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The Sokal Hoax Fifteen Years Later: A Philosophical Reading of the Controversy

In 1996, the physicist Alan Sokal perpetrated a hoax on the academic journal Social Text intended to text the intellectual rigor of postmodernist thinking. Jonathan Reynolds reassesses the affair

Mixing metaphors, celebrating the 15-year anniversary of what still must be considered a total slam dunk in what was called the “science wars” or the “culture wars” – framed as for or against Truth and Objective Reality – it is worth remembering the publication in 1996 in the spring/summer issue of Social Text, a leading scholarly review of postmodern thought, of a completely over-the-top parodic article called ‘Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity’. The article, a savage satire concocted by Alan Sokal, a physicist, and planted like a Trojan Horse in the camp of the enemy, brought to a head a couple of decades of a simmering dispute between presumably some of our best thinkers – certainly those, at the time, with the greatest professional repute and renown on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sokal’s scathing parody paid no attention to the rules of discourse in the academic world. The larger purpose – as he put it, to “counter epistemic relativism” – to him, warranted breaking the rules. Relativism is a a simple and basic issue in epistemology, which asks, how do we know we know the universe or objective reality? What pricked the tender skins of the postmodernists Sokal was attacking was the unbridled vehemence of his outrage – so, defensively, they were outraged, in turn. But to Sokal, the stakes were the highest. To him, PM was threatening not only the standards of determining objective knowledge but the scientific enterprise, itself – the triumph of Western Man since the Enlightenment of reason and what became the scientific method.

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Tags: Cultural, Marxism, Postmodernism, academia, and, hi-jacking, of, the

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Replies to This Discussion

Comment by Joe

Things are moving faster than any of us would have anticipated.

In 2011 I was telling the Left: You are going to bring "the far right" to power across Europe.  In Germany the political infant AfD is now more popular than the SPD (you know, the party that controlled Germany a couple of decades ago).  In the oligarchy called the UK, I've thought we will not see a far right party come to power.  

Two years ago no-one had heard of the alt-right nor Richard Spencer.  I am pretty sure that out of everyone I've met  in the last decade, I am the only person who had read and recommended Paul Gottfried's books (he's the professor credited with the concept of alt-right).  Now Richard Spencer is trouncing others in the cyber ghetto (the popularity of Spencer videos massively out-rank Rebel Media videos - see the stats for Spencer videos, for example this and this ).

And now we even have the alt-right pushing the concept of "white sharia" (fundamentally telling women "if you want to be 2nd class citizens confined to the house & producing babies, white men can give you that without the need to import Islam").  Here's an example:

Consider how fast these ideas are spreading compared to our predictions.  The Left's 100 years of using violence to shut down debate is greatly attenuated in the age of the internet.  The best they are able to do is to confine the ideas to the periphery, but it seems the ideas still get such traction that they move what is considered the centre.

I think we are witnessing the start of what will be a very rapid shift in values across the West.

The analysis in the video above fits in with what Joe is saying. There is a kind of tectonic shift in understanding taking place, and the Left's dirty tricks, like all dirty tricks are starting to fail.

I like what he said about the interview response. So Cathy Newman gave the standard 'progressive' response to Peterson's conservative ideas. Then in the aftermath, when channel 4 was lambasted for its bigoted and failed attack on Peterson, they gave the standard 2nd line defence. But that failed miserably as well and people are still attacking them. But the left don't have any 3rd line response. That's it.

Comment by Philip Smeeton

Honesty s the best policy. (As long as it does not cost you your life). The Left have been lying to themselves with their impossible ideals. Never lie to yourself.

Their sin is defending the indefensible when they should have admitted that they were mistaken, or, in the very least adapted to a more realistic relationship to life, reality, the way things really are and work. Pigs still do not fly even though you can imagine that they have wings.

If you ignore reality, or imagine it to be something that it is not, then it will bite you. Like imagining that millions of African migrants can be welcomed into Europe and it will make the world a better place. I think that idealists think in clichés, which is to say they do not think, they just reiterate high sounding but basically meaningless platitudes.

Look at the situation realistically and try to find a practical and reasonable solution to problems.

Comment by Joe

I've been spending the day watching videos by Samuel Francis (1996, 2000) and Thomas Di Lorenzo.  What's shocking is that 20 years after Francis gave his talks, it's as if no-one has learned the lessons.  That Prof. Peterson is just Sokal 20 years on (actually, less interesting that what Sokal did/said) might be different.  I do see signs that people on the fringes are learning the lessons from 20 years ago.  It's all a matter of whether or not enough people can learn these lessons and act on them, so they aren't forgotten for another 20 years.

Incidentally, Dr. Francis was sacked from the National Review in the 1990s.  In his 1996 talk, Francis lambasts the elites in the GOP and says that the GOP must die.

Nothing that is new and shocking today about elites/corruption/Islam was unknown 20 years ago.  

But without a series of training camps (mosques) where a new generation can be made to memorise these teachings, it's like Groundhog Day.

I've put the video on my WatchList.

Even if we had Takeover Training Camps (aka Mosques), I think we'd still be suffering Groundhog day.  Our ideology has not even recognised that it has to have a core set of mandatory common beliefs, and then explicitly propagate them to its offspring.

This guy's tweets are being promoted by someone I used to interact with on Twitter (a software developer and economist, who now blames the Joos, so I no longer interact with him but keep an eye on him).

What gets me is that it must have been 2011 or 2012 when I was telling people to take the Alinsky rules and use them against the Left.  Five years later, others are waking up to this idea.  

That guy in the tweet gets that our Resistance movement has no infrastructure.  People like Sam Francis were telling us things 20 years ago that people are only discovering now.  But Sam Francis was also an advocate of Burnham, and Burnham was only serving as a conduit for what the anti-elitists were saying 100 years ago. I see people nowadays repeating things from The Road To Serfdom, and they are revelations to an audience..

It's not like Gramsci's prison notebooks were hidden tracts. By the 1980s you could find them translated into English in paperback, available in many bookshops.  No one listened.  We don't have 50 years to start a march back through the institutions (even if we had the money and the infrastructure the Left had 50 years ago).

On the whole, people who aren't Leftists just take the easy route. They move away from the problem.  Which is why there's white flight in the US and the UK. They don't look at why democracy fails (and it's been failing for the same reasons for a century): elites take control.  The Left understands this and constantly snaps at the elite. The elite then do whatever is required to stop the current snapping of the Left.

As Hines says, for the Right (i.e. all those not some descendant of Marxism):

It can’t possibly be that there’s work we need to do, work that we’ve been neglecting because we don’t understand how it works and we’re lazy. That’s unthinkable. Well, think it. Because it’s true.

Hines says:

  • Small-run books on dead tree may be obscure, but they exist forever. 

I was advocating this approach 5 years ago.  With Cernovich etc. now banned from "free speech platform" it seems only fools believe the claims of these platforms.

Hines' call to action, is it won't work. People on the Right want to be left alone, whilst people on the Left are zealous, missionary, interfering busy-bodies - their mission is to interfere in other people's lives.  

Hines doesn't get it. If his rules showed signs of working, using violence the Left would close down any small successful group.  And the state and the media would be on the side of the Left.  We've seen this over and over and over.

So. Nothing will happen along the lines that Hines suggests.  Instead, an increasingly angry and increasingly thwarted group of people will coalesce around the alt-right.  And when that group is large enough they will agree that violence is the answer.  And they will have the sunnah of Hitler on which to draw. They will see a pattern that worked (it took the empires of the US, Britain and the USSR to defeat Hitler).

Which brings me back to the software engineer.  Despite all his skills, he apparently does nothing but read & tweet.  In 3 years have seen no sign of him doing anything (even when offered some options).  What I have seen in those 3 years is him move from being a liberal to being alt-right.I first got to interact with him as we saw a group of apparently reasonable young men on Twitter all gravitate to Jew-hatred and blaming the Jews for what's going on in the West.  Now he's one of them.

another long post by Hines (where again he goes seriously off track), I found this comment far more accurate than anything else on his site:

Comment from Philip Smeeton

  • “And so since the 1970s, under the guise of postmodernism, we’ve seen the rapid expansion of identity politics throughout the universities, it's come to dominate all of the humanities — which are dead as far as I can tell — and a huge proportion of the social sciences ... We’ve been publicly funding extremely radical, postmodern leftist thinkers who are hellbent on demolishing the fundamental substructure of Western civilization. And that’s no paranoid delusion. That’s their self-admitted goal ... Jacques Derrida ... most trenchantly formulated the anti-Western philosophy that is being pursued so assiduously by the radical left.”
    — Jordan Peterson, 2017[55]

  • “I will never use words I hate, like the trendy and artificially constructed words "zhe" and "zher." These words are at the vanguard of a post-modern, radical leftist ideology that I detest, and which is, in my professional opinion, frighteningly similar to the Marxist doctrines that killed at least 100 million people in the 20th century.
    I have been studying authoritarianism on the right and the left for 35 years. I wrote a book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, on the topic, which explores how ideologies hijack language and belief. As a result of my studies, I have come to believe that Marxism is a murderous ideology. I believe its practitioners in modern universities should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to promote such vicious, untenable and anti-human ideas, and for indoctrinating their students with these beliefs. I am therefore not going to mouth Marxist words. That would make me a puppet of the radical left, and that is not going to happen. Period.[72]”

  • (The Left is redefining words and rewriting history and culture. Like the Muslims, the left have a different definition of words like peace and justice than what has been the norm in the West. They even erase the meaning of words that used to make perfect sense race, nation, and invent terms and phrases that are meaningless, like gender neutrality. They outlaw terms such as patriotism).

  • “Something we cannot see protects us from something we do not understand. The thing we cannot see is culture, in its intrapsychic or internal manifestation. The thing we do not understand is the chaos that gave rise to culture. If the structure of culture is disrupted, unwittingly, chaos returns. We will do anything — anything — to defend ourselves against that return”.
    — Jordan Peterson, 1998 (Descensus ad Inferos)[22]

(The Left is causing chaos with their mistaken beliefs and ideals that conflict with reality and reason).

Richard Lynn, Cultural Marxism, and the War on Objective Science

Richard Lynn is one of very few academics whose impact on their discipline is such that the field could scarcely be discussed without referring to him. In psychology, and particularly the study of intelligence, Lynn has carved out a dominant, innovative, and extraordinarily productive career spanning several decades. He remains prolific at age 87, and Washington Summit will soon publish what will surely be a future classic: Race Differences in Psychopathic Personality —- a volume that I have had the honor and great pleasure of editing. Lynn took his took Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge and worked as lecturer in psychology at the University of Exeter, professor of psychology at the Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin, and at the Ulster University. He has published in such journals as Nature, British Journal of Psychology, Journal of Biosocial Science, and Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, and has served on the editorial boards of Intelligence, Personality and Individual Differences, and Mankind Quarterly. On his retirement, and in recognition of his accomplishments and contributions, the title of professor emeritus was conferred on Lynn by Ulster University. During the last seven days, however, moves have been undertaken to strip Lynn of this title.

... cont. here:

Intellectual impostures: Postmodern philosophers' abuse of science Paperback – 1998
by Alan D Sokal (Author),‎ Jean Bricmont (Author)

Beyond The Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture Paperback – 7 May 2009
by Alan Sokal (Author)


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Most Western societies are based on Secular Democracy, which itself is based on the concept that the open marketplace of ideas leads to the optimum government. Whilst that model has been very successful, it has defects. The 4 Freedoms address 4 of the principal vulnerabilities, and gives corrections to them. 

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