(* – well, not quite so many of them, anyway).
To the extent that academia is a place of prestige, Twitter is a great leveller. We can peer over the walls… And, oh my, what a sight…
In an era of astronomical salaries for senior university administrators, we should expect unkempt topiary on university property — that being the subject of most of the thousands of comments about Dr. Victoria Bateman’s naked anti-Brexit rant-a-thon. But it is the failure to maintain other, non-horticultural standards that most marks the decline of Western academia.
Brexit places Britain on the yellow brick road. Along the Way we’re going to meet a lion. We’re going to meet a scarecrow. Probably a tin man as well. It will be a long and arduous journey. Probably a very dangerous one as well. When we get to the Emerald City, what will we find?
If Dr Bateman had a point, she lost it, not only when she decided to frame her argument — presumably intended for adult ears — in the terms of children’s literature, but when she took her clothes off. Her nudity adds no more to her point than it would if any high profile Brexiteer did the same. Yet she hides from criticism of her performance by claiming that women’s bodies are have been covered up because of society (‘patriarchy?) having made an equivalence of female flesh and ‘sin’.
There is *so* much to be gained by challenging the notion that women’s bodies are sinful – & by standing up to the presumption that if a woman’s body is on show, she is trashy, stupid, worthless & deserving of less respect. That’s why I for one will *not* be told to cover up.
Then I will not take you any more seriously than I would take a naked Nigel Farage, Dr Bateman. And neither has anyone else.
Taking your clothes off to make arguments about Britain’s economic future — Dr Bateman’s alleged field of expertise — makes about as much sense as wetting your pants to win an argument about high energy physics. It is an infantile, attention-seeking gesture. What it exposes, not unlike the fable of the naked emperor, is a wholly undue sense of entitlement.
At the same time as academics demand a greater role for themselves in society, I find them increasingly preposterous. Far from being a place of great learning, the university seems to be ever more the opposite; a place where contempt for others is nurtured into art forms.
The second tweet comes from “Concerned world citizen and professor of mathematical statistics (in that order)”, Olle Häggström. According to the translation of the following tweet, Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg is his “main role model right now”.
And Häggström is in ‘good’ company.
The two things I most doubt about the spectacle of a child lecturing the world — and academics rushing to bask in the glory of the skiver-turned-planet-saver — are the sincerity and authenticity remaining on the world stage.
The symbolism here is important. For the great and the good, the indoctrinated, indulged and, frankly, inarticulate offspring of wealthy, well-connected and equally self-indulgent parents are symbols of ‘sincerity’ and ‘authenticity’. And they have been for quite some time…
Here’s Severn Cullis-Suzuki, daughter of wealthy academic-turned-media-celebrity-environmentalist, David Suzuki, at the 1992 Rio Summit.
But the symbolism is not universal. They may see pure innocence, speaking truth to power. But I see the cynical exploitation of that symbolism.
Nobody is attacking children. They’re ‘attacking’ the adult moral cowards who brainwash the children, nurture their narcissism, manufacture a bogus inter-generational grievance, and then hide behind them.
That is to say Schmidt hides behind Thunberg, to take a cheap shot at Lomborg.
There are two more implications from the symbolism, seen from this side of those waving it…
First, academics seem to be saying ‘to hell with education and research’. A child speaks for them.
Second. The symbolism is all the more offensive for the fact that children can be selected to speak, to shield the entire shower of bastards from criticism, while nobody else, adult or child, gets to speak at the events Thunberg gets red-carpet invitations to. In terms of ‘symbols’, that is as big an F-U to the rest of the world as it is possible to manufacture and transport to Davos.
Finally, not on twitter, but from academia…
Today, as disinformation flourishes, critics argue that the work of “postmodernists” such as Latour has – intentionally or not – encouraged a dangerous nihilism that plays into the hands of climate denialists. If facts are socially produced, what is to stop people from believing that the truth is subjective?
Latour’s intention was never to undermine public trust in science, though. Indeed, his most recent book, Down to Earth, accepts climate change as an urgent fact. As he put it when I recently spoke to him from Paris: “The more we show how science is made, the more we can talk with credibility about what it achieves.”
Odd. I have never seen anyone move from lit crit to argue that polar bears are just another narrative. But since the 1990s, plenty of postmodernism’s victims — most of them on the campus — have sought to identify themselves with climate change. You need to have to have popped a pomo pill to produce stuff like feminist glaciology. The article continues,
If anything, our post-truth politics affirm Latour’s ideas. In an era of conspiracy-thinking, the fragility of facts and forms of expertise we once exalted is being shown. As Latour writes in Down to Earth, “facts remain robust only when they are supported by… institutions that can be trusted”.
For people to believe in a shared set of facts, they have to inhabit a shared world – something Latour argues that mounting inequality and the erosion of social safety nets have thwarted. Brexit and Trump voters, he writes, aren’t suffering from “cognitive deficiencies”. Liberals’ great error is to assume that populists simply don’t have the right information at their disposal.
As true as the point about liberals’ errors is, the notion of science being grounded in scientific institutions defeats what was hitherto the motto of the oldest scientific institution: ‘Nulius in Verba’. Climate change has turned that motto on its head, and turned many other public institutions besides, against the broader public. And it gets weirder…
Down to Earth frames the politics of the past 50 years through the lens of climate change. Stratospheric inequality, the retrenchment of the welfare state and the spread of climate change denial are all part of a single phenomenon: a ruling elite that has sought to escape the impending climate crisis while at the same time denying its existence. This fantasy of escape extends to both the technophile millionaires buying up pastures in New Zealand and to the new cadre of right-wing politicians who deny climate change while erecting borders and walls to shut out the world.
The ruling elite are at Davos and UNFCCC meetings, hiding behind autistic children, and taking climate change extremely seriously. It is the rest of the world that thinks its bullshit. If they save the planet by making energy and transport too expensive for us hoi polloi, they will need their New Zealand pastures to escape to.
Of course, there are more than three or four academics in the world. And not all academics are as pointless, entitled and crazy as the four discussed here. But I think we can make an argument that an outbreak of some form of collective madness might be the consequence of overpopulation.
Tamsin Edwards’ illness is real, and perhaps of interest to some of the people who follow her writing. But Kate Marvel’s aggressive, narcissistic political campaigning is not a trait that helps anyone believe that ‘scientists are people, too’. When normal people act like entitled pricks in ordinary life, they get arrested for indecent exposure or punched in the face, no matter how ‘vulnerable’ or ’emotional’ they are. Putative experts are appointed for their putative expertise, not for their ‘humanity’. That academics no longer feel that with prestige comes decorum, and that they must be able to account for their behaviour and their ‘research’, suggests some reflection on ‘academics’ function in society is overdue. One doesn’t need to be a naked economist, an autistic skiver or a vapid postmodern philosopher to see it.