POST-CRITICAL THINKING: on skepticism as brand and niche

The “conceptual penis” hoax gives us the sad sight of two “critical” thinkers perpetrating a media strike in the name of standards that they do not themselves obey. If their aim is really to expose uncritical thinking they should immediately have laughed at Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, etc. for being taken in by the hoax within the hoax, i.e. by the supposed general import of their sophomoric prank.

I call the prank “sophomoric” because their “hoax” article reads like the product of an uncultured science student being forced to attend a “Theory” course, being alternately shocked, offended, and amused by the “fancy” language and unfamiliar and undesirable assumptions of the lecturers, and lashing out in contempt with a parody based on a few poorly understood ideas cherry-picked from the lectures and reading.

Many people confuse “critical” thinking with debaters’ strategies for getting cheap points for quick and easy refutations based on travestying the position and arguments of their opponent, of taking their statements out of context and ridiculing them. This is good style for a show where fundamentalist Christians confront fundamentalist “Skeptics”, but it is not appropriate to the reasoned discussion of complex issues.

The critical verdict is obvious: Boghossian and Lindsay punked a vanity pay-to-publish journal. The actual content of their article was irrelevant, it could have been about almost anything (from alien DNA in soldier ants to the social construction of marketised skeptics), and it would have gotten through to publication.

The prank was to punk an unscrupulous journal. The hoax, the real hoax, was on those who thought that this exploit proved anything about gender studies or the humanities. The authors unleashed an orgy of uncritical propaganda on social media. But because this uncritical self-congratulatory exultation amounted to propaganda for their own particular doxa they welcomed it.

Boghossian and Lindsay have debased the names of critical thinking and of skepticism to vulgar brand names in the struggle for profitable niches on a competitive intellectual market, thus contributing to the general deconcepting and denoetisation and reinforcing it. What is the point of laying claim to the brand name of “skepticism” by actions that are the diametric opposite?

Boghossian and Lindsay’s prank and their analysis of its import are contributions to the society of the spectacle and to niche marketing, not to the history of critical thought. Gender studies is a domain that is even more skeptical than Boghossian and Lindsay’s scientistic vulgate. Their “hoax” in fact reinforces dogmatism and seeks to diminish the presence and power of skepticism and of critical thinking.


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