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.