Steven Pinker Letter Update.

Conor Friedersdorf writes:

[The letter writers use] the same tenuous, abuse-prone, guilty-by-association tactics that the far right has used to tar academics by linking them to Communism or Islamism… [They are] trying to radically narrow the bounds of acceptable speech and inquiry… A closer look at the letter lays bare the specific ideological orthodoxies and political tests that at least hundreds of linguists now feel comfortable openly imposing on their colleagues… [They are] poring over years of individual tweets, asserting uncharitable interpretations of those they highlight, assigning guilt by association, and imposing multiple orthodoxies that are incompatible with academic freedom… The desire to significantly narrow the bounds of acceptable speech is not a fringe proposition; it is a project that hundreds of people in a single academic field are willing to pursue openly.

The only remaining question is why we ever let this happen.

DEI is DOA; but why was this brain-eating beast allowed to stalk our land in the first place?

 MIT announced a similar decision last month, saying it would stop requiring diversity statements for positions across the university.

… [Harvard] Psychology professor Steven A. Pinker, a co-president of the Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard, slammed diversity statements in a December 2023 Boston Globe op-ed, arguing that they “purge the next generation of scholars of anyone who isn’t a woke ideologue or a skilled liar.”

As usual, Pinker emerges a hero. But I tell you. The shit that guy has to put up with to defend free speech…

Harvard Delights and Disgusts

Let’s start with delight: One of UD‘s heroes, Steven Pinker, has started a defense of free speech group among faculty there. Everyone’s got an eye on Stanford and Oberlin and multiple other stagers of politically coercive campus melodrama, and all self-respecting centers of free inquiry need to take an explicit stand against these enemies of freedom. UD’s beloved University of Chicago is a pioneer here; Harvard and other schools follow UC in strong unmitigated statements, rules, and organizations deployed to resist right and left ideologues – some of whom, grotesquely, were hired by these same universities – who are always trying to shut/shout down free thought and free expression. Harvard’s Council on Academic Freedom (which includes econ prof Jason Furman, whose Cambridge house UD knows well, because for years it was owned by her buddy Peter Galbraith) rightly anticipates, and readies itself to fight, mindless and destructive fanaticism.

On the disgust front, there’s yet another greedy egomaniac who can’t think of anything to do with three hundred million dollars other than give it to an institution worth significantly more than fifty billion dollars in order to get his name on a building and get some tax benefits. Vomit.

Not to mention.

To go with “hedonic treadmill,” we now have “euphemism treadmill.”

[R]eplacing an expression with negative connotations is like swatting away gnats, because those same connotations regularly coalesce on the new term as well. Crippled was changed to handicapped; after a while, this needed replacing, and thus came disabled; today terms such as differently abled attempt yet again to elude the negative associations some assign to physical disability. This is an old story, one that the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker calls a “euphemism treadmill.”


Hedonic treadmill definition here.


And can this be true? No way does UD have the grit to read the actual document.

Do [the Brandeis Language Police] really intend to stigmatize the singing or playing of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”? Or to banish the expression rule of thumb because of an obscure and probably false folk etymology — namely, an antique British law that allowed men to beat their wife as long as the instrument used was no wider than a thumb?

“It became necessary to destroy the hoax in order to save my ass.”

Whether Native American hoaxer BethAnn McLaughlin or African American hoaxer Jessica Krug, one universal law seems to pertain to those who, in order to give themselves advantages in life, pretend for years to be suffering minorities rather than privileged white people: Once onlookers finally figure out you’re a fraud, it’s killing fields time. Gotta saturate-bomb that fucker pronto.

Which is why Krug’s logorrheic lie-fest reads like a burlesque suicide note: On the one hand, she’s gotta go hard on the I wanna die I deserve to die thing, in hopes of generating sympathy for her guilt embarrassment anguish desperation etc. On the other, she’s gotta signal that she’s (in her own words) authentically cancelling herself – I mean now, totally, for real! I’ve got the pills in my hand!!


Maybe I’m sitting a tad short of actual suicide.

This is where – like so many criminals – Krug pushes the Mental Health button. I might not be a suffering black woman, but I’m for damn sure a suffering dissociative identity disorder victim. You wouldn’t want me to kill myself when modern psychiatry can save me from the twisted effects of my conveniently dead parents.

The problem people like Krug are up against is obvious: The reason so many people do variants of what she’s done is that it’s highly rational, self-advantaging behavior: The possession of a black identity in the academy (and in the arts, and in a few other professions) represents a profound advantage at every step of one’s career. It’s a narrow advantage, to be sure – as Michelle Obama recently pointed out, you can be a wildly advantaged black woman and still encounter racist disdain the live-long day – but a very important and real one. It will almost certainly take you places. There’s nothing nuts about grasping that fact and acting on it.

The other advantage – about which acquaintances who had occasion to observe Krug have spoken – is bullying self-righteousness. The sadists among us get off on constantly and unflinchingly walloping the people around them for their racism, lack of wokeness, white privilege, etc.

By “people around them” I don’t mean actual racists running around carrying flags on the streets of our cities. I mean the well-meaning liberal sorts who are the actual people that tend to be around the sadists. I mean Steven Pinker.

People who behave in these ways – appropriating a suffering identity in order to promote their career and indulge their sadism – are so blatantly repellent that we really must ask why, in the case of Krug, they thrive as long as they do. Her triumphal run lasted around twenty years. What the fuck are we missing that we allow people like Krug to rampage through our institutions – not to mention through our hearts and our souls?

Well, UD‘s GW is going to have to grapple with that one. Krug is deeply damaging an already compromised university — her story has been all over the global media for the last two days, and it has made GW an object of ridicule. You’re supposed to protect your school from frauds.

And by the way. GW students knew she was a fraud. Scan her Rate My Professors page.

Shit Fishing in America

Wee UD was so excited to read the opening pages of Christopher Lasch’s Culture of Narcissism (1979). Already tutored in the Wastelander philosophy of her Northwestern University professor Erich Heller (a refugee from Hitler, he came by his despair honestly), she was way ready for the everything’s shit in America thing Lasch had going. She enjoyed imagining herself far superior to the shallow narcissists at the heart of his analysis; and she for sure enjoyed his incessant invocation of an entirely catastrophic US of A.

It took UD years to recognize that total, eloquent denunciations of the total despicableness of this or that culture are seductive and dangerous things. Fascists and communists specialized in them. Sharia-touts will gas on all night about the comprehensive decadence of America and Europe. Cathophates (UD‘s term for Catholics who want to gift us with a Catholic caliphate) write books and books and books with the following come-on: Hey, citizen of a democratic secular state – aren’t you depressed and lonely and empty? Wouldn’t you like to be part of a warm embracing community that will endow your suicidal existence with meaning and purpose and eternal life so you won’t even have death-anxiety?

Elder-UD has learned to appreciate people like Cancel-Culture-Target-du-Jour Steven Pinker. While no Pangloss, he’s not simply one more intellectual trying to snow you with the hopelessness of it all.

Of course UD still thinks things are pretty stinkin’ – what with the ascendancy of Trump – and she still thinks dark-eyed despair sexier than clear-eyed calm… But she’s wary, now, of high-gloss misery peddlers. Cuz most of them are selling something. Something extreme.

Post-Foible Tristesse: Letter-Writing Academics and the Morning After.

Remember the “terrible” (as Masha Gessen called it) Avital Ronell letter? (UD‘s posts about it are here.) Remember the regret its authors eventually expressed after it turned out they got the facts (about whether Ronell sexually harassed a graduate student) wrong, and in a very unseemly way threw their institutional weight around, and thus further abused an innocent grad student?

So… the fools who wrote the anti-Steven Pinker letter everyone’s currently laughing at maybe could have consulted that bit of history before marking up their own missive, with its overripe racism claims and its rich mix of real and forged signatures. Ask the authors of the Ronell letter whether it pays to be a bit … epistoleery

“Offense Archeology” is the kind of lovely new phrase that almost makes our latest wave of witch hunts worth it.

OA involves, as this afternoon’s target writes, “trolling through tweets and through statements [of prominent people] seeking to find evidence—however tortured—that there are signs of prejudice behind them.” Prominent Steven Pinker (yeah, he’s a linguist; but for me what matters is that he is among the highest-profile and most articulate of atheists) is in the process of being unpersoned because of his awful awful awfulness; though curiously, given his awesome awfulness, almost no one who signed on to the cretinous screed unpersoning him is willing to talk about it. Or even admit, in a number of cases, to having actually signed on. Self-cancel culture!

The origin of the letter remains a mystery. Of 10 signers contacted by The Times, only one hinted that she knew the identity of the authors. Many of the linguists proved shy about talking, and since the letter first surfaced on Twitter on July 3, several prominent linguists have said their names had been included without their knowledge.

Several department chairs in linguistics and philosophy signed the letter, including Professor Barry Smith of the University at Buffalo and Professor Lisa Davidson of New York University. Professor Smith did not return calls and an email and Professor Davidson declined to comment when The Times reached out.

Hit and run, baby. Hit and…. RUNNNNNNN!!



… one of the most progressive publications out there. All decent progressives are right to be enraged; mindless promiscuous attacks on the moral integrity of one’s betters do great damage to liberalism. The purulence of this group of academics in fact makes liberalism stupid and disgusting, which makes the world safe for the reelection of Trump.


Ahem. Mes petites.

We have arrived at that point in the Jeffrey Epstein story where barely conceivable plausibility goes leaping out of the window, marooning us in the fictional world of Don DeLillo’s Zero K, in which a cryogenics-obsessed billionaire sets up his own vast body-freezing laboratory and gets to work being immortal.

Like all great artists, DeLillo has his finger pressed firmly on the pulse of the future – in particular, the way, in America, unimaginable personal wealth, staggeringly sophisticated technology, and an entirely unmitigated death-fear (see also, among DeLillo’s other novels, Cosmopolis) is generating people like Jeffrey Epstein, at once the toast of the world’s greatest, most celebrated scientists, and out of their fucking minds.

Yes, trailed by Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss (hm), Steven Pinker, Stephen Jay Gould… trailed by all of them as they sniffed out his beyond-big research bucks and enjoyed his private island, Epstein made it clear to anyone who’d listen that he had a bag of Caligulagenic I am a god tricks up his sleeve.

He hoped to seed the human race with his DNA by impregnating women at his vast New Mexico ranch…

He told one scientist that he was bankrolling efforts to identify a mysterious particle that might trigger the feeling that someone is watching you.

At one session at Harvard, Mr. Epstein criticized efforts to reduce starvation and provide health care to the poor because doing so increased the risk of overpopulation, said Mr. Pinker, who was there. Mr. Pinker said he had rebutted the argument, citing research showing that high rates of infant mortality simply caused people to have more children. Mr. Epstein seemed annoyed, and a Harvard colleague later told Mr. Pinker that he had been “voted off the island” and was no longer welcome at Mr. Epstein’s gatherings.

Then there was Mr. Epstein’s interest in eugenics.

On multiple occasions starting in the early 2000s, Mr. Epstein told scientists and businessmen about his ambitions to use his New Mexico ranch as a base where women would be inseminated with his sperm and would give birth to his babies, according to two award-winning scientists and an adviser to large companies and wealthy individuals, all of whom Mr. Epstein told about it… Mr. Epstein’s goal was to have 20 women at a time impregnated at his 33,000-square-foot Zorro Ranch in a tiny town outside Santa Fe.

[He was also interested in] cryonics, an unproven science in which people’s bodies are frozen to be brought back to life in the future. Mr. Epstein told [one] person that he wanted his head and penis to be frozen.


A sweet and amusing 1940 short story, “Inflexible Logic,” features a very rich dilettante, Mr Bainbridge, with an interest in ideas who, overhearing mathematicians talking about the infinite monkey theorem, decides to fill his house with monkeys and typewriters and see how long it might take for one of them to write a Shakespeare play or whatever. As it happens, all of the monkeys immediately start producing, without a single error, the world’s great literature.

Mr. Bainbridge led Professor Mallard downstairs, along a corridor, through a disused music room, and into a large conservatory. The middle of the floor had been cleared of plants and was occupied by a row of six typewriter tables, each one supporting a hooded machine. At the left of each typewriter was a neat stack of yellow copy paper. Empty wastebaskets were under each table. The chairs were the unpadded, spring-backed kind favored by experienced stenographers. A large bunch of ripe bananas was hanging in one corner, and in another stood a Great Bear water-cooler and a rack of Lily cups. Six piles of typescript, each about a foot high, were ranged along the wall on an improvised shelf. Mr. Bainbridge picked up one of the piles, which he could just conveniently lift, and set it on a table before Professor Mallard. “The output to date of Chimpanzee A, known as Bill,” he said simply.

“‘”Oliver Twist,” by Charles Dickens,’ ” Professor Mallard read out. He read the first and second pages of the manuscript, then feverishly leafed through to the end. “You mean to tell me,” he said, “that this chimpanzee has written–“

“Word for word and comma for comma,” said Mr. Bainbridge. “Young, my butler, and I took turns comparing it with the edition I own. Having finished ‘Oliver Twist,’ Bill is, as you see, starting the sociological works of Vilfredo Pareto, in Italian. At the rate he has been going, it should keep him busy for the rest of the month.”

“And all the chimpanzees”–Professor Mallard was pale, and enunciated with difficulty–“they aren’t all–“

“Oh, yes, all writing books which I have every reason to believe are in the British Museum. The prose of John Donne, some Anatole France, Conan Doyle, Galen, the collected plays of Somerset Maugham, Marcel Proust, the memoirs of the late Marie of Rumania, and a monograph by a Dr. Wiley on the marsh grasses of Maine and Massachusetts. I can sum it up for you, Mallard, by telling you that since I started this experiment, four weeks and some days ago, none of the chimpanzees has spoiled a single sheet of paper.”

Innocent days, huh? Daft, obsessed billionaires concocted harmless (well, the story does end in a bloodbath…) experiments then; but coming up on 2020, we’re in DeLilloland, and things have taken a rather insidious turn.

Can we still laugh at Jeffrey Epstein and his buddies like Alan Dershowitz, with their own demented grandiosity?

Of course we can. Nothing is funnier than a good Kafka short story, and that’s what we’ve got unfolding in front of us – Kafkan absurdity with a postmodern twist. To be sure, the insidious thing is absolutely there – as in, you probably don’t want to be a woman around Dersh or Ep. But Dersh is going down in flames, and Ep, well…

Linguistics at Sussex

It’s unclear to UD why Sussex University without any consultation has shut down its linguistics program.

Usually UD doesn’t blog about such things, not having the time to explore in depth particular – and perhaps complicated – decisions of this sort at any given university. But in this case she makes an exception, since this seems an uncontroversially strong program in a crucial academic field.

The poet W.D. Snodgrass…

… has died. Here’s a memorable poem of his.

April Inventory

The green catalpa tree has turned
All white; the cherry blooms once more.
In one whole year I haven’t learned
A blessed thing they pay you for.
The blossoms snow down in my hair;
The trees and I will soon be bare.

The trees have more than I to spare.
The sleek, expensive girls I teach,
Younger and pinker every year,
Bloom gradually out of reach.
The pear tree lets its petals drop
Like dandruff on a tabletop.

The girls have grown so young by now
I have to nudge myself to stare.
This year they smile and mind me how
My teeth are falling with my hair.
In thirty years I may not get
Younger, shrewder, or out of debt.

The tenth time, just a year ago,
I made myself a little list
Of all the things I’d ought to know,
Then told my parents, analyst,
And everyone who’s trusted me
I’d be substantial, presently.

I haven’t read one book about
A book or memorized one plot.
Or found a mind I did not doubt.
I learned one date. And then forgot.
And one by one the solid scholars
Get the degrees, the jobs, the dollars.

And smile above their starchy collars.
I taught my classes Whitehead’s notions;
One lovely girl, a song of Mahler’s.
Lacking a source-book or promotions,
I showed one child the colors of
A luna moth and how to love.

I taught myself to name my name,
To bark back, loosen love and crying;
To ease my woman so she came,
To ease an old man who was dying.
I have not learned how often I
Can win, can love, but choose to die.

I have not learned there is a lie
Love shall be blonder, slimmer, younger;
That my equivocating eye
Loves only by my body’s hunger;
That I have forces, true to feel,
Or that the lovely world is real.

While scholars speak authority
And wear their ulcers on their sleeves,
My eyes in spectacles shall see
These trees procure and spend their leaves.
There is a value underneath
The gold and silver in my teeth.

Though trees turn bare and girls turn wives,
We shall afford our costly seasons;
There is a gentleness survives
That will outspeak and has its reasons.
There is a loveliness exists,
Preserves us, not for specialists.

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