Let’s Have Some Irreverence

The political environment of access debates adds to the damage done to freedom, and irreverence may be just the tool we need

If there’s one thing you can say about all our debates about access, business models, the roles of publishers and libraries, and so forth, it’s that they are humorless, too self-serious, and monitored too closely by people sniffing for any impropriety whatsoever.

There’s very little life left in scholarly publishing — very little user-focused experimentation, very little meaningful technology exploration, very few new ideas. The shroud of OA has darkened our minds, constrained our choices, misdirected our attention. Meanwhile, our solutions to interpersonal politics are ham-handed and disgraceful — for example, the codes of conduct tend to include language like this: “All participants are expected to treat others with respect and consideration . . .”

The politics of propriety have become part and parcel with the politics of progressives, reversing a historical trend favoring subversion, freedom, and expanded boundaries of acceptable speech. Humor, irreverence, parody, and sarcasm are all things that were once celebrated by progressives, and shamed by conservatives. Now, the script has flipped, with conservatives hiding behind “jokes” while progressives tsk-tsk, cancel, and shame people who show the slightest bit of spirit or irreverence.

If you want to make a progressive uncomfortable, tell a dirty joke.