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The Psychology of Prohibiting Outside Thinkers

6 min

The real motivation of institutional progressivism is managing guilty conscience and conserving bourgeois privileges.

This post was first published on May 15, 2017 on my old personal site. I'm republishing it here because it will be new for a majority of Other Life readers; it was widely shared in 2017; it remains relevant and diagnostically accurate; and, finally, it's an amusing trip down memory lane—I'm somewhat embarrassed by my left-wing professorial seriousness, and yet given my subsequent path, I'm proud of this piece for showing that my writing is not just cheap talk. For new subscribers, this piece should help to flesh out the larger Other Life story. —Justin

Why do so many respectable, intellectually oriented people (academics, artists, and activists) wish to exclude independent right-wing intellectual work on moral grounds? I have in mind several recent campaigns to ensure some right-wing writer/artist, not be allowed to speak or perform in some venue.

I am going to make a general theoretical point about a widespread social phenomenon, but I should also be honest about the specific individuals and institutions I see as motivating case studies. I have in mind the campaign to shut down the LD50 gallery, and the decision of The New Centre for Research & Practice to remove Nick Land from its roster of lecturers.

I don't know these people, and I have nothing against them personally. I have no interest in impugning them or "calling them out," I would much rather enjoy thinking with them; the problem is that these are precisely cases of closing that door, on "progressive" grounds that appear dishonest, cowardly, and conservative. So although I have no ill will, the only way to think about door-closers is from the outside of their door, e.g. about them, rather than with them.

These campaigns and institutional decisions, and so many public pronouncements by other “progressive” actors, present themselves as efforts to protect the public sphere from violent or harmful effects, but it’s increasingly impossible to believe that this is the real motivation.

There is a widespread fallacy, what we might call the ad hominem fallacy fallacy, that it’s unreasonable to question someone’s motivations. It may be unreasonable to dismiss someone’s arguments by impugning their motivations, but it’s very reasonable to theorize someone’s motivations as on object of interest in its own right—especially when the stated motivations are increasingly belied by the effects they repeatedly produce.

I want to offer a concrete, informal theoretical account of what institutional intellectuals are really doing when they pull-up their draw-bridges to independent right-wing intellectuals such as Nick Land.

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