Professor Jonathan Anomaly’s Oct. 24 letter criticized columnist Prashanth Kamalakanthan for urging a “walk out” on Charles Murray, controversial co-author of “The Bell Curve.” Anomaly’s letter is at worst an apology for institutional domination and at best an unwitting invalidation of the “free discussion” Anomaly defends.
Disputing claims that Murray’s work is racist, Anomaly notes that “nearly all IQ researchers,” including Murray, find East Asians and Ashkenazi Jews to have the highest IQs in the world. But this is little more than the scientifico-academic version of “I have black friends.” Oppressors have been singing the virtues of the oppressed since who-knows-when (e.g. women’s “natural” affinity for stay-at-home mothering). Besides, Murray may “discover” that Asians and Jews have the highest IQs, but we didn’t need genetics or psychology to tell us that—these are disturbingly familiar tropes of Western imagination. The notion that the Jews were “smarter” was at the heart of Nazi anti-Semitism (think Shylock). The notion that Asians are “smarter”—better at science, technology, etc.—undergirds Western anxieties over Chinese development (the sleeping dragon always gets A’s).
Anomaly’s letter itself reveals the lie at the heart of liberal “free discussion.” In his article and in the comments section online, Anomaly has called Kamalakanthan’s column “polemical,” “fallacious,” “insidious,” “misleading,” “misguided,” “conspiratorial,” “hysterical,” “dogmatic,” “one-sided,” and “emotionally charged,” while congratulating himself as a “scholar” who’s “actually studied this stuff” and insinuating his challengers “could use a dose” of “virtues” like “wisdom and intellectual humility.” It’s not that Anomaly is breaching the rules of the “rational discussion” he defends, nor that he’s being rude; it’s that Anomaly, a visiting professor of political science, has social and institutional power, while Kamalakanthan by comparison does not.
Anomaly is clearly well aware of this: The schoolmaster paddles the student and calls it “learning.” The American Enterprise Institute did the same in its Oct. 25 letter, its tone more or less suggesting that Kamalakanthan really just needed to stop pushing kids over on the great playground of ideas. As others have previously commented online, it’s this liberal proceduralism that Kamalakanthan originally critiqued, where a voice of reason (Anomaly) “attributes suppressionist intent to dissenting voices” (Kamalakanthan) as a way of policing so-called “free discussion.” But as far as Anomaly or the AEI is concerned, when they patronize Kamalakanthan, it’s not polemics—it’s just pedagogy. Anomaly makes this same argument for Murray: It’s not racism or sexism—it’s just science.
And that’s “free discussion.” It’s the social equivalent of the “free economic zones” of globalized capitalism (e.g., Shenzhen in China, Mexican maquiladoras), where relaxing the regulations on those with power means intensifying the control of those without. The free market of ideas serves those exceptional few with the most intellectual and social capital—and there’s nothing natural, biochemical or genetic about this—only by subjecting everyone else to even higher levels of social control and intellectual scrutiny, all the while asserting these same people’s “liberty” and “equal right to speak.” Anomaly’s “free discussion” is founded on the intellectual bondage of those of us who are, as it were, non-anomalous.
But if even Athens was built by slaves, writes Rousseau, “What then? Is liberty maintained only by the help of slavery?”
“It may be so,” he continues. “Extremes meet.”