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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

If your go-to image of a student is someone who’s free-spirited and open-minded, who loves having a pop at orthodoxies, then you urgently need to update your mind’s picture bank. Students are now pretty much the opposite of that. It’s hard to think of any other section of society that has undergone as epic a transformation as students have. From freewheelin’ to ban-happy, from askers of awkward questions to suppressors of offensive speech, in the space of a generation. My showdown with the debate-banning Stepfords at Oxford and the pre-crime promoters at Cambridge echoed other recent run-ins I’ve had with the intolerant students of the 21st century. I’ve been jeered at by students at the University of Cork for criticising gay marriage; cornered and branded a ‘denier’ by students at University College London for suggesting industrial development in Africa should take precedence over combating climate change; lambasted by students at Cambridge (again) for saying it’s bad to boycott Israeli goods. In each case, it wasn’t the fact the students disagreed with me that I found alarming — disagreement is great! – it was that they were so plainly shocked that I could have uttered such things, that I had failed to conform to what they assume to be right, that I had sought to contaminate their campuses and their fragile grey matter with offensive ideas.

Brendan O’Neill

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27 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Johnnydub

    It’s quite straight forward. The PC Marxists running the education system just went balls out to indoctrinate children into their multicultural bollocks and you see before you the results. A whole generation of compliant big-state-knows-best drones.

    We are fucked.

  • Nick (natural Genius) Gray

    If each generation just wants to be different to the previous one, then the next generation of students will be the non-conformists.

  • Richard Thomas

    Ironically, I was visiting my alma-mater a couple of weeks ago and was saddened to see what a corporate-type place it had become compared to the freewheeling I remember from a couple of decades ago. Though I suspect that some of that was that hectic and untamed message boards have probably migrated to the realms of twitter and facebook. At least the crappy chandelier was still in place.

  • Russ in TX

    Being enlightened in “proper” elite academia is now synonymous with being hewing to a specific religion — where has this guy been for the last twenty years not to notice?

  • Tedd

    Not long ago there was some discussion on Samizdata about the internet’s effect on debunking falsehoods compared to its effect on promoting them. O’Neill’s description of how “Stepford concerns are over-amplified on social media,” if accurate, argues in favour of the promoting-falsehoods thesis.

  • Mr Ed

    Arts students don’t actually have to learn anything, so they make up the space in their heads with crap.

    How many science, engineering, maths, medical students go in for this sort of thing?

    A small group of fanatics, what is seen and what is not seen?

  • Barry Sheridan

    There are too many Universities and far too many so called students pursuing topics of little use to anyone. Hardly surprising then that the capabilities of these establishments has declined to the point where the only thing they can create is a third rate environment that offers succour to the overly pampered generations of todays entitled. Mr Ed is right.

  • Allen Farrington

    Johhnydub: We are so fucked. You don’t even know.

    Tedd: I wouldn’t view the effect O’Neill describes as ‘promoting falsehoods’ but rather encouraging would-be false perceptions. In the Oxrev Fem case that O’Neill’s article was about, the Facebook opposition event attracted 300 attendees whereas the event for the debate itself only attracted 60. The false perception here would be that there are five times as many lunatics in Oxford as reasoned debaters, when really there are 300 lunatics most likely scraped from every crevice of the town, as opposed to 60, probably from the tiny pro-life group who were actually planning on attending the debate. That still leaves some 20,000 odd who hadn’t Facebook officially picked sides, but of which 19,500 would more than likely side with the 60 if made to choose. Admittedly, it is worrying that they didn’t, but that is another matter.

    Mr Ed: I have often wondered this myself as a mathematician. My experience from university is that my art student leftist friends rant and rave about injustice everywhere, my art student rightist friends quietly and politely moan about leftists, and I don’t have the slightest clue of the politics of my science student friends because they are too busy learning. This definitely calls for some kind of long term study. To be carried out by scientists of course.

  • Mr Ed, that reminds me. I read an attack on Ayn Rand once, where the author said that the reason so many maths, engineering, physics etc, students were objectivists while so few arts students were, was that the former were so busy studying, they didn’t have “enough time for real, serious thought about the needs of society”. Still makes me smile.

  • AndrewZ

    Politically-correct academia has all the essential features of a cult. It’s a small group of people who reject mainstream society and believe that they alone know the truth. It is authoritarian and dogmatic and demands unquestioning obedience to nonsensical doctrines. Conformity is maintained through shaming, intimidation and the expulsion of unbelievers. But young acolytes must pay a fortune to reach even the lowest rank with little chance of progressing any further, while a few people at the top grant themselves ever more lavish rewards. It’s Gramscientology.

  • Mr Ed

    AndrewZ ‘Qotd’.

  • pete

    If you want a job in today’s intolerant, authoritarian, censorious and politically correct public/quango/charity/academic sector it’s probably wise to concentrate on developing these qualities while you are a student.

  • Cal

    It’s also because today’s young generation, especially in the middle-class, is increasingly narcissistic (this is not just my observation, it’s backed up by psychological studies). And that is largely due to parents who don’t give their kids the space to develop properly. For example, unstructured play with other kids is very important to development, but it doesn’t really exist any more.

    And then at high school they have their hand held the whole way, which also explains why we now have a big problem with anxiety at University, which goes hand-in-hand with the narcissism. The amount of students with anxiety is going through the roof, and Universities are currently recruiting legions of counselling support staff to deal with this. The narcissism and anxiety (combined with the political intolerance of the day) are why so many of them demand to feel ‘comfortable’, and why they want ‘safe spaces’. (It’s also why they all demand to get a 2:1, no matter what their performance is like.)

    Obviously this all applies more to Arts students than others.

  • Paul Marks

    Actually it is not just humanities students Mr Ed.

    And many of these students are highly intelligent – they really are.

    Their brains are much younger than mine is – and they have never had few blows to the head.

    However, they are conformists, without even knowing it, – they absorb attitudes as well as “facts”, which are often not facts at all, and take false ideas to their logical conclusions.

    This is how they get jobs and provide for their families – from an evolutionary point of view the hive mind of the university elite is entirely rational – although only till society collapse.

  • Paul Marks

    The high intelligence is a fact – they can work out IQ questions.

    But the lack of wisdom is astonishing. For example the American student hive-mind thinks that Jon Stewart (one of the priests of the ruling establishment) is a “rebel”.

  • Tedd

    Allen:

    I wouldn’t view the effect O’Neill describes as ‘promoting falsehoods’ but rather encouraging would-be false perceptions.

    I think I understand what you’re saying, but you’re looking at social media from the outside whereas I’m talking about what happens inside of it. I agree that social media can make an idea seem more popular than it is so, yes, in that sense it’s promoting a false perception about the idea. But if you are inside one of the social-media feedback loops, the important question is whether or not the ideas and information circulating in that loop are true or false. If the loops tend more often to be built around false or inaccurate ideas and information then social media can be said to be promoting false ideas, not just false perceptions about the popularity of ideas.

    One can say the same about books, too. Lots of false ideas have been promoted through books. But books are basically a one-way, non-networked technology. They don’t have the same potential for feedback loops that social media has.

  • Fraser Orr

    You know it is easy to slag off the students. See students are supposed to be like that. They are opening up intellectual frontiers in their minds, they are having their preconceptions challenged for the first time, and it is awesome, it is right, it is what it is supposed to be about.

    The problem isn’t the students, it is the faculty. It is the monolithic group think in the faculty and their willingness to use their power positions to indoctrinate rather than teach. It is their belief that teaching means spoon feeding ideas rather than teaching how to cook up your own ideas. And above all it is that most odious of things, speech censorship that is the absolute antithesis of what Universities are all about.

    I find this speech censorship even more laughable given the tenure system that the faculty clings to like a CAGW theorist clinging to every hurricane and high tide. Because the tenure system is a system put in place to allow faculty members to say whatever they want and be able to do so with no fear of retribution from the University management. All they have to fear is the intellectual battlefield on which they must wage their war of words.

    Oh that these protected, coddled, self involved academics would extend such a privilege to their students too.

  • Cal

    >It is their belief that teaching means spoon feeding ideas rather than teaching how to cook up your own ideas.

    Academics, for the most part, don’t spoon-feed their students ideas. That’s part of the problem students have these days. They come from a spoon-feeding environment at school and home to a place where they have to be more independent, and many of them struggle.

    >And above all it is that most odious of things, speech censorship that is the absolute antithesis of what Universities are all about.

    Yes, that is more the issue. There are now sacred political areas that most academics and many students these days protect like priests.

    >I find this speech censorship even more laughable given the tenure system that the faculty clings to like a CAGW theorist clinging to every hurricane and high tide. Because the tenure system is a system put in place to allow faculty members to say whatever they want and be able to do so with no fear of retribution from the University management.

    It doesn’t work like that any more, though. Tenure will not protect you these days if you say the wrong thing. Doesn’t matter how big a Professor you are these days. Say something that is perceived as racist or sexist or whatever and that will be the end of your career. Even if they don’t directly sack you, you will be forced out somehow, or marginalized and harried to such an extent that you will resign.

  • Kim du Toit

    Tenure will not protect you these days if you say the wrong thing. Doesn’t matter how big a Professor you are these days. Say something that is perceived as racist or sexist or whatever and that will be the end of your career. Even if they don’t directly sack you, you will be forced out somehow, or marginalized and harried to such an extent that you will resign.

    Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of crypto-fascists. Let them shun and/or expel each other until the whole edifice collapses.

  • […] – Samizdata commenter AndrewZ […]

  • Jon

    I went back to my alma mater about 4 years ago and the biggest society on campus was the Entrepreneurs society (I asked one of the founders why, and he said that they knew that there were no graduate jobs and so they needed to monetise their own skills asap – he was 19 and on his second business having sold the first). Politics had diverged fundamentally such that libertarians and outright socialists dominated (at least everyone’s honest!)

    On this basis, I’m much more hopeful than you guys!

  • Andrew Pearson

    I rather resent the generalisations being made here about students, in particular the focus on arts students. It is true that there are some students for whom the comments above would be a reasonable description, but they are – in my experience – a minority. Because the people who agitate for restrictions on speech tend also to be the most politically active students, they get more exposure than the less-politically-engaged majority of students.

    Arts & Humanities students are probably overrepresented within the people who engage in this political agitation, but (a) they remain a minority of A&H students as a whole, and (b) in my experience STEM students don’t tend to have especially different views, they merely tend to be less politically active.

    I would also suggest that the reason censorship has become popular is not because of any intrinsic difference between generations, but because nowadays you can actually do it. Think back to the authoritarian left-wing students of your own youth. Do you doubt that, had it been within their power, they would have censored all opposing viewpoints if it would help them achieve their political goals? The difference now is that – on campuses, at least – the views which the cultural left have been advocating (LBGTQ+ rights, feminism, etc) are sufficiently uncontroversial that censorship of opposing viewpoints is possible.

  • gongcult

    Best thing I did was change my major to Philosophy at an engineering oriented institution on the Southside of Chicago. (Maths were too wobbly to be a competent scientist or engineer)The humanities and social science faculty were actually happy to meet a student concerned with the liberal arts (albeit from a libertarian &individualist perspective). Did ‘nt hurt that my bachelor’s paper adviser had actually take n some classes with Hayek at UofC…

  • Tedd

    Following up on what Andrew Pearson said, what we may be seeing on campuses is the effect of “good men doing nothing.” It’s likely Andrew is correct that the posturing and the censoring are mainly being done by a minority. But why isn’t there an equally large minority pushing for free speech? One reason may be that more sensible students realize that university is a temporary phase in their life, and idiotic cohorts is just one more of the inconveniences of that phase that is best ignored if you’re to get through it successfully.

  • Cal

    >Think back to the authoritarian left-wing students of your own youth. Do you doubt that, had it been within their power, they would have censored all opposing viewpoints if it would help them achieve their political goals? The difference now is that – on campuses, at least – the views which the cultural left have been advocating (LBGTQ+ rights, feminism, etc) are sufficiently uncontroversial that censorship of opposing viewpoints is possible.

    And it’s possible because those “authoritarian left-wing students of your own youth” are now in power.