The New Observer UK Society Oxford University and the changing times

Oxford University and the changing times

This Guardian article is based on an interview with Oxford University’s new “professor of LGBTQ+ history”. His main point is that “free speech is alive and well on UK campuses” and “very few people are cancelled” – so the government, in appointing someone to make sure that Universities are supporting free speech, is overreacting. He cites the recent talk by Dr Kathleen Stock at the Oxford Union debating club as evidence to support his view.

Dr Kathleen Stock who the Guardian describes as a “gender-critical feminist” was, by her own account, forced out of her academic job at the University of Sussex by a campaign against her for her “anti-trans” views and a lack of support from the university. When she spoke recently at the Oxford Union one activist attached themselves to the floor in front of the speaker’s podium causing the event to be suspended for 20 minutes. For Oxford University’s Professor of LGBTQ+ history this though is all fine:

I completely stand with the position that the university and the college takes on freedom of speech. And I also stand by the right to the freedom to protest. I think both things are important.

Wherein he accidentally reveals just how far we have fallen. He is equating gluing yourself to the floor with trying to discuss and debate a question. These people really do think that shouting abuse, disrupting events, locking speakers in rooms, trying to have events cancelled etc. are just as legitimate as going to a meeting and trying to debate with your opponents.

When I was interviewed, many years ago, for a Philosophy undergraduate course at Oxford University they asked me what philosophy I had read. I told them Sartre and Camus. The interviewer said, very sniffly, that this is “not philosophy” and sneered “maybe they study this on the French literature course”. Some years later I met someone who had studied philosophy at Oxford. Her male Professor had told her that “feminism is not a philosophy”. My blood boiled for her.

But, how times have changed. Now it seems, there really is such a thing as LGBTQ+ history. The University could, of course, be accused of quite a clever strategic move. Seeing which way the winds are blowing with the success of the liberal-permissive (actually moral-free, atheistic and hedonistic) set of progressive values spreading they are making sure they are on the winning side.

The University’s new Professor of LGBTQ+ history explains what he is going to study. Essentially he is, it seems, interested in “cycles of fear and phobia”. It would appear, quite simply, that his starting point is that there is such a thing as “transphobia” and this can be explained by looking at cycles in history. Conveniently to hand (he didn’t have to think that much) he can cite 1950s views of homosexuality as dangerous and linked to paedophilia as evidence of these “cycles”.

I can’t stop any well-paid academic from studying whatever he wants to but if I had the luxury of being able to think and write for a living I would be interested in something real. For example; how is it that after ten thousand years of civilization, including the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, we have suddenly discovered that many children feel trapped in the gender they have cruelly “been assigned at birth” and that this is a huge social injustice requiring government funded messaging to children about how they can, in fact, choose their gender, and government-funded programmes to give them drugs which can give them the illusion that they can actually do so. Chiefly, I would be interested in how, what just 30 years ago, would have been regarded almost universally, including by medical science and by philosophers, as an aberration, perhaps deserving sympathy, but definitely not a question of “rights” has, so swiftly, become a spearhead of a cultural revolution. I would be interested in examining how the view that anyone who disagrees with this new way of looking at “transgenderism”, which has sprung on the scene in the last 10 years, is an unspeakable bigot who cannot possibly be debated with because their views are so horrendous, has so rapidly gained ascendency. Why have traditional authority structures, (such as Oxford University), so rapidly acquiesced? What is power doing? How does power benefit from this?

What matters for the new Professor, and for his employers one assumes, is that the “right” things are being said. The messaging is in line with the new ideology. That it lacks intellectual content is neither here not there. This itself, is also a sign of the times.