The emotional safety

The Financial Times on this mess we’re in:

Just over a week ago, Kathleen Stock resigned from her post as professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex, following a relentless three-year campaign of bullying, harassment and character assassination.

“I can’t keep working somewhere where . . . there’s such toxicity,” she had told me the previous week, when I’d gone to speak to her at the home she shares with her pregnant wife and two children. The strain Stock was under was palpable — she broke down in tears twice during our conversation; several days earlier, she had been signed off work by her doctor because of stress. At one point, we were interrupted by the delivery of a video doorbell camera, which the police had advised her to install.

“It’s not based on who I am, what I’m like, what I think — it’s just this caricature of a witch in the office next door . . . They don’t want to argue with me, these people. They just want to ruin my professional reputation.”

They don’t want to argue with anyone. That’s the problem. The whole ideology is just one massive fiat – a shut up and do what you’re told. Women have never been able to get that kind of deference, but for some reason trans women can, and trans men sneak in under their coats.

Those who argue that “cancel culture doesn’t exist” or, as the National Union of Students argues, that “there is no evidence of a freedom of expression crisis on campus”, might say this was an isolated case. But for those who worry that such a crisis is in full swing, Stock’s departure is symptomatic of a culture that prioritises the “emotional safety” of students over robust debate and the expression of lawful, evidence-based opinions, and which is threatening the integrity and reputation of Britain’s universities.

The culture prioritises the “emotional safety” of students over robust debate and it portrays robust debate as inherently and obviously the enemy of students’ “emotional safety.” But if students require “emotional safety” to survive, and robust debate aka different views is/are the enemy of that safety, what are they doing at a university at all? If you have an allergy to learning new things, you shouldn’t be attending any kind of educational institution. If students are so fucking fragile and unwell and tottering that learning makes them sick, then they shouldn’t be at university. There’s a massive conflict here, which doesn’t really get addressed enough. This fragility in the face of new knowledge is a profound disability, and requires treatment and a quiet, empty environment. It’s just cruel to let kids go to a university knowing it’s bound to make them sick as dogs. First treat the disease, then go to university.

In other words learning new things, including new ideas, is the whole point of going to a university, and if you can’t take it, you should get tf out and do something else with your life. It’s probably still possible to get technical training without getting deathly ill, but any branch of the humanities is right out, and so is a lot of science.

“I do notice a big difference between now and 10 years ago,” says Arif Ahmed, a philosopher at Cambridge who campaigns for free speech in universities. “Ten years ago, nobody felt their jobs might be in danger for what they said . . . Now we’re in a position where, as happened with Kathleen Stock and as I’ve experienced here at Cambridge, when you ask people . . . they’ll say in private they support you, but they won’t speak out publicly.”

Stock, Ahmed and others I spoke to cite the 2010 Equality Act as a factor in universities becoming so anxious about offending students. The act describes unlawful verbal harassment as behaviour that “has the purpose or effect of . . . creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”, which some university administrators have interpreted as an invitation to police speech or other behaviour they deem offensive as “microaggressions”. 

The odds are good that there are some gender critical students who find the atmosphere intimidating and hostile…

Another consequence of the act has been an increase in the number of non-academic administrators in universities, working for example for “equality, diversity and inclusion offices” that seek to fulfil the requirement to “advance equality of opportunity between people who do and do not share a protected characteristic”, such as race or disability. But the guiding principles of these administrators are often at odds with those of academics — they are geared not so much towards encouraging free expression and the exploration of ideas as the so-called student experience, which focuses on keeping students feeling happy and comfortable.

But also “inclusion” never means “of feminist women.”

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