Saturday, February 18, 2006


Sounds like she is a REAL idealist. She'll end up a GOP voter. Smith College is a private liberal arts college for women located in Northampton, Massachusetts. A highly selective institution with an undergraduate enrollment on campus of 2,500

I recently found my application essay for Smith from back in high school when I was applying to colleges. In response to the question, "Why did you choose to apply to Smith College?" I wrote, "I have a fervent interest in social justice. Your focus on instilling a spirit of diversity, acceptance and social responsibility excites me. The atmosphere of your school is welcoming. It is a place where intellectually curious young women can be fully challenged."

Last week, I attended the Hot Seat debate on the topic of whether the "Vagina Monologues" was empowering or demeaning. I came because I was interested in hearing both sides of the argument and I assumed other people were as well, regardless of their personal views about the play. The room was almost completely full, with people standing along walls even though new rows of chairs had been added in the back. From overheard conversation, I gathered the impression that most people were supportive of the "Vagina Monologues," but I still, assumed that they had come to be an attentive audience. After all, if you don't want to hear any criticism about the "Vagina Monologues," you can go to see the play or have discussions with like-minded friends. Why would you go to listen to a debate if you have an enormous opposition to hearing both sides?

So you can listen to your side attack the other, apparently, and so you can be rude from the anonymous comfort of your seat. While the debaters opposed to the "Vagina Monologues" managed to keep their points related to the text of the play and its possible influences, the debaters involved with the production of the "Vagina Monologues" accused the other side of "parroting" a Web site that they cited in their arguments. It was, no question about it, a low shot. In one word, they managed to communicate: "Not only are you wrong when you disagree with us, but you are incapable of forming your own opinions. We have our own opinions. We are better, and smarter, than you."

Never mind that a more disrespectful opposition might have, in response, accused them of "parroting" Eve Ensler and others involved in the formation of the "Vagina Monologues." I think they were pretty sure that the other side would not do that, and that if they did, they would be disparaged by the vast majority of the audience. How would the debaters from the "Vagina Monologues" know that the audience was on their side? Because the audience was seemingly incapable of silencing their scorn and contempt for those arguing that the Vagina Monologues are misguided feminism gone awry. While they managed to refrain from shouting, they constantly spoke in contemptuous tones, burst into conversation after everything the opposing side said and yet were miraculously quiet when it was their side's turn to take the microphone. Perhaps they misunderstood their role: in a debate, the debaters on stage are the ones invited to talk and express their thoughts. The audience consists of those invited to listen, and to later express their own thoughts during the question-and-answer portion of the event.

All this sadly confirms what I have noticed in my one and a half years at Smith College: Respect and diversity are very important qualities to the student body, as long as the people who want respect are on their side, and as long as their diversity does not include the diversity of opinion. Are you black, Asian, blind, gay or someone who speaks English as a second language? You'll be welcomed to Smith, which is how it should be. Do you think that modern feminism has gone a little overboard in recent years, that a fetus with a beating heart is a human life or that George W. Bush has ever said one single sentence that expressed a good thought? You'll be outwardly despised, your classmates will automatically assume that based on your belief in one area you hold an entire set of beliefs that may not accurately represent what you think and any signs you put up on campus - in places approved by the college - will mysteriously disappear. This is not how it should be.

I have a twofold theory as to the blatant disrespect on campus, though I'm not sure how accurate it is. The first part is that disrespectful people see their rudeness as "expressing their beliefs". Expressing your beliefs is fine. It's when you don't let other people express their beliefs, or when you denounce their intelligence for doing so, that the problem comes in. The second part is that, in the minds of some students, the opposition are not full people. They are Representative of What's Wrong With the World.

Actually, they embody the purpose of education: to think for yourself.


Britain galloping down the road to serfdom

By Theodore Dalrymple

ID cards and smoking bans are only the tip of British servitude

I have lived under a Latin American military dictatorship where daily life was freer than in Britain today. Of course, you couldn't go out into the street and shout "Down with Se¤or Presidente", at least not without dire consequences; on the other hand, you were considerably less surveyed, supervised and harried as you went about your business than you are in contemporary Britain.

The average Briton, we are told, is filmed 300 times a day once he steps out of his door. His home is hardly his castle, either. If he doesn't have a television he receives repeated menaces from the licensing authority, which may send an officer to inspect his house. And the form granting him the inestimable democratic right to vote comes with the threat of a 1,000 pound fine if he doesn't fill it (and he'll go to prison if he doesn't pay the fine).

Numerous officials have the right of entry, and his most private affairs are increasingly of interest to the tax authorities, who have de facto, though not de jure, dictatorial powers. When, as rarely happens, a Chancellor of the Exchequer reduces a tax, he is said by almost every commentator to be giving money away, which implies that we all accept, like the good slaves that we are, that the economy belongs to the Government, and the fullness thereof.

If the citizen should drive, he soon discovers that his vehicle confers anxiety rather than freedom. Slight infringements of the driving rules are photographed and he is fined. When he parks he soon discovers that wheel-clamping is the one public service that works with clockwork efficiency. Squeezing money from him is likewise the one task that the State takes seriously, for he cannot rely on the police to protect him, or the schools to educate his children, or the hospitals to succour him when he is ill, or public transport to take him anywhere without hitch. A bloated payroll does not translate into efficient services: on the contrary, it is incompatible with them.

The State is increasingly concerning itself with the individual's private habits, instituting a reign of virtue, chief among which is healthiness (we are approaching the situation of Samuel Butler's satire, Erewhon, a country where illness is a crime). Though not a single smoker is unaware of the dangers of smoking, and hasn't been for 30 years or more, he is now to be prevented from smoking in public, even when he is among other smokers only.

The pettiness of this official persecution of smokers (who are not prevented from paying a lot of tax) can hardly be exaggerated. The hospital in which I used to work instituted a no-smoking policy, so that smokers had to leave the building to smoke. To do this, one orthopaedic patient needed a wheelchair, but to hire a wheelchair he had to pay a 60 pound deposit, which he did not have. He grew so angry that he needed sedation.

Increasingly the citizen is asked to denounce his neighbour, for example if his neighbour is cheating social security. (Cheating it is the only rational response to so preposterous, impersonal and inhumane a system.) This official invitation to atomise society further by sowing mistrust among the population has not yet been entirely successful; but posters such as the one I saw last weekend in a bookshop - "Racism is a crime. Report it!" - engender a vague but nevertheless all-pervasive anxiety. After all, racism is a vague term, open to many interpretations, and there is an increasing tendency to treat complainants as if their complaints were self-justifying: you have been badly treated if you think you have been badly treated. Far from being a generous and compassionate principle, this attention to, or even encouragement of, complaint confers immense and often arbitrary powers on officialdom. It is not liberating, it is infantilising.

In many NHS trusts, bullying is defined as behaviour that causes a person to feel bullied. No objective evidence whatever is necessary, and the resolution of any complaint is at the discretion of bureaucrats, who thus assume Kafkaesque powers. More and more of us live in an atmosphere of vague and unseen surveillance that might at any moment explode into unanswerable accusation.

We also live in a propaganda state. No one believes what a government official says any longer because he is assumed to be a liar, ex officio as it were, even when he is telling the truth. We assume that all official information is self-exculpating, self-congratulating or self-glorifying in intent, that all official speech is therefore spin or political advertising. Those of us who work in the NHS - not a small number - receive expensively produced glossy publications from our employers, full of photographs of happy, smiling workers meeting happy, smiling customers, at the very same time as drastic cuts must be implemented to meet burgeoning debts and there are patients in casualty who have been waiting for hours for admission. One is reminded of the Stalinist images of flaxen-haired peasant maidens serving at banquet tables groaning with food of every description that were disseminated to the world in the midst of one of the most severe famines in history.

Let them eat lies! In this context, the proposal that we should, at all times, carry identity cards containing a great deal of personal information is particularly sinister. We all know that a suicide bomber is not going to be put off by the mere possession of a biometric ID card, and that the only thing that will deter muggers is efficient policing. Are victims of mugging going to be able henceforth to demand muggers' identity cards before handing over their cash at knifepoint?

But the requirement that we should carry such cards will no doubt give the police another target to aim at: 20 non-carriers a week, for example, producing 1,000 pounds in fines. After all, the immense outlay on producing the cards and the interest on the resulting debt will have to be paid for somehow. You know it makes sense.

In the meantime, Britons always, always will be slaves.

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