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Liberal thought is not a waste of time

Spluttering on my fair trade coffee last week I was astonished to discover that I inhabit a perilous ‘liberal bubble’ which is slowly lulling me into a false sense of security, numbing all my conceptions about the ‘real world’- a world out there, somewhere. This revelation was forced upon me by Tom Gockelen-Kozlowski’s ‘instructional’ comment piece ‘Toffs: back in fashion’.

Tom, with a sweep of the keyboard, brushed aside feminism, Marxism and post-colonialism as theories that portray a world ‘a lot more pleasant than it really is’. And so, with an air of superiority he derided schools of thought which boast thousands of publications by academics all over the world. The fact that feminism deals with the perpetually unequal relationship between the sexes and post-colonialism with the disempowering effects of colonial legacy on subordinated people worldwide must have silently passed him by.

Vacuous remarks about the closed-mindedness of Sussex University to the ‘real world’ (as opposed to the fake world we occupy here I guess) neglect the fact that one day students may take the optimistic, critical or alternative approaches to the subject that they have studied and try to apply them in their own lives. If you see a ‘liberal’ approach as dangerous or empty-headed Sussex is probably not the place for you. But it is for its critical attitude that Sussex is so renowned among universities, not only in Britain but abroad too.

Straining then to interpret the point of his article through the stereotyping of the ‘liberal comrades’ of Sussex and the ambiguous boundaries of his definition of ‘alternative’ (apparently anything that is not the Daily Mail) I soon came to understand that there was little in the way of explanation or purpose and rather too much in the way of instruction. That the Conservative party in Britain is, for some, a convincing opposition to Labour is no epiphany – a foreign policy linked to America’s imperial ambitions and the worst recession in more than seventy years will have ensured this in the very least. Conservatives have been the only majority opposition to Labour in Parliament since the 1920s and, with British politics converging in the centre of the political spectrum, many are disillusioned with the incumbent government.

The article was certainly a lesson in what not to do: if you are trying to convince someone of something, do not be condescending; if you are trying to be funny, avoid old and worn out stereotypes; if you are trying to interest your readers, say something new; and above all if you are trying to make a point, get your facts straight.

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3 Comments

  1. Hello Nicholas,

    I am sorry that my article offended you, as you have guest it was supposed to be a bit of a humourous jibe at the liberal-extremist end of our wonderful university.
    A couple of points though;

    Firstly, I did not say post-colonialism, feminism or marxism were somehow worthless. I believe, and I think I wrote in a way, which shows the opposite. My problem is that I do think that sitting in a classroom talking about gender as a arbituary concept (which it is), can be a worryingly optomistic stategy when women are getting raped in town centres and, as announced today, women make up only 12% of board members in Britain’s biggest companies. You can replace ‘bubble’ with Ivory Tower, but sometimes I think the tone and actions of many people here show a lack of knowledge about ‘rea life’. What do I mean by real life? It is unfortunately the place where Stephen Lawrence was murdered and never got justice and the place where a huge portion of poor school-leavers can’t read or write.

    Secondly, I absolutely adore Sussex and, for the past three and a half years,have shown myself to be deeply engaged in its problems and its achievements. Yet Sussex has a pitfall. Had I written my original article in most other Universities I would have recieved complaints mainly from the right, deriding my portrayal of the Tories and arguing for a more balanced view of ‘Dave’ Cameron. It may seem good to some that that is not the case at sussex but the lack of a right at Sussex makes us more susceptable to point one. If you have to argue your case with free-marketeers, homophobes or racists it make your opinions and actions more thought-through and challenges you to know your stuff.

    3. You thought I was ‘stereotyping’ and ‘condescending’. It wasn’t supposed to come off that way. Rather, with my over-the-top and gargoile-esque representations, I thought I would alienate everybody. I was challenging a ‘David Brent’, a caricature whom none us believe we are but all of us believe were a occasionally guilty of becoming.

    4. The definition of ‘alterative’ was not my own but the seeming definition that society/the media uses in order to create a liberal consensus. This seems to end up making us all snug, and stops us really changing things.

    Perhaps my article was poor, I am sorry for ruining your coffee. But I really believe we agree in the pillars of our moralities. I do think though sometimes that can be a problem.

    Please anwer this or email me privately if you still have any problems with what I wrote as i enjoy the banter between essays.

    Yours Kindly,

    Tom Gk

    Reply
  2. Nice to see Nicholas upholding the great liberal tradition of completely misinterpreting a Badger article which was actually sympathetic to left-wing politics, writing a foaming-at-the-mouth response and making us look incredibly stupid in the process.

    We shouldn’t count our chickens – that was the gist of Tom GK’s original article, which reminded us that while the political spectrum at Sussex tends to range from ‘radical left’ at one end to ‘slightly less radical left’ at the other, the outside world is still pretty ugly. It is only because so many students do nothing to put their ideas into practice beyond the campus that they can operate under such an illusion.

    Keep it up, Tom. Nicholas may have missed the point of your article completely but I’m sure I’m not the only liberal comrade who enjoyed it.

    Reply
  3. Grooooaaaan….

    Sarah, you seem to have misinterpreted my response as a misinterpretation, maybe because it was given an unfortunate headline (not my own). What I actually consider to be a waste of time is lecturing people on what the ‘real world’ is or isn’t. It’s so boring to hear about how ugly you know the world to be – tell me something new and stop being so patronising. Do you really believe that students don’t know or care about what you claim the ‘real world’ to be? I think this is an assumption too far.

    I believe you are both under the illusion that the majority of students on campus occupy this fake and apathetic world. Maybe this is the world that you encounter at the student’s union but remember, this university is wider than that. I think you are at the precarious stage of being sucked into this bubble or entering the ivory tower (instructional writing may be the root cause). What you must understand is that when students are in seminars that IS real life. And the topics that they reflect on are about real life. People die in class struggles, are made to feel unequal or suffer abuse because of sexist views and are impoverished because of neocolonial relationships. Everytime you study these concepts what you first learn is the conservative, racist, free-marketeer and commnsensical side of the argument then you attack it – this is what it means to be critical and what Sussex does best. As for Sarah’s argument about students not putting these things into practice…pull the other one! You think we all walk off campus everyday and become useless drones?

    So, I urge you to please stop talking about the real world as if it were one only you and a select few know about. Granted, I have met some people with their head in the clouds at uni but this is not an exception to Sussex. Don’t assume this gives you a right to deride what they and other people study (which you continue to do).

    I’d stick to something informative rather than instructional, or work on the clarity of the meanings/gags. No one is born in a bubble, trying to open eyes with narrow conceptions of your ‘real world’ is a pointless exercise and a waste of column space.

    regards
    Nick (Nicholas)

    Reply

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