The Psychologist in a time of polarisation

Dennis Relojo-Howell responds to our recent coverage; with an editor's reply.

The Psychologist has consistently pushed left-wing types of agendas. For instance, in the run-up to Brexit, views which opposed it regularly appeared in the magazine. There are also a number of articles that demonise Donald Trump – I noticed these things because I am both pro-Brexit and pro-Trump.

I could easily capitalise on the kind of predominant views you’ll find in The Psychologist, the kind that promotes the victimhood narrative and social justice agenda. But I find this obsession to be boring and tiresome. It feels like victimhood and hatred of white people (especially of white heterosexual men) are encouraged. 

And I just don’t use the word ‘obsession’ for no reason. On my website, Psychreg, I collected links to articles published on The Psychologist for the last six years which exemplify this agenda.

Contrast that to conservative views and it won’t take you long to notice that there is a scarcity of articles on The Psychologist that positively talk about the contributions of Dr Jordan Peterson, articles that explore the views of Dr Noah Carl on race and IQ, or the ones that covers the unusual viewpoints within evolutionary psychology which you can read in Quillette

As much as I hate identity politics, I feel that it is relevant to share my background: I’m gay and I spent my childhood in a slum in the Philippines – a country which has been colonised four times. 

That said, I can easily rack up intersectionality and victimhood points. Yet, I never perceive myself as a victim of other people or circumstances; I always see myself as someone who is responsible for shaping my own destiny. I refuse to embrace victimhood; I always aim to be responsible for my own actions and incompetence – rather than someone who plays the victim card just to get on with life. Studying psychology encouraged me to operate on self-actualisation. 

I find The Psychologist to be an excellent repository of articles on racism and victimhood. Yet, as an immigrant, I never see the UK as a racist country. I’ve lived in five countries before coming here: Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and Germany. And I can say that I have witnessed more racism in Singapore and Thailand than here. 

I don’t wish to invalidate other people’s experiences, but since I moved here (I came here in 2013 to do a master’s degree in psychology) I never experienced any form of discrimination or racism – perhaps because I don’t go on with my life scouting around for something to be offended about. I also spent most of my days in the company of white people, because I’m the kind of immigrant who assimilates. 

When I expressed my views on the kind of narratives that you would likely read on The Psychologist, I was told (via Twitter) that other topics are not being pushed out from the magazine, to which I clarified that I am not talking about topics, but rather about views on topics. For instance, I am not convinced that all readers of the magazine think that psychology needs to be decolonised (March issue). 

In a time of such polarisation, I hope that the magazine would diversify its views – instead of obsessing on social justice dogmas. It just feels like you’re reading social justice pieces straight from The Guardian – which would be acceptable if that’s what I signed up for. But then, I didn't choose to read The Guardian. 

Dennis Relojo-Howell

Graduate member

Editor's reply:

Thank you for your comments Dennis. Although I’m curious about your categorisation of ‘left-wing’ and ‘social justice’ agendas, it’s interesting to see that collection of links.

I have responded on the Twitter discussions over the March edition, and to many individuals, continuing the discussion offline where possible. Here, I’ll repeat / expand on a few of those points.

·         We have received a large amount of positive feedback in relation to the March edition, and our recent coverage in general, both on Twitter and privately. Several respondents have said it makes them proud to be a part of the Society.

·         We’re seeking to provide a forum for a diverse range of views, particularly from within the Society membership. We hope that readers will engage, with concrete suggestions for topics and contributors wherever possible.

·         We are a magazine, not a journal. We unapologetically showcase Psychologists as people, with other interests, beliefs, motivations and more. Our output should be considered alongside the Research Digest, the Society’s journals and other communications channels.

·         Our shift in recent years towards topics which some might consider under the very broad banner of ‘social justice’ has been a deliberate one, reflecting what we perceive as a parallel shift in the Society itself and the more active sectors of its membership. As a membership publication we have a responsibility to do this. We are also taking a steer from the Society's recent 'member journey' work, which surveyed thousands of members over what they want from the organisation.

·         We think 'social justice' content (which some people who have commented seem to include climate change in, which is interesting…) is a separate issue from the perceived ‘left wing’ bias. We’re not sure when taking a stand against racism became an exclusively ‘left wing’ agenda. However, we are aware that some people feel psychology / academia / science more generally has a liberal bias, and we have taken and are taking several concrete steps to mitigate against that – on a staff, committee, contributor level. This is including taking discussions offline where possible, to meet people face-to-face in order to gauge what other voices and topics need to be given space across our channels.

Engaging with this debate has been constructive, and continues to provide fascinating food for thought. Something thrown at us more than once in the Twitter response was 'stick to the science'. I have spent days and nights since pondering what that could possibly mean. For me, it raises massive questions about what The Psychologist / the Society / Psychology / Science are and should be, and which voices get to define that. 

As ever, anyone who would like to discuss this with me, comment or share suggestions is very welcome to email me on [email protected]

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