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]

“Classics Won’t Be the Same Without Latin or Greek”

The classics department at Princeton University recently decided that the idea that classics majors ought to know Latin or Greek has been a mistake. Old-fashioned, perhaps. Until now, undergrads who wanted to major in the study of classical texts needed to come into the concentration with at least an intermediate level of Latin or Greek. But those students will no longer even have to learn either language to receive a degree in classics. This is a typical example of a university rushing to make policy changes under the guise of promoting racial equity that are as likely to promote racism as to uproot it.

“Classics Won’t Be the Same Without Latin or Greek”, Professor John McWhorter writes in the Atlantic. He goes on to argue that

Crucially, you often must go through a phase of drudgery—learning the rules, memorizing vocabulary—before you pass into a phase of mastery and comprehension, like dealing with scales on the piano before playing sonatas. The Princeton decision is discouraging students from even beginning this process. Professors may think of the change as a response to racism, but the implicit intention — sparing Black students the effort of learning Latin or Greek — can be interpreted as racist itself.

Being interested in languages, I bought Professor McWhorter’s The Language Hoax a few years back. I recommend it. It is something of a riposte to Professor Guy Deutscher’s Through the Language Glass and I love a joust between academics. In the course of reading The Language Hoax I found out that Professor McWhorter is black. In a sane world I would have been only mildly interested in this fact, in the way that one is mildly interested to see an author’s photo on the dust jacket and to learn that he or she has two cats with amusing names. Or in the way that I was mildly interested but not at all surprised to learn that Professor Deutscher is an Israeli. We do not live in a sane world. Black American academics in fields that do not have “Black” in the title are rare. There are many reasons for this, including racism of the old and the new kinds.

If Princeton has its way they will soon be rarer still.

The Princeton classics department’s new position is tantamount to saying that Latin and Greek are too hard to require Black students to learn. But W. E. B. Du Bois, who taught both Latin and Greek for a spell, would have been shocked to discover that a more enlightened America should have excused him from learning the classical languages because his Blackness made him “vibrant” enough without going to the trouble of mastering something new.

When students get a degree in classics, they should know Latin or Greek. Even if they are Black. Note how offensive that even is. But the Princeton classics department’s decision forces me to phrase it that way. How is it anti-racist to exempt Black students from challenges?

Related: “Heresies of our time: that children should be taught to read music” – a post from 2020 in which I mentioned the proposal from the Oxford Classics faculty to reduce the “attainment gaps” between male and female students and between those educated at state schools and private schools by dropping Homer and Virgil from the first part of an Oxford Classics degree. So far as I can tell this proposal has not been implemented yet, so maybe the petition worked. But the engineers of the human soul are nothing if not patient.

A Cambridge education

“Cambridge professors fight plan to let students file secret racism denunciations”, reports the Times.

For David Abulafia, a distinguished professor of Mediterranean history at Cambridge, the launch of a university “reporting tool” encouraging students to denounce people for “micro-aggressions” was particularly sinister.

An ancestor, Samuel Abulafia, was arrested in the 15th century during the Spanish Inquisition for maintaining Jewish practices after Jews had been expelled from the country. The man eventually changed his name to Lopez so that no one would recognise his origins. Another Abulafia was one of the first to be burnt by the Inquisition for the same crime.

Today Abulafia, a bestselling author and historian, believes that the new tool allowing students anonymously to accuse members of faculty of “racism, discrimination and micro-aggressions” draws from the same well that gave birth to the barbaric Inquisition.

The list provided by the university of transgressions includes “raising eyebrows when a black member of staff or student is speaking” and making “backhanded compliments”

Professor Abulafia also makes the following point:

“As for reporting someone if you feel they have committed a micro-aggression against you, this may actually hinder minorities as lecturers could be apprehensive about providing them with one-to-one tuition in case they make a perceived transgression.

For the Woke, that is not a bug but a feature. The last thing they want is for minority students to flourish at Cambridge or any other British university. Where would the cadre come from then? The plan is for minority students to emerge angry and embittered at the way their tutors and lecturers never seemed to quite trust them.

We need to listen to Black Lives Matter

We need to listen to BLM so we know what sort of people they are.

Janet Powe of BLM UK writes:

SEWELL COMMISSION WAS WRITTEN BY HOUSE SLAVES

Note for readers from outside the UK: a report recently issued by the government Commission for Race and Ethnic Disparities said that, although racism still remains in the United Kingdom, the UK’s relative success in removing race-based disparity in education and the economy “should be regarded as a model for other white-majority countries”. The black man being called a “house slave” by Janet Powe is the Chair of the Commission, Dr Tony Sewell, an educational consultant and author.

A Cambridge professor of postcolonial studies, Dr Priyamvada Gopal, was also displeased by the report. Dr Gopal first questioned whether Dr Sewell really had a doctorate, and, when informed that he did, set a new standard for gracious acknowledgement of error by saying that “Even Dr Goebbels had a research PhD.”

Safely under supervision every minute of the day

“School almost ‘eliminates bullying’ with break-time ban on games”, the BBC reports.

A school claims to have almost eliminated bullying by banning games like football at break times.

Instead, students at Hackney New School participate in supervised quizzes, poetry recitals and other activities, including chess and choir clubs.

The school says there have been only five reports of bullying, including cyber bullying, in the last year.

Head teacher Charlotte Whelan said: “A school without bullying sounds like a utopia but it is achievable.”

I do not doubt that it is achievable. Greater safety from ever having a bad experience is always achievable – at the cost of being cut off from experiencing anything much at all.

The students, aged 11 to 16, are still taking exercise during breaks and PE lessons, but sports are “more structured” and supervised.

“The school has been completely transformed and the students are really thriving,” Ms Whelan said.

Rather than kicking a football around or jumping skipping ropes in the playground unsupervised, students practise sonnets by classic poets like Shelley and Tennyson or quiz each other on capital cities, reports the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

At certain times when I was a schoolgirl I would have been glad to escape the cruelty and cold of the playground. It was nice when I got to the Lower Sixth and we were allowed to spend the lunch hour in a common room. Unprompted, we literally did have a phase when our favourite activity was to quiz each other on capital cities (Mongolia – Ulaan Bator, Botswana – Gaborone), and I would have welcomed a little more Shelley and Tennyson and a little less depressing modern poetry in my English lessons.

To give children the choice to engage in indoor and/or structured activities in their free time, whether because such activities are a safe harbour from bullies or just because these are the things they enjoy, is good. To deny them the chance to ever kick a ball and skip and play tag and scream and quarrel and make up without being under the eye of authority is inhuman.

It is not just unplanned social activities between groups of children that Ms Whelan wants to put a stop to; she also says she wants to be “doing more for pupils” in terms of preventing them from “aimlessly wandering the playground”. Heaven forbid that they have time to walk and think.

Edit: Several commenters have rightly said that to suffer bullying in childhood is a terrible thing that can have lifelong effects on the victims. But surely that is best answered by giving children as far as possible the chance to follow their own judgement as to where they are safest and happiest. The lunchtime club ceases to be a haven from bullies if the bullies are forced to be there too.

Back in 2003 Brian Micklethwait wrote about how well the children behaved in a voluntary karate class he observed.

What struck me, so to speak, about these “martial arts” classes was that although the children present may have supposed that all there were learning was how to be more violent, what they were really learning was no less than civilisation itself.

The children were all told to get changed into their Karate kit in an orderly fashion, and to put their regular clothes in sensible little heaps. They all lined up the way he said. They all turned up on time. They left the place impeccably clean when they’d finished, all helping to make sure that all was ship-shape and properly closed-up when they left.

Were these children being “coerced”? Certainly not. They didn’t have to be there, any more than The Man had to teach them Karate if he didn’t want to. If they wanted out, then out they could go, with no blots on their copybooks or markings-down on their CVs.

Portugal has a socialist education policy

“Portugal blocks remote lessons at private schools to help state pupils”, the Times reports.

Portugal has blocked private schools from offering remote learning for at least a fortnight amid fears that more privileged children will gain an unfair advantage over their poorer counterparts after the closure of state schools.

The minority Socialist-led government of António Costa, the prime minister, had said this month that schools would remain open. However, political pressure over soaring Covid-19 infections forced it to announce last Thursday that schools would be closed from the next day.

A decree forced all schools to take a two week holiday, with the government saying that allowing private institutions to teach remotely would put state-school pupils at an unfair disadvantage.

As a commenter, “Mr N D” says, “The headline is misleading. This isn’t helping anyone at all, it’s making sure that everyone is held back.”

Enraged is not a good way to end the year

So I will post this without comment:

The New York Times Helped a Vindictive Teen Destroy a Classmate Who Uttered a Racial Slur When She Was 15

May better times lie ahead for all reading this. It is a relief that Brexit is done. Boris’s deal is far from ideal, but there were times during the last four years when I would have counted us lucky to get the referendum vote honoured at all.

Happy New Year!

That’s Niall Ferguson, not Neil Ferguson

North American academia is in the grip of a hideous mania, a cross between the early-modern witch craze and Mao’s Cultural Revolution, in which implacable zealots conduct grotesque show trials, innocent individuals have their reputations, careers and sanity destroyed, and everyone else cowers, terrified that they will be next to be ‘canceled’. (Niall Ferguson, blurb from Quillette book, ‘Panics and Persecutions’).

Now let’s be accurate here. The millions of victims of Mao’s cultural revolution had a very high tendency to end up dead. In early-modern England, you were vastly less likely to be suspected of being a witch, and suspected witches had far better odds: 60% of English witch trials ended in acquittal, and in fully half of those that convicted, the penalty was not death (and those statistics include the notorious brief episode of Matthew Hopkins under the puritans during the civil war, without which they would be noticeable less lethal still). But even an English witch faced greater physical danger than the modern western ‘cancelled’. Who was more cancelled than Mark Judge, but he is still alive and even earning money – washing dishes.

In short, Niall Ferguson’s comparisons, like Neil Ferguson’s pandemic models, exaggerate. What Niall describes is a vile change from academia a few decades ago (politically one-sided though that already was), but it could yet be very much worse – and maybe one day will be if we neglect Edmund Burke’s wise warning:

The only thing necessary for the victory of evil men is that good men do nothing.

To truly protect freedom of speech, guess what it turns out we have to do?

“To truly protect freedom of speech – a fundamental necessity for meaningful democratic life – we must be alert to how it can become weaponised in ideologically coercive ways. Free speech can become a Trojan horse to gain space and attention for retrograde ideas that do not really merit debate. Pretending that all ideas must always be treated as equally valid and worthy of discussion in the idealised “marketplace of ideas” allows discredited ones – such as race science – to be covertly rehabilitated.”

– Priyamvada Gopal and Gavan Titley in a piece for the Guardian called “The free speech row at Cambridge will restrict, not expand, expression”.

Did you guess what was coming?

Ne laissez jamais une crise se perdre

As President Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said in 2008, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. I mean, it’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

The Daily Mail reports,

French parents are to be BANNED from home-schooling their kids as part of Emmanuel Macron’s fight back against Islamic extremism

Parents who home-school their children could face up to six months in prison under new measures to combat Islamic extremism in France.

The bill, which was unveiled on Wednesday, will make it a crime for children to be taught at home.

It is an attempt to stop children from being influenced by religious radicals, the Times reported.

It comes after the murder of French teacher Samuel Paty, who was beheaded last month after showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to his class during a lesson on free speech.

Samuel Paty was murdered by Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov, an 18-year-old Muslim Russian refugee of Chechen ethnicity.

Not home schooled then. Certainly not home schooled in France. But what about the perpetrators of other Islamic terrorist attacks in France? The relevant Wikipedia article does not make it easy to tell, since someone has decided to remove the names of the terrorists. But so far as I know none of the perpetrators of the biggest terrorist outrages in France were homeschooled. Like their counterparts in the UK they were typically products of their country’s state education system who first turned to petty crime and then were “redeemed” by Islam.

Resign, then.

The Times reports,

Staying neutral impossible after Black Lives Matter, says National Gallery chief

The head of the National Gallery has said the Black Lives Matters movement meant it was no longer feasible to remain politically neutral with silence now viewed as complicity.

Gabriele Finaldi told his board of trustees that in the past the museums funded directly by the government such as the National Gallery, Tate and British Museum had “refrained from making political statements”. Since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement this year “a neutral stance was no longer feasible”, he said.

He added that in the past the state-funded institutions looking after national collections would try to “respond to events through its activities”. According to minutes of a board meeting in June, Mr Finaldi then said “that the climate had changed so that silence was now perceived as being complicit”.

Perceived by whom? Why doesn’t Mr Finaldi say who these people whose perceptions matter so much are? He talks about “the climate” as if it were something external and objective but I see nothing more than the opinions of his set.

Whatever “the climate” may mean, the National Gallery is not the only public institution living in this particular climate zone:

In June of this year most of the national museums, including the Victoria & Albert, the Science Museum and the Tate, released statements supporting the aims of the Black Lives Matter movement. Widespread demonstrations had taken place after the killing of George Floyd by police in the United States.

Hartwig Fischer, the director of the British Museum, wrote that “we are aligned with the spirit and soul of Black Lives Matter everywhere” while Sir Ian Blatchford, the director of the Science Museum, said it haunted him “that there have been too many false dawns, too many speeches and broken promises” in the battle for racial equality.

Times readers do not constitute a representative sample of the electorate, but I found it significant that out of the 194 reader comments so far I found precisely one that seemed to support Mr Finaldi, and that one might have been sarcasm.

Definitions of what is shameful differ

A human interest story from the Daily Record:

‘Kalashnikov councillor’ running for seat in Scottish Parliament after machine gun shame

A shamed politician – dubbed the Kalashnikov councillor after being captured on video coaching his young children how to use a machine gun – is campaigning for a seat in the Scottish Parliament.

Former SNP councillor Jahangir Hanif was forced to apologise after footage emerged of him training his young children to fire an AK-47 assault rifle during a visit to Pakistan.

The SNP condemned his “inappropriate conduct” and suspended him for two months while his his own daughter wrote to the party demanding his expulsion, claiming she had been terrified on the gun-toting trip.

On the ukpolitics subreddit, where I saw this story, a commenter called “ragnarspoonbrok” says,

No ear defenders isn’t a good start. Only one hand on the rifle as someone else is holding the fore grip. Rifle not shouldered correctly. No one has their eye anywhere near the sight meaning it’s not aimed correctly with their bugger hook on the bang switch.

It’s not a small caliber it’s a 7.62

Wouldn’t really class that as safe.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Two bad things have happened at once. The first is that the phrase itself has been captured. “Safe spaces” for students are used to justify the “no-platforming” of thinkers who warn against the oppressiveness of “woke” doctrines. The Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson is only the most famous of the victims: he was offered a visiting fellowship at Cambridge but then, in March last year, was denied it after protests that his views might upset students. The second is that British universities, craving cash and students from foreign countries, have become dangerously uncritical of the terms on which they accept them. This is particularly true in relation to some Arab countries and even more so in relation to China.”

Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph (£)