Friday, 11 October 2013

Is the basis of modern Leftism that universities train people in political correctness?


The answer is no.

The basis and focus of modern Leftism (although this was not always the case) is the mass media - and universities have a very secondary role.

Universities and colleges do not (to any significant or important degree) train the intellectual elite in political correctness, for the simple reason that modern universities (with a few exceptions outlined below) do not train anybody in anything.


To train somebody means to teach them a skill. To learn a skill means to be able to do something you could not do before.

To develop skills requires multiple repetitions (practice) under supervision (eg. learning a musical instrument, learning to dance, learning a sport).

By this criteria modern universities do not develop skills at all.

(Except in the minority of professional schools such as medicine, dentistry, law, engineering and the like - where there is a significant element of skill training by repetition and rote, as well as transmission of knowledge and attitudes.)


In fact (with the exception of the above examples) British universities have never had much to do with developing skills.

Before they were corrupted into futility, they relied upon skills already inculcated at school; and were mostly focused on providing information/ knowledge relevant to the future career.

(Non-professional degrees were mostly for preparing grammar school/ public school teachers; thus a History degree would provide the information needed to be a history teacher, and so on. Before this time, the classics degree was a necessary preparation for being a priest/ gentleman.)

And Britain (with a bit of help from France) pretty much invented Leftism, and dominated international Leftism up until the post-1945 era.


I don't think universities ever had much to do with generating the ideas of the Left - these were mostly developed outside the academy (or on its fringes) by freelance intellectuals and creative writers - at a time when the universities were repositories of conservative, traditional values.

Rather, universities were simply drawn along behind the Left, secondary to dependence on State funding, subsidy, regulation; and always lagging the cutting edge.

Universities have, nonetheless, done a very useful job for the Left by validating politically correct ideas with pseudo-scholarship, adding prestige and authority to what would otherwise have been recognized as obvious nonsense and wickedness, and by declaring inconvenient truths and hate facts to be 'unscientific', 'nonsense', 'not peer reviewed', 'evil ideas funded by evil people' and so on.

But this is not the generative and power focus of modern Leftism: that would be the mass media.

It is the mass media which disciplines and punishes the academy and the academics for ideological transgression; not the other way around.



Nicholas Fulford said...

I am going to disagree in part with respect to the teaching of skills at the university outside of professional schools.

The university still teaches, (or attempts to teach), a student how to research a paper, how to present an argument, evaluate sources, and construct an essay. At its best it hones this skill to a sharp edge and in the process gives a student enough background in the classics, philosophy, linguistics, literature, and history to refine the base metal of potential into an engaged and aware citizen with a capacity for critical thought. To what extent that is realised is another issue, though it remains a laudable aim.

I am not certain that the catch-all of "mass media" is sufficient, though in a Mcluhanesque way the medium does shape the message, and without doubt this is a substantial influence. More and more the arena of engagement is a virtual one, filled with a cacophony, great distraction, and demands for near real-time response, (and that most horrible of things, multitasking.) That anything of any depth gets written and read is quite remarkable, and especially when many of us are almost continuously plugged in and permanently sleep deprived.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF "The university still teaches, (or attempts to teach), "

Leaving aside failed attempts - there is no skill teaching without multiple repetitions of the same task - and where are these outside the professional schools? Almost nowhere: a tiny proportion of courses at a tiny number of institutions.

josh said...

Modern universities do (help) screen for PC. They are the HR ladies of the left.

Bruce Charlton said...

@josh - Yes, that's about the level of it.

Adam G. said...

I can't fully agree. Most smart people grow up in an less intellectual environments. When they find a set of people who are smart and intellectual and who also share progressive assumptions, it can be very intoxicating.

Mormons I know who have let progressivism hollow out their Mormonism have gone that way because of the academy.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AG - Indeed. I am not saying that the academy has no effect. But I am saying that it is not the wellspring of modern Leftism.

All the major social institutions are Leftist nowadays. But when the academy was autonomous, and dedicated to education and scholarship, it was not primarily Leftist as now.

The Leftism of the academy is a consequence of its weakness and corruption, its secondary-ness, its lack of a distinctive function, its incorporation into the bureaucracy.

Asher Jacobson said...

My experience in the university system is that of degradation and humiliation. It's not that professors train students to be leftists but to train non-leftists to shut up to avoid humiliation and personal destruction.

Simon in London said...

British Universities seem to be incompetent at training students to be Leftists, but my impression is that (eg) US Universities are pretty good at this.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SiL - Yes, I agree - mostly because most British students hardly do anything at all while at university, and learn almost nothing, and indeed forget more in three years than they learn.

I once calculated that average US undergraduates do about fourfold more hours of work for their undergraduate degrees than in the UK - each US module has from fifty to three-hundred percent more hours of lectures, plus about the same number of hours of seminars, plus more course work, plus an extra year of study - and much more finely-differentiated degree results.

When international comparisons are made, the reality of the experience of the average and indeed majority of undergraduate students in the UK university system is, in fact, inexcusable.

But it does not make all that much difference either way. The source of Leftism, and the major pressure, is outwith and independent of universities. Universities do indeed amplify it, but even the most ignorant and uneducated social strata are inside Leftism nowadays (as revealed by - among other things - the social ubiquity of sub-replacement fertility and adoption of the ethos of the sexual revolution) - only some of the devoutly religious are exempt (and very few of these are native British).

Lee Cooper said...

Last year, as a mature student, I completed a degree at Nottingham University.

I understand Bruce's comment re corrupted into futility but also agree with Nicholas that there is an effort try to teach skills that should assist in critical thought.

The rub is, as Ashley alludes to, is that there is always a 'correct' answer to the set essay question. Critical thinking really means produce the evidence that conforms to their world view.

I found it impossible to argue a contrary position successfully. Even when I provided solid evidence to support my contention(s) it was classified as inferior (e.g. not peer reviewed etc).

I tried to understand why an establishment created to promote thinking and staffed by individuals who ought to relish open mindedness was so narrow and prescriptive.

Clearly the increase in student numbers (funding!) leaves little time for tutors to become engaged in serious thought/debate. Hence ossified essay titles with prescriptive answers.

In addition I think the gradual erosion of standards has enabled individuals with a 'Boxer' (1984) like nature, tenacious but mentally limited, to obtain a title which professess an intellect that they do not possess.

Persons of this type are, invariably, rabid group-thinkers. Encountering an Ashley leaves them no option but to drop the dissimulation of being an academic and default to totalitarian behaviour.

Although Bruce has decried as foolish those who look forward to the collapse of the West I actually think that nothing short of a collapse will bring a revision of the situation in our Universities and other institutions.

Without the funding the flabbiness of it all will deliquesce and a hard, meritocratic and worthwhile replacement be all that we can afford to tolerate.