The November 2021 issue of The Critic magazine in Britain includes an article by Cambridge educated historian, Dr David Starkey. He cites a discussion last summer with a young man educated at the university of Oxford. Of this discussion, Starkey writes:
Which made his reaction – when I said I believed in Truth and Falsehood and that it was possible to establish which was which – all the more surprising. It was as though I had spoken in Sanskrit: the idea had never crossed his mind and nothing and no one in his long and expensive education had ever proposed such an outlandish doctrine.
Everything in other words was relative; a matter of opinion or experience or feeling or some other form of comforting subjectivity. The truth in contrast was alien; cold in its remote objectivity and to all intents and purposes unknown and unknowable. #
Is Starkey correct ? After all, there is a rivalry between the two elite English universities, and Starkey is reputed to be a right-wing bigot. We should test his criticism of an Oxford education. We must ask:
Does Oxford recognise truth and falsehood ?
We can test that proposition simply and empirically by reference to the university website. Accessing the website on the weekend of November 6th/7th 2021, I found the following evidence that Oxford does indeed understand and declare the difference between truth and falsehood.
Witness the news, reviews and reports on Covid vaccination. It is axiomatic that vaccination is good and that any other view is therefore false. But many poorer and less educated people are deceived by misinformation. They have not yet understood the truth that the Covid vaccine is effective and necessary. Tempering the truth with grace, therefore, Oxford benevolently calls such reticence “vaccine hesitancy”. They are reluctant to accept the truth; but with patient elucidation of the evidence for the truth supplied by the world’s Premier university, these poor, deceived people will come to see the truth, fall in line with reality and get vaccinated. ##
Witness too the published interview with alumna Jeanette Winterson who recently received an honorary degree from Oxford. She was subsequently interviewed for an article in the alumni magazine, the Quad. The University is evidently not ashamed to provide a platform for her insights on life. They include, for example:
society is not a law of gravity but propositional – you make it up as you go; it can be shaped.
That’s why I find this ‘Levelling up agenda’ talk so distasteful. Waffling Boris and his idiots. It was the same Tory party who smashed the north down in the first place, and not that long ago. The north was fine. Then it was smashed to pieces. I hate this inability to recall history even at the remove of just one or two generations. There’s no joy in ignorance.’
Don’t turn someone like Steve Bannon into a martyr. Have him speak and then argue back. These people are fascists. They are very skilled on the Right. There’s a theatricality to it; Farage makes a hugely conscious effort to play the bully and the victim in one person. It’s extraordinary. ###
Jeanette Winterson is a successful author with an Oxford degree in English. Her language is exemplary; her analysis penetrating and coherent; her approach impeccably impartial. The university evidently believes that she can demonstrate how to judge reality and ascertain the truth. Which is not relative, at all !
Ergo, we find that, while Dr Starkey is right to say that there is truth and falsehood, he has nevertheless used his recognition of the truth to undermine confidence in an Oxford education.
Dr Starkey has instrumentalised the truth to serve an agenda. He is shown to be partisan and selective, not objective. Therefore false !
By contrast, Oxford adheres strictly to impartiality and the truth. On 17th June 2020, the university’s Director of Alumni Relations issued a “message” to alumni. It began:
We have all been deeply moved by the shocking truth of George Floyd’s recent killing. The protests associated with the events in Minneapolis have echoed across the world and filled our TV screens, whilst the streets of London, Bristol, Manchester, Oxford and beyond have been occupied with the voices of people demanding change.
The University’s leaders have been acknowledging the impact of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests and has reaffirmed its commitments to anti-racism, but more importantly they have been engaging with, and listening to, students and staff. I write to you today to share the University’s statement on anti-racism published on Monday, which contains links to various open and detailed letters back to students about their concerns, demonstrating our commitment as an institution to shine a bright light for a more just and tolerant society, and laying out a number of actions, including:….
However, the University did not issue a message to alumni after the murder of the educator Samuel Paty in France on Friday 16th October 2020, or after the murder of British Conservative MP, David Amess on the Friday exactly one year after Paty’s death in France. It would not be appropriate to comment on every tragedy which occurs, of course. Besides, what comparison could there be between the spontaneous killing of a black man in the United States by a white police officer and premeditated, ideological and lethal knife attacks on a professional in the world of western education and a male, pale and stale right wing politician ?
No, the University of Oxford maintains a constructive and upbeat tone and style in its communications. In its message to alumni on anti-racism therefore, it was not appropriate to mention details like the serious riots and looting which had occured after George Floyds death, despite appeals for calm by his family. It was not appropriate to mention the extremist egalitarian agenda behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
Such detail is diversionary and reactionary. It distorts public perception of reality by introducing excuses to stop the march of progress.
Typical of right-wing propaganda !