Last week I wrote a blog post criticizing Justin Murphy for advancing an intellectual project that gives platforms for various petit fascist tendencies under a cheap veneer of academic reason and sobriety. My criticism of Murphy is not that he engages with dangerous subjects from an outsider perspective—after all, I’ve written for Jacobite, which has the explicit goal of trying to corner that market—but that he uses a sort of mobile network of meaningless academic-philosophical signifiers to obscure what is, at the essence, advancing an online brand of disingenuously latching onto and shielding far right apologia.
I wrote the piece, which says that he must be “cancelled”—intended not in the sense that I want him fired from his job and ostracized from society, but that I want to start a sort of public discussion in which the contradictions of his “philosophy” are brought out into the open and resolved in a way that, hopefully, advances to some kind of higher understanding of the role of “public intellectuals” (if we can call ourselves that) and the relationship of responsible thinkers with the fringes of public discourse. From this, ideally, we attain a more necessarily adequate understanding of what the contemporary public system of opinions actually is, which has obvious current political urgency, and so on and so on.
But in any case, it seems Justin himself wants to be fired from teaching at Southampton. All the better if it’s over something stupid and insignificant, something that makes it look like he’s the common man speaking truth to power and the petty overreaction of the triggered SJWs—like picking a fight on twitter over his right to use the word “retard” online and doubling down on it when challenged by students at his university.
Challenging the PC-prohibition on saying “retard”—it appears apolitical enough, leftists and rightists alike often use the term casually, whether or not they implicitly accept understanding it as something problematic. It’s not like Justin is being challenged for the ostensibly political issues, such as sexual abuse transgressions, or voicing earnest support for Trump (He’s careful to avoid those: “I didn’t vote for Trump and I’m still no fan”). But, like the Iraq War, something being “bipartisan” is hardly a testament to it being “apolitical” (as if that’s even possible). If anything, it’s a testament to the depth of its ideological saturation.
The apolitical ideological fantasy is exactly what shields the underlying reactionary tendencies from being approached and challenged. Here, the fantasy is represented by the subject—the imaginary regular guy, implicitly white and male (but if, and when, pressed it could go other ways…), neither Democrat nor Republican, naïve and innocent, a complete tabula rasa—that is besieged by the Other, who isn’t like us, doesn’t talk like us, the grotesque and excessive SJW, who imposes a tyrannical morality of resentment and suffering over the very essence of language. This ideological fantasy is what shields the subject—Justin himself, as well as potentially all of us as spectators—from the unfathomable Real, the impenetrable, excessive, horrific desire of the Other…
Anyway, it should be no surprise that pushing this thoughtcrime transgression got him 30 days paid vacation leave from the university, which would likely otherwise not want to bother with working out these administrative procedures. No matter, according to this blog post, aptly titled “What am I doing?” in which he defends his apparent desire to leave academia for a new career as an Intellectual Dark Web social media personality. He goes off on a fascinating tangent recounting his family history:
Now that I’ve mentioned it, my family looms large in what I’m doing now. The bastard brat of an Irish-American roofer, I was never supposed to enter the official cosmopolitan intelligentsia — and when you sneak into a place, it looks very different than it does to those who are supposed to be there. I’m only here because I learned early how to hack social firewalls and I made up for my modest IQ with extra piss and vinegar (two things I did inherit amply). My dad and brother both have what the DSM calls Oppositional Defiance Disorder; I’m pretty sure I’m on that spectrum too, but I was blessed with enough self-control to sublimate my rebelliousness into a patient, longer game. Through intellectual work I could eventually prove that all those institutional authority figures were wrong, so I would do that instead of acting out and getting punished. My dad never finished high school, running away to hitchhike and eventually join the Marines. My mom, also Irish-American, also had no education and little earning power, but that didn’t stop them from having four kids. Two of my siblings are recovering heroin addicts.
That’s who I am, I am these people — and I’m quite tired of acting like I’m exactly the same as every other rootless hyper-educated citizen of the world. The typical cosmopolitan professor today — if she was giving my mother personal advice in 1986 — would have advised my parents to abort me. She would be disgusted by the latent racism and sexism she would have found embedded unconsciously in their vernacular. If my parents were “smart,” they probably would have divorced each other at some point, in search of greener pastures. But they didn’t abort me, and they spoke how they spoke, and they didn’t break the family, all for reasons I have been too educated to understand. Until lately. The last time I visited my family was in the run-up to the US Presidential election. My grandmother, a former teacher who is educated and fiercely intelligent (and disagreeable), told me she was going to vote for Trump. I articulated my reasons for why that upset me, and she looked me in the eyes like she never had before, with a coldness unlike her, and she said, “I do not care what anybody thinks.” I was horrified and upset at the time, but this was one of my best friends growing up, and I never, ever would have become a successful academic without her. I didn’t vote for Trump and I’m still no fan, but her words on that day have been echoing in my head like crazy since then. I may have recalled these words every single day since then. All of my own traits and accomplishments that I like and value the most about myself, I got from my family. They have backbones far stronger than most people I’ve met in my extensive travels among the international intellectual class. I haven’t yet made sense of all this, but sometimes life forces you to make broad wagers, on ill-defined questions you don’t fully understand. I needed to give you all of this background, but in conclusion, all I can really say is that I have already invested far too much into academic respectability, and not enough into honoring my family. And I’ve never been good at half measures, so now I’m going to see what happens if I bet the farm on “I do not care what anybody thinks.”
There’s a lot going on here. This appears to be divulging a ton of personal information, and therefore feels intuitively to be in bad taste to take a critical approach to it as I am doing. But this is not divulged with confidentiality in a therapy session, nor is it in a diary—rather, it is a public blog in a pinned tweet on his public twitter profile with thousands of followers. With this in mind, I think it’s fair to talk about this as I have talked about other aspects of the public “Justin Murphy” persona, and as such call this what it is: symptom in the form of a torrential sentimental vortex of symbolic-ideological clichés. This passage is presented in the context of a defense for being called out and professionally scolded for a (unprofessional) social media breakdown, and with that in mind the symbolic components should appear far more striking and excessive. The working-class Irish ethnic heritage; the status as bastard son; the military family background; the sense of grit and authenticity, opposed to the effete world of “rootless” (!) intellectuals; the lingering haunting possibility of abortion, the original sin; heroin addiction; and the sudden, unrequested assertion that it’s “not really about Trump,” an obvious red flag—it’s not about Trump, it’s not about Jordan Peterson, it’s not about my Father!
(That was the code word, I’ll wrap this up for today.)