03 August 2011

Mad, bad and dangerous to know

Following this blog's originator onto Twitter , I was intrigued by the admittedly entertaining 'Moronwatch', evidently someone of leftist thinking, he does however seem admirably open minded, including Islamic extremists and members of the extreme Left on his list of 'following'. This became all the more alarming when this piece by the dreadful Polly Toynbee appeared on the airwaves in the wake of the admittedly contentious 'agreement' on the US budget deficit ,decried as yet another 'sellout' to Radical Republicans, basically the culmination of a 3 year retreat before the fissiparous 'Tea Party' and its acolytes since those heady days of November 2008.

However, the piece's significance is perhaps part of a greater struggle from the Left, a struggle which followers of American 'Higher education' will be familiar with from the Early 1990's and 1980's when the movement for Political correctness reached its apogee in US academe. Whole rafts of European authors were effectively removed from circulation or became 'samizdat' across many institutions, due to their alleged racist, sexist or homophobic viewpoints(part of the 'amputation of the time dimension from our culture' to quote Sir Ernst Gombrich). Authors such as Shakespeare, Milton, Plato, Aristotle and Mill (to mention just five) were shoehorned into the category of 'DWEM' (Dead White European Male) and two decades of college students in departments such as English and especially the Social Sciences were in effect given a narrow, hardline marxist view of the world that anyone with the slightest nous (or indeed critically experience of the real world outside academia)could see was utter nonsense.

To the creditof academics in the UK, outside a few niche disciplines such as 'Women's studies' or 'Race studies' these views never gained much currency in the UK, and it perhaps testament to the relatively benign state of race relations comared with the US that such vicious thinking never did really make its way into the mainstream, save for a few extremist Labour politicians (The famous racist Lee Japser for example) on the left, and the motley crew of the National Front and latterly the BNP and EDL on the extreme right.

However, the left has always sought to control the debate, hence its stranglehold (despite 18 years of Tory government) on the education system. that's whay the Toynbee article, though vaguely ludicrous is perhaops an indicator of how the Left is looking to use the 'Phone hacking' scandal to circumscribe the terms of the debate. The article starts by offering the Tories a backhanded compliment, applauding them (probably very politely!) over their refusal to drift as far right as the 'Tea Party'. It then launches into two paragraphs regarding 'Climate change deniers' that make me ask whether the author's sanity should be questioned. The term 'Denier' is in itself grotesque, designed to elicit comparison with those who would deny the holocaust . the shockingly lazy formulation comes forth:

'for some reason they (referring to commentators in the Mail and Telegraph) seem to consider 'the warmists' a left wing conspiracy'

Whatever could have persuaded them of that? Is it that, almost without exception, environmentalists, many of whom are retread socialists, are in favour of: Greater government intervention, more regulation, more restrictions on people's activities, higher taxes, less freedom of movement, and the list goes on. Whatever would make me believe that such people are left wing? As for the ludicrous assertion that a 'scientific consensus' exists. Such 'consensuses' were used to prove the 'inferiority' of certain races less than two centuries ago, and when the implications for policy are so critical, I would have to examine the background and vested interests of anyone proposing such wide ranging changes as, for example, the Green Party as indeed they no doubt examine closely the links with certain Oil companies or other 'polluters' of the Climate Change sceptics. I note with some interest that Toynbee is a regular contributor and keynote speaker at various Compass conferences. Is this a taste of what's to come under 'Mr.Ed' - people's opinions being silenced by 'consensus' on Global warming/Climate Change?(note the lingustic shift from 'warming' in response to declining temperatures in certain areas during part of the last decade) What next to be judged 'subject to consensus' and no longer worthy of debate? - Immigration/The EU? I for one hope we don't have to find out.


Hal Berstram said...

Glad you are enjoying Moronwatch - very good quality stuff.

I'm not that familiar with US higher education institutions so will refrain from comment on the "political correctness" issue - except to say that in economics departments (the one subject area of US faculties which I have any deep knowledge of) you are much more likely to find people with a reactionary right-wing political perspective. Look at economics departments in places like Chicago and Stanford and you'll see what I mean. The problem in economics isn't too much political correctness - it's too little.

I would place climate change deniers as only one step away from Holocaust deniers. The only difference, really, is that the Holocaust is historical fact (the level of evidence for it, as I'm sure you would agree, is overwhelming) whereas climate change is a scientific hypothesis which is supported very strongly by available evidence so far. However, it is possible, though unlikely, that the scientific consensus (and it is a consensus) is wrong. So it's not quite so outrageous to be a climate change denier as a Holocaust denier - but it's still a ludicrous position to hold.

On the education system, this is a real hole in your argument; we're told that the education system is in the grip of the hard left, despite 18 years of a very right wing Tory govt, followed by 13 years of centre-right New Labour, and now another 5 years (probably) of hard right Tories plus Fib Dem collaborators. So, given that there have been 31 years to sort out the 'hard-left' situation that might have been inherited in 1979(?!) you need to provide a reason why it hasn't been done yet. Or could it be, perhaps, that your underlying characterisation of the education system is wrong? For what it's worth I think most of the problems with our education system are to do with certain features that I would characterise as extreme right wing (e.g. school uniform, religious indoctrination etc.) and nothing to do with "the left".

You provide a list of what environmentalists are "in favour of". But for me, a lot of these ideas are associated with the right as much as - if not more so - than the left.

Look at the Bush administration in the US for example:

- greater government intervention? Yes - the construction of a police surveillance state under the pretence of the "war on terror" post 9/11
- more regulation? Yes for the ordinary citizen (Patriot Act USA, more restrictions on abortion, immigration etc.) Less regulation for business, given a free hand to destroy the environment
- more restriction on people's activities? Yes - due to the construction of a police state
- higher taxes - yes for ordinary working people, as the tax burden is switched from profits to wages
- less freedom of movement - yes. Restrictions on immigration and in some states an attempt to turf out US-born children of immigrants (e.g. Arizona) - worrying echoes of 1930s Germany.

So in fact I would say it is the RIGHT which is pushing a repressive agenda and the left which is trying to free things up. I think you need to re-examine your basic assumptions here.

Van Patten said...

It's testament to the indoctrination put in place basically since the 1950's by the Hard Left at the Teacher Training colleges that the overwhelming majority of teachers, at least in the Public Sector, are of a left wing disposition, this in spite of, as you say, 18 years of a Right wing government in 1979 to 1997. In Education terms and social terms, New Labour was a highly radical government in many ways, and political corrctness, already grown overmighty during the 'Loony left' era of the 1980's became in many cases almost unchallengeable. Not quite sure what Gove's policies are beyond creating a universal Fettes or Gordonstoun but wither way, it looks likely that the basic political assumptions will remain the same.

In terms of faculties, both Economics and Physical or Biological Sciences remain relatively neutral (ie with both Left and right wing perspectives) -I think this in part due to the subject's partially mathematical nature, although extreme leftists and 'critical race' students do attempt to circumscribe debate ~(as in fairness do some extremists on the right), but you're absolutely right, and I did point out that the extreme leftists tended to abound in the Sociology/Social Sciences departments. In Cambridge, at least, Economics was considered a separate faculty.

The use of the Bush administration is akin to me using North Korea as a paradigm for the enivronmentalist lobby. It's worth noting that the restrictions on movement advocated by George Monbiot for example, are only a short step away from the situation prevailing north of the 38th parallel right now, so perhaps you need to also re-examine your relatively benign interpretation of the Green movement.