Killing Thoughts

Well, I do hope you all had as happy, successful, stomach thickening a Christmas and New Year bash as I have enjoyed. My wife asked me what my new year resolution was, and I said it was to be a better person. She sniffed loudly and asked whether it might not be better to be a thinner person…

But weight watching is not the theme of the day for today, you’ll be relieved to hear. Funnily enough, after reading Spurious I met an old friend from Essex over the Christmas holiday. Obviously we reminisced about the old days when hope was still young and foolhardy, but couldn’t help being a little jealous of our friend W’s rise to fame – nobody would write a book about us – although we did wonder whether knowing him would increase our sex appeal…

What was more apparent was my friend’s despair at the scope of the change facing British academia in the next few years. It’s not simply the introduction of massive fees, which will serve to hugely reduce student numbers, especially those from poorer backgrounds. What’s galling is the oncoming privatisation of higher education which is especially focussed on Humanities and Arts subjects since they are regarded by the current Government as the most frivolous of the academic subjects i.e. both worthless in terms of their usefulness in getting a job, and so easy that anyone could teach them. Government funding of these subjects is to be axed completely and they should be completely fee dependent. Fees will be kept down by opening up the education market and letting the free market dictate the best solution.

You know, like they did with the water, with the gas, with the steel (remember steel?), the cars (remember the cars?), the docks (remember the docks?), the airports (did a great job this winter), the trains (do I need say anything about the trains?)… It’s going to be good!

But not for thought. I think it’s safe to say that thought – in its institutionalised form, in terms of critical and analytical thought of all forms (not just Philosophy) – will die. It’s not just that Humanities departments will close, which they surely will, but that the ethos behind them will be lost. Sold off, to be exact. Degrees will be effectively up for sale, but the knowledge and skills they stand for are not effective commodities – you cannot buy them, you have to acquire them, you have to work and you have to learn. This is obviously not going to be acceptable to people paying for their degrees – why should they work for what they’ve paid for? You don’t think this is true? Just consider G.W. Bush’s qualifications (BA from Yale and an MBA from Harvard) – do you really think he knows what he is talking about? Witness the symptoms of the death of thought…

I could go on and on about this one, but I won’t. I did something much better and wrote a poem about it. You can read it here.

Oh well, it’s back to the ironing board for me…

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Over the last week I’ve been “contributing” to Guardian articles in the comments area, but all it does is perturb me – utterly inane discussions about education cuts, immigration and the like, and the impression that the thirties are slowly but surely coming around again…

On the issue of education – when I went to Poly/University there was still a general understanding that access to education was for everyone who had the ability to complete the course, but that access would be affordable. The ideal behind it, of course, was that education should be free, entirely funded by taxes.

This view slowly changed as I started and Thatcher began cutting into the welfare state, but it was twenty years later under a Labour government, that substantial fees were introduced, and they began to wonder why working-class participation in education began to plummet. Now the middle-class are up in arms with talk about at least doubling fees, with a minimum (sorry, maximum) of 21000 pounds for a BA/BSC degree. Workers comment that this is a good thing since they are no longer prepared to fund degrees from which they don’t benefit, as if they were personally responsible for allocating their taxes. Everyone thinks of education as personal gain, ignoring any benefit education brings to society as a whole. But the idea of “free” education has flown the coop – depressing. But Britain does get to keep Trident – very useful.

Immigration – almost too sickening to write about. An Angolan refugee, Jimmy Mubenga, was smothered to death during deportation by his private guards. What was perturbing was the general view of other commentators that this was sad, but that was the price we had to pay for dealing with immigration. Except that we didn’t pay for it, Jimmy Mubenga paid for it with his life. As I said, perturbing.