There is much to talk about in Ian McEwan’s Solar. As I say in today’s Observer,he makes a hat tip to John Updike and allows the great issue of global warming to be explained through the devious manoeuvres of a slobby and disreputable hero, Michael Beard. However, McEwan goes to some trouble to show that there are worse people in the world than Beard by sending him to meet a postmodern audience at the Institute of Contemporary Arts.
Like Lawrence Summers at Harvard, Beard had incautiously suggested that there may – just may – be evolutionary reasons for gender differences in the average intellectual aptitudes of men and women. The press denounce him as a Nazi and a eugenicist, and he agrees to appear at the ICA to defend himself. In an acid scene, McEwan shows that London followers of post-modernism are as contemptuous of the scientific method and as potentially racist as Alaskan followers of Sarah Palin.
“When he mentioned the metastudies reporting that girls’ language skills were greater on average than boys’, there was a roar of derision and a speaker on the platform rose fearsomely to denounce him for the ‘crude objectivism by which he seeks to maintain and advance the social dominance of the white male elite’. The moment the fellow sat down he was rewarded with the kind of cheers that might presage a revolution. Bewildered, Beard did not get the connection. He was completely lost. When, later, he irritably demanded of the meeting if it thought that gravity too was a social construct, he was booed, and a woman in the audience stood to propose in stern headmistressly tones, that he reflect on the ‘hegemonic arrogance’ of his question.”
Beard’s opponent is a Jewish academic who respects the scientific literature and explains nervously why he is misreading it. Even though she is against the hated Beard, the ICA turns against her, for reasons you may be able to guess.