Tuesday, January 19, 2021

University humanities students sold short on riches of their heritage

Gender and race are legitimate themes for study, analysis and debate in universities’ humanities courses. Disciplines such as history, literature and social science should encourage students to take a broad view of the world and think independently, grounded in a deep knowledge of their subjects. Humanities courses overrun by identity politics and ideology, however, fail to provide the liberal arts education students are entitled to expect. To the contrary, such courses narrow students’ understandings of the world around them. The problem fuels divisions within the general community, evidenced by perennial controversies around Australia Day and “cancel culture’’ campaigns for the removal of public statues associated with European settlement. The trend is then perpetuated in schools, as a high proportion of humanities graduates become classroom teachers.

An audit of Bachelor of Arts subjects at 10 top universities last year by the Institute of Public Affairs found 572 subjects, or 44 per cent of 1181 subjects analysed, were concerned with identity politics. A further 380 featured critical race theory, a US-born framework for studying race and power. It coined such concepts as “white privilege” and “structural racism”. About 25 per cent of subjects focused specifically on gender issues. Such themes were dominant in humanities courses at Macquarie (70 per cent), and Melbourne (61 per cent) and Sydney universities (59 per cent). The dominance of such themes — which should be fair game for critical scrutiny — short-changes many students. Only a quarter of English literature subjects involved the study of great works comprising the Western canon, Rebecca Urban reported. And just 23 per cent of history subjects covered Western civilisation, from Ancient Greece to the modern world. Only 10 per cent of political science subjects surveyed taught students about the history of ideas and political thought. And freedom, a concept highly valued in democracies and traditionally a key tenet of the study of the social sciences, was featured in just 10 per cent of a possible 524 subjects.

IPA director Bella d’Abrera, who carried out the review, said academics obsessed with identity politics had turned the humanities into a political project. Subjects had become “homogenised” to the extent it was “almost impossible to differentiate’’ between sociology and English literature; philosophy and sociology. Regardless of the subject, the same worldview, of identity politics and critical race theory, was repeated through all disciplines. For example, one course on the history of sport examines the meaning of sport across “class, racial, gender and ethnic groups”, including “the rise of female, LGBT and transgender athletes”. The major problem is not that or any other particular subject — it is the preponderance of the trend, and the exclusion of much of the riches of history, literature, philosophy and political science. For many taxpayers, the trend underlines the sense of the Morrison government’s lifting fees for humanities courses in a bid to steer young people to nursing, maths, science and engineering courses, which offer greater job prospects.

It also shows that the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, which sponsors great books-style courses at several universities, and Campion College, a private liberal arts university in Sydney, are filling a major gap in the nation’s education. Campion College president Paul Morrissey is correct when he says disciplines such as literature and history should be studied for their own sake, using a wide range of interpretative lenses.

Activists wield ‘I’m uncomfortable’ like a sword

The guidelines for movie casting recommend that the director begins with some searching questions. For example: “Can this role be played by a woman, someone who is trans or gender non-conforming, someone with a disability, a person of colour, an older person, etc?”

The National Australia Day Council’s “Reflect. Respect. Celebrate” campaign advertisement has followed the advice up to and including “etc”. And why not? As the ad says, “we are all part of the story”.

Sadly, however, this well-intentioned call for national unity has been pulled from the schedule at Nova Cinema in Carlton, Melbourne. Like everything that gets cancelled these days, the action took place on Twitter.

“Hey @cinemanova,” wrote a person by the name of unaustralian native © @MerikiKO. “I love coming to your cinema to switch off and watch a good film at a great venue.

However, we were made uncomfortable by the Australia Day ads that you have screening. This is highly inappropriate for mob to have to pay to sit through. I hope you reconsider.”

Cinema Nova replied apologetically, claiming that “reduced in-office hours” meant the ad “may not have been vetted with our usual care”.

We would never intentionally make our valued customers feel uncomfortable, so we will remove the associated propaganda from further sessions. We hope to welcome you back soon

That’s all it takes these days to get something that makes you “uncomfortable” pulled from the cinema. Just a single, ungrammatical Twitter message complaining that a 60-second ad is “inappropriate for mob to have to pay for”.

It would be just as futile to ask what makes a Cinema Nova audience uncomfortable. Presumably not the currently screening R18+ movie Possessor, which portrays a man stabbing himself in his head before killing another bloke with a meat cleaver. Yet an innocuous message from a federal government-funded body is declared “propaganda” and pulled down.

The ease with which a single slacktivist from the fruitcake fringe can force commercial businesses to take the knee is one thing. The damage this does to the cause of reconciliation is another.

The National Australia Day Council is damned if it leaves Aboriginal faces out of its ad and damned if it puts them in. Popular support for an Aboriginal voice to parliament begins to crumble when the demands for inclusiveness reach the level of the absurd.

If Saputo Dairy thought it could settle the argument about Coon Cheese by simply changing the name, it was mistaken. The cheese is named after its inventor, Edward William Coon, not the common name of the butterfly Astictopterus jama or the Maine coon, an energetic breed of domestic cat that tends to pounce unexpectedly.

Saputo, however, was not prepared for an etymological fight, even with a lone activist who claims that a walk down the supermarket dairy aisle hurt his feelings. Saputo announced last week that the product will henceforth be known as Cheer.

“We trust our valued consumers and those who are new to our products will embrace this new name,” Saputo’s commercial director, Cam Bruce, cheerfully announced, bringing a new dimension to the word cheesy.

“Cheer Cheese … brings that extra little bit of happiness. Whether it’s a sliced snack, a part of your family’s dinner time favourite or a melty midnight toastie (sic).”

Anti-Coon campaigner Stephen Hagan was not satisfied. “I would have liked it to be something a bit more inclusive of First Nations people,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald. “We weren’t even consulted on names. We would like to have contributed.”

This is not what Indigenous leaders had in mind when they signed the Uluru Statement from the Heart in May 2017. They wanted a structural mechanism to give Indigenous Australians input on policy and legislation, not fatuous campaigns on the nomenclature of dairy products.

The Morrison government has committed to a constitutional referendum to put just such a mechanism in place. Like all such questions, it should be considered on its merits, unclouded by distractions.

The biggest risk to the “yes” vote will not come from conservatives. It comes from the activist fringe dwellers who have co-opted Indigenous interests as one of a suite of causes with which to attack the status quo.

These play-fights over symbolic issues devalue the seriousness of purpose behind the Uluru Statement in the public eye. These people are as unserious as the social media platforms they frequent. They could choose to campaign to end the welfare and alcohol dependency that is endemic in many rural and remote communities. They could take a stand against the vandalism and violence symbolised by the boarded-up shops of towns such as Walgett and Brewarrina in NSW.

These, however, are not things you can fix on Twitter. Perhaps an Indigenous voice to parliament can.

The yes campaign must filter out calls to make Australia Day a Day of Mourning, flying flags at half-mast or dressing in black, as Greens MP Lidia Thorpe proposed in The Age last week. A yes vote will only succeed if Australians can be convinced that this is a permanent step towards a better future, not just a stick of shame with which to beat the rest of us over the head.

The Greens are already saying the proposed Voice to Parliament does not go far enough. They are seeking a legally binding treaty under which the elected parliament would be bound to adopt Indigenous advice.

This kind of crazy talk will all but guarantee the referendum’s failure. It comes from people more concerned about projecting their own virtue than winning a popular vote. It is why supporters of the Voice must take on the radical voices in favour of a yes vote, not just those arguing no.

Aboriginal man attacking woman had to be pulled off her by police

A man has been tasered and charged with attempted murder by police after he allegedly attacked a woman in a rural Queensland town overnight.

A call for help was made after 9pm on Monday in relation to a domestic violence disturbance at a home in Aurukun, in far north Queensland.

According to police, the 37-year-old man was allegedly attacking a 51-year-old woman, who is known to him.

A police issued statement said the man had to be tasered upon the arrival of police.

“Officers arrived to find a man allegedly attacking a woman known to him and consequently deployed an electronic conductive device before he was taken into custody,” the statement said.

The woman suffered serious non-life-threatening injuries, while the man was taken to the watch house where he was refused police bail.

He will appear at the Cairns Magistrates Court later today on charges of attempted murder offence (domestic violence) and assault occasioning bodily harm while armed with an offensive instrument.

No slowdown in scary climate prophecy phenomenon

The beginning of every year often triggers the release of doomsday predictions. You know the sort of thing: there will be no polar bears in 50 years, parts of the world will be uninhabitable within two decades, the world will run out of oil/gas/water very soon.

If you bother to tune into the ABC, you will regularly learn about these various catastrophic prophecies because they are very popular with the program producers. Add in a bit of scary music and the picture of a forlorn koala or parched landscape and the story writes itself. It has become almost a vocation for some jumped-up types who think their opinions should be taken seriously because of their accomplishments or positions in completely unrelated fields. Think Al Gore, Prince Charles, Greta Thunberg, Tim Flannery and plenty of others.

I was reminded of this when I came across a recent article with the juvenile title “Underestimating the challenges of avoiding a ghastly future”. Oh no, I thought, not a ghastly future. And who should be among the list of authors but Paul and Anne Ehrlich, who are still going strong with wild, over-the-top predictions. Who can forget The Population Bomb, published in 1968?

According to these authors, hundreds of millions of people were going to die in the 70s because of overpopulation and the world’s inability to feed everyone. But here’s the bit I really love about this book: Paul Ehrlich still thinks he was largely correct but his timing was just a bit askew. In 1986, Ehrlich doubled down by predicting that in 2020, one billion people would die as a result of climate change. That’s right: one billion.

Let me be clear: I’m not recommending you read about avoiding a ghastly future. Yes, overpopulation is still a big issue for the authors, even though all the demographic predictions point to falling world population around the middle of the century.

There is an unproven assertion in the article that COVID-19 and climate change are somehow linked because of increased interaction between different animal species because of changing climate patterns. That sounds scary.

Of course, Ehrlich doesn’t have a mortgage on barking out doomsday scenarios. Who can forget Al Gore, who has become extremely wealthy undertaking his climate change evangelism?

During the first decade of this century — his film, An Inconvenient Truth, was released in 2006 — he repeatedly declared there would be no ice in the Arctic by 2013 or 2014. As it turned out, there was actually more ice than ever in those years.

And we can’t go past our own Professor Tim Flannery, a mammologist by training, predicting in 2007 that cities such as Sydney and Brisbane would run out of water because of climate change and that “even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams and our river systems”. This, sadly, was not an accurate prediction for the citizens of Brisbane, who endured a ghastly flood in 2011. And, while drought remains a perennial feature of Australia’s climate, most parts of eastern Australia have had above-average rainfalls in the past year and the landscape is green and lush.

I’m not exactly sure why we should pay any attention at all to Prince Charles and his climate change fanaticism. But in 2019, he stated: “I am firmly of the view the next 18 months will decide our ability to keep climate change to survivable levels and to restore nature to the equilibrium we need for our survival.” The good thing is the 18 months is up and we can all move on without his opinions.

Embarrassing though these false predictions might be, they are perhaps slightly less excruciating than those made by actual experts — OK, so-called experts — in the field. Take this forecast in 2000 by Dr David Viner, senior research scientist at the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia:

“Within a few years winter snowfall will become a very rare and exciting event.” (This is the same unit that was the subject of an email scandal in 2010.) Sadly for Viner, but happily for the rest of us, winter snowfalls are very much with us. The UK is enduring a particularly cold winter with snow in various parts of the country. So neither rare nor exciting, it would seem.

And let’s not forget the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declaring in 2007 the Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035, only to then retract this projection. But it wasn’t a problem according to the IPCC because “in drafting the paragraph in question, the clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedures, were not applied properly”. Unsurprisingly, nothing happened as a result of the error and readers of the larger report were encouraged to accept the rest of the material as gospel.

The cannier experts in the field tend to project much further out than the next few years or decades because the chances of being tripped up by curious commentators checking for inaccuracies are very slim. Take the UK Met Office, a zealous climate change agency much like our Bureau of Meteorology. Dr Lizzie Kendon, a science fellow at the Met Office, has predicted by 2080 the hottest days in the UK will peak above 40C and the number of cold days will decrease. “We’ll still have cold days, but features like lying snow will become an increasing rarity …” Luckily for Lizzie, 2080 is in the very distant future.

Gratuitous and unverified projections are not science. They are not based on the testing of refutable hypotheses and generally reflect personal biases of the person making deliberately alarming forecasts to promote their preferred set of actions. The media should either ignore them or treat them with the scepticism they deserve There’s plenty of good science around but also plenty of rubbish. Claims that the end is nigh should be treated with the same level of respect given to the speakers in Hyde Park Corner.


Also see my other blogs. Main ones below:

http://dissectleft.blogspot.com (DISSECTING LEFTISM)

http://snorphty.blogspot.com (TONGUE TIED)

http://antigreen.blogspot.com (GREENIE WATCH)

http://pcwatch.blogspot.com (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH)

http://edwatch.blogspot.com (EDUCATION WATCH)

https://heofen.blogspot.com/ (MY OTHER BLOGS)


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