“This is the unraveling of civilization, if we allow for the full-scale corruption—political and ideological corruption—of our knowledge-producing sector,” says James Lindsay.
Lindsay is the founder of the website New Discourses, author of “The Marxification of Education” and “Race Marxism,” and co-author of “Cynical Theories.”
He’s also one of the minds behind the “Grievance Studies Affair” or “Sokal-squared Hoax,” in which they managed to get a number of fake papers published in critical-theory-based journals. The story is detailed in Mike Nayna’s new documentary “The Reformers.”
We discuss the corruption of education and the evolution of Marxism to the new variants we see today.
Jan Jekielek: James Lindsay, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
James Lindsay: I’m always excited to be here, Jan.
Mr. Jekielek: James, there’s a whole bunch of reasons I want to have you in this seat right now. We have this new film by Mike Nayna about the Sokal Squared Hoax. You were one of the three who created it some years back. It opened my eyes to a whole crazy reality that I wasn’t fully aware of. You have a new book, The Marxification of Education, about Paulo Freire and his role in why our education system is the way it is.
Finally, you gave this amazing presentation to an EU political party about the genus of Marxism. We’re going to talk about all this. Let’s start with the film and the Sokal Squared Hoax. People will remember there were these hoax papers. Please remind us what it was.
Mr. Lindsay: Yes, 2017 to 2018 is the timeline, just to place everybody where we were in time. Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose, two colleagues of mine and I decided that one of the best ways to expose the corruption academia and to credential ourselves as people who can criticize the corruption coming out of academia, would be to get a large number, as many as we could, of academic journal papers written and published in leading academic journals; feminist theory, feminist philosophy, gender studies, critical race theory, and education journals.
We took a year, and we wrote 20. Seven of them were accepted for publication, and four of them actually got published. It’s a slow process. All of the seven would have been published. One of them was given an award for excellence in scholarship. The Wall Street Journal figured out what we were up to, caught us, and we came clean.
In October of 2018, they broke the story. Our project came to a screeching halt. The final scoreboard is; seven accepted, seven still under peer review, and six that we decided we hadn’t succeeded with and retired. How many of those other seven would have been accepted? The sociologist suggested either four or five of them would have been. In other words, we cracked the code.
We were aiming to expose that the scholarship, upon which we build our knowledge base, our public policy, our journalism, and what we think is real in society, is suffering from a tremendously fatal political corruption, to the extent that we could make up fake articles with just ridiculous conclusions that were, of course, politically fashionable. Some of these things were very funny, and some of them were very heinous, upsetting, and disturbing. We got them through the peer review process and they were regarded as genuine academic literature.
Mr. Jekielek: You basically figured out that if you put certain keywords and structured the logic in a certain way, you would get in. Because basically anything with that logic, structure, and concepts that sounded good would get in. Is that the idea?
Mr. Lindsay: Yes. The six that failed showed us that there’s a learning process. In fact, those were the first six that we wrote. At some point we started to get the hang of it and started asking, “What are the peer reviewers looking for? What do the journal editors believe is the way that the world actually operates? How do we phrase this? How do we dive into the existing body of sham literature to back up those ideas so that the scholars would consider it real?”
We became very successful at this, to the point where, near the end of the project, apparently I’m on camera saying that we had in fact cracked the code and we could get anything we want published at that point.
It’s not to say we could publish anything. It has to follow certain things. Some of the papers that didn’t get all the way through were under the review process. One of them is very prescient for our time because it was saying that we need to—and this is meant to be funny—be very wary of advanced artificial intelligence. Rather than allowing artificial intelligence to be guided by masculine bias, which will end a calamity that destroys the world, we need to make an interactional feminist. We argued for a feminist AI.
We could dip into artificial intelligence research and just contribute nonsensical garbage based off of the book Frankenstein and other silly things, because we knew how to write it in a way that would flatter their stylistic and political biases.
It’s really almost a culture, and a certain language that they speak. We convinced ourselves that we had actually succeeded in doing this. We can speak their language and articulate it their way. More than just replicating it, we can think the way that they think.
Mr. Jekielek: Who are they?
Mr. Lindsay: In this case, we’re talking about feminist theorists, gender studies scholars, and critical race theorists. But in more broad terms, we’re talking about what the kids call woke these days—the woke scholars and the critical theorists who have taken off into these various domains of identity politics.
Mr. Jekielek: What you did was prescient, and it was remarkable. At the time, it was very valuable to me personally. Then, we met a few years after all this had happened. I remember seeing this, and realized there had been this very specific ideology that had even created entire disciplines of knowledge.
Mr. Lindsay: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: It was a mind-blowing concept.
Mr. Lindsay: That is the concept behind it, too. They call it constructed knowledge. This is why it’s so relevant. We had a filmmaker, Mike Nayna, who we told about this very early on. He started working with us about a month after we started. He’s following us around with cameras all the time, asking us impertinent questions. But they are actually probing questions, which is a better way to phrase it. He was getting inside of what was going on behind the scenes and trying to learn for himself the same thing that you’re asking, “What in the world is going on here?”
It took him four years due to Covid delays and different issues that came up, plus the industry pushback. The film industry wouldn’t let the final product come out. He could get no support whatsoever within the industry. He had to figure out a different way to organize it and distribute it. Also, he had to recut it because he had been cutting it to satisfy the unsatisfiable editors, and now he was free to do what he wanted.
It was delayed. But it’s almost fortuitous that it was delayed. Because honestly, the Grievance Studies Affair or the Sokal Squared Hoax Affair, the two names for it, have never been more relevant. I mentioned AI and that we saw this down the road, but every vein of relevant academic literature is now being touched by it. People are much more aware now than five years ago that this is an issue of the scale that it is.
It’s one thing to say that we got a feminist theory journal to believe in feminist AI. But these same kinds of articles are now regularly being published in the New England Journal of Medicine. That’s a very concerning issue. We’ve talked in the past about the idea that our medical system is going toward this ideological capture, this medical Lysenkoism that I refer to, a kind of Sovietization of our knowledge production.
There are the right answers and they say, “If you don’t agree with them, we’re going to get you out of the academy. We won’t publish you. You won’t be able to get tenure or a career, or worse, we’ll hound you out of your academic position if you have the wrong conclusions.”
You might think, “That’s happening in all these stupid humanities journals.” I shouldn’t call them stupid, but they are in this case. But when it’s happening in medical journals, or if it starts creeping into engineering journals, we now have some serious things to consider.
When we look at what the Biden administration and the Democrats and Congress are saying and doing repeatedly, they’re building off of this set of ideas. For example, the CDC will be informed by the things that are coming out of the New England Journal of Medicine, which has now imbibed this same political philosophy. I have zero doubt that I could have papers published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
I’m not a doctor, and I don’t know three things about medicine. I could write these articles for the New England Journal of Medicine starting today. Other than checking my credentials at the door, there is nothing they could do to stop me from completely polluting that literature. That’s a very concerning problem.
Mr. Jekielek: Because you understand how the ideology works?
Mr. Lindsay: Yes. I also recognize that the gatekeepers at the journals who should have been keeping these fake things out are captured as well. Maybe they agree, or they know that they must flatter, or they must kowtow to this way of thinking about the world, this identity politics that is ultimately derived from neo-Marxist thought. It’s so overwhelmingly hegemonic within the academic universe now, that for whatever the reason, either agreement or fear, it’s certain that we could get these papers straight through the gate over and over and over again.
Mr. Jekielek: I remember in 2020 when the virus was raging and the BLM riots had begun. Everyone is supposed to be at home and sheltering in place. Suddenly, there are 1200 medical professionals signing a letter saying, “The real health emergency is racism.”
Mr. Lindsay: Racism, yes.
Mr. Jekielek: People keep coming to me and saying, “This was the moment that a light bulb went off in my head and the world changed and I realized something really terrible was happening.”
Mr. Lindsay: That’s easily the most common moment that I have pointed to. People tell me, “The moment I realized was,” and it was exactly that time you just mentioned. This is exactly what the Grievance Studies Affair was trying to throw up a red flag and warn about. We tried to do it by getting attention on how absurd these papers were.
For example, the most famous of these papers chronicled this particular idea. The original idea behind it, and this is covered in Mike’s film, is that we were going to train men the way that we train dogs because of feminism. Men are bad behaving, they’re out causing rape culture and whatever else. If we get dog obedience manuals and train them like dogs with leashes and treats, then we can get them to desist from unwanted behaviors.
This kind of just exploded from there. Peter and I were trying to figure out, “How do we structure this?” He goes to the dog park with his dogs every day in Portland. I said, “Just work in some of your stuff from the dog park.” He wrote me this draft that was mentally deranged with just insane stuff about things dogs were doing.
The whole paper became focused on that rape culture is a serious problem in society. You could have an implicit bias test by seeing how people reacted to watching dogs have sex with each other at the dog park, or sexually assault one another. The peer reviewers were worried about things like, “How did you respect the dog’s privacy while you’re watching them do this? How do you know if the dogs are male or female?”
We said that we inspected their genitals. They said, “How did you respect their privacy when you did that? We don’t want to get the dogs embarrassed or something. How do you know when a sexual assault with a dog is wanted or not wanted? You’re not a dog, so how do you know?” So, we put, “As humans and not as dogs,” in the paper. It is absurd that this is in academic literature.
It really did get a lot of attention, because we said, “This proves that human beings act differently, depending on if the dogs are both male, or one dog is male and one dog is female. They react differently. This proves that men are homophobic. Somehow, that means there is rape culture, and that they condone rape, and therefore we have to train them like dogs.” This is the paper that was given an award. This is so absurd that it’s difficult to even sit here and describe to you this paper without thinking, “How on earth did anybody ever think that this was something real?”
We famously wrote a chapter of Hitler’s Mein Kampf as intersectional feminism. In chapter 12 he says, “Our movement needs to do this 13 point plan.” He’s talking about the growth of Nazi party before it becomes the Nazi party and says, “Our movement needs to know half-measures,” this, that, and the other thing. Everywherethat it said “our movement” we would just scratch that out and put in intersectional feminism. We started making all the language work, and weaving in scholarship in between. We changed a lot of wording around without changing the meaning, so it wouldn’t get caught by a plagiarism detector. A feminist social work journal accepted this chapter of Mein Kampf.
It’s obviously not Nazi ideology that it was being written about specifically, but it’s the totalitarian impulse that’s being written about and how to organize a movement for it. That’s what they saw in themselves, and we held that mirror up to them. They saw themselves reflected in totalitarian writing without realizing that’s what it was, and accepted it into a social work journal.
What do we see today in 2022 and 2003? We defund the police and we send in the social workers, again and again. I can give you those examples. Peter and I talked about writing a paper for a medical journal. If we could figure out how to get through the credentialing, we were going to do a rewrite of the Hippocratic Oath, “Do no harm,” to actually say that we should redistribute harm. We should do harm selectively, so that we create health equity. Doing no harm is not possible at a level of first principles, so we’re going to throw that out.
The origin of that phrasing, do no harm in medicine, we pinned it to a book that was written by a doctor in Britain in the 1850s, where he has a story in the book about how he dealt with the so-called savages when he went to India in the colonial times. We said, “Obviously, he’s racist. The whole program is racist. We have to get rid of the Hippocratic Oath and the whole concept of, do no harm.”
What did we just see? It was big in the news where in a medical school admission process they had the students recite a new replacement to the Hippocratic oath, and it’s exactly the things that we were talking about.
This is why that silly dog thing or this horrifying Mein Kampf thing is in social work, but now we also see this in medical journals. This is why this is so important. It’s zero surprise for people like me when they came out in 2020 and said, “Racism is a real public health threat,” because the critical race apparatus would say that. That’s exactly what they would say.
They would say, “What do we have to do? We have to,” as we said in the paper that we never actually submitted anywhere, “redistribute harms. We’re going to stack the medical system to favor certain types of outcomes for certain types of people, whether it’s by race, by sex, or by gender.” With the transgender issue, you see the new standards of care coming for these so-called gender-affirming care surgeries.
This is Lysenkoism. I invoke the name of Trofim Lysenko again. A lot of people don’t know who he was. He was an agriculturalist for the Soviet Union. He had an absolutely crackpot Soviet biology that he had more or less invented. It didn’t work, and was based on incorrect theories of genetics. It was based on Soviet ideology, in order to displace the western bourgeois ideology.
He believed that you could convince seeds and plants to be comrades and to share resources and grow better, or to transform from a lower type of plant like oats, to a higher form of plant, like rye. He was famous for remarking that given enough time he could teach oranges to grow in Siberia for the people. Of course, this is all preposterous.
But Stalin did not think he was preposterous, or maybe he did and didn’t care because he was a tool for power. Stalin implemented Lysenkoism in agriculture and starved tens of millions of people in the Soviet Union. Then, Mao comes along and says, “That’s Soviet biology, so that’s what we’re going to use,” even though it was a disaster in the Soviet Union. Mao starved tens of millions of people in China using these failed theories.
When I say that we’re dealing with a Lysenkoism in the medical field, we have to start wondering about this reprioritization of care, the so-called affirming care that’s not actually care. It’s a very aggressive treatment protocol for an issue that we are not even clear what it is, a mental illness or otherwise. It’s not a conservative protocol to start people on puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, mastectomies, and genital surgeries.
These are very serious interventions. It’s a very serious pathway of care to adopt. This is a Lysenkoist model though, because if you disagree with it, you will lose your medical license. If you wanted to prescribe ivermectin during Covid, you might lose your license to practice medicine. If you disagreed with the official word about Covid, you might lose your license to practice medicine. This is the same story. This is Lysenkoism in medicine. We’ll see it in other fields that get touched by this.
It’s a very alarming problem. The reason I do what I do now, studying this Marxist or neo-Marxist phenomenon, telling people about it, traveling all over the world talking about it, is because in the middle of the Grievance Studies Affair, one of these papers we wrote got feedback from the peer reviewer.
I was so shocked by the way they endorsed some of the worst ideas that we had written. They downplayed the idea of using compassion while applying the thumb screws, not literally, while abusing students in the classroom to overcome privilege. They said, “You can’t do it compassionately, because you’ll rescind the needs of the privileged.”
I decided that this kind of logic unravels civilization. It ends in millions of deaths. I asked my wife, “Can I quit my job?” People say I’m a coward sometimes. Talk about courage, just go to your wife and ask if you can quit your job because you think that the world’s going to end if you don’t. Now, see what she says to you. See if you have the nerve to ask your wife that.
I said, “Honey, I think that this ends in a genocide. Can I please quit my job and dedicate my life to telling people about this full-time?” A practical woman, she says, “Can you make money doing that?” I said, “Well, I don’t know.”
She gave me an 18-month runway. She’s the hero of this story, really, because it took 16 months to write a modest check. But it’s that serious. At the time I was doing this to expose something and largely to have fun. It turned very serious because this is the unraveling of civilization if we allow for the full scale political and ideological corruption of our knowledge producing sector.
Mr. Jekielek: You are actually a mathematician by training?
Mr. Lindsay: Yes. It’s been a while, but yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Do you know what this reminds me of? There are so many Babylon Bee joke articles that also seem to come true after a while. There’s something analogous in these hoax papers to those articles as well.
Mr. Lindsay: Yes, Seth Dillon and I have actually spoken about that on a number of occasions. We have a camaraderie where we’re going to be a little nerdy like Legolas and Gimli saying, “How many stories have come true for you?” It’s like a competition, where they’re counting the Orcs they’re shooting in the Lord of the Rings, “Oh, you got one. Oh, I got one. Oh, you got one.”
Because these things are coming true. We’re actually identifying the way they are processing information about the world and warping it to fit their ideological worldview, which is quite simplistic once you get past the complicated academic veneer. You can very easily see down the road as to what kinds of things that they will eventually think.
This is a very common thing. Satire is effective because it stretches reality. We’re getting technical about a field that’s adopted a completely social constructivist view of reality. They think that everything is a political contrivance designed by the people in power to continue their own power. It’s not based in reality at all. It’s just a political contrivance built by the people in power to keep their power.
When you’ve adopted that, the only reason not to stretch reality further is that you have a political reason for saying enough is enough, in other words, maintaining the status quo. Their slope is always slippery. With satire, if you stretch reality, all you’re doing is really telling what’s coming in some undetermined time in the future days, months, or maybe years.
Mr. Jekielek: I love the film that Mike made, and it took me back to that time. I’ve thought about how much has changed since then, and how much came true since then. Is there a moment in the film that stands out for you? Maybe we’ll show a quick vignette, because this is a film that I want people to watch.
Mr. Lindsay: Oh, gosh. It was an experience watching it, because Mike didn’t allow us to see any of this since back then. It’s been all these years and all of a sudden I’m thrown back there. There’s a moment that stands out with this very famous guy, Tim Pool. We did this event at Portland State University in February 2018.
In February 2018, Tim Pool showed up at this event. He just happened to be in Portland and wanted to see what was going on and cover it for his little show. It was little back then, but it’s big now. He sat in the back quietly listening, and he asked this question, “They’ve captured all the institutions,” and this is more pertinent today, “They’ve got the government, they’ve got the media. They’ve got this, and they’ve got that. They got the universities and the institutions. They’ve got it all. How do you stand up to them?”
I was shocked to see myself answer, “Galileo stood up to the church, didn’t he?” That’s exactly what I said. I said, “We have to stand up, we have to have that courage, and we have to take it on.” I said they were setting people on fire back then for standing up to the magisterium.
They have erected a new, very woke academic magisterium that’s gone political and infested our institutions. The only thing we can do is stand up and drag it back toward truth. We’ve got to take the truth as our armor and take this moment. That scene is in the third part of the film. Ironically, within an hour of Tim Pool asking us that question, our first paper got accepted, unbeknownst to us.
Tim Pool: Social media networks are siding against you.
Mr. Lindsay: Yes.
Tim Pool: They tend to err on the side of intersectionality.
Mr. Lindsay: That’s true.
Tim Pool: Businesses and brands tend to. It even seems that the school has also done this by shrinking the room you were given access to by not listing your event. How are you expecting to combat it at all?
Mr. Lindsay: While we were doing that event, we were not thinking that the dog park paper I described earlier was being accepted, maybe not while Tim Pool was asking the question. But while we were in that room in that other scene, it turns out that’s exactly when our first paper got accepted. It proved to us, “Oh my gosh, we can do this.” It was really a pivotal moment, and a pivotal evening that was depicted.
Mr. Jekielek: What is the big lesson of the Grievance Studies Affair or the whole Sokal Squared Hoax?
Mr. Lindsay: Everyone has the keys to say, “This is what’s true and this is what’s false.” Everybody should be able to determine for themselves with their senses, their eyes, their ears, and their own experiments to say, “This is the scientific or enlightenment or liberal or free ideal.” Everybody has the keys to go out and understand the world around them and to offer their arguments and hash it out.
But if those are locked behind an ideology, a catastrophe is coming. Undoubtedly, the lesson is that those at the highest level of the information and knowledge generating apparatus of Western civilization are now locked behind a door held by a very ideological contingent. They have a very clear agenda of transforming the world into what they want it to be, rather than what it is.
Mr. Jekielek: I’ve been reading, The Marxification of Education. This is a stark reminder that Marx viewed ideology exactly as you just said, and that Marxism was the answer to getting rid of all of that. Marxism was the lack of ideology somehow. But ironically, it’s perhaps the most potent ideology.
Mr. Lindsay: Right. That’s how Marx framed it. He said that this is the only non-i ideology. It is the end of ideology. We hear this argument all the time. Antifa is anti-fascist, how could it possibly act in a fascist way if it’s antifascist? Anti-racism is anti-racist, how could it possibly be racist if it’s anti-racist?
Marxism is the end of ideology. How can it be an ideology itself if it’s meant to end ideology? But what if his ideology was actually something different, that it’s what the powerful in society create in order to maintain their power? I call this the iron law of woke projection. Because every time communists take power, what do they do? They create a bunch of ideological excuses for why they need to continue to keep power.
I call this projection, and it’s very Freudian. That is what they’re doing when they say these things. They are confessing that this is how they believe the world works. They believe the world works by people taking power and shutting everybody else out of power.
What do you think they’re going to do when they get power? They’re going to take power and they’re going to shut everybody else out, because they think that’s how it works. Then, they clothe that with good intentions. But at the end of history, as Lenin put it, when the dictatorship becomes absolute, the state will wither away. It will go away, and we won’t need it anymore.
That’s the magic moment. If you look at the Greek Pygmalion myth, he carved this woman out of ivory because he saw the prostitutes and he got angry and said, “Women are awful.” He says, “I’m going to be a sculptor,” and he carves a woman out of ivory and he falls in love with his own statue. He asks Aphrodite to give him a woman like the statue. He comes home from his trip to the temple to the statue, he kisses it, and it comes to life.
That’s the magic moment—when it comes to life. They carve away at the existing society to get to their ideal, by deciding which nitty-gritties of life they hate. They carve away at the existing society, just like carving Pygmalion from a block of ivory, carving it down into the image of a perfect woman. But that’s not a woman, it’s a rock.
Then, God intervenes when it’s perfect, he satisfies his wish and it magically comes to life. This is what Lenin was actually talking about, “We’re going to carve away at the society by chipping away everything we don’t like. We’re going to chip and chip and chip away until everything is in ashes, except the perfect thing that we envision.
When that becomes absolutely perfect, it will come to life. We’ll have communism and we don’t need a state anymore.” It’s the exact same belief in a magic that’s just not there. Lenin didn’t make it up. He got it from Marx. This is actually the idea.
We see this repeated with the 20th century Western Marxists. Marcuse says, “We can criticize the parts of society we don’t like, and then the future that is contained within the present might emerge. The ideal future that’s contained within the contaminated present might emerge if we merely criticize away all the other parts.”