Stopped Clock Department

While I was slumming over at Dembski’s blog I cam across a link to this article, by right-wing superhack David Horowitz. Apparently Dembski’s crew thought this little essay was helpful to the cause.

Horowitz is discussing the horrors perpetrated by Women’s Studies Departments in the name of “Social Constructivism:”

A year ago the biggest issue in education after budgets was whether “Intelligent Design” should be taught in the nation’s schools. Opponents called it a form of “creationism” and the press dubbed the ensuing legal battle as the biggest clash between faith and science since the Scopes Monkey Trial. In a stinging rebuke to the religious right, a Pennsylvania judge ruled that “Intelligent Design” had no place in classrooms because it was “a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory,” thus violating the separation of church and state.

Yet at that very moment professors in American universities were teaching a form of secular creationism as contrary to the findings of modern science as the Biblical claim that the God had made the world in seven days.

The name of this theory is “social constructionism,” and its churches are Women’s Studies departments situated in universities across the United States. The feminist theory of social construction maintains that the differences between men and women – apart from obvious anatomical ones — are not biologically determined but are created by a patriarchal social structure that is designed by men to oppress women. It is “patriarchal society” that turns naturally bi-sexual infants into male and female personalities by conditioning them from birth to adopt gender roles — the one aggressive, masculine and destined to command, the other passive, feminine and slated to obey.

I have no particular opinion on the merits of the literature on women’s studies. I have not read any of it. Horowitz is well-known for being a dishonest charlatan and his description here sounds like a caricature. On the other hand, I’ve heard people more respectable than Horowitz level the same charges.

The reason I linked to the post, however, was for its title: “Secular Creationism.”

Think about that for a second. Horowitz is writing about a theory that in his judgment is utterly absurd. It is contradicted by the evidence and defended only by a handful of dogmatic authoritarians. It represents the absolute worst of modern academic scholarship.

And when he goes hunting around for a metaphor to make it clear precisely how awful these Women’s Studies Departments are, when he wants to communicate the full horror of what is going on, when he wants to liken it to something so obviously abominable that no one could miss the point, what does he come up with?

Creationism.

Just one more example that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

And one more example that Dembski and Co. just don’t think things through very well.

Comments

  1. #1 Scott Simmons
    March 21, 2007

    More to the point: if someone were trying to teach this in public school science classes, I’d throw a fit about that, too. This needs to be kept in the college Women’s Studies classes, where it belongs, unless and until the day comes (I’m not holding my breath) that the claims are scientifically verified somehow.

    And the Intelligent Design theories should be discussed, if at all, in the theology and philosophy classes. Unless and until … oh, who am I kidding, if there were scientific evidence for it, we’d have some by now.

  2. #2 Ronald
    March 21, 2007

    Yes Horowitz is absolutely right. It’s a ridiculous lie that women were ever ordered to obey men. It’s not like there were ever wedding vows that made women pledge to obey men. Its not like there are any Bible verses that command Men to dominate over women and women to obey them. Society has never oppressed women or treated them unfairly in any way. And even if it did, those inequities would have completely and totally vanished from society after the nineteenth amendment was ratified. And pretty much every feminist ever believes that everyone is born bi-sexual, although for some reason I have a hard time finding so much as a single example of this.

    Seriously though, I’m a huge fan of yours Jason, but I am a little disappointed that you couldn’t completely see this for how stupid it really is. Those assertions are about as ridiculous as you can get. All feminists do is disagree with the centuries old notion that women are born never wanting to do anything but cook and clean. Its fairly obvious that society plays a big role in shaping who people are but people like Horowitz literally believe that every single aspect of traditional gender roles are encoded into Men and Women’s DNA, probably by God nonetheless. Talk about a creation myth.

  3. #3 J. J. Ramsey
    March 21, 2007

    Ronald, Rosenhouse isn’t agreeing with the content of Horowitz’s article. He’s just noting how he’s used “creationism” as a perjorative to indicate intellectual dishonesty.

  4. #4 T. Bruce McNeely
    March 21, 2007

    Ronald, I think you’re being a bit unfair. Jason freely admitted that he hadn’t read any Women’s Studies material and therefore didn’t feel qualified to render judgement on it. I think that that is a laudable stance and one that is much too rare these days. Too many people claim authority and shoot their mouths off about stuff they know nothing about. Disco Institute, for example?

  5. #5 Looney
    March 21, 2007

    Just a reminder: The US has the worst public school results in the developed world. Kids can’t learn because of drug and gang infested rat holes? Who cares! Mention that Darwin might be wrong, however, and the fireworks will be dazzling.

  6. #6 T. Bruce McNeely
    March 21, 2007

    Looney:
    The US has the worst public school results in the developed world.
    The US is the only country in the developed world where teaching evolution in public school is in dispute.
    Coincidence?

  7. #7 Decline and Fall
    March 21, 2007

    Horowitz was right to tie these two examples of fuzzy thinking and twisting of scholarship for political ends. (I’ve had some exposure to Women’s Studies in Higher Education and I can attest to the truth of Horowitz’s charges. It’s not the whole story of Women’s Studies, but it’s not an un-trivial segment of it.) This serves as a good reminder that anti-science happens on all sides of the political spectrum, and for the same reason: politicians and political activists are always too happy to marshall whatever flimsy evidence they can find to lend support to their pet causes. Remember the Sokal Affair?

  8. #8 Ronald
    March 21, 2007

    I know he wasn’t agreeing with the article, My criticisms of Horowitz’s stuff are directed at Horowitz himself, my beef isn’t with Jason. But I do think its fairly obvious that anti-feminists are full of crap when they say that feminist professors are covering up all the science that supports traditional gender roles. And he mocks the idea that women have been, by and large, commanded by societies to obey and be subservient to men. How can anyone doubt that this is the case unless they are a complete idiot?

    Decline and Fall, what are the fuzzy distortions of science that Women’s studies professors use? Are there some recessive alleles on the x chromosomes that make women naturally enjoy cooking and cleaning as opposed to math and science? Well that is the argument made by social conservatives on the issue. Unfortunately there isn’t a shred of evidence that those social norms are genetic but there is plenty of documentation of societies encouraging, coercing or forcing women into their traditional roles. That’s just a painfully obvious historical fact. It’s more stupid to deny that than it is to deny the evidence for evolution.

  9. #9 Decline and Fall
    March 22, 2007

    Ronald,

    I did not in any way imply that there isn’t a long history of male repression of women, nor that “there is plenty of documentation of societies encouraging, coercing or forcing women into their traditional roles.” This was an assumption on your part, and it is a straw man.

    I was referring to the attacks on science from a “feminist” perspective that became popular during the 80s and 90s in mostly academic circles. These attacks were, and to the best of my knowlege still are, based on the idea of “gendered cognitive styles,” such as the canard that men think in combative, hierarchical ways while women think in narrative, inclusive ways. See the following definition of “Gendered Cognitive Styles” from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

    Some theorists believe that men and women have different cognitive styles (Belenky et al 1986; Gilligan 1982). Whether or not this is true, cognitive styles are gender symbolized (Rooney 1991). Deductive, analytic, atomistic, acontextual, and quantitative cognitive styles are labelled “masculine,” while intuitive, synthetic, holistic, contextual and qualitative cognitive styles are labelled “feminine.” Such associations are not wholly arbitrary, the way blue is gendered male and pink, female. For example, it is seen as masculine to make one’s point by means of argument, feminine to make one’s point by means of narrative. Argument is commonly cast as an adversarial mode of discourse, in which one side claims vindication by vanquishing the opposition. Such pursuit of dominance follows the competitive pattern of male gender roles in combat, athletics, and business. Narrative is a seductive mode of discourse, persuading by an enticing invitation to take up the perspective of the narrator, which excites one’s imagination and feeling. Its operations are more like love than war, and thereby follows a mode of persuasion thought more suitable for women. These phenomena raise numerous epistemological questions: does the quest for “masculine” prestige by using “masculine” methods distort practices of knowledge acquisition (Addelson 1983; Moulton, 1983)? Are some kinds of sound research unfairly ignored because of their association with “feminine” cognitive styles (Keller 1983, 1985b)? Do “feminine” cognitive styles yield knowledge that is inaccessible or harder to achieve by “masculine” means (Duran 1991, Rose 1987, Smith 1974)?

    Note the participation, by feminist theorists, in the idea that women and men really are different in the way they think, and that scientific reasoning is itself a participant in the further suppression of women. This argument is profoundly anti-science by any stretch of the imagination, and sexist, to boot. (I heard plenty of this buncombe as an undergrad in the humanities at UC Santa Cruz, so I can attest to its currency on an anecdotal level. I (mostly) stopped following these arguments after graduation, so for all I know everyone has completely rejected it by now.)

    But getting back to my original point, it is the elevation of political concerns over objective scientific scrutiny that is the problem. I would argue that this can come from any point on the political spectrum when the concern is more for the maintenance of ideology than for objective truth. It is to this extent that Horowitz, a boorish intellectual fraud, is actually onto something. I am certain that he is launching his criticism from the same politicized, anti-science place as the feminists he decries, and that his criticism does not apply to feminism in general, but he has no problem making it seem like it does.

  10. #10 Looney
    March 22, 2007

    “The US has the worst public school results in the developed world.
    The US is the only country in the developed world where teaching evolution in public school is in dispute.
    Coincidence?”

    Most of the rest of the world gives 5 minutes to evolution and moves on to real science. In the US, where evolution is challenged, the reactionary ideology of Darwin (aka evolutionary science) compels the fanatics to keep attacking Christians, hence, our crappy school system.

    Women studies is just another example of the madness.

  11. #11 Blake Stacey, OM
    March 22, 2007

    I particularly like the assertion without proof that the assignment of gender labels to cognitive styles is “not wholly arbitrary, the way blue is gendered male and pink, female.” And the false dichotomy between “argument” and “narrative” is just precious!

  12. #12 Ruth
    March 22, 2007

    Decline and Fall: “Note the participation, by feminist theorists, in the idea that women and men really are different in the way they think,”

    Except that is exactly the opposite of what Horowitz is denouncing. He is denouncing the ‘absurd’ idea that women and men are NOT different in the way they think. It sounds like he would agree with the theories that YOU are condemning as absurd.

  13. #13 ERV
    March 22, 2007

    I do think its ironic when males in the religious right jump over ‘Womens Studies’ majors at universities. These are the same people who have no problem with degrees in ‘Theology’ and ‘Biblical Studies’. You know, women at least exist. Same cant be said for Theo-.

  14. #14 Rick
    March 22, 2007

    Horowitz totally sucks but he has a point about secular, scientology-esque dogmatists within many academic domains. These people absolutely suck, and I’ve had extensive experience with dozens of them. They seem like strawmen, but they’re nearly as vile and thoughtless as any dim creationist yokel.

  15. #15 Jay
    March 22, 2007

    Rick, can you give some actual examples of “secular, scientology-esque dogmatists within academic domains”?

    Like Vincini, I’m not sure those words mean what you think they mean. But I’d like to ask before I write off your comment because you might have actually put some thoughts into it that I’m just not getting.

  16. #16 Ronald
    March 22, 2007

    Decline and Fall,

    Horowitz’s said that feminist academics are promoting a false belief that women were oppressed by their roles in society. You said you could “attest the truth of his charges.” So yeah, you did somewhat imply that women were never really subjugated. He also said that those feminist academics think that infants are all naturally bi-sexual, which is the equivalent to when Kent Hovind says that Evolutionists believe life formed spontaneously from rocks. Just really really stupid and ridiculous.

    Your clarification does help but Ruth is exactly right, your example in support of Horowitz basically contradicts him.

  17. #17 Decline and Fall
    March 22, 2007

    Ronald,

    I apologize if my post and clarification weren’t specific or thorough enough to sketch out my argument to your satisfaction. My point has everything to do with what I took to be Horowitz’s broader argument, about the non- or anti-scientific critique of science for political ends.

    Does Horowitz invoke a straw man? Absolutely. Is Horowitz wrong to critique feminism using arguments that he himself engages in? Certainly. Does the argument, “Creationists are doing the same thing that certain feminists do when they mis-use science for political ends” still hold? Yes.

    Acknowledging that parts A through Y of Horowitz’s argument are invalid does not suggest that part Z is false.

    Pardon me if I took umbrage to the implication that I am a denyer of the historical coercion of women into their historical roles. I don’t have any desire to be lumped into that camp, and I believe that I have demonstrated that I don’t belong there. I can see why you jumped to the conclusion you jumped to, but only if you consider the parts of Horowitz’s argument that I didn’t address in my first post. I was talking about a part, not the whole.