Imagine a situation, where a female professor writes something or asks something in class, or explains a bizarre chain of causality, and a male student, colleague, or researcher points out how flatly wrong it is. What would be the logical step after that in civilized circles? Debate at best, disagreement and parting ways at worst? Or an appeal to authority, and charge of “mansplaining”? The second one, happened to me, when I pointed out something in public.
The entire, hilariously short conversation is here on record. I have taken screenshots as well.
Long story short, Donald Trump gave a speech at Saudi Arabia, which was a pretty standard version of a bipartisan foreign policy speech as far as US tradition goes. Islam is our friend, Iran is enemy, Islamists must be driven out with local cooperation, blah blah. Nothing wrong with that, and doesn’t mean Trump is suddenly presidential. But nonetheless, it was surprising to many, in fact most people who have wanted to “resist” against upcoming “fascist tyranny” and takeover in US. For anyone thinking a man, as old, loose mouth and incompetent as Trump, who couldn’t fill up all his positions in government, to be a fascist (who are, for all their faults, pretty competent in taking over government departments), would be an absurd proposition in itself in normal times. But we don’t live in normal times, we live in a manufactured hysteria. And entire bunch of charlatans made a career by threat inflating the Trump era and promoting conspiracy theories. Otherwise reasonable people gave in to the thrill of political activism, and celebrating government leaks, completely unaware of what precedent they are establishing and how damaging to peaceful transition of power it will be in future. If you deride every opposition who wins an election as “literally Hitler”, the entire process loses its meaning anyway. This is how insurgencies start.
Anyway, Ms Carvin here, (and I will deliberately, from now on call her Ms instead of Dr or Prof, as she lost that respect) is baffled at how Trump is acting normal in FP. Which is, to say the least, not baffling at all. In fact, if anything, it is highly typical. There’s an array of scholarly literature, and a whole school of International Relations (Realism) which states how much rhetoric and realpolitik are different, and how even the most revolutionary of leaders of men turns mellow and has to compromise, when it comes to international politics. In domestic politics a dictator is different, and can afford to be much more ruthless, but when it comes to foreign affairs, everyone under the planet had to or will have to compromise. If there is an Overton Window for example, for foreign affairs, it will be quite small, and mundane. The entire debate of structure and agency deals with such issues. To put it in wonky terms, unit level variables have negligible influence on foreign policy. In simpler layman terms, the structural forces of geopolitics and economics decide which direction a nation state’s foreign policy will go, which is why, there remains mostly a forced equilibrium. Human agency, while important, is not as powerful as the structural forces. There are outliers, and exceptional black swan events, like rise of actual Nazis for example, which are again a result of unique combination of circumstances, but those are highly unlikely.
The reason why in US, in every presidential election cycle, there comes a savior who wants to change humanity but ultimately after winning turns to a compromiser and appeaser, is because leaders are constrained by these forces of diplomacy. Naïve people are suckers for a revolutionary leader, but they almost never come in democratic states, and in cases when they do, half of the population face extreme misery.
Anyway, these are theoretical debates, with enough ink spilled on this. Ms Carvin, is clearly not a IR theorist, and from her statements I doubt how much she has read them with nuance, as a glance to her research suggests that it is highly specialized, and as you would guess, very unit level. It is like chatting to a gender studies graduate about broader Hellenistic philosophy. Of course gender studies can be broadly categorized as philosophical feminism, one highly bastardized version, but ask any gender student about Diogenes of Sinope and how that shaped Western thought process and all you’ll get is a blank look, or worse, a grudge as you cited an old European male. Something similar happened here. I asked, in a purely civil way, why is it baffling that Trump is acting in a normal way. My intention, and I stress here, with screenshots and evidence, for everyone to see, was exceptionally polite. A debate as a doctoral researcher, to a professor, albeit with a clear notable chip on her shoulder. The rest, is quite self-explanatory. There was an appeal to authority fallacy, and a charge of “mansplainin”, and I was blocked when I called her out on that.
Two things to set straight here. First, I don’t mind she blocked me, she’s well within her rights to do so. Second, no love lost. If someday in future, we meet at a conference, possibly in opposing motions, I’d of course be as civil as I usually am while talking to any random stranger. That’s the basis of a civilized social contract; exchange of ideas, in a polite way. The reason I am writing this is the optics this presents. Consider this. I’m no random troll with a pepe avatar. My political line would be fairly centrist, compared to her more left-feminist one. I didn’t abuse her online, for example, didn’t say why she’s throwing an overly emotional hissy fit, or anything of that sort. I am, from her own area of expertise and research.
If she’s insecure enough to claim victimhood, on Twitter, in the face of a civilized query, from a junior researcher in her own field, one can only imagine, how authoritarian she might be in a class she’s taking, when a hapless male student, uninitiated by latest campus politics, asks her a question, or God forbid, shows her evidence that she’s wrong or ignorant on something. No wonder, academics broadly reside in their own comfortable bubbles, refusing to engage with even people in their own field, with opposing ideas, much less than people from a random background.
Imagine a conservative student from heartland UK or US going at a uni in a feminist prof’s class, is there any guarantee that he or she will be treated with required neutrality? What’s the guarantee if in a debate, or policy meeting, a female academic will not hide behind the defense of “mansplainin” while being quite clearly ignorant of what she’s talking about? The answer is quite obvious. This entire concept of “mansplainin” which gives a free pass to half of human population based on the type of genitalia they possess, regardless of how idiotic their actual prophesied idea is, is to say the least, unfair.
At a time, when the society around us is falling apart, due to two completely different civilisations cohabiting in the same territorial space, without ever exchanging ideas, academia, one of the gatekeepers of society, is busy eating up their own, for wrongthink. Nothing is more Soviet than an insecure senior researcher urging argumentum ad verecundiam. It’s unfortunately at a university much nearer to you than you think.