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Defend our Free Spaces! Defend UP!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/01/2021 - 5:11pm in

image/jpeg iconUP_Diliman_Oblation_during_sunset_in_Quezon_City_landscape.jpg

The Duterte regime’s attacks on our civil liberties continue, this time aimed towards the youth. Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced that the DND would unilaterally terminate the UP–DND Accord, effective January 15. This targeted attack by the state is nothing new or unprecedented from Duterte’s henchmen.

We cannot let this stand. The students of UP will not let this go unnoticed. The students have always stood firm against the tides of state oppression... History often repeats itself, and if that means the return of state oppression, so too shall the fires of activism and resistance return.

Hubren Estor

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BLM Activist Calls for Dictionary to Redefine Racism

Here’s something far more controversial after some of the posts I’ve put up recently. A few days ago, the writer and Youtuber Simon Webb put up on his channel, History Debunked, a piece about a worrying attempt by a young Black American woman, Kennedy Mitchum to change the definition of racism in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Webb states that most people would say that racism means racial prejudice, or that there are more profound differences between racial groups than their skin colour and physical appearance. The Merriam-Webster dictionary currently defines racism as

  1. A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities, and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.
  2. A doctrine or political programme based on racism and designed to execute its policies.
  3. Racial prejudice or discrimination.

This wasn’t good enough for Mitchum. Three days after the death of George Floyd, with riots breaking out across America, she emailed the publisher calling for the definition to be changed in accordance with Critical Race Theory. This holds that racism is due to the imbalance of power in society, and implemented by the dominant racial group. Instead of telling Mitchum where to stick her suggestion, as Webb himself would have done, the publishers responded to her, telling her that this issue needed to be addressed sooner rather than later and that a revision would be made. Peter Sokolofsky, one of the dictionary’s editors, stated that the second definition would be expanded to be even more explicit in its next edition, and would include systemic oppression as well as sample sentence, and would be formulated in consultation with academics in Black Studies.

Webb points out that if this is done, then it would redefine racism as something that only Whites do, and absolve people of colour of any responsibility for it on their part, or indeed see them as being racist at all, because Whites are the dominant race in Britain and America. This is, he claims, the attitude of many liberals and leftists, who believe that all White people are racist. It would also mean that Blacks, who hated Jews or Indians, would not be viewed as racist. He has personally seen such racism in the Caribbean street robbers of Hackney. They hated Orthodox Jews and used to go to Stamford Bridge to prey on the Jewish community there. He ends the video by stating that such a redefinition of racism would mean that all Whites in Britain and America are defined as racist but no other ethnic groups.

Changing the dictionary definition of racism – YouTube

There certainly is an attitude amongst some anti-racist activists that only White people can be racist and are never the victims. Way back in October 2019 Sargon of Akkad, the man who broke UKIP, put up a post commenting on a report in the Guardian about complaints about an EHRC investigation into racism at Britain’s universities by a group of Black and Asian academics and students. The group, which included Heidi Mirza, the visiting professor of race, faith and culture and Goldsmiths College, University of London, Fope Olaleye, the NUS’ Black students’ officer, Gargi Bhattacharyya, professor of sociology at the University of East London, and Zubaida Haque, the deputy director of the racial equality think tank, the Runnymede Trust, were outraged at the Commission because it dared to include anti-White, anti-English racism. This, they seemed to believe, detracted from the Commission’s true purpose, which was to combat White racism against Blacks and Asians.

Students of Colour Furious that Anti-White Prejudice is Considered to be Racism – YouTube

I’ve posted a number of pieces criticising the lack of attention and action against anti-White racism. At the moment the attitude that racism is something that only Whites are guilty of racism seems extremely prevalent. In fact, the situation regarding racial prejudice, abuse and violence is far more complex. About 20 years ago, before 9/11 and the subsequent massive rise in Islamophobia, Whites briefly formed the largest number of victims of racial abuse and violence. There are also tensions and conflict between different non-White minorities. In the 1980s or ’90s there was a riot in Birmingham, not between Blacks and Whites, but between Blacks and Asians. I’ve also heard that in one of the schools in Bristol in one of the very racially mixed areas, most of the playground fights were between different groups of Asians. Some people were aware that different ethnic groups also had their racial prejudices. Boy George mentioned it when he appeared on Max Headroom’s chat show on British TV in the 1980s, for which he was praised for his brave outspokenness by the world’s first computer generated video jockey.

There is, however, a real reluctance to tackle ethnic minority racism. A couple of years ago an Asian man told Diane Abbott that there should be more action on the racism members of ethnic minorities experienced at the hands of other non-Whites. Abbott told him she wasn’t going to do anything about it, because the Tories would use it to divide and rule. Like Kennedy Mitchum and the Critical Race Theorists, as well as the critics of the EHRC, she was solely focussed on tackling White racism.

That focus, in my opinion, explains why the Black comedian and anti-racist activist, Sophie Duker, felt she could get away with a joke about killing Whitey on Frankie Boyle’s podcast. Boyle had assembled a panel of mainly Black and Asian activists, to discuss the topic of how ethnic minorities were coming together to kill Whitey. Duker had made comments about racism being the product of an ideology of Whiteness, which was harming Blacks and Whites. She then said that they didn’t want to kill Whitey, before adding ‘we do really’. She was clearly joking, but her comment resulted in the corporation receiving 200 complaints. According to right-wing internet radio host and Youtuber, Alex Belfield, the Beeb is now being investigated by the Greater Manchester Police for what is described as a ‘hate incident’. His attitude is that while Duker’s comment was a joke, it should be unacceptable, just as making jokes about killing Blacks is unacceptable. See, for example, his piece ‘Reply BBC ‘Whitey’ Joker STAGGERING From Unapologetic Hate Lady Comedian’, which he put up on Youtube on the 8th January 2021. No, I’m not going to link to it. Even I have standards! I think one of the reasons she felt she could make the joke is because she and the other activists concentrate exclusively on White racism. Anti-White racism simply isn’t an issue with them. But anti-White racism, abuse and violence does occur, hence the angry complaints.

We really do need a study of anti-White racism and racism amongst ethnic minorities. Sir Alan Burns, a British colonial civil servant and former governor of the Gold Coast, now Ghana, discusses Black prejudice against Whites and other racial groups in his book, Colour Prejudice, published in 1948. Nigel Barley also discusses the blind spot Cameroonians had towards their own racism, as well as that of a Black American ethnologist in his The Innocent Anthropologist. The Black American was very racially aware. An idealist, he was inspired by notions of Black brotherhood and wished to live and be treated by the local people the same as one of them. He was shocked when they continued to regard him as they would White westerners, and failed to see how the Fulani traders rigged the local markets to exclude those from other tribes. As for the Camerounians generally, they commonly believed that only Whites were racist. Barley describes how they excused the massacre of French nuns in the Congo by the claim that the nuns were themselves racists. But they refused to recognise that their own hatred and contempt of the people he was studying, the Dowayo, was also racist.

Some Asian nations also have a reputation for racism. Back in the 1990s I found a book on Chinese xenophobia on sale in Waterstones in Bath. I’ve also read various books on Japan, which have also described how racist Japanese society is. I don’t know if it is still true, but one could only qualify as a Japanese citizen if both parents were Japanese. This meant that there was a sizable Korean community, who had lived in the country for generations, which had no civil rights under the law. In schools there was a strong suspicion of outsiders, so it has been claimed, which resulted in foreign students being segregated in separate classes. This is on the grounds that their Japanese language skills may not be good enough for inclusion with the rest of the pupils, but it is applied even to children who are fluent in the language. Outside Japan, expatriate or visiting Japanese will stick almost exclusively to themselves. Back in the 1990s there was a controversy in Australia, I believe, over the construction of a luxury resort there by the Japanese, because it was exclusively for Japanese and no-one else. I don’t mean by this to claim that all Japanese are racist. I’ve met people, who lived in Japan, who admire them and who told me that in their experience they were a very kind people. The travel writer and historian William Dalrymple also describes the anti-Black racism he encountered in India in his book, In Xanadu. Arriving at a railway station with a friend, a Black American soldier, he approached a group of Indian porters, only to see them turn away, sneering at the Black American simply for being Black. Again, I don’t wish to imply that all Indians are racist either.

Racism and racial prejudice exists amongst all peoples and ethnic groups to a greater or lesser degree, even in this country. It is about time that there were proper academic studies of it amongst non-White ethnic groups and anti-White racism in this country. At the moment there is a feeling amongst Whites that only White on Black racism is taken seriously, and that prejudice against Whites is not only acceptable, but being fostered by supposed anti-racist activists.

If the authorities are serious about tackling racism, and all forms of it, that needs to change.

Alienation and Mass Organization

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 03/12/2020 - 9:36pm in

image/jpeg iconOn the Mass Organization Paradigm in Activism.jpg

A personal reflection on alienation experienced within National Democratic mass organizations.

There was a point that I was mechanically going through “activist” motions like attending rallies, not because I felt genuine solidarity with the movement, but because it was something the org prescribed for its members.

Sitsirya

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Jama’at-i Islami – The Pakistani Islamic Party Pushing for Theocracy

Pakistan was founded as an explicitly Muslim country. It’s a democracy, but there is a section of its parliament, if I remember correctly, that’s made up of Muslim clergy, who scrutinise legislation passed by the lower house to make sure it accords with Islamic law. Since the 1970s and the regime of the dictator, Zia al-Haqq, Islam has become increasingly powerful in Pakistani politics. I believe the current president, Imran Khan, is the leader of an Islamic party. Pakistan was one of the nations that experienced protests against France over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and there have been official denunciations of the cartoons and President Macron’s attempts to combat Muslim radicalism.

The force behind the growth of political Islam in Pakistan appears to be the Jama’at-i Islami, whose name translates as ‘The Islamic Society.’ The article about them in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions runs as follows

A highly disciplined and well-organised Muslim political party, founded in 1941 by Abul al-A’la Mawdudi. it aims at establishing an observant Islamic state in Pakistan. The Jam’at’s political platform offers an alternative to teh secularists and modernists, and in this lies its appeal (especially since 1977). The Ja’amat advocates that Pakistan should be a theocratic state, ruled by a single man whose tenure of office and power are limited only by his faithfulness to Islam. The ruler should be assisted by a shura (advisory council), with no political parties and no provision for an opposition. General Zia al-Haqq, the military leader after the overthrow of Z. Bhutto (1977)., used the Jama’at as a political prop for his ‘back to Islam’ campaign. The Jama’at has influence among the military, the middle classes, and the college and university students. It publishes a monthly magazine, Tarjuman al-Quran, in Lahore that has a high circulation. On the international level, the Jama’at was on good terms with Imam Khumayni and the oil rich Arab states; the Saudis have supported the movement since the early 1970s. (p. 489).

This looks like an attempt to create a kind of caliphate, and the Dictionary notes that there is considerable support for its return in Pakistan. I also wonder about the movement’s influence in British Islam, as there has been a problem with fire-breathing radicals immigrating to Britain to supply the shortage of imams for British mosques. Which is why moderate Muslims in this country have demanded government assistance in training Muslim Brits, who have grown up in our ostensibly democratic culture, as imams and community leaders.

I’m not a secularist, and believe that people of faith have a right to have their voices heard in politics and parliament, but this is just a movement for religious tyranny. In Pakistan as it is there’s persecution, including violence and pogroms against religious minorities. We’ve seen Christians murdered and imprisoned following accusations of blasphemy. There have also been riots and murders of the Ahmadiyya. Apparently even pious Muslims have been murdered because of comments they have made, which have been interpreted by others as blasphemous. There are 200 people on Pakistan’s Death Row accused of blasphemy. Many of these accusations are spurious, cynically levelled because of other disputes between the parties concerned. If a theocracy was established in Pakistan, it would only cause more oppression and violence.

I also believe that it wouldn’t be good for Islam either. Atheist sites on the web have reported that there has been a massive increase in atheism in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Iran. Six years or so ago Saudi news reported that a large number of Qurans had been found thrown into a sewer. A few days ago Iranian media reported that this had also happened in their country. A poll conducted of 50,000 Iranians found that 38 per cent of the population is either atheist or has no religion. If this is true, then it’s probably the result of people becoming fed up of the repression they are experiencing from their theocratic governments. The religious violence of the Islamist extremists, al-Qaeda and Daesh, are undoubtedly another factor. A few years ago I read a book by a French anthropologist, who came to the conclusion that the Islamist movements were the response of Muslim societies as the experienced the transition to modernity. This was comparable to the way radical, militant Christian movements had appeared in Europe in the 17th century, such as those in the British Civil War. Now Islam was experiencing the same.

My guess is that if the Jama’at ever succeeded in creating a theocracy in Pakistan, it would be massively unstable as the various sects excluded from the regime’s view of what was properly Islamic were oppressed and rebelled. I don’t believe that the Jama’at and other extreme, theocratic movements have anything to offer Muslims or anyone else anything except more oppression and violence.

A 17th Century Anglican Plea for Religious Toleration

Jeremy Taylor was the chaplain of King Charles I and the rector of Uppingham. After the royalists were defeated in the British Civil War, he fled to Carmarthenshire in Wales, where he wrote his book arguing for religious freedom, The Liberty of Prophesying. After the Restoration he was appointed bishop of Down and Connor. He was also the author of a number of devotional works and sermons, but it’s his defence of religious freedom that I find particularly interesting. He said ‘they were excellent words which St. Ambrose said in attestation of this great truth, that the civil authority has no right to interdict the liberty of speaking, nor the sacerdotal to prevent speaking what you think.’

See the article on him in John Bowker, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford: OUP 1997) 958.

I’m very much aware that throughout Christian history there has been very little freedom of religion and conscience, and that the Anglican church’s toleration of Dissenters was very limited until the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in the 19th century. Until then Protestant nonconformists were excluded from the grammar schools, universities and government, and could only hold their services five miles away from towns. Atheism and Roman Catholicism were illegal again until the 19th century. But it was clergymen like Taylor and his fellows in the Nonconformist churches, like the Quaker William Penn and a number of Presbyterian ministers, who laid the foundations for the British and American tradition of religious tolerance. The most famous of the works calling for religious freedom from this period is Milton’s Areopagitica.

Despite the passage of the centuries, their message is still acutely relevant. Many countries still don’t have freedom of conscious or religious liberty in the 20th century. The Communists attempted to destroy religious and viciously persecuted people of faith, while the Nazis, apart from trying to exterminate the Jews, also sent their other religious opponents, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, to the concentration camps.

We have recently seen a French teacher murdered for showing schoolchildren the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Mohammed in a class about free speech, and mass demonstrations against France for permitting the cartoons in Muslim countries. To many people, their calls for legislation against such disrespect seem like demands for Muslim blasphemy laws. Christians and members of other religious minorities, such as Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims have been murdered in Pakistan as well as orthodox Sunni Muslims because of supposed blasphemy. This is banned in Pakistan and punishable with the death penalty. The only permitted religion in Saudi Arabia is Wahhabi Islam, and a few years ago the Saudis declared that atheism was terrorism. This was just atheist unbelief itself, regardless of any act of genuine terror, such as killing people or destroying property.

I’m sympathetic to Muslims regarding the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. I don’t like the way Christianity and Christ are mocked by certain sections of the media and the entertainment business either. I’ve also heard the argument that Charlie Hebdo is a nasty rag. It’s not left-wing, but right, apparently, and its targets also include Roman Catholicism and immigrants.

But there’s a greater principle of free speech and the sanctity of human life here. All religions and ideologies, including atheism, should be up for debate, with people free to choose as they will. They’re fundamental human rights, the violation of which either leads or is part of tyranny.

Medical Science academics hold afternoon stop work to protest job cuts

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/11/2020 - 3:02pm in

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Academics in the School of Medical Sciences (SoMS) at Sydney Uni staged an “Afternoon of Action” on Wednesday in protest against forced redundancies in the School. The “spill and fill” change process will see the restructuring of teaching and research in Physiology and Pathology, with 43 staff members sacked and forced to compete for a reduced 27 positions, a reduction of 37 per cent. 

Twenty academics out of 30 in Physiology left work for the afternoon to attend the protest. They were supported by SoMS colleagues in Anatomy, Mortuary and Pathology as well as contingents from the Casuals Network and staff in the Arts and Social Sciences. Eight professional staff from Engineering also came to the protest because of the union email, telling Solidarity that, “we’re here because it could be us next”.

There was also an impressive turnout of over 100 students, for a protest held in the last week of a semester in which most students studied almost entirely online. As Meloni Muir, the protest’s chair, quipped, “The police have been on the campus this semester more often than some students!”

There is no doubt amongst academics that these two Disciplines are the first on the chopping block, with more restructures and job cuts in SoMS expected.

NTEU University of Sydney Branch President Kurt Iverson told the rally, “There is a deliberate and co-ordinated set of cuts that are going on across this campus, all being justified in the name of the pandemic.”

A statement read out by Emeritus Professor John Hearn savaged the new culture of managerialism in the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney, saying, “The last two years has seen a disgraceful destruction of a famous School by an imported group of mercenaries who care nothing for the university, history, team or achievements.”

Organising the fightback

The action was the best example this year so far of staff taking action to oppose job cuts at the university.

Despite intense anger at management and the cuts in SoMS, organising a campaign of public protest did not come automatically. Initially some staff wanted a media-only campaign.

Organising began when a group of four academics and four students met on 30 October, outside official union structures, and reached out to 25 SoMS academics and supportive members of the NTEU Branch Committee. This cohered an email list and in-person meetings involving a majority of affected academics. 

Academics launched the Defend Medical Science Campaign only one week before the protest.

The “Afternoon of Action” was originally billed as a “walk out” from work. A teach in was organised following the 1pm protest to allow academics who had stopped work to continue their action all afternoon and not return to their offices. 

The 18 academics at the campaign launch on Wednesday 11 October unanimously agreed to the walk out.

However the NTEU Branch raised concerns that describing the action this way meant organising unprotected and unlawful industrial action, risking fines under workplace laws.

This is a crucial debate, with the fear of fines paralysing the union from taking any effective action against the thousands of job cuts across the sector. It is not enough to wait until the possibility of lawful action during the union’s bargaining round next year—by then many jobs will already be lost. 

But the NTEU branch committee was unwilling to endorse the idea of a walk out, or to open the discussion to a wider members’ meeting before the action. Disappointingly, NTEU Fightback members opposed calling a members’ meeting and sided with conservative opposition from the branch president to calling the action a “walk out”.

In response, the Medical Science academics agreed to change the wording of the action – although not its substance – in order to gain union backing.

This was the right decision. Union support strengthened the action, meaning it was advertised to all NTEU members on campus. Most importantly, it gave more SoMS academics confidence to come out of work.

To successfully stage unprotected industrial action, union activists still have a job ahead of them to win majority support in the University of Sydney NTEU branch. But the SoMS protest shows that action including cancelling classes and walking off work for the afternoon is possible. This is an important lesson for staff across the whole university sector.

Solidarity members initiated the “Afternoon of Action”. This struggle can act as a springboard for future actions and escalations against cuts at universities. NTEU members need to fight and take militant action – including unprotected industrial action when needed. This kind of action now is the best preparation for when the bargaining period opens next year and protected industrial action is possible.

By Kelton Muir

The post Medical Science academics hold afternoon stop work to protest job cuts appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Dust in the Wind: The Transformation of University Culture

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/11/2020 - 3:00am in

                              Hu seo þrag gewat,
genap under nihthelm, swa heo no wære.

 How that time has fled,
vanished under the helm of night, as if it had never been.

The Wanderer, ll. 95b–96

Nearly forty years ago, in an undergraduate course on the history of the English language, I was introduced to Old English. My exposure to the peculiarities of early English phonology, vocabulary and grammar was a just brief flash, but it was enough. Our instructor recited the Lord’s Prayer in Old English, and the way those antique syllables joined sound with sense left me keen to know them better.

Our instructor kindly agreed to help me learn Old English properly, but later, when I announced my intention to pursue it further as a graduate subject, he was appalled by my folly. ‘A graceful way to starve’, he intoned sadly. ‘There’s no future in it.’ Events would justify his gloomy prognosis in the end, but what did I know then?

I set off with the blind courage of ignorance and, for a time, met with enough success in landing admissions offers, teaching assistantships, and fellowships to see me through a demanding course of further study. Seven years later I emerged, my shiny new PhD in hand and smiling at the memory of my instructor’s misgivings, into the world of professional scholarship à la 1990.

Decades later now, that world no longer exists. I jumped ship some years ago. The changes of weather and fortune that jarred my progress reflect, on a small scale, the larger upheavals that overtook tertiary institutions around the world during the same period. I hope a little summary of what I saw and experienced, at universities on three continents, might afford a more immediate perspective on the debates currently in play about the structure, funding and purpose of higher education.

My undergraduate career got off to a shaky start with failed stabs at studying first physics and then music. Third time lucky, however, when a BA in English literature fell within the ambit of both my desire and my abilities. That I could afford such impulse shopping should tell you something about the lie of the educational landscape in those just-post-baby-boomer years. University campuses were settling down after the cultural and political ballyhoos of the sixties and early seventies. Tuitions were shockingly cheap by today’s standards, and grants and scholarships sometimes went begging from year to year. High costs and the consequent indebtedness they impose now make such butterfly-flits from major to major impossible for most.

As a graduate student I got a closer glimpse of the metabolism of academia at a number of different institutions. What stands out now in retrospect suggests that my memory might be a little selective. Nowhere was perfect, but you often saw senior staff taking responsibility for introductory undergraduate units and performing their teaching duties with the same energy they brought to their research. Staff and students might socialise comfortably, and we shared a sense of participation in a common intellectual enterprise.

Were there authoritarian or time-serving lecturers? Cranky heads of departments? Student slackers? Of course, but these played their games against a broad backdrop of shared assumptions about education and learning as ends in themselves. The pursuit of learning, we imagined, was a self-evident good, whatever vocational prospects might blossom at the end of the process.

There were disquieting shadows. We all knew about the ‘publish or perish’ imperative that yoked the winged-horse élan of free inquiry to the farm-cart of mere opportunism. But as I took up what was to prove my quasi-career as a perennially part-time, short-term university lecturer, the cloud deck lowered and darkened. Funding streams for higher education, largely government-sourced, began to shrink like rivers in drought, as neoliberal ideologues slashed tax bases and forced many universities into business-governance models, touted for their greater ‘efficiency’. Dedicated administrators grew more numerous, on salaries that often rivalled those of full professors. Their policies reflected the demands of cash-flow management, and students became ‘consumers’ of institutional ‘product’. As universities competed to attract student dollars, advertising, once unheard of, consumed progressively larger proportions of stressed budgets. It also adopted the play of illusion and conditioned reflex practised by its forerunners in more commercial quarters, trafficking in fatuous slogans like ‘Dream Large’, ‘I Believe’, and ‘Worldly’ (huh?).

Administrators increasingly meddled in curriculum design and delivery, demanding ‘through-put’ of students in ever-greater numbers, with concomitant inflation of grades and dilution of standards. For the ‘fascist oiks in suits’ (as a feisty colleague called them in 1997), institutional command and control, with an increasingly heavy hand, was the only game worth the candle. They wielded the hammers, while growing numbers of the rest of us got to play the thankless part of nails.

Permanent, full-time academic positions dwindled to hens’-teeth scarcity, as the institutions’ product came to be delivered by increasing numbers of part-time staff on temporary contracts that anticipated the precarious condition of gig-economy workers for Uber, Foodora and Airtasker. ‘Tutorials’ that once involved no more than a dozen students swelled routinely to thirty or thirty-five, with a concomitant uptick in marking loads that has forced harried instructors to resort to inadequate assessment techniques such as multiple-choice quizzes for literature courses. The tyranny of metrics began to weigh on the relationship between teacher and student. Tutors are admonished to spend no more than ten minutes on any one piece of assessed work. Assigning a number grade to an essay on Chaucer or Emily Dickinson has always involved a degree of specious precision. But institutions anxious to deliver accountable transparency (to their managers as much as to their ‘consumers’) have further tangled that process in gridded or bullet-pointed screeds of ‘marking criteria’ that, like ‘key performance indicators’ in job reviews or ‘selection criteria’ in applications, foster a mirage of exactitude that disguises a tick-the-box culture of bureaucratic haste and indifference.

Socrates wept.

I did my best as a snapper-up of trifling contracts that generally demeaned whatever I could bring to the table as a teacher and scholar. In the end my patience snapped. The last advertised position I attempted to apply for required ‘the successful applicant’ to respond (‘in no more than six single-spaced pages’) to a manager’s wish-list of no fewer than twenty-five ‘selection criteria’. I assume these either reassured or pleased someone in HR, but by the time I got to number six, the overwhelming futility of what was clearly a mug’s game pole-axed my desire to persist.

Against the backdrop of the recent pandemic and the eerily correspondent inflammation of American electoral politics, such concerns as my little squawk here raises might appear small matters. But in higher education, as in politics, policy has come to be dominated by a crudely instrumental mindset. Inherently messy human realities must speak a language of quantity rather than nuanced quality. Reduced to numerical scales, the large, unstable ambiguities of educational transactions yield to a mirage of manageable piece-work. Tidy, perhaps, but haunted by larger questions about our culture’s real values, and how resilient those values might prove against the militant ignorance of ill-informed internet yahoo-ism that presses on the shrinking fences of civil discourse from every quarter. There are no easy answers, but the questions lie thick on the ground. Those I have raised here are only a few.


Last Chance for Universities?

Simon Cooper, 5 June, 2020

How bad will it be? Up until the COVID-19 pandemic, international-student revenue for Australian universities had been around 25 per cent across the sector, with many of Australia’s ‘sandstone’ universities relying on international students for at least a third of their income. The loss of much of this revenue for the near to mid-future represents the biggest crisis the sector has faced. …universities will act vigorously to manage their finances.

Students Lead the Militancy!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/11/2020 - 8:06pm in

image/png iconStudent Militancy.png

On the student strikes against the Duterte administration in the Philippines.

Everything we need is already within reach. Alone we are weak but together we can be a whirlwind against the regime. Act now! The power to strike lies with you. Draw your friends and allies close. You are not alone.

Laya

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Education and the Class Divide

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/11/2020 - 11:31pm in

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The expansion of university education, which is now a relatively common feature of the working-class condition, has not and cannot deliver the goods in terms of prosperity, well-being and any other measure of progress for societies trapped within the constraints of class division.

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Thunderfoot Attacks Black South African Student Who Claims Western Science Is ‘Racist’

Thunderfoot is another YouTube personality like Carl Benjamin aka Sargon of Akkad, the Sage of Swindon, whose views I categorically don’t share. He’s a militant atheist of the same stripe as Richard Dawkins. He’s a scientist, who shares Peter Atkins’ view that science can explain everything and leaves no room for religion or mysticism. He’s also very right wing, sneering at SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) and attacking feminism. So he’s also like Sargon on that score. But in this video, he does make valid points and does an important job of defending science against the glib accusation that it’s racist.

Thunderfoot put up this video in 2016 and it seems to be his response to a video circulating of part of a student debate at the University of Cape Town. The speaker in this video, clips of which Thunderfoot uses in his, is a Black female student who argues that western science is racist and colonialist. It arose in the context of western modernity and excludes indigenous African beliefs, and if she had her way, it would be ‘scratched out’. One of the African beliefs it excludes is the fact, as she sees it, that sangomas – African shamans – can call lightning down to strike people. She challenges her debating opponent to decolonise their mind and explain scientifically how the sangoma is able to do that. Her interlocutor is not impressed, and laughs out loud at this assertion, which gets a sharp response from the moderator who claims that the debate is supposed to be a circle of respect and they should apologise or leave. The anti-science student states that western science is totalizing, urges her opponent to decolonize their mind, and calls for an African science. She also rejects gravity because Isaac Newton sat on a tree and saw an apple fall.

Thunderfoot answers these assertions by pointing out, quite rightly, that science is about forming models of reality with ‘predictive utility’. It is the ability of scientific model to make useful predictions which shows that the model is an accurate description of reality. Science’s discoveries are true for everyone, regardless of whether they are male or female, Black or White. He shows a clip of militant atheist Richard Dawkins talking to another group of students, and explaining that the proof that science works is that planes and rockets fly. The equations and scientific models describing them have to, otherwise they don’t. Dawkins is another personality, whose views I don’t share, and this blog was started partly to refute his atheist polemics. But the quote from Dawkins is absolutely right. Thunderfoot goes on to say that if African shamans really could call lightning down on people, then surely someone would have used it for military purposes. And to demonstrate, he shows a clip of Thor getting hit with a lightning bolt from an Avengers movie.

As for African science, he then hands over to another YouTuber, who talks about an attempted scam in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. A women claimed that she had a rock which produced refined diesel oil, and called on the government to see for themselves. Which they did. If the woman’s claim was genuine, then Zimbabwe would be entirely self-sufficient in diesel. However, such hopes were dashed when it was revealed that the rock had a hole bored into it from which diesel was being pumped.

The video goes on to make the point that such ‘science denialism’ is dangerous by pointing to the claim of the former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, that HIV didn’t cause AIDS. He tried to stop people using the retroviral drugs used to treat HIV in favour of herbal cures that didn’t work. As a result, 300,000 people may have lost their lives to the disease.

Thunderfoot concludes that this is the situation this student would like to create: an African science which rejects gravity, asserts shamans can strike people with lightning, and in which hundreds of thousands of people die unnecessarily from AIDS. Here’s the video.

Racism and the Rejection of Conventional Science

Thunderfoot is right in that one current view in the philosophy of science is that science is about forming models of reality, which can make predictions. This is the view I hold. He is also correct in that science’s findings are valid regardless of where they are made and who makes them. And I’d also argue that, rather than science, it is this young Black woman, who is racist. She rejects science on the racist grounds that it was created by White Europeans. This is also the genetic fallacy, the logical mistake that a statement must be wrong because of the nature of the person who makes it. The Nazis, for example, made the same mistake when they rejected Einstein’s Theory of Relativity because Einstein was Jewish. They also believed that science should reflect racial identity, and so sacked Jewish mathematicians and scientists in an attempt to create a racially pure ‘Aryan’ science.

Science and the Paranormal

I don’t believe, however, that science automatically excludes the supernatural. There are very many scientists, who are people of faith. Although it’s very much a fringe science – some would say pseudoscience – there is the discipline of parapsychology, which is the scientific investigation of the paranormal. Organisations like the Society for Psychical Research and ASSAP have existed since the 19th century to carry out such investigations. Their members do include scientists and medical professionals. I don’t think it would be at all unreasonable for parapsychologists to investigate such alleged powers by indigenous shamans, just as they investigate appearances of ghosts, psychic powers and mediumship in the west. And if it could be demonstrably proved that such shamans had the powers they claim, then science would have to accommodate that, whether it could explain it or not.

On the other hand is the argument that science shouldn’t investigate the paranormal or supernatural, not because the paranormal doesn’t exist, but because it is outside the scope of scientific methodology to investigate it as different field altogether. Thus science can ignore the general question of whether tribal shamans are able to conjure up lightning bolts as outside its purview and more properly the subject of metaphysics or theology. In which case, it’s left up to the individual to decide for themselves whether these shamans are able to perform such miracles.

Muti Witchcraft and Murder

Thunderfoot and his fellow YouTuber are also right to point out the harm that bad and fraudulent science can do. And there are very serious issues surrounding the promotion of indigenous African magic. Years ago a South African anthropologist defended African muti at an academic conference here in Britain. Muti is a form of magic in which someone tries to gain success and good luck through acquiring amulets made of human body parts. These include the fingers and the genitals. It’s believed they are particularly powerful if they are cut off the victim while they’re still alive. There’s a whole black market in such body parts and amulets in South Africa, with prices varying according to the desired body party. Way back in 2004-5 the police found the remains of a human torso in the Thames. It had been wrapped in cloth of particular colours, and it was believed that it had belonged to a boy, who’d been killed as part of such a ritual.

Indigenous Beliefs and the Politics of Apartheid

Years ago the small press, sceptical UFO magazine, Magonia, reviewed a book by the South African shaman Credo Mutwa. This was supposed to be full of ancient African spiritual wisdom. In fact it seems to have been a mixture of South African indigenous beliefs and western New Age ideas. The Magonians weren’t impressed. And one of the reasons they weren’t impressed was Mutwa himself and the political use of him and other African shamans by the apartheid government.

Before it fell, apartheid South Africa had a policy of ‘re-tribalisation’. This was the promotion of the separate identities and cultures of the various indigenous peoples over whom the White minority ruled. This included the promotion of traditional religious and spiritual beliefs. These peoples had intermarried and mixed to such an extent, that by the 1950s they had formed a Black working class. And it was to prevent that working class becoming united that the apartheid government promoted their cultural differences in a policy of divide and rule. Mutwa was allegedly part of that policy as a government stooge.

Attacks on Science and Maths for Racism Dangerous

I’ve put up several videos now from Sargon attacking the assertion that western education and in particular mathematics is racist and somehow oppressed Blacks. I’m putting up this video because it does the same for the assertion that western science is also racist.

Not only are science and maths not racist, it is also very definitely not racist to reject some forms of African magic. Killing and mutilating people for good luck is absolutely abhorrent and should be condemned and banned, and those who practise it punished, regardless of its status as an African tradition. At the same time it does need to be realised that the South African government did try to keep Black Africans down and powerless partly through the promotion of indigenous spiritual beliefs. It’s ironic that the young woman shown arguing against science does so in an apparent belief that its rejection will somehow be liberating and empowering for Black Africans. And Thunderfoot has a chuckle to himself about the irony in her arguing against science, while reaching for her ipad, one of its products.

Belief in the supernatural and in the alleged powers of indigenous shamans should be a matter of personal belief. Disbelieving in them doesn’t automatically make someone a racist bigot. But this young woman’s rejection of science is racist and potentially extremely dangerous, because it threatens to deprive Black South Africans like her of science’s undoubted benefits. Just like Mbeki’s rejection of the link between HIV and AIDS led to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of desperately ill men, women and children.

Conclusion

What is particularly irritating is that this young woman and her fellow students are affluent and, as students, highly educated. If the woman was poor and uneducated, then her views would be understandable. But she isn’t. Instead, she uses the language and rhetoric of postmodernism and contemporary anti-colonialism. It does make you wonder about what is being taught in the world’s universities, arguments about academic freedom notwithstanding.

In the past, there has been racism in science. Eugenics and the hierarchy of races devised by 19th century anthropologists as well as the Nazis’ attempts to create an Aryan science are examples. But attacks on conventional science and mathematics as racist, based on no more than the fact that modern science and maths have their origins in contemporary western culture is also racist and destructive.

Glib attacks on science by people like the young student in the above video not only threaten its integrity, but will also harm the very people, who most stand to benefit. They should be thoroughly rejected.

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