Theodore Dalrymple on the intrigues of communist micro-cults:
The Balakrishnans, however, had a falling out with the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) over small doctrinal questions such as how many class enemies could be shot on the edge of a mass grave. Such differences over tiny matters led to immediate expulsions and excommunications. The Balakrishnans were expelled from the CPE(M-L) for “conspiratorial and splittist activities,” splittist being a technical term for anyone who disagreed with the leader of the groupuscule from which he was allegedly producing a split. Considering that the groupuscule always viewed itself in the vanguard of the whole world’s proletariat, splittism was a very serious offence: It risked confusing the world proletariat and leading them to mistake its own interests by following the splittist faction instead of the true, real Marxist-Leninists.
FIRE’s Harvey Silverglate on policing speech and the redefinition of “liberal”:
The thing that makes me laugh the most is that I am considered a right-winger by people on the academic left. Only people on the academic left are sufficiently narrow-minded to call me a right-winger. In fact, I’m a liberal, but I’m a civil libertarian liberal, an old-fashioned liberal, who not only believes in the decent society that helps its most unfortunate members survive, but who also happens to believe in freedom. So much of the left today doesn’t believe in liberty, especially the academic left. There’s something wrong with calling the academic left liberalism – they’re not liberals at all. They’re really leftist totalitarians.
Marc Sidwell on the bloat and dysfunction of the Arts Council:
The Arts Council was designed as a short-term expedient, operating on a modest budget carefully spent and with costs tightly controlled, as they had been in wartime... It was not designed to serve as a permanent substitute for public initiative and taste, and certainly not to administer a budget almost 80 times larger than it initially enjoyed.
And from 2008, Heather Mac Donald on the feminist inflation of rape on campus:
[If true,] the one-in-four statistic would mean that every year, millions of young women graduate who have suffered the most terrifying assault, short of murder, that a woman can experience. Such a crime wave would require nothing less than a state of emergency — Take Back the Night rallies and 24-hour hotlines would hardly be adequate to counter this tsunami of sexual violence. Admissions policies letting in tens of thousands of vicious criminals would require a complete revision, perhaps banning boys entirely. The nation’s nearly 10 million female undergrads would need to take the most stringent safety precautions. Certainly, they would have to alter their sexual behaviour radically to avoid falling prey to the rape epidemic. None of this crisis response occurs, of course — because the crisis doesn’t exist.
As usual, feel free to add your own links and snippets in the comments.
Many moons ago, in a post on classroom radicalism and the grooming of students, I wrote,
The problem is that adversarial role-play, like that of leftist academics Grover Furr and Rhonda Garelick, has little to do with reason, refutation or how the world actually is. It does, however, have a great deal to do with how those concerned wish to seem. In order to maintain a self-image of heroic radicalism - and in order to justify funding, influence and status - great leaps of imagination or paranoia may be required. Hence the goal posts of persecution tend to move and new and rarer forms of exploitation and injustice have to be discovered, many of which are curiously invisible to the untutored eye. Thus, the rebel academic tends towards extremism, intolerance and absurdity, not because the mainstream of society is becoming more racist, prejudiced, patriarchal or oppressive – but precisely because it isn’t. As mainstream society becomes less fixated by race, gender, sexuality, etc., so peddlers of grievance and victimhood must search out - or invent - something to oppose. Overstatement and escalation are all but inevitable.
This last point was illustrated with the ‘scholarship’ of Barbara Barnett, a graduate of Duke’s infamous humanities department, who claimed that college campuses have a rate of rape and violent sexual assault almost 1000 times higher than any credible calculation. Other, equally bizarre examples of activist ‘scholarship’ can be found in the archives, starting with this gem. You can imagine my dismay on discovering that my thoughts were not at all original, as Jeff Goldstein had demonstrated three years earlier:
An obvious problem with the grievance aspect of identity politics is that the grievance needs to be perpetually maintained in order to justify the identity aspect of the politics. And in an era of academic specialisation wherein just about every individual identity group has its own set of researchers and theoretical champions - as well as a widely accepted generic narrative of grievance - the observation that continued relevance (which translates into political power) is contingent upon the nursing and care of the grievance is something that too often goes unexamined by a society that, at base, really does wish to understand and fix the problems and frustrations expressed by individual identity groups.
That nursing of grievance – from hoax hate crimes to hallucinated racism - is a subject that’s cropped up here many times since. It’s a trend that’s becoming increasingly surreal. As, for instance, when Kerri Dunn, a psychology professor at Claremont McKenna College, slashed her own tyres and defaced her own car with abusive and racist messages, before walking over to puzzled onlookers and asking if they’d seen who was responsible. Despite being witnessed vandalising her own vehicle, Dunn protested her victimhood to faculty and police, citing a “crisis of hate” on campus, while students held rallies for “tolerance and diversity.”
Art has not shocked, provoked or otherwise challenged for years now. The belief that it does, should or could is almost endearingly quaint when one hears it voiced… If you doubt this, then try to think of a novel, play, film or piece of installation art which, for example, seriously criticises the doctrine of multiculturalism. With a tiny number of honourable and genuinely brave exceptions — Lloyd Newson’s DV8 dance troupe’s 2011 production of Can We Talk About This? being one — there is a deafening silence on what is one of the most urgent issues of our time. Similarly, the chances of the BBC commissioning a drama which explores the experiences of an ageing white couple in an area transformed by mass immigration — surely a subject with real dramatic potential — are virtually nil. And if such a project ever did see the light of transmission, the audience could be forgiven for predicting quite accurately all the conclusions that would inevitably be drawn.
On a whole host of issues — foreign aid, climate change, social inequality — the viewer, gallery-goer and novel-reader, far from being shocked, provoked or given even a slightly alternative perspective, generally know exactly what they are going to get. For our cultural establishment, there is a right and a wrong way of looking at such issues and as a result the arts, far from being “challenging” or “cutting edge,” have essentially become the providers of window dressing, a sort of visual aid unit, for the views and assumptions of the political and media class.
Johnathan Pearce on deserving this and that:
If a person is born with great intelligence and this enables him to create wealth, he might not “deserve” it, but neither do those lucky enough to be born in a world containing this person, so they do not deserve the fruits of that wealth, nor do they have the right to seize it on some spurious redistributionist, Rawlsian grounds.
A couple of weeks back, cancer patient Bill Elliot, in a defiant appearance on Fox News, discussed the cancellation of his insurance and what he intended to do about it. He’s now being audited. Insurance agent C Steven Tucker, who quaintly insists that the whimsies of the hyper-regulatory bureaucracy do not trump your legal rights, saw the interview and reached out to Mr Elliot to help him. And he’s now being audited. As the Instapundit likes to remind us, Barack Obama has “joked” publicly about siccing the IRS on his enemies. With all this coincidence about, we should be grateful the President is not (yet) doing prison-rape gags.
How many makes a pattern?
As usual, feel free to share your own links and snippets in the comments.
A “craftivist” is apparently someone who “uses traditional craft techniques for a political or social activism purpose.” Say, when taking a “brave” stand against the patriarchy and our “very gendered” society. As the Australian performance artist Ms Casey Jenkins demonstrates:
“When I’m menstruating it makes knitting a hell of a lot harder.” Thank goodness the world’s artists are showing us the way.
A few days ago we were talking about critics grafting their own political hang-ups onto early zombie films. As when cineaste Robin Wood informed readers that the zombies’ cannibalistic tendency “represents the ultimate in possessiveness, hence the logical end of human relations under capitalism.” Well. With that in mind, I feel it’s time for a few words from someone close to our hearts:
I wondered if we could go back to talking about zombies and socialism? Because there is quite a lot of scholarship on this, recently, and a lot of people writing, erm, quite intelligently about the idea of the power of the zombie narrative as a class war narrative.
See if you can guess who it is before you follow this link.
For newcomers, more items from the archives. A flavour of what goes on here.
When there isn’t enough racism to justify her rhetoric and pre-booked outrage, what’s a girl to do?
A psychology professor at Claremont McKenna College slashed her own tyres and defaced her own car with abusive and racist messages. The professor, Kerri Dunn, protested her victimhood to faculty and police despite being seen vandalising the vehicle, thereby setting an example for youngsters everywhere. Meanwhile classes were cancelled in support of Professor Dunn and students held rallies for “tolerance and diversity.” But spare a thought for the professor, our self-imagined heroine. After all, if you’re going to tell students there’s a “crisis of hate” on your campus, as Professor Dunn did, and if the campus you’re talking about doesn’t match that rhetoric at all, then certain measures will have to be taken. And by measures I mean liberties. Like slashing your own tyres then blaming someone in your class. Or walking over to the people who’ve just watched you do this and asking if they’d seen who was responsible.
The deep socialist wisdom of Mr Owen Hatherley.
Our self-described Marxist also wants us to share a toilet and kitchen with people we may not like, and thereby “look beyond our obsession with private space.” Wanting your own living space, a little freedom from the tribe, is apparently an obsession, i.e., something bad and unhealthy. Rather than, say, a sign of not being a student or a hippie. Communes are a good thing and “increasingly sensible,” according to Mr Hatherley, while “insularity” – which is to say, privacy and individual territory– is not. “Other ways of living are possible,” says he, though he doesn’t disclose whether this morally improving arrangement is good enough for him.
Shaping young minds for a brighter tomorrow.
Many students of the humanities are entering a world in which adults can behave like Duke’s Wahneema Lubiano, an Associate Professor of African and American Studies who rails against the “hegemony” of “Western rationality,” and whose students learn that she’s “physically traumatised and psychologically assaulted” by global capitalism. This, remember, is a woman tenured at an elite university. For Lubiano, the classroom is a venue for her own political “activism,” i.e., the propagation of obnoxious racial theory, in which guilt depends on pigment, class and gender. Universities, we learn, are “engines of dominance” that should be “sabotaged” by people suitably radical and enlightened. People much like her, in fact. A transformation, incidentally, that one might think had already taken place and hence Lubiano’s license to take such liberties with students and the people paying her salary.
Pretentious racial guilt is so hard to wash off.
So remember, if you should be mugged in a part of town where lots of black people happen to live, whatever you do, don’t call the police. That would be proof of your ignorant racism and “white privilege.” And if your refusal to alert the police subsequently results in someone else being robbed by the same mugger, most likely someone who lives in one of those “Black and Indigenous communities,” at least you can take comfort in the fact that you won’t be accused of racism by one dogmatic bonehead.
And I’ve hidden hard liquor in the greatest hits.
More crushing injustice on campus, this time at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies:
In a letter sent to colleagues in the department after the sit-in, [Professor] Rust said students in the demonstration described grammar and spelling corrections he made on their dissertation proposals as a form of “micro-aggression.” “I have attempted to be rather thorough on the papers and am particularly concerned that they do a good job with their bibliographies and citations, and these students apparently don’t feel that is appropriate,” Rust said in the letter.
You see, by highlighting spelling and punctuation errors, the professor is contributing to an “unsafe climate for students of colour.” Reminding students of the basic rules of English apparently helps to create “a hostile and toxic environment” in Professor Rust’s classroom. Such are the mental and emotional traumas of the modern grad school intellectual. These, remember, are people studying for master’s degrees and doctorates. Advanced learning. For those of you interested in the policing of tiny tragedies, “micro-aggressions” are defined by an official UCLA report as,
Subtle verbal and nonverbal insults directed toward non-whites, often done automatically and unconsciously. They are layered insults based on one’s race, gender, class, sexuality, language, immigration status, phenotype, accent, or surname.
It is not clear whether any workable definition of discriminatory conduct is capable of capturing every such microaggression.
The indefinite and strangely unilateral nature of the term does raise one or two problems. As Ricochet’s Tim Groseclose notes,
I’m pretty sure that by writing this blog post I have engaged in a microaggression.
And by drawing further attention to this story and its comedic possibilities, it’s very likely that your mild-mannered host is also oppressing somebody, somewhere, in ways that aren’t quite clear. And don’t you get all high and mighty either. By reading this you’re almost certainly complicit too. I denounce your wickedness. Now report to the correction booth. Three hours, maximum setting.
Mark Steyn on America’s throbbingly intellectual Clown-in-Chief:
As historian Michael Beschloss pronounced the day after his election, he’s “probably the smartest guy ever to become president.” Naturally, Obama shares this assessment. As he assured us five years ago, “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors.” Well, apart from his signature health-care policy. That’s a mystery to him. “I was not informed directly that the website would not be working,” he told us. The buck stops with something called “the executive branch,” which is apparently nothing to do with him. As evidence that he was entirely out of the loop, he offered this: “Had I been informed, I wouldn’t be going out saying, ‘Boy, this is going to be great.’ You know, I’m accused of a lot of things, but I don’t think I’m stupid enough to go around saying, ‘This is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity,’ a week before the website opens, if I thought that it wasn’t going to work.”
Ooooo-kay. So, if I follow correctly, the smartest president ever is not smart enough to ensure that his website works; he’s not smart enough to inquire of others as to whether his website works; he’s not smart enough to check that his website works before he goes out and tells people what a great website experience they’re in for. But he is smart enough to know that he’s not stupid enough to go around bragging about how well it works if he’d already been informed that it doesn’t work. So he’s smart enough to know that if he’d known what he didn’t know he’d know enough not to let it be known that he knew nothing. The country’s in the very best of hands.
Tim Worstall on why the advice of Will Hutton should never, ever be taken:
If we’ve got a cost that is higher than the benefit then this is a signal that we should stop doing this thing. Hutton is indeed arguing that the cost of a university education is higher, for many to most people, than the benefit that comes from having one. This is true whoever is paying the bills. Therefore we would rather like to have fewer people going to university... Hutton is arguing that university does not make sense in terms of value added for most students. He therefore proposes subsidy for those students. Which is ridiculous. If the activity is not value adding we don’t want more of it, we want less of it.
A very common way of thinking in literary criticism is not seen as a consequence of communism, but it is. Every writer has the experience of being told that a novel, a story, is “about” something or other. I wrote a story, The Fifth Child, which was at once pigeonholed as being about the Palestinian problem, genetic research, feminism, anti-Semitism and so on. A journalist from France walked into my living room and before she had even sat down said, “Of course The Fifth Child is about AIDS.” An effective conversation stopper, I assure you. But what is interesting is the habit of mind that has to analyse a literary work like this. If you say, “Had I wanted to write about AIDS or the Palestinian problem I would have written a pamphlet,” you tend to get baffled stares. That a work of the imagination has to be “really” about some problem is, again, an heir of Socialist Realism. To write a story for the sake of storytelling is frivolous, not to say reactionary.
It’s remarkable how often some cultural critics see their own preoccupations in unlikely art forms. As when the film historian Sumiko Higashi saw the Vietnam War lurking somewhere among the zombies and wrote that although “there are no Vietnamese in Night of the Living Dead... they constitute an absent presence whose significance can be understood if narrative is construed.” Or when cineaste Robin Wood informed readers that the zombies’ cannibalistic tendency “represents the ultimate in possessiveness, hence the logical end of human relations under capitalism.” Or when a Channel 4 reviewer hailed Danny Boyle’s zombie film 28 Days Later as actually being a “powerful message” about “anger at call-centre queues.”
As usual, feel free to share your own links and snippets in the comments.
In the culture pages of the Guardian, Charles Firth recounts a tale of exasperation, injustice and heroic suffering. Specifically, his struggle to find funding for an artistic work space:
In 2007, four idiots who thought of themselves as writers scammed an awkwardly inaccessible office in a beautiful old building that had very few tenants… The enlightened trustees were happy to let a group of earnest young writers use the space until a “proper” tenant came along, charging us something like $230 per month.
$230 a month for a large office in the heart of Sydney. A bargain by any measure. One that attracted other Creatives In Need Of Comfort™.
Slowly, other writers came to hear about the space. A well-respected essayist, a proper novelist and a budding popular historian moved in, and the room acquired a certificate of incorporation as a non-profit arts organisation, a set of stern rules (don’t be loud, don’t be messy, don’t interrupt)...
Stern rules regarding mess and noise. I suppose selling out was inevitable. Almost as inevitable as the end of that temporary peppercorn rent.
Meanwhile, the rest of the building had filled to capacity, and the 17 writer-members now had to find $2,300 plus GST per month to cover rent. As I spent increasing amounts of time on administration, my attention turned to arts grants.
But of course.
My understanding of the system was that it was there to support those producing cultural works: artists and writers. This proved naïve. The true purpose of arts grants is for one set of arts bureaucrats to provide funding to create a new generation of arts bureaucrats. The qualities most highly valued by funding bodies are the ability to reproduce accurately the funding body’s logo, and to file a report that can be included in their annual report alongside words like “new,” “innovative” and, above all, “successful.”
Mr Firth, it turns out, isn’t too impressed by socialised arts funding and its box-ticking apparatus - sentiments with which some readers may feel empathy. But those feeling empathetic may want to avoid applauding just yet.
Unfortunately, the Sydney Writers’ Room was none of these things.
Being artistically innovative and successful is something rarely said of office space. Even office space with rules regarding mess.
Its mission was to provide a space that placed no expectation on success or failure. You just had to be quiet and write.
Office space, in short, for those who consider themselves deserving of special favours and perpetual indulgence. Those “legitimately worthy,” as Mr Firth puts it. Not worthy because of what they have produced, but worthy because of what they may produce, possibly, at some point in the future, should muse and ability permit. And so taxpayers must be given the old shakedown, not just for written works they didn’t ask for, but for the potential for works they didn’t ask for, and to ensure the further inflation of Mr Firth’s self-regard. You see, it’s simply impossible to write anything at all unless one has a large office sited in a beautiful old building in the heart of Sydney, all bankrolled indefinitely by the taxpayers of Australia. Bloggers of the world, please take note.
Writing in the Guardian, feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez alerts us to another pressing issue of the day:
There’s a new ad on the woman-hating block… I first saw the ad this weekend, and it’s been niggling away at me ever since.
Time well spent, no doubt. The pressing issue is of course Vagisil deodorant, a tool of the Patriarchy with insidious mind-warping effects.
It’s partly its insidiousness in presenting Vagisil as if they are on our side – no need to worry girls, this odour is completely normal! The thing is, if this supposed odour… is completely normal, there would be no need for a product to deal with it, would there?
I fear I’m venturing into alien territory here, given my limited knowledge of how ladies smell below the waist - some more than others, apparently. But still, something obvious ought to be said. There are any number of human odours, secretions and emissions that are normal and generated to varying degrees, but this doesn’t mean one would necessarily wish to share them with others. Even as a display of defiant womanhood. Years ago, I worked with a big-boned lady with unusually strong body odour. She was, so far as I could tell, scrupulously clean and, judging by the array of deodorants in her handbag, very much aware of this distinctive characteristic. Her battle with perspiration and pungency was, sadly, being lost, especially during summer, though I and other colleagues were appreciative of her efforts to minimise the social fallout.
What Vagisil does is pretend to be our friend, helping us deal with this smell that’s been plaguing our social life; in reality they are manipulating us into thinking we stink in the first place… adding yet another paranoia to the long list carried around by the 21st century woman trying to survive in a system that teaches them to hate themselves.
Yes, of course. The option to deodorise one’s nethers and render them fragrant – say, before engaging in some intimate beastliness – isn’t a matter of, um, taste or personal judgment, but constitutes “woman-hating.” And the existence of said option not only “attacks and diminishes women’s self-confidence,” it teaches those same women - the ones with no minds of their own, it seems - to “hate themselves.” Because womenfolk simply can’t be trusted to determine whether a product is useful or a complete waste of money. Which, on reflection, is an odd position for a feminist campaigner to take. Should someone think to market Zesty Scrotal Freshness Wipes, I’m pretty sure I’d retain the wherewithal to decide for myself whether to rush out and buy a multipack or stick with showering and a little talc.
After the customary denunciation of the market and its morally corrupting effects, and intimations that women are mere flotsam on an ocean of advertising, Ms Criado-Perez informs us, somewhat triumphantly:
I’m not buying Vagisil. Ever.
The market in action. Problem solved.
Good news, menfolk! There’s been a miracle breakthrough in male hygiene technology...
Tim Blair on the self-regarding eco-guru David Suzuki:
Self-importance comes with the territory when you’re a warmist. After all, you’re saving the planet. Who could be more important than you? This elevated sense of self manifests itself in curious ways, such as Tim Flannery’s prediction of a universal belief system or his insistence that everybody is always writing about him, or Will Steffen’s fear that a retired public servant wanted to shoot climate scientists and Michael Mann’s mistaken Nobel Prize claim. But those three are mere junior narcissists compared to David Suzuki, who is now starring as a global climate martyr in a “powerful live theatre and public engagement project” about himself.
Tim Worstall on the myths and omissions of the “gender pay gap”:
Women who work part time earn more than men who work part time. Women in their 20s earn more than men in their 20s. Women who don’t marry and don’t have children earn more than men. What kills the average wage of all women, in comparison to the wage of all men, is that women - and it’s important to note that this is on average - take career breaks to have children and often then either more time off or lighter workloads to raise them. We might want to say that this isn’t a good idea. We might think that it’s just fine that people who make different life decisions earn different amounts of money. But what this isn’t is a gender pay gap. And anyone who wants to change matters has to recognise that it isn’t a gender pay gap so it isn’t something that is going to be changed by blathering on about gender. It’s about children and the having of them. And, if we’re to be honest about it all, as long as more women than men decide that they want to take those breaks and changed workloads in order to raise their children, then we’re always going to have that motherhood pay gap. Whether it’s a good or bad thing is entirely reliant upon your personal definitions of good or bad.
Theodore Dalrymple on modern priorities:
The slowness [of the police] to react - infinite slowness, in fact, since they did not react at all - contrasted oddly with an experience I had the previous Sunday. A couple of American filmmakers came to Paris to interview me… and decided that the little park opposite my flat would be a good place to do so. They set up the camera, but a few seconds later, before they could ask me a single question, a municipal policeman arrived. They were not allowed to film here without a permit from the mairie of the arrondissement, he said. I explained that these were Americans, come all the way from Texas expressly to interview me. He, a very pleasant and polite man of African origin, phoned his chief to see whether an exception could be made. As I suspected, it could not. I told the film crew that we should make no fuss; the man was only doing his job, silly as that job might be. As it happens there were several drunks in another part of the park making aggressive-sounding noises and breaking bottles, but them he did not approach, perhaps wisely, as they were several and he was only one. He thought he would have more luck with someone wearing a tweed jacket and corduroy trousers as I was.
And Jack Dunphy on our student intelligentsia:
Only on a college campus, and nowhere more so than an Ivy League one, does it take a committee to figure out the obvious. Which in this case is that a group of coddled elitists, none of whom would dare set foot in the New York neighbourhoods that benefited most from the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” tactics, decided that their opinions… are the only ones deserving of a public airing, and that anyone whose opinion may differ is therefore worthy of mockery, shame, and contempt.
As usual, feel free to share your own links and snippets in the comments.
Those of you with artistic leanings may want to catch up with this ongoing thread at Artblog, in which I trade views with a couple of artists, chiefly on the subject of public funding. It’s informative and fun, if you like that kind of thing. I learned, for instance, that,
Art is for the people. But I would never leave it up to the taste of “the people” or “taxpayers” to get it done.
Bold, very bold.
BenSix ponders the moral compass of Russell Brand and Laurie Penny:
I do not know what Ms Penny’s memories of the riots are but mine are not of “righteous rage,” as Mr Brand phrased it. I think of Haroon Jahan, Shahzad Ali and Abdul Musavir, who were killed in a hit-and-run attack while defending their community from rioters; Richard Mannington Bowles, who was beaten to death while trying to extinguish a fire and Ashraf Rossli, who was attacked and then robbed by people who had pretended to help him. I think of the hundred private homes that were burned; the shops that were torched and the thuggishness that was so dramatically irresponsible that fire engines had their windows smashed when they arrived to fight the flames.
Penny can believe that such acts were inspired by “anger,” though the fact that so many of the participants had faced multiple prior convictions suggests that a good many of them required no such excuse to vandalise and steal. What I find disgusting, though, is the idea that they provide a model for future protests. It is evidence of a bizarre ethical and intellectual failure that one can romanticise this cause of death and destruction in a piece that is devoted to the horrors of casual sexism. It is interesting that a journal of left wing opinion is so receptive to calls for violent upheaval. One can only speculate as to their response should a Spectator columnist demand attacks on wind farms, speed cameras or publishing houses.
As regular readers will be aware, Ms Penny is inclined to hyperbolical nihilism and has some intriguing views on the subject of violence and on whom it may be inflicted. In August 2011 on the BBC’s World Tonight, Laurie offered her “intelligent analysis” of the aforementioned criminal spree. What frightens her, she said, isn’t the beating and murder of pensioners, the mugging of children or the gleeful attempts to burn people in their homes, but the use of the word “feral” to describe the people doing so. By Laurie’s lofty moral calculus, we, not the rioters, are the ignorant ones. “Violence,” she insisted, “is rarely ever mindless.” “Nicking trainers,” we were told, is “a political statement.”
Mark Steyn notes there’s nothing funny about Obama:
There’s a designation for countries where mocking the leader gets you sent to re-education camp, and it isn’t “self-governing republic of freeborn citizens.”
Chris Snowdon does some basic arithmetic:
Anyone who says that they want a tax on fizzy drinks because they are concerned about the cost to the public is either disingenuous or ignorant. It will place a further tax burden on the public that far outweighs any plausible savings. Also remember that we already have a 20 per cent tax on fizzy drinks. It’s called VAT and it isn’t levied on fruit juice, milk or water.
And Tim Worstall tries to endure an economics lecture by the Guardian’s foremost social commentator Polly Toynbee. As you can imagine, it tests his patience a little.
As usual, feel free to share your own links and snippets below.
Update, via the comments:
As some of you have been discussing Healthcare.gov and its bewildering array of shortcomings, here’s Mark Steyn on other grand projects that didn’t quite work out:
The witness who coughed up the intriguing tidbit about Obamacare’s exemption from privacy protections was one Cheryl Campbell of something called CGI… CGI is so Canadian their name is French: Conseillers en Gestion et Informatique. Their most famous government project was for the Canadian Firearms Registry. The registry was estimated to cost in total $119 million, which would be offset by $117 million in fees. That’s a net cost of $2 million. Instead, by 2004 the CBC (Canada’s PBS) was reporting costs of some $2 billion — or a thousand times more expensive.
Yeah, yeah, I know, we’ve all had bathroom remodellers like that. But in this case the database had to register some 7 million long guns belonging to some two-and-a-half to three million Canadians. That works out to almost $300 per gun — or somewhat higher than the original estimate for processing a firearm registration of $4.60. Of those $300 gun registrations, Canada’s auditor general reported to parliament that much of the information was either duplicated or wrong in respect to basic information such as names and addresses. Sound familiar?
Ed Driscoll quotes Kevin D Williamson on the joys and innovations of socialist thinking:
California is running out of things in the present to tax, and its future does not look terribly bright, so it has resorted to taxing the past. A combination of judicial shenanigans and legislative incompetence resulted in California’s reneging on tax incentives that had been offered to some businesses — and then demanding the retroactive payment of taxes for which businesses had never been legally liable. Small-business owners, some of whom had sold their businesses years ago, suddenly got demands for taxes running well into the six figures. And, California being California, it had the gall to charge those businesses interest on taxes they had never owed.
Via sk60, students demonstrate their grasp of a certain event in 20th century history:
We found all of the students who participated in our survey to be very bright and articulate. If they did not know the answer to any of the questions we posed, it is because they were never taught it in public school.
Greg Lukianoff on pretentious grievance and its advantages:
[Jonathan Rauch] talks about the idea of an offendedness sweepstakes. That essentially, if you make the argument that “I’m offended” is the ultimate trump card on what people are allowed to say, you shouldn’t be surprised that the standard for being offended gets lower and lower and lower. It’s only human nature that if you have a trick that lets you win any argument, you’re going to play it.
Lukianoff provides some vivid examples of this manoeuvre. If you want to see the kinds of people to whom it appeals, see also this.
And Theodore Dalrymple on the anti-capitalist millionaire named Banksy:
Banksy is a cartoonist and social commentator whose works appear on buildings, bridges, and other constructions rather than in newspapers or in The New Yorker. He has turned himself into a Scarlet Pimpernel figure, whose aversion to public appearances has proved the best possible publicity. His work is often witty and pointed, though his choice of targets for satire is purely conventional and precisely what one might expect of a privileged member of the intellectual middle classes. Only in his manner of proceeding is he truly original. In other respects, his work seems that of a clever adolescent — one who is now approaching middle age.
Keenly attuned to pressing issues of the day, the Guardian’s Matt Seaton tells us we just aren’t agonising about cupcakes enough. And when I say cupcakes I obviously mean,
Butter-iced snares of self-loathing that sell precisely because they exploit young women’s insecurity about their looks and identity, and offer a completely false and self-defeating solace of temporary gratification, almost certainly followed by remorse and disgust.
It seems our Guardianista is upset by cupcakes being a bit girly. And that somehow, for reasons that aren’t clear, these tiny cakes are exploitative and induce all manner of psychological problems in the womenfolk of the world. It’s a bold claim, I think you’ll agree. According to Mr Seaton,
They’re not just cakes: like any cultural artefact, they have implicit values baked in. And the values I see in cupcakes are of a demeaning, self-trivialising sort of hyper-femininity.
From earlier this year, the late Norm Geras on communist cool:
Born in communist Czechoslovakia, Dalibor Rohac is unsettled by the continued displays of the symbols of communism by people on the political left. In view of the millions of victims of communist regimes, he finds it difficult to understand the surviving taste for the hammer and sickle, Che Guevara t-shirts and the like. Rohac mentions some possible explanations for this: that few people grasp the magnitude of the crimes of communism; that, whereas totalitarian fascism was always a poisonous idea, communism may be seen as a good idea that went wrong... A good idea gone wrong as may be, communism didn’t just go wrong in some minor or insignificant detail, but on a vast scale, and the manner in which it went wrong wasn’t only the manner of what one calls a ‘mistake’… No one with a genuine attachment to humane ideals should want to be associated with, much less bear upon their person, the iconography in question. It should have been completely discredited.
At the same time, for my part I do not find it so difficult to understand why this hasn’t happened. It hasn’t happened, because the left is far from having rid itself of those tendencies towards apologia for dictatorship and disregard for human rights that prevailed in the mid-20th century… Moreover, we are not talking here, as is sometimes alleged, of only a small fraction of the left - the far left: unreconstructed Stalinists, the SWP and its penumbra, and so forth. They form, to be sure, a core region of the anti-democratic indulgence I mean. But it also has a large hinterland among well-meaning ‘liberals’… The regrettable fact of the matter is that too much of the left still gives anti-capitalism and/or equality priority over the norms of democracy, liberty and human rights; and this is why the iconography tainted by the deaths of millions of innocent people is still seen as being cool where it no longer should be.
Unsurprisingly, I differ from Norm on one point, a point I think of as quite important. Communism – Marxism and its variants – was never a good idea. It is, and always was, a monstrous idea, a license for coercion, atrocity and horror - predictably so. And not coincidentally, it was conceived by, and has since entranced, some very unpleasant people.
Mark Steyn on being sued by a fool:
I’m currently being sued... by Dr Michael Mann, the eminent global warm-monger, for mocking his increasingly discredited climate-change “hockey stick.” So Dr Mann has sued for what his complaint to the court called “defamation of a Nobel prize recipient.” In fact, Dr Mann is not a “Nobel prize recipient.” But, as Donna LaFramboise recently pointed out, he has spent many years passing himself off as one. The nearest he got to a Nobel was as one of several thousand contributors to one of various reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which in 2007 shared a Nobel Peace Prize. So Dr Mann is a Nobel laureate in the same sense that my mother is: She’s Belgian, and Belgium is in the European Union, and the European Union was collectively awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year. My mum does not claim to be a Nobel prize winner, but Dr Mann did, on an industrial scale, including in his publicist’s bio, his book jackets and his website — until, in the wake of his false complaint, the Nobel Institute in Oslo declared that he was not a Nobel laureate at all. In that sense, Dr Mann is, indeed, a fraud. It is a fascinating legal question whether a man guilty of serial misrepresentation can, in fact, be defamed.
John Hinderaker on Big Government economics:
“We must increase our debt limit so that we can pay our bills.” As Tyler Durden notes, this is the “most disturbing sentence uttered during the debt ceiling debate/government shut down.” […] There are around 72 million American children under the age of 18. If you do the maths, assuming they are on the hook for our debts, that means that currently each American child is around $236,000 in debt. Since only around one-half of Americans are federal income taxpayers, it would be more accurate to say that each future taxpayer owes $472,000. If two of them get married, they owe just short of $1 million, with more debt being piled up every day and with interest costs sure to increase. These numbers can be sliced and diced in various ways, but any way you look at it, it is insane that those in Washington who wanted to blow past the statutory debt limit without hesitation so that we can “pay our bills” are hailed as responsible. Here is a hint: if you have to borrow money to pay your bills, you aren’t paying your bills.
“The federal government is America’s largest employer,” Obama said.
For newcomers, more items from the archives. A flavour of what goes on here.
The Guardian’s Mike Power denounces the barbecue patriarchy. It’s “sexist,” “ugly” and “oppressively penetrating.”
According to Mr Power, there’s nothing uglier than the sight of menfolk indulging, often knowingly, in a clichéd male behaviour – cooking for friends and family, and making sure that everyone is having a good time. “This grilled-food gender split is ubiquitous, odd and unacknowledged,” says he. This may strike readers as a bold, indeed preposterous, claim to make. One of the rituals of the barbecues I’ve attended is the good-natured parodying – one might say acknowledgment – of precisely those conventions. “Man make fire. Man cook meat,” etc. Perhaps we’re to imagine that only the keen social observers who write for the Guardian have ever noticed such things or found them worthy of amused comment. More to the point, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to Mr Power that quite a few people, male and female, actually enjoy the role-play opportunity of the barbecue - the theatre, the ritual, the fun. Even – heresy! – gendered fun. But hey, the point is that some of you heathens are still arranging your leisure time and social gatherings in a way of which our Guardianista disapproves. Your barbecues aren’t being gender balanced in the way he would like.
On sacrificial children and the “anti-family.”
The endlessly entertaining Laurie Penny – who entertains us for reasons she doesn’t quite comprehend – pointed her readers to a breathless endorsement of the fatherless family. New Enquiry contributor Madeleine Schwartz dubbed this non-nuclear unit the “anti-family,” thus signalling its countercultural radicalism and general sexiness. We were told, based on nothing much, that “a couple cannot raise a child better than one [person] can.” Apparently, the “diffusion” of the family unit – which is to say, absent fathers, hardship and subsequent dependence on the state – “is one of the most exciting things to happen to the American social pattern since sexual liberation.”
Make way for George Monbiot. Being a socialist, he’s better than you.
George, after all, is known for his immense modesty, as when he expressed his contempt for those who dare to disagree with him, all of whom were waved aside as dullard conservatives struggling with racial phobias. “The other side,” he announced, is “on average more stupid than our own.” Guardian readers - known far and wide as The Great Thinkers Of Our Era™ - were told in no uncertain terms that “conservatism thrives on low intelligence” and “appeals to stupidity.” “Conservative ideology,” said George, “is the critical pathway from low intelligence to racism.” And all of this in contrast with liberals such as himself, who are allegedly “self-deprecating” and “too liberal for their own good.”
Robert and Edward Skidelsky want to save us from all the nice things they enjoy and that we shouldn’t want.
“Why don’t more people aspire to living a good life?” asks our architect of tomorrow, before blaming Margaret Thatcher. Why doesn’t the rabble want what he knows is good for us? And what’s good for us, apparently, is not earning more than Mr Skidesky deems “enough.” It seems we shouldn’t want to travel the world, as Mr Skidelsky does, or sunbathe by the pool at the Caracas Hilton, as Mr Skidelsky did, or own a house as comfortable and spacious as his. “Keynes never owned a house in his life,” we’re told. “Neither for that matter did Virginia Woolf.” And so why should we, the little people? Mr Skidelsky imagines his inferiors “living good lives, surrounding themselves with beauty.” It’s just that he’d rather we didn’t get to own much of it, or have enough money to make more of it happen. Utopia, you see, will “require some restriction.”
And by all means plunge into the greatest hits.
Theodore Dalrymple on the delusions and dishonesties of Marxist fathers:
Marxism was replete with heresies and excommunications that tended to become fatal whenever its adherents reached power. There was a reason for this. Marx said that it is not consciousness that determines being, but being that determines consciousness. In other words, ideas do not have to be argued against in a civilised way, but rather the social and economic position of those who hold them must be analysed. So, disagreement is the same as class enmity – and we all know what should be done with class enemies… A genre of apologetic literature grew up in the Twenties and Thirties. I have a collection of it; perhaps my favourite is Soviet Russia Fights Neurosis. How could intelligent people not have laughed? They didn’t laugh, though; they believed it, because they wanted to. What they did not want to believe was the abundant evidence that, from the start, the Bolshevik Revolution was a human catastrophe. Contrary to what many think, Solzhenitsyn revealed nothing in the Seventies that had not been known from the Twenties on. I have a contemporary account of the famine in the Ukraine, complete with photographs of piles of cadavers. Intellectuals devoted great dialectical effort to showing either that the evidence was false or that its meaning was different from that given it by “bourgeois” people.
Nick Gillespie on trimming a little fat from the state:
The shutdown provides the country with a perfect moment to ask why a federal government whose spending habits are an insult to drunken sailors everywhere is paying above-market compensation to hundreds of thousands of “non-essential” workers. The Department of Education is far from the only federal agency where massive numbers of take-them-or-leave-them employees hang their hats. According to Government Executive magazine’s incomplete tally, 90 percent or more of the staff at the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, Securities and Exchange Committee, and the Departments of Treasury and Housing and Urban Development are considered “non-essential.” And let’s get real: When the Department of Commerce claims that a relatively tiny 85 percent of its workers are “non-essential,” we know we’re being played.
David Marcus on arts funding versus arts diversity:
The NEA and the tax exempt status of many arts organisations are hurting the very art forms they purport to support. They are in fact making American art less relevant to Americans’ lives… It is simply accepted that government support of the arts creates better, and better attended art. In fact, the perverse market incentives enshrined by federal tax expenditures through deductions for arts giving and direct government support have been accompanied by a decrease in attendance and a crisis in theatre… Fewer and fewer people go to theatre even though the federal dollars keep rolling in. These government dollars are not expanding the base of arts attendees, but rather subsidising the entertainment of wealthy, white people. Government dollars are not content neutral, a cultural ground game is being executed by the progressive Non Profit community to ensure that culture remains the sole preserve of leftist ideology… According to the NEAs own numbers the percentage of Americans who attended theatre dropped by thirty percent from 1992 to 2008. In that time the number of 501 (c) 3 tax exempt theatres doubled, from about 900 to about 1800. The total number of tax payer dollars dedicated to those companies also increased. So more companies are getting more money to create theatre but fewer people are attending.
And the playwright David Mamet on the same:
It is only in state-subsidised theatre (whether the subsidy is direct, in the form of grants, or indirect, as tax-deductible donations to universities or arts organisations) that the ideologue can hold sway, for he is then subject not to the immediate verdict of the audience but to the good wishes of the granting authority, whose good wishes he will, thus, devote his energies to obtaining.
The political uniformity and extraordinary conceits of our own pubicly-funded arts establishment have entertained us many, many times. As when the writer Hanif Kureishi told Guardian readers that culture, as represented by him, is “a form of dissent,” while the paper’s theatre critic Michael Billington claimed that a reduction of taxpayer subsidy for loss-making plays is nothing less than “suppression” of that “dissent.” Likewise, when the playwright Jonathan Holmes claimed that he and his peers are “speaking truth to power” – I kid you not – and insisted, based on nothing, that “the sole genuine reason for cuts is censorship of some form” and “the only governments to systematically attack the arts have been the ones that also attacked democracy.” You see, the suggestion that artists might consider earning a living, rather than leeching at the taxpayer’s teat, is apparently indistinguishable from fascist brutality and the end of civilisation. Though when the status quo in London’s dramatic circles is overwhelmingly leftwing, and when publicly subsidised art and theatre tend to favour parties that favour further public subsidy for art and theatre, what “dissent” actually means is somewhat unclear. And reluctant taxpayers please take note: Despite all the years of providing hand-outs, you’re now the oppressor. Yes, Mr Holmes and his peers are “speaking truth to power,” and for that they must have power over your wallet. And your wallet, and yours.
Once again it’s time to poke a stick in the mental bog of performance art. And so readers are invited to sample the aesthetic wares of Rocío Boliver, an “underground cultural icon” whose career spans musical performance, video, raves and “porno-erotic texts.” Ms Boliver describes herself as “a 56 year old woman living in the 21st century,” a “devotee of transgression” who “aims to demystify the horror of old age in an ironical way,” while “questioning the capitalist system that’s imposed on women in this stage of life.” Her Artistic Statement (NSFW) tells us, “Doing performance art is the only way I can get my own back on life… I feel blessed when I leave those who watch what I do flabbergasted. Happy to wipe their stupid Hollywood smiles off their faces.” She describes her performances as “electroshocks… applied to listless, alienated minds… speechless idiots.” No sell-out flattering of the audience, then.
Highlights from Ms Boliver’s recent triumph Between Menopause and Old Age can be seen in the video below. Its transgressive anti-capitalist electroshocking will, I’m sure, shake your world. Readers are advised there is nudity throughout, along with barbed wire, self-harm, a bicycle pump and large amounts of Sellotape.
Last month the Daily Caller reported on an incident at the ostentatiously “progressive” Oberlin College in Ohio. This time the anti-black messages circulating around campus were joined by anti-Jewish and anti-homosexual messages. It turns out that one of the two principle culprits was a vociferous supporter of Obama who belonged to such groups as “White Allies Against Structural Racism” and who describes himself on Twitter as an “atheist/pacifist/environmentalist/libertarian socialist/consequentialist.” As William A. Jacobson reports on his website Legal Insurrection, “School officials and local police knew the identity of the culprits, who were responsible for most if not all of such incidents on campus, yet remained silent as the campus reacted as if the incidents were real. National media attention focused on campus racism at Oberlin for weeks without knowing it was a hoax.”
Jacobson’s timeline of the Oberlin saga makes for interesting reading, not least for the credulity and rush to judgement in the supposedly progressive media and the obfuscation – one might say complicity - of Oberlin’s President. Other fabricated “hate crimes” are mentioned in Kimball’s piece, including a sixteen-year-old student sending himself racist and threatening text messages warning him to drop out of running for presidency of the Student Council, and leading to the involvement of parents, school officials and the police.
As regular readers will know, feigning racial abuse, whether to justify more “diversity” measures or simply to indulge in some personal psychodrama, has, for some, become a fashionable strategy. As when a 19-year-old freshman ransacked her own room and scrawled racial slurs across its walls before curling into a foetal ball, supposedly “traumatised and mute.” When the invented nature of the incident eventually came to light, Otis Smith of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People showed a remarkable indifference to what had actually happened: “It doesn’t matter to me whether she did it or not because of all the pressure these black students are under at these predominantly white schools. If this will highlight it, if it will bring it to the attention of the public, I have no problem with that.” Despite Mr Smith’s nonchalance, it isn’t clear to me how activist theatrics of this kind – ranging from email sock-puppetry to hanging nooses in campus libraries - will help any students feel welcome and at ease.
Update, via the comments:
Mr Smith’s willingness to excuse malicious disinformation is shared by other activists. Among them, black law student Johnathan Perkins, who in 2011 told the University of Virginia’s student newspaper that while walking home he’d been taunted and intimidated by two white police officers. Perkins’ letter to the paper claimed that “most Americans are raised in racially sterilised environments,” and that “black people are accused of… playing the victim.” The student’s stated hope was that, “sharing this experience will provide this community with some much needed awareness of the lives that many of their black classmates are forced to lead.” A subsequent investigation involving dispatch records, police tapes and surveillance video from nearby businesses revealed the student’s story to be entirely untrue. In a written statement Perkins later admitted, “I wrote the article to bring attention to the topic of police misconduct... The events in the article did not occur.”
Archives of similar hoaxes can be found here, here and here. The latter includes a psychology professor at Claremont McKenna College who slashed her own tyres and defaced her own car with abusive and racist messages. The professor, Kerri Dunn, protested her victimhood to faculty and police despite being seen vandalising the vehicle, thereby setting an example for youngsters everywhere. Meanwhile classes were cancelled in support of Professor Dunn and students held rallies for “tolerance and diversity.” But spare a thought for the professor, our self-imagined heroine. After all, if you’re going to tell students there’s a “crisis of hate” on your campus, as Professor Dunn did, and if the campus you’re talking about doesn’t match that rhetoric at all, then certain measures will have to be taken. And by measures I mean liberties. Like slashing your own tyres then blaming someone in your class. Or walking over to the people who’ve just watched you do this and asking if they’d seen who was responsible.
Another ‘green’ breakthrough reported by Minnesota’s Star Tribune:
Talk turned to trash at the Hennepin County Government Centre this week when surprised employees discovered their standard-size garbage cans replaced by new ones… The county’s environmental and property services departments delivered the cans to the offices of 3,000 mostly unwitting workers in the Hennepin County Government Centre last weekend. An official rally heralding their arrival and making a pitch for their proper use came Thursday. Employees are told to empty the cans at a centrally located receptacle on their floor. “This short walk will help the county save money, stay healthy and protect the environment,” said an informational flier given to workers. Judy Hollander, director of property services, led the plan for the new cans. “As we create more recycling, the amount of trash goes down,” she said. But she recognises that “it’s a hard change for folks,” she said. “When we mentioned it at the department heads meeting, there was a large gasp.”
I suspect you too will be impressed when you click here.
John Nolte spies a revolving door:
Whether the number is 15 or 19, the fact that this many so-called journalists from outlets as influential as CBS, ABC, CNN, Time, the Washington Post, Boston Globe, and the Los Angeles Times want to work at the very same administration they are supposed to hold accountable, is not only troubling, it also explains a lot. Why would anyone enamoured enough with an Obama administration they want to go work for, do anything that might make a potential employer uncomfortable — you know, like actually report on ObamaCare and the economy honestly, or dig into Benghazi and the IRS?
Advocates of minimum wage laws often give themselves credit for being more “compassionate” towards “the poor.” But they seldom bother to check what are the actual consequences of such laws. One of the simplest and most fundamental economic principles is that people tend to buy more when the price is lower and less when the price is higher. Yet advocates of minimum wage laws seem to think that the government can raise the price of labour without reducing the amount of labour that will be hired... As for being “compassionate” toward “the poor,” this assumes that there is some enduring class of Americans who are poor in some meaningful sense, and that there is something compassionate about reducing their chances of getting a job… Most working people in the bottom 20 percent in income at a given time do not stay there over time. More of them end up in the top 20 percent than remain behind in the bottom 20 percent. There is nothing mysterious about the fact that most people start off in entry level jobs that pay much less than they will earn after they get some work experience. But, when minimum wage levels are set without regard to their initial productivity, young people are disproportionately unemployed -- priced out of jobs.
Related to the above, ESR on fast food and “social justice”:
If you are one of the concerned, caring, and vastly indignant activists behind this strike, I’m here to tell you that your social-justice problem has a simple solution. Take out a loan (or put together the money from your like-minded activist friends), buy a franchise from one of the chains, and hire workers at $15 an hour. There, that was simple, wasn’t it? You’ll make money hand over fist and demonstrate to all those eeevil corporations that they can too pay a “just wage”; they just don’t want to because they’re greedy. Or…maybe not.
Heather Mac Donald on when ‘affirmative action’ fails:
Racial preferences are not just ill advised, they are positively sadistic. Only the preening self-regard of University of California administrators and faculty is served by such an admissions travesty. Preference practitioners are willing to set their “beneficiaries” up to fail and to subject them to possible emotional distress, simply so that the preference dispensers can look out upon their “diverse” realm and know that they are morally superior to the rest of society.
And BenSix considers the artistry of Mr Robin Thicke:
It is customary in pieces such as this for their author to insist that he or she is no prude. I will respect this tradition and offer credentials: I have wallowed in low culture to an unhealthy degree, from cage fighting to B movies to French literature.
As usual, feel free to add your own links and snippets in the comments.
Writing in the Guardian, the Australian feminist and academic Hila Shachar rails against the little people, and how tight and stupid they are:
We seem to pride ourselves on our anti-intellectualism in Australia. This is why it came as no surprise to those in the business of thinking and researching when the Coalition insulted the work done through Australian Research Council (ARC) funding, calling the grants funded by the ARC “ridiculous” and a “waste” – a “waste” which it plans to “re-prioritise.”
Yes, Australia’s new and insufficiently leftwing government has dared to suggest that, while there will be no reduction in overall annual research funding of around $900M, and indeed some increase, those same public funds might more usefully be directed somewhere other than the fringes of the humanities. Say, into “researching dementia and diabetes.” As a product of the humanities and therefore in “the business of thinking,” Dr Shachar is not at all impressed by this and is keen to let readers know just how noble and heroic her fellow grant-seekers are:
It’s one of the most rigorous, stringent and competitive processes… Academics don’t apply for grants for the fun of it, and many continue to wade through endless applications because they believe in the basic worth of the research and its overall contribution to society.
Dr Shachar is, however, careful not to explain the contribution to society made by her own work, or by the humanities research projects that were highlighted as examples of non-essential spending, including a $164,000 grant for studying “how urban media art can best respond to global climate change.” Or by the boldly titled research project Queering Disasters in the Antipodes, which hopes to probe the “experiences of LGBTI people in natural disasters” and ultimately provide “improved disaster response” to gay people, whose needs in such circumstances are apparently quite different from those of everyone else. The princely sum of $325,183 has been spent on this endeavour. “No such work has been done in this field before,” says the project outline. Instead, we learn that “people who have received an ARC grant… are the last people in Australia you could accuse of frivolity and waste,” and that taxpayer subsidy of such things should be left to “people who are actually qualified to decide the importance of specific projects.”
Politicians shouldn’t be allowed to decide what is “relevant” in research any more than they have the right to tell business owners whether they like or dislike their products… If modern democratic countries such as Australia pride themselves in things such as free speech and an independent media, we should also fight for our free thinkers. There is nothing “ridiculous” about research, but there is something ridiculous about a country that is proud of its contempt for its thinkers.
You see, Dr Shachar is all in favour of democracy. She mentions it four times. She just doesn’t think the public should have any say in how its money is spent - say, by voting for a government with particular spending policies. Whichever party you vote for, nothing should ever change, at least in the humanities.
The tone is just a little telling: “How dare you, the lowly taxpayer, question our funding and the value of our work? Only we get to do that, and we agree with us. Why, you don’t even have an amulet!” It almost sounds like a caste thing. And note how our righteous academic conflates efforts to reduce the coercive public funding of, say, questionable art projects with contempt for thinkers. A manoeuvre that’s repeated throughout her article: “This attitude is no surprise… Australia has an underlying contempt for intellectuals, the arts, and specifically its thinkers… in Australia, thinking is for losers.” In Dr Shachar’s mind, these budgetary changes are an “attack” on Australia’s higher brain functions, of which the arts and humanities are its highest measure and most glittering jewel. And if you disagree with Dr Shachar on how your taxes should be spent and vote accordingly, why, it stands to reason you’re some kind of mouth-breathing heathen with a fear of big words.
Unlike you, Dr Shachar holds a PhD in English and Cultural Studies. Her contribution to intellectual life and the “business of thinking” is to occasionally teach classes in Popular Culture and of course Gender Studies, two subjects long admired for their profundity and intellectual rigour. A cure for motor neurone disease is expected from her in no time, along with breakthroughs in cold fusion and a mastery of time travel.