Thursday, November 14, 2019

Escape From Social Justice Warrior Hell

Michael Rectenwald in his book, Springtime for Snowflakes: “Social Justice” and Its Postmodern Parentage, reports on his life inside the belly of the Social Justice Warrior movement.

That is, he holds a  Ph.D. in literary and cultural studies from Carnegie Mellon University, a Master's in English Literature from Case Western Reserve University, and a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Pittsburgh and has been a professor.

For those of you that haven't been keeping track, the literary and cultural studies departments in major colleges and universities are the centers of the social justice warrior movement.

For some time, I have been asking various philosophers to explain to me the connection between literature departments and the emergence of the social justice movement and where the movement came from. They never were able to explain to me in detail the development.

Rectenwald has filled that gap. He does this by discussing his first-hand experience with the warriors, and does so with a great ability to tell a tale (his entire time in university literature wasn't a waste.) 

A few snippets from the book will provide a good sense for what he went through and the exposé that his book is:
I took for the last remaining haven of intellectual independence - academia. I would learn much later that academia demands as much if not more conformity than any other corporate field. In fact, the conformity penetrates much more deeply. You not only have to buy into the ideology, you must rehearse and recapitulate without fail. Otherwise, you are deemed politically regressive. You might even be a "Nazi."
[S]ome theoretical paradigms had identity entrance requirements. For example, as a feminist friend Mary Ann Cole had kindly explained to me, a "man" should not "do feminism," until or unless every "woman" in the field had found publication space and professional station.
During the first or second meeting of the Feminist Theory class, I asked a question about the reading. Christina responded by referring to my apparent "essentialism" and "biological determinism," and seemed to mockingly suggest that I must believe in retrograde gender ideas like the reality of sex difference. The idea was preposterous! I balked.
Social justice ideology does not foster egalitarianism. Rank is maintained, only the bottom becomes the top when the totem pole of identity is inevitably flipped upside-down and stood on its head. (Rank is established on the basis of intersectionality, a grid for determining the number of ways the subject is subordinated based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and so forth.) Is it any wonder then that social justice warriors compete valiantly for the status of "most subordinated" in the games derogatorily referred to as "the oppression Olympics?" The race to the bottom is really a race to the top--although the race runs downhill.
Jean Baudrillard contributed the quintessential postmodern response [ to 9/11], which went largely unremarked upon outside of academia...Rather than "an inside job," Baudrillard suggested that 9/11 represented a suicide, self-destruction committed by everyone within the global system.
 In the fall of 2015, I was appointed by [NYU] Dean Schwarzenbach to serve as a chair of a writing hiring committee, a committee charged with hiring one full-time writing professor. The Liberal Studies program sought someone who could not only teach first-year writing but also offerings in journalism.

The committee of four met to discuss the first group of candidates that we had already interviewed in the first round by Skype, before beginning the second set of Skype interviews. In the course of this discussion, I mentioned an email I'd received from one of the candidates from the first Skype batch - let's call the applicant Candidate A. I had forwarded Candidate A's email to the committee. I argued in that email and then in person that the thank-you note sent to me by Candidate A effectively disqualified the applicant. The email was riddled with awkward expressions, malapropisms, misplaced punctuation, and other writing problems. I had received emails of similar quality from first-year students, but I surely did not expect to receive such an email from a writing professor, or someone applying to become a writing professor. I asked my three fellow committee members how we could possibly hire someone to teach writing who had written such an email, despite the fact that it represented only a piece of occasional writing. I recalled aloud how Candidate A's application letter was similarly awkward and error laden.

"The candidate cannot write," I said emphatically. One of the committee colleagues became particularly upset.

"We do not teach grammar!" one committee member insisted... 

[more drama]

...A couple of days later, the dean recommended that I step down from the committee. I knew that I had been cornered, and agreed to step down, going from chair to non-member. The committee went on to hire Candidate A.
Order the book here:



  1. I had a similar experience on a PTA (parent teacher association) committee. Very discouraging. Sounds like an interesting book.

  2. Rectenwald is a good interview. Tom Woods has had him on a few times.

  3. If were told that, as a man, I am not entitled to comment on a topic, then I would promptly tell them that I identify as a woman, just to see their heads spin as they try to formulate a response.