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No conceptual penis, no climate change.


IT IS NOW more than twenty years since Sokal and Bricmont hoaxed the leftwing academic world with their fake paper, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Theory” (“transformative” is a touch of brilliance there). As scientists, both had grown sick of scientific concepts being misused by postmodernist academics to discredit the very basis of objectivity. They knew that the authors of these papers had no knowledge of understanding or the sciences but would nevertheless be accepted as creditable as long as they showed themselves to be bona fide leftists. This included references to the gods of the postwar pantheon of “fools, frauds and firebrands”, as Roger Scruton so aptly called them — Foucault, Derrida, etc.

Sokal and Bricmont thus concocted a paper out of the meaningless verbiage that typified such research at the time and submitted it to a journal called Social Text, who had it peer-reviewed and published as authentic. A furore followed the revelation that the academic world had fallen for such obvious fakery. Despite the laughter and scorn of many, there were still plenty of defenders of nonsense within academia willing to claim the hoax meant nothing at all. Eventually the waters of discord settled, the academic idiocy continued and the Sokal hoax was gratefully forgotten by its critics and left unmentioned to a new generation of left wing scribblers.

But just to remind those of us who can remember the original imposture, and to alert that new generation of innocents embarked on a career of fashionable nonsense, along comes another hoax. Update to appeal to the current obsession of the “nonsense machine” with sexual matters, this one has the marvellous title, “The Penis as a Social Construct”. The authors of this masterpiece, Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay, concocted their paper out of the garbage of gender studies “discourse” (“3,000 words of utter nonsense,” in their own words). Boghossian and Lindsay describe what they did:

Assuming the pen names ‘Jamie Lindsay’ and ‘Peter Boyle,’ and writing for the fictitious ‘Southeast Independent Social Research Group,’ we wrote an absurd paper loosely composed in the style of post-structuralist discursive gender theory. The paper was ridiculous by intention, essentially arguing that penises shouldn’t be thought of as male genital organs but as damaging social constructions. We made no attempt to find out what ‘post-structuralist discursive gender theory’ actually means. We assumed that if we were merely clear in our moral implications that maleness is intrinsically bad and that the penis is somehow at the root of it, we could get the paper published in a respectable journal.

They were thorough, too: “After completing the paper, we read it carefully to ensure it didn’t say anything meaningful, and as neither one of us could determine what it is actually about, we deemed it a success.” Fine advice for any aspiring young academic.

SO, PUBLISHED IT was. It seems as long as you disparage anything to do with maleness, men and masculinity, you’ll be a hit with the gender brigade. And what better way to emasculate the evil patriarchy by denying the penis a physical existence and relegating it to the realm of fantasy?

Calling something a social construct or socially constructed is, as anyone who has had the misfortune to argue with a leftwing academic (is there any other sort?) knows, something invented by a cabal of right-wing-fascist-capitalist-white-male patriarchy-supporting-racist-sexist-hegemonic imperialists for their own nefarious purposes; it has no natural or authentic existence of its own and can therefore be dismantled, destroyed, replaced by those who know best — ie, the intelligentsia.

Thus the nation-state is a social construct and can be dispensed with, along with borders and the sense of national identity because it is a cause of division and strife. Once abolished, there you go – universal peace. Sex, gender, ideas of male and female are socially constructed and can be done away with because they’re oppressive. Let it all hang out. Why, even science is a social construct and gendered by the patriarchy — so let’s have female gravity and eliminate the penis!

If you want to amuse yourself with a multitude of genuine examples of similar nonsense you should check out a feed on Twitter called New Real Peer Review (@RealPeerReview). Reading the entries is both exhilarating and depressing at the same time.

Boghossian and Lindsay have, in a strange way, simply followed the insane logic of postmodernism to arrive at this point…

Boghossian and Lindsay have, in a strange way, simply followed the insane logic of postmodernism to arrive at this point, adding a couple of creative touches on the way:  “Toxic hypermasculinity derives its significance directly from the conceptual penis and applies itself to supporting neocapitalist materialism” -“toxic” attached to masculinity is a bit of a cliche now, but “hypermasculinity” is taking it to another level. However, the master patriarchal stroke is this: “neocapitalist materialism…is a fundamental driver of climate change, especially in the rampant use of carbon-emitting fossil fuel technologies and careless domination of virgin natural environments.”

That is impressive. Oppression, servitude, poverty and the death of the whole planet, all down to the non-existent penis. It was too good to be true. No wonder they fell for it.

But you know what? Despite the fact that Sokal 2.0 has blown up in the face of academia, revealing yet again their intellectual vacuity, someone somewhere will be wishing they had written this one for real.

suxcoverCurrente Calamo columnist, poet, writer and lecturer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire . From 2005–2008 he was the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Lincoln where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent collection is Spyglass Over The Lagoon. A selection of his Fortnightly Currente Calamo columns, Sucks To Your Revolution: Annoying The Politically Correct (US), is available as a Kindle ebook.

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