Prof. Kathleen Stock seems to have every qualification to lecture on philosophy at a modern university, in her case Sussex.
She focuses her intellectual powers on a branch of philosophy unknown to Plato or Kant: gender and sexual orientation. TICK.
She is left-wing, thereby meeting an ironclad requirement for a professor of the humanities. DOUBLE TICK.
She is a woman. MULTIPLE TICKS, especially since this commendable ‘gender orientation’ is rare among philosophers (and, Elizabeth Anscombe excepted, nonexistent among important ones).
She is a lesbian. Even MORE TICKS, for this ‘sexual orientation’ delivers a slap in the face of traditional morality – and isn’t that what philosophy is all about?
What more could one possibly wish for? Quite a bit, actually. For modernity is nothing if not absolutist. It isn’t enough to tick many, or even most, boxes. If one remains unticked, the offender is cancelled.
In Prof. Stock’s case, that box is one in which she branded herself as an out-and-out transphobe. If your modern is rusty, allow me to translate.
You may be confused by the eclectic derivation of this term: the prefix trans- is Latin, while the root phobia is Greek. Incidentally, the same stylistic misalliance occurs in the word homosexual, suggesting that… well, it must suggest something.
Yet in modern usage phobia has shed its Greek meaning of inordinate morbid fear. It now means reservations about anything for which enthusiasm is mandated to be unreserved.
Hence transphobia, of which Prof. Stock is guilty in the eyes of the student body. No, she doesn’t re-enact the famous Edvard Munch painting every time she espies a former boy walking through the groves as a girl. She only maintains that, appearances notwithstanding, the boy remains biologically a boy: the sex one is cursed with at birth stays with one forever.
ONLY maintains?!? screams the collective student throat. And it’s not just the students – some faculty members are shouting the loudest.
She is a transphobe! Fascist! She must be sacked! If not, we’ll take care of her in other ways! Next thing you know she’ll say that a woman with a penis shouldn’t be allowed into women’s showers!
Actually, that’s exactly what the stubborn philosopher says, that conclusion representing a logical deduction from the a priori statement of immutable innate sex or, if you will, gender. In other words, SHE PERSISTS!
The students’ rage boiled over and burst into action. Prof. Stock has received hundreds of messages ranging from strong rebukes to physical threats. The pedestrian tunnel leading to the campus now bears signs saying she “makes trans students unsafe”, “Stock out!” and “We’re not paying £9,250 a year for transphobia”. They missed out on “Stock in the stocks!” which I’m happy to offer.
Prof. Stock knows where this sort of thing can lead. Though too young to have witnessed the orgy of student violence in the sixties, mainly in the US and France, she must have read about it. Why, she may even know the term soixante-huitard, educated woman that she is.
Hence, while proclaiming as loudly as she can that she isn’t a transphobe – God, who doesn’t exist, forbid! – Prof. Stock is listening to the advice to hire bodyguards, although she hasn’t taken that action just yet.
Perhaps she draws strength from the support she is receiving from the university’s powers-that-be. Speaking to the BBC, Vice Chancellor Tickell said: “It’s absolutely clear that all of our staff have an untrammelled right to say and believe what they think. So we take it very seriously if people try to prevent that right from being exercised.
“I have to say I am really concerned that we have masked protesters, putting up posters, calling for the sacking of somebody for exercising her right to articulate her views…”
A friend of mine welcomed this statement as a sign that sanity may be launching a fightback. That was one of the few instances when he and I disagreed.
My pessimism was encouraged by what Prof. Tickell said next: “I think what we have to do is we have to listen to people. We have very strong policies both on freedom of speech and on inclusion.” There’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one.
The moment a university administrator boasts of strong policies on inclusion, sanity has lost. The subject of ‘inclusion’ shouldn’t even come up at an academic institution. If it does, strategic ground is ceded, and it can never be recovered.
Cretinous youngsters shouldn’t be allowed to dictate the terms of debate. The proper response to the accusation “You’re a transphobe” is neither “No, I’m not” nor “We have strong policies against transphobia”. It’s “If you use this word again, you can kiss the university good-bye.”
In the same vein, when a professor is threatened by the British answer to China’s Red Guards, the youngsters shouldn’t be encouraged “to listen to people”. They must be expelled and reported to the police.
Yes, there are a few supposedly encouraging signs that some resistance to the rabid attacks on our civilisation is being put up. But somehow I, unlike my friend, don’t feel encouraged. The overall curve zigzags in one direction only, and its peaks are much greater than its troughs.
Some resistance is indeed observable, but it’s too meek and may well be too late. No institution seems to reject the key presuppositions of modernity, even if some take issue with their more extreme manifestations.
When the metaphysical battle is lost, the physical defeat is bound to follow. That’s how glossocracy works: whoever controls words, controls ideas; whoever controls ideas ends up controlling everything.
Thus speaks the voice of my reason. But the voice of my heart is begging for my reason to be proved wrong.