Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Activists must stop harassing scientists

Ms Peggy Sastre, a French writer who holds a PhD in philosophy of science (which already places her above 90+ percent of the popular writers about "science and society") has written a wonderful piece for Le Point which was translated for Quillette yesterday:
Activists Must Stop Harassing Scientists
A part of her text is dedicated to Alessandro Strumia's story – she didn't overlook that Galileo used to work at the same Pisa University as Strumia, to make the analogies between the harassment more visible to the slower viewers. Sastre also mentions the misrepresentations of Strumia's statements by activists such as Jessica Wade who started that particular disturbing witch hunt, by the BBC, and others.

Also, Sastre has been in contact with Janice Fiamengo who frustratingly concluded that the era of the objective science has decisively ended in the West.

But aside from the recognized heretic Strumia, Sastre also describes the decisions by an anonymous Australian astrophysicist who has chosen an adaptation strategy (the person is therefore a formal non-heretic) to deal with these very serious problems: He or she has simply accepted a research place in China because, believe it or not, there's simply more freedom and money for astrophysicists whose main qualification is something else than their being members of the preferred minority groups or an impressive diversity statement.

China is reportedly filtering its own scientists but it leaves more freedom to the foreign hires.

Where can this evolution lead? Obviously, we're seeing the beginnings of some "reverse brain drift".

During my formative years, the civilizations were still largely separated and I had various reasons not to move to China – and even to refuse several visit invitations – and even my years in the U.S. were beyond what I would find "normal" in the absence of some pressures. Migration isn't really normal.

But the world is changing and unless the – still expanding – totalitarianism of the Western Academia is cured in some way, very good scientists (and engineers because much of this stuff applies to certain "applied" and also "commercial" activities; above a threshold, bridges start to fall and navy ships unexpectedly approach sinking – but there are higher priorities than fixing 737 MAX) may start to move to China en masse, indirectly strengthening a regime that we have considered non-democratic (and China has been suppressing individualism at least since Confucius, not just Mao) while turning the Western university jobs into the full-blown welfare places for the ideological hires.

The label "non-democratic" has surely become an oversimplified and misleading label for China in the light of the events in the recent years or a decade or two. Which of the worlds is more "non-democratic" really depends on the environment, occupation, and questions that you ask.

You know, around 2005-2006, when President Larry Summers had his trouble with the radical feminists, I made numerous "measurements" of the totalitarian conditions at Harvard. The outcomes of the measurements were far worse than I could have imagined (your humble correspondent still wasn't too far from a young and naive admirer of an abstract Free America) and I had no doubt that this wasn't a safe world for me. Now, for more than a decade, I haven't done accurate enough new measurements – of the integrity and courage of the typical people in particular.

But I made some measurements very recently and I was terrified again. It's much more scary than a decade ago – and it is even worse than an extrapolation that I was assuming to be pretty accurate.

You know, when almost all the freedom is lost in some environments, you have a small minority of the people who refuse to surrender to a certain extent. And they face certain genuine risks whose mean value is generally an increasing function of their "demonstrated courage" – although the relationship isn't necessarily the direct proportionality. After the Soviet-led 1968 occupation of Czechoslovakia that ended the pro-democratic and pro-freedom Prague Spring reforms, several folks – including students Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc – immolated themselves. They became the torches whose task was to wake up the nation and make it courageous and free again. That dream remained an unrealistic fantasy for 20+ years – from a truly objective, cynical viewpoint, their lives were wasted, of course.

Palach was a philosophy student, warrior, and he was careful to describe his motivation. It wasn't really a protest against the occupation per se. It was a protest against the defeatism and spinelessness of most of my nation in the wake of the occupation. Palach's story has always been important and interesting enough for me – and a source of deep questions – but I've always thought it had almost nothing to do with my life.

There was a lot of "rational thinking" behind the surrender of the Czech and Slovak nations – the brute force was overwhelming in 1968, like in 1938-1939. Nevertheless, I find it obvious that the bulk of the nation has surrendered "much more than what was needed" to save not only people's lives but even the almost unchanged level of comfort. Most people cooperated with the evil rather explicitly – and much more than what they could justify by legitimate fears. Of course, whether this statement is true depends on which fear is considered legitimate – and how tiny damages could still serve as an excuse for one kind of spineless behavior or another.

What was left was the Czechoslovak dissent. By definition, dissidents had to preserve a "lasting overt disagreement" with the regime. So an occasional brave or "would-be brave" act isn't enough to be a dissident, OK? In a totalitarian regime, you unavoidably live like a hunted animal to some extent if you're generally considered a dissident. The most sensible definition of the Czechoslovak dissent were the signatories of Charter 77, penned in 1977. By the mid 1980s, that document only had some 1200 signatures. Almost all of them were Czechs, no Slovak dissent existed at all. Some 25 people were persuaded to revoke their signature.

The official propaganda painted these Charter 77 signatories as enemies of the society but also drunkards, ruins, psychiatric patients (it sometimes helped them), and there was a grain of the truth in all these statements. So the 1200 signatories were obviously very far from 1200 copies of Václav Havel, some clearly thinking opponents of the regime (and yes, even Havel drank lots of beer and some other negative statements about him had a valid core; it is true that as a prison librarian, Havel sometimes had rather good jail terms; his family was far from clear "resistance" during the Nazi occupation; I remember some political science professors at Harvard who were clearly shocked to learn that Havel had owned VW Golf etc., partly bought from his Western supporters' money – the fact that he should have owned the Czech film industry and a suburb of Prague as well didn't matter to them much).

So it's been estimated that the actual community of the dissidents who could helpfully contribute was comparable to 100 people. These 100 people knew each other and their relatives well, they knew several apartments where they were often meeting etc. But just imagine the shockingly tiny amount of people: 100 people out of 10 million Czechs. The Slovak ratio was even far worse. One person among 100,000 Czech people was a "usable" dissident. I found this ratio interesting because when I tried to calculate how much the average "silent majority" person does to preserve at least some sanity in this world, I think he or she does some 1/10,000 of what I do. The degree of people's opportunism and cowardliness is just absolutely flabbergasting. In such an environment, a normal somewhat courageous person really becomes a different species.

Now, the majority of voters in the 1990 elections chose a system that basically agreed with the plans of these people (OK, some subset that wasn't too drunk at that moment, and the opinions had to be refined by some non-dissidents in most cases). The degree of hypocrisy among most of the 9,999,900 Czechs cannot be overstated. Even though the sanctions for "mild ideological offenses" were already very minor in 1989, 10 million Czechs or 15 million Czechoslovaks preferred to pretend to be loyal fans of the communist party – a party that got just some 15% in 1990, a drop from 100% in the previous Czechoslovak "elections". ;-)

The majority practiced a constant knee-jerk pro-communist opportunism. They would e.g. deny that their kid got a kiwifruit from a West German tourist in front of colleagues – because the tiny risk that a communist in the environment could dislike this story was too important for their egotist planning. And it's very similarly bad these days, with the sycophancy to the cultural Marxism exceeding all the previous levels.

Can it get fixed? Like in Summer 1989, I find it almost impossible. How could this cultural Marxist "regime" collapse? Well, maybe we should learn directly from the history. What possible cures are being offered us by the history? OK, how did the German regime collapse in 1945? Well, the Russians got close to Berlin – and the frequently parodied video of the German leader shows how he felt about that complication. OK, so this is the first possibility. Putin will send his soldiers to the West and liberate the Western universities, assuming that he quickly understands that this is his actual main global historical goal.

Alternatively, like from East Germany, people start to emigrate (this time to China, not West Germany) en masse, thus forcing the regimes to rethink (but would they care at all? If the salaries are paid for nothing, they will always find enough applicants). Maybe, like communism in Hungary and Poland, the leaders get persuaded by the opposition and enlightened and they allow a gradual transformation back to some freedom.

Or the cultural Marxist totalitarianism in the Western universities could collapse like the Czechoslovak communism, of course: a formidable rally of some conservative enough students is beaten by the progressive guards with batons. Classmates and parents of these students get upset, along with the Hollywood actors (OK, I know it looks unexpected, but that's what the history recommends as the verified scenario), and when a progressive politician tells the people in some ordinary occupations that "such kids don't decide about key political questions in the first world, second world, or third world", she will be booed with "we're not the children".

Except for the boring gradual Hungarian and Polish exceptions, there have always been rather crisp events that abruptly changed the momentum. After some time, almost everyone brags that he was actually against the regime. Well, the actual reason why this phase transition happens so sharply is obviously the newly recalculated opportunism – these people need to catch the new momentum wave that goes in a very different direction.

Unfortunately, I don't really believe that the cultural Marxism is in an analogous situation as the Central and Eastern European communism in 1989. In those times, while almost no one actively resisted the communism regime, it was also the case that almost no one – except for professionals – emotionally defended it. It's very different today. Some 10% of the Academia defends this new regime really vigorously. 10% is the same percentage as the members of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia before the 1989 fall of communism.

But most of the Communist Party members were "unexcited" by the ideology by the 1980s, the decade of the self-described "advanced socialist society" (that was just waiting for the imminent collapse). Most of them were rather open, to one extent or another, in a family environment or a bit larger one, that they only joined the party because of some non-ideological reasons. They needed the job. Or they wanted a worse person not to become the boss – a very frequent explanation, indeed. In comparison with that, the current champions of the dominant ideology of the Western Academia are true believers and the nearly religious fanaticism still seems to be growing.

By the authenticity of the belief, we seem to be in the 1950s. That's a much less optimistic number than the plans to copy the events from 1989, of course. ;-)

Aside from my analogies with the fall of communism in Europe, Quillette commenter has recommended another fix of the problem:
Everyone needs to simply start IGNORING “activists.” Just don’t take their bait. Let them tweet and provoke into the void. They’ll get bored...
Well, I surely don't think that this denial of reality will do any good. After all, the activists' boredom is an actual important driver behind their harmful activities. Instead, a fix could be obtained if the boredom were ended, e.g. if they were expected to do some real work. This left-wing activism was created thanks to the proliferation of (social academic) jobs where the hard work and duties were almost non-existent! Just a decade ago, those almost exclusively existed in the "humanities" occupations only. With the growth of affirmation action in STEM, such people became widespread in STEM, too.

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