The idea of merit has fallen on evil times, as has its corollary concept, objectivity. These principles have now been breached by a consortium of the ideologically minded, who resemble a gang of robbers tunneling under a bank vault. The masterminds planning and executing this operation are a class of “treasonous” intellectuals as Julien Benda defined them, primarily academics, along with members of the political left.
In the interests of creating a society based on the axioms of “social justice”—which is really socialist justice—the principles of professional merit and scientific objectivity are dismissed by our mandarin class as forms of bigotry. As the professions, the educational institution, the political arena, and the scientific establishment engage in a process of diversification, accommodating claimants who trade on race and gender rather than ability and native endowment, merit is in the process of being replaced by outright mediocrity.
In the university, for example, no department is safe from the “inclusion and diversity” mania that is bringing higher education into the slough of disrepute—not law, not medicine, not business, not even the STEM subjects. As is, or should be, common knowledge, literature and the social sciences have long succumbed to the social justice, disparate impact, and feminist miasma that has clouded the atmosphere of thought, paving the way for pervasive academic decadence.
When even classics programs are contaminated by race and gender issues, we know the end is nigh. In the “Notes & Comments” to the recent issue of The New Criterion, Roger Kimball documents the shameful degradation of this once elite, non-politicized academic study. “Classics has fallen under the spell of grievance warriors,” he writes, “who have injected an obsession with race and sexual exoticism into a discipline that, until recently, was mostly innocent of such politicized deformations.” Unlike the plethora of “cultural studies” programs that now command the academic landscape—Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Queer Studies, Chicano Studies, Peace Studies, Fat Studies, etc.—in classics, after all, “You actually have to know something.” The challenging nature of the subject, as well as the fact that most of its representative scholars and students appear to be white males, have rendered it suspect and ripe for demolition.
Kimball cites the fate of the classics journal Eidolon, now a travesty of its original purpose, which was to foreground the relevance of classics. It has fallen to the progressivist tampering of Donna Zuckerberg (the sister of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg) whose mandate, as she declares on her Patreon site, is to make “the classics political and personal, feminist and fun.” (I always found Latin and Greek, though difficult to master, plenty fun just as they were.) Zuckerberg requires that “at least 70 percent of our contributors be women and 20 percent POC.” White males beware! “I have no interest,” she pontificates, “in providing bland and false reassurances that we only care about good ideas and good writing and not who our authors are.”
For Zuckerberg, as for most of our cultural and political power brokers, “appeals to merit” are merely “white supremacist dog-whistles.” Eidolon will enlighten us all, not only shedding “new light on the works of Alcaeus, Vergil, Horace, and Cato,” the ineffable Zuckerberg assures us in the journal Society for Classical Studies, but also commentary on “Sports Illustrated Magazine, the conflict between Israel and Palestine, contemporary poets’ responses to the sinking of the Titanic, and the hipster obsession with kale.” The entire spectrum of a once pure and arduous discipline has been thrown under the progressivist bus and reduced to triviality and partisan hype. What goes for classics goes for the rest of the culture—a deracination of the sources of the civilized West.
Who you are, what you feel, your race, your gender, your presumptive marginal status—these attributes now constitute your primary qualifications for preference and advancement. White heterosexual males, regardless of talent, aptitude and intellectual distinction, are naturally excluded from the new imperium. Thus, in her 2008 edited volume Gendered Innovations in Science and Engineering, Stanford University scholar Londa Schiebinger argued that knowledge and technics had to be opened to “new perspectives, new questions, and new missions,” thus opposing “codes governing language, styles of interactions, modes of dress [and] hierarchies of values and practices” inherent in the male-dominated science and engineering faculties. She had nothing to say about levels of motivation and discipline-specific intelligence parameters. No matter. “We need to be open to the possibility that human knowledge—what we know, what we value, what we consider important—may change dramatically as women become full partners.”
That is the “mission.” It does not acknowledge that the vaunted “opening” feminists like to speak of has been in place for decades. Women now outnumber men in the university by a factor of 3 to 2 and the ratio is far higher in K-12 pedagogy. Women also predominate in the medical and legal professions, with no end in sight to their burgeoning numbers.
Nor does the sacred “mission” entail the obvious, namely, that anyone with the intellectual wherewithal and passionate commitment to long hours and unbroken personal discipline demanded by the subject is entitled to become a “full partner.” Schiebinger’s efforts to erase so-called gender bias in hiring practices by “restructuring the academic work/life balance, offering parental leave, stopping the tenure clock, and the like” are precisely what militate against laborious and dedicated high achievement. The ancillary perks, compromises, and forfeitures that many women and certainly feminists seem to require effectively detract from the relentless pursuit of complex scientific knowledge in the most taxing and formidable of disciplines. Rather, whoever has the smarts and is willing to commit to the grueling lifelong schedule necessary for the advancement of top-tier science should be welcomed into the scientific community. But race, marginality, and gender are, in themselves, utterly irrelevant.
Tomas Brage, director of the undergraduate program of studies in physics at Lund University in Sweden, has recently published an essay circulating in the scientific community titled “What Does Gender Have to Do with Physics?” which articulates the same premises as Schiebinger’s. It is an exemplary document, worth considering not only as a screen grab of the current state of affairs but as a harbinger of worse to come. Science, like classics, the last bastion of cognitive purity, is on the way out the door. Clinical and professional debasement is now the rule in order to foster a social justice agenda.
Brage is worried about horizontal and vertical segregation, the former showing that “women and men gravitate to different fields” and the latter indicating that in academia and in physics “men are promoted at the expense of women.” Brage will not countenance the idea that men and women are different, that they tend to make different choices in careers and professions, and that while men and women perform equally well under the umbrella of the Bell curve, male nerds tend to preponderate in the mathematical and scientific standard deviation territory. For Brage, this is the result of a “strongly ‘Herculean’ institutional character”—in other words, it’s the patriarchy at work again, privileging its own, wielding the weapons of merit and objectivity to subjugate the marginal, especially women. Brage will have none of it. “Meritocracy is a myth,” he avers; “the more convinced a group is that it follows meritocratic principles, the more it is affected by bias.”
Consequently, the system must be changed. Institutional culture must admit “bias-awareness training, support… teamwork over a ‘Herculean’ culture’” that favors the individual researcher or genius, create gender diversity programs, “introduce ‘counter-spaces’ such as conferences and networks, where minorities can become the norm,” and “counteract horizontal segregation in STEM, but avoid approaches that aim to ‘change the women.’” In other words, women’s needs come first, the requisites of science toggle a distant second. “Changing the women” is code for making them more competitive, work-dedicated, intensely focused-on-task at personal cost, less susceptible to the claims of biology and leisure, more willing to sacrifice personal time and resist the appeal of Zuckerbergian “fun,” more “Herculean,” that is, more like men. This cannot be tolerated.
Brage seems blissfully unaware that, aside from unadulterated brilliance, meritocratic traits and criteria are precisely those that STEM demands if it is to prosper. He concludes: “Clearly, the subject of all physics is affected by the background of the researcher, teacher and student, and it follows that a gender perspective is needed.” No, it manifestly does not follow. The individual’s practice of physics may indeed be affected by “the background of the researcher,” but the subject of physics is not. The laws of nature are the laws of nature and must be dealt with on their own terms. Physics is physics—nature’s handmaiden, not feminism’s. Mathematics is mathematics irrespective of whether you are white, black, brown, male, female or marginal. Engineering relies on the grammar of reality, not on the rhetoric of politics or the shibboleths and fashions of the day. Rocket science is, in fact, rocket science. The only question is: how adept are you, in the light of aptitude, desire, and intelligence, at mastering the discipline.
The issue at stake is a perennial one. The Greek comic playwright Aristophanes in a late play (392 B.C.) Assembly of Women (Ecclesiazusae) humorously pilloried the female takeover of the Athenian Assembly and dominion over the wider cultural practice. Its instigator, the early feminist firebrand Praxagora, manages to persuade her beta-male husband Blepyrus of the virtues of female control and convinces the male Assembly to hand over the reins of power to their women. The results are as hilarious in context as they are predictable in the larger world, a society descending into mayhem, pagan ritual, lack of distinction and ruthless feuding for freebies, including sexual favors for unattractive hags at the expense of their more beautiful rivals—an apposite metaphor for the war between mediocrity and merit. As scholar and translator Robert Mayhew summarizes, “Misery is not abolished, it is merely redistributed.”
What does gender have to do with physics? Brage, our contemporary Blepyrus advocating for his Praxagora, asks. The question is fraudulent, a category mistake at best. The question is not a question but a commutational statement, to wit: women should be programmatically advanced regardless of aptitude, strict and undeviating devotion to the particular job at hand, examination results, and credentials in the field. It is rhetorical sleight of hand. Of course gender has something to do with physics, as it does with innumerable other aspects of life and work and preference—but gender in this sense is not exclusionary. There is always crossover, always women in fields where men tend to excel and men in fields where women reign. This is as it should be.
The same caveat applies to all the other strata of politically correct discrimination favoring race, ethnicity, caste, marginal, and identity status. Claims of “oppression” should not be permitted to dilute and bypass norms of accomplishment that govern the properties and exactions of any discipline or profession, whether it be physics, engineering, technology, law, medicine, business and economics, English literature, classics, or any other trade, craft, function or vocation one can think of. Neither from the moral, epistemological nor economic point of view can “outcomes,” ideological “inclusion,” or the phantom of “diversity” be legitimately compelled or manufactured. Indeed, it is why “diversity is our strength,” as the slogan has it, has never been adequately explained. It is just as likely, as we have seen, to generate conflict and disunity, disparities of talent and motivation, the tendency to ghettoize and the weakening of common standards. That way lies societal perdition. No culture or nation can long survive collectively enforced mediocrity.
In short, all should enjoy the opportunity to compete and perform to prove they satisfy the conditions of a particular field of endeavor, to demonstrate excellence, merit and respect for truth and objectivity. No concessions should be made that adulterate the principles of the discipline, trade, service or profession under the loupe—unless we are willing to allow discovery and inventiveness to flag, analytical and conceptual quality to decline across the board to everyone’s disadvantage, and “misery to be redistributed.” Plainly, no one should be prevented from lining up at the starting gate, but the race must not be fixed. To cite the poet John Keats, that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.