The Pro-EU Artistic Bubble Goes From Pitiful To Sinister

Act for Democracy - artists European Union bias propaganda

European artists prepare to “act for democracy” by deploying their talents to subvert democracy in the service of European political union

Having been spat out of the British educational system knowing virtually nothing of history, classical music came to serve as the primary window through which I discovered nearly everything I now know, love or am fascinated about culture, art and history.

For instance, after discovering the music of Dmitri Shostakovich and learning about the composer’s life working under threat from the Soviet state, I came to appreciate with horror the inevitable toll taken by authoritarian communist governments on the psyche and artistic output of composers striving (under orders) to produce works reflective of socialist realism. Indeed, knowing its history, who can listen to the opening Nocturne from Shostakovich’s first violin concerto and not feel a chill reflecting on the circumstances in which it was written, and then suppressed until the death of Joseph Stalin?

Perhaps naively, from then onward I always believed that a healthy artistic community was one which kept government firmly at arm’s length, which at its best sought to challenge prevailing dogmas and policies, or at the very least refrained from acting as a willing shill, promoting establishment doctrine. Though more democratic countries have also blurred the line between artistic expression and government policy – one might think of the Public Works of Art project during depression-era America – participation is typically voluntary and the messages generally far less scripted.

How wrong I was. It should be evident to anyone with a functioning neocortex that the contemporary artistic community in Britain in particular (and the West more generally) long ago gave up any desire to seek truth or offend establishment sensibilities, opting instead for fawning repetition of modern centrist orthodoxy and acts of ostentatious virtue-signalling intended to flaunt an artist’s holding of the “correct” views. Witness superstar Lorde’s oh-so right-on cancellation of her concerts in Israel and call for a cultural boycott (while happily continuing to perform in other countries such as Russia). Even so recently as the 1980s, major stars were willing to court controversy or take a stand against official policy – witness Paul Simon’s concerts in apartheid-era South Africa – but such independence of mind seems almost entirely absent from today’s artists.

Indeed, since country group The Dixie Chicks torpedoed their career by denouncing the Iraq War during a London concert, later issuing an humiliating apology under duress, few artists (popular or otherwise) have dared give voice to any heterodox opinion they may hold. When it comes to finding pop or rock stars willing to say kind things about Brexit, one has to turn to 1970s icons such as Morrissey or Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon – the younger generation of stars either subscribe to the holding-hands-beneath-a-rainbow view of enforced European political union or else maintain a fearful silence.

While the instinctive pro-EU bias within the arts world is well known, what still retains capacity to shock is the proactive willingness of some artists to proactively praise and promote the nascent European government. The European Union has form when it comes to holding competitions or doling out grants and awards contingent on the creation or performance of works of art flattering to its own self-image; that much is nothing new. However, we reach a new level of fawning servility when artists arrange the production of tributes to the EU of their own accord and with no direct financial inducement. Yet this is precisely what we are now witnessing:

An open call for ideas to re-brand the European Union has been issued by artist Wolfgang Tillmans and architect Rem Koolhaas. ‘The brief is to send us proposals for communicating the advantages of cooperation and friendship amongst people and nations,’ they write, adding: ‘We need messages, how the Union works and how life would be without it. And we need ideas how to challenge the organisation itself, how to make it better.’

Vocal pro-EU advocates Koolhaas and Tillmans are part of the group Eurolab which is participating in a four-day forum titled ‘Act for Democracy!’ taking place in Amsterdam from 31 May – 3 June: ‘Eurolab is a fact-finding mission of what went well and what went wrong in the last 25 years of communicating Europe’ their statement says.

‘Eurolab wants to collect ideas about how cooperation and solidarity can be spoken for in a fresh and compelling way to large audiences. How can the European Union be valued by its citizens and be recognized as a force for good, rather than as a faceless bureaucracy?’

If I were an artist, I would be ashamed to be associated with such tedious, worshipful bilge – not because it is supportive of the EU, but because the reasoning behind it is so dreadfully unoriginal and derived purely from well-worn establishment political talking points. Like the centrist politicians in Britain and the EU who were shocked by Brexit’s disruption of their normally-unchallenged worldview and smoothly planned-out pathway toward deeper political integration, so these artists think that the only problem with the European Union is a lack of effective branding.

They begin by regurgitating the asinine notion that opposition to the European Union inevitably means a rejection of the very idea of “cooperation and friendship amongst people”, which is as insulting as it is moronic. They go on to express a desire for more messaging about how the EU works, which is ironic since an understanding of the EU institutions and the history behind the push for ever-closer union is quite closely correlated with a healthy dislike of the entire project. Of course there is the obligatory throwaway line about challenging the EU to be better, but it is very clear from the project brief that its originators see public dissatisfaction with the EU as a function not of a flawed project or horrendously antidemocratic execution, but rather an ignorant, benighted population who lamentably fail to realise what a wonderful blessing the EU really is.

This is why pro-EU forces have utterly failed to regain the initiative in Britain and elsewhere – they are so utterly divorced from the broad stream of EU-agnostic sentiment within their countries that they truly believe that those who dislike the institutions of Brussels also reject the human values of cooperation and solidarity. Worse, they are so politically tone-deaf that they admit this publicly, seemingly without any idea how insulting it is to Brexit supporters and other opponents of the EU (and deleterious to their own goal of winning over public support).

The project’s sponsors are involved in the risibly-titled project “Act for Democracy!“, part of the Forum on European Culture, which seeks less to celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the various countries of Europe than invent ever-more tortured ways of pressing art into the service of agitating for continental political union.

The event’s programme includes such gems as:

A 4-day Eurolab during which initiators Wolfgang TillmansRem Koolhaas and Stephan Petermann will make a start to rebrand Europe.

A unique Spoken Beat Concert with two artists from across the Channel: Madi Maxwell-Libby & Jacob Sam-La Rose.

Debate programmes in which we come to the core of populism across Europe. With among others Jan-Werner MüllerUlrike Guerot and Flavia Kleiner

The centrepiece of the whole event seems to be a symposium laughably called “An Independent Mind” in which exclusively pro-EU essays are discussed and celebrated ad nauseam.

A more saccharine, groupthink-infused circle-jerk you could not imagine. These creative types are gathering with pre-ordained conclusions in mind, based on the crudest and most insulting caricatures of their opponents, with the plan of using their diverse talents in service of a childishly naive conception of what the EU actually is and what it represents.

But all of that is fine compared to the fact that they are gathering under the banner of supporting democracy when in fact their entire movement is an upper middle-class, elitist howl of outrage at popular disillusionment with the European project. They are effectively adopting the classic Karl Rove-ian tactic – where George W. Bush’s hatchet man guided his candidate to success by successfully accusing W’s opponents of his own glaring weaknesses, these pro-EU artists do the inverse, claiming possession of the very virtue (support for democracy) which they are desperately seeking to corrupt.

Particularly disconcerting is the self-chastising tone of the project’s announcement, in which Tillmans and Koolhaas come close to outright suggesting that it is A) the job of artists to serve as organs of the state and that B) they failed in that duty by proselytising for European political union with insufficient vigor.

This resembles nothing so much as the fawning forced apology given by Shostakovich following the communist party’s denunciation of his opera “Lady Macbeth”, entitled “A Soviet Artist’s Response To Justified Criticism”, with one key exception – nobody is making these artists do anything. They choose to exalt the supranational European government they so adore of their own volition. How much more debased is this?

More fundamentally – do artists have a responsibility to speak truth to power as a cacophany of different voices questioning the existing orthodoxy, or to cheerlead for the status quo? Should they produce works of art or sleazy government commercials? Tillmans and Koolhaas make their position quite clear:

In workshops and interview sessions we aim to compile a comprehensive toolbox of arguments, strategies, and ideas that can be applied to campaigns across different demographics and used by different professional groups (e.g. ‘Teachers for Europe’ ‘Scientists for Europe’ ‘Farmers for Europe’).

This is literally a project to brainstorm and create propaganda. What self-respecting artist talks of their work process as one of creating “toolboxes” and “strategies” for the use of astroturf political campaign groups? None. This is the language of marketing professionals or management consultants, not aesthetes or artisans.

Yet while these die-hard activists may not yet represent the broader artistic community, with vanishingly few exceptions (see the heretical new group Artists for Brexit) they all share the same unthinking, instinctive pro-EU impulse. The difference between your average pro-EU orchestral conductor, pop singer or modern artist and the people who will shortly be assembling in Amsterdam to create pro-Brussels communications strategies is one of degree, not kind.

If European artists want to deploy their talents to promote supranational government then it is their prerogative. I may find it distasteful, but it is certainly well within their rights. What is upsetting is the lack of fresh, critical thinking they seem to bring to bear to the question of European political union, instead either parroting simplistic pro-EU political talking points or else challenging themselves to come up with their own propaganda pieces.

And I can’t help thinking that legions of brave artists whose works were suppressed and lives disrupted because of an unhealthily close relationship between arts and government throughout history are turning over in their graves at the willingness of their latter-day colleagues to do this work of glorification unbidden and uncoerced.

 

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Exhuming McCarthy: Corporate Social Justice And The Google Memo Saga

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A software engineer at Google published an internal memo questioning the current diversity strategy and warning that the company was becoming an ideological echo chamber where dissenters felt intimidated about expressing their views. Google immediately validated these concerns by firing him.

One wonders exactly what Google would have to do before senior executives at the company are forced to admit that their corporate motto, “Don’t Be Evil”, is little more than a bitter joke.

The company has been in the headlines the past few days thanks to a “scandal” precipitated when software engineer James Damore published an internal memo questioning Google’s approach to diversity in the workplace.

Entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”, the memo alleges that “differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership”, before pointing out that a free discussion cannot take place because:

“when it comes to diversity and inclusion, Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence. This silence removes any checks against encroaching extremist and authoritarian policies.”

The memo goes on to consider various non-bias related causes of the gender gap in tech. At all times, James Damore is at pains to emphasise that he is not suggesting that all men or all women share the various traits under discussion, merely that there are indisputably different distributions of preferences and abilities between men and women which might account for some or all of the gender representation gap in the industry. Damore emphasises that “many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions”.

Damore then goes on to propose a number of potential ways to reduce the gender representation gap without relying on methods that could be described as affirmative action, including a genuine embracing of part-time work, rewarding cooperative as well as competitive behaviour and striving to make it more socially acceptable for men to free themselves from expectations of the male gender role:

Feminism has made great progress in freeing women from the female gender role, but men are still very much tied to the male gender role. If we, as a society, allow men to be more “feminine,” then the gender gap will shrink, although probably because men will leave tech and leadership for traditionally “feminine” roles.

Read the whole memo here – it is only ten pages in length, and quite unlike the monstrous manifesto that it has been portrayed as by a hopelessly biased media.

As it happens, I agree with some of Damore’s premises but not his conclusion. I was swayed partly by this article by Josh Barro in Business Insider, which posits that if there are indeed natural gender imbalances in tech because of differences in aptitude and interest, it still behoves corporations to guard against the possibility that hiring managers, expecting that women will be less suited for certain roles, then subconsciously discriminate against female candidates.

Barro explains how this phenomenon might manifest itself:

  • A widespread assumption that “most” of the good job candidates will be men may lead to stereotyping in the hiring process, with hiring managers more likely to assume that men are good candidates and overlook qualified women.

  • Women may self-select out of the field because they internalize the stereotype that it is “for men,” and the stereotype may also make men overconfident in their fitness for the field and more inclined to pursue employment in it.

  • A male majority in the field is likely to be excessively self-reinforcing, as research shows that hiring managers tend to use the qualitative and “culture fit” aspects of hiring to hire candidates who resemble themselves, and most of the hiring managers in a male-dominated field will be men.

  • As seen in several high-profile cases in Silicon Valley, male-dominated management structures may foster cultures of pervasive workplace sexism and harassment that drive women out of the field.

Barro goes on to explain:

The memo misses this entirely, jumping from a claim that gender differences in interests and aptitude “may in part explain” the strong male skew in Google’s engineering groups to a conclusion that specific efforts at Google to recruit and retain women and underrepresented minority candidates are counterproductive and should be ended.

For example, the author complains about “hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for ‘diversity’ candidates by decreasing the false negative rate.” That is, he’s upset that women candidates get a second look when men don’t.

But this is something you would absolutely want to do to prevent a phenomenon described above: hiring-manager biases and stereotypes leading to a lopsidedness by gender in hiring that exceeds the actual lopsidedness by gender in the qualified candidate pool. It makes sense to be extra certain that women who got screened out were rejected on the basis of qualifications and aptitude, not something else.

These are sound points, some of which I did not stop to fully appreciate when originally penning my response – I’m glad that I waited 24 hours and did some wider reading before hitting “publish” on this.

Of course, there was no such reflection and nuance to be found in the mainstream media, whose reporting might well leave you thinking that Damore had rewritten Mein Kampf for the 21st century and published a bitter screed attacking women, ethnic minorities and LGBT people.

CNN certainly took this hysterical approach:

“Aren’t biologically fit for tech jobs”? CNN should be ashamed of themselves for this blatant misrepresentation, if only they still had the capacity to feel shame. Of course, James Damore actually said no such thing. One can agree or disagree with the various premises and conclusions in the memo, but on the whole it was a thoughtful, measured and articulate reflection on a very topical issue. Rather than firing him, Google should have been proud to employ somebody who raised the issue respectfully with the aim of improving the company.

But apparently the memo has taken a grave psychological toll on Google’s “woke” and sensitive workforce. Now we hear that several female Google employees apparently failed to show up to work the following day because they were too distressed about the contents of the memo.

From NPR:

Another software engineer who used to work for Google, Kelly Ellis, says some women who still work at the company stayed home on Monday because the memo made them “uncomfortable going back to work.”

Seriously? What reason had they to feel uncomfortable? The memo was the creation of one employee – an employee who was publicly chastised by Google’s Head of Diversity, who hinted strongly that the memo “crossed the line” and violated the company’s code of conduct – and who was later fired from his job. It is hardly as though Google had suddenly been invaded by a swarm of alt-right campaigners or men’s rights activists. The corporation is overwhelmingly and publicly set against Damore’s position, to the extent that they excommunicated him for his beliefs.

The only person for whom Google proved to be a hostile work environment here is James Damore. And the only reason for any employee to stay home from work claiming distress was to parade their conspicuous victimhood and revel in their own (largely) imaginary oppression.

When I was eleven years old and in my first year of secondary school, I was queuing for the school tuck shop when some massive neanderthal of an inbred fifth-year kid shoved me out of the line and called me a nigger. And yet somehow I managed to board the school bus and show up to class on time the next day. And I was a child. Now these are intelligent, grown-ass women working for one of the most prestigious firms in the world, and we are supposed to believe that they are so fragile, so wounded by a MEMO of all things that they weren’t able to do their jobs. Again, I ask: are you for real?

This is why I say that social justice is a cancer on society. A cancer. Not just because it suppresses the free speech rights of ideological dissenters and creates a truly chilling atmosphere in which a significant portion of the population is cowed into sullen, fearful silence for fear of losing everything if they dare to express themselves reasonably and honestly. Not just because of that, but also because the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is turning fully grown adults with jobs, mortgages, credit cards and often kids of their own into little more than oversized, perpetually vulnerable babies. It poisons the body politic and fractures society into separate warring special interest or “victimhood” groups, all jostling for attention, sympathy and affirmative action. Social justice activism is corroding our society from within.

There is no good reason for anyone to be traumatised by the Google memo, even if they disagree with its contents. One can disagree with the either the premises or the conclusion of the memo’s main argument, but it should be possible to have a civil discussion without acting as though real physical or mental harm has been done by the mere expressing of an opinion.

Anybody smart enough to work at Google should be capable of articulating a response to the “offensive” memo if they disagree with it strongly enough. Moreover, they should actively welcome the opportunity to debate these ideas so as to win over more supporters. That’s how social causes have traditionally advanced themselves, often with great success and rapidity.

But now this is apparently too much of a burden. Now the regressive Left is unwilling to do the hard work of argument and persuasion, preferring instead to push the “fast forward” button and speed ahead to an imagined time when everybody agrees with their social justice dogma. And since this ideological consensus does not yet exist (and God willing never will), the Left must instead artificially enforce it by clamping down on contrary opinions and making dissenters feel so fearful that they simply cease to express themselves.

David French makes this very point in the National Review:

The primary victims of this new culture of groupthink are social conservatives and other dissenters from identity politics. In field after field and company after company, conservatives understand that the price of their employment is silence. Double standards abound, and companies intentionally try to keep work environments “safe” from disagreement. Radical sexual and racial politics are given free rein. Disagree — and lose your job.

It takes a person of rare constitution and moral courage to speak up. And that’s precisely how the far Left likes it. After all, what value is there in disagreement? They’ve figured out that elusive path to racial, gender, and sexual justice, and disagreement only distracts. It does worse than distract. It wounds.

But take heart, conservatives. It’s not all bleak. After all, the government is highly unlikely to persecute you for your speech. And if you want to succeed in cutting-edge businesses or enjoy equal opportunity in the academy, you do have one good option. You can shut your mouth.

You can shut your mouth. Which is precisely what the social justice brigade wants to happen – we have recently seen reports that various employees at Google are maintaining personal “blacklists” of other staff with whom they will refuse to work or consider for promotion because they have supposedly failed to publicly embrace the diversity agenda with sufficient enthusiasm.

One such boastful threat reads:

“While Google appears to be doing very little to quell the hostile voices that exists inside the company, I want those hostile voices to know:

I will never, ever hire hire/transfer you onto my team. Ever. I don’t care if you are perfect fit of technically excellent or whatever

I will actively not work with you, even to the point where your team or product is impacted by this decision. I’ll communicate why to your manager if it comes up.”

“You’re being blacklisted by people at companies outside of Google. You might not have been aware of this, but people know, people talk. There are always social consequences.”

And it’s not just Google. I logged in to LinkedIn the other day to check my notifications and was immediately barraged with tens of status updates from various connections working at a variety of large corporations, bragging about all of the amazing things that their firms are doing to celebrate Pride month. Now from a personal perspective I have no problem with that. But if I was a social conservative who takes seriously the responsibility to treat everybody with respect but feels unable to endorse certain social movements for religious reasons, I would be very nervous right now.

Why? Because more and more, employees are exhorted to make explicit their “allyship” of various designated identity groups, or otherwise endorse the aims of the broader social justice movement. We saw this in Britain last week with the National Trust furore, where volunteers were prohibited from serving in customer-facing roles unless they agreed to wear Pride ribbons (eventually the National Trust backed down under public pressure).

The bar has been moved. Mere tolerance is no longer sufficient – increasingly we must be seen to actively affirm and celebrate every lifestyle choice, gender identity or dubious fad which falls under the auspices of the social justice movement.

This is incredibly dangerous. The idea of our employers becoming auxiliary parents to us is as insidious as the idea that the state should play this role in our lives. In fact, the current moves by many corporations to enlist their employees as agents of social change on top of their day to day responsibilities is incredibly paternalistic, almost like something out of the early Industrial Revolution, when benevolent (or not so benevolent) industrialists housed their factory workers, provided for their basic welfare but also carefully regulated their leisure activities and social lives to uphold moral standards.

As I wrote yesterday:

Whereas a decade ago one could reliably find leftists railing against the power of corporations and the supposedly unfair, coercive power balance between employer and employee, now those very same leftists are screeching that big corporations are not doing enough to indoctrinate their employees with the new social justice dogma.

Of course, vesting corporations with such power is in fact highly dangerous and quite likely unconstitutional, particularly when lawsuits start to emerge where employees allege that their employer has pressured them to violate their own conscience when it comes to matters outside the workplace.

If this trend continues, we will soon reach a point where social conservatives, social justice agnostics and anybody else who fails to actively affirm progressive dogma becomes as unwelcome in the corporate world as those suspected of communist sympathies were in 1950s Hollywood. That is the direction in which we are headed.

The rejection of truth in favour of total ideological conformity. Groupthink, paranoia and blacklists. McCarthyism is being exhumed and reanimated before our eyes in the year 2017 – this time not by anti-communists, social conservatives or the religious right, but rather by the so-called progressive Left.

 

 

UPDATE: 9 August, 23:00 BST

Curiously, nobody ever seems to ask why the male to female ratio is so skewed in other professions such as steelworking, mining, forestry or construction, careers which are often less glamorous, more dangerous and entail greater physical labour. It is almost as though gender equality activists tacitly admit that there are in fact differences between men and women which make one or other gender better suited (though by no means exclusively drawn) to certain careers. And if we accept this in the case of physical labour, why not also with mental labour – other than the fact that to even ask the question is now considered heresy?

And why do we only care about diversity in high-status non-manual jobs? Could it possibly be because the world of social justice largely consists of a self-appointed priesthood of middle and upper-middle class people talking exclusively to one another about their First World Problems and busily confirming their own biases, while working class people are too busy trying to get by to worry about whether their employer is sufficiently nurturing of their chosen identity?

 

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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 34 – Harvard University No Longer Prepares Students For The Real World

Harvard University - Holiday Placemat for Social Justice

Harvard University now makes it a point of pride to turn out fragile, unresilient graduates with little hope of functioning well in society

There was a time not long ago when universities used to take pride in turning out well-rounded graduates, young adults who were not only skilled in their chosen discipline but who could also hold their own in debate and ably relate to those from other walks of life or bearing different opinions.

But in 2016 it is increasingly evident that with their overwhelming focus on social justice – no longer a side issue but a common thread running through a contemporary student’s entire experience on campus and in the classroom – American universities in particular are actively harming the life prospects of their students by fostering such a therapeutic climate of social justice groupthink that the slightest intrusion of the rough real world is in some cases enough to provoke a real mental and emotional crisis.

Take this incredibly overwrought essay in the Harvard Political Review, which has apparently fallen so low that it now readily publishes weepy accounts from shellshocked students who happen to encounter hurtful words while on campus.

Student Aidan Connaughton writes:

I have heard hate speech in many situations in my life – so much so that I have become accustomed to it, even grown to expect it in some instances. Throughout middle and high school, I heard it so often that I knew the patterns, knew the lead-ins, and knew when I had to brace myself for the sting. Today, however, I did not brace myself.

“Faggot.” “Stop being a faggot.” “What is he? Some kind of faggot?” These all-too-familiar words continue to echo in my head. These are the words I have shielded myself against for years, the words I have learned to block out, coming from the people I have learned to avoid. These are the words that people use when committing hate crimes, and the words that were used for decades to oppress people just because they loved differently.

I never expected these words at lunch in Annenberg from a group of Harvard freshmen.

My guard was down, because I had forgotten what it felt like to hear these words. I know better now. I will not repeat that mistake.

Okay, so from this we can deduce that Aidan Connaughton is gay, and that he heard other students use the word “faggot” in what he felt was a derogatory way. Fair enough. As Connaughton makes clear, he has had this word directed at him from tormentors many times in his childhood, and quite understandably finds it upsetting.

But what follows is a damning indictment of how Harvard University, in a presumably well-intentioned effort to shelter people like Aidan Connaughton from ever encountering the rough and unpleasant views of the outside word so long as they are on campus, is actually retarding the ability of its students to withstand the unfair bumps and scrapes of real life. No gay person deserves to be called a faggot. But neither do young gay students deserve to be stripped of the ability to function and thrive in an imperfect world where hate and prejudice still exist.

Connaughton continues (my emphasis in bold):

Fair Harvard, the bastion of liberal values, a progressive environment where activists stand up against hate and students fight for progress in the belief that they can change the world. It is the place where workers and students unite to fight for health care, where students write plays about Black Lives Matter, where they organize rallies and marches to support survivors of sexual assault. It is the place where mental health is important and QSA is an established organization and where social justice is an integral pillar of student life. The students at Harvard have taught me how to embrace progressive movements and how to fight against administrative oppression. They have supported me, so much so that sometimes I can forget that the world outside of Johnston Gate does not care about social justice in the same homogeneous way as Harvard students. We fight against the Harvard administration to eradicate the structural oppression that continues at our school, and students may clash with each other over whether or not a classroom should be a safe space, but these disagreements seem to be more intellectual than hostile.

In other words, Harvard University is creating a very artificial environment in which their young adult students are expected to mature and grow into robust, well rounded people. By Connaughton’s own admission, the political climate on campus is so sterile and homogeneous that he is able to go for long stretches of time without encountering a contrary opinion, let alone an actively hostile one. This is a young man who has been consciously made fragile by the application of an ideology which preaches that words can cause real harm, and whose “immune system” to hearing non-affirming things has steadily atrophied in an environment where it has scarcely been needed.

And this is the result:

My little group of like-minded friends and I have frequent discussions on activism, politics, and campus issues, yet we usually come to a consensus on whatever issue we debate. I had grown so used to being understood and having my friends agree with me. I was no longer afraid to believe in social justice, the way I had been in my conservative hometown during high school. I had grown accustomed to a student body that was well informed and shared my beliefs. I thought that, at the very least, Harvard students are respectful and above making purposefully insensitive comments.

This is a young man whose idea of a debate is talking with his existing friendship circle, all of whom hold the same beliefs as him, and then (astonishingly) reaching a consensus. The only wonder is that they only “usually” come to a consensus, considering the homogenised intellectual atmosphere.

Worse still – for our democracy, at least – is Connaughton’s notion that this uniformity of thought exists because all of his fellow students are “well informed and shared [his] beliefs”. The obvious corollary to this is that anybody who does not share the worldview of Connaughton and his friends must be ignorant and wrong. There is no room in this worldview for the possibility that those who do not concur with each and every article of the Social Justice Catechism might do so from a position of honest, principled disagreement, and as the honest result of holding a different value system.

The article then builds up to the incident itself, in dramatic fashion:

But today, at table A11, as I sat down with my plate of red spiced chicken breast and broccoli, I overheard that word for the first time since leaving Colorado Springs to come to Cambridge. Two tables away, Dean Khurana was sharing a meal in Annenberg with a group of excited, overeager freshmen. But here were three Harvard students using this hate speech, laughing in their matching Harvard Men’s Lacrosse jackets, unaware that just three seats away, I was listening.

I said nothing to them. I was too shocked to think of anything to say. I held it in, reverted back to middle school, because I didn’t want to believe that I was hearing this word from one of my peers yet again – that I hadn’t left that behind.

So the word “fag” was not even addressed to Connaughton directly. While it was still undoubtedly unpleasant to hear, the suspense which builds throughout the piece makes it seem as though he was the victim of a direct homophobic diatribe, directed at him while he tried to enjoy his red spiced chicken breast (which hopefully, despite its name, was not a culturally appropriative dish). But this is not the case. Connaughton’s trauma – and this entire article – were prompted merely by overhearing the word being used in a conversation between other people.

If alarm bells are not already sounding at the evident mental fragility of this student, what follows is most concerning of all:

I thought that, at least at Harvard, we had won that battle. The culture of Harvard makes us believe that the world shares our views, and that what we believe in is right. Puncturing the bubble of liberalism at Harvard is painful, but it is as easy as hearing a single derogatory word from across the table.

This is almost childlike in its plaintive naivety. But one thing is crystal clear: the culture of Harvard University, now so fawningly tailored to the loud demands of the social justice warriors, is actively harming those who study there. For not only does pandering to the Cult of Identity Politics create a stultifying groupthink atmosphere on campus, it also encourages the utterly unrealistic belief that the rest of the world will be just as careful not to cause offence or tiptoe around any delicate sensibilities.

The most depressing thing in this case is that the student, Aidan Connaughton, is very aware that he is living in a bubble. He calls it a bubble of liberalism, which is obviously incorrect – for there is nothing liberal about maintaining an oppressive atmosphere where controversial or hurtful things can never be said. But the tragedy is that while he is aware that he is living in a bubble, he has no desire to escape and deal with the world as it really is. Living in the bubble has robbed him of the mental armour required to deal with the bumps and scrapes of life, and so rather than puncture the campus bubble and be free he seeks in vain to expand the bubble to encompass his whole world.

I don’t know how it can possibly be made clearer: social justice, identity politics and the idea of the university as a safe space are working together to gravely retard the emotional and intellectual development of today’s students – even Harvard students, who may be among the brightest minds of their generation, but many of whom will graduate incredibly ill prepared to function in the real world.

Harvard has failed Aidan Connaughton. But the failure was not that university administrators allowed a solitary hurtful phrase to be uttered within his earshot; the failure was that in their desperation to appease the demands of the social justice and identity politics movement, the university stripped away any and all of the means by which Connaughton might possibly have developed the intellectual robustness and emotional anti-fragility to deal with what could potentially be an everyday occurrence in the cold, harsh outside world.

 

Postscript: No wonder Harvard is in such a mess. This is now the declared mission of Harvard College (my emphasis in bold):

The mission of Harvard College is to educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society. We do this through our commitment to the transformative power of a liberal arts and sciences education.

Beginning in the classroom with exposure to new ideas, new ways of understanding, and new ways of knowing, students embark on a journey of intellectual transformation.  Through a diverse living environment, where students live with people who are studying different topics, who come from different walks of life and have evolving identities, intellectual transformation is deepened and conditions for social transformation are created.  From this we hope that students will begin to fashion their lives by gaining a sense of what they want to do with their gifts and talents, assessing their values and interests, and learning how they can best serve the world.

Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

 

Safe Space Notice - 2

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This Is The NHS

Save Our NHS

British healthcare reform should be the subject of forensic journalistic analysis and urgent debate, but all we have are saccharine, uncritical devotionals to the NHS

If you were the CEO of a company whose costs were relentlessly increasing and competitors gaining ground with every passing quarter, what would you do?

Would you waste valuable time looking back wistfully on the glory days, when every product launch was an unparalleled success and new customers were queueing around the block? Or would you take a hard-headed, dispassionate look at what was necessary – redundancies, divestments, acquisitions, innovations – to reshape and refocus the firm to prosper in the new, harsher environment?

Any executive worth their salt would do the latter. Corporate graveyards are littered with the bones of executives and companies who chose to dwell on a romanticised, sentimental vision of the past rather than face the difficult future.

Sadly, when it comes to the NHS we adopt the former, toxic mindset. Rather than thinking dispassionately about how best to deliver healthcare to an advanced nation of 65 million ageing, fattening citizens, we prefer to think of the glory days of socialised healthcare while utterly neglecting the future. We prefer to smugly bask in what we consider the wisdom and compassion of the post-war generation who created the NHS rather than ask ourselves whether what worked in 1948 will still work seventy years later in 2018, let alone by its centenary in 2048.

There is more than enough blame to go around for this depressing state of affairs. The NHS-Industrial Complex, that vast and interconnected web of (sometimes but not always well-meaning) special interests is certainly at fault. So too are glib and cowardly politicians, who would rather fire up a crowd (and win re-election) by making empty promises to Save Our NHS rather than grapple with the difficult (and politically toxic) detail. And we ourselves are to blame, for continually rewarding this short-termist and opportunistic behaviour in others.

But today’s entry in the Healthcare Hall of Shame is the Guardian newspaper, whose natural left-wing political leanings have prompted one of the worst cases of journalistic NHS hagiography in recent years. This time the Guardian have outdone themselves with their new ongoing series, This Is The NHS.

Visit the This Is The NHS mini-site and you will be confronted with three main types of story:

  1. Personal “the NHS saved my life” accounts from grateful patients
  2. Sympathetic “behind-the-scenes” profiles of staff, hospitals and departments
  3. Hectoring nanny-state demands from the public health lobby

Some of these stories are very moving, dealing as they do with illness, loss or periods of great hardship and vulnerability in the lives of their subjects. But none of them come close to explaining why taxpayer-funded, government-provided healthcare is the best possible solution for Britain. Both of these maxims – taxpayer funded, government provided – may still be optimal. Maybe. But is it not worth doing any kind of comparative analysis to be sure?

And when the physical expression of our healthcare policy is one of the five largest human bureaucracies in the history of the world, is it really not worth checking that we are on the right track, that a government-run National Health Service still makes sense?

Apparently not. Emotion and stubborn attachment triumph over reason, and we are supposed to suspend our critical faculties and clap along to each positive story about the NHS without questioning what treatment (if any) in each scenario is unique to the NHS and would not have been given to an equivalent patient in, say, Canada or France.

I take this extremely personally. Like most people, I have had occasion to use various NHS services throughout my life, sometimes – such as when I came down with appendicitis – at times of physical pain and imminent danger to my wellbeing. Naturally I was very grateful for the excellent, professional service that I received.

But I deeply resent my natural feelings of gratitude – and those of countless other people, many of them featured in the Guardian’s This Is the NHS series – being taken and deliberately twisted into a cynical piece of emotionally manipulative propaganda by journalists and special interests with a strong (and shamefully undeclared) desire to maintain one very specific model of healthcare funding and provision. That is simply not right.

The Guardian would hate this analogy, but with their navel-gazing, introspective examination of the status quo when it comes to British healthcare, they are exhibiting the same lazy superiority complex shown by US conservatives when ObamaCare was being debated. Like American conservatives, the Guardian (and nearly the entire British Left) stubbornly believe that their respective systems are the envy of the world, and insist on saying so loudly and repeatedly while failing to provide any proof whatsoever to back up their assertions.

As the ObamaCare debate raged in America, countless Republican politicians and Tea Party activists could be found ranting about President Obama’s evil socialist plan to destroy the “greatest healthcare system in the world”. And today, as David Cameron’s Conservative government rearranges the deckchairs in an attempt to look purposeful when it comes to healthcare, foaming-at-the-mouth left-wing activists shriek to anyone who will listen about the Evil Tories and their dastardly plan to sell off the NHS to their rich friends while leaving the sick and elderly to die on the streets.

Of course, both claims are ridiculous hyperbole. The Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) was a relatively timid, incremental and (thus far) underwhelming attempt to expand the existing system of private healthcare coverage to more Americans. And whatever privatisation schemes the Tories may have cooked up to date are a drop in the ocean in terms of the total volume of services delivered by the NHS, and do nothing to change the twin fundamentals of taxpayer-funded care, free at the point of use.

So given the fact that nothing remotely shocking or remarkable is currently happening in terms of British healthcare policy, why publish the This Is The NHS series in the first place? The Guardian portentously explains:

Our aspiration is to examine a broad range of issues, from the strains on A&E to standards of care for the elderly, the multi-layered issues surrounding mental health, chronic disease, the high cost of drugs and the impact of alcohol. And exciting treatments using new sciences and cutting-edge technology. We want to understand the dilemmas over prioritisation, over-prescribing and the cost of drugs. And the fiendishly complicated way the service is managed and run. We want to address the question: do we have the NHS we need? The aim is to do this through diaries, fly-on-the-wall reporting, interviews, films and explanation.

We have asked a large sample of our readers what they want from this project. The most engaging focus, ahead of anything else was … hope. “I’d like to see both sides of the story, as all we hear about is the failings or pay issues,” one reader said. “What about those patients who have been cared for amazingly, staff who are brilliant at their job and enjoy it?” Another urged that amid all the perceived problems: “The successes of the NHS need to be celebrated.”

In other words, the Guardian is seeking to satisfy the desire of its left-wing readership to hear stories confirming how wonderful the NHS is. Sure, there will be a few token negative experiences thrown in to give the appearance of objectivity (though anecdotally, I have noticed far more positive than negative stories thus far). But there will under no circumstances be any challenge to the fundamental assumption that the NHS model is Good and Virtuous, and not to be questioned under any circumstances.

Imagine if the Guardian set out to create a similar month-long deep-dive series examining the workings of the Ministry of Defence and Britain’s armed forces. The Guardian’s journalists and commentators would have a field day forensically examining and questioning every element of spending, every organisational aspect and every core function. They would see it as their journalistic duty to take a root-and-branch view of the whole organisation, to muse about the very meaning of defence and national security in the modern age, and question whether the existing deeply historical structures are equal to our current and future challenges. And they would actually be right to do so, even though they and this blog would come to very different conclusions.

But when it comes to the NHS, nothing and nobody is allowed to challenge the dusty 1940s dogmas upon which the British healthcare system is built. Everything is up for debate – so long as the answer involves pumping more money into the same, fundamentally unreformed system.

This is stubborn childishness in the extreme. An infantilised British public (particularly the metropolitan left-wing segment who comprise the Guardian’s readership) demand stories which make us feel better about Our Beloved NHS, and which reassure us that the NHS is doing lots of great things despite the endless succession of negative headlines. And the Guardian responds with a spectacularly uncritical, depressingly uncurious series of devotionals to the decaying status quo.

I’ve said it many times before, but it still bears repeating: our blind, unquestioning devotion to the NHS is quite literally killing us. And thus far, the Guardian’s “This Is the NHS” series – which could have been the catalyst for a serious discussion – is just another smug monument to our national sickness/religion.

NHS Worship - London Olympic Games 1

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