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Prestigious Academic Online Community – Comfy with the Far Right – Censors Divergent Opinion

This article is a part of the second footnote in Footnotes on the Figures of Suppression. It features social media; discussions associated with Cultural Marxism or left-wing bias in media or academia; and is not restricted to any particular country. The point of departure is investigative journalism on the responses to The Bullshit Conspiracy since February 24, which serves as the basis for a theoretical discussion.

My posts were removed and I was thrown out of an online community for academics, roughly translated as College Leaks – The Group for College gossip (Högskoleläckan) [1]. As the name suggests, most of the posts are related to academia and the conditions of research. A forum that Curie, the magazine of the Swedish Research Council, has promoted.

I joined a couple of months ago. Soon I noticed that a worrying amount of contributions were narratives about so-called identity activists, and left-wing supporters, who allegedly pressure researchers in order to advance their agendas. For instance, ‘Islamo-leftism’ recently received attention. I am not an opinion police, but the tone is recognisable from the right wing. The reformed Swedish Nazis love these stories.

‘We share nonsense and serious content related to the higher-education sector’ [2]

What caused my expulsion? A post about the conditions of research – how quality is assessed; evidence indicating that the so-called left-wing bias does not exist, and rather is about frauds at the highest level. It is about ethics and the academic culture. This is what it looked like (the prior is posted at my fb page).

‘It is frequently written about the so-called politicisation of academia, especially in terms of left-wing bias. Similar claims about media and the public discourse in general also exist. My previous statistical studies on media indicate that the opposite is true, which is in line with decades of research on the subject.

Recently, I scrutinised the world-renowned theorist and left-wing profile David Graeber, in order to assess left-wing bias in academia. The examination reveals that he can be regarded as a fraud, in the sense that he makes pop-cultural references to Marx, Marxists and the left, but dismisses them in all important respects. Moreover, his theory is flawed on nearly all key points. At the same time, he has been called the best theorist in his field.

A perhaps personal observation, is that the reason so many reported identity-politics “activists” within academia appear as shallow, is just because the opinion corridor has crowed out serious radical research. More and more are focusing on the colour of the toy instead of the associated degree of exploitation in the production process and unequal exchange. Focus on identity politics may also be related to the lucrativeness of such research, e.g. for small open economies such as the Swedish. These factors may give incentives to put a premium on academics such as David Graeber, as an almost unbeatable way of silencing critics. How do you perceive this phenomenon? Could reports about left-wing students and academics, in actual fact depend on an unreflected right-wing bias within academia?

#universityculture #academicfreedom #opinioncorridor ’

In addition, I attached my paper.

Complete sample from Bullshit Jobs (2019) and Debt (2011). Note that: 1) Graeber rejects or attacks the central issues 2) Claims a theory that belongs to the perhaps most important and well-known thinker from these groups after Marx.

I am not a Marxist by the way. The motivation for my expulsion? A logical incoherent opinion that my contribution is not related to college or universities from a philosophy professor.

The argument of the philosopher (in grey)

In the end, the philosopher admits that I simply should accept the decision of the moderator. He first claims my post is off-topic. I answer it is about intellectual culture, academic freedom and how quality is perceived. The philosopher claims that my first post is a hypothetical about an academic, and does not correspond to what actually is the case. I reply that it is about doing or not doing things related to higher education. He subsequently asserts anything could be defined as such if that would indeed the case. I point out that his assertion is not a valid logical conclusion, and list additional examples of how my contribution literally is an element of the topics officially discussed in Högskoleläckan. He removes my aforementioned second post by stating that it is almost identical as the previous one. I state that his arguments are substandard, and his actions inconsistent with a decent defence of academic freedom. The philosopher finally declares I have been kicked out from the group, and that his words are backed by a consensus.

Political and Theoretical Responses

The aim of this section is, to the best of my ability, to find interpretations of reactions which challenge my position the most. The rendition of my replies are limited to those of political or theoretical interest.

Political responses conform to the contemporary right-wing strategy to portray powerful institutions as controlled by the left. There was a refreshing engagement with my post right away. I was asked to give sources to my assertions about media conformity, and I was happy to comply. Predictably, a spurious study from an institute financed by Swedish right-wing think tanks was put forward to argue left-wing bias in public service. I explained that the methodology does not support such conclusion. [3] I think it is a case in point of how a neutral rhetoric is used to conceal how the integrity of research is compromised by ideology. I prefer biased rhetoric with impeccable methodology and logic, rather than the other way around. My results underscore how perceptions about radicalism, activism and left-wing bias and other qualities may be in stark contrast with reality to the extent that the opposite of what is commonly claimed is true.

I was spammed with hatred from a profile who acted as a right-wing hater on a left-wing forum (Jacobin). I would not like to equate this lowly act with serious responses from academics with arguments from right-wing think tanks. Nevertheless, this kind of reaction is common among those who are unable to cope with challenges to their political identity. Especially when clear evidence against the notion of left-wing dominance, of the really-existing democracies, is presented.

The smaller academic forum Universitestsläckan provided an arguably more mature interaction of theoretical interest. Firstly, one of the commentators shared experiences of bullying attitudes with political correct connotations. I shared that I almost was harassed to death under torture-like conditions by former colleagues with politically correct outlook at Lund University. Some of who even lecture about social and cultural inclusion. I have on several occasions been undermined by an editor who is publicly known as a leftist, and specialised in identity-politics, in order to block disclosure of my experiences of abuse from university staff. I am obviously not blond, right-wing or particularly privileged.

The recurrent theme is rather a widespread ideology about social stability, among authorities, which puts power and control above other political targets. Note that such stance is compatible with perceptions of radical positions vis-à-vis the current social system, as long as those radicals are under control. This can be achieved either with direct control of the radicals, e.g. the utilisation of impostors or entanglement; or by means of altering perceptions of what radical or contrarian means. These are of course not mutually exclusive.

Secondly, there was a theoretically interesting objection against my undefined use of left- and right-wing, which some commentators did not see as scientific enough.

It is perfectly fine to be relatively ignorant about many things, and still be able to make exact assertions about these. It is even acceptable to use, comment and discover exact relationships among these. Also in scientific contexts [4].

This seems counterintuitive even if we do it all the time. Virtually no one defines the natural numbers, points or lines on a plane in primary school, yet pupils are taught to make a lot of calculations concerning these objects. Is a more rigorous definition of left- or right-wing required? The short answer is no, as long as a particular problem does not require a more meticulous definition than what everyday language can provide [5].

Nevertheless, it is important to be aware of the limitations of everyday language. In this case, common sense seems adjacent to visual intuitions about the possibility of consensus in categorising anything beside a given point as either left- or right. Insistence a completeness property [6], derived from everyday experiences, may explain perceived uselessness of common left-right concepts. Endless arrays of counterexamples arguably can be found in political settings. This is especially the case, if accompanied with continuity as a hidden assumption. If the requirements are dropped, then the course of action is rather obvious. It is about choosing battles and be open to redundancy of complicated alternatives.

Social Media & Public Service Revolution

In spite of the need for questioning dogmas about left-wing bias in public service, the forum Dystopia [7], tied to Swedish Radio (SR), has provided the most constructive feedback so far.

Firstly, the notion of the need for a certain degree of control, common to all organisations, was raised as an explanation to censorship (at least my interpretation). Clearly, it is possible to argue there is need for control and regulations to run an operation. However, it is important to be clear that such functional control is little more than wordplay when postulated as an explanation to homogenous journalism or suppression of research. The distortion of economics, in the hands of commercial journals; or the exclusion of sources in political science, as a result of pressure from the most powerful country in the world [8] , are also at odds with such explanations. There are simply no good reasons to think that a general need for functional control can be expected to generate a skewed distribution of opinions, which e.g. explains why established journalism tends to coincide with the position of those in power, on topics of major importance. The spread should simply be greater, not homogenous and biased in a direction which just happens to be the one which benefits those in power across countries and over time.

In view of this, the distinction between use and misuse of power, that was subsequently invoked by one of the commentators, risks to become a so-called academic question, indifferent to the uneven distribution of resources, also in terms of control over the production and distribution of news and thoughts. The greater conundrum is why some are allowed to have disproportionate amount of power to begin with, and how it can be redistributed.

Secondly, the fact that Dystopia is a branch of public service was mentioned, perhaps suggesting that I was not being actively censored. One of the moderators underscored the independence of Public Service but left the issue of financing as a possible source of controversy hanging.

Interestingly enough, in this context it is common knowledge, journalists from commercial media make similar statements about their independence. But when studies on the great power topics are conducted, journalism tends to mirror the so-called elite opinion. Studies on a famous case with foreign-policy implications show that the homogeneity among commercial newspapers was nearly total in Sweden, in spite of its big public service. Thus, journalism of the latter either conformed, or did not interact with the former in a manner which disrupted homogeneity to any considerable extent. The news flow from powerful sources, among the state apparatus and the business community, remains as a control mechanism in addition to finance or formal dependence. Contemporary oppression against alternative news services, like WikiLeaks, accentuates the dependency relation also within public service. The oligopoly situation encourages caution in order to mitigate excessive risk on the supply of raw materials.

Social media is similarly curbed. From the perspective of power, the problem is that virtually anyone can publish, which effectively undermines the resource mechanism as means to induce control. Therefore, gate-keeping, confinement, and initiative management become important through administration of the network structure. The following are decisive:

  1. Technological Barriers. These are supported by capital and power thresholds. Infrastructure is owned/controlled by the most powerful countries or major players connected to the state and business community. Algorithms to discredit unwanted content and more direct interference like shadow banning are well-known by now.
  2. Lock in. Popular established/commercial channels conserve crowds. Then opinions can be herded by a) direct censorship b) constrains to react to official posts/initiatives.
  3. Surveillance.
  4. Selective Promotion & Distraction. Management makes use of (1) or constructs a specific narrative. E.g. a) ‘The mob’ is a discourse used to achieve marginalisation and distraction. Any fool, in some quirky planet on an IT-galaxy far, far away gets to represent the opinion which challenges the established. ‘The mob’ is discredited and dissected – instead of examining those in power. b) Heroes under control.

It would be intriguing to see tax-financed forums were people are allowed to publish and discuss freely under rules and regulations which are subject to democratic control. Public efforts could counteract 1-4 and rival commercial social networks. Mass mobilisation of ideas and opinions with responsibility gives strength in numbers, but should ultimately be protected by society. It is also conceivable to first establish large nation-wide services, with the aim to be fully integrated to international democratic networks, and grant access to those without citizenship.

Other constructive objections are also related to how political orientation should be assessed. To paraphrase: Calling Graeber a leftist may be an exaggeration with reasonable left-wing standards (leftist SubReddit). He was better than a Marxist, he was an anarchist (Jacobin commentator). Off sample, world-renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky maintains that Leninism is not Marxism. The first two are valid on their own terms. However, the first is not in conflict with the notion of a leftist academia as a hoax, or that Graeber was an impostor if regarded as a leftist. The second is not unreasonable, but then again it is possible to be a right-wing anarchist. The third is however not a true statement considering Lenin’s well-known non-apologetic contributions to Marxism, e.g. his work on imperialism.

To be continued.

[1] University Leaks is also suitable. Högskola means College, but has a comprehensive use for academia-related entities or higher education. For instance, university certificate can be translated to högskoleexamen. Högskoleläckan and Univesitetsläckan are two related, but distinct groups.

[2] Högskoleläckan’s motto: ’Här delar vi med oss av seriöst och tramsigt innehåll relaterat till högskolesektorn.’

[3] The study relies on data about instances when media items have been found guilty of transgressions to objectivity. These transgressions have then been put on a scale of political orientation. Clearly: a) The propensity to report transgressions may be biased b) The criteria for objectivity may be biased c) Those judging the reports may be biased d) The right-wing researchers may place the items in accordance to their own political preferences e) confused political perceptions in general etc. In other words there is plenty of room for manipulating the results, and the method does not isolate to the extent inferences, about underlying parameters can be made, which support the assertion of a left-wing bias. What such study can show is for instance how the criteria are employed by authorities and researchers alike; how the results of right-wing think tanks are used by pundits

[4] This has a longstanding tradition in analytical topics, see e.g. Mathematics and Logic (Kac & Ulam, 1968)

[5] Please note that this digression does not save Graeber (2019) from my critique.

[6] Compare with completeness in mathematical logic.

[7] A podcast concerned with existential threats to society. 

[8] Top journals in the social sciences have effectively banned data, which is judge to be against US interests, like the diplomatic cables. For more information, see e.g. Assange, J. (2015). The Wikileaks Files: The World According to US Empire. London: Verso, ch1, (pp.6-11)

Published by Manuel Echeverría

Licentiate of Philosophy. Independent Researcher.

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