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Mushrooms, Modafinil, and Mass Shooters (How Academia Got Pwned 2)

This is the second post in a series about the glorious completion of my academic career, the internet, and the future of intellectual life. Tell me: Would you like to read the whole story, edited, in a beautiful paperback? I may have an announcement soon, so be sure to subscribe.


After two wildly incorrect Daily Mail features, it’s high time I set the story straight. This will take a while, but I can start with a basic clarification of some common questions I’ve received. What did I actually get in trouble for, exactly? The abortion comments, tripping on Instagram, using the word “retard,” shoplifting from self-checkout kiosks, or what?

My disciplinary troubles first started back in May of 2018, when a public complaint was lodged about one of my personal blog posts. I was asked whether I had ethics approval for my blog post, which is strange because there has never been even an implicit expectation that personal blog posts exploring public data need ethics approval. When you consider the post that attracted the complaint, it’s no longer very puzzling. In The Alt Right is not All Right, I sought to estimate the ideological distribution of an internet subculture associated with the so-called Alt Right. This matter was placed under investigation for several months. They asked me to take the post down in the meantime, I said no, and I was waiting on a verdict for several months.

Then on September 6, 2018, I received a letter from my Dean inviting me to an investigation meeting. The letter was at such pains to stress that the investigation was not disciplinary that it was clear we were now embarking on a major disciplinary imbroglio. Academia is filled with this kind of USSR-level doublespeak. Due to some new information that was brought to her attention, the investigation would now include several new issues:

You have published your use of the drugs LSD (Class A), Adderall, MDMA (Class A), psilocybin (Class A), Modafinil and Cannabis for academic purposes, on Twitter

You posted a video to Instagram on 10 February 2017, whilst on sabbatical, “tripping on psilocybin” (“magic” mushroom)

You have stated that your chatrooms are a safe place for, amongst others, “pedophiles and mass shooters”

That last one you haven’t heard until now. But let’s go in order…

The first matter was referring to an answer I gave on the public Q&A site Curiouscat.me. I was asked by an anonymous person what drugs I’ve used for intellectual productivity purposes (not “academic purposes,” as the investigation stated, which makes it sound like I was doing drugs in my office hours). I told them the truth. As I told my investigator more than once over the next few investigation meetings: if someone asks me a question, I am duty-bound to tell the truth, as an academic and a public intellectual. Would they have me lie? They did not answer that. I don’t see what’s wrong with telling someone all the drugs I’ve done, and my judgment on their advantages and disadvantages. Academics do their students and the public much greater harm by pretending they’ve never done drugs, and withholding their valuable judgments on the matter. In the investigation, I affirmed that I was indeed the author of this post and that I did not regret it.

The second matter is pretty self-explanatory. When I was on sabbatical, I tripped on psilocybin with my wife and I posted a few videos to Instagram (1, 2). They are sweet, funny videos. Like all good memories, they feel more beautiful to me every time I revisit them. We had a wonderful, wholesome time, and I do not in the least regret sharing these videos. What kind of unthinking, unfeeling loser could have any problem with these videos? I know that sounds like I’m being cruel toward people who are just doing their jobs, except that their job description also says they’re independent thinkers (and they’d gladly make me homeless if they needed to, so let’s not kid ourselves). This is the turning point we’re at right now: They can continue to play these idiotic institutional games for paychecks if they please, but I can play the game of simply and honestly revealing them to be the pathetic, cowardly mercenaries they are, and more people will read this and believe it than will hear or care about any edict they could possibly produce (because nobody listens to institutional edicts anymore, for exactly this reason). Sure, they can “unperson” me across one whole economic sector, but they suffer more from this than I do, because I can account for myself plainly and honestly to anyone anywhere while they can only do so by hiding in a thick morass of institutional excuses.

I don’t want to rub it in, but perhaps it’s only possible for people to give their lives to enforcing senseless rules because they aren’t mocked enough. I’m sorry but only a zombie on a mighty fine salary could possibly object to a good man producing lovely, wholesome videos with his partner in holy matrimony! Slowly drink yourself to death, have affairs, abandon your kids, kick dogs — academics are allowed to do all of these things. But explore mildly different states of mind and share it with the public? Not so fast! I haven’t even mentioned the tiny detail that we were in Amsterdam, where psilocybin is effectively decriminalized. Psychedelics are an excellent tool for making the most of an academic sabbatical, and there’s simply nothing harmful or irresponsible about making or sharing these videos.

The third matter is also self-explanatory, except that “chatroom” is apparently the word that Boomer bureaucrats use to describe Youtube livestreams. My Youtube livestream is much, much more than a chatroom, thank you very much — it’s a form of life, a hard fork of reality, a new Heaven and a new Earth, the portal to an entirely new model of the vita contemplativa, but I can’t expect these people to understand any of this. It’s not the fault of these eminent social scientists that they don’t know the difference between Youtube and AOL. You must be kind to them, you see, social science is very time consuming; how can these esteemed social scientists be expected to have even passing familiarity with the basic interfaces of social life today? Who can blame them? They are far too busy enforcing Ordinance 3.5 on me. It’s a thankless task, defending this profession of brave intellectual exploration…

This is a weird one because it’s a statement of fact. My livestream is a safe space for pedophiles and mass shooters, if only because I have no way of knowing who on Youtube is a pedophile or a mass shooter. They’re safe from me knowing anything about them, and therefore safe from me doing anything about them. This was strange to find in my dossier, though, especially because this was just one jokey line deep into one random livestream. Anyway, the university always encourages us to create learning environments that are safe for every kind of person, including people from marginalized groups. Also, the university always encourages us to seek public impact. They run huge, multi-million-pound programs dedicated to producing public “impact.” Pedophiles and mass shooters are widely despised, and targets of extreme social prejudice. If my Youtube channel became a place for pedophiles and mass shooters to learn and rehabilitate, that’d be a major public impact in the name of social progress. I see nothing at all wrong with allowing — even welcoming — such people into open internet spaces, especially if they cannot be excluded anyway. I believe that what I think and what I say is good, therefore I believe pedophiles and mass shooters will benefit from exposure to me. Perhaps I can decrease the probability they will continue their evil misdeeds. I should note that pedophiles are not necessarily pederasts, so — now that I think about it — if the university censures me for welcoming pedophiles into my public livestream then they are implicitly asking me to engage in discrimination by sexual orientation. Remind me to email my lawyer about this one!

“But wait,” you’re wondering, “didn’t the Daily Mail say you got in trouble for that abortion/necrophilia tweet? Or was it calling someone a retard?” In due time, dear reader.

2 comments on “Mushrooms, Modafinil, and Mass Shooters (How Academia Got Pwned 2)”

  1. I'm interested in following your serialized adventure story, Justin. But on the evidence of this first installment, you might actually be wise to wait a year or so before putting it into book form. This post is missing the studied analytic detachment that's so integral to your charm. It comes across as an angry, defensive rant, and the last thing the world needs is more angry defensive rants.

    For us readers outside the academy, the administration's injustice toward you is not so self-evident. Remember, any day-care supervisor or bank teller would be fired as a matter of course if he posted a video of himself getting high. Most of us view discretion as a minor price to pay for continued employment. Your self-justifications here come across as special pleading unless you first lay the predicate of why the rules of the private sphere don't--and shouldn't--apply to you. The importance of academic freedom, why it's now imperiled, and how your story is a data point in that story.

    No doubt this is the plan for your book. But a slightly more objective stance would make these blog posts more illuminating as well.

    1. Thanks for this. I am sure you are right. I did say this is really just a brainstorm/brain dump, a first raw effort to tell the story with whatever observations come to mind, in whatever style or tone that feels appropriate in the moment. I'm sure it does lack some of my better judgment, and if this does become a book I assure you I'll apply much more of that judgment. Of course I would edit it significantly, add and subtract things to make it much more sturdy!

      I'm not sure I even think the university is being unjust. It's just being what it is. All I want is to tell it what I really think, for fun and glory, before it's off with my head!

      Good of you to keep me honest. Cheers.

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