Julian Baggini intervjuar Alan Sokal i TPM.


People sometimes unjustly accuse Harris and Dawkins at least of being strident when in fact all they’re doing is refusing our culture’s double standard for religion. The double standard is you can say more or less anything you want about Tories or Labour, about Republicans or Democrats; about capitalists or socialists; but you can’t say anything even remotely critical about a religion. Now why not? If you read Harris’s book or Dawkins’s book – certainly if you read what I’ve written – you don’t find anything half-way as harsh about religion as you read everyday in the paper about politics.


When thinking about why Sokal gets involved with these debates, it’s important to remember his political motivations. Sokal is a man of the left who once spent a few summers teaching maths at the National University of Nicaragua during the Sandinistas’ rule. Underlying his work outside of physics is a strong conviction that it is a disaster for the left to abandon a commitment to reason. In his book, he cites one such example of someone who wanted to claim that science is not universal, but varies according to how the individual is situated in the world: “A German can look at and understand Nature only according to his racial character.”


This of course is a quotation from Ernst Krieck, a notorious Nazi ideologue, who was rector of the University of Heidelberg in 1937-38. I was flabbergasted – well maybe not flabbergasted – when I came across it. This doesn’t show that postmodernists are Nazis or anything. What it shows is a kind of uncanny overlap of ideas between, on the one hand, left-wing postmodernists, and the other hand, extreme right wing nationalists, whether they’re German or Hindu nationalists.

Jag ska inte hymla med min stora sympati för de vänsterintellektuella som kämpar för att återföra vänstern till dess ursprung som upplysningsrörelse hand i hand med vetenskapen. Ur min synvinkel är Horkheimer och Adorno de största syndarna, medan hjältarna är de tidiga kulturradikala vetenskapsvänliga socialdemokraterna, de centraleuropeiska intellektuella som tvingades i anglosaxisk exil av fascismen, företrädarna för Spät-aufklärung, etc, etc.

”The Prevention of Literature” (Orwell och Nobelmuseets självcensur)

En kort kommentar till Existens program om yttrandefrihet och Nobelmuseets censur. Museet, vars utställning ”Yttrandefriheten – var går gränsen?” innehöll filmen Submission, anlitade imam Abd al Haqq Kielan (född Leif Karlsson) för att ge synpunkter på vilka delar av filmen som inte borde visas under utställningen. (Med tanke på filmens titel är detta ironi på hög nivå: imamens namn betyder ”sanningens underdånige tjänare”.) Detta är en man som tycker att ”det är tveksamt om kvinnor bör ha rätt till ett eget socialt liv utanför hemmet” samt en rad andra trevliga åsikter.

Det slår mig att den helt riktiga kritiken mot SD angående generaliseringar om muslimer undergrävs synnerligen effektivt när organisationer och myndigheter i andra sammanhang utser imamer till att ”tala för muslimerna”. Det tycks vara olika sidor av samma förvirring.

Trots att museet ”främst vill ställa frågor” snarare än ge svar, så hade man tydligen i denna fråga en klar uppfattning om var gränsen gick, eller åtminstone vem som hade tolkningsföreträdet att avgöra detta. Men man kan ju undra hur museet tänkte: för är det överhuvudtaget möjligt att ha en diskussion om var gränsen går ifall diskussionsmaterialet utformas med målsättningen att ingen av de deltagande ska komma att anse att gränsen har överskridits?

Hur som helst, jag överlåter ordet till George Orwell och hans The Prevention of Literature (finns i In Front of Your Nose, Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, vol. 4, s. 59–72; samt här.):

About a year ago I attended a meeting of the P.E.N. Club, the occasion
being the tercentenary of Milton’s Aeropagitica – a pamphlet, it may be
remembered, in defense of freedom of the press. Milton’s famous phrase
about the sin of ”killing” a book was printed on the leaflets advertising
the meeting which had been circulated beforehand.


Moral liberty – the liberty to discuss sex questions frankly in print – seemed to be generally approved, but political liberty was not mentioned. Out of this concourse of several hundred people, perhaps half of whom were directly connected with the writing trade, there was not a single one who could point out that freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose. Significantly, no speaker quoted from the pamphlet which was ostensibly being commemorated. Nor was there any mention of the various books which have been ”killed” in England and the United States during the war. In its net effect the meeting was a demonstration in favor of censorship.


In the past, at any rate throughout the Protestant centuries, the idea of rebellion and the idea of intellectual integrity were mixed up. A heretic – political, moral, religious, or aesthetic – was one who refused to outrage his own conscience. His outlook was summed up in the words of the Revivalist hymn:

Dare to be a Daniel
Dare to stand alone
Dare to have a purpose firm
Dare to make it known


Political writing in our time consists almost entirely of prefabricated phrases bolted together like the pieces of a child’s Meccano set. It is the unavoidable result of self-censorship. To write in plain, vigorous language one has to think fearlessly, and if one thinks fearlessly one cannot be politically orthodox.


[What] is sinister, as I said at the beginning of this essay, is that the conscious enemies of liberty are those to whom liberty ought to mean most. The big public do not care about the matter one way or the other. They are not in favour of persecuting the heretic, and they will not exert themselves to defend him. They are at once too sane and too stupid to acquire the totalitarian outlook. The direct, conscious attack on intellectual decency comes from the intellectuals themselves.