(First published in The Dominion Post, December 27.)
WHAT ON EARTH has happened to Dunedin?I’ve always thought of it as a city of hard-working, practical, no-nonsense people, reflecting its Scottish Presbyterian heritage.
It was the home of Sir James Fletcher, founder of a construction empire, Henry Ely Shacklock, who made the country’s first electric ranges, and Bendix Hallenstein, whose name lives on in the menswear chain he established.I wonder what such men would make of Dunedin today. Once a southern bastion of industry and commerce, it’s now chiefly known for the torrent of shrill, moralistic scare-mongering emanating from Otago University.
It seems hardly a week passes without someone from Otago University, or one of its satellites in Christchurch and Wellington, warning us that our drinking and eating habits are leading us to moral and physical ruin.Granted, one of the functions of health academics is to undertake research and to pass on their findings. But the constant diet (pardon the pun) of doom-laden messages from Otago has all the overtones of a moral crusade. Dunedin has become the finger-wagging capital of the world.
The Otago researchers’ findings always paint the blackest picture imaginable. And the message is invariably the same: our consumption habits are out of control and the government must act.Underlying that is another message again: we are all at the mercy of greedy purveyors of booze and high-risk foods whose wickedness must be curbed by advertising bans and punitive taxes. Hostility to capitalism is never far from the surface.
Doubtless the academic wowsers are buoyed by the success of the campaign against smoking and hope to replicate its success by similarly stigmatising the consumption of alcohol and fast food.Significantly, Otago University was the source of a recent report that called for smoking to be banned within a ten-metre radius of doors and windows to buildings used by the public.
That’s the thing about zealots and control freaks. They never let up. I shudder at the thought of the joyless, buttoned-down society that would result if we gave way to their demands.* * *
ON A RELATED note, some academics are reportedly fretting that their role as the “conscience and critics” of society is under threat.They are alarmed because they perceive that under the Key government, the emphasis in tertiary education is shifting away from the arts – which supposedly stimulate critical thinking – to subjects such as science and engineering, which the academic hand-wringers deem to be far less useful.
The rest of us should lose no sleep over this. The notion that universities function as the conscience and critics of society is self-serving cant.The phrase once meant something, and still would if all academics genuinely respected intellectual freedom. But the truth is that many university faculties slavishly observe a narrow ideological orthodoxy.
What most academics really mean when they talk about their duty to serve as the conscience and critics of society is their right to promote a left-wing agenda. In their fixed view of the world it’s inconceivable that anyone not on the Left could even possess a conscience.Conservative thinkers do exist in universities, but they are as rare as rocking horse droppings. The few renegades who defy the approved line tend to keep their heads down because it’s safer that way.
It’s a curious fact that while Marxism in the economic sense is dead and buried, and no one promoting it can expect to be taken seriously, a mutant offshoot called cultural Marxism is alive and well.Cultural Marxism seeks to undermine traditional Western values such as individualism, small government, the family and traditional morality.
Its proponents are nowhere more active than in what are grandiosely known as the humanities and social sciences faculties of universities. And it’s a fair bet these are the people most fearful that they might no longer be able to masquerade as the conscience and critics of the rest of us.
* * *ONE OF THE most depressing news items in 2013 was the announcement that the Monty Python team was to reform. I can see no good coming of this.
Monty Python was a creature of its time, like the Beatles, and no matter how much John Cleese and his comrades might wish to recapture the magic, some things are better left undisturbed.They are old men now. The mad energy that inspired the Ministry of Silly Walks, the dead parrot sketch and the Argument Clinic has long subsided.
Problem is, their ageing fans don’t want to let go. They are like the tragics who yearn for Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin to reform.Sadly, the Pythons appear to have succumbed to the conceit that they can do it all again. But the best tribute they can pay themselves is to leave us with memories of their inspired lunacy in its full-blooded prime.