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Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente.

Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente.

margaret wente

The perilous whiteness of … pumpkins? Add to ...

Hey, you! You, with the Starbucks pumpkin-spiced latte in your hand. That ridiculous concoction – with its fluffiness, lack of substance, and triviality – is the ultimate expression of white privilege. So shame on you.

I learned about the true meaning of the pumpkin-spiced latte in a scholarly paper, called The Perilous Whiteness of Pumpkins. It was peer-reviewed and published in a genuine academic journal. Lisa Jordan Powell, its lead author, is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia. “Starbucks PSLs are products of coffee shop culture, with its gendered and racial codes,” it warns. They make up just one part of the “pumpkin entertainment complex, whose multiple manifestations continue the entanglements of pumpkins, social capital, race, and place.”

Ms. Powell (who did not respond to an offer to comment on her paper) is merely one of countless academics toiling in the fertile field of race and gender studies. I don’t mean to pick on her in particular. Like everybody else, she must publish or perish. They churn out this stuff like Halloween candy. We pay for it.

Vast tracts of the social sciences have gone insane. If you doubt it, I urge you to check out New Real Peer Review, a Twitter feed whose purpose is to expose the absurdity of what passes for scholarly research. It’s run by a small team of anonymous academics who fear their careers will suffer if people know who they are. They have no shortage of material. Their greatest hit to date is a piece claiming that glaciology – the study of glaciers – is misogynist, and that we need to “feminize” it. (Some people thought that paper was a hoax, but sadly it was not.)

Other scholars have argued that Pilates embodies attitudes of white supremacy (because it teaches women to stabilize the hips), and that ski slopes are sexist. The author of the skiing study, Memorial University professor Mark Stoddart, concludes that because men are stronger than women, ski terrains have been designed as “masculinized spaces.”

It’s no surprise that race and gender studies, along with the other social sciences, are a vast monoculture of left-wing thought. They are relentlessly determined to deny the most basic facts about biology, human nature, sex differences and the sizable influence of genetics in our lives. In their world, even the most basic differences between the sexes are socially constructed. Some scholars even argue that sex segregation in sports is a bad idea. It’s a given that gender (as opposed to sex) is entirely constructed – which means, among other things, that our stubborn persistence in identifying pregnant people as “women,” or people with testicles as “men,” is deeply misinformed.

How does this stuff get published? Because critical thinking has gone out the door. The standard methods of research and inquiry do not apply. In fact, they are widely thought to be sexist and racist, because they’re rooted in white male ways of thinking. Science that built on the foundations of masculine rationality and abstract logic can’t possibly reflect the experience of women and minorities. Therefore, feelings, anecdotes and “lived experience” vastly outweigh what used to be known as “objective truth.”

Why am I so irate about this? One reason is that such work is a discredit to genuine academics and the pursuit of knowledge. Another is that race, gender and oppression studies have metastasized far beyond their little enclaves and spread to many other disciplines, including much of the humanities and parts of the sciences. Some universities have launched feminist biology programs because regular biology is too sexist. No one seems to mind that kids are squandering their time and our resources (to say nothing of their parents’ resources) on rubbish. I believe the damage to the public image of our universities is not inconsiderable – something their administrations might want to ponder in these straitened times.

The worst part is that these bad ideas metastasize into the wider world, into politics and public policy and ordinary life. Today we think the only way to fight racism and sexism is to identify everyone by race and sex – and that the only way to respond to people who claim victim status is to grant them special privileges. And so we find ourselves with the pronoun-rights movement. It will insist that people use the terms “they,” or “ne” or “ve” or “ze,” or whatever a person desires, and it will call them wicked and intolerant if they don’t. And God help them if they drink pumpkin lattes.

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