battle, affirming one’s work and character, and courageously asserting one’s spirited independence? Isn’t that what it means to be a man or, mutatis mutandis, to be a real woman?
Of course, the colonies of sanctimonious parasites assailing Hunt consider themselves to be the victims of “social forces” and “hegemonic institutions,” but they are really cultural profiteers who have benefited extravagantly from their profession of victimhood, dominating the public arena by imposing their faux narrative on the temper of the times. In this way, the vivacity of thought grows moribund, “diversity” eclipses variety, humor is remaindered like an unread book, an impoverished climate of reason, judgment, and discernment becomes the order of the day, and the faculty of empathy ceases to exist. As Gary Saul Morson writes in an important Commentary essay on the current tenor of the Humanities:
[N]othing makes us less capable of empathy than consciousness of victimhood [which] leads to cruelty that … generates more victims.
Democracy, he continues:
… depends on having a strong sense of the values of diverse opinions. If one imagines (as the Soviets did) that one already has the final truth, and that everyone who disagrees is mad, immoral, or stupid, then why allow opposing opinions to be expressed?
Precisely. The politically correct zealots of the day thus succeed in fastening a rigid conformity upon the expression of ideas, or anything that smacks of difference or eccentricity or even of signal achievement. Naturally, we can expect that even some legitimate practitioners will join the doctrinaire chorus of hypocrites; after all, they may be equally deluded and — a critical factor — equally desirous of career advancement. Nonetheless, it is for the most part the school of sciolists and sophists laboring in the chiefly dispensable areas of study — e.g., gender, queer and fat “studies,” culture theory, post-colonialism — who rise up against their betters in orgies of spurious and discriminatory polemics.
Consider. Connie St. Louis’ CV presents her as a well-published journalist, scientist, teacher, a “regular contributor to ABC News Worldview,” BBC producer, author, and member of the Royal Institution. But, as the Daily Mail reports, “almost all of the supposed ‘facts’ appear to be untrue.”
She is, admittedly, a member of the Royal Institution, but as a spokesman for the Institution points out, “Anyone can be a member. It’s a service you pay for which entitles you to free tickets to visit us and gives you a discount in our café.” (Incidentally, her webpage is now being updated. Surprise, surprise.)
Tim Hunt, on the other hand, is the winner of many prestigious awards and medals of honor. An authentic researcher, he is one of the detectors of protein molecules that control the process of cell cycle regulation, a key discovery leading to a possible cure for cancer.
In any reasonable world, Hunt would not have to prove his fundamental decency or professional authority to a tribe of philistines and bigots; rather, it is they who would be required to defend their actions before the tribunal of Hunt’s scholarly conscience. Yet Hunt’s confession of error and “stupidity” and his lachrymose comportment effectively validate the world of pharisaical ineptitude represented by the disciplinary hollowness and smug self-election of Connie St. Louis and her fellow custodians of the culture of sham.
It is also curious to note that Hunt’s wife, according to The Observer, is “one of Britain’s senior immunologists,” but she possesses no immunity to the intellectual and cultural decadence of the age. Hunt’s major work is in the field of cell division and cancer therapy, but he cannot muster the acumen and tenacity to analyze the cancerous divisions of the era from which he has suffered and to arrive at a position of countervailing strength.
In any event, the hunt is on and the quarry seems ready to concede the hackneyed and tainted righteousness of the chase. They stalk in harness. One lays a mendacious accusation to ruin the life and reputation of an honorable and scrupulous scientist; the latter acquiesces in his arraignment by ruefully apologizing for his apparent depravity and, in effect, indicting himself. The prey is in essence no different from the predator, adhering to the same detestable standard of judgment which has blighted his life. He may be innocent of the charge brought against him but, in his remorseful surrender to an adversary ideology, he is guilty of compliance with the mores of his plaintiffs. The proceedings of the kangaroo court that, in his own words, has hung him out to dry are consequently reinforced. The irony is inescapable.