Universities: Asylums for the weak minded ?

Christopher Lloyd, literature lecturer at University of Hertfordshire, doesn’t like feminists voicing their opinion. Kathleen Stock, professor of philosophy at University of Sussex, is due to present the annual Francis Bacon lecture but an open letter, garnering around 100 signatures, demands cancellation:

‘We have a duty of care to our students, to staff, and to others in the university and the wider community. This duty of care includes making sure that LGBTQIA+ people (especially those who are trans and/or non-binary) feel safe on campus and do not have their lived existence put up for debate. By providing a large, public platform for someone who questions transness, the University is implicitly acknowledging that this opinion is a valid one. We take issue with that stance. To our queer students, staff, visitors and wider community – we stand with you and not with those who wish to curtail or diminish your very being.’

As educationalist Joanna Williams has highlighted, this is the tactic of CRITICISM = GENOCIDE. This is instrumental, not a statement of fact or reality – nobody at a British university really fears extermination. But this histrionic claim gets heard, bludgeoning any resistance to logic and evidence.

In The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukiannoff and Jonathan Haidt described a tendency to think that WORDS = VIOLENCE. After a Guardian commentary by Suzanne Moore describing transgender rights as a threat to women, a tumultuous editorial meeting was reported by Guido Fawkes: –

‘Colleagues stared at their shoes as Jess, who works for the commercial rather than editorial side, ranted on. Another woke colleague spoke up to back up Jess. The columnist Hadley Freeman spoke up to say that columnists were supposed to be provocative. A third person spoke against Suzanne Moore being given a platform for her views.’

Jess later tweeted: ‘I’m an EMPLOYEE at @guardian and I’m SCARED TO GO INTO WORK TOMORROW’. She had plenty of support. Lecturer Hannah Murray, expert on ‘critical whiteness’ said: ‘Transphobia rots your brain. It is rotting my brain every time I see that SM article’. Over 200 trans-friendly feminists, including several on the Guardian payroll, petitioned the newspaper:

‘Both trans people and cisgender women are discriminated against because of their gender. This is why both groups experience harassment in the street, sexual violence, domestic abuse, and poverty at much higher rates than cisgender men. Trans people experience more difficulties accessing healthcare, higher rates of suicide, more frequent mental health issues, and are more likely to be victims of hate crimes.’

Mental health is weaponised for a political agenda. Statistically, the group with the highest incidence of suicide is middle-aged men, but who cares for ‘gammon’? The message is clear: fail to support trans women and they’ll kill themselves. This is moral blackmail. This catastrophising has nothing to do with reality; it’s a linguistic strategy that has everything to do with suppressing legitimate debate.

Recourse to the tactics of moral blackmail rather than rational argument has led to proliferation of false equations. Knowledge and freedom of enquiry are curtailed by the assertion of FACT = OPPRESSION, SCIENCE = COLONIALISM, and ENLIGHTENMENT = RACISM. Such sensitivities are now dominating the school curriculum, as in the tale of Mary Seacole. Although a notable character, Seacole was not the ‘black British nurse’ depicted in school textbooks, and she certainly didn’t establish nursing as a professional discipline. That accolade properly belongs to Florence Nightingale, who created the first nurse training school at St Thomas’ Hospital. Seacole was a businesswoman from Jamaica, half Creole/half white by parentage, who never worked in a hospital or described herself as a nurse. But historical facts mustn’t get in the way of a favoured narrative.

‘Liberal progressive’ or left-wing advocates of social justice wrap themselves in a veneer of benevolence, yet again as a tactic. But their virtues are selectively (i.e. tactically) applied in Orwellian double-think, distorting word meanings and promoting associations that, when unpicked, invariably mean the opposite of what the vast majority of people know to be true. Thus EQUALITY = DISCRIMINATION for favoured groups (e.g. LGBTQQIAAP). As shown by the free speech crisis in universities, DIVERSITY = CONFORMITY to group-think, which is intensively policed.

Likewise, TOLERANCE = INTOLERANCE. Thus ‘cancel culture’ prevails on campus, where insufficiently woke speakers are barred, sometimes with threats of violence. The result is the inculcation of a deranging paradox whereby supposedly vulnerable and marginalised groups are, in the contemporary context, dominant.

A recent Policy Exchange report on censorship in universities regarded the 2010 Equality Act as the source of much of the perniciousness around free speech. Student union officers now assert that deplatforming and safe spaces are a statutory requirement, as Muslim or transgender students are said to require protection from actual or perceived slight. Again, the tactic is revealed. The goal is not to protect minorities, howsoever defined. It is to suppress debate. These censorial tactics permeate every activity in academe. Only a brave scholar will touch sensitive topics, and consequently lectures are becoming insufferably bland.

Many people, however, are tiring of this censoriousness. Blatant hypocrisies betray the censors and their casuistry. They have seen how ‘national treasure’ personalities are thrown to the wolves for the tiniest lapse on Twitter, while the police are knocking on doors for ‘non-crime hate incidents’. A backlash has begun, though things will probably get worse before they get better as illiberal die-hards try desperately to maintain their grip on institutions. The commentariat is horrified by the launch of the Free Speech Union, with numerous reactionary articles in the Guardian.

A further tactical ruse is to ensure that anyone accused of racism or transphobia will be defined by this smear, irrespective of context or evidence. According to that pillar of moral rectitude, Owen Jones, anyone identified as a hater (on his terms) has no right to complain: –

 ‘Racism is the problem, not being accused of racism. Transphobia is the problem, not being accused of transphobia. That’s it. That’s the tweet.’

Self-appointed activists of identity politics assert that FREE SPEECH = HATE SPEECH. This insidious thinking was behind the deplatforming of Amber Rudd by the ‘UN Women’ society at Oxford University last week. Rudd’s offence was her association with the Windrush citizenship scandal, which trumped her cause of promoting women in politics for International Women’s Day. The feminists who invited Rudd had promised that she would be held to account: –

‘We invited Ms Rudd on the understanding that this would be an honest and frank conversation about how her policies have impacted wom*n of all races, religions, classes et cetera. We will not run away from mentioning any of Ms Rudd’s past comments or policies, and we ask you to attend this event to help us campaign for a truly frank feminism which is not afraid of taking such opportunities to discuss these issues with high profile figures.’

But this wasn’t good enough for some radical students, who feared that Rudd’s mere presence would endorse racism and make the university a hostile environment. So it was decided to disinvite Rudd as she arrived – hardly an advertisement for the political advancement of the sisterhood.

Rudd, admittedly, was no friend of free speech as Home Secretary. When tepid centrists get cancelled, maybe they’ll learn that appeasing puritanism is a slippery slope. To paraphrase Martin Niemöller: ‘first they came for the conservatives…’

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7 Comments on Universities: Asylums for the weak minded ?

  1. The Social Democratic Party is launching a Charter For Academic Freedom to defend free speech and free enquiry. We intend to tour the UK universities. although if Rod Liddle speaks for us we will almost certainly be cancelled. Patrick O’Flynn and I spoke at UWE Bristol in January and were politely received. Many undergraduates are absolutely fed up with the censorious atmosphere on campus and I’m certain they are the hidden majority. They need to find the confidence to speak up.

    I have joined Toby Young’s Free Speech Union and wish him well in his endeavours.

    • Thanks, William – and all the best for your charter. Are you by any chance related to the famous psychiatrists of 19th century asylumdom? Thomas Clouston, for example. They feature in my book ‘Echoes from the Corridors’, a history of the asylums in Britain.

  2. Speech and thinking are the same process. The attack on free-speech is an attack on the minds ability to think, and solve problems, and love and freely associate. We will be stuck in the pit with the worms and unable to think our way out of original sin.

    Sir Roger advocated for shutting down universities. Like old yella, too far gone, boom.

  3. Dear All,
    You make some excellent points about the decline in quality and variety of a university education. I suspect that the universities are flying the colours of the new establishment, and similar views and attitudes will be found (or at least displayed to gain a career advantage) in the senior civil service, BBC, and most large corporations. The majority of Britons have a rather different view, and our great victory in the referendum demonstrated that most clearly. The new establishment cares not a jot for the public so its members must be replaced, this will be long task, but an indication that things are changing will be The Peelers arresting ‘Banksy’ and then the courts giving him eighteen months for graffiti and being a public nuisance.
    Keep up the fight!

  4. I wonder how prevalent these Nazi attitudes actually are. I worked in three universities until 12 years ago and would say that the biggest problem we confronted was apathy from some undergrad cohorts. (Post-grads, mostly foreigners, were a different, and delightful, matter.)
    Universities could make clear what the aims of a university are and warn student and staff that if they don’t like they should not apply, and if already present will be expelled.
    We also need a counter to all those ‘safe space’ courses. People need to learn how to hate – the appropriate objects at the appropriate time and in the appropriate degree. For example, if police and Labour councillors had hated those who raped schoolgirls in Yorkshire we would not have waited 40 years for some action.

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