Tuesday 1 May 2012

The Students are Revolting

During yesterday’s spasmodic tweeting I noticed a few comments referring to a Student Union meeting at Leeds University. The front-line correspondent was tweeting in exasperation at the pointlessness of much of the meeting – I believe at one stage they were voting to ban Israel or alter the laws of physics, or some other such thing as would satisfy the general student political curriculum.

I was a student once. I knew I didn’t understand politics. I did notice, however, that the students actively engaged in the black art were, almost universally, of the various-hues-of-rabid-socialism variety. They were often studying ‘unhappy childhood’ indicator subjects such as sociology, behavioural studies (‘psychology-lite’) and other ‘modern’ degrees with the word ‘studies’ in the title; subjects for which very few jobs existed back then.

This was a happy coincidence, as the socially motivated student wore then, as now, a uniform (and it was a uniform, however individual’ it seemed to them) which didn’t really say “I would very much like to work for a living, please.” Rather it stated – and still does – I am exercising my right to be indulged by the adults who pay for all this in my preening and posturing and shoving it all back in their faces.

I remember being perplexed by the NUS campaign “Education – a Right not a Privilege” when it was clear to me that higher education is, indeed, a privilege which, to this day I feel I barely earned, but which I am extremely grateful for.

These politically active, yet so childishly selfish students – or simply children as I now realise – had their counterparts in the far smaller Conservative student movement and the contrast was immediate. They studied more recognisable (dare we say useful) subjects, such as engineering and the sciences and dressed as if perpetually ready for an emergency job interview. They didn’t really go on marches or shout quite so much, largely because there were always assignments to be handed in and deadlines to meet.

Okay, they were a bit boring, but whilst the revolting students struck me as fanatic fantasists and pointless hippies, forever unilaterally banning bombs, opposing imaginary Nazis and preaching doom and hate while marching under the red flag, the blues had a positive glow that came, at least partly, from the expectation of a fruitful life ahead. Decades before it became de rigueur to present a fictitious CV for even a cleaning job, they were armed with a purposeful stride and an armoury of credentials.

Of course, many students used to progress in the time honoured fashion of being broadly left when young, broadly right when they needed to earn a living and support a family and then, when reason deserted them and they had feathered their nests, they could retire as woolly liberals. But, oh, how the diversity and equality industry has changed all that.

Georg C. Lichtenberg (1742 – 1799) said, “We accumulate our opinions at an age when our understanding is at its weakest.

Thanks to many years of state indulgence, easy access to welfare state and the insidious rise of the notion of human rights, we have created a political never-never land in which development of an adult view of the world is simply not necessary. Nobody credits Oscar Wilde with plausible adult political sensitivities, as this 1891 essay shows, but at least he had a grasp on the nature of humanity.

 The Student Union in Leeds should read that essay. Whether they learn anything or not is immaterial – but at least it would shut them up for a few hours. 

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