It is a tenet of traditional Christianity that the messiah, Christ, took it upon himself to bear the weight of the world's sins. Through something that appears to be much like magic, this decision of Christ's is part of what redeems his followers, saving them from original sin and, likewise, from death. This response seems to me to be too otherworldly and too contaminated by wish fulfillment (although I could be wrong. It is very easy to be wrong about religious matters).
But what if something else is meant, entirely?
Here's an alternative explanation: Christ is representative of the individual who decides that everything that constitutes human nature, socially, also constitutes him, individually. Most human beings do not want to accept this. Who wants to believe that the capacity for criminality, torture -- and, worse, totalitarian extermination -- exists within our breasts? But it is in fact in the denial of this truth that people cut themselves off from the full expanse of human moral capacity.
What if it were impossible to understand how good a human being might be, until you were fully willing to accept that you would have been a Nazi -- even a concentration camp guard -- if you had been born in Germany at the appropriate historical moment? The development of such understanding really constitutes a full encounter with evil. Such a process is captured, mythologically, by the story of Christ encountering and overcoming Satan in the desert (which is a lonesome and desolate place).
Think about it: How could you be good, in truth, if you do not understand evil? How can you avoid participating in a process you do not understand? You might be participating right now, without even knowing it! (In fact, you probably are).
Think about this, too: If the understanding of evil is the primary impediment to enlightenment and redemption, then it is easy to understand why those virtues or properties are so rare.
It is through the encounter with radical evil, and the acceptance of personal responsibility for the existence of that evil, that man is redeemed, and spiritual death, with its attendant all-too-real hells, is avoided.
Understanding all of this also means beginning to understand the meaning of the "imitatio Christi."
I just returned from Montreal to Toronto. Every time I drive that road, I can't believe it's still four lanes. It's an exceptionally busy highway, and joins Canada's two biggest cities. Why are we still driving that distance on 1950's roads? Why is the speed limit still 100 or 110 kmh, when modern cars can easily cruise safely at 150, and the Europeans have been driving faster than that for decades? Do our governments have something against safe, efficient transportation? There is just no possibility that an extra lane and 50 kmh faster would be more dangerous than the packed, truck-ridden and aged highway we currently possess. I don't understand. It must be part of the modern sense that cars are somehow evil, which they are definitely not.
I first saw the comic book Being Friends, Being Safe, Being Catholic a few years ago, when it was first being distributed to schools. After reading it -- and after recovering from the shock -- I wrote to the Archbishop of New York. I informed him as bluntly as I could that this was the most appalling and, frankly, psychopathological bit of advice for children that I had ever seen (speaking professionally, as a psychologist).
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, particularly given the content of my message, I never heard anything back. Ever since then I wanted to write publicly about it.
The main character in this comic, is a cute and Disneyfied angel of God. This angel -- God's voice, insofar as the Catholic hierarchy in New York interprets it --has two important, divinely inspired, messages for the child reader:
1) adults, in general, are so dangerous and so treacherous and so vile and so pernicious and so predatory that they cannot be trusted alone with you, or any other child (particular while you are dressing), unless at least one other adult is in the vicinity and can see what is happening, every single moment; and
2) to be safe, you always have to be in a group. If you are incautious enough to be alone, however, make sure you have warned other people, if you might be with an adult.
It is impossible to overstate how appalling this comic really is, especially given that it was written by a hypothetically apologetic institution, attempting to address past wrongs, to improve the sexual safety of children.
Children are simply not in danger, in general, if they are alone with adults (as if that has to be said). The vast majority of adults would never dream of sexually assaulting a child. Children are in danger, specifically, if they happen to be alone with adults whose morals are so twisted that they believe it is acceptable to prey on children. Such adults are in a decided minority, although there appear to be more of them than might be expected on statistical grounds alone in the Catholic hierarchy of priests. If the members of that hierarchy are generally characterized by attitudes like those put on display by the authors of this comic book, it is no wonder. It is an additional miracle of sorts that they would fail to notice that the public presentation of such pathology in comic book form might be regarded as reprehensible.
It is wrong, categorically, absolutely, irrevocably, to tell children that adults are not to be trusted. The authors of this comic book want to dilute the guilt of the Catholic priest-abusers by pretending that the awful impulses they give free rein to are characteristic of all adults, no matter how innocent such adults strive to appear. They don't care that they are perverting the natural trust that a child should feel towards an adult, by stressing the universality of a comparatively rare pathology. It is unbelievably wrong to use an image of God's voice to deliver this message. This is an act of blasphemy of which Satan himself would approve.
The authors of this "work for children" should be placed in stocks. I wouldn't let children of my acquaintance of elementary school age EVER read this comic, and I might not let them within twenty feet of anyone who think that distributing it is a good idea.
"The expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer of the Survival of the Fittest is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient."
"In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment."
" Believing as I do that man in the distant future will be a far more perfect creature than he now is, it is an intolerable thought that he and all other sentient beings are doomed to complete annihilation after such long-continued slow progress."
It is very frequently the case that proponents of Darwin (who was by any estimate a great scientist) refuse to take responsibility for the misguided social policies that emerged on the heels of his revelations, although they are quick to blame religious institutions for their sins. Implicit in Darwin's statement is the idea that "fittest" exists and that it is "better" (given "the struggle for survival").
The idea that fitness exists and that it is better is very much in keeping with the Victorian attitude. The typical English aristocrat (like the genius Galton, Darwin's cousin) was absolutely a believer in a hierarchy of rank among animals, among cultures, and among individuals within those cultures. English aristocrats were at the top, at the very pinnacle of evolution. Galton was clearly a eugenicist, even coining the term.
The idea of "fitness," as an absolute, is predicated implicitly on the idea that there is an absolute "environment." As species develop over time, according to this view, they become "more fit." Thus, they progress, towards some state of hypothetical perfection.
Unfortunately for the proponents of this view, the environment changes as much as the species, partly because "the environment" for many animals is made up of other animals (conspecifics, predators, prey animals, parasites, bacteria, viruses, etc.) and partly because of physical changes (climate shifts, geological or cosmological events). So the species and the environment are locked in an ever-changing arms race. What is "fit" one year, or one epoch, may not be fit at all the next.
Thus the idea of progress, as such, cannot be derived from the theory of natural selection, which is more an explanation for life's continuity than for its manifest destiny. Now, it is the case that many of the organisms that exist today are more complex than those that existed hundreds of millions of years ago, at least within the confines of their own skins, and that may look like progress, particularly to the most complex of those organisms: human beings. But there are explanations that are not predicated on the general idea of progress to account for that.
Modern evolutionary scientists and commentators, such as Richard Dawkins and Stephen J. Gould, have explicitly abandoned the idea that there is progress in evolution. This position, although correct, as far as can be determined today, has its own pathological political implications, which such thinkers simply refuse to face. Do we abandon the notion of a hierarchy of values, in consequence of our belief in non-directional evolution? If so, how do we justify the fact of our necessary goals, as the establishment of goals implies value? If not, on what do we base our beliefs about how that hierarchy should be constructed?
Evolutionary theorists are completely undermined in their ethical presuppositions by the arguments of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, who made a careful case for the grounding of Western morality in Christianity. Nietzsche certainly said, "God is dead." But he also said, "What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time?" He meant that the death of God meant the death of value, and was courageous enough to admit that that meant trouble. Nietzsche predicted, in The Will to Power, that millions of people would die in ideological wars in the twentieth century because of this death.
Dawkins cannot answer Dostoevski's question, underlying three of his great novels, Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov and Demons: why should the individual not live a psychopathic life, devoted solely towards the self, if there are no ultimate values? Why not pursue selfish pleasure, to the exclusion of all else? After all, there are credible evolutionary arguments for the survival of genes linked to psychopathy.
Life without values is nothing but unstructured chaos, overwhelming, anxiety-provoking, painful and without reward. If there is no teleology within evolutionary theory (not even to the degree that Darwin presumed), but if values are necessary, pragmatically speaking, on what are they to be grounded?
The answer that Dawkins provides, rational thought, Enlightenment thought, is simply wrong. His moral philosophy is a century out of date. The frame problem cannot be solved by rational means. Rationality simply has to be grounded in values. Where are these values to come from, in a value-free universe?
Until the evolutionary theorists take the problem of values seriously -- and until they apologize, publicly, for the unfortunate historical consequences of Darwin's errors -- they will fight forever and dangerously with conservatives (fundamentalists, even), who understand that values are necessary, presume that they should be grounded in tradition, attempt to live by those values (at least at their best), but are very poor scientists.
Dr. Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works, among other books, and Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, are currently engaged in a debate that, like human insanity and unnecessary misery, never goes away. Gladwell is accusing Pinker of inhabiting the "lonely ice floe of IQ fundamentalism." Many intellectuals, particularly those of the unrepentantly optimistic kind, do not like IQ research, and it's no wonder. If liberals (and conservatives) took the science behind IQ research seriously, they would have to radically change their worldviews. But should it be taken seriously?
To answer this question, you might well first ask, what is IQ? It's actually rather simple to understand. Imagine that you had a very large library of questions and puzzles, tens of thousands of items. Then imagine that you randomly chose sets of 50 questions from that library. Then imagine that you gave those 50 questions to a hundred people, scored them right or wrong, and obtained a sum of correct answers for each person. Finally, imagine that you rank-ordered their performance. Voila! Those people are now ranked by IQ. It turns out that no matter which 50 questions you used, the rank order would be extremely similar.
Despite the rather simple and obvious manner in which IQ can be derived (and explained), there is probably more nonsense written about it than about any other scientific concept. The most egregious purveyors of such nonsense include Robert Sternberg, Howard Gardner (the twin darlings of educational theorists devoted to wishful thinking) and, most unforgiveably, the Harvard paleontologist, Stephen J. Gould who, among his many other sins, felt it necessary to torture Edmund O. Wilson for his biologically influenced views of human behavior. Gould regarded IQ as a reification, and its method of derivation as the inappropriate "abstraction of intelligence as a single entity."
It is almost impossible to overstate how intellectually reprehensible Gould's stance really was. IQ is perfectly well measured as a simple average. Its derivation, as explained above, does not have to be mathematically or conceptually complex. Gould complained about the complex "factor analytic" techniques often used to produce estimates of intelligence, but did not or refused to realize that the simple average is a form of factor analysis. So Gould basically argued that the average ("reified" and "abstracted") does not exist, when he knew perfectly well that mathematical abstractions are extremely real, by any reasonable standard, and that the average is a useful and unavoidable scientific measure.
This simple average, which can be measured reliably and validly (the twin markers for a well designed test), appears to index the human abilities to abstract, and to manipulate abstractions. It turns out that in a complex society, those abilities are strongly linked to success, academic and practical. When I say strongly, I mean strongly: First, IQ predicts such things better than any other measure, with the possible exception of conscientiousness (which is the proclivity to truth, hard work, and orderliness, and is a scientific mystery); second, the strength of this relationship exceeds the strength of 95% of the relationships identified by social scientists, according to James Hemphill, a psychologist at Simon Fraser.
The association between IQ and success is not surprising, because most jobs that are not merely rote repetition of the same act require abstraction, including the use of language. There is a positively lovely paper by Linda Gottfredson, who also happens to be a lovely person, explaining this in clear language. IQ also predicts other strange things, like quality of human semen. It is important to note that it does not explain everything, however (and this is also the mark of a good measure, and is called divergent validity). Conscientiousness, a trait which includes orderliness, persistence and integrity, is also a very strong predictor of success, broadly defined, as is emotional stability (relative freedom from anger, fear and emotional pain). These traits happen to completely and somewhat surprisingly uncorrelated with IQ, and conscientiousness is not understood at all.
Here's another reason it is hard to simply dismiss the reality and the importance of IQ (unless you want to dismiss the entire corpus of work in social science, which is of course your prerogative). The psychologists who laid the groundwork for IQ research, Spearman and Pearson, were also instrumental in establishing the statistics that psychologists (and, to an extent only limited by their expertise, other social scientists) use almost exclusively to test their claims to truth. What that means is that if you believe anything a social scientist has ever claimed to demonstrate scientifically, rather than merely opining about, you are pretty much stuck believing in IQ.
Sternberg and Gardner claim, for their parts, that there are many "kinds" of intelligence. That is fine, but we already have a word for other kinds of "intelligence": talents. Confusing talents and intelligences is a mug's game, philosophically dishonest, and dangerously misleading. It is very important to be precise about terminology, to avoid confusing the issue. By his own admission, Gardner doesn't care about measurement (which eliminates him from any serious scientific game), while Sternberg plays games with his statistics and his methodology to ensure that the results of his own research never challenge his a priori beliefs. Neither of them has ever demonstrated that their “intelligences” can be measured. From a scientific perspective, this means that they simply do not exist.
The mere fact that IQ exists, however – at least in the pragmatic sense, if not in the ontological – poses a number of problems. One of these is that heritable factors strongly determine the differences in IQ between people. This becomes, paradoxically, more true as the environment equalizes. As more and more people have access to computers, books and even television, and their environmental opportunities for full cognitive development become more similar, the only factors left to determine variation in IQ are genetic. The relationship between environment and genes is not fixed.
This is a big problem for liberals, because there are real differences in human intelligence. This means that much of the inequality that exists does not exist for environmental reasons. This means, for example, that if education systems are improved, the smarter people will benefit more. This means that if there is more equality of opportunity, in a complex, abstracted society, the smarter people will do better. Thus, as we become increasingly meritocratic, biological differences increasingly account for the success or failure of people. This is the non-egalitarian and paradoxical consequence of equality of opportunity.
IQ differences are also a big problem for conservatives. Conservatives like to delude themselves into believing that there is a job for ever person, if only that person is sufficiently willing to work. As someone who once spent 35 hours training a dedicated and conscientious person with a nonverbal IQ of about 80 unsuccessfully to fold letters to place in envelopes, I can attest practically as well as intellectually to the fact that some people are just not smart enough to work productively. The US Army has learned this through hard experience. It is illegal in the US to draft anyone with an IQ of less than 82, if I remember properly. This is about 10% of the population. No one whose intelligence is below that can be trained to do anything productive and worthwhile for an organization chronically and desperately short of personnel, and designed in part as an agent of social mobility. What this means in part is that the problem of welfare dependency and unemployment and low income and social inequality IS a problem of the unequal distribution of biological resources. It would be good to have an intelligent discussion about the moral implications of that problem, instead of wishing it away, from the right and the left.
I should say, in general, that I am an admirer of Gladwell, although less so of Pinker, even though I believe that Pinker has the science on his side on this issue. Gladwell is a very good writer, and an intelligent conduit of information to the broad populace. However, he doesn't have the technical knowledge to hold his own in the IQ debate. As for Pinker, his comments on culture, art and religion (which basically boil down to the presumption that they are spandrels, byproducts of evolution) are both vapid, from the perspective of content, and treacherous, from the standpoint of fair argumentation.
They are vapid because Pinker believes that the role of art, culture and religion in human evolutionary and social development can be summarized in a single chapter in a single book: dismissed, essentially. He doesn’t take these phenomena seriously, because he thinks they are spandrels, and he thinks they are spandrels, because he doesn’t want to do the work that would be required to broaden his knowledge.
Pinker’s comments are treacherous because no one has been able to define precisely and exactly when a biological or cultural phenomenon is “genuine” (whatever that might mean, evolutionarily) or a “byproduct” of something genuine). This allows an evolutionary psychologist to define anything he or she doesn't want to take seriously as a spandrel, and to thereby dispense with it.
This has happened to me many times when debating the utility of religious belief (even its inevitability) with rationally-minded thinkers. I point out that religious experience and belief are human universals, that these universals have existed as far back in time as we have records of human activity, and that they may thereby (1) have evolved and (2) serve some useful biological function. They respond “spandrel,” despite the centrality of art, culture and religion to human behavior, and remove all necessity for further thought.
About four years ago, the President of Harvard University, Larry Summers, was pilloried for daring to suggest that gender differences might play a role in determining the still-remaining gaps with regards to productivity, pay and proportion of representation between men and women in certain occupations. From a strictly scientific perspective, there was nothing inappropriate about his comments. However, it is virtually impossible to have a serious discussion of gender differences without running afoul of the preconceptions of the politically correct. However, it is important to do so, not least because genuine understanding of the differences between men and women is at least as important to women as it is for men. This is particularly true for young, competent women, who are trying to determine how to simultaneously maintain an all-consuming career, an intimate relationship, and a family.
I therefore want to draw my readers' attention to a paper published by David Schmitt and his colleagues in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2008 - a paper which should have been front page news, in my estimation, for what it revealed. The paper is entitled, provocatively: "Why Can't a Woman be More Like a Man? Sex Differences in Big Five Personality Traits Across 55 Cultures." It should be noted that this paper was published in an exceedingly prestigious journal, and was not drifting along on some academic backwater.
Academics in the 1960's were more or less universally convinced that personality and cognitive differences between the genders were environmentally produced, and that they would, in consequence, disappear, as the social environment became more homogeneous and less discriminatory. This theory was flawed, conceptually, for two reasons: First, there was no reason to assume, a priori, that all the differences were environmental, to begin with. Second, when environmental variance disappears, because of increasingly "fair" treatment, the only factors left that determines differences between people are genetic. The theory also appears to be flawed for reasons of fact.
Schmitt's paper addresses this issue head-on. He analyzed 18000 responses to a well-designed personality questionnaire measuring extraversion (social dominance, positive emotion, gregariousness), negative emotionality (sensitivity to punishment and threat, manifested as pain, fear, guilt, shame, anger and self-consciousness), agreeableness/assertiveness, conscientiousness (integrity, orderliness and persistence) and openness (creativity and intelligence). The questionnaire was administered to participants in 55 nations. The results were crystal clear, and they were not favorable to those holding the simple-minded environmental hypothesis. The more developed the nation and, by any reasonable standard, the more egalitarian, the larger the personality differences manifested between men and women.
What this means, essentially, is that men and women will differ for innate, genetically predicated reasons, when their environments approach equality of opportunity. Furthermore, these differences are large and important, and stable across the developed countries where they were most likely to be manifest.
Before I tell you what those differences were, I want to point out some obvious facts about men and women. First, they differ in size. The typical woman weighs about 140 pounds and is 65 inches in height at age 30, while the typical man weighs about 180 and is 70 inches in height. Thus the typical man weighs about 30% more and is about 8% taller. Men are also much stronger in their upper bodies than women, and have broader and more heavily developed jaws.
Among animals characterized by such sexual dimorphism (difference between the genders), the larger gender tends to be more aggressive. Sometimes, as in the famous case of spotted hyenas, the female is larger and more aggressive. She pays for this, by the way, by suffering the requirement to give birth (rather painfully, by all evidence) through an organ that is virtually indistinguishable in size and shape from the male hyena penis.
Schmitt's paper demonstrates quite clearly that the personality differences that would be expected between the genders given their sexual dimorphism exist, are large in size, and are more prevalent in developed countries: males are much more assertive (less agreeable) and much less prone to negative emotion.
This is precisely in keeping with a very large body of clinical research demonstrating that women are more likely, cross-culturally, to suffer from anxiety disorders and depression (4:1), as would be expected given their higher sensitivity to negative emotion, and that men are far more likely (16:1 in the US) to be incarcerated.
Why might these differences exist? Perhaps women are more prone to negative emotion than men because life is and has always been simply more dangerous for women. They are smaller, physically weaker in the particular ways that are associated with fighting (where upper body strength plays a large role), and prone to sexual assault, which has tremendously devastating costs, psychologically, physically, and practically. It is interesting in this regard to note that the differences in sensitivity to negative emotion also seem to emerge at puberty (as boys and girls are more similar than men and women), when girls become sexually mature and the target of often predatory attention. It may also make sense for women to be more sensitive to threat than men, because they generally are charged with the care of very young children, who are vulnerable and easily damaged, and who need to be protected from dangers that pose no problem to adults.
Men and women are different. These differences remain, even grow, in egalitarian cultures. The differences are large and important. In occupations that are very stressful and competitive, women are therefore typically at a pronounced psychological disadvantage, regardless of their equivalent intelligence and conscientiousness (the two best predictors of competence), as they will suffer more per unit of uncertainty, and because it will be more difficult for them to withstand the competitive pressure put on them by the extremely dominant, aggressive and anxiety-resistant men who typically occupy such positions.
It is a dirty little secret in the corporate and professional worlds that women in their thirties tend disproportionately to disappear from extremely competitive, high-stress occupations (the practice of law in large law firms is particularly affected). This has nothing to do with their competence, or with the firms, in my opinion, as law firms are desperate for highly competent people, regardless of gender. It is simply that highly educated women in their thirties are often looking to start a family, have partners who make plenty of money, and start wondering "why in the world am I working 80 hours a week?" This is an eminently reasonable question, and there is no reason in the world to assume that any job, no matter how high-powered, is necessarily worth the sacrifice of life with small children.
The real question, therefore, is not "why do many women choose not to work eighty hours a week during their thirties" but "why are a small but very persistent minority of men willing to do so?" I will post some thoughts about that later.
Francis Widdowson, whose recent book on aboriginal affairs in Canada has caused such a stir, was not happy about my most recent appearance on TVO’s Agenda. “The one, supposedly scientific voice, is a psychology professor who makes nonsensical and vague references to “religious truths,” she writes on her blog. She took particular issue with my somewhat rushed comments about the flooding in New Orlean's in the last 30 sec. of the program.
Perhaps I might explain what I meant more fully: Mythological representations, like those that portray Yahweh in the Old Testament, hold that the moral decay of society and the individual is indistinguishable from the wrath of God (if the archaic writings are read with some sophistication and some consideration for the intelligence of the pre-empirical writers). This is not merely my opinion; it is also the opinion of very informed historians of religion such as Mircea Eliade. There is a simple reason for this: corrupt societies are much less likely to prepare properly for "God’s anger" - experienced, not infrequently, as natural or social disaster. The US Army Corp of Engineers was, after all, publicly censured for its failure to pay attention even to its own data with regards to the strength of the New Orleans levees.
Furthermore, New Orleans, in particular, and Louisiana, in general, is famously corrupt in its political and economic society. It doesn't take genius to note what the authors of the Old Testament meant by their idea that Yahweh does not tolerate sin (hamartia, in Greek: to miss the target – an archery term). Unprepared societies, willfully blind, undermined in their efficiency by their own corruption, inevitably bring the wrath of God down upon themselves. Think metaphorically, for a moment (in the manner that the authors of the Old Testament would have thought). It wasn't a hurricane that destroyed New Orleans. The seawalls and dykes in Holland would have repelled Katrina without a tremor, because they were built by a forthright and honest people, who responded to their own knowledge and their appropriate fear of Neptune with intelligence and care. The American dykes didn't hold, because they were built by people who closed their eyes to their own data, and were stripped of funding by corrupt politicians who squandered and pocketed resources that should have been devoted to saving the city. "God" obviously doesn't approve of such behavior.
With regards to Widdowson's claim for the “empirical” knowledge of the Greeks: The methods for formal scientific empiricism and the measurement techniques upon which it depends were simply not established until the time of Bacon, Descartes and Galileo. Furthermore, anyone who has gone after the politically correct for inappropriately celebrating "native American culture" should be very careful about criticizing someone for "ignoring the entire body of knowledge accumulated by.... pre-modern cultures." I don't ignore that knowledge at all. It is for this reason that I have respect for religious beliefs, although I have never claimed to be and am not at all "an overt believer in supernatural forces." I certainly value archaic knowledge, but I never confuse it with science.
Frances Widdowson also claims that Christianity tells its believers "not to rebel against the existing order." This is a comment that only a die-hard Marxist (a particularly apt phrase), ossified into a predictable ideological viewpoint, could possibly make. Christ, historical or archetypal, was crucified precisely because he rebelled against the social order. The Pharisee Caiphas said about Christ what tyrants everywhere have always said about individuals who follow the dictates of their conscience and dare to oppose the state: "...it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not."
Widdowson writes that the program "turned out to be a shameless promotion of irrationality and silliness." She also accuses me, personally, of being an "overt believer in unsubstantiated supernatural forces" who makes "nonsensical and vague references to religious truths." I think that anyone who has publicly claimed allegiance to Marxist views (according to Macleans magazine) should be very careful about making such comments. As far as I am concerned, there is absolutely no excuse for anyone to profess Marxist views at this stage of the historical game. In fact, I think a strong case can be made, ethically, that professing Marxism is as ill-advised and immoral as professing National Socialism, and psychologically, that anyone who continues to do so is opaque to contradictory evidence in a literally pathological manner.
In every country that Marxist principles have been implemented, mayhem, destruction, oppression and murder have followed. The Russian Nobel-prize winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn's devastating critique in the 1970's (The Gulag Archipelago) demolished the last remaining shreds of Marxist intellectual credibility. He estimated that 60 million people were killed in the Soviet Union from 1919-1959 as a consequence of internal repression alone. More cautious observers put the numbers at 30 million. Solzhenitsyn also estimated that more than 100 million were killed in China, for the same reasons. This is to say nothing of Cambodia, where the probability of being killed under the communists approached 1/2.2. My students at the university know about the Nazi holocaust, of course, but have been taught almost nothing about these other larger-scale genocides, in large part because twentieth century intellectuals were frequently enamored of leftist ideas, and thus less willing to point their fingers at the communists than at the fascists.
Die-hard modern Marxists tend to believe, of course, that none of this murderousness and soul-shattering callousness was "real" communism, by which they mean, essentially, "if I had been in charge, with my true understanding of communist writ, then utopia rather than genocide would have reigned." Such a stance merely adds narcissistic arrogance to ideological delusion. If a seed produces poisonous fruit, no matter where it is planted, the seed is to blame, and not the soil. Communism has failed, excruciatingly, everywhere it has taken root. There are other reasons why the “true communism has never been tried” argument fails, as well. Solzhenitsyn took Marxism apart, axiom by painful axiom, and demonstrated to the point of agonizing clarity how the ideological premises, attractive as they were ("to each according to his need") inevitably produced their deadly consequences. So no Marxist who dares to still exist and to publicly proclaim such allegiance after the brutally ideological twentieth century should ever presume to accuse anyone else of purveying nonsense.
Marxism is nothing short of the primary exemplar of the kind of simple-minded ideological reductionism that proves almost irresistibly attractive to those for whom, in Nietzsche's prescient terms, "God is dead." Individuals who abide by the axioms of such ideologies play a dangerous but understandable game: they identify a single strong human motive, and then explain everything using a story derived from that motive. Marx did it with economics, Foucault did it with power, Freud did it with sex. Because all human endeavors are grounded, to some degree, in economics, power and sex, such stories can be made credible and coherent. However, and this is true in a technical, philosophical, sense, they cannot be made complete, because they leave so much else out. There are primary human motivations for play, exploration, aesthetic experience, religious experience, and love, among others, none of which can be reduced without catastrophic loss to explanations based on economics, power or sex. All attempts to do so merely constitute tyranny - and such tyranny is generally imposed, as fast as possible, and regardless of the consequences, by the true ideologue, who maintains belief for the psychological security and certainty that it provides, rather than for any love of the truth.
It might also be pointed out that many of the axioms of Marxism are simply wrong, scientifically: there is, for example, a extensive scientific literature demonstrating the falsehood of the idea that class identity is the primary determinant of destiny in a modern society, where individual intelligence and trait conscientiousness, both strongly genetically influenced, account for more than half of an individual's class status at the age of forty, with the circumstances of birth taken into account. Furthermore, as Daly and Wilson of McMaster University have demonstrated (in a genuine intellectual tour de force) - what tension does exist between "classes" in modern societies is generated by relative, not absolute poverty, which makes the problem psychological (jealousy, envy, resentment) rather than economic. There are similar examples too numerous to name.
There is thus no excuse whatsoever for Widdowson's Marxism, intellectually or morally. Furthermore, her critique of religious thought is completely empty, and worse, predictable, as it must be, given that it is entirely predicated on her merely algorithmic Marxism.
(In closing, I would like to state for the record that, although I disagree with Widdowson's fundamental philosophy (and even regard it as backward and dangerous) I also believe that she should be fully and unconditionally supported in her battle to bring clarity to the issue of aboriginal rights in Canada. I think attempts on the part of other academics to have her censured are a disgrace to the idea of academic freedom and, more importantly, a clear and present danger to freedom of speech.)