By Darius Dunn
The Verge.com recently reported a story that said the Berkeley Institute (not to be confused with UC Berkeley) removed a post for a course on the subject of “Heterodox Science.” It seemed odd to me that such a move would be made, with the only prompt being The Verge’s interest in the matter. After the institute was contacted by reporters, it deleted information concerning IMITATIO’S involvement (including the fact that Peter Thiel was teaching the course). For those of you who don’t know, IMITATIO is a foundation helmed by Peter Thiel, PayPal founder and board member of Facebook, devoted to the spread of mimetic theory: a theory first proposed by former Stanford professor, Rene Girard, that states that competing groups’ pursuit of limited resources is the fundamental cause of societal conflict. Not such a bad theory I suppose, and definitely one worthy of debate. That last part is what got me wondering. Considering mimetic theory as apparently benign discourse, why would the Berkeley Institute hide its hand, that is, if it hadn’t thrown any stones. The first thing I needed to do to uncover this mystery was to discover the meaning of heterodox science.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, heterodox is,
Not conforming with accepted or orthodox standards or beliefs: ‘heterodox views’
Mimetic theory is something of a minority report. It is a dissenting opinion that Peter Thiel, former Stanford student and advertised teacher of the Berkley Institute’s course on “Heterodox Science,” later elaborated during his time with his think tank IMITATIO. It’s not the most unsound theory one could believe, but it is in opposition to the standard model of conflict that most of academia accepts. So then, if all the Berkeley institution offered in their course was a dissenting opinion, why hide who was teaching the course? Then it hit me. The supporters of “Heterodox Science” aren’t just any group of people, but they are conservatives who want to “Make M’erica great again” through censorship and propaganda.
According to GeorgiaNewsday.com, “Nowadays, heterodox science has been embraced by conservatives who feel their views are not adequately represented on liberal campuses.” The article also says “The Berkeley Institute operates in the shadow of UC Berkeley, one of the most avowedly liberal academic institutions.” This is bit seems familiar. The diverse, liberal environment of UC Berkeley, which fosters such a variety of views and discourses, has come under attack by conservative elitists who would like to infiltrate and damage public perceptions of liberal academia. So, to victimize themselves, the Berkeley Institute and IMITATIO posit themselves as underdogs. By labeling their work heterodox, conservative academics (an apparent oxymoron JK!) instantly and falsely place themselves in the role of the minority. From that pretentious platform, they can then bemoan their suffering as that of a fringe group, discriminated against based on their claims of being a marginalized minority. This is false and misleading. While seeking to resemble those who are bullied by the “Strongman”—who is in their view—liberal academia, they are in reality feigning minority status. To wit, this statement is written on the Institute’s website,
“At prestigious universities like UC Berkeley, students find an opportunity to participate in intellectual discovery of the most advanced kind. But they do not receive a comparable training in the intellectual principles that would help them organize and build on what they learn, to make it a means of achieving clear intellects, virtuous lives, and flourishing communities.”
The Berkeley Institute (once again not UC Berkeley) also claims to take “special interest in the Christian intellectual tradition.” The narrow views of conservatives on science, have produced several disproven, refuted, and discriminatory ideas, examples include the following: creationism, climate change denial and the absurdly titled, scientific racism—a view that seeks to prove racial superiority using scientific evidence while supporting racial biases toward ethnic minorities. The heterodox science movement has hidden its hand by deleting Mr. Thiel’s involvement in teaching their course, because they’ve thrown the rock of self-victimization, toward liberal academia, a spurious accusation that seeks to divert attention away from the fact that conservatives are the traditional victimizers of minority groups.
Diversity, in terms of social designation, i.e. class, race, age, nationality, or gender, and in terms of the diverse opinions exchanged in discourses are both acceptable inclusions in any academic environment. What is not acceptable are narrow conservative views, proposed as would-be curriculum, and propagated by those who would limit the liberties of targeted groups based on their non adherence to conservatism by designation of their skin color, gender, sexual orientation et al. Conservatives tend to use“Othering”as a means of discriminating, both in rhetoric and in agency, against any person or group not bonded to their constricted moral (and usually overly emotional) views. They are the ones who victimize; so, for supporters of heterodox science to self-identify as victims is erroneous.
Liberal academic campuses, the so called “Safe spaces” of conservative fever dreams (which by the way is a propaganda term created by conservatives to demonize academic institutions by making them out as censors of knowledge), are instead the opposition to specious values being taught at universities, values that only seek to replace good curriculum with pseudo-science and conjecture. For heterodox science to accuse academia of unfounded bias is misinformed at least. At most, it is a willful and contemptuous affront to the outcomes of higher education. What are those outcomes, so adamantly protected by liberal academic environment, you ask? Producing people who exhibit ethical behaviors, who engage and spread sound ideas of social justice, while increasing the knowledge and integrity of society by nurturing students in the discourses of those ideas and values, who then add to an informed public. #Woke!
With the claim that conservatism is a minority, those who support heterodox sciences also claim that conservatism is in decline—a good thing for sure, but not a true thing. Hiding the hand that threw the stone at reasonable people for espousing reasonable ideas will ultimately backfire. The people who spread the illusion of heterodox science are just like those yellow journalists who broadcast fake news. By shaping our perceptions so we voluntarily make decisions favorable to conservative outcomes, they weaponize information, aimed at reflexively conditioning the public to react to certain types of information in specific ways. Casting a majority as a minority, casting those with power as those that power biases is inauthentic and runs the risk of confusing the public; in the same way that naming your school the Berkley Institute and setting up campus in the shadow of UC Berkeley is a disorienting tactic that aims to misrepresent what the deceptively named Berkeley Institution, and heterodox science, really are. But you never know. If your arguments skewed toward the absurd side of scientific fact, considering our recent post truth political climate, to win supporters for you illicit campaign, you too might cook up some red-herring stew .
Warnke, Melissa Batchelor. “Peter Thiel is almost definitely behind this mysterious ‘Heterodox Science’ course” TheVerge.com. Accessed 22 December 2016. Web.
Zilber, Ariel. “Peter Thiel, PayPal founder and Trump supporter ‘gives lectures in ‘heterodox science.’” GeorgiaNewsday.com. Accessed 22 December 2016. Web.
McKew, Molly K. “Russia Is Already Winning” Politico.com. Accessed 18 January 2017. Web.