The Scourge of Postmodernism in Universities

The clock tower at a “college” where two biologists were the victims of postmodernism run amok. (click for credit)

I recently read an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “First, They Came for the Biologists.” If you didn’t catch it, the title is an homage to the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller, who opposed the Nazis in Germany. He spent seven years in a concentration camp as a result. Essentially, he is saying that we must fight injustice even if we don’t think it will affect us, because ultimately, it will. The author of the article, Dr. Heather Heying, says that postmodernism is taking aim at science, and if we don’t stop it, we will all suffer.

Dr. Heying is a former professor of biology at The Evergreen State College, which doesn’t seem to be much of a college. Instead, it seems to be a place where views that go counter to a loud group of students will result in harassment and intimidation. If you don’t know Dr. Heying’s story (which actually begins with her husband, Dr. Bret Weinstein), you can read it from their perspective here.

Essentially, Dr. Weinstein opposed a campus-wide activity that he considered to be racist, and as a result, he was branded a racist. The situation quickly turned toxic, and the couple feared for their safety. They sued the university, which settled for $450,000 plus $50,000 in legal fees. The couple resigned from the university when the settlement was reached. You can read more from Dr. Heying’s perspective here and Dr. Weinstein’s perspective here.

The story is truly sad and makes me worry about the future of higher education in these United States. When students can make utterly false allegations that end up being believed, no university professor is safe, period. However, Dr. Heying takes it further than that, and honestly, I have to agree with her. In her Wall Street Journal article, she makes this profound point:

Postmodernism, and specifically its offspring, critical race theory, have abandoned rigor and replaced it with “lived experience” as the primary source of knowledge. Little credence is given to the idea of objective reality. Science has long understood that observation can never be perfectly objective, but it also provides the ultimate tool kit with which to distinguish signal from noise – and bias.

I have discussed the nonsensical nature of postmodernism before, but I don’t think I fully appreciated its danger until reading Dr. Heying’s article and learning about her and her husband’s experience at The Evergreen State non-College. If the disciples of postmodernism have their way, many more institutions of higher learning will become hotbeds of irrationality like that sad little campus. If you don’t believe me, read this chilling quote from her article. The man she is quoting is the president of The Evergreen State non-College:

[What] we are working towards is, bring ’em in, train ’em, and if they don’t get it, sanction them.

When someone who runs a supposed college is willing to say something like that, there is something terribly wrong with the state of higher education in these United States.

If I sat down and had a conversation with Drs. Heying and Weinstein, we would probably disagree on a great many things. However, we would be in full agreement when it comes to the real danger that postmodernism poses to higher education.

7 thoughts on “The Scourge of Postmodernism in Universities”

  1. You should read Postmodernism Rightly Understood by Peter Augustine Lawler, who was central to the formulation of the “postmodern conservative”. I discovered his book only last year – but found in it an impressive and concrete formulation of many things I had suspected for quite a while. Lawler very convincingly argues that all the things popularly blamed on the horrors of postmodernism are actually modernism – and that postmodernism is opposed to them.

    I should say that it is not an easy book: it starts by critiquing Locke and de Tocqueville’s notions of human nature and then takes a deep dive into Fukuyama, Kojeve, and Rorty. But I think if you’re on the side of truth – especially the truth of Christianity – ultimately postmodernism is an ally. You really should read Lawler’s book.

    1. I will have to read that book, because the idea makes no sense. Postmodernism is all about ignoring objective reality and focusing on subjective experience. I don’t see how it could be on the side of truth.

      1. No, postmodernism is about challenging pretensions to objective reality (I have countered you on this before). As I said, read the book. It’s true various well-known postmodernists are associated (fairly or not) with opposition to the notion of objective truth, but ultimately what they were doing is constructing a set of tests our interpretations have to pass in order to be taken seriously. (I think Ricoeur said something similar about Nietzsche and religion.) They reveal that what we might think of as objective and rational is actually thoroughly subjective. Though I suppose suspicion of rationalism is a particularly Lutheran thing, and hence uncommon.

        Lawler was a professional political theorist; he knew what he was talking about. Seriously: his book is one of the best – and most astonishing – I’ve ever read. I am completely confident that you are absolutely wrong about postmodernism.

  2. It’s the natural consequence of rescinding absolute truth. Dostoyevsky said “If God does not exist then everything is permitted.” Some of my secular friends would agree (without knowing it). When I asked them how to establish truth in the absence of absolute truth they have answered that tribal law should dictate truth – truth is a “living document” meant to change as we evolve. They put their faith in the “meaningful consensus” achieved in society. It seems tribal law has failed to procure truth at Evergreen University, and in many places throughout time.

    I find it ironic as well that in the article he mentions “The left has long pointed to deniers of climate change and evolution to demonstrate that over here, science is a core value” – it interesting that climate change and evolution are two places where secular (and some religious) institutions have waged their own witch hunts – imposing sanctions in an effort to banish dissent.

    Hard to escape a reading of psalms 7:15 here

    “He digs a hole and bores it deep,

    but he falls into the pit he has made.

    His malice turns back upon his head;

    his violence falls on his own skull.”

  3. I can’t help but think it is a bed of nails of their own making. These liberal institutions have disavowed truth, and indoctrinated two entire generations with their form of relativism… and now they are shocked when it turns against them in the form of irrational, subjective untruths being upheld as true?

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