The Arrogance of Ignorance


The above came up on my Facebook newsfeed as one of those pronouncements that goes viral, having attracted the applause of many people on the Left who share its sentiments. It was written by a US college professor called Peter Bolland, and it struck me as saying something important, just not for any of the reasons Professor Bolland asserts. It is, of course, one of the most perfect expressions you could ask for of that peculiar mix of self-regarding intellectual arrogance and overwhelming moral stupidity that is the hallmark of contemporary academia. Modern academics seem to have been trained in the art of putting forward opinions that contradict everything they claim within the process of claiming it.

I am not a college professor of philosophy, but in the course of my education I did become familiar with the idea of the logical fallacy, which seems to have evaded the attention of Professor Bolland altogether. He begins his declaration of the universal superiority of leftist thought with an appeal to authority, something which an undergraduate should know marks a poor start to any argument. Even more embarrassingly, the authority he appeals to is his own, effectively opening his commentary by declaring his vain self satisfaction in his professional and social status.  Beyond the shallowness of such a basis of judgement, this is, remember, a man who is soon telling us that he has been trained in humility. Personalising his abstract thought as peculiarly truthful because he is the one saying it provides another contradiction. The assumption and claim is of objective truth, but the belief being expressed is fundamentally subjective, even anecdotal in nature.

This is surely the consequence of most leftist academics having long since abandoned any concept of a distinction between subjectivity and objectivity, considering such differences as merely rhetorical devices intended to prioritise particular voices. The trouble with this stance is that they genuinely lose the ability to discern when a point being expressed is only their emotional response, and not a universal truth they have discovered. Woke academia is particularly susceptible to this flaw, having asserted for years that ‘lived experience’ from black academics or a confessional mode of self flagellation in the writings of white Critical Race Theorists has some  automatic moral worth that supersedes the need for evidence, proof or logical consistency. It is surely the replacement of scholarship with hyper-emotional subjective feelings which leaves academics like Professor Bolland so unaware of their own contradictions.

And yet this unawareness is an unfamiliarity with the very subject he teaches, since philosophy is founded both on logic and a search for objective truths about the human condition.

Looking through the rest of Professor Bolland’s commentary we can quickly see that his thinking is a kind of anti-thought, a modern rejection of the entire subject he purports to teach. Almost every line is a self contradiction. Look at the way his very subjective opinion is framed as a royal ‘we’ speaking on behalf of his entire profession. “We don’t teach socialism or even liberal political values”. Assuming such uniformity in his profession surely undermines his implied claims of intellectual plurality when stressing empathy and curiosity as key components of what he teaches. And having claimed to not reach liberal political values, he then describes what he teaches by listing modes of enquiry normally linked directly to classical liberalism as a political philosophy.

The portion of his commentary that discusses empathy, curiosity and humility is particularly blatant in its self defeating nature, since the manner in which these things are claimed immediately displays the falseness of the claim. There is no evidence in his own comments that Professor Bolland possesses any empathy, curiosity or humility at all, quite the opposite. It’s especially evident that the Professor has no empathy for anyone who dares to think differently to himself, or possess a different political perspective. Rather, he wishes to portray them as inherently inferior to himself and his enlightened fellows.

In line after line, we see the same professed message, and the same unintended revelation. We see an arrogant claim of superiority actually revealing an egregious ignorance of the very things in which expertise is being asserted. It does not take long for the Professor to work himself up to the point of speaking on behalf of the universe itself, having apparently decided that bringing the voice of his whole profession was not enough.

“Reality itself skews left”, the Professor declares. Where exactly do you begin with someone who thinks he speaks for all of reality, without even knowing himself? We have gone far past the unverifiable, and into the unintelligible, a sort of cloud of unknowing arrogance.

Having asserted this divine eminence, the Professor then turns to the idea that every Professor is a Jesus:

“When people become more educated, they become more acutely aware of the suffering of others.”

This would be a pleasant idea if it happened to be true, but we don’t need to look to just the Professor’s hypocrisies to deny it. Weimar Germany had one of most cultured and educated populations on the planet, and soon became Nazi Germany. Highly educated men have committed grotesque evils (Dr Mengele anyone?). Many of the most murderous and least empathetic political movements in history have had highly educated and cultured leaders (this applies with both left and rightwing examples, and even the most cursory familiarity with leading Communists and Nazis should make us aware of this). What this means then is that the Professor makes a claim that anyone with a modicum of historical awareness would dismiss as unusually asinine. It is an assertion both of arrogance and ignorance, of being supremely comfortable in one’s own lack of understanding. Nothing could more readily illustrate the intellectually lazy nature of an ‘I am better than you’ argument like this, then the fact that it can only work for those completely unaware of relevant history.

But the Professor is still not finished. He continues that this educated leftist empathy imparts an awareness of “their own moral responsibility to do something about it.” This is yet another self contradiction. The Professor has not described anything he has done personally about the suffering of others, he has only claimed to be better than others. It could also easily be argued that the essential problem of socialist (which he does not teach but, well, does) benevolence, if it even exists, is that it defers individual responsibility to a collective. It does good, if it works, based on collective responses backed by State authority, the precise opposite of ‘deciding to do something about it’ as an individual.

Having temporarily exhausted self contradiction, this genius of error then moves on to another logical fallacy, the strawman argument. He asserts that “me-first ideologies wither in the light of wisdom”. The idea that all non socialist politics and philosophies can be summarised as ‘me-first’ only displays a personal prejudice (that claimed empathy missing again?) and a sweeping ignorance of other political movements and the reasoning behind them. It seems a Professor of philosophy studying the history of ideas has never in his life asked a conservative why they have their views, or ever considered the possibility that they might regard them as more efficiently conducive to the general good of mankind, just as he thinks his politics are. Nor does it occur to him that some of these attitudes and policies might have clear beneficial effects for others, and it is on this basis that they are preferred, rather than on the basis of self-interest. The Professor assumes that every conservative motivation is a selfish one, which is the reductive and demonising thinking of a blinkered sophomore.

The wither in the light of wisdom line sees the Professor returning to the religious exultation in himself and his views which let him earlier speak for the entire universe. This is vanity as religion, he considers where he works, what he thinks, and who he is to be the sum and definition of wisdom. This is a bold claim contradicted by everything we have learned about him from his own words. The smugness at this point has a discernible taste, and it is of course a bitter one.

Only one thing stands true in a summary of contemporary academic thinking that is, sadly, right on one point. Because Professor Bolland does speak for many in his profession, and many on his side of politics. His is the authentic voice of a kind of ignorance that does indeed have to be learned, and which few uneducated persons possess. It is a lazy, self-blind, astonishingly hypocritical kind of thinking. Nobody is born with this type of stupidity, and it doesn’t come naturally to most people. It does indeed require a specific kind of education.

One of the truly great thinkers of history, rather unsurprisingly, had the opposite approach to Professor Bolland. Socrates claimed no special wisdom, and the apocryphal paradox ‘I know that I know nothing’ derives from this genuine humility. Professor Bolland, knowing nothing far better than Socrates did, claims that reality itself conforms to the paltry few lonely and inherited thoughts rattling around the empty spaces of his head. His arrogant assertions are the intellectual striptease of an ugly mind, but this is indeed what passes for professional scholarship in the 21st century. Everything he should have learned from his subject, he hasn’t, and his only subject is really not the thoughts possessed by others, but the thoughtless arrogance that possesses him.

Daniel Jupp is the author of A Gift for Treason:The Cultural Marxist Assault on Western Civilisation, which was published in 2019. He has had previous articles published by Spiked, The Spectator and Politicalite, and is a married father of two from Essex.