Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. — Exodus 22.18
The lady’s not for burning. — title of a 1948 play by Christopher Fry
I wrote recently of the ongoing erasure of philosophy from the Western canon and also mentioned my own alma mater, The University of Sussex on the south coast of England. Now my old philosophical stomping ground is in the news, and a witch-hunt is afoot.
Professor Kathleen Stock teaches philosophy — at the time of writing — at Sussex, and has been hounded in a now-familiar fashion after comments concerning “transgenderism” and biological sex in her lectures and interviews, and also in a recent book of hers, Material Girls. The details are an unimportant distraction, and all you need to know is that the Professor is a biological realist concerning sex and gender — as I suspect everyone reading this is — and said so.
An activist group of latter-day witchfinders on campus have since threatened Professor Stock and demanded her resignation, her union has allowed her to burn and even stoked the fire, and the gabbling geese on social media have of course not been silent, silence not being their modus operandi as it involves listening to an opinion other than their own.
Professor Stock, however, has not made the usual pathetic and groveling apology for fear of losing her tenure and pension, but has fought her corner with just as much spirit and erudition as Socrates before the dicasts of the Athenian court in Plato’s Apology. I don’t believe she taught at Sussex while I was there, but a brief look at her work, lectures, and interviews shows her to be a straightforward, analytical, uncomplicated thinker who recognizes and employs philosophical principles and methodology. But she misspoke. Enter the Inquisition.
An anonymous group of students wrote an open letter to the university, headed “Anti-Stock Action 2021.” It is a semi-literate, sociopathic screech which exemplifies today’s student Left in Britain. “Stock is,” it rants, “one of this wretched island’s most prominent transphobes . . . [whose] rhetoric has contributed to the dire state of unsafety [sic] in this colonial shit-hole.” Note that students benefiting from an education in a university set amid the beautiful English South Downs instead of, say, Nairobi or Caracas, tick the box for oikophobia, the word used for “hatred of home” by the great English philosopher, Sir Roger Scruton, and this ethnomasochism explains much in the case of Professor Stock.
Her persecution comes despite the fact that, with her victimhood credentials in place, she seemed safe from the Klieg lights of the woke watchtowers. Yes, she is a lesbian. Yes, she teaches gender studies. Yes, she is happy to use personal pronouns and thinks it disrespectful not to. But she offends on two counts: She spoke heresy, and she is white.
The letter, aggressive and threatening in tone, exemplifies the vomitus that passes for constructive argument at a British place of supposedly higher learning. However, there is — there always is — cause for amusement. One of the spit-flecked sentences reads as follows, and the bold type is in the original, presumably as these people tend to think in bold type: “Transphobes like Stock are anti-feminist, anti-queer and anti-intellectual, they are harmful and dangerous to trans people.”
It is a pity for Sussex that Professor Stock is on the faculty and not a student and that she is “anti-intellectual,” as the university’s team which appeared last week on the famous inter-collegiate BBC2 quiz show University Challenge could have used her help.
By a delicious twist, and for anyone who was wondering about the intellectual standard at the university whose motto is “Be still and know,” shortly after the row over Professor Stock my alma mater lost to Birmingham University on University Challenge by a score of 10 points to 245. Of the three questions the Sussex team answered correctly, one was identifying a song from a Walt Disney cartoon. Less University Challenge than Universally Challenged.
Back in Sussex/Salem, Professor Stock’s trial proceeded through the form and the ecclesiastical court convened. The Student Union at Sussex (SU) were the next to heap up the faggots (as it were) beneath the stake on which Professor Stock was to be burned, writing an anodyne statement to the effect that they just wanted to stay in the common room with a latté and not get too involved, if that’s alright with everyone, but burn the witch anyway.
The SU were merely intensely annoying halfwits when I was at Sussex, but have since evolved into the type of middle-class Stasi that increasingly run British universities, a situation Plato warned about in the Republic, in a passage critical of liberal education: “A teacher in such a community is afraid of his students and flatters them, while the students despise their teachers . . .”
Next up in this woke version of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible was the University College Union (UCU), whose sole purpose is to defend and represent the faculty. They read the anonymous letter and, knowing better than to anger students who have little or no self-control, issued a statement that failed to mention Professor Stock by name, but was a rambling and knicker-wetting plea of support for “the trans community” and which demanded — yawn — a full investigation into “institutional transphobia” at Sussex.
That is, time and money should be wasted protecting people with enough time on their own hands to daydream that they are a different gender to the one which was allocated them not by some mythical “cis-patriarchy,” but rather by nature. As Horace tells us in the Epistles (which no Sussex philosophy student today will have read, or be allowed to read, or understand if they do): “Although nature can be thrown out with a pitchfork, she always comes back.”
But while the various Sussex bit-part players tried desperately and simultaneously both to keep their jobs and to force someone else to lose theirs, Professor Stock put out her own statement, which reminded anyone under professional attack by these Orc-like cretins of two things.
One, never back down, never apologize. This is like either confessing or recanting just before you are burned at the stake. You will still be burned at the stake, and your final admissions will merely justify your enemies’ accusations. Professor Stock deserves our applause for not backing down, for not looking at O’Brien’s four fingers and seeing — or saying she sees — five.
Two, it is a properly philosophical question which is paramount here, not some pissant, internet-assembled ideology. Truth is not a beach-ball being bounced between sports fans at a game; it is that without which the philosopher becomes Lord McCauley’s description of the metaphysician: a blind man in a dark room searching for a black hat which is not there. We must therefore approach the problem of transgenderism from the point of view of philosophers such as Professor Stock and not that of the petulant children who now seem to infest my alma mater.
Professor Stock, in taking her position that there are such categories as biological men and women, and that these are the conditions for any regional variants caused by psychological deviation, recognizes a cardinal principle of philosophical enquiry: ratio is more important than emotio — that is, how you feel about a problem doesn’t matter; how you think about it does. The problem is not, however, how we think about transgenderism. That’s a sideshow. The problem is how we think about what is happening to the truth, in this case a biological truth.
The Left’s insistence that biological sex can be annulled in favor of elective gender surrenders epistemology to whim. The objective is rendered invalid and the locus of truth shifts to the subjective. Whether the old, objective hallmark of truth is ascribed to the “patriarchy,” “white supremacy,” “oppression,” or any other faddish term is not important. These are just children’s playground trading cards. The resulting fragmentation of truth, and its consequent uncoupling from reality, as everybody’s opinion becomes valid is, of course, what is vital and likely to (and indeed intended to) cause havoc across the civilization the Left despises so much, almost as much as it despises the firm hand of nature and biological fact. Here is the truth Professor Stock defends. Like Luther, here she stands; she can do no other.
Biological sex, male and female, XY and XX chromosomic pairing do not simply present phenotypically – i.e., as one set of genitalia or another — but also genotypically in that every cell of the male and female body is shot through with maleness and femaleness. Male and female are every bit as real as the two magnetic poles, darkness and light, acid and alkaline. None of the elements of those pairings can exchange value with the other as though it were a cosmic game of musical chairs in which you just sit down wherever you happen to be when the music stops. If a male can elect to be a female and vice versa, then they can also subvert and reject reality by force of will or, more to the point, force of whim. We recall Horace and his pitchfork, as well as its updated version from science fiction writer Philip K. Dick: Reality is that which, when you ignore it, doesn’t go away.
A switch from objectivity to subjectivity as the criterion for what is and is not fact is ruinous. Truth is not malleable and merely there for your convenience and enjoyment, like a refrigerator or a video game. If the truth has no tethering post then it becomes a capricious free-for-all, a game of catch-me-if-you-can, a tug-of-war won by the team who pull harder — or, as we are seeing, shout louder. This extreme relativism leads not to the vague utopia in the heads of the purple-haired, nose-ringed hordes, but to Stalin’s USSR or Mao’s China. Professor Stock starts looking less like a mild-mannered philosophy lecturer and more like an epistemological Joan of Arc.
As wearily familiar as Professor Stock’s predicament seems in these intellectually negligible times, however, it is possible to see the green shoots of resistance in the university’s response to her harassment. I had expected them to fold under questioning, as so many other British universities have done under interrogation by the woke mob. But the Vice Chancellor, Adam Tickell, actually made a statement which made me almost proud of the old place — although it should be added that Mr. Tickell is retiring and has nothing to lose: “[O]ur staff have an untrammeled right to say and believe what they think . . . I’m really concerned that we have masked protesters putting up posters calling for the sacking of somebody for exercising her right to articulate her views.” As the threat of student violence gradually increases, what will that right be worth if this academic cold war heats up?
How long before a professor or lecturer is killed on a British campus for their opinions? Universities in the United Kingdom are sailing towards what Theodore Dalrymple termed “the wilder shores of Marx,” and the radical Left is psychotically violent to begin with, demonstrably unrestrained by what remains of authority in the UK and consequently emboldened by the power they are accruing when they face no opposition from the very authorities who should oppose the closing down of free expression.
The underlying motive for the Left’s attack on biological reality has nothing to do with compassion and everything to do with power. A thinker such as the Professor does not have her speech curtailed to protect the safety — or even the feelings — of others, but to make her understand who the masters are now.
Ancient Athens, a high point of Western civilization, put Socrates to death for his free speech. I don’t imagine hemlock awaits Professor Stock, but the planting, growth, and fruition of ideas are the things being sentenced to death, while the pretense is kept up that the Western world is free.
Incidentally, Professor Stock has also received an award guaranteed to trigger an already perpetually irate Left: She has an OBE (Order of the British Empire). These dullards despise anything that reminds them of the British Empire, and so Professor Stock’s visit to Buckingham Palace is just one more reason to hate her, for hate is what this is.
Many commentators have noted that the “Be kind” crew on social media are actually bile-filled, vengeful, hateful, and aggressive martinets, and the only subject they will ever pass with honors is hypocrisy. I saw a photograph of a peaceful protest on the Sussex campus (recognizing the library I was so fond of I once fell asleep there reading, was missed by the security guard, locked in, and had to sleep the night there among the books) in which one of the students carried a placard reading, “We thought we’d be safe.” You are, poppet. It is Professor Stock who is not. She has been advised by the police to install CCTV cameras and put a marker outside her house in case the police need to attend to her urgently. She has also been given a hotline number to call in case of attack.
Finally, in case I have presented Professor Stock’s defense purely in metaphysical terms, the phenomenon of transgenderism has consequences that are all too physical. One of Professor Stock’s opinions is that “trans women” — aka men with mental illness who believe they are and can literally be women — should not be allowed in, say, women’s toilets. Cue the predictable outrage from the Left.
In the week of her professional problems, in Loudon County in the United States, a boy who occasionally dresses as a girl because he likes it did indeed uphold his new liberal-given right to go into a girl’s bathroom. When he had finished what he went in there for, which was allegedly to forcibly sodomize a female student, he left, only to be arrested and charged. In the new, post-Trump, wonderful, kinder America, the school tried to cover up the attack and quietly moved the allegedly raped student to another school. When the furious father came to the school to complain and became understandably vocal, he was violently arrested.
There has been a lot of buzz and chatter from student bodies at other British universities disgusted with Sussex for their defense of Professor Stock. This has, perforce, taken place on social media for the benefit of those who mistake that idiot’s agora for the real world. A hashtag –#ShameOnSussex, I believe — has appeared, criticizing the old place where I learned so much. One thing I learned was to grade opinion depending on where it occurs. Anything on Twitter is like reading illiterate graffiti smeared on an asylum wall in feces.
Plato has accompanied us throughout this court report from a witch trial, and he would have recognized Professor Stock as the Ancient Greek pharmakōs: the scapegoat beaten and cast out from the city walls in order to expiate the citizens’ sins. Also, he would have recognized the source of what he called “bastard (or illegitimate) reasoning” of the type that today sees children believing they can elect to be a man or a woman rather being tethered to what biology has dictated. Plato’s comment on philosophy could be dedicated to Professor Stock: “In any case, the present error, which . . . explains why philosophy isn’t valued, is that she is taken up by people who are unworthy of her, for illegitimate students shouldn’t be allowed to take her up, but only legitimate ones.”
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