End of discussion? Sir Tim Hunt, Seinfield and the wild outrage index
Consider the case of the British scientist Sir Tim Hunt and the fact that Jerry Seinfield now says American college campuses have become too hostile to irreverence or anything that seems out of sync with left-wing liberalism. (To get a sense of the tirade he unleashed, click here.)
But first, to Sir Tim. Whatever he believed, the septuagenarian Nobel Prize-winning scientist was unwise to say what he did publicly. End of discussion. But I also believe that it was wrong to pillory and hound him to the extent that has come to pass, for his “trouble with girls” comments. (A quick refresher: the problem with female scientists, he said, was that having girls in labs meant you keep falling in love with them or they with you and women cry when their work is criticised.)
As a woman, it is hard for me to not laugh when recounting Sir Tim’s comments. They are so palpably ludicrous and out of time. They seem to be the sort of thing that P.G. Wodehouse would’ve written, for he wrote with the sensibilities of the time in which he lived. Sir Tim’s words and sentiments that might have done fine issuing from the mouth of a Bertie Wooster. Or some such young blade tootling around London in the early 1900s. As Sir Tim later explained when apologizing profusely, that is what his experience had been. He had fallen in love in labs and so had the women who worked with him. He had found women more prone to tears. That was his experience.
The furore that erupted was out of proportion to the offence. For a few days, he was portrayed as one of the most evil men on the planet, till the inevitable happened – the shamed “misogynist” resigned from an honorary post at University College London and from a Royal Society awards committee. According to The Guardian on Friday, June 12, “institutions have begun to cancel his invited lectures”.
Sir Tim has clearly officially become a pariah for the social progress industry.
But here’s the problem with the outrage industry. It refuses any sense of proportion. That’s something the outrage industry is refusing to allow; instead it forces everyone to either toe the line or resign. Guy Benson and Mary Katharine Ham have laid this bare in their new book, ‘End of Discussion’.
As the authors say in an interview to The Washington Post, there is a “stifling climate in academia, which has long failed in its mission to be a bastion of free exchange and critical thinking. Perhaps if we doggedly note the massive gulf between professed values and contradictory actions, we may inspire some self-reflection. Another potent tactic may be to (justifiably) ridicule campus Lefties as the new schoolmarms; the neo-Puritans among us.”
It’s not just campus Lefties though. It is the outraged of every stripe.