Saturday, May 25, 2013
Stephen Hawking and the Academic Fallacy
Stephen Hawking represents the fallacy that Class consciousness brings to any rational discussion. Altruism is a rare thing in society perhaps because even what we see as self-sacrifice is far too often determined by ego. We cynically assume self-interest to be the guiding impulse behind the actions of most people. We adduce mutual respect from the disadvantaged to whom we shower our compassion and our generosity and believe the excuses that we are given when they fail the test of tolerance; because we want to see in everyone the values we ourselves practice. And we bestow innocence upon our academic masters that few of them deserve. We remember with fondness our early teachers (perhaps even our first crush) and with respect endow our later instructors with the gift of honesty, integrity and selflessness that few are ever able to attain. Their depth of knowledge is assumed to be encyclopedic in spite of evidence to the contrary – we trust them with our unthinking and benevolent faith in education.
This is where the education system has betrayed us all. By attributing the properties of a polymath to all our academics we cushion them from criticism because of the assumption that they not only know it all, but also that they are actually capable of joining all the dots into a coherent pattern. People like Professor Stephen Hawking are awarded added gravitas because at least in his case, he has overcome (with Israeli help) his significant disabilities. But we therefore forget, until rudely reminded, that an inconvenient truth exists: the disabled are just like us, with the same character flaws and prejudices.
Racists, religious bigots and political fascists (my favourite demons), are nevertheless provided with a cover when they teach our young. We assume a purity of vision that is without justification. Worse, we give them respect, a salary and after a few years, tenure! This, we do, regardless of their competence or academic allegiance to the truth. The central issue is that it is not possible to dilute the spread of venom throughout the body politic when the poisoners are in charge of quality control. Unprejudiced peer review does not, nor can it, exist, within a single institution.
There has been much written about S Hawking's boycott of Israel. Most of it either examines the man from his academic pedestal or is distracted by the initial confusion over his actions (did he boycott or didn’t he? He did).
My first point is this: To show up this hypocrite for his use of Israeli technology is absurd. We live in a networked world and very little of what we produce, anywhere, is uniquely ours. Even the Israeli software through which Hawking communicates with the outside world is simply a part of the technological legacy of our modern human endeavour. To ascribe a unique Israeli characteristic to it is simply wrong.
In Britain (and not just in Britain - it is a disease of European Society), if a person of known Jewish faith performs a service that is worthy of commendation; the action may be reported, but never in terms of their attachment to Judaism. If a person known to be Jewish commits an act of shame or worse, a criminal act for which they are caught, it will be inevitably highlighted by the national and in fact the international press. It is sometimes difficult to recall past cases of journalistic ignominy and the British press is good at dismissing allegations of antisemitism. But it is also highly proficient at providing sound bites that intermittently pierce the flesh of the Jewish community. Britain’s libel laws are designed so that only individuals who are personally affected may complain to the police, even when the activity of journalists sullies the reputation of the community. And it rarely exposes other faith communities to the degree that it permits the Jewish community to be attacked.
We therefore fight the wrong fight when we argue that Hawking should not utilise all means at his disposal (irrespective of their point of origin) to survive and teach his craft. It makes us sound ungrateful (for what you may ask?) even mean spirited! This is not a winnable argument.
To accuse him of being a hypocrite is also foolish. How many of us can honestly not admit to this flaw in our character? It is the accusation of a child who has discovered his or her idol is not the perfect human being they assumed them to be. It is a revelation for the child and perhaps it is even a hurtful barb that nicks the parental ego, but it is not a crime. Few people are ever able to reconcile wholly their beliefs with their everyday behaviour. And if we tried to justify our personal inconsistencies the attempt would likely destroy us.
So let us start again.
A statement published with Hawking’s approval (by BICUP, a British committee that actively supports the destruction of the Jewish State) said that “his independent decision to respect the boycott (was) based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there.”
Mr Hawking is a fool. I.e. He is a silly person who lacks judgement or sense. We cannot be good at everything. Even the greatest minds can be flawed if they practice sloppy and uninformed thinking. Groupthink, over-simplification and mental laziness are all that is required to blind people and nations to their own deteriorating morality. Academic myopia is the new dogma for the faithful followers of universal rights to which they nail but a select few causes to their banner.
So a few facts for Professor Hawking: The ‘Palestinian issue’ is the creation of the United Nations without which we could dream, the world would focus its attention on some of the real criminal regimes like Somalia and Sudan, Iran, Syria and Egypt. There are plenty of fratricidal, misogynistic and illegitimate regimes that terrorise not only their own populations but also contaminate other nations through their contacts abroad. Israel is not one of them but it is the only Jewish State so the disproportionate attention it receives is an everyday reminder of western, universal values of art and culture, ethics and science that people like the professor would like to see discredited. By buying into misinformed propaganda we accept the whole package without needing to consider the consequences. It is the antithesis of the intellectual endeavour.
The Palestinian Problem is one of the few genuine international conspiracies of the Twentieth Century. And the Arab people have been its primary beneficiaries through the catechism they created, prescribing the way every interaction with Israel or Jews is conducted; behaviour that has been enthusiastically embraced by the left and their liberal allies.
Far worse humanitarian crises exist in Mr Hawking’s world but he chooses to focus on the State of Israel. To my knowledge Stephen has never commented on the genocide in Darfur, the slave trade in Mali (and throughout the Arab world) or the sweat-shop nations like China and Pakistan without which we would all of us be considerably less comfortable but ethically more virtuous. He has perhaps uttered a word or two of distress about the suffering of homosexuals and Baha’i in Iran; well actually no, but he has visited Iran as he has China, which persecutes its captive Tibetan population. Tibet has an ancient history which includes an empire. They have been repeatedly invaded and persecuted by their Chinese neighbour. Tibet has been under Chinese occupation for 62 years.
Palestinian Arabs have persecuted their Jewish brothers and sisters and have repeatedly collaborated in the attempted extermination of their Jewish neighbours; they have refused to recognise the equality or even the humanity of their Jewish rivals. And BDS leaders (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) have consistently admitted they are neither in favour of reconciliation nor do they support peace with Israel, unless that is, peace is no more than a short stage on the road to dismemberment of the State.
The situation is therefore more nuanced than Hawking and his ilk are prepared to sanction. Ignorance or intellectual cowardice is never a good quality to discover in those who pretend to make a living from exercising their minds for humanities benefit.
Do not expect Mr Hawking to apologise to Israel. There are 1,500 million Muslims and 1,350 million Chinese (including Tibet). Even if a small percentage only, provides patronage to Britain, it greases the palms of academia who in their turn will always forgive their sins. If there is a failure, it is that we continue to believe that a long term relationship with these universities is in our best interests. It is not. Worse than putting all your eggs in one basket is to pretend that a society which has always celebrated its class divisions will not give in to its traditional prejudices.
To quote one article “In Palestinian Arab society, the most famous disabled person was Hamas founder and arch murderer Ahmed Yassin. In Iraq, terrorists use disabled women for suicide attacks.” Omar Barghouti, a founder of the BDS movement (and one of its most vocal, high profile leaders) studied for his PHD at the Jewish, Zionist University of Tel Aviv, Israel. Why would the ignorant professor Hawking listen to those whose political and religious hatred empowers them to support the destruction of the only free Western country in the Near East and the only country where Arabs can literally realize anything they wish to achieve?
We have struggled over the centuries to develop an ethical system that is appropriate for us. Why are we now showing such obsequiousness to those who are intent on its destruction?
Mr Hawking is an intelligent idiot who listened to one side only and then made his decision based on his prejudices. Reject him and the institution that nurtures his noxious ignorance. Ignore him. And yes, a bit of intelligence in how we initiate damage control would be a welcome change in our behaviour.
We’ve got a problem, and the time to fight back is now.