07 March 2007

Surviving in a mediocracy (part 3)

The full article can be read here.

Intellectual taboos

It should be obvious by now, to anyone who cares, that the principle of free speech is being gradually eroded in the West. Either by straightforward ditching, or — more subtly — by redefining it in ways designed to legitimise the prohibition of ideologically incorrect viewpoints. For example, not long ago an editor at the Index on Censorship admonished us for being too literalist about the issue.

"People shouldn’t think that the Index is against censorship on principle. It may have been so in its radical youth, but it is now as concerned with fighting hate speech as protecting free speech." (Rohan Jayasekera, commenting about the murder of Theo van Gogh.)
Modern collectivised academia (which ought in theory to act as a forum for free debate) is no different in this respect. Sacking academics for “racism”, because they have dared to consider the possibility that average IQs might differ between ethnic groups, is the thin end of the wedge. Next on the list is prohibiting climate change scepticism. After that may come the protection of other dogmas, e.g. that inequality is increasing. (I’m not advocating particular views on these issues; I simply note that some of the possible answers are becoming impossible to debate.)

Where we get dissident research being done at all, it is — inevitably — funded by bodies with links to commerce and/or right wing politics, since those are the only organisations with an incentive to challenge the il-liberal consensus. This is used by the mainstream both (a) to prove that there isn't a restriction on what research gets done, and (b) to discredit that research.

Some academics are starting to protest, and to demand that the state should stay out of higher education, but they’re too late. The state is now intimately involved with the university system, and it’s regarded as legitimate that society should control what goes on in publicly funded institutions, and should demand "value for money". It hasn't helped that intellectuals are generally much keener to blame marketisation than to blame a leftist government claiming to act in the public interest. Thus, as in other areas, criticism has been focused on the wrong target.

In any case, the issue of free speech only hits the papers when an established academic dares to deviate from the consensus. The more important censorship goes on inside the academy every day, as younger researchers find they are not going to get anywhere in terms of funding or career progression unless they toe the fashionable line.

To be continued.

PS If you want free speech, you have to be willing to stand up for people whose views you don't like, and regardless of whether you think the people are “nice”. Once it starts to depend on the views (or the individuals expressing them) being sufficiently inoffensive, you can basically kiss free speech goodbye.