Follow The Money?

Or does the money follow them?

The “TERF War” has been topical here because it exemplifies the “woke” culture wars that have totally disfigured public discourse. Essentially that wider rationality has been “captured” by a simplistic, selective, PC, polarising and sloganising objectification of facts and rights that squeeze out all care for individuals, nuance and complexity.

The irony is that free-thinking “intellectuals” would traditionally side with left-leaning, “liberal” politics and yet it is the left-liberal institutions and media that get most “captured” and paralysed by the simplistic PC versions of the wokery. We get a “culture war” between narrow “ideological” rationalities instead of a wider rational integration of the true complexities experienced by human individuals. Free-thinking intellectuals become constrained – even unwelcome and attacked – at the institutions where they are most needed and inevitably seek alternatives that provide them the freedom and security. Resources that require funding beyond the traditional left-liberal context.

Alice Dreger already left academia to set-up her own self-sufficient “on a shoe-string” local media operation.

Of course, that’s a reference to yesterday’s announcement of the new “University of Austin” (UAT) not to be confused with the UT@A and all the other Austin universities.

Jonathan Haidt had already set up his “Heterodox Academy” and he’s one of the “board of advisors” at UAT. Quite a roll of founders and advisors: Niall Ferguson, Bari Weis, Steven Pinker, Haidt, Vicky Sullivan, Deirdre McCloskey and more. Actual staff – Peter Boghossian, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and …

Kathleen Stock, who must have had the UAT proposition put to her when she needed a way out of her Sussex harassment.

And because the UAT venture is funded by … the Koch Brothers … a lot of Left-Liberal academics are now tarred / smeared by the Right-Libertarian brush. Ho hum. This one will run and run. (It’s why I started the Liberal<>Libertarian thread last week.)


Post Note: And talking about true complexity and “capitalist” funding of free academic thought:

Several academics associated with SFI Complex Systems considered intellectual friends here on Psybertron, including Jessica Flack, justifying her net-good position re the funding (thread):

23 thoughts on “Follow The Money?”

  1. Dreger’s “follow the money” slam is a cheap shot that doesn’t quite hit the target. I doubt the faculty is merely hoping to board a gravy train; probably mainy are just hoping for a fairer hearing for their ideas, in the name of academic freedom. However, if the Koch brothers are providing the funding, it’s not amiss to wonder what the bastards might be up to.

    To judge from the comments on the UATX’s “Announcement,” this university is where Trump supporters will want to send their kids. It’s one thing to have balanced universities where unorthodox opinions are tolerated, including everything from biological gender theory (I just made that up, but I think it’s pretty good), to racial differences theory (ditto), to creationist theory (that one’s well known). It’s another to build entire institutions dedicated to unorthodox opinions. This can only increase the polarization of debate. For the likes of the Koch brothers, that’s a means of spreading chaos in order to take advantage of it for their own interests.

    I agree that for the sake of intellectual freedom, ideas perceived as dangerous should not be shouted down or silenced. Whether they should be celebrated depends on the idea, I suppose. Unfortunately the celebration of unorthodox ideas in the age of social media is a different animal than the dogged perseverance of lone intellectuals against the currents of their times.The rise of the celebrity intellectual has compromised the process of slow, cautious debate whereby truths, or our best approximations, are finally recognized.

    This development can only end badly. We need some other way of supporting unorthodox thought than immediately putting it on a pedestal.

  2. How much of this is merely an upscaled rehash of the kerfuffle over AC Grayling’s establishment of New College of the Humanities? Ayaan Hirsi Ali has reported that some 900 academics have expressed an interest, so it is clearly fulfilling a need, at least on the supply side.

  3. Hi AJ … the “However” between the two sentences in your first para says it all.

    To borrow a phrase – given the Koch brothers have such wealth, where would you rather they spent their money?
    Funding a Trump campaign or funding a liberal university? Clearly they have enough to do both.

    I think we have to let the academic institution manage their resources.

  4. Yes, “on the supply side” – similar to NCH as you say.

    I think people have to take the academic content as they find it.
    If they want to object to “dirty money” funding it – they should be looking at economic / finance / fiscal systems and not beat-up on academics being grateful to be funded.

  5. The Koch brothers are effectively funding an institution where those with a preferred version of “truth” can have their views reinforced. It’s not a lot different than Trump’s upcoming social media platform, where trademarks are being sought for phrases like “Post a Truth,” or from the echo chambers of Facebook. From this, we can expect more or less the same socio-potical outcome: paralysis and confusion favourable to those who want to grab power for themselves.

    Are conventional universities also places where those with a preferred version of “truth” can have their views reinforced? Arguably yes, under the onslaught of so-called “woke” bigots. That’s a problem. But this is not a solution. It’s just more of the same, only this time for the disaffected.

    Within conventional universities, the humanities tend to be the focus of these controversies. I suspect the scale of the problem is exaggerated, owing to a few high-profile cases involving very noisy people on both sides, and that freedom of thought is still not seriously jeopardized once you get away from the TV cameras and the madding crowd.

    The Koch brothers’ new venture is an escalation, which is exactly what we don’t need. Mark my words, it will end badly.

  6. Ha. You’re obviously triggered by the Koch brothers.

    It will almost certainly end badly, it’s not “actually” a university yet – as I said the ideological political criticisms “will run and run” – but the rational points will be made in the process.

    That’s what I’m focussing on.

    I should add – the Matthew d’Ancona piece linked in this post is very well considered. The ideological crippling of rational discourse has been my whole agenda here at Psybertron for 20+ years – it’s not an exaggerated new phenomenon.

  7. To make a more specific prediction, the directors will find themselves associating with unsavoury types and unable to control the direction of the institution, and the sensible ones will begin to bail. Stephen Pinker may be among the first to disavow the new university. It may take a few years.

  8. Aren’t we now asking a potentially resolvable question? How much do the Koches make their financial support of other educational institutions dependent upon being able to control what the academics there can and cannot say or study? If that’s their MO, then from the point of view of pure academic freedom, this will be doomed. If not, not.

  9. It’s not necessarily whether the Kochs control the academics directly (although that’s worth asking). Rather, it’s whether the nature of the university attracts Trump supporters and other reactionaries, despite the best intentions of the directors, forcing them to abandon the project.

    I’m reading an interesting book called “The Propensity of Things.” From the dust jacket: “reality — every kind of reality — may be perceived as a particular deployment or arrangement of things to be relied upon and worked to one’s advantage. Art or wisdom, as conceived by the Chinese, lies in strategically exploiting the propensity that emanates from this particular configuration of reality.”

    Interestingly there are cross-currents with McGilchrist’s work, in connection with Oriental and Occidental ways of seeing the world. I have another book about that, but it’s at the cottage and I don’t remember the title. . .

  10. That is certainly a possibility. But it would seem odd, perverse even, that anyone would attend an institution founded on the promise of academic freedom only with the agenda of subverting that freedom in favour of their own agenda.

  11. Yes. But this is where I get confused. ‘Woke’ itself has become an almost meaningless term of disapproval. And I honestly can’t speak for the preferences of Trump supporters en mass (I loathe him, BTW). But whatever it does mean, it surely doesn’t indicate a robust defence of academic freedom. So surely, in this instance, being anti-woke is not the issue?

  12. Regarding what “woke” means, I’m not sure if you saw the link to my thoughts on the matter, in the comments for “The Matter of Things — Iain McGilchrist.”

    The University of Austin is nominally about academic freedom, and has attracted intellectuals who are concerned that academic freedom is being threatened by “woke warriors.” Unfortunately, it will also attract defenders of certain outdated social traditions, also threatened by “woke warriors” — traditions in which women are supposed to stay home and cook and have babies, and everyone goes to church — with the proviso that Blacks have their own churches, of course — and Muslims are pretty much all terrorists, and the poor deserve what’s coming to them, and so on. The gender wars, and things like critical race theory, can be exploited as flashpoints for this convergence. The conflict will put strain on the university, and ultimately work to discredit the enlightened thinkers involved with it while strengthening the hand of exploitative capitalists like the Koch brothers, who are quite happy to stir up shit if they can extend their control in the process.

    Unfortunately the enlightened thinkers can’t see this coming, or maybe they think they’re smart enough to “ride the bear.”

    One wonders why the university has been situated in Austin, Texas, instead of somewhere more enlightened. Possibly it’s to exploit the credibility of an existing institution with a similar name, or possibly the social milieu is more suited to its goals.

  13. I didn’t see your comment on ‘wokeness’. But I shall certainly take the time to read it. That aside, much of what you say here – on the level of basic social values – I agree with. I suppose, then, that the resolution of our difference will be in how things actually turn out at this institution. If the whole exercise collapses as you predict, I will be happy to admit that my optimism was misplaced.

  14. You appear to be correct on your first point. I don’t know whether I’ve been mislead into that assumption by their frequent mentions in some of the speculative commentary. But I’ve had a look after reading your comment and can’t find much direct evidence either, so I stand corrected. As to the second point, I’d like to wait and see what actually happens. This could be something that provides competitive stimulus for other universities to get their houses in order, or an ideological road crash. I’m willing to wait to see which.

  15. I almost butted in at this point earlier, when I responded to your initial comment.

    The Trump anti-woke agenda, like all those branded “far-right or libertarian”, is just the opposite “woke” to those branded lefty “libtards”.
    It’s woke to be anti-woke – it’s why it succeeds in ramping up the polarisation rather than allow any constructive nuance.

    Both leanings of “woke” are “naively in the know” – but bereft of care and wisdom.

  16. The “wait and see” is my position. Having faith in the “good faith” of those I actually “know” and ignoring the smearing by association.

    All sorts of reasons why it might end in disaster – but most likely for political polarisation reasons than the intellectual content of any actual discourse?

  17. Politics alone.
    In his other role he probably can’t afford the “heat by association” with the Right-Libertarian taint of this venture – real or imaginary 😉

  18. Hardly, as I already said, this is just another high-profile member of the “board of advisors” not wanting their careers to be associated with the public political smears, thank you very much. There’s been no intellectual activity yet, and certainly no intellectual activity distorted by the politics of its funding – your original point?

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