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Fred's Latest Rant

Entry 2033, on 2020-03-11 at 21:58:11 (Rating 4, Politics)

My friend, Fred (not his real name), works in a similar job to mine and spends some time in universities. I also work for a university, and always supported their role in society, but have been becoming increasingly alarmed at their abandonment of some of their traditionally most important roles, especially in relation to free speech. Fred has always been less generous towards universities, and he recently treated me to an excellent rant on the subject.

His main criticism is aimed at the social sciences and humanities, which seem to be the core of most of the irrational, politically correct, repressive ideas in modern society. This has been obvious in the US for years, with many famous cases where free speech and alternative views have been attacked by presumably well-meaning students and, to a lesser extent, by staff. But other countries are not free from this scourge either, and it has happened on many occasions here in New Zealand, too.

As I said above, Fred sometimes spends time in universities and recently he stopped briefly to read some posters on a notice board in a social science department. Looking at the subjects of the notices, Fred noticed a trend towards political correctness, fake narratives of cultural dominance, and rejection of many accepted Western values.

Here are the titles of the notices he objected to: Capitalism and Climate Crisis; Invasion, hosted by Environmental Justice, Otepoti; Radical Ideas, Feminism for the 99%; Gender in Everyday Life; and Critical Victimology.

There were very few details on most of the posters, so there might have been some more nuanced or rational views behind the scenes, that the titles didn't portray, but Fred doubted it. It seemed far more likely that these were just examples of the radical views being encouraged on campus, and the fact that two of them were produced by International Socialist Organisation, Aotearoa was not encouraging.

Few people would say that these sorts of ideas shouldn't exist or be discussed, but the bigger problem is the one-sided nature of the material, as well as its apparent extremism. And wherever he looked, Fred could not find anything at all which supported ideas which didn't seem to belong on the far left. There was nothing which presented views supporting conservatism, science as a solution to environmental problems, equality for everyone instead of just so-called minority groups, and (most conspicuously) there was nothing supporting free speech.

Some groups have attempted to present alternative views in universities, but they tend to be shut down before they get any chance to even express their opinions. This was not the way universities used to work. They have had a leftist bias for years, but at least there has been some balance. Well, not any more. It now seems that alternative views are treated with great suspicion and aggression. I really have to assume that there is an element of fear behind this inability to allow alternatives to be discussed. If these were as lacking in merit as they are portrayed then discrediting a speaker with opposing views should be easy.

Finally, there is the other poster which Fred says seems to have sprung up in great numbers in the last year. It's catchphrase is "give nothing to racism". I would hope that no one would really want to give anything to racism, because the vast majority of people are accepting of others and don't want to support any form of unjustified bias. But the problem is that word "racism", which means many things to many people, and the majority on the left seem to have a definiton which is not what you might find in a dictionary. So this seems to be more a justification for suppressing inconvenient opinions rather than a genuine attempt at improving society.

Here is some text from the "give nothing" web site: "Racism starts small. Sometimes it lives in everyday actions and comments that we laugh off, nod in agreement to, excuse, and therefore accept. But we don’t have to. We can stop casual racism from growing into something more extreme. We can give it no encouragement. No respect. No place. No power. We can give it nothing."

So it doesn't seem that it is full-blown racism they are aiming at here; it is "casual" racism which is so poorly defined, and usually so trivial and harmless, that it really is a major concern when we see this material being distributed so widely. Because, racism is a label often used against people who the left find inconvenient, and often the person being criticised isn't even making an argument based on race. (For more discussion on the subject of casual racism, see my blog post, "Casual Racism is OK" from 2019-09-13).

For example, I often criticise the religion Islam. And when I do I am often accused of being racist. But Islam is not a race, and it is a religion not limited to a particular race. So how is criticising it seen as racism? If I criticised a different ideology, like conservatism, which is also not limited to a particular race, but might be more attractive to some races than others, I would receive no criticism, in fact I would probably be congratulated. But how is one of those racism and the other not?

So it comes back to the lack of balance again. In a perfect world, all ideologies could be examined and criticised fairly in a university setting; in an imperfect world, but one which is at least even in its preferences, we would criticise no ideas at all. But currently we have the worst possible situation: where certain ideas must be accepted and cannot be criticised, but the ideas contrary to these can't even be mentioned.

Is it any wonder that the young people (I'm tempted to call them "kids" but that is a bit unkind) who are students at our universities are so poorly prepared for the real world, so unable to form valid, constructive arguments, and so out of touch with the rest of society?

And is it any surprise that the general standard of academic output from these subjects (that is the social sciences and humanities) is so poor? Is the replication crisis in the social sciences a surprise, given that the students are being brainwashed with nonsense instead of being exposed to rational debate? Fred doesn't think so, and he sees the universities as becoming increasingly irrelevant.

I should say at this point that this phenomenon doesn't seem to have encompassed, to any great extent, the physical (or "real") sciences yet. Sure, there are a few crazy ideas out there which periodically sneak through, such as feminist physics or black science, but few people take these ideas seriously, and let's hope that doesn't change.

But I think we still need to re-examine some of the ideas out there in academia. I think that, in the future, people will look back to this era and wonder what we were thinking. This time in history will look like one of those times of mass hysteria, like the McCarthy Era, where an idea took hold, despite it having little real merit. We can avoid this getting any worse if we just exercised a bit more common sense, but that seems to be in short supply.

Universities are often the source of new trends and attitudes in society, but that isn't always a good thing!

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Comment 1 (5220) by EK on 2020-03-13 at 09:29:45:

Interesting as always. Your friend Fred though seems a bit precious to me, and he likes sailing close to the intolerance of which he is accusing others. Humanities and social sciences are supposed to be the critical and ethical conscience of society, so they tend to deal with sensitive, delicate, controversial and yes “alternative” issues and viewpoints. (I am a bit confused though about what exactly you – or shall I say Fred – call “alternative”.)

These academic disciplines are supposed to be the intellectual avant garde in challenging the status quo of thought and society. Being cutting edge means experimenting and being unconventional. And yes, it can mean offending someone. I believe Jordan Peterson has said: thinking (and expressing it) will always offend someone – or something to this effect. (Not that I adore Peterson.)

Re the fancy slogans and titles given to lectures, courses, seminars, academic projects, posters, etc. It is not always what it seems. Catchy titles most often are there to attract interest, but are not necessarily closely indicative of the intellectual offering, the contents as well as the intent. Sometimes this causes disappointment. When you see a title like “Extremist Discourses” do you expect that the contents will be extreme? That some staff and students are nauseatingly PC is clear, but it is all in the mix. It only is objectionable when their intolerance succeeds in silencing other viewpoints – as Fred seems to want to do. He is an anti-liberal liberal.

I agree the term and concept of racism is bandied about too casually. Every now and then it is used as an unfair smear against which there is little defence. (If memory serves it has happened to me in the past. When it happened to Bob Jones he litigated. I didn't have the cash to do the same. Besides when lecturing one gets almost inured to imaginative criticism.) “Racism” is a misnomer anyway. It derives from the loose idiomatic use of the term “race” in the English language.

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Comment 2 (5221) by OJB on 2020-03-13 at 11:30:31:

I agree that academics should be free to criticise society as it is, in fact them doing that is essential. My problem is that almost 100% of that is from a single perspective. While I don't hold to many conservative ideals myself, I would still like to see more of that perspective represented in academia. At the moment the general political stance of academia is so far into the loony left that even some input from the crazy right would be worthwhile.

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