Archive for March, 2008
When you’ve won a prestigious Ig-Nobel Prize for Literature it’s hard to know where to go next. Here’s the latest:
I wish to inform you that the New President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Alhaji Amaru Musa Yar’adua has Mandated that all money fraudulently collected by Nigeria Faudsters should be Paid to the beneficiaries not Letter than 10th of April 2008.
We are indeed happy to inform you that your email address was found among this set picked by the software companies in charge of these excersise and we have been mandated to settle you through the nominated bank by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
It has become imperative to settle you to redeem the Nigerian Image which has been tarnished abroad.
Mr. President Has also Promised the International bodies in the G8 Summit Meeting held in Germany, that he will make sure that all the Payment fraudulently collected by Nigerian fraudsters will be paid to the Foreign Beneficiary without Further Delay.
I want to also bring this to your notice that A Draft of ($2,50,000.00) two hundred and fifty thousand dollarsÂ or ATM Card will be Made available to you, We therefore Request you to Reconfirm theÂ Information Bellow:
(1) YOUR FULL NAME/ADDRESS.
(2) YOUR DIRECT TEL/FAX NUMBER.
(3) YOUR NATIONALITY
(4) YOUR AGE
(5) YOUR OCCUPATION.
You should respond to this mail Immediately with the Information if you want to receive this Draft before the Closing date.
Thanks For Your Understanding,
Dr. Donald Harrison
Oceanic Bank Nigeria Plc.
Over here. I am proud to share my county with a beaver. It is apparently not the first beaver in Oxfordshire in five hundred years: last summer another beaver escaped from Cirencester and lived in the Cherwell before being recaptured and shipped back across the county line into Gloucestershire.
[It's also good to see that someone mentions Gerald of Wales in the comments below the article, before it all begins to degenerate.]
Shamelessly stolen from Ted:
Certainly there cannot be a method devised at once more ineffectual and iniquitous than a federal oath. What is the language that in strictness of interpretation belongs to the act of the legislature imposing this oath? To one party it says, â€˜We know very well that you are our friends; the oath as it relates to you we acknowledge to be altogether superfluous; nevertheless you must take it, as a cover to our indirect purposes in imposing it upon persons whose views are less unequivocal than yours.â€™ To the other party it says, â€˜It is vehemently suspected that you are inimical to the cause in which we are engaged: this suspicion is either true or false; if false, we ought not to suspect you, and much less ought we to put you to this invidious and nugatory purgation; if true, you will either candidly confess your difference, or dishonestly prevaricate: be candid, and we will indignantly banish you; be dishonest and we will receive you as bosom friends.â€™
If the Government is keen to revive ideas from the late seventeenth century as part of its “citizenship agenda”, how about a new Triennial Act, which would be a great improvement on what we have at present, rather than a Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade, which wouldn’t?
This is an extraordinarily silly idea – now scrapped, sadly – but apparently there were plans to fill up a boat with philosophers and one or two others and send it round the world in order to… well, it’s not really clear. Help the UK redefine its relationship with world cultures, or something. Wow.
54. The same procedure as followed above could be applied to the various optional papers, but I am only qualified to comment on the two that I chose (Logic and Political Theory). The recent additions which have been made to the list of special subjects do not tackle the crucial problems confronting PPE which I have tried to raise in this essay.
52. In the light of the foregoing, this paper obviously should make way for the study of political economy. The paper as it stands at the moment is easy to criticise, primarily because of its partial approach. The major economic problems of this country remain unsolved and the responsibility, at least partly, lies with those academic economists who have not been able to free themselves at this level of discussion from attempts to explain all our problems as the result of a single economic cause. The endless and largely sterile controversies over whether it is the rate of investment, the balance of payments, the level of employment or what have you, which is the real cause of our problems stem from the failure to construct a total, interdisciplinary model which will recognise the possibility of overdetermination of our problems. The spirit of Dunkirk lies heavily on the economic organisation paper: 300 sweating undergraduates are annually employed in Finals to help their examiners help Harold Wilson help British capitalism.
PRINCIPLES OF ECONOMICS
48. Economics is perhaps the most difficult part of the course to criticise. Perhaps the most useful approach is to say that economics at Oxford tends to conflate political economy (roughly the explanation of changes in economic structure and functioning set in a social context) and praxiology (the science of practical reasoning). When the latter is studied without reference to the history and methodology of economic thought, there is a tendency to make an improper transition from the universality and rationality of a linguistic practice to an assumption of the universality and rationality of a particular social-political formation, namely capitalism.
BRITISH POLITICAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY SINCE 1865
44. The difficult problems raised in the preceding paragraphs do not arise in connection with this paper. There is in fact only one major question: how can this paper most rapidly be consigned to the dustbin of academic history? For it does not illuminate the study of the history of this country, or of its political institutions, or its economic organisation.
THEORY AND WORKING OF POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS
37. Since the questions: why do we have political institutions? is generally omitted from consideration in the study for this paper, or if not omitted, answered in a plainly circular way (Why do we have a Parliament? In order to govern), the student has excluded from his consideration questions concerning (e.g.) the economic basis of power and the difference between power and authority, and is thrust instead immediately into social engineering considerations. The only questions which arise when such a perspective is adopted ask how the various systems can be made to function better within their own terms of reference. The trivia churned out by the reform of parliament industry become the centrepiece of the course; the level of discussion is indistinguishable from that orchestrated by the Sunday press (the writers are generally the same people); the examination paper asks for a civil servantâ€™s background brief: Question 11 in the 1967 paper reads â€œâ€˜A proper relationship between policy and good government remained the nub of good government.â€™ In which of the countries you have studied is this best achieved?â€
MORAL AND POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY
31. This paper is certainly an abortion, as Gareth Stedman Jones has said. The paper in fact has very little to do with moral and political philosophy, and only provides the student with a second dose of indoctrination in linguistic philosophy on top of the draught he has been given in the misnamed â€˜Generalâ€™ Philosophy paper.
AN IMPORTANT DIGRESSION
29. We should not pretend, however, that altering the content of a paper whilst retaining the present examination system can fulfil the conditions necessary for an integrated course. Whilst there are eight papers the course will be fragmented. In the same way, to break down the examination system will also, necessarily, be to break down the tutorial system. The tutorial is only another form of examination. It cannot be an integrative factor in our studies â€“ only a class or seminar can bring to bear on the same problem minds with different trainings. In a sense then, the only way to be realistic is to demand the impossible: that is, that which is impossible given the present system of University and social power and authority. As we criticise each paper and offer suggestions for change, however radical, we shall time and time again be confronted with the inability to solve the problem of content without simultaneously solving the problem of form. In short, the deficiencies of the way we are taught and what we are taught reinforce each other mutually. To treat this problem fully, we should have to consider the length of the course, why only a few of the available teaching and work methods are employed, etc. [NOTE: I owe these insights largely to C. H. Allen.]
GENERAL PHILOSOPHY: FROM DESCARTES TO THE PRESENT TIME
24. It has been maintained by Greats men that philosophy cannot be properly understood without a knowledge of classical philosophy: hence to begin a course with Descartes is not only to use an arbitrary starting point but fundamentally misconceived. [NOTE: E. W. F. Tomlin, â€œScrutiny of Modern Greatsâ€, Scrutiny, 1936.] This belief was reflected in a refusal in the early years of PPE to accept PPE men for post-graduate work in philosophy. Even today the majority of philosophy tutors in PPE are Greats trained. This is, no doubt, one important source of the failure to integrate the philosophy and social science syllabi, and consequently to realise the aims of the founders of PPE.
19. The conception of PPEâ€™s content, if not its form, advanced in the preceding paragraphs has something in common with the traditional conception of the Greats course, which was to provide the student with a picture of a total social system, and to provide him with the tools to cope with all its facets. It offered a study of an entire culture and society, and provided its students with an understanding of the complexity of inter-relationships subsisting among its elements. Aside from the glorification which accompanied the study, this ideal is worth striving for in PPE, even though the possibility of its attainment is more distant. But that it is more difficult of attainment is not only a consequence of the complexity of the modern world, the sheer size of its cultures and societies, the enormous input of labour devoted to its understanding. It is also a consequence of tendencies in modern philosophy and social science which lead to a fragmentation of learning, and a shying away from any integration of work in separate fields, especially the integration of facts and values. The Marxists have always resisted these tendencies, and there are some signs of a change in attitude on the part of official philosophy and social science. For example, there is the renaissance of political economy â€“ a renaissance which modifications in the economics course at Oxford could do much more to hasten (more of this in connection with the Economic Organisation paper later).
In her speech to the IPPR this morning, Margaret Hodge said this:
Next year will also see the anniversary of Henry VIIIâ€™s accession to the throne. Given some of the less savoury parts of his reign, itâ€™s not an obviously straightforward event to commemorate. But understanding his reign is essential to understanding England. He is an iconic figure, a well-known personality in our history. And whether in separating state and religion, or in instituting English as the common language, or in being the first to clearly define and map our boundaries, a deeper understanding of his reign may help the important debate on England which is emerging.
Emphasis added. Her last contribution to the important debate on England wasn’t such a good one, either.
The reference to “Sir Charles Darwin” is slightly curious, too. His ODNB entry says that “Many thought it shameful that the British establishment signally failed to honour him” with a K, but no doubt Hodge knows better. Unless she was referring to this chap.