Our left-dominated University sector needs urgent reform
BY JAMES BEMBRIDGE
“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.”
The topic of campus censorship is by now well-trodden ground, but as the ‘safe spaces’ for conservative thought grow ever fewer, and the consequences for their expression ever harsher, it is incumbent upon decent folk to make sure that this ground remains fertile to free thought.
Words, we are invited to believe, may now be violent, and scientific facts regarded as bigotry of a kind thought to be consigned to the 1950s. Within this framework, anyone can be silenced and expelled from polite society. To accuse someone of hate speech, micro-aggressions, or any other censorious tripe from the authoritarian’s handbook, is often just the modern way to say you saw Goody Proctor with the devil. Who is to say that the arbiters of accepted speech will forever remain an angry cohort of overfed females and sexually starved males? The snare-setters may come to regret their actions if the day comes that they find themselves snared by the very Orwellian traps they helped lay.
The recent findings from research conducted by King’s College London on the censorship of conservative thought in our universities, are depressingly predictable to anyone who has been following this trend. 59 percent of conservative students feel unable to express their opinions on campus, which rather flies in the face of the BBC’s ‘fact checker’ that found no evidence of conservative censorship; then again, nor did the BBC find any evidence of antisemitism – where others found plenty – in its coverage of the Holocaust Memorial. Haranguing the viewer over the plight of Palestinians is certainly a novel way to commemorate the victims of Nazi concentration camps.
Although the outcome of this research was expected, one does wonder just how it got to this point. Though the factors at play are sure to be many, it may prove beneficial to identify the three most offending: social constructivism theory, medicalising offence and the political homogeny in academia.
Social constructivism theory is the precursor to postmodernism and its offshoot, cultural relativism. It dictates that what science presents as facts are merely, as the name suggests, ‘social constructs’. One may see just how prevalent this theory is now in our universities with the modish assertion that ‘gender is nothing but a construct’ or the University and College Union’s position statement that anyone should be allowed to identify as black regardless of their skin colour.
Social constructivism has long been anti-authority as well as aiming to challenge perceived privileges, but it now finds itself in the privileged position of enjoying a hegemonic space in many of our universities, as life-long feminist, Germaine Greer, was to discover when Bristol University students petitioned for her to be banned for the crime of disagreeing with one of the aforementioned assertions.
Having been made persona non grata by an academic institution, Greer joins the good company of Prof. Jordan Peterson, Peter Hitchens and Peter Tatchell but to name a few.
Their no-platforming is justified by the fear that their presence could cause an outbreak of offence. The trend of treating offence as an illness rather than a side effect of critical thought is one of the main drivers of campus censorship. Accommodations are made to assist anyone prone to take ill with offence like the kind one might make to prevent asthmatics or epileptics from suffering a medical attack.
Safe spaces and trigger warnings are no longer the eccentric indulgences of some American Humanities classes, but serious considerations now have to be made across British campuses.
A consensus culture has formed in which conservative students resort to self-censorship so as not to be made pariahs, or worse still, homeless – yes, there really are growing reports of students being refused accommodation for being either Tory or a Brexiteer.
Self-censorship may seem an efficient way to silence anyone to the right of Stalin, but for the University of Sheffield, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Its students are not only invited to report one another for perceived ‘microaggressions‘ – of which there are apparently three tiers – but are paid to do so. Some may think it concerning that a university which teaches law is arguably bribing its witnesses.
Whilst not immediately clear what prompted the university to adopt such an extreme measure, history dictates that witch hunts occur when homologous communities feel threatened. Quite telling, then, that the policy from Sheffield University only emerged after the largest Conservative Party majority since 1987.
It’s not only canny Sheffield students who can make a living from the finance of offence, proving yourself to be an adequate victim is now a legitimate career move. Having recognised that offence is a marker of one’s virtue and a shortcut to sainthood, students may feel even more compelled to seek offense where there is none, furthering the cycle of self-censorship. Any ‘out’ conservative student is in danger of becoming the unwitting sugar daddy to one of these offence whores.
Having adopted so much of this left-wing authoritarianism from American universities, it is concerning to see how many UK University students now view assault, rather than argument, as the answer to political difference.
The insidious notion that words can be violent goes some way to explaining how it came to be that Cambridge University thought Prof. Jordan Peterson telling students to tidy their rooms posed a greater threat than an electronic tagged terrorist they had invited to join one of their courses, who, as it turns out, went on to murder two students on London Bridge.
It’s not only students who are self-censoring, the political homogeny and groupthink in academia is so great that a small group of professors have banded together to devise an initiative named ‘The Journal of Controversial Ideas’. It seeks to help academics get their papers published under pseudonyms so as to avoid damage to their careers or even their bodies as Professors have been known to receive death threats for publishing research on contentious topics. A 2017 report from the Adam Smith Institute found that eight in ten British lecturers are now left-wing. Such homogeny threatens to stifle progress and reaffirm confirmation bias.
The act of sacrificing anyone thought to be ideologically impure is no longer contained to universities. It’s now a regular occurrence to witness what is the 21st century version of witch dunking: firing someone who challenges received wisdom from their job with the presumption that if they turn out not to be a bigot then will have no trouble finding a new one. This phenomenon is no better illustrated than in the treatment of the late Roger Scruton by the scurrilous scrote, George Eaton.
This piece began with a quote from the Athenian philosopher, Socrates. It is perhaps worth noting that although being the birthplace of democracy, Athens’ golden age of culture only lasted one century. Those in search of ever greater cultural hegemonies to feverishly deconstruct may come to find that what they were attacking was far from just mere intangible ‘constructs’ of British culture, but the beams that support it.
James Bembridge is the Deputy Editor of Country Squire Magazine. Follow him on twitter: @TheBembridge