Tuesday, August 30, 2005
LIKE ORWELL'S PIGS, THE BRITISH LEFTIST ELITE THINK THEY ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS
Members of Britain’s elite have been selected as priority cases to receive scarce pills and vaccinations at the taxpayers’ expense if the country is hit by a deadly bird flu outbreak. Workers at the BBC and prominent politicians — such as cabinet ministers — would be offered protection from the virus. Ken Livingstone, the London mayor, has already spent £1m to make sure his personal office and employees have their own emergency supplies of 100,000 antiviral tablets.
If there is an avian flu pandemic in the coming months there would be enough drugs to protect less than 2% of the British population for a week. The Department of Health has drawn up a priority list of those who would be first to receive lifesaving drugs. Top of the list are health workers followed by those in key public sector jobs. Although senior government ministers would be among the high-priority cases, the department said this weekend that it had not decided whether to include opposition politicians. BBC employees would be protected because the corporation is required to broadcast vital information during a national disaster.
Politicians and the media have been placed before sick patients, heavily pregnant women and elderly people by government planners. .....
Fears that a “doomsday” virus may sweep the world have been heightened by the recent spread of the lethal strain of avian flu, H5N1. The death toll, estimated at 120, has been of people whose work brought them into close contact with infected birds. Scientists have warned that millions could die if H5N1 mutates. The Department of Health would not currently be able to cope with such an onslaught. Although it has ordered 14.6m doses of Tamiflu, an antiviral drug thought to be effective against the H5N1 strain, only 900,000 doses are in stock so far. The full supply will not be delivered until March 2007, at a total cost of about £100m.
Besides the NHS and BBC, firemen, police and the armed forces are among those listed in the two top-priority groups to receive the vaccine
Monday, August 29, 2005
AN ELITE LEFTIST INTELLECTUAL AT WORK:
With a typical disregard for facts and accuracy
No reputation in intellectual Australia stands higher at the moment than Robert Manne's. This year he was voted the country's leading intellectual (in a survey of 100 people by The Sydney Morning Herald); he has just published a mammoth collection of essays, Left Right Left; and for 20 years he seems never to have lost an argument in which he has participated.
Yet, as with so many of our celebrity intellectuals, to my (admittedly) jaundiced eyes, he doesn't measure up to his reputation.
For one thing, he handles facts and sources very loosely for a professor. In Left Right Left, he gets people's names wrong more than once, referring to "the Michael 'Greed is Good' Milliken Institute", for instance, when he means the Milken Institute, and to "Jerry Fleischmann" when he means Jeffrey Fleishman. When he says that Bill Clinton was impeached "over the relatively trivial question of [his] Monica Lewinsky lies" (Clinton was impeached on charges of having perjured himself in testimony to a grand jury and obstruction of justice), he again displays an unsettling lack of precision.
It would be easier to ignore his minor errors if Manne wasn't himself so quarrelsome on points of fact and didn't make so many mistakes of fact and method even in his I'm-right-and-you're-wrong corrections of others. In a letter he wrote to The Age in September 2003, for instance, he cited Alison Broinowski's popular book Howard's War - a secondary source at best - in triumphant demolition of a column by Gerard Henderson that had relied on Hansard.
In The Culture of Forgetting, he faulted Helen Demidenko/Darville for describing Lazar Kaganovich (a member of Stalin's inner circle) as having been shorter than Stalin, remarking that "Kaganovich was, according to the only biography in English of him, considerably taller than Stalin". Manne didn't even include this unnamed biography by an unnamed author in his list of sources and it turns out to be The Wolf of the Kremlin by Stuart Kahan, a dubious-looking book that reads like a novel, in which its American author recounts the life of his "uncle" Lazar Kaganovich, basing this account for the most part (it seems) on a 10-hour, untaped conversation he claims to have held with him, from which nothing is quoted directly. It's a book that the experts in its field dismiss entirely. Manne relies on this book as naively as a first-year undergraduate.
The most striking thing about Manne, though, is the ease with which he assumes us to be in agreement with him and his world-view generally. He writes of "the independence of the ABC", for example, as though referring to an objective fact.
Arguing that the notion of political correctness is itself devoid of content, he wrote: "If we believe the campaign against, say, Helen Garner [author of The First Stone, about a University of Melbourne sexual harassment case] to have been vicious or unbalanced or unjust, to have been driven by the force of 'political correctness' as some have said, we think these things only because we value her voice, or at least think of it as part of civilised conversation."
I don't value Garner's voice or consider it part of civilisation, and I don't believe there to have been any campaign against her, either. Manne takes it for granted that we all agree with him on such things.
Although no Pauline Hanson [an affirmative action critic] supporter myself, I can remember being astonished by the ease with which, speaking to Robert Dessaix on Radio National, Manne could claim sympathy for Hanson supporters as ordinary people who felt shut out of public debate and then shut them out of debate himself. Sympathy with Hanson supporters wasn't as important as being right on the issues, he concluded, taking it for granted that there was a right attitude to questions such as reconciliation and Asian immigration, and thereby failing to acknowledge their political character.
In the same broadcast Manne endorsed the Marxist theory that says political views follow self-interest by way of rationalisation, but he appears to think it couldn't possibly apply to him. He seems to see himself as being outside politics - he described his own book Whitewash as "non-polemical" - which for a professor of politics (of all people) is surely a remarkable position to claim for oneself.
Manne has an apparent reluctance to see any of his opinions as being a debatable point. He even took Steven Spielberg to task for having a view of the Holocaust different from his own. Having expressed a point of view different from Manne's, Spielberg didn't understand the Holocaust at all, it turns out, and that is why Schindler's List is a bad film. So much for Spielberg.
In addition to their dogmatism, there is frequently an element of sleight-of-hand to Manne's arguments as well: important points get dealt with quickly or shallowly to justify attacks that, in the end, don't seem justified after all.
The clearest examples of this occur in The Culture of Forgetting. Manne's main argument here is, essentially: first, Darville's The Hand That Signed The Paper [a book that won Australia's top literary award] revives the claim that Bolshevism was a Jewish conspiracy; second, this thesis is historically untrue; and third, it's a falsehood that the Nazis promoted vociferously. Propositions two and three are not in dispute by anybody; the key element in Manne's argument is the first one. It's this point, though, that he gives the least attention. He justifies points two and three by an eight-page discussion full of facts and figures, dazzling the reader with his historical expertise, having crammed the case against Darville's novel into less than two pages.
And when one checks the exhibits that Manne presents in these two pages against the novel itself, one finds that he has often misrepresented them. He writes, for instance, that in the novel "the father is arrested and killed by 'Jewish Bolsheviks"'. In the novel, the father is arrested by "SMERSH men and women". Nothing is said about their being Jewish or even Bolshevik (except much later in the novel by a character who wasn't in a position to know). It is true that as the father is dragged off, he shouts (among other things) "Fight Marx and the f---ing Jewish Bolsheviks!", but that only makes it as true to say that he is arrested and killed in the novel by "Jewish Bolsheviks" as it would be to say he is arrested and killed there by Karl Marx.
In addition to fudging evidence, Manne also leaves things out. In discussing the book's identification of Judaism and Bolshevism, for instance, he fails to mention this passage: "He [Evheny] noticed that the town's synagogue had been converted into a revolutionary museum, and that NKVD troops stood guard to keep the Orthodox Jews away from what had once been their place of worship. A red and black banner obscured the Star of David on the roof. 'Celebrate what Communism does to free the Jews!' it read."
Manne cites the actual, historical persecution of Jews by the Bolsheviks to show the absurdity of identifying Bolshevism and Judaism, failing to note that Darville, aware of this persecution herself, included it in the novel, a point that refutes the central thesis of his attack on her.
He leaves a great many things out of his arguments. In an attack on Keith Windschuttle, he made much of the fact Windschuttle had been awarded a Centenary Medal; this was evidence, apparently, of the Prime Minister's personal enthusiasm for Windschuttle's The Fabrication of Aboriginal History. What Manne failed to mention here was that he was awarded one of those medals himself, which detracts from his argument somewhat.
Another omission occurs when Manne claims that not only was he never a member of the New Right, he was among its earliest opponents. In his prize-winning Deakin Lecture, he said: "I was opposed to the New Right when it emerged throughout the English-speaking world in the 1980s."
More recently he wrote: "Even though I watched with fascination as the Hayekian idea took hold in Australia - through the combined work of journalists, academics, politicians, businessmen and private enterprise think tanks - I was never a supporter of what I must admit I spoke of as the New Right."
What he never adds is that when the New Right emerged in Australia in 1982, it was with The New Conservatism in Australia, a book edited by a thirty-something academic named Robert Manne.
Manne seems to me not so much a political commentator as a political activist, and a doctrinaire one at that. His farewell to Quadrant I find a wearisome expression of this side of Manne. He had wanted to move the magazine away from "the old polemical temptation", he said on resigning as its editor; he had wanted it "to shrug off its embattled mood". He had wanted an end to argument and contrary opinion, that was all, and when the contrarians objected, then that (of course) made them the baddies. It's the Bob Hawke "consensus" approach: let's all hold hands and be friends - on my terms. One can respect an avowed opponent, a "good hater", but it is hard to respect someone who cries foul simply for being disagreed with. It is this trait, finally, that makes Manne someone I have found it hard to admire even as a newspaper columnist.
Sunday, August 21, 2005
What better place to condemn Western immorality than an Italian palace? Damn the war and pass the chianti, old chap.
The invitation to escape Melbourne and spend a few days at a palazzo near Florence worked its magic. Aha! The fog lifted. The mind cleared. Suddenly I began to understand the haughty group-think of our university Left.
The invitation wasn't for me, of course. I only get asked to visit places someone's first wrecked -- Cambodia, Rwanda and other wake-ups. Or joints facing the wreckers, such as Taiwan.
But Florence! In an 18th-century palace! And bills paid for by grants or tax write-offs! What could be more refined or flattering? So, no, this invitation was not for me, but for Australia's academics to come and discuss, after a cocktail reception on an elegant terrace in northern Italy, how uncouth Australia is in defending itself in this "war on terror". And, please, only the like-minded need attend. It's Monash University's National Centre for Australia Studies that will next month hold a two-day conference at its wing of Prato's Palazzo Vaj. The topic: Democracy at the Crossroads?
Actually, that question mark is redundant, because the organisers -- who have form -- invited a cacophony of like-minded speakers who don't just agree our democracy is at the crossroads in our war against Islamist terrorism, but that it's shot off the road and over the cliff. The real enemy, some even add, is us. Just ask them. Ask Australian "journalist" John Pilger, who so rejects what Australia has done that he says our troops in Iraq are "legitimate targets" of terrorists and "we have no choice now but to support the (Iraqi) resistance". Pilger is clear where the true evil squats: "Consumerism and 'globalisation' is a vicious war against the poorest, a form of terrorism," he wrote in June. In fact, so much does this blow-wave radical hate globalisation and poverty that he's willing to be flown to an Italian palace to say so.
Or ask the keynote speaker, British Trotskyist Tariq Ali, who has decreed that the people who actually need shooting are the Iraqis working with the American "imperialists" to bring democracy to Iraq. And, indeed, terrorists have since killed many such Iraqis, including female MP Lamia Abed Khadouri, shot dead in her home.
Joining these two apologists for terrorists will be other critics of this war, including Stephen Kenny, the former lawyer of accused al-Qaida trainee David Hicks and Lex Lasry, QC, who says a fair trial of David Hicks at Guantanamo Bay is almost impossible. Also listed to speak, but now ill, is former British minister "Mo" Mowlam, who has said we must stop fighting al-Qaida and start negotiating. Oh, and there's writer Tony Bunyan, who claims "the 'war on terrorism' has turned into an ongoing 'war on freedom and democracy' . . . where accountability, scrutiny and human rights protections are luxuries to be curtailed or discarded".
So the organisers seem to think, too, devoting their final session to discussing how "the democratic state has been compromised by the developments auspiced by the 'war on terror' ". Note all the scare quotes around words such as "democracy" and "war on terror". It's a tic of the radical chic. By now you'll have figured the conference isn't actually scheduled to discuss the threat from terrorists themselves -- only the threat from our politicians. It's as if suicide bombers are just scare-figures dreamed up by power-crazed Right-wing leaders. Such fantasies come easily when you hold your conference in a palace in Italy, rather than, say, a madrassa in Pakistan.
So why Italy, you may interrupt to ask. The official reason is that if you held an academic conference anywhere less nice -- like Melbourne -- your overseas talent wouldn't bother turning up to enlighten you. But seeing Pilger, Ali and Mowlam all visited Australia over the past year, might not the real reason be a common human weakness for subsidised travel to lovely places?
But more troubling than the venue is that universities can so cheerfully promote a Leftist agenda, no matter how surreal. How was this managed? Give credit to associate professors Jenny Hocking and Colleen Lewis, who earlier collaborated on It's Time Again: Whitlam and Modern Labor, their fawning book on Labor's hero. Three years ago they were also co-convenors of a conference to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the election of Whitlam's government. You won't be surprised to learn the speakers were again almost exclusively from the Left, including Whitlam himself, and his former speechwriter and colleagues. Labor women such as Carmen Lawrence and Julia Gillard also spoke, as did admiring academics. And no one, naturally, attacked Whitlam for actually having left behind busted budgets, political scandals, soaring unemployment and the contempt of voters.
Heavens, no. For Hocking, the Whitlam period "defined modern Australia". Then again, Hocking could also write a hagiography of former High Court judge Lionel Murphy, suspected of trying to pervert the course of justice. She now has a grant to write on another Leftist hero, communist author Frank Hardy.
Of course, none of us is free from political bias. It's just a shame to see universities again promote the Left agenda so exclusively and with such tempting prizes for the right-thinking. It's an odd replay of failings of doomed aristocrats of past times. Here is our cultural elite, up in the palace, sipping champagne and talking idly of war, while the peasants who must pay them try to work out how best to stay alive.
From Andrew Bolt
Sunday, August 07, 2005
THE ARROGANT BUT HOLLOW ELITISM OF THE ART WORLD
Not coincidentally, the Art world is heavily Leftist. Excerpts from an article by John Carey, The Sunday Times’s chief literary critic
People in the West have been saying extravagant things about the arts for two and a half centuries. The arts, it is claimed, are “sacred”, they “unite us with the Supreme Being”, they are “the visible appearance of God’s kingdom on earth”, they “breathe spiritual dispositions” into us, they “inspire love in the highest part of the soul”, they have “a higher reality and more veritable existence” than ordinary life, they express the “eternal” and “infinite”, and they “reveal the innermost nature of the world”.
This random clutch of tributes reflects the views of authorities ranging chronologically from the German idealist philosopher Georg Wilhelm Hegel to the contemporary American critic Geoffrey Hartman, and they could be multiplied ad infinitum. Even those who would hesitate to classify the arts as holy often feel that they form a kind of sanctified enclave from which certain contaminating influences should be excluded — notably money and sex. The Australian critic Robert Hughes voices a general disquiet when he says that the idea of a Van Gogh landscape, the anguished testament of an artist maddened by inequality and social injustice, hanging in a millionaire’s drawing room is difficult to contemplate without nausea.
The arts have traditionally excluded certain kinds of people as well as certain kinds of experience. Writers on the arts have emphasised that their spiritual benefits, though highly desirable, are not available to everyone. For some art enthusiasts, indeed, it is this very exclusiveness that makes the arts attractive. “Equality is slavery,” writes the French novelist Gustave Flaubert. “That is why I love art.”
It is often said (by art-lovers) that art-lovers have more “refined sensibilities” than others. But this is a difficult thing to measure. Whereas there are tests for assessing intelligence, no objective computation of refinement is available, and partly for that reason, claims and counterclaims in this area arouse passionate indignation.
The sacred aura that surrounds art objects makes imputations about superior or inferior artistic refinement particularly hurtful and disconcerting. The situation has been aggravated by the eclipse of painting in the 1960s and its replacement by various kinds of conceptual art, performance art, body art, installations, happenings, videos and computer programmes. These arouse fury in many because they seem to be deliberate insults to people of conventional taste (as, indeed, they often are).
By implication, such artworks categorise those who fail to appreciate them as a lesser kind of human being, lacking the special faculties that art requires and fosters in its adherents. In retaliation, those who dislike the new art forms denounce them not just as inauthentic but dishonest, false claimants seeking to enter the sacred portals of true art.....
That art is somehow sacred, that it is “deeper” or “higher” than science and reveals “truths” beyond science’s scope, that it refines our sensibilities and makes us better people, that it is produced by geniuses who must not be expected to obey the same moral codes as the rest of us, that it should not arouse sexual desire, or it will become “pornography”, which is bad — these and other superstitions belong to the Kantian inheritance. For Kantians, the question “What is a work of art?” makes sense and is answerable. Works of art belong to a separate category of things, recognised and attested by certain highly gifted individuals who view them in a state of pure contemplation, and their status as works of art is absolute, universal and eternal.
WHEN CHAMPIONS of high art dismiss or devalue the pleasures people get from so-called low art, the argument will be reducible to something like this: “The experience I get when I look at a Rembrandt or listen to Mozart is more valuable than the experience you get when you look at or listen to whatever kitsch or sentimental outpourings you get pleasure from.”
The logical objection to this argument is that we have no means of knowing the inner experience of other people, and therefore no means of judging the kind of pleasure they get from whatever happens to give them pleasure.
When Dorothy Hobson researched audience response to the critically condemned but long-running 1970s ITV soap Crossroads, set in a motel near Birmingham, she found that viewers had a high level of critical awareness, based on a close knowledge of story lines and rooted in their experience of everyday life. They had a creative input, added their own interpretation and understanding, and involved their own feelings and thoughts about how situations should be coped with. In this sense, Crossroads was “popular art”, with communal participation. The fact that it was not high art, that it was “unassuming”, was a strong element in its appeal and could be seen as a moral as well as an aesthetic strength, for it implied a rejection of self- aggrandisement and pretentiousness.
Crossroads, Hobson believes, provoked a straightforward clash of cultures. What the critics were saying was “This programme offends me and my cultural values”, but they operated from a position of ignorance because they made no effort to discover what its viewers thought. “It is,” she concluded, “false and elitist criticism to ignore what any member of the audience thinks or feels about a programme.” But prejudices in these matters are hard to shift. Taste is so bound up with self-esteem, particularly among devotees of high art, that a sense of superiority to those with “lower” tastes is almost impossible to relinquish without risk of identity crisis.
False and elitist criticism has, of course, carried on regardless. The Yale literary theorist Geoffrey Hartman’s high-minded jeremiad, Scars of the Spirit: The Struggle Against Inauthenticity (2002), drags up the charge that popular culture “promotes the passivity of mere consumption”. Drawing on the speculations of the fashionable French critic Jean Baudrillard, Hartman’s case is that modern life lacks authenticity. Bombarded with images by the media, we are unsure of our own existence. The cure for our malaise is, according to Hartman, high art. We crave authenticity, which is related to the “sacred” and the “spiritual”, and high art supplies this. It can save us from the shallow worldliness of our western lifestyle and re-engage us with the real.
While he was in the later stages of writing his book, the terrorist attack on New York’s twin towers took place. It was an event that raised serious problems for Hartman’s argument. For the terrorists could be seen as reacting against just those aspects of contemporary culture that Hartman had been denouncing and as seeking the spiritual authenticity that he prized. In a postscript, he acknowledges this. The hijackers, he speculates, may have been driven by radical Muslim contempt for western materialism and a yearning for purity and dedication. They may indeed, he thinks, bear out his theory, in that their quest for authenticity may show the strain of living with a sense of “the unreality of society, self and world”.
Perhaps. The hijackers’ motives are undiscoverable. But if, as Hartman supposes, they were driven by a quest for authenticity, for the spiritual and sacred, akin to that which he associates with high art, then they could also illustrate the disregard or contempt for other and “lower” people, for their lives and meanings, that high art fosters.
Of course, the differences between advocacy of high art and terrorism are multiple. I am not suggesting an equivalence. But the assumption that high art puts you in touch with the “sacred” — that is, with something unassailably valuable that surmounts human concerns — carries with it a belittling of the merely human which, when transposed to the realm of international terrorism, promotes massacre.
The fatal element in both is the ability to persuade yourself that other people — because of their low tastes or their lack of education or their racial or religious origins or their transformation into androids by the mass media — are not fully human, or not in the elevated sense that you are human yourself. Of course, it is just this fatal element that makes the viewpoint so attractive. For it brings with it a wonderful sense of security. It assures you of your specialness. It inscribes you in the book of life, from which the nameless masses are excluded.
Perhaps I could risk another analogy here. During the second world war, elaborate precautions were taken to protect the national art collections from enemy bombing. The trustees of the National Gallery decided that the whole collection should be sent to Canada. On Churchill’s intervention, the plan was modified and the pictures were moved to slate mines in Wales. Civilian populations could not, of course, be provided with comparable protection and were killed in large numbers.
Art-lovers would presumably defend this procedure on the grounds that people are replaceable whereas artworks are not. However, that is not true. People are not replaceable. They are individuals, as unique as artworks. Further, people can create artworks, though artworks cannot create people.
An alternative view of how threatened artworks should be treated was supplied in 1857 during a debate about whether the National Gallery collection should be moved to Kensington from Trafalgar Square to avoid damage from air pollution. Mr Justice Coleridge pointed out that this would make the pictures less accessible to the public. The purpose of the collection was to be seen by the nation, he argued, not simply to exist. So even if “a great picture perished” as a result of being kept on display in the polluted National Gallery, its purpose would have been fulfilled. The 1939 trustees took a different view. For them the artworks were precious and sacred, and more worth preserving, when it came to the crunch, than human life. This exemplifies a relative disregard for the human that is always inherent in art-worship.
Of course, preserving artworks for posterity can be made to appear simply prudent and responsible. But the prioritising of art over people that it implies is identical with, though less obviously horrifying than, the example of concentration-camp commandants who enjoyed string quartets played by Jewish prisoners before executing them.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
I originally intended this blog to be one that I posted to only intermittently -- as suitable material became available. As it happened, however, lots of relevant stories became available and daily posting became possible. The stories I am finding lately, however, overlap a lot with what has already appeared so I am going to revert to my original intention of posting here from time to time only. I will note on Dissecting Leftism when there is something new here.
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
SOME COMMENTS ON THE LEFTIST ELITE BY BERNARD GOLDBERG, AUTHOR OF "100 People Who Are Screwing Up America"
I want to make a distinction between your run-of-the-mill liberals and the cultural elite liberals, who really speak for liberalism in America today. Most liberals obviously are decent people. They go to work every day, they care about their families, maybe they give money to charity. Fine. I have no problem whatsoever with anybody in that group. But the people who are speaking for liberals in the world of politics, the chairman of the Democratic Party, Howard Dean; or the cultural liberals, like Michael Moore; the Hollywood elites who confuse intelligence with celebrity—they think because they’re famous, they’re also smart. I listen to them and I say, I don’t want to be part of that group anymore. Even when I agree with them, which is more often than you would think, I no longer want to be seen as being part of that group. It isn’t because of their politics, which I think are misguided; it’s because they come off as snobby and elitest. I think they look down their nose at ordinary Americans.
I really think that there are a lot of people out there, liberals as well as conservatives, Democrats as well as Republicans, who say that this country has just gotten too angry in recent years, too nasty and certainly too vulgar. There’s this tendency to believe that this stuff just happens in societies—societies just evolve; nobody’s to blame. I don’t believe that. I think people are to blame. These aren’t the 100 worst people in America; they’re 100 people who in my view are screwing things up.
I write about race in this book with a great deal of sadness. When I was in high school and college in the ‘60s, the civil rights movement was the most important movement and the most moral movement of my time, and of the 20th century, for that matter. Martin Luther King, in my opinion, was one of the five most important, decent Americans since our founding as a nation. What happens after Martin Luther King gets assassinated? We get Jesse Jackson, we get Al Sharpton. If the implication is that you can’t write about Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton without worrying about being called a racist, well, we’ve got a big problem in this country.
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
BRITISH ELITISM MARCHES UNDER FALSE COLOURS
The leftist mania about abolishing the "elitist" Grammar schools in the UK (which selected on academic merit) means that only rich parents (including the "do-gooding" elite Leftists) can now afford a good education for their kids -- thus increasing elitism, not diminishing it
Radical slogans don't often stir the blood when delivered in a voice trained at a private school and polished at an elite university. But Sarah Montague (Blanchelande Girls' College and the University of Bristol) did her best when she confronted a teacher who was arguing for the restoration of the grammar schools. 'But,' spluttered the Today programme presenter, 'we don't want elitism.'
Heaven's forefend! Elitism? In England? All but a few of the grammar schools have gone. John Major (Rutlish Grammar School) declared Britain a 'classless society'. Tony Blair (Fettes and St John's College, Oxford) fought the 2005 election on behalf of 'hard-working families', while Michael Howard (Llanelli Grammar School and Peterhouse, Cambridge) spoke for the 'forgotten majority' - who responded by forgetting to vote for him. It's not only the BBC which has raised the scarlet banner high. All public cultural institutions from the Royal Opera House to the National Parks announce their distaste for the white middle class and their commitment to egalitarianism. A foreigner might be forgiven for thinking that Britain was in the grip of red revolution.
Yet as Ruth Kelly (Westminster School and Queen's College, Oxford) has noticed, 40 years of comprehensives have left Britain a sclerotic society where parents' money matters more than a child's talent. Perhaps she'll twig that the anti-elitist harangues from the upper middle class are the perfect cover for a system which suits it to a tee.
That Britain is becoming an aristocracy of wealth is undeniable. The simplest measure was devised by Jo Blandon and her colleagues at the London School of Economics. You might assume that a child born in 1958, when Harold Macmillan ran the country and stuffed his cabinet with dukes, would have been far more hamstrung by his class origins than a child born at the end of the swinging Sixties in 1970. Not a bit of it. The LSE found that on average a boy born to a well-to-do family in 1958 earned 17.5 per cent more than a boy born to a family on half the income. The son of an equivalent Mr and Mrs Moneybags born 1970 will be earning today 25 per cent more than his contemporary from the wrong side of the tracks. Far from decreasing, class advantage has grown.
All the efforts by New Labour to redistribute wealth, all the Sure Start schemes and working families' tax credits, have merely slowed the process, while the great expansion of the universities has left the gap between working- and middle-class participation in higher education wider than ever.
Economists produce thousands of papers on the reasons why. The education system has to be high among them, unless you believe education doesn't matter. The liberal-left never has believed that since the Enlightenment, although I do hear rather a lot of liberals dismissing education today.
Their denial is an excuse for a failure of idealism which has left education as the largest cause of hypocrisy and mystification for my class and my generation. In public we deplore elitism. In practice everyone knows that the grammar schools, which at least selected by ability, have been replaced with private and comprehensive schools which select by parental wealth. If you are rich and have a bright child, he will go private and although he will have to pass exams, he won't face competition from children whose parents can't afford the fees. If you are rich and have a dunce, you select by house price and move into the catchment area of a good school or get your nanny to drive your child to a good school in another borough or lie to vicars and send your child to a good church school. Again, you know your child won't face competition from brighter children whose parents can't afford to buy houses in the right area or don't have the knowledge to play the system. The result is that in the inner cities we don't have comprehensives but a universal system of secondary moderns.
The refusal to be honest about money makes serious debate impossible. The children of the rich stay rich. The children of graduates graduate. The children of the working and lower-middle classes sink into financial and cultural impoverishment. Yet most of the time when education is discussed the speakers refuse to admit that, uniquely in Europe, Britain has private schools with higher intellectual standards than their state rivals.
If they did, conventional political certainties would evaporate. Before he left the education department, Charles Clarke (Highgate School and Kings College, Cambridge) wanted to force successful schools to take disruptive pupils, even though the teaching would inevitably suffer. It sounded like a tough socialist measure which promised equality of misery. Yet Clarke couldn't force the private schools to take excluded pupils, so you could look at him another way and say here was a public school boy stopping the best state schools competing with his alma mater. Clarke didn't mean that, anymore than another public school Labour minister, Tony Crosland (Highgate School, and Trinity College, Oxford) meant to give the private schools their greatest boost ever when he began the civil war in state education with the promise to 'destroy every fucking grammar school in England, Wales and Northern Ireland'. None the less, both Crosland and Clarke were the objective friends of the children of the wealthy because they handicapped the competition.
Monday, August 01, 2005
ARROGANT ACADEMIC ELITISM ON DISPLAY
For certain enlightened liberals on university faculties, the lesser intellectual stature of Christians and conservatives is so much taken for granted that they do not hesitate to write about them in terms dripping with condescension and contempt. An example I encountered this week is especially odious, and I am happy to bring it to the attention of a wider, non-academic audience. The authors are four political scientists at the University of Pittsburgh - Barry Ames, David Barker, Chris Bonneau and Christopher Carman. Their paper is a critique of a study, published earlier this year, examining the statistical evidence that not only Christians and conservatives but also women in higher education tend to teach at less prestigious institutions than their scholarly qualifications would suggest
The original paper, "Politics and Professional Advancement Among College Faculty," was by Stanley Rothman, S. Robert Lichter and Neil Nevitte; it appeared in Vol. 3, No. 1 of an online journal called The Forum, published by the Berkeley Electronic Press. The critique, plus a response by the original authors, is in Vol. 3, No. 2. They're all at www.bepress.com/forum- tiresome but free registration required.
The critique authors, who titled their paper, "Hide the Republicans, the Christians, and the Women," refer to the first study by its authors' initials, RLN, and RLN return the favor by referring to the critique as ABBC. This is not a courtesy, but it is a convenience. ABBC say "It is difficult even to imagine ideological discrimination occurring at the point of hiring. . . . \[A department] has no idea about ideological affiliation unless the candidate deliberately brings it up in conversation."
As Rothman et al. comment, "If we try to surmount the difficulty of imagining how a candidate's ideology can sometimes be discerned, we might examine her CV \[curriculum vitae], her publications, the reputations of her advisers, references, and granting agencies. Increasingly, personal information can also be gleaned by examining her blog or personal Web sites and by Googling her to pick up any stray comment that wandered into the Internet." Lifestyle stuff too.
ABBC say that some of RLN's findings "contradict their inference that the correlation between certain political identifications and the quality of institutional affiliation is a function of discrimination." They apparently overlooked the fact that RLN's paper made no such inference (or implication either) and indeed, specifically disavowed it. They offer self-selection as an alternative mechanism - though in the best tradition of academic neutrality, they describe it as "the likely culprit." Actually, self-selection is a likely factor. Any conservative smart enough to be a college professor is going to self-select out of a career where his colleagues think as little of him as ABBC do of people like him. However, it's their explanation of how self-selection works that is so revealing.
There may be an urban/rural divide, they say. "Conservatives may want to live in communities whose ideological climate is more consistent with their own belief structure. . . . it would not be surprising if conservatives, academic or otherwise, prefer to work in smaller, more rural areas." Also, lots of small, "lower-tier" liberal-arts colleges are located in those rural areas. Moreover, they're too poor to fly in faculty job applicants, so Midwesterners and Southerners, who are "more conservative, more religious, and less Jewish than Northeasterners" tend to stay put in places where there are "proportionately fewer elite universities and colleges."
With their third point, they take aim at religion: "many conservatives may deliberately choose not to seek employment at top-tier research universities because they object, on philosophical grounds, to one of the fundamental tenets undergirding such institutions: the scientific method." Look, I lived in Northfield, Minn., home of St. Olaf and Carleton colleges for 27 years. I knew scores of faculty members there, and I never met anybody who objected to "the scientific method," not even in church. St. Olaf in particular is among the nation's leading producers of Ph.D.s in mathematics and science.
In their rebuttal, RLN also point out that nowadays, objections to the scientific method are far more likely to be found on the left, not the right. ABBC go on digging themselves in deeper. "Furthermore, cultural conservatism, as revealed in antipathy toward gay rights, the women's movement, and abortion rights (among other things), has been shown to stem in large part from an embrace of Christian fundamentalism as a dominant worldview." Could be, but who brought up "fundamentalism"? These are college professors we're talking about. RLN went back to their data, and estimate that the term might apply to somewhere between 1 percent and 2 percent of their sample, not enough to alter their results significantly.
But ABBC explain that there's no difference. "In other words, the faith-based reasoning of Christian fundamentalism (and by extension, of most socio-cultural conservatives) is essentially incompatible with the mission of contemporary research universities." The footnote to that remarkably sweeping statement reads, "It should be noted that we are not suggesting that fundamentalist Christians have less intellectual acumen than nonfundamentalist Christians or non-Christians. We merely note that fundamentalism is, by definition, anti-intellectual in the scientific sense."
Yeah, right. You have to wonder whether these people actually know any "socio-cultural conservatives" who aren't Christian fundamentalists. Come to think of it, you don't have to wonder at all.