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

What is more, if I want to hold lectures or seminars on the topic of empire, I will do so privately, since I cannot be sure that my critics will behave civilly. On one occasion recently, I held a day-conference to discuss Bruce Gilley’s controversial article, “The Case for Colonialism,” and found myself having to use pseudonyms to hide the identities of some participants. One young scholar only attended on condition that his name nowhere appear on print, nor his face on any photograph, lest his senior colleagues find out and kill his career. What this shows is that the legal right to freedom of speech is not enough. What’s also needed are colleagues who are willing to conduct themselves according to informal norms of civility and responsible, rational exchange. Clearly some colleagues are not so willing. So the question is, will middle-managers in universities—faculty and college heads—do anything to uphold norms of civility against colleagues who trample over them, or will they abrogate their civic responsibility and off-load it onto the courts?

Nigel Biggar

Samizdata quote of the day

In fact, Oxford has a disproportionately high number of black students, although you wouldn’t know this from the comments made by Lammy and others last week. He quoted the seemingly shocking statistic that, between 2015 and 2017, several Oxford colleges had failed to admit more than one or two black British students. This set the tone of the news agenda, prompting Oxford graduates to tweet their scorn at their old university. But, as ever, statistics are the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Jon Holbrook

A post that would have been a million times as funny

…if I could find the right bloody sketch on YouTube. First I thought it was “Negotiations” from Not The Nine O’Clock News, but it wasn’t. My goodness, they wouldn’t allow the line at 1:30 nowadays, would they? Sticking with Mel and Griff, I then tried “The Union Man” with no better success. The sketch about Gerald the Gorilla was always a long shot.

Nope. Just couldn’t find it. It’s the one where there’s this meeting between the leaders of the different unions, the TUC or whatever they called it, and they are having a break and someone says, “tea or coffee?” and one of the blokes says, “let’s vote on it” and so they vote and tea gets more support, only the bloke who wants coffee has a block vote of three million when the all the ones who wanted tea together only added up to two million or something like that or vice versa. That one.

Look, back in nineteen whaty-whatever it was quite surprising to see anyone on TV mocking the trade unions. All the luvvies were lefties even then.

Anyway, I thought of that sketch when I saw this story pop up in the Guardian:

One million students join calls for vote on Brexit deal

Student organisations representing almost a million young people studying at UK universities and colleges are today joining forces to demand a referendum on any final Brexit deal, amid growing fears that leaving the EU will have a disastrous effect on their future prospects.

Predicting a young people’s revolt over the coming months, student unions – representing 980,000 students at 60 of the country’s leading universities and colleges – are writing to MPs in their areas this weekend, calling on them to back a “people’s vote” before a final Brexit deal can be implemented.

Student leaders said last night that they were planning action that would dwarf protests held in 2010 against the coalition government’s plans for student fees, and that they would not rest until they had been granted a say on their futures.

That’ll be one million for coffee then.

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Breaking news: I am adding this clip of a random guy supporter of Zheremy Corbyn interrupting the current UK entry to the Eurovision Song Contest to shout, “Nazis of the UK media, we demand freedom!” because it is very important.

*

Edit: Hat tip to Patrick Crozier who found the relevant Not the Nine O’Clock News episode here. The block vote sketch in question starts at 8:00. The actual result of the vote was five hands raised giving one and a half million votes for tea, outvoted by Mel Smith’s five million votes for coffee.

Samizdata quote of the day

From this laborious work, and from all my other efforts in this field, I have drawn the conclusion that the evidence for social constructionism is a mirage in the desert. It does not exist. Most people in the humanities – including those who are able to express their opinions freely without fear of being fired – presuppose that gender roles are social constructs, and that the results obtained by natural scientists are determined by their social and political environment. Thousands of pages of academic ‘research’ express such notions, and thousands of university students are taught that this is how things are. But it is all hot air. The whole scenario is reminiscent of The Emperor’s New Clothes – nobody listens to the little boy who alone has the courage to point out that the Emperor is naked.

Much of this material – and Judith Butler’s obscurantism, in particular – functions like a Latin liturgy. It is not meant to be understood. About 600 years ago, the clergy in England supposedly existed to combat evil and make the world a better place. The sermons were in Latin, and the Bible was only available in Latin, so laypeople had no means of verifying what the clergy told them about religious doctrine. When a number of idealists translated the Bible into English so that common people could read and understand it, the idea – in principle, anyway – was that this would give more people direct access to God’s word. But instead of embracing this opportunity, the clergy fought all attempts at translation. And when the Bible became available in a language that people understood, the clergy burned the English translations, and those who distributed them were caught and executed. Given the choice of either supporting the wider dissemination of God’s word or preserving their own power and authority, they chose the latter.

A similar pattern of motivated self-interest is in evidence today (although opponents are no longer executed). Social constructionism has transformed the humanities departments of many universities into a kind of postmodern clerisy. In its own understanding, this clerical class strives to improve the world by insisting that all differences between groups of people are social constructs that testify to the unfairness of society. Society, therefore, can and must be reconstructed to dismantle these iniquities. But if wide-ranging social change is being demanded, then the basis for those demands needs to be firmly established first. Scholars ought to be labouring to prove the extent to which such differences are indeed social constructs and the extent to which disparities can be mitigated or dispelled by the radical reorganisation of social policy and even society itself. But this step in the process is simply absent. Instead, theorists make claims without bothering to substantiate them. Confronted with a choice between the disinterested pursuit of truth and understanding, or preserving their ideologies and positions of influence, they consistently opt for the latter.

And so, large swathes of the humanities and social sciences have been corrupted by ideology. Pockets of integrity remain but they are the minority, and they are only tolerated so long as they do not contradict the central planks of the accepted narrative. The unhappy result is that our universities are corroding, and our students will graduate with nothing more than the ability to further corrode the rest of society.

– The concluding paragraphs of Kåre Fog’s essay for Quillette, entitled Lost Down Social Constructionism’s Epistemic Rabbit-Hole

Samizdata quote of the day

“Versed in issues of social justice”? Oh? What if students protested against abortion? What if they protested in favor of gun rights? Or what if their social activism included mission trips with their church? Would these things hurt their Yale applications? I am certain that any student who wanted to get into Yale, and thereby join the American elite, would do well not to mention any non-progressive activism. The gatekeepers know the kind of people they want, and do not want. The message they are sending is coming through loud and clear.

Just two glimpses into how the culture and institutions of the elite Left make Trump voters…

Rod Dreher

Thank goodness so many people have university degrees

In 1820, the vast majority of people lived in extreme poverty and only a tiny elite enjoyed higher standards of living. Economic growth over the last 200 years completely transformed our world, with poverty falling continuously over the last two centuries. This is even more remarkable when we consider that the population increased 7-fold over the same time. In a world without economic growth, an increase in the population would result in less and less income for everyone. A 7-fold increase in the world population would be potentially enough to drive everyone into extreme poverty. Yet, the exact opposite happened. In a time of unprecedented population growth, we managed to lift more and more people out of poverty.

[…]

Despite the clear evidence, many people are not aware of the fact that extreme poverty is declining across the world. The chart below shows the perceptions that survey-respondents in the UK have regarding global achievements in poverty reductions. While the share of extremely poor people has fallen faster than ever before in history over the last 30 years, the majority of people in the UK thinks that the opposite has happened, and that poverty has increased!

The chart below presents evidence from a survey in the UK, but ignorance of global development is even greater in other countries that were also surveyed. The extent of ignorance in the UK is particularly bad if we take into account that the shown result corresponds to a population with a university degree.

Max Roser & Esteban Ortiz-Ospina

Presumably this is part of an adverting campaign for home schooling?

Er, hang on, what’s that grinding sound I hear?

Samizdata quote of the day

Some years back, I decided I had to quit the teaching profession to which I had dedicated half my life. The modern academy, I felt, was so far gone that restoration was no longer possible. Indeed, I now believe that complete collapse is the only hope for the future, but as Woody Allen said about death, I’d rather not be there when it happens.

David Solway

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.