Monday 24 October 2011

On Missing the Point

After more than three and half months of flat-out campaigning against the proposals of the Managers of my college to decimate my department, I left Britain with a sigh of relief, assuming that I could enjoy two weeks’ of freedom from conflict between those in power and those they claim to manage.

But just outside the apartment in Melbourne where I have been staying, teams of mounted policemen used what certainly went far beyond reasonable force to evict a peaceful set of protestors from the city centre. The soundscape which I experienced began with singing of Aboriginal and protest songs but ended in sirens and screaming.


Lucidly written leaflets explained that the protest was primarily against the mining of uranium by BHP Billiton, the largest mining company in the world, in a very specific location. It is on land sacred to indigenous Australians at the Olympic Dam works North-West of Adelaide.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I watched Australian television and read Australian newspapers, to read that the trouble with the ‘Occupy Melbourne’ initiative by the protestors was that it had no specific goal, only a vaguely articulated sense that capitalism was not a good system.

That was not what I heard the protestors saying. The press missed the point they were trying to make entirely, and also seemed unwilling to entertain the possibility that the police force’s violent eviction of the demonstrators might have just a little to do with the imminent visit of Queen Elizabeth II.

Obscuring the point that people who disagree with you are making is one of the most effective weapons in the artillery cupboard of the powerful. When I embarked an Airbus for Australia a week ago, I had not yet recovered from my astonishment that the press was giving more column inches to the question of whether Liam Fox is gay, and to the alleged use of public money to subsidise his best friend’s accommodation in hotels, than to the scandalous fact that an unelected representative of wholly biased political and business interest groups was regularly allowed to interfere in British defence policy. Yet this staggering corruption was scarcely discussed the day that Dr Fox resigned.

On a miniature level, the same tactic of obscurantism has characterised the entire attempt of the Senior Management Team at Royal Holloway to discredit the teaching and research activities of its own experts in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds since the end of June this year.

Huge efforts and the assiduous work of well-paid Directors of Communication has gone into obscuring the obvious point that nobody can know whether students will want to take degrees costing nine thousand pounds in any particular academic department until there is any evidence to consider.

If this basic point is missed, then heads of universities can close or decimate any department they like on the strength of ideological grudge disguised as speculation.

BHP want to mine uranium on Aboriginal land. Adam Werritty has not been elected and doesn’t represent British citizens. Classics at Royal Holloway had record applications this year. Are these points clear enough?

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