University Fee Deregulation

28 May

The universities — even the Go8 — don’t plan to increase fees more than they have to. This is simply because they are opposed in principle to high fees with high HECS interest rates. University administration don’t like it. In fact, universities would barely raise fees at all if it weren’t for the corresponding cut in Commonwealth contributions. We will end up with the (unexpected) result that universities will be sacrificing millions in possible funding as a voluntary concession to students.

The consequences of fee deregulation can’t be fully known until the details of the policy are clearer. But here’s my prediction:

  • Fees will rise by 10-30%. They will not double.
  • Science and medicine will increase by more than other degrees
  • HECS interest increases won’t go ahead

Unfortunately, the more that student contributions increase, the more it will fuel that peculiarly Australian conception of higher education as having a necessarily vocational function.



Criticising the Other

29 Apr

I will have in an undergraduate class, let’s say, a young, white, male student, politically-correct, who will say: “I am only a bourgeois white male, I can’t speak.” In that situation – it’s peculiar, because I am in the position of power and their teacher and, on the other hand, I am not a bourgeois white male – I say to them: “Why not develop a certain degree of rage against the history that has written such an abject script for you that you are silenced?” Then you begin to investigate what it is that silences you, rather than take this very deterministic position – since my skin colour is this, since my sex is this, I cannot speak. I call these things, as you know, somewhat derisively, chromatism: basing everything on skin colour – “I am white, I can’t speak” – and genitalism: depending on what genitals you have, you can or cannot speak in certain situations.

From this position, then, I say you will of course not speak in the same way about the Third World material, but if you make it your task not only to learn what is going on there through language, through specific programmes of study, but also at the same time through a historical critique of your position as the investigating person, then you will see that you have earned the right to criticize, and you will be heard. When you take the position of not doing your homework – “I will not criticize because of my accident of birth, the historical accident” – that is a much more pernicious position.

In one way you take a risk to criticize, of criticizing something which is Other – something which you used to dominate. I say that you have to take a certain risk: to say “I won’t criticize” is salving your conscience, and allowing you not to do any homework. On the other hand, if you criticize having earned the right to do so, then you are indeed taking a risk and you will probably be made welcome, and can hope to be judged with respect.

Gayatri Spivak (1990) The Postcolonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues. Routledge: London, pp. 62f.

I don’t agree entirely with this. But it’s thoughtful and makes a sound point.


5 Apr

“I had never seen somebody fuck a kangaroo and eat it at the same time. Now I have.”

That’s what happens when your small town develops a zombie infestation.

I’ve reviewed SUDS’s production of Quack.


Government of Secrecy

3 Oct

Abbott started by not releasing real costings or substantive policy before the election.

He censored the arrival of asylum seekers. He didn’t explain that the NBN board had been sacked. He plans to delay the release of MYEFO. He illegally excluded Indonesian journalists from his press conference there, and wouldn’t explain why. Nor did he explain why he sacked senior public servants.

He censors anyone and anything that may say something adverse. The Climate Commission. A Malaysian democracy activist. Even his own ministry: he has forbidden his ministers from media appointments without prime ministerial leave. He and his ministers have not only refused for weeks to be interviewed by Leigh Sales on national television, but even feel the need to lie about being interviewed on ABC radio. They habitually run away from the press.

The fact that he constantly changes policy positions (such as on university student caps, buying boats, or paying childcare workers) conduces such uncertainty that it is itself a form of secrecy, because it erodes faith in any ostensible policy position.

Martial 7.20: Nihil est miserius

4 Sep

Nihil est miserius neque gulosius Santra.
Rectam vocatus cum cucurrit ad cenam,
quam tot diebus noctibusque captavit,
ter poscit apri glandulas, quater lumbum,
et utramque coxam leporis et duos armos,
nec erubescit peierare de turdo
et ostreorum rapere lividos cirros.
Buccis placentae sordidam linit mappam;
illic et uvae conlocantur ollares
et Punicorum pauca grana malorum
et excavatae pellis indecens voluae
et lippa ficus debilisque boletus.
Sed mappa cum iam mille rumpitur furtis,
rosos tepenti spondylos sinu condit
et devorato capite turturem truncum.
Colligere longa turpe nec putat dextra
analecta quidquid et canes reliquerunt.
Nec esculenta sufficit gulae praeda:
mixto lagonam replet ad pedes vino.
Haec per ducentas cum domum tulit scalas
seque obserata clusit anxius cella
gulosus ille, postero die vendit.

Nothing is more wretched and gluttonous than Santra.
When, having been invited, he runs off to a formal dinner,
which he has been chasing for many days and nights,
thrice he asks for the sweet-breads of a boar, four times for loin,
and both hare’s haunches and two shoulders,
and he isn’t embarrassed to lie about a thrush
and to snatch the blue-bearded oysters.
He smears his filthy napkin with mouthfuls of cake;
there, potted grapes have been positioned too,
and a few bad Punic seeds,
and the unseemly skin of a hollowed sow’s womb,
and an oozing fig and a mangled mushroom.
But now, when the napkin bursts with a thousand thefts,
he stores gnawed mussels in his warm pocket
and the body of a turtle-dove whose head has been devoured.
And he doesn’t think it’s shameful to collect, with a lengthened right hand,
whatever the waiter and the dogs have left over.
Even edible plunder is not enough for his appetite:
he fills a flask by his feet with mixed wine.
When he has carried all this home, up two hundred stairs,
and anxiously shut himself in his barred cellar,
that glutton, he sells it the next day.


Bridge by the Schweriner Schloss

29 Aug

Bridge by the Schweriner Schloss

Conflating Sciences and Morality

28 Jun

The conflation of the knowledges of sciences and social sciences with moral and social duties is an inevitability, yet we act and write as if this is not so. We pretend, for all intents and purposes, that a resolution of a science alone justifies a moral imperative. That in a secular world, virtues can be taken from science.

Take, for instance, this article on “fat activism”. The social pressure to maintain a particular body shape is a glorious example of this phenomenon. Medical advice such as being fit, not smoking, or avoiding germs is apt to quickly become a social imperative, as is evidenced by the neurotic disgust at the idea of germs or smoking and the severe social pressure not to be fat in developed societies. The article well demonstrates the social pressures not to be fat, but the most interesting part of the article is that the author herself falls victim to the meddling of scientific claims with moral claims in her defence of the overweight:

 “Overweight” carries an inherent judgement: “over”, above what you should be, thus the implication of a particular normal weight.

“Overweight” indeed carries an inherent judgement: that one’s weight is over that which is healthy. But the author uses the presence of this judgement to decry the social judgement that she perceives to exist in the word, without accepting that it could be possible to have a medically inadvisable weight while having a socially acceptable weight were social attitudes different. Indeed, she goes to preposterous lengths to try to demonstrate that being overweight is not particularly unhealthy in an article intended to address regrettable social attitudes towards being fat. All she really needed to do was show that one’s health is one’s own business and is no more deserving of scorn than not treating ingrown toenails.

She goes on to breathlessly declare that she has witnessed even feminists — of all people — eating healthily! She knows “socialist feminists who don’t shave their legs yet count calories”! This “fat hatred” and “self-loathing” is a “human rights issue”. Did it occur to the author that there might be a difference between not wanting to be overweight for the sake of being healthy and for the sake of conforming to expectations about body shape? No; for in her mind, as in the minds of most people, the two are conflated and cannot be divorced. One of the comments summarises this propensity well: “Fat has become a moral, cultural and aesthetic issue. This is what has become conflated with the health issue.”

But this habit transcends not only obesity or even the natural sciences. Across the social sciences we see a spectrum, with strict econometrics on one side, having the best claim to objectivity, albeit specious, and gender and cultural studies on the other, which makes no such representation. The same spectrum sees inadvertent social judgements arise from the first end, the most right-wing, of the spectrum, and explicitly subjective moral judgements made on the other. For instance, on the economics side, we would once have seen condemnation of excessive spending as lavish fiscal impropriety, while today excessive spending is seen as prudish in light of a focus on the mode of consumption rather than the mode of production. Conversely, the most liberal end of the social sciences unashamedly decries various sorts of prejudice.

Of particular peculiarity is the notion that it is morally reprehensible not to work. Economics, like other old, conservative social sciences and humanities such as history, makes a claim to actually represent the truth of the world. It recognises the negative effects of unfavourable unemployment rates or participation rates. But this is conflated with moral judgements in a logical connexion that is not obvious in the slightest, socially condemning worklessness in the process. This is why it is strategically favourable for Gina Reinhart to “[castigate] her children for not working full time“.

Indeed, the mining rich are prone to such assertions — consider Andrew Forrest’s winging in the infantile rag The Daily Telegraph on 3 May 2012 with the headline “Work is the key to living free of the curse of welfare and shame.” He offers us such gems as “a job…leads to dignity and self-respect” and “to work [is]…their duty”. Exemplifying the way in which he treats an economic issue as a moral one, he proudly declares that “this is the biggest moral issue facing Australia”.

This attitude is a distinctly Protestant, as Max Weber explains in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Australian values, insomuch as they exist in any coherent way, are predicated on Protestantism, which permits the accumulation of wealth (luckily for our friend Twiggy) but condemns idleness and the work shy, and is eager to moralise endlessly on all sorts of economic matters. While the idea of redemption is quite religious, the idea that one can redeem oneself through work is especially Protestant. Compare this to Ancient Greece, where not working was a virtue. Employment — especially when one worked for another — was analogous to slavery; one sees a similarity with Marxism. The Greek philosophers and aristocrats disparaged working and saw work as an interference with one’s duties as a human and a citizen of a democratic polis. Aristotle explained:

A state with an ideal constitution—a state which has for its members men who are absolutely just, and not men who are merely just in relation to some particular standard—cannot have its citizens living the life of mechanics or shopkeepers, which is ignoble and inimical to goodness. Nor can it have them engaged in farming; leisure is a necessity, both for growth in goodness and for the pursuit of political activity.

There was no special moral status to work and the aristoi of those societies, unlike Reinhart and Forrest, would not consider deigning to work.

Such conflations of morality and science are an inevitability; they are a simple but unavoidable association of a descriptive account of the world with a prescriptive account of how the world ought to be. But we would do well to be conscious of this tendency, for prescribing behaviour to others is a very different matter from assessing how people behave.