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Under The Dreaming Spires - Oxford University looking loftier than it really is
I don’t know much about the practice in some universities of holding public votes to elect new occupiers of certain chairs. Having no experience of it because I was one of those people who got away from the academic environment at the very first opportunity, my knowledge has been restricted to watching via the media when the charming and witty Ruth Padel was pitted against a black candidate, a fine poet and chronicler of an immigrants experience of British society, Derek Walcott for the Oxford professorship of poetry. Despite the fact that I write poetry it was not the quality of the candidates work that interested me as much as the controversy the election created in the genteel world of literature academics because it gave a perfect illustration of political correctness and the captive mind. Things kicked off when several people who should have been worthy candidates withdrew or declined to be nominated for the election, saying that with a black poet in the field they had no chance of winning the election because the politically correct lobby would make the debate about race. Ruth Padel decided to go for it in the hope that while the race hustlers were saying anyone who did not support Walcott would
only decline to do so because they could not stand the idea of a black man being Oxford Professor of Poetry, the feminists would get behind her campaign and claim anyone who did not support the cause of electing the first woman Professor would only do so out of sexist prejudice.
Ruth Padell and Derek Walcott
Things became very nasty between the two camps and eventually both candidates withdrew. Everyone lost interest at that point and few people know who is now the Oxford Professor of Poetry. Political Correctness is causing many people to live in fear. In a society that values freedom of speech we should not find it hard to muster the courage to speak our minds openly in matters where race, gender or disability is an issue even if only peripherally, for example Derek Walcott is a fine poet, I have met him and liked him. Ruth Padel is also a fine poet, I have met her and liked her. I flirted with Ruth but not with Derek, that's how it goes. However had the election not been curtailed by political correctness, I would have liked to see John Cooper Clarke win, not because he is white, not because he is male, but because as a performing poet in the punk era (I stood in his shadow) he took hold of the stilted world of poetry by the scruff of the neck and gave it a good shake. Not that the alumni of Oxford University would ever have voted for such a controversial figure.
John Cooper Clarke
Few in the academic world would ever openly support Johnny C (as his contemporaries on the circuit knew him – we were both proteges of a maverick literary critic named Jeff Nuttall) The fear of not falling into step with the politically correct thought police, of going “off message” is too great and also Clarkie is not a literature academic and The Brotherhood could never admit an outsider. Universities are supposed to be the petri – dish of orignial thought. In their august atmosphere any idea ought to have a chance to grown, develop and evolve. Conformity should have no place there. And yet more and more, staff are required to demonstrate their ideological bona fides, to earn brownie points that may later be redeemed for research grants, visiting professorships, honours and all the other things that drive the snobbish, elitist dynamics of the academic community. People who should be delivering objective and rational judgements rarely dare to express considered opinions. To go against the orthodoxy is to put one's career at risk and careers have been wrecked as a result of challenging the orthodoxy. Like my ancestors who were dispossessed for supporting Bonnie Prince Charlie in The '45, modern academics have learned the cost of not being on the winning side. As a consultant in many large corporations and for government departments I had many opportunities to see political correctness in action: in the so-called “equality opportunities” recruitment policies that are anything but equal, in the introduction of training programmes to teach racial and sexual awareness, in the unfailing fauxreverence with which all aspects of non British and non European literature and culture are treated, and right down to Pythonesque discussions about the rights of transgender staff to be treated as women in all respects. It is, however, not a matter of political correctness alone but collective thinking at its worst, sheepleism, a primordial need to be one of the herd, fear of standing out. In The Captive Mind an analysis of how intellectuals behaved under an oppressive and coercive Stalinist regime, Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz provided an analysis of the life of the mind under any intellectually oppressive dictatorship, and the processes which force, manipulate and seduce highly intelligent men and women
to believe self-evident lies. If you've ever wondered how people can have believed such culturally self destructive nonsense as Stalin's progroms, and convinced themselves that it is socially necessary not only to do so but force others to do so too, this is the definitive book on the subject. Milosz was interested not only in the
Detainees in a Soviet gulag
compulsions of totalitarianism but in the
significant emotional and psychological attractions of Communist regime used to bend individual wills to Party orthodoxy. It looks at the reassurances and rewards of ceding responsibility for actions to a central authority, and the reasons why intellectuals could justify to themselves the imposed conformity. Milosz did not allow his case to remain in the East or the past - whether we believe the lies of the left, the right, or the 'third way', we all have the potential to deceive or delude ourselves that the oppression of others and the suppression of dissent for the advancement of the agenda we support is for “the greatest good of the greatest number”.North America, Leftist, anti-Western, feminist, and multiculturalist — the desire to fall in line, and to compel or outlaw those who do not, seems to be an enduring fact of human nature. Even when free of threat or compulsion, many intellectuals will choose to surrender their independence of thought to a more primordial impulse. C.S. Lewis wrote about the seductive pleasures of belonging in “The Inner Ring,” highlighting the desire planted deep in the heart of every human being for the acceptance and approval of peers, to be acknowledged as “one of us” by the people we live and work among. To get into that circle, that Orwellian “Inner Party” Lewis warned, many of us will condone almost any injustice. Many commentators report having been shocked by the uniformity of opinion they encounter in the faculty, the school staffroom and the students common room.
The same uniformity is found among members of the legal profession, the civil service, the media and the political establishment. Worst of all it st the standard in the University faculty where a wide diversity of ideas should find a fertile bed. Open, civil debate among members of these professions is as impossible as it is in the public forums of talk radio and the internet. Try to initiate discussion of certain subjects; race, abortion and family planning, immigration, homosexuality, the war between religion and science, and the aura of the forbidden sacrosanct that once protected religious dogmas from heretics and freethinkers manifests itself. It is always very notoceable how the male academics and professionals are eager to parade their feminist credentials. Even older men, aware that age and deportment might identify them with the now defunct patriarchy that is still a hate symbol for the feminist sisters, will seek at every opportunity to show solidarity with their cause. People might be objecting to the suggestion that selfish motives might lie under the ideological bonhomies and fellow-feeling to be observed. Thinking people may come, quite independently and non-coercively, to agree about such contentious matters as the pervasiveness of heteropatriarchal oppression, the plight of Palestinian victims, the clear and present danger posed by CO2 emissions from human activity to the future of the planet, the crimes of the United States, the environmental measures necessary to save the Earth, the nature of Islam as a maligned religion of peace, and so on. For a variety of reasons, however, it seems highly unlikely that so many people came to total agreement without coercion or fear being a factor in their adoption of a point of view. First, there is nothing in the study of arts, sciences or literature that would necessarily incline those who pursue it to take up Leftist positions. If anything, the
CO2. Dramatic images and rhetoric are used to coerce people into toeing the official line.
academic path which brings to the scholars attention the ideas and worldviews of people from many different historical periods, cultures, and belief systems would seem more likely to appeal to people with widely divergent political convictions and ideals rather than those whose mindset resembles that of The Daleks, in fact an academic career ought to appeal to those who lack strong convictions, eschew entrenched positions and who are curious and impartial. Second, there is nothing that may be considered liberal or reasonable about many of the Left's ideological doctrines, and particularly about the part of their mindset that reacts with incredulity on encountering a differing point of view. “But why can't you see that we must do what's right,” they whine as if usurping to themselves the right to decide on behalf of everybody what is “right” would be enough to eventually persuade all 'thinking' people ultimately come to agree with them. Some of the doctrines are even mutually contradictory there are many conflicts between multiculturalism and feminism and between the 'rights' associated with religion and race (I dealt with this topic in A Liberal's Dilemma); all are controversial enough in their own right that intelligent people should find plenty to dispute and worry over in their propositions rather than arriving at the same anodyne conclusions. Leftist doctrines do not find general agreement in the public at large, and it seems unlikely that groups of English professors across the anglosphere, drawn from a variety of ethnicities and social classes, would inevitably come to adopt positions held by only a small and rather extremist minority of the general public. Third, my experience of speaking to academic and professional friends in private confirms that not all agree with the reigning orthodoxies of the academic / political / media leftist hegemony; some have spoken angrily in private to conform and the risks to their career and reputation of straying off message even for the purpose of speculating on hypothetical situations in order to encourage critical thinking in students. Those who have occasionally spoke out (in the case of my teacher sister against the glib assumption that in a long running dispute between a black and while pupil, the white boy must be in the wrong,) are certain to experienced the wrath of their colleagues and their union (of which membership is compulsory), and some
were simply afraid to say what it was so clearly verboten to mention. Why is it that, amongst such a highly educated and privileged group of professionals, “inner ring” compulsions and longings should hold such marked sway? Clearly it is a situation the Nazis of Hitler's Third Reich would be very familiar with but surely we should look to thought leaders such as academics to resist that kind of peer pressure. Academics are in a number of ways the perfect control group to test the mechanisms of ideological conformity and peer pressure. It ought to be almost impossible to find a group more seemingly immune to such dynamics. Full-time academics with tenure have permanent positions from which they cannot be dismissed except for extreme dereliction of duty or gross moral turpitude. A department chair or faculty dean has some control over their teaching duties and committee assignments, but almost no influence over salary or other aspects of working conditions. In designing their courses and interacting with students, professors tend to work independently of their colleagues, enjoying a good deal of freedom in what and how they teach. They may be absent from their places of work for long stretches of time, may apply for and attain six-month sabbaticals at regular intervals, and can go for weeks during the teaching term without meeting with colleagues if they wish. The profession is ideal for the lone wolf or the maverick and some, though remarkably few, such independent-minded mavericks do flourish in the academic ranks. In other ways, however, academics are quite vulnerable to their colleagues and peers, even if they are rarely see together. Nearly all elements of academic advancement, from initial hiring to the awarding of grants and honors, invitations to conferences, decisions about publishing, and elections to administrative positions, are determined by a peers group. In such an environment reputation is not something to be gambled with. The same aspects of academic life that cushion it from the tribulations of the outside world also creates an environment in which colleagues can invest tremendous time and energy monitoring one another’s beliefs, squabbling and nursing grievances over minor ideological differences or imagined slights, and jockeying for position.
This may be one reason why one finds in many departments a pecking order as visible and rigid as in any junior school, with its factions and cliques, its unelected but acknowledged leaders, and its few iconoclasts and wild eyed loners with nothing left to lose. Academic and senior professional life can be extraordinarily vulnerable to corruption too. The practice of peer review, long cited by scientists as proof of their incorruptibility (until the climate science scandal exposed how corrupt the incorriptibles actually were) ensured that unorthodox approaches and unfashionable subjects were penalized. It is in the very nature of sciences and humanities scholarship as it is now practiced to reward conformity and marginalize independence of mind.
All iin all you're just another brick in the wall (Pink Floyd)
Thus what counts as a valid line of questioning, as appropriate scientific evidence, as relevant socio-historical context, and as reasonable conclusions all have been pre-determined by this highly politicized of politically correct thinking that sets out compliance with an orthodoxy as the fundamental condition of every text. At the end of his book Save the World On Your Own Time, Stanley Fish rejects the use of the classroom for the purpose of political indoctrination, arguing that professors’ academic duty is to teach their discipline, not to lay the groundwork for a revolution or any other political agenda. But his sensible approach fails to take into
account the problem of working within a discipline that has been so thoroughly politicized that to deal with as a teacher or a writer requires engagement with political presuppositions often quite peripheral at best and more often directly opposed to good teaching practice. I have said that Leftist thought and political correctness are not the sole issues here, that conformist pressures would operate regardless of the reigning orthodoxy. The world, for various possible reasons, is moving towards totalitarianism. But the type of authoritarianism that is passed off as left
The Group Imperative (Two minutes hate from George Orwell's 1984)
wing thinking is far from irrelevant to the current situation and has magnified
and exacerbated it. What proclaimed itself in the beginning a movement for full equality and a refusal of cultural arrogance has become, and likely always was, to use George Orwell's phrase, Oligarchic Collectivism, an aggressive ideology that prohibits scepticism or demurral. The question of how such an ideology came to exercise such a grip on the hearts and minds of an entire social class is unanswerable, most commentators see the 1960s as the decisive decade when the professional classes and the bourgeoisie acceded to the demands of radicals and demagogues, fearful of the hate attacks launched against those who resisted. Allan Bloom wrote in The Closing of the American Mind, the 1960s was the time when the professional class as a whole lost confidence in its own the worth, that the rallying cry of ending racism and elitism “possessed a moral truth superior to any history could provide. In other words, the imperative to promote a social cause was overwhelmed all other values one believed worth defending. Trotskyite ideology did not so much win as western culture surrendered without a fight. Since then, human rights, justice for the oppressed and 'a fair society' have
become the raison d’être of every political party and a kind of secular faith embraced with fervor by those who see themselves as too intellectually superior to worship any kind of God. Those who oppose the faith are denounced with the passion once reserved for witches and heretics. A manager who expresses doubts about the fairness or wisdom of affirmative action hiring, a politician who argues that immigration laws should be enforced, a traditional scholar who speaks against his colleagues’ plan to radicalize the department’s course offerings (i.e. offer degrees in Klingon history, multiculturalism's role in chemistry or engineering with modern dance) will quickly be made aware of their heresy. I once made myself unpopular with a company that had hired me to run a project when I was asked to comment in a management meeting on some new politically correct idiocy and said, “OK, it's crap.” Can't you find any way to be positive about it? I was asked. I said, “Yeah, I'm positive it's crap.” My position made me immune from retribution, don't try it unless you are totally secure. The discomfort of being shunned and ostracised is more than most of us, social beings as we are, can bear, especially if we are worn down by the ideological barrage and uncertain whether our positions truly evil or merely old-fashioned. On the other hand, the politically correct can seek to impose their mandate with zeal and intolerance because its utopian pretensions and obsession with the word 'fair' justify extreme measures. At some point however, interests will conflict and it has to become necessary to be unfair to one group in order to be 'fair' to another. The manifold pressures and inducements to conform, combined with the evangelical dedication of Leftist crusaders, make it rare and difficult for anyone to refuse orthodoxy. And this is counter productive because it means that in the place set aside for the challenging of received ideas and the unfettered pursuit of truth, one finds instead conformity and caution, self-righteous affirmation of the norm rather than reasoned expression of individual opinions. The result, in our public discourse as a whole, is a widening of what is deemed unspeakable and unthinkable, and the replacement of reasoned debate with unthinking collective piety of the medieval monastry. The proponents of a return to
this type of medieval, theocratic regime are so insulated by their own self righteousness they see no irony in calling themselves “progressive liberals” Under such oppressive overseers however the foundation stone of liberal democracy, freedom of expression, is threatened, and perhaps has already been destroyed by another pet project of the Pensées Uniques,* dumbing down. That it has been willingly and even enthusiastically surrendered for the sake of peer group approval is the greatest shame of all and may turn out to be the greatest tragedy of human history.
*Pensées uniques: "Pensée unique" (single thought or idea) is a critique of mainstream conformism that claims a particular political philosophy is the only possible society. Use of the term points at the fact of enforced reduction in political discussion by mainstream politics.
Dare we challenge the illiberal code of the 'liberal' left Progressives going round in circles rather than moving forward When human rights overrules majority rule, dictatorship follows Lack of diversity is the driver of left wing hate These stupid equality laws threaten free speech
The Genocide Of Ideas Liberal Bigots Eugenics Belongs To The Left, Not The Right Our New Unhappy Lords Intellectuals Have Always Despised The Masses Beautiful Children With No Love In Their Eyes Education New World Order