Saturday, October 07, 2017


"Words don't matter." I heard Karl Popper make this shocking statement in a class in London in 1964. In all likelihood, he was reacting against the current philosophical fashion in Oxford and Cambridge for "ordinary language." I suppose that Popper's remark was deliberately provocative, a little like the Zen master who instructed that if one meets Buddha on the path, one should kill him. 
At any rate, the observation chimes oddly with Popper's own quest for precision in language, all the more remarkable as English was his second tongue. 
When in the 1970s I and a group of scholarly friends realized that there was an intellectual component, a necessary one, in gay liberation. We sought to look into the history of words. In those days words were implements of our degradation, whether learned (e.g. perversion, degenerate), or demotic (faggot, fairy). The need to deglamorize these tokens of pejoration led to an effort to trace their history, as I attempted in my sketchy early book, Homolexis. 
There was always the solution, somewhat deceiving I think, to introduce neologisms. Today we are faced with an array of such terms, ranging from the cis- prefix to intersectionality. In time these gargoyles will fade, but the renovation of language continues apace - not always to our advantage. Hence the importance of studying the classics, because they preserve tried and true ways of putting matters, ways that should not be forgotten.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Our colleges and viewpoint diversity

Some colleges and universities are in fact dominated by conservative thought. Yet none of the examples commonly cited is a publicly supported university. 
These latter institutions are supported by tax-levy money, at least in large measure, and they do not encourage viewpoint diversity as they should. I taught in one such institution (CUNY) for many years, and survival required fancy footwork, even though I am not a conservative.
In another way too, there is no symmetry. Conservatives are fighting an uphill battle, for they have lost the culture war. The viewpoints they put forward must be defended since they cannot count on immediate acceptance. 
By contrast, those on the liberal-left zone of the spectrum tacitly assume that the way they see things is simply the way they are. Perceiving little reason to depart from their own bubble, these bien-pensants are suffused with confirmation bias. 
In the long run this is not a healthy situation. Yet because tenure creates so many sinecures, it is not likely to change soon.