Q&A with a Deplorable NYU Professor
October 24, 2016
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Deplorable NYU Prof entered the Twitter-sphere with the handle @antipcnyuprof on Monday, Sept. 12. A real professor at NYU, he uses this account to argue against safe spaces, trigger warnings and the politically correct culture that imbues university settings.
His Twitter bio reads, “NYU professor exposes the viral identity politics of academia and its destruction of academic integrity.”
This “Deplorable NYU Prof,” or so he calls himself on Twitter, is actually LS Clinical Assistant Professor Michael Rectenwald, who said he wanted to go undercover among the alt-right to express his exasperation with the politically correct culture while shielding himself from social justice warriors — or SJWs, as he un-fondly calls them.
Rectenwald only labeled himself as a real, full-time NYU professor on Twitter, but he promised that once he reached 500 followers, he would reveal the corruption within higher education that stems from what he sees as liberal totalitarianism.
Washington Square News got a chance to sit down with Rectenwald before he shared the promised story of corruption online.
Washington Square News: Could you start by telling me a bit about your Deplorable NYU Professorship and @antipcnyuprof handle?
Michael Rectenwald: My contention is that this particular social-justice-warrior-left is producing the alt-right by virtue of its insanity. And because it’s doing all these things that manifest to the world, the alt-right is just eating this stuff alive. That’s why I adopted Nietzsche as the icon for the @antipcnyuprof and that’s why I said “anti-pc.” Frankly, I’m not really anti-pc. My contention is that the trigger warning, safe spaces and bias hotline reporting is not politically correct. It is insane. This stuff is producing a culture of hypervigilance, self-surveillance and panopticism.
WSN: Could you explain your feelings towards trigger warnings and safe spaces?
MR: One of the major problems of a trigger warning is this: according to trauma psychology, nobody has any idea what can trigger somebody. It’s completely arbitrary, and I don’t want to be indelicate, but let’s say a woman is raped while the guy happened to have this particular pack of gum on the table. So the woman would see this type of gum, and she’s going to feel triggered by this. Who could possibly anticipate such a thing? There is no way to anticipate just what would trigger people. As for safe spaces, I’m more ambiguous about it. I do think some people need safe spaces from different things, such as different beleaguered populations or groups who have been harassed or hounded — even murdered. People have their right to assemble as they wish. A safe space represents such an assembly. I do question their legality at some kind of state university for example, because it’s exclusionary, and that’s a public space.
WSN: How does that manifest at NYU?
MR: What happens is that the left presents its needs to the administration in universities, and the administration seizes on these opportunities to produce power and control to actually discipline the subjects under them. They don’t care what ideologies — whether it’s right, left, center. My dean two years ago — I mentioned the words trigger warning, and he snickered out loud, as if it was some foreign concept. Then last year, towards the end of the semester when we had a colloquium, he was floating the idea that they would be required on the syllabi. This is what happens. Once the administration gets it, it becomes a tool — an instrument — for them. Then they are able to compute to have more leverage and control over the curriculum, which should be faculty controlled in every university.
WSN: How do students handle this?
MR: Identity politics on campus have made an infirmary of the whole, damn campus. Let’s face it: every room is like a hospital ward. What are we supposed to do? I can’t deal with it — it’s insane. Look at the rules about Halloween costumes now. There’s a hoopla and hysteria surrounding Halloween. I tweeted something the other night about this self-surveillance — that they’re calling on people to do as reference to their Halloween costumes. It literally says “track your own online behavior” — self-surveillance. Safe spaces are turning the whole campus into an infirmary. And what do hospitals require? They require certain containment. They require a certain restriction of movement. They require surveillance. They require all of these things that I’m talking about, and that’s the problem with having a hospital as a university.
WSN: So how does this tie into Trump? Could you explain your support for him?
MR: I don’t support Trump at all. I hate him — I think he’s horrible. I’m hiding amongst the alt-right, alright? And the point is, this character is meant to exhibit and illustrate the notion that it’s this crazy social-justice-warrior-knee-jerk-reaction-triggered-happy-safe-space-seeking-blah, blah, blah, blah culture that it’s producing this alt-right. Now, I’m not dumb enough to go there. And my own politics are very strong — I’m a left communist. But I think that in fact, the crazier and crazier that this left gets, this version of the left, the more the more the alt-right is going to be laughing their asses off plus getting more pissed. Every time a speaker is booed off campus or shooed off campus because they might say something that bothers someone, that just feeds the notion that the left is totalitarian, and they have a point.
WSN: So is that where the deplorable part of your name originates?
MR: I got roped into all this when some Trump supporter retweeted something. I think Twitter is dangerous. That’s why I’m hiding this character in the alt-right, because otherwise, the social justice warriors are going to come onto me like flies, and they can be so extreme. They have these two main techniques: call out and pile on. They call out, whether it’s racism or sexism or something they don’t like, and then they pile on. It’s a nightmare. The new left has nothing to do with the historical function and historical mission on the left, which is universal human emancipation. It’s divisive. How can you have solidarity when you have all these little fissions with every little identity group with all their little niche ways of identification?
WSN: Could you talk a little about your thoughts on the entire push for diversity in general then?
MR: A cis, white, straight male like myself is guilty of something. I don’t know what. But I’m fucking sure I’m guilty of it. And I am very low on the ethical totem pole, you know? People who are doing different things, it’s like, “we are the most precious souls,” you know? The most beleaguered are the best, and the worst is the best. So there’s a one-downmanship that goes on. I despise it for the status seeking, the seeking after the most oppressed people position status that it involves, which is just utterly and completely eradicates any possibility of solidarity. But one thing I want to make clear is that I am not against diversity. What I’m against is the policing of identity that’s going on — the policing of behavior with reference to diversity. I’m not against diversity. I’m against the university using diversity as an ideology to make themselves look ethical.
WSN: If it’s not solidarity, what kind of society are we creating?
MR: This kind of left that we’re talking about: the SJW — identity-politics left — it’s not political; it’s religious. And what’s the difference? Religion individualizes, moralizes, personalizes, okay? Whereas, politics, what does it mean? Groups. Polis is a group. So by definition, politics is a group move, but this isn’t a group move at all. It always comes down to a single person. It’s absurd. You can always say that something bothers you, but I’m afraid that elimination of irritations, bother, friction and difference in opinion is utterly ineradicable and it’s part of existence. It’s part of the human existence or even you could say it’s part of the universe. And to try to create a polis or space free of that is a fool’s errand. It will end in disaster; it’s folly — pure folly and a real shame — to isolate people from that is so wrong, and it’s existentially flawed. It’s an existential error. It’s an error of the ultimate type of philosophy called being.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
A version of this article appeared in Monday, Oct. 24 print edition. Email Diamond Naga Siu at [email protected]