We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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

The intersectional worldview is obviously incompatible with the basic tenets of life in a liberal democracy. That doesn’t bother intersectional activists, however, because they believe liberalism itself to be an elaborate sham that uses the illusory equality of procedural democracy – free and fair elections, courts, the rule of law, the Bill of Rights – to paper over vast social injustices. In the eyes of the intersectional Left, the very idea of universal rights is fatally flawed – or “problematic,” to use a frequent, lazy phrase – because those rights can benefit the wrong people, such as white supremacists (in the case of free speech), or campus rapists (in the case of due process and the rights of the accused).

J. Oliver Conroy

The modern idea of a university

Anger as Oxford college bans Christian group from freshers’ fair

A University of Oxford college banned Christian Union representatives from attending its freshers’ fair over concerns at the “potential for harm to freshers”.

Balliol Christian Union (CU) was told the college’s student body, the JCR, wanted the freshers’ fair to be a “secular space”, according to Oxford’s student newspaper Cherwell.

Eventually the CU was told that a single multi-faith stall would be allowed to display leaflets, though no representatives would be allowed to staff it, according to leaked emails seen by the paper. Balliol CU boycotted this option.


In an email exchange, JCR vice-president Freddy Potts, on behalf of the JCR committee, reportedly told a CU representative: “We recognise the wonderful advantages in having CU representatives at the freshers’ fair, but are concerned that there is potential for harm to freshers who are already struggling to feel welcome in Oxford.”

Harm? Think of it as toughening ’em up for their first tutorial. It used to be said that the fierce, personal engagement with ideas engendered by the tutorial system was what set Oxbridge apart. I had to check, but apparently they do still hold tutorials despite the risks. The University website tells potential students that at tutorials they will need to be ready to present and defend [their] opinions, accept constructive criticism and listen to others. And Freddy Potts ain’t gonna be there to hold your hand.

The solicitous Mr Potts continues:

According to the paper, he added: “Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.”

At one time the idea of a university was a little less protective:

As universities face an estimated £4.2bn in spending cuts and increasing pressure to become more “market driven”, the recently beatified John Henry Newman would have had something to say about the possible impact on higher education. The clergyman, Oxford academic and famed convert to Catholicism gave a series of lectures in 1852 reflecting on the university’s purpose that were published as The Idea of a University in the same year.

The author of this article, Sophia Deboick, was naive to think that pressure to become more market-driven was the main threat to the concept of the university as a place of broad learning, but she writes well on Newman’s contribution to that idea:

For Newman, the ideal university is a community of thinkers, engaging in intellectual pursuits not for any external purpose, but as an end in itself. Envisaging a broad, liberal education, which teaches students “to think and to reason and to compare and to discriminate and to analyse”, Newman held that narrow minds were born of narrow specialisation and stipulated that students should be given a solid grounding in all areas of study. A restricted, vocational education was out of the question for him. Somewhat surprisingly, he also espoused the view that universities should be entirely free of religious interference, putting forward a secular, pluralist and inclusive ideal.

Two years after the publication of The Idea of a University the Oxford University Act 1854 “opened the university to students outside the Church of England, as there was no longer a requirement to undergo a theological test or take the Oath of Supremacy.” That is what Newman meant by “religious interference”: the power to compel those attending the university to conform, or pretend to conform, to a particular religion and to exclude those of different beliefs.

We have not quite come full circle yet, but give it time.

Samizdata quote of the day

From the beginnings of recorded thought, intellectuals have told us their activity is most valuable. Plato valued the rational faculty above courage and the appetites and deemed that philosophers should rule; Aristotle held that intellectual contemplation was the highest activity. It is not surprising that surviving texts record this high evaluation of intellectual activity. The people who formulated evaluations, who wrote them down with reasons to back them up, were intellectuals, after all. They were praising themselves. Those who valued other things more than thinking things through with words, whether hunting or power or uninterrupted sensual pleasure, did not bother to leave enduring written records. Only the intellectual worked out a theory of who was best.

Robert Nozick. This essay is several years’ old and it remains in my view one of the very best explanations of why universities and other such places are full of persons so hostile to the open market economy. Given current angst over why so many young graduates, especially in fields such as the arts, are all keen on the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, its certainly worth thinking through.

Well-rounded education

The Foundation for Economic Education website is really rather good. Following links from Perry’s SQOTD about Venezuela, I hit upon an article questioning the idea that an education should be well-rounded. I have been skeptical of this idea since being forced to study things in secondary school that seemed like a waste of time.

…we need to get rid of the idea that all kids need to learn the same stuff in schools. I think a corollary is getting rid of the idea that kids need to be well-rounded, which is one of the reasons why we have so much standardized curriculum.

This is an attractive idea. Specialising is more productive. People who are not good at mathematics get can get by, especially now that there are tools and information online. The same goes for other areas of knowledge.

This concept of “agility” seems to be a good description of how people function in the real world:

Well-roundedness means being prepared for anything by knowing a diverse array of stuff; whatever the situation, there is a chance the person will know something about it. Agility is the ability to adapt to change, not because one knows diverse stuff, but because one knows how to learn what one needs in any situation. The well-rounded person isn’t stymied by math because they know a little math. The agile person isn’t stymied by math because when they confront a math challenge, they use whatever tools they can to figure out a workaround.

There are some things the article misses. Perhaps learning about a diverse array of things when young, thereby learning how to tackle diverse problems, is a good way to become “agile”. Perhaps sampling a diverse array of things when young is also a good way to figure out what it is you would like to specialise in. Perhaps the author has unduly conflated standardised curricula with learning diverse topics.

One of the problems with my state secondary school education was the rapid time division multiplexing of topics. I would have preferred to focus on one thing at a time. Not everyone is like this*, and supply of different types of education for different people (perhaps via some kind of “market”, who knows?) might be of value, and is separate from the idea of education on specialised topics.

(*) — Incidentally, many parents seem to worry about their children obsessing over one particular thing and not being “well-balanced”. But multiplexing of diverse interests can be done over a scale of months rather than hours. I think such obsessions usually turn out to be temporary and are best left to run their course, or else they will be long-lasting and productive. I hope so: my own children are currently specialising in computer game testing.

Samizdata quote of the day

University is not a training centre to teach young people ‘correct’ ideas – that would be an indoctrination camp, not a university. Richardson understands that academics have a duty to challenge conventional wisdom. You might say that academics have a duty to offend, and to make their students intellectually uncomfortable. It’s only through challenging what we believe that ideas change and knowledge progresses.

Dennis Hayes

Why on earth aren’t the Tories trying to reduce the number of university students?

“Younger voters will never forgive the Tories”, according to Rachel Sylvester in the Times.

If the political battle is turning into a war of the generations then so far the Tories are losing the fight. Mr Corbyn scooped up young voters in June by promising to scrap tuition fees and last week Mr Cable described inter-generational unfairness as “the greatest social injustice” of the 21st century.


Theresa May is scrambling to find some policies designed to win back young voters that she can announce in her party conference speech next month. Downing Street is considering a review of the 6.1 per cent interest rate on student loans paid while people are at university. There could also be a return of maintenance grants for the poorest students, although ministers are determined not to abandon the principle of the tuition fees system, which has in fact led to a rise in the number of underprivileged young people going to university.

On current form it does not seem likely that they will be grateful. “I will deal with those already burdened with student debt” , said Jeremy Corbyn, and hoovered up the student votes – despite a certain lack of clarity about what “deal with” actually meant.

Should they be grateful?

In 2013 an article in the Times Educational Supplement purred,

Fourteen years after Tony Blair first set out the aim, Labour’s goal for 50 per cent of young Britons to enter higher education has been all but reached.

According to the latest data, participation rates among people aged 17 to 30 rose from 46 per cent in 2010-11 to 49 per cent in 2011-12, and might even have exceeded 50 per cent had the figures included those attending private institutions.

So what does this mean? In 1950, just 3.4 per cent of young people went to university, so today’s participation rate vividly illustrates how higher education has moved from the margins to centre stage in British public life.

When I went to university in the early 1980s, just ahead of the earlier Conservative-inspired expansion of higher education when Kenneth Baker was Education Secretary, the percentage of British young people doing the same was a little higher but not much. I got a grant. (Nobody who has seriously considered the matter believes that the country nowadays could afford to provide grants for fifty per cent of each cohort of British youth. In other words, half the British electorate follow Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell in believing exactly that.) I was guiltily aware that there were many young people of my age who would have been capable of benefiting from a university education but could not afford one.

On the other hand, there were many more ways for those who did not go to university to rise in the world. When I was a young teacher many of my most admired colleagues had joined the profession with two A-Levels. Nursing was similar. Journalists got their start in the local paper (local papers, remember them?), again with two A-Levels. Many responsible jobs did not even require A-Levels: five O-Levels including Maths and English was standard. These jobs were not done worse than they are now. Social mobility was greater than it is now.

Finally, I have always thought that there was something hurtful about dividing the population academically into a top half and a bottom half and I am surprised that those who went on so much about the cruelty of the Eleven Plus did not see it. When most people did not go to university, not going to university was not a badge of inferiority it was just normal. Now, in contrast, the bottom half must have their below-averageness made explicit, and, to add injury to insult, must pay for people not obviously more deserving than themselves to get the golden ticket of a university degree. (Edit in response to a comment by “Bemused”: “golden ticket” should be read as being golden in the same sense that the “silver” denarius of the later Roman Empire was actually silver. But, debased as it is, a degree is still the entry ticket to many professions which once upon a time were open to those who could not afford not to start work at 18. While making this edit I also realised that I had entirely forgotten to factor in the extent to which so many more students being educated in the modern fashion benefits the entire nation. Ah, well.)

It looks to me as if the Tories would help almost everyone if, instead of putting half the nation’s youth in debt and closing the gates of opportunity on the other half, they started slowing down the whole credentialism merry-go-round. It might even win votes.

Another Daily Telegraph quote for Guido

The only time I ever read anything in the Daily Telegraph nowadays is when Guido Fawkes quotes some particularly ridiculous thing in it, and has a good old sneer.

Well, just in case Guido missed it, here is another choice item of ridicule-worthy Daily Telegraphy, spotted earlier today by 6k:

Expect the GCSE pass rate to dip some more.

Samizdata quote of the day

We have too many people who are credentialed rather than educated, and too many people who think their education creates an automatic entitlement. The problem isn’t with “merit” rising to the top, the problem is that we have a false and destructive idea of what constitutes merit.

Glenn Reynolds

A return to our roots

In the Guardian Hugh Warwick takes Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal to end the oppression of students paying money for their higher education to its logical conclusion. He proposes that we rediscover the venerable tradition of corvée and let them pay their debt to Labour in labour.

What if all students spent a year working the land before university?


Yes, this is state coercion. But does that make it any worse than the corporate coercion that has helped create such an insular, unfit and unhappy society; that has helped create an ecological desert in the countryside? This is a chance to fight back against the enemy, because this is a war. We have just not woken up to the fact yet.


Of course there will be those who believe that this is wrong, that there should not be a compulsion to take part in eco-conscription. And it would be wrong of me to insist that everyone take part. So there will be an opportunity for opponents to state their case and to become, in effect, “conscientious objectors”. They could be given the alternative job of joining the army.

Samizdata quote of the day

It is possible to go through an entire education to PhD level in the very best schools and universities in the British system without any of your teachers or professors breathing the words “Friedrich Hayek”. This is a pity.

Hayek died 25 years ago today, yet his ideas are very relevant to the 21st century. He was the person who saw most clearly that knowledge is held in the cloud, not the head, that human intelligence is a collective phenomenon.

If Hayek is mentioned at all in academia, it is usually as an alias for Voldemort. To admire Hayek is to advocate selfishness and individualism. This could not be more wrong. What Hayek argued is that human collaboration is necessary for society to work; that the great feature of the market is that it enables us to work for each other, not just for ourselves; and that authoritarian, top-down rule is not the source of order or progress, but a hindrance.

Matt Ridley

The debasement of institutions

If you have not seen these short documentaries… Part 1 from 2016, Part 2 from 2017, it well worth your time.

I can see this exchange in the very near future…

Prospective Employer: “So which university did you go to?”

Prospective Employee: “Um, actually I didn’t go to univers…”

Prospective Employer: “You’re hired!”

“A huge, stifling bubble”

How sad that the “huge, stifling bubble” being described is a university. I am not quite clear who wrote the following article for student magazine The Tab. The byline says Lucy Kehoe, a co-editor of Tab Liverpool, but the introduction suggests that she is quoting someone (a male) whose name is not given. Whoever wrote it, it is good to see someone fighting back:

Shutting down the ‘Pro-Life Society’ isn’t liberal — it’s the exact opposite

The way the campus majority reacted to the new ‘Pro-Life Society’ is symptomatic of a lot of what’s wrong with student politics right now. It was oppressive and deeply intolerant — ironically, exactly what opponents of the society claim they want to defeat.

Speaking as an atheist and staunch pro-choicer, the attempt to shut down the Liverpool University Pro-Life Society before they’ve even had a chance to go for an ice-breaker pint strikes me as a pretty a sinister development. Without trying to sound like a badly-damaged record, simply disagreeing with someone’s opinion does not warrant this person being banned from voicing this opinion, no matter how stark or severe the disagreement may be.

Let’s confront this together, fellow pro-choicers. The members of this society probably find your pro-choice views outrageous, too. Morally reprehensible. In some cases, your views are an insult to their deeply-held religious views.

So, if the Guild was to approve a future application from a pro-choice society, should that be kicked off campus, too? Clearly, the answer is no. Because their outrage doesn’t trump free speech — and neither does yours. When people (like myself) reflect on how wonderful university was, a word we are pretty much guaranteed to use is “diversity”. Diversity of race, religion and nationality. Of accents and hometowns. Of opinion and perspective.

Campuses are places where opinions should be held freely, exchanged in good will and perhaps even debated where necessary. This is the essence of a mature democracy. It’s the basics, really. But this is under attack. No longer is the university an open, tolerant, marketplace of ideas, but a huge, stifling bubble where any group united by a conservative point of view risks being delegitimised by the opinion police.

So far as I know the society has not been banned, but everybody took quite seriously the idea that its suppression should be discussed. The petition to ban it started by a student called Katriana Ciccotto read in part:

“As a female student, I feel completely betrayed, insulted and neglected by the Guild’s recent approval of the pro-life society.

As a female whose student days are long gone, I feel completely wearied by reading political statements that start with “As a female I feel completely [insert line of sad face emoticons here]”. Honestly, kids, feminism once meant something quite different to this. At least with mansplaining you might learn something; a headache is all you get from being in range of womemoting.

“This is a society that is founded on the sole basis that women should oblige to their beliefs. One that denies a woman the right to her own body. These are not religious ideas, they are misogynistic and hateful.

I do not know what “oblige to their beliefs” means nor why it is meant to be a bad thing. The statement “These are not religious ideas, they are misogynistic and hateful” is odd, too. Is it some sort of politically correct charm spell, recited to protect the speaker against accusations of Islamophobia? I am religious but would not claim for a microsecond that an idea being religious is logically incompatible with it being misogynistic and hateful. And while there certainly are those who oppose abortion on non-religious grounds, it is common knowledge that there are vast numbers, including many women of the sort modern feminists do not see, whose opposition to abortion is religious and they are proud to have it that way.

“Whilst I understand and the Guild’s policy towards freedom of speech, misogyny does not come under this category. Surely the Guild would undoubtedly disapprove of a society that promoted racism, homophobia or any other form of hate speech? Why is this different?

“If the Guild want to maintain the idea that they represent their students, they should have the moral obligation to ban this pro-life group.”

I, not Ms Ciccotto, put the phrase “misogyny does not come under this category” in bold type. It was unendearingly typical of the class of “I believe in free speech but” arguments that define free speech down to meaninglessness. There is a word called “whataboutery”, describing a style of argument by deflection pioneered in Northern Ireland during the Troubles in which people avoided facing up to the evil done by their own side by endlessly bringing up evil deeds (especially evil deeds of many years past) done by the other side. Whataboutery often is used dishonestly, but not always. A demand that all should be judged by the same rules is fair. But I really cannot see much to defend in the tactic of buttery.