Are Australians especially anti-intellectual?

My friend Mark, as he so often does, drew my attention to an article in the Australian press asking Why do Australians hate thinkers?

I’m not sure about this. As I sit here most nights in Geneva attempting to think while a mob stands outside my apartment block binge-drinking with all that goes with this, the mentality of that mob is that I have no right to a quiet place to think and I’m the one that needs to get a life. I know a huge number of university educated people who think because they have to at work, but for whom otherwise life consists of hanging out on facebook, going out to get drunk, it’s all as anti-intellectual as you can get. Manny and I keep expecting the ones who do language professionally to read, but they don’t even read, and they certainly don’t think. For fun, I mean.

Philosophy in particular is taking a beating everywhere, but academia generally is coming under attack – frequently for good reason. As universities have become a run-for-profit affair, standards lower and corruption at all levels becomes endemic. It’s really a very difficult situation. There was a level of respect for academics in the past which simply doesn’t exist any more, but why would it? I subscribed to Retraction Watch for a while, but stopped because there didn’t seem to be any point being assaulted every day by more and more instances of academics and other researchers falsifying what they are doing because that’s how to get ahead these days. I had assumed when I first subscribed that it would be largely the case of researchers needed to retract for honest errors. Far from it. No, I’m not suggesting bad practice is unique to the modern academic, only that it seems to be so very much worse.

When universities are themselves rated on the ‘performance’ of those at the universities, it is up to academics to inflate the grades of students and to publish work that shouldn’t even have been written and so on. If you have a PhD from at least some departments of the University of Geneva it means absolutely nothing! NOTHING! In some departments, all students when they get their PhDs are given the highest marks because this is best for the department and the university. It is also better for the weak students who should perhaps even be failed but are given the top marks. It is obviously bad for the good students who do the thinking and get no reward for it. Thinking isn’t exactly punished, but it certainly isn’t rewarded. One could say any amount on this subject. I consider myself lucky to have been one of the last to go through the university system when it was still free and still had the standards that were possible with independence.

Is it ironic that the same people who ‘like’ this sort of article complaining of lack of respect for university education are the very same people who treat Abbott like a retarded cane toad. The guy has an Oxford degree done on a Rhodes Scholarship. It’s an odd juxtaposition, is it not?

I would also make the point that this lack of respect is very Australian and goes all ways. We should have the word ‘bogan’ but not be allowed to mock people who think? Australians mock. It is axiomatic of Australian life to say ‘this is Joe, he’s a dickhead’ as you introduce your very best friend in the world. If you are Australian, I hardly need to make this point any further, but since lots of non-Australians will be reading this, examples you can see online include:

That is what we are. Wonderfully politically incorrect, irreverent. Disrespectful. May we extrapolate a little towards the situation of the philosopher in Australia? I don’t see why not. Are we to have a disrespectful attitude towards the average Australian with the term ‘bogan’, but the ‘thinker’ is sacrosanct? Not to mention, a few dickheads put idiotic comments on the internet and we extrapolate from that to an ‘Australian’ attitude towards thinkers? P-lease.

Since one of the things the writer of this article did was to praise the French for their attitudes towards culture, it is rather ironic to be able to point out the recent French headline

French Culture Minister says she has not read a book for two years

She’d been to lunch with the latest French Nobel Prize winner for literature and didn’t have a clue as to the names of any of his books.

The admission sparked ridicule and even anger in France where the Minister of Culture is expected to be well-versed in all aspects of French culture. The commentator Claude Askolovitch wrote that the Minister’s admission confirmed that France was approaching a state of barbarism (from Time)

You get the point? ‘The French’ – ie a couple of commentators – are saying exactly the same things about France as this person is saying about Australia.

But then, maybe there is a big difference. Small ‘l’ liberals love to be down on Australia, unrelentingly tell us how bad we are all the time. I, living over the other side of the world these days have nothing but fond thoughts for how good Australians are. There’s a reason why there are all those corny songs about Australia being home. It’s a great place. Don’t knock it.

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