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Radio review: Analysis: The roots of ‘woke’ culture, The Compass, and Thanks a Lot, Milton Jones!

03 April 2020


IT’S an age-old campus game to in­­vent spoof titles of academic papers. To follow through on the promise of the title and write up the whole essay re­­quires more dedica­tion.

It was passion that drove Helen Pluckrose and colleagues to write and submit for peer review the paper “Human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog-parks”.

The article purported to examine the sexual orientation of dog owners while observing that their dogs do with one another what dogs do. It was accepted for publication. It be­­came one of the team’s most notable successes in their campaign against what they call “Grievance Studies”.

In Analysis: The roots of ‘woke’ culture (R4, Monday of last week), Helen Lewis explored the myths and realities of a movement in the hu­­mani­ties which apparently marshals post-modernist arguments about power and language in the suppression of free expression.

The “no-platforming” of speakers is the most ostentatious expression of this coercion, though more in­­sidious is the ostracising of indivi­duals in the academic profession. Pluckrose claims this has resulted in her own “exile” from the humanities.

Helen Lewis’s docu­mentary was not a safe haven for the political-correctness-gone-mad brigade. As one academic sensibly pointed out, the “Grievance Studies” campaign were able to deceive not so much because of the credulity of journal editors and peer reviewers, but because there are a lot of jour­nals to fill, a lot of Research Excel­lence points to be scored, and not many reviewers prepared to do due diligence when they are not being paid. Rubbish gets published every day; get over it.

The World Service’s The Com­pass (Wednesdays) offered some global perspective. In particular, we met Robert Quinn, Execu­tive Dir­ector of Scholars at Risk, an organ­isa­tion that reports on abuses of academic free­dom around the world. Quinn rattled off the names of half a dozen countries where government inter­vention in univer­sity manage­ment has reached a dangerous, even viol­ent, level. Uni­versities, Quinn de­­clared, are “at the intersection of power and ideas”; they no longer breathe the thin air at the top of Parnassus, but must share the dirtier, muggier atmosphere of every­­day politics.

In the UK, we are a long way from the atrocious interventions of the Gov­­­ern­ment into university life. But through the situation of Pro­fessor Selina Todd of Oxford Univer­­sity, who is escorted to lectures by secur­ity guards and appeared in both these programmes, we are reminded of how intimida­tion can play out even among the supposedly dream­ing spires.

And for something a little differ­ent. . . Since we are all now giving and receiving well-being tips, here is mine. Tune in to Thanks a Lot, Milton Jones! (Radio 4, Mondays). In silliness it manages to beat even our current situation.

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