[Marxism] From Alan Sokal

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Oct 17 17:54:06 MDT 2005

>Dear Lou,
>Many thanks for forwarding your post to me.  I didn't know about
>Norm Levitt's latest Spiked article, but I have now taken a look at it.
>My impression is that Norm is still a social democrat on economic issues,
>but increasingly pissed-off with PC of all kinds.  As far as I can tell,
>he's not a rightist, but simply a grumpy old fart (as he himself has
>described himself elsewhere).  For instance:
>    ... the chief effect of PC-sponsored initiatives has been to
>    make the sponsors unpopular while doing virtually nothing
>    concrete to ameliorate the painful real-world situations that
>    provoke these projects in the first place.
>    Most folks on a typical US campus think of PC as tiresome and
>    even silly, and regard its advocates as self-righteous and
>    censorious to the point of nastiness. The chief beneficiaries
>    of PC antics, indeed, are the right-wing talk show hosts,
>    bloggers and columnists who gleefully decry them at every
>    opportunity.
>And he does keep the various dangers in perspective:
>    The cult of 'cultural competence' is now beginning to afflict
>    universities because they lack the immune system necessary to
>    suppress such inane crap before it gets a foothold. It is
>    distinctly possible that the even more inane crap called
>    Intelligent Design theory might also afflict them before too
>    long, especially if the power of the PC Mafia starts to slip
>    while that of the Dark Side waxes.
>I certainly wouldn't have written an article like his, but it seems
>to me that large parts of it could be agreed to by social democrats
>and even by Marxists, once they get over their aversion to its TONE.
>(After all, Marxists have their own criticisms of pomo leftists,
>which are not really so different from Levitt's.)  Even in the
>incendiary phrase you quote,
>    You doubt that Malcolm X was a paragon of humanitarianism,
>    that gender is a construction, that Native American myth is true?
>    You're culturally incompetent...
>if you put aside the case of Malcolm X, most Marxists would (I presume)
>agree with Levitt on the other two, i.e. that
>    1) sex is an objective biological fact that is not PURELY
>       a social construction (please note that admitting this obvious fact
>       does NOT imply any particular sex roles or contradict most feminist
>       goals;  nor does it deny that gender is IN PART a social construction)
>    2) Native American (and Christian and Hindu and ...) myths,
>       if interpreted as objective statements about history, are false.
>       Or more precisely, as Norm puts it, "the early demographic history
>       of the Americas is more accurately revealed by scientific
>       anthropology than by the Native American folklore and myth
>       celebrated by tribal militants".
>What Marxist would disagree with that?
>I would be grateful if you could forward this clarification to the
>Marxism list, as people might be interested in it.
>         Best wishes,
>         Alan
>P.S.   I'm sorry that you didn't come up to me when we last crossed paths:
> > I didn't speak to Alan at the time because I was not really
> > in the mood to confront him about the sordid company he was keeping.
> > I only hope that he has wised up over the past 4 years.
>It doesn't seem to me that attending a few talks at a conference
>(exactly the same as you did) constitutes "keeping the company"
>of anyone.  And instead of worrying so much about what "company"
>people keep, why not just discuss their ideas, and criticize the ones
>you think are wrong?  I would be extremely happy if you were to offer
>criticisms of my ideas.  For instance, you might be interested in
>an essay I recently wrote, "Pseudoscience and Postmodernism:
>Antagonists or Fellow-Travelers?"
>-- most of it is philosophical and cultural rather than directly
>political, but Sections 3 and 6 have some political relevance.
>Also, in the French edition to the book, Jean Bricmont wrote an
>excellent preface that is explicitly anti-imperialist.

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