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BBC’s Steve Sackur Undermines Academic Free Speech Advocate Prof. Peter Boghossian

I see absolutely no evidence whatsoever [that there is a free speech crisis in Academia].

Steve Sackur BBC HARDTalk to Philosopher Peter Boghossian July 5, 2023

We Have the Data to Prove It: Universities Discriminate Against Conservatives 

Prof. Eric Kaufmann, University of London, Jan, 3, 2021

Steve Sackur’s discussion with free speech advocate Peter Boghossian is interesting because although Boghossian is on the Left he did not get the SOFTtalk Sackur usually reserves for liberals and leftists (like black transperson Roxanne Gay).  Since Boghossian, being a traditional liberal who criticizes the “woke” nonsense dominating most university campuses nowadays, he got the HARDtalk usually reserved for conservatives.  

Boghossian was a central player in the “Grievance Studies affair” several years ago.  In 2021 Boghossian resigned his position at Portland State University (PSU), citing retaliation he endured after speaking out against the illiberalism that had captured PSU. 

Boghossian had also earlier participated in the “Sokol Squared” scandal that involved submitting silly impossible papers to academic journals in gender studies and related fields in order to show that they have little or no academic standards.  One of these papers published in Gender, Place and Culture, asks the pressing question whether people oppress “queer” pooches that sexually assault other pooches at the dog park.  Another paper accepted by feminist journal, Affilia, plagiarised passages from Hitler’s Mein Kampf that had been translated into the current feminist jargon.  The point was obviously to show that some feminist journals are, while feigning justified outrage, thinking like NAZI’s.  By the time that the hoax was exposed seven of the twenty absurd papers had been accepted, seven were still undergoing review and six had been rejected. 

Naturally, having exposed appalling standards in privileged parts of academia, PSU attacked Boghossian, accusing him of violating ethical guidelines by conducting research on human subjects without approval.  In fact, Boghossian was trying to show that these journals violate longstanding professional standards but, as Boghossian tells Sackur, they were never questioned.   

Sackur establishes the tone of the discussion when he begins saying that Boghossian says he wants to restore critical thinking but asks if he is stoking a dangerous culture war.  Apparently exposing academics that think like NAZI’s and violate longstanding academic standards is starting a culture war!  Well, one better not ask any questions then!  Hitler is probably kicking himself for not using that argument in 1934!   

Sackur then criticized Boghossian for using the word “woke” in a negative way when in fact it was first used by black people to mean that people should get woke to injustice.  Sackur asks him:  You invest the word with negativity, why? Apparently, the new rule is that everyone must use words the way leftists want them used.  Needless to say, leftists are never asked why they use words, like the word “Christian” to mean something negative like “Christo-fascism.” Further, it does not occur to Sackur that some “social justice” is actually injustice

Sackur then chastises Boghossian for not believing that “systemic racism,” a term leftists use as a club to beat their opponents into submission, still exists in the US.  Shockingly, Boghossian does not believe this politically useful “woke” religion.  He asks Sackur to give an example of some law, something that characterizes the system per se, not a few individuals here and there, that is racist.  Naturally, Sackur does not give any example but shifts the goal-posts and asks Boghossian whether he can prove that the law is never applied in a racist way.  Of course, Boghossian cannot prove the negative that some deputy somewhere doesn’t harass black people.  Nice try Steve!  Nor does Boghossian deny that sort of thing happens.  Sackur does not apparently grasp that when this happens it reflects on that deputy, not the system per se

However, the real crux of Sackur’s attack comes when he tries to turn the tables on Boghossian, claiming that whereas Boghossian claims that the “woke” left is intolerant, it is Boghossian that “has a set of preformed ideas,” specifically, Boghossian is trying to “undermine woke culture”.  In fact, that is a fundamental misunderstanding of Boghossians project, not to mention the necessary principles of a free society. 

When Boghossian sets out to criticize “woke culture” he does not mean that they do not have the right to reply.  He is not attempting to silence them the way they silence others.  Sackur cannot apparently tell the difference between blowing air-horns when a conservative is speaking on college campuses and arguing (with these things called “words”) that people should not blow air-horns when people speak on college campuses.   Since leftists will lose that argument because of this little thing called the US constitution, they cannot play fair.  Further, if Sackur’s argument were correct, the only way Boghossian could escape the charge of dogmatism would be to agree not to criticize “woke” culture.  How convenient for the “woke” crowd!

Despite the fact that Sackur said he sees no evidence whatsoever for a free speech crisis in academia he, in a singular lack of curiosity, asks Boghossian no questions whatsoever when Boghossian states that the has been physically attacked, intimidated and spat upon. 

Sackur later argues that Boghossian cannot really be a liberal because one of his “bedfellows” is authoritarian Viktor Orban of Hungary.  Boghossian’s reply is simple and decisive.  First, he is not required to defend all of Organ’s policies.  Second, he was told that he could speak on any subject whatsoever when he was in Hungary and did so.  His point is that our American universities don’t live up to that standard.  By the way, is Obama not a liberal because he hobnobbed with Cuban dictators and took a selfie in front of leftist mass murderer Che Guevara when in Cuba?  Please let us know as soon as possible Steve!

Sackur’s treatment of Boghossian is markedly different from his recent treatment of black gay trans-activist Roxanne Gay.  After a gentle discussion, Sackur says that even many feminists agree that biology matters and “must trump gender self-identification”, e.g., when someone with male genitalia decides they are a woman.  “Do you agree with that?”

Roxanne replies: “I do not at all.  I believe trans women are women and this obsession with biology … spend[ing] an inordinate amount of time on things that aren’t even happening.  All of the dangerous people I have known, the men I have known, don’t dress up as women.”  

Astonishingly, Sackur replies, “That’s controversial and I don’t want to get hung up on statistics about what people have committed what crimes when they have been self-identifying not as the gender they were born with.  Let’s not go there.”  Of course, let’s not trouble ourselves about the rejection of this controversial little thing called biological science that has been under development in a consensual enterprise for 2,400 years since Aristotle!  Who needs it?

Sakur then asks her whether it is helpful to call people who bring up biological science as “gender fascists”.  She replies, “I do. Anytime you try to control gender unilaterally and dictate what gender is there’s a problem, I don’t know why there’s ever a problem about inclusion.” 

However, citing science textbooks is not “dictating” or making one a “gender fascist” trying to “control gender unilaterally”. That’s the point of calling it “science”.   Sackur might have asked whether she is being inclusive when she just excluded people because they passed high school biology.  Instead, he concludes: “Yours [Roxanne’s] is an influential voice in this debate and many others.  You’re one of America’s most prominent cultural commentators.  And you have done so much and achieved so much despite all the trauma’s done to you.”

The “woke” apologists are everywhere. 

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Richard McDonough

Richard Michael McDonough, American philosophy educator. Achievements include production of original interpretation of Wittgenstein’s logical-metaphysical system, original application Kantian Copernican Revolution to philosophy of language; significant interdisciplinary work logic, linguistics, psychology & philosophy. Member Australasian Debating Federation (honorary life, adjudicator since 1991), Phi Kappa Phi.

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