15 February 2011

“You cannot [and will not] go on as you are.”

The purpose of mediocratic ideology is the same as that of Marxist ideology: to make life impossible for genuine intellectuals, i.e. those who might generate real cultural progress. To mask the issue, an ersatz system of high culture has been built up, designed to perpetuate and reinforce the ideology, and to ensure no assistance is given to those whom the system carefully excludes.

Matthew d’Ancona, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, comments on Nick Clegg’s demand to vice chancellors that British universities should do more to widen access, and on his accusation that they are acting as instruments of social segregation. Clegg’s demand echoes one made earlier in the year by Simon Hughes, the government’s advisor on access to higher education. Mr Hughes said that
Every university should … recruit on the basis of no more people coming from the private sector than there are in the public as a whole.
In other words, it should be assumed (a) that there cannot be any differences in ability between different sections of the population which are not due to ‘bad’ factors e.g. poor environment, (b) student admission should be determined by prevailing ideas of ‘fairness’, to some extent (the extent to be determined by the state) regardless of prima facie ability.

Mr Hughes told the universities:
You cannot expect to go on as you are. It [presumably, government bullying so far] has failed miserably.
It is interesting to note how the meaning of words has changed over time. I was not familiar with the use of “recruit” to refer to admissions. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word as
1. to enlist someone in the armed forces,
2. to enrol someone as a member or worker in an organisation,
3. to persuade to do or help with something.
I suppose these are all senses now relevant to the concept of student; particularly perhaps the first, given that students seem to be expected to help members of faculty with fighting for political causes; if necessary, by taking to the streets.

In Chambers's Dictionary of 1952, a university is defined as “an institution of higher learning, with power to grant degrees”. In the 2006 Oxford Dictionary, the emphasis seems to have subtly changed, in recognition of the new conveyor-belt model: “a high-level academic institution, in which students study for degrees and academic research is done”. (From an ancillary “power to grant degrees”; to “students studying for degrees” being the primary business in hand.)

The 2006 definition already seems out of date, however. May I suggest, for a future edition, the following: “an institution which promotes social justice, by allowing the intellectually disadvantaged to study, and teach, ideologically acceptable material”.

Does d’Ancona have anything critical to say about the idea that universities, formerly marked by a reputedly above-normal level of impartiality, should now assist with delivering the political elite’s vision of the morally acceptable society? No. Mr d’Ancona, like Mr Cameron and his coterie, appears to be a thoroughly modern Conservative. Definition of a modern Conservative: “one who has accepted and absorbed the phoney insights of leftist ideology”. Alternatively: “one who feigns having accepted/absorbed leftist ideas”. I am not sure which is worse.

But perhaps one should not be too hard on Mr d’Ancona. After all, the people running universities have scarcely put up more resistance to being told they should admit on the basis of ‘fairness’, not ability, than Mr d’Ancona did in his column. And this is not surprising, given that those people have already accepted that ‘fairness’ should influence the questions, and answers, of academic research, and done so largely without prompting.

The so-called Office for Fair Access should be abolished, at the earliest opportunity.

Of course, the business of tweaking civil society to try to make it conform to the il-liberal elite’s tastes is not confined to the universities. Every area of life is under assault. The public sector is already groaning under the weight of ‘equality’ initiatives; now it is the turn of the private sector gradually to bend to the will of the politico-intellectual class. According to Nick Clegg, this type of thing is not social engineering but creating a “genuinely fair playing field”. What, I wonder, would Mr Clegg count as social engineering? (A worrying thought.)

The Libdemtories seem to be acting like an extension of Labour, being apparently happy to embrace most of the old stuff, except perhaps where civil liberties are too blatantly at stake. Why would David Cameron ask former Labour trade minister Mervyn Davies to chair a review into whether there ‘should’ be more “diversity” on company boards? How, pray, is this “Big Society” rather than the usual top-down morality? Selection to executive corporate positions is probably as Darwinian as it gets in the jobs market, outside proprietary trading, so why should we think external analysts are any better at gauging what would be efficient? Is it not obvious that this is about ideology, not efficiency?

According to the Sunday Telegraph, the Davies review, about to be published,
will demand that FTSE100 companies set clear targets [for female representation on company boards], and say if there is not significant change in the next two years, more draconian action should be taken. It is believed quotas could follow.
The whole thing is nonsense and demonstrates the usual rationality gap, where ideological assumptions in need of argument or evidence are simply glossed over. “Everyone needs to be involved in getting this right — it’s a partnership”, someone is quoted as saying. No it isn’t. It is not a partnership, it is a limited liability corporation owned by shareholders, with the collective trying to muscle in.

Apparently the PM asked Lord Davies to look in particular at Norway,
where the government set a 40% board quota in 2004 that all companies had to hit. The policy is considered a success, with women's representation on boards now nearing the target from a low of 6% in 2002.
A “success”? If you had a policy to execute adulterers, and then found after six years that the number of executions for adultery had risen by several hundred percent, would that be considered a “success”? A success, if it means anything, ought to mean Norwegian companies now behave more profitably, innovatively, responsibly or whatever your idea of a good company involves. No evidence of this is adduced, and I doubt you could find any. But it is no good looking for logic when dealing with topics like this. Ideology trumps reality, and if the conflict between the two is too obvious you just arrange for reality to become taboo — i.e. a thing that “cannot be mentioned in polite society”, to use David Willetts’s phrase.

Does the Telegraph commentariat have anything interesting to say on the matter? A bit of counterblast perhaps?
Lord Davies has been struck by evidence that greater diversity at the top of corporations tends to avert worrying group think, and that a less macho air when it comes to decision-making can make for better decisions.

... this is a more sophisticated argument that a greater diversity at the top of organisations, based wholly on the merit of successful candidates, is a matter of good governance ... Chairmen — who set the tone for hiring the board — are drinking in the last chance saloon. Quotas may be a blunt instrument but Lord Davies is keeping it in his back pocket just in case.
Well, never mind.

I did not use to bother buying the Telegraph, as I could not see the point of reading a posher but less analytical version of the Guardian. But having sampled a couple of issues, I think I shall be picking it up more often. It really is quite inspiring.

next post: 7th March

The author of this blog is an unsalaried academic. Like his colleagues, he is excluded from the academic system because of the way that system is currently run. (The phrase “sausage factory” was recently used by a government minister, expressing part of the problem.) As a result, he is unable to write in detail about intellectual issues to which he could be contributing, and has to limit himself to brief blog comments.

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