A view from Dave Trott: Utter conceptual penis
A view from Dave Trott

Utter conceptual penis

UK journal Cogent Social Sciences recently published a paper linking the penis with global warming.

The main thesis was that the penis wasn’t just a male organ, the conceptual penis was the cause of many of the world’s evils.

The panel of independent academic reviewers described the paper as "outstanding".

One reviewer praised the authors for capturing "the issue of hypermasculinity through a multi-dimensional and non-linear process".

So, a very successful paper.

Doubly so because it was a complete hoax.

The authors, Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay, wrote the deliberately nonsensical paper to expose how low academic standards had sunk. 

In order to get taken seriously, they knew they would need the credibility of long, trendy, hard-to-understand words.

So they opened with: 

"Conceptualising the penis as a specifically male anatomical organ is highly problematic. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a gender-performative highly fluid social construct."

They went on to expand their position:  

"Through detailed poststructuralist discursive criticism and the example of climate change, this paper will challenge the prevailing and damaging social trope that penises are best understood as the male sexual organ."

In case that wasn’t convincing enough, they continued: 

"We need not delve deeply into criticisms of dialectic objectivism, or their relationship with masculine tropes like the conceptual penis to make effective criticism of (exclusionary) dialectic objectivism."

They then demonstrated that (as long as you use impressive language) nothing is too ridiculous to be taken seriously: 

"Manspreading… seen from the perspective of the (conceptual) penis as a (performative) social construct, is clearly a dominating occupation of physical space, akin to raping the empty space around him, that is best understood via the machismo braggadocio isomorphism to toxic hypermasculinity." 

Boghossian and Lindsay commented on the impenetrable nature of the language they used:

"We don’t understand it either. Nobody does. This problem should have rendered it unpublishable in all peer-reviewed, academic journals."

But of course it didn’t; quite the reverse, in fact.

The harder the language is to understand, the more intelligent the content is taken to be.

As Boghossian said, the paper was published because it fitted the prejudices of the modern academic world.

Postmodern, relativist and moralising.

In his words: "They teach students to turn off their rational minds and become moral crusaders."

Which explains quite a bit about modern advertising.

Look at the work all around you.

We are recruiting graduates who are ashamed to be selling things.

So they need the credibility of complex language to validate their jobs.

Look how every product, from chewing gum to washing-up liquid, talks about making the world a better place.

Then look how all advertising is interchangeable and unbranded.

Then sit in a meeting and listen to the language used to justify it.

That language works perfectly well to impress our academic peers.

But it doesn’t work on the streets with ordinary people.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.