Friday, October 21, 2016

UWI Double Think

The University of the West Indies (UWI) has fascinating lecturers. Take for example Faculty of Engineering Professor, Stephan Gift. Mr. Gift has written many letters to newspapers refuting Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Or take Computer Science lecturer Noel Kalicharan, who warns the public that vaccines are part of a worldwide conspiracy. Or former poetry lecturer Dr. Wayne Kublalinsgh who claims he can live for months on sunlight and Tulsi leaves alone. If UWI ever needed a suicide squad of lecturers saying dumb things, they could easily assemble one.

That squad could now include Gender Studies lecturer Dr. Gabrielle Hosein. Last week in her newspaper column (‘UWI not for Sale’) Dr. Hosein invoked George Orwell’s classic novel ‘Animal Farm’ to condemn capitalism. Apparently, Dr. Hosein believes that Governments who cut back on funding for Universities are doing so not because it’s unsustainable, but because it’s part of a capitalist conspiracy to turn us into brainless consumers with well-paying careers. She writes, “This model priorities individual economic advancement, so they become Animal Farm’s pigs eating with knives and forks while sending Boxer the horse to the glue factory when he becomes expendable.” She goes on to add that Universities are seen as elitist because they “foster critical thought”. Something I’m shocked to learn UWI has been accused off. 

What’s so absurdly hilarious about Dr. Hosein’s ‘Animal Farm’ analogy is that ‘Animal Farm’ isn’t just a devastating satirical critique of Joseph Stalin’s Russia; but also a stunning rebuttal of the very political ideas she’s peddling in her column. It’s like trying to prove the world is flat by using a globe. Dr. Hosein believes that Universities who sinisterly offer courses to fill jobs in demand are somehow stifling the spirit of student radicalism and desire to “change the world”. Yet ‘Animal Farm’ is precisely a warning about how such student fantasies of radical revolution, with its utopian promises, can quickly descend into a totalitarian nightmare. The way it did in revolutionary Russia and has in Cuba, Venezuela or every country to adopt socialism. One wonders if Dr. Hosein, who admires the totalitarian regimes in Cuba and Venezuela and even the Stalinist apologist Claudia Jones has ever actually read ‘Animal Farm ‘at all.

Recent signals by the government to reduce funding for the Government Assistance for Tertiary Education (GATE) are no doubt what promoted Dr. Hosein’s column. It’s not surprising that her response should rest on distorting the meaning of an important book and promoting a tired conspiratorial view of capitalism, with as much depth as the slogan “four legs good, two legs bad”. After all, the Government has spent an incredible $5Billion on GATE since its inception in 2004. There is little to no evidence to suggest that this has made any useful impact on our economy or encouraged students to pursue radical world changing ideas beyond getting drunk while playing all fours in the cafeteria.

If privately funded Universities are evil and are a blight on the world, why is it that the world’s top universities are all privately funded?  Schools like Harvard, Yale, and MIT, attract Nobel Prize winners and top academics to their staff, producing ground breaking research which benefits the world. These schools do get some federal money for research but they must actually produce results. Recently at Harvard researchers found a way to kill cancerous cells using stem cells.  For all its government funding the only innovation UWI is famous for developing is UWEE Doubles. Which isn’t even the best doubles in Curepe.

Dr. Hosein’s distorted view about capitalism represents the double think most Caribbean intellectuals have about economics. Never mind the obvious advancements in technology and innovation which have helped improved the lives of millions across the developing world. Or the real evidence which shows how Capitalism is reducing poverty. Caribbean intellectuals routinely peddle propaganda that says otherwise. Yet as economist Max Roser points out; in 1820 the share of the world population living in poverty was 94%, today its 17%. And it’s thanks solely to the spread of capitalism.

This is why Orwell’s books are important. No other writer describes so clearly the struggle between political ideology and the freedom of the intellect. It’s also why we should not accept those who would revise the meaning of his books to suit their agenda. As Orwell wrote in his great essay ‘Politics and the English Language’: “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” I strongly recommend Dr. Hosein give it a read, after she’s done with ‘Animal Farm’.

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