Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31 Number 14. June 25, 1968
Bluff your way with degrees — 'Bull Baffles Brain' Is The Rule
Bluff your way with degrees
'Bull Baffles Brain' Is The Rule
One of the standard methods of protest is the newspaper advertisement.
Liberally sprinkled with the names, degrees and designations of the scientific and academic illumination, a full or half-page spread in The Times or The New York Times, will put the world right on the moral issues involved in "the bomb" or NATO, Israel or Vietnam.
Indeed, on almost any major controversy, a seemingly impressive swarm of Ph.D.'s will hasten to tell us why a democratic decision, once taken, is wrong.
What is the aim of this barrage of academic qualifications, directed in salvos at any festering trouble-spot in the minds of our intelectuals? Why the smoke-screen of university degrees, so carefully listed? Is it done to" impress?
Unfortunately, that seems to be the motive, and many people are very impressed.
Seeing that the Chichele Professor of Early Slavonic Studies has seen fit to unburden his soul (and his wallet) to give them the benefit of his views on Mr. Wilson and Rhodesia, there must be a good reason, thinks our Mr. Average Man-in-thc-street.
But, Mr. Average forgets that when he did his National Service, or was in his school cadet unit—if he ever was in one—a brutish sergeant probably yelled at him the old army motto: "Bull Baffles Brains".
Although the whole of our scientific mafia would draw back their academic gowns in horror at the thought of comparison with any nasty militaristic intentions, their actions are the same.
"Bull" does baffle brains, especially when clothed in a uniform, not of sergeants' stripe but of learned credentials.
Just how valid are these shrieks of moral outrage with which we are regaled at frequent intervals?
Have the protesters any right to seek to impose their views on others by using a camouflage of apparent learning?
To this writer it seems they have no such inherent right. Their views are of no more value than those of any diligent reader of the press. Most important of all, they are just as susceptible to the same vices—greed, intolerance and illiberal thought.
For some time we have been accustomed to pay undue attention to the thoughts of our scientists and academics.
This enchantment of their value as educators in widely disparate fields appears to be a product of modern times.
With the increasing complexity of living in the late 19th and 20th centuries, the layman is unable to comprehend all the marvels of civilisation laid before him.
The man with the key to these marvels is the man with the degree, for, are we not told that knowledge is power?
Previous to this age, the gifted amateur could often take his place among the learned. With persistence, he could stand on equal terms with the best of them.
Sometimes he could produce theories of his own which would compete with those of the professors, and which might even become accepted.
That time is now long past. We are, at present, in an age where man who knows everything about something is presumed to know something about everything.
This is a highly dangerous doctrine, creating as class of super-men. A "brave new world" where Huxley's "alphas" dominate.
In one way it is worse than Huxley's dream, for these intellectual super-men have not earned the right to dominate.
Their qualifications do not equip them to rule. But they are willing to arrogate to themselves this right to dispute the wishes of the rest of the people, however democratically expressed.
It matters little, apparently that with one voice they ask for their "rights" (freedom of thought and expression) and with another voice deny those rights to others.
When a noted pediatrician—Dr. Spock— counsels young men to defy the laws of his country, laws that have been passed by an elected and fully democratic legislature, he is not merely attacking a policy that he dislikes, but also attacking the whole right of a free people to regulate society in the manner it wishes.
When a lecturer at VUW, Mr. Chris Wainwright, peddles a cyclostyled sheet around a Wellington pub, in an effort to gather signatures and money for an advertisement in the New Zealand press supporting Spock and others, he is helping by implication to subvert democracy as we know it.
For a student entering a university, one of the first lessons to be learned is academic integrity.
It is not considered enough to read a right-wing critique of Karl Marx if one is studying him for a Political Science unit—it helps to read Marx himself.
When a Professor of Geography at VUW, Prof Keith Buchanan, writes a petulant letter to the University International Club, returning an invitation to attend a public address on the grounds that he does not agree with the political persuasions of the speaker, it bodes ill for the future of academic impartiality.
Or is International Club to promulgate a new Index Prohibitorum, and exclude those whose views are not orthodox—whatever that classification might entail?
The intellectual arrogance that can expound the old Jesuit credo of "the end justifies the means" is becoming too common.
"All men are equal, but some are more equal than others" is an appealing thought to the students and professors willing to cause disruption and take part in violence.
A feature of the rise of Fascism in Nazi Germany was the public burning of books and literature.
Books by "non-Aryans", books which advocated democratic ideals—in fact any literature which was inimical to the regime, was thrown on the pyre.
This book-burning ritual was also the routine in Indonesia at the time of confrontation and has been a feature of despotic and illiberal regimes around the world.
It was in this finest tradition of thought that students of Columbia University, New York, acted recently.
To round off their campaign of rioting and looting, they burnt the books and manuscripts of a professor, thought to oppose their aims.
One of the more fascinating displays of academic deviousness is offered by the liberal intellectual who pays lip-service to the virtues of democracy.
Ask him if it is right that the will of the greatest number should be carried out, and he will answer in the affirmative.
He will angrily defend the right of Kenyatta's government to dispossess Kenyan Asians of their lands and property—after all, it is the will of the people!
Then remind him that the latest public opinion polls show 74% of Britons support the views concerning racial problems of the much-misrepresented Enoch Powell — and listen to our careful university liberal change his tune.
With nauseating adroitness, he will explain exactly why it would be wrong for the two major parlies to carry out the wishes of the people.
Our liberal has now become authoritarian. The main difficulty confronting these men is that it is often apparent they are completely unwilling to allow other people the freedoms which they so stridently demand.
If we encourage a Joan Baez to resist payment of that portion of her Federal income tax calculated to support the war effort in Vietnam, should we also support a New Zealand RSA member who refuses to pay that part of his tax which does not go towards our miniscule Defence Budget?
They will insist that a free press is a necessity in any country, under any circumstances —and then maintain a press group, opposing their views, should be broken up.
The "Springer Empire", a highly successful group of newspapers in West Germany. has been one of the main causes of discontent to the students of that country.
In pursuing this point, they have murdered a reporter and a photographer; all to suppress freedom of the press.
They will protest when a reporter from the British Communist journal The Daily Worker, who assisted North Koreans and Chinese in brain-washing and indoctrination on British troops during the Korean War, is refused a passport by the United Kingdom Government.
They evidently see no need to protest when a Rhodesian has his passport confiscated, then offered it back on condition that he publicly parrot the political views of Commonwealth Secretary, Mr Bottomley.
In this context of passport-snatching, (an operation which can also be legally applied in New Zealand) it is interesting to note that the United States Government does not have the same powers.
A Supreme Court decision, given almost concurrently with the demise of McCarthyism, forbade the executive branch of government to restrict a person's right of free travel on account of his political views.
How many of our academic liberals, so completely anti-American by nature, would be willing to acknowledge this?
By nature, academics are not tolerant of others. Anyone who has watched the infighting when a new idea is produced, the attempts, often based on little more than prejudice and fear of supercession, to denigrate a new idea, will have realised this.
Academic maintains its own Inquisition, which operates in just as sordid a way as its religious progenitor.
It used to be said that if, for instance, one could not trust a Professor of Orthodontics on the subject of Vietnam, one could at least trust him on orthodontics—or whatever his speciality was.
This is not necessarily so. The "experts" are just as likely to be blinded by bias as a non-professional worker.
Examples are not hard to detail. The cases of Velikovsky and McConnell are of particular interest.
Both are scientists working in the United States and have been subjected to scurrilous abuse and attempted censorship from academic circles.
In 1950 Dr Immanuel Velikovsky published a revolutionary theory of world chronology.
The book, Worlds in Collision, was published by Macmillan in the USA.
As a result of pressure applied to the publishers by various scientists threatening to boycott the company; the publisher's editor. who approved the book, was dismissed and Macmillan ceased its publication.
The scientists instrumental in forcing the issue, defended their action as the "democratic privilege of organised protest".
Velikovsky has, of course, been vindicated since that time.
Dr James McConnell conducted his research at the other end of the scale.
Where Velikovsky dealt in time intervals of a thousand years and units the size of the solar system. McConnell, in the early 1960's, carried out his experiments on a species of earthworm.
These experiments were designed to show that memory can be transmitted through the cellular chemical ribonucleic acid (RNA).
At the time, it was a "known fact" that memory could not be transmitted genetically.
Vilification from leading invertebrate physiologists and biochemists almost dried up McConncll's sources of funds, and prevented his work being published.
Now, independent researchers are beginning to duplicate his results.
They show how even the most gifted scientists have no protection from those of their own kind who feel that they are stepping out of line.
One of the more sordid facts about academic protest is that most are willing to take part as long as they are not too involved.
Few fled from Nazi Germany before the last war: a notable exception was the great Einstein.
Possession of academic qualifications is not sufficient reason for general acceptance as an all-purpose prophet
Neil Wright excepted, these people, cloaked in a self-assumed authority, should not command our deference to their opinions.
Until it is generally accepted that scientists and academics are only technicians, qualified to deal in their particular fields, we will remain with the problems outlined above.
When it is realised they have no peculiar moral authority, are just as likely as anyone else to falsify facts and just as fallible as mere ordinary mortals, they will lose this authority.
Their comments will have the authority of a well-informed metaphorical plumber: valid within limits on the subject of plumbing, merely of interest on world politics.
This is the importance they should have.