Three recent examples of sound reasoning that I would like to bring to your attention.
The first is a speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation by the former Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, delivered in London this last October 9 [film and transcript], under the title ‘Daring to Doubt’. Some of the paras from the speech:
It would be wrong to underestimate the strengths of the contemporary West. By objective standards, people have never had better lives. Yet our phenomenal wealth and our scientific and technological achievements rest on values and principles that have rarely been more widely challenged.
To a greater or lesser extent, in most Western countries, we can’t keep our borders secure; we can’t keep our industries intact; and we can’t preserve a moral order once taken for granted. Eventually, something will crystalize out of this age of disruption but in the meantime we could be entering a period of national and even civilizational decline.
In Australia, we’ve had ten years of disappointing government. It’s not just the churn of prime ministers that now rivals Italy’s, the internal divisions and the policy confusion that followed a quarter century of strong government under Bob Hawke and John Howard. It’s the institutional malaise. We have the world’s most powerful upper house: a Senate where good government can almost never secure a majority. Our businesses campaign for same sex marriage but not for economic reform. Our biggest company, BHP, the world’s premier miner, lives off the coal industry that it now wants to disown. And our oldest university, Sydney, now boasts that its mission is “unlearning” …
Everywhere, there’s a breakdown of public trust between voters and their leaders for misdiagnosing problems, for making excuses about who’s to blame, and for denying the damage that’s been done.
Since the Global Financial Crisis, at least in the West, growth has been slow, wages stagnant, opportunities limited, and economic and cultural disruption unprecedented. Within countries and between them, old pecking orders are changing. Civilizational self-doubt is everywhere; we believe in everyone but ourselves; and everything is taken seriously except that which used to be.
Just a few years ago, history was supposed to have ended in the triumph of the Western liberal order. Yet far from becoming universal, Western values are less and less accepted even in the West itself. We still more or less accept that every human being is born with innate dignity; with rights, certainly, but we’re less sure about the corresponding duties.
We still accept the golden rule of human conduct: to treat others as we would have them treat us – or to use the Gospel formula to “love your neighbour as you love yourself” – but we’re running on empty …
Beware the pronouncement, “the science is settled”. It’s the spirit of the Inquisition, the thought-police down the ages. Almost as bad is the claim that “99 per cent of scientists believe” as if scientific truth is determined by votes rather than facts.
There are laws of physics; there are objective facts; there are moral and ethical truths. But there is almost nothing important where no further enquiry is needed. What the “science is settled” brigade want is to close down investigation by equating questioning with superstition. It’s an aspect of the wider weakening of the Western mind which poses such dangers to the world’s future.
It’s the great disappointment of the Abbott rise and fall, that he said all the right things, but didn’t believe them, so that when, after having been the victim of what I think was the most vile, ad hominem political campaign waged against anyone since the war, he finally won office, and found himself surrounded by the cultural marxists of the bureaucracy, he failed to follow through on his promises. And when he did rely on his own instincts, he seriously blundered. As a result, his strongest supporters quickly fell away, and after two years he found himself, for the first time in twenty years, on the back benches. So, he speaks a good game, but I’m under no illusions that he would ever deliver in accordance with his promises.
Faith, I have heard enough. For your words and
Performances are no kin together.
Just on that Sydney University mission being unlearning, I had to look it up for myself, as I was only recently a tutor there. Here it is, complete with film:
We’re changing the way we teach and how our students learn.
Throughout our lives we’re taught important lessons. We learn how to talk, to walk, and even how to behave. But there’s one important lesson most of us never get – a lesson in unlearning.
Unlearning is about challenging the established, and questioning the accepted.
It’s not about ignoring what you already know, but it’s about being brave enough to question it and break down old rules so we can write new ones. It’s about looking at things in the context of today, and tomorrow.
Take the future of work.
The World Economic Forum estimates that young people today will change careers at least seven times in their lives, while almost 5 million current jobs in Australia are expected to become obsolete by 2030.
That doesn’t mean those jobs won’t be replaced. But it does mean the jobs and careers of the future will be very different from today.
And so will students.
Many of today’s undergraduates have always lived in a world with smart phones, tablets, social media and always-on connectivity, and expect collaboration and social interactivity to be at the centre of their learning experience.
That’s why we’ve been doing some unlearning of our own: changing the way we teach and the way our students learn.
Our new curriculum provides students with the skills, capabilities and agility to thrive in a changing world. There are now more opportunities to study and combine a wider range of subjects, work on real-world projects, access cross-disciplinary learning tools and programs, and exchange and intercultural opportunities.
We’re committed to both learning and unlearning so our students can build the skills, confidence and resilience to manage the challenges, and make the most of the opportunities, the future offers.
So, it seems as though they’re using ‘unlearning’ as a word to represent the concept of keeping an open mind, critically appraising ideas and beliefs, and generating insights. In general I support this approach, but myself I’d be wary of using the term ‘unlearning’. And, sadly, the film at the bottom of the page associates unlearning with adopting all of the usual cultural marxist brainwashing baby-talk tropes: civil protest, aboriginal exceptionalism, sexual freakoidness, vandalism in the interests of marxist propaganda, islamic exceptionalism, open borders, drug legalisation, and homosexual marriage [but note that the film switches to another image before we see the two blokes pashing each other].
Hopefully the kids will see through the blatant propaganda, which surely must be getting old and tired by now, and apply ‘unlearning’ to the cultural marxist bullshit that they are bombarded with these days in order to make up their own minds about what is important in their worlds.
OK, enough editorialising. Following on from the Abbott speech is this excellent letter re. Australian energy policy by one Dr Michael Crawford, reprinted on the Catallaxy Files website. An absolutely scarifying condemnation of the stupidity, short-term thinking and gutlessness that has brought the island continent to crisis, ending with the wonderful line:
If you do not understand that, you are too clueless to be worth feeding.
The third piece of writing that impressed me was this essay from the consistently superb Slate Star Codex. I won’t extract any excerpts here: just go and read the whole thing.