Yesterday I took some time off to head down to London to attend an event of the British Humanist Association, a conversation of Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers.  Just as we had taken our seats, the doors bulged open and in rushed one of the most unpleasant looking mobs minor I have had the misfortune to clap eyes on.  Headed by a muscle bound neanderthal whose eyes were so close together that I found myself thinking he could get by with a monocle, they started an incoherent chant of “Richard Dawkins Go Home”.  By an ironic stroke of happenstance, I had just finished reading The Island of Doctor Moreau, and it was vaguely reminiscent of the ceremony of the beast men, but of a cruder form.  After all, Wells’ beast men wanted to improve themselves while such a concept was clearly alien to the butcher’s dozen confronting us.

The police, let it be noted, were less than stellar and left this rabble to waste our time and money for forty minutes until it became clear that the assembled humanists were on the verge of meteing out summary justice themselves.  One sterling humanist took to the stage to say that he had come all the way from Romania to hear Dawkins, and if the police didn’t start doing their job, he would start chucking people out himself.  This was greeted by an avalanche of applause, which turned into boos straight out of a panto when the police decided to take our Romanian comrade aside.  I made a point of shaking his hand.

Surveying the wires this morning, it appears we at Dawkins’ talk weren’t alone.  Smoke bombs, other mob tactics – the usual stuff we’ve come to expect from the far “left” whose synonym is aptly “sinister”.  The reason for this is, of course, the new college that A.C. Grayling, Richard Dawkins, Niall Ferguson and others are proposing to open. A private university, it will be charging annual fees of £18,000. Consider me old fashioned if you will, but I fail to see how this is anyone’s business outside of the people who choose to build it and those who will or will not choose to attend it.

To be clear about this, I don’t give a hoot about whether this will be an exceptional institution or a diploma mill, whether it will provide options for those top notch students who didn’t manage to get the right coaching earlier or a luxury resort for the richest of the rich.  That stopped being relevant once the attempt to shut it down came out.  I don’t have to defend the college; I just need to defend the right of its founders to open it.  If it matters, the founders are going out of their way to provide scholarships and I would be far more likely to trust Professors Dawkins, Ferguson et al than whoever shaped these lumps of human clay, but that is neither here nor there.  In the same manner as freedom of speech, once the threats are out, arguments over the merits of the thing being defended stop being important.

One of the more depressing things to hear was people saying that they might agree with the protestors in principle, they didn’t think it was right for them to trample all over the evening of the thousand people so assembled.  Unfortunately, it is not a subject that can be so easily split.  If you have people who think they have the right to deprive others of the right to open a new university and more of the right to attend or not to do so, why on earth should they have any qualms about trampling all over the rights of those in the audience?

Two quotations illustrate the logical and moral incoherence in this event.  The first comes from one moron’s chant of “Education is a right, not a privilege”.  Really?  If it’s such a right, I invite him to go and pick it off the bush where he apparently thinks it grows.  Of course, this was not what he meant.  What he meant is that he was entitled to have other people to work and provide him with his education (though goodness knows he didn’t seem to be gaining much from it) for nothing.  The second comes from Terry Eagleton who is undergoing some kind of meltdown.  He alleges that “Grayling and his friends are taking advantage of a crumbling university system to rake off money from the rich.”  So: offering a place for a price that people are free to pay or reject is “raking”, demanding that someone else be forced to pay for your place is virtuous.

Like the earlier NUS riots, this shows why I am disgusted with the first world left.  What first drew me to Marxism in my distant youth, and later drew me away from it, were matters such as solidarity, internationalism, secularism and anti-clericalism, the defence of human progress and the power of industry to set men free from bondage.  All that is gone now.  The cry of the modern left is simply “Gimme, gimme, gimme – and if you don’t give me that, I’ll give you this” (cue the brandished fist).

I do regret some of my behavior on that evening, though.  In a fit of pique I informed some of the invaders that they had no business being at any higher institution, that their place was washing dishes for minimum wage.  I should retract that publicly.  I have worked alongside many members of the working class who have held jobs like that, and I cannot imagine any of them behaving so barbarically.  Orwell said that there were some ideas so stupid that only an intellectual can hold them; likewise, only the middle class is capable of such utter vulgarity.

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