MUST READ: A Bodyguard of Truths


WHAT’S HAPPENED to our universities? That is the question which New Zealanders educated in the universities of the 1970s and early 1980s are asking themselves. Their search for answers has been prompted by the failure of at least two of New Zealand’s academic institutions to defend the principle of free speech on their campuses. Such a dramatic departure from the academic values of the second half of the twentieth century, while disturbing, is surely inseparable from the many other changes that have transformed our universities over the course of the past 35 years. What’s happening on today’s campuses has been brewing for a long time.

What sort of world was it that required our universities to be centres of intellectual pluralism: places where different ideologies contended with one another openly and without undue rancour? First and foremost it was a world in which the struggle between market-driven and market-suppressing ideologies was ongoing. In the 1970s and well into the 1980s the outcome of the Cold War was still in doubt. Vast swathes of the planet and hundred-of-millions of workers remained off-limits to capitalism. No matter how truncated and unfree, there was still an alternative to the free market – and, as any good capitalist will tell you, competition enhances performance.

Universities, like all the other important institutions of capitalist society, had to demonstrate the superiority of capitalist values over communist ideology. If Soviet universities were hidebound bastions of unchallengeable dogma where intellectual unorthodoxy wasn’t simply unwise but punishable by dismissal, imprisonment, or worse, then the West’s universities had to be showcases of intellectual ferment and free debate.

Censorship and the suppression of free speech might be attempted by misguided university authorities (as they were in the early 1960s on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley) but all such attempts were stoutly resisted by staff and students. The Berkeley “Free Speech Movement” marked the beginning of the campus upheavals that made students a by-word for radical dissent throughout the 1960s and 70s.

With the collapse of “actually existing socialism” in 1991, the universities of the West found themselves saddled with a new mission. With their ideological competitors now soundly defeated they were no longer required to demonstrate the superiority of capitalist values. Their job now was to cement in place the crushing victory of free-market capitalism. Intellectual pluralism was out and unchallengeable dogma was in. As far as the academic community was concerned, it was a case of: “We are all commissars now!”

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For students, the new regime was even more rigorous. The intellectual leaders of free-market capitalism had noted the effects of heavily state-subsidised or even “free” tertiary education on students. From the perspective of the free-market capitalist, giving young people the space and time to think about the world they were about to enter had proved a near fatal mistake. High fees and crippling student loans were their answer to the radical dissent of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Serendipitously, the policy of “User-Pays” turned out to be a genuine “twofer”. Not only did it transform students from scholars into paying customers; but also, by requiring university staff to give these “customers” what they were paying for, it undermined academic freedom. Students won’t pay for exams that are “too hard”, or enrol in courses that are of “no use”.

That only left the pesky problem of “Truth”. Traditionally, this was the whole point of attending university: learning how to approach, ever more closely, the true nature of things. For the free-market capitalist, however, the only truth worth pursuing was the truth of free-market capitalism. But, how to establish that truth without encouraging the growth of a counter-truth? That was the problem.

The survival strategy free-market capitalism came up with was nothing less than brilliant – and astonishingly successful. To protect the brutal realities of capitalism it was necessary to conceal them behind one, two, many realities. Turn the whole idea of a single truth into a monstrous and authoritarian notion – like the communist ideology of the now defunct Soviet Union. What this meant in practical terms was that while in the STEM disciplines 2+2 had to remain 4; in the humanities 2+2 could equal whatever the hell you liked!

Henceforth, and in perfect conformity with the individualistic ethos of free-market capitalism, each human-being would be given the right to determine their own truths. Naturally, these would be derived from their own insight and experience. The sum total of these insights and experiences constituted an individual’s “identity”. Protecting one’s personal truths and protecting one’s identity were thus made one and the same. Anyone attempting to impose an unwanted and/or false identity upon the individual: one that did not accord with the truths they had derived from their own insight and experience; was to be resisted as an “oppressor”.

Since free-market capitalism can only be overthrown when people are willing to subsume their own individual identities in a collective identity arising out of such all-embracing categories as “human-being”, “citizen”, or “worker”, the irretrievably divisive politics of identity have emerged as free-market capitalism’s surest defence. The only injustice capable of uniting these diverse identities is the wicked lie that there are causes around which it is possible for diverse identities to unite.

This is what the liberal arts faculties of our universities have become: institutions dedicated to the investigation, celebration and protection of personal, sexual, ethnic and gender identity. While the STEM faculties crank out the technologists needed to keep the free-market capitalist machine running, its commissars in the humanities make sure that the monstrous, planet-destroying reality of its existence remains hidden behind a bodyguard of truths. Each of them ready to use the thug’s veto against anyone foolhardy enough to raise their voice in opposition.




  1. Canterbury University started losing its soul when it moved out of those beautiful old stone buildings in the city, to Ilam. I get that this seems a bit off-centre from what Chris is saying, but such changes can have a deep impact on the psyche, on the human spirit and mind, beyond any one individual.

  2. Omg and don’t challenge Greta the one true hero spouting rhetoric with no answers … Solution.1 decentralised dairy/fisheries/meat industry oh shit what just happened? just cut out countries emissions in half. Solve don’t fight dum dum!!!!!!!!!

  3. What happened to our Universities? Chris you ask.
    It lost it’s focus on being neutral and balanced.
    Simply it’s the funders of our Universities (mainly corporate) that set the agenda for studies and what the facility can voice freely their issues of concern today.

    Universities need to sever their reliance on private corporate funding and look for any public Government funding to remain relevant.

  4. “ the humanities 2+2 could equal whatever the hell you liked!”

    And in so doing, they may have effectively dissolved themselves, as in – have lost all relevance for wider humanity. Through 2020 that is likely to become very clear. Who gives a sparrow-shit what your separate ‘identity’ is when your entire city has been erased via the latest mega-storm, fire, flood or planetary shrug – Eg Fukushima, or Paradise.

  5. Only allowing the academically gifted into universities for free was attacked as elitist (easier to claim when you artificially pay the academically qualified more). Something the woke left were quick to support.

    Of course the ruling classes really don’t care about left and right. They are happy to use either (against each other if need be). The ruse was to allow anyone into university which naturally required everyone to pay. Now anyone is free to go to university, but only the rich can afford it. Those that can’t afford it but still go are saddled with debt (aka slavery) for much of their working lives.

    Capitalist equality. Brilliant.

  6. Best book to read on this subject by a NZ Rhode Scholar… brings back a lot of memories of those times and how shell shocking it was.

    Ruth, Roger and Me
    (e book only $4.99)

    Speaking for the generation born after Rogernomics

    Highlights the start of our educational decline and we can also now see the results decades on, which has culminated into generating NZ fake degrees/ widespread cheating, dead bodies in student halls, lower domestic participation at tertiary, shedding specialist books and closing the arts libraries to “save money” (while paying the university chancellor $600,000+ p/a), flip flopping on free speech, banning NZ political figures from public speaking, stopping student marches, slipping in world rankings ghost universities

    There often zero morality as leaders now at NZ universities and many seem to be hot beds of neoliberals.

    Since NZ can’t find enough pro neoliberals/woke in NZ that are qualified, we are now importing university chancellors in from other countries to keep the NZ tertiary business model going strong!

    • University of Auckland is VERY dependent on foreign students paying exorbitant fees as well as taking corporate money

      • And AUT are like hound dogs for publicity with little rigour in their courses to back up their extensive marketing machine, fighting like rats to get public $$$$$, foreign $$$ and media attention.

        The neolibs have destroyed Unitec and god knows what is going on at MIT and Albany…probably just rubber-stamping the degree after the fees are are most important part of tertiary education in NZ.

      • How the neoliberals destroyed Unitec… (not sure but was Ruth Richardson on the board at that time).

        An ‘onslaught of shock and awe’ was supposed to transform Unitec. Instead it sent it into a dive

        How they destroyed Unitec…

        To “save” money, Unitec decided to:

        Replace some teaching staff with staff from industry who were not trained teachers, taking the focus away from students.

        Outsourced student services to an outside business, Concentrix. This caused problems with their call/contact centre and it is believed many enrolments were lost in the process.

        Contact became even harder when Unitec took away telephone receptionsts.

        Directed all first year health students into an online-only programme for their first semester, losing a number of students along the way.

        This led to surprise surprise, no students enrolling because the literally couldn’t because the outsourced call centre did not function and you couldn’t call anyone up because their were no telephone receptionists!

        Which led to canned courses

        The following courses which school leavers could be part of will NOT be offered at Unitec next year:

        Bachelor of Arts
        Bachelor of Communication
        Bachelor Applied Science Human Bio (Osteopathy)
        Bachelor Health Social Development
        Bachelor of Sport
        Bachelor Performing & Screen Arts – some parts
        NZ Cert Horticulture Services
        Dip Contemporary Music
        Short courses in International Languages
        NZ Cert English Language L2
        NZ Cert English Language L3 – some parts
        NZ Cert English Language L4 – some parts
        Bachelor Communication
        A number of Masters and other postgraduate courses will similarly not be offered from next year.

        Brighter future everybody starts with removing educational standards, removing choice, while the destruction frees up public assets going cheap!

  7. Things you learn at universities in 2019:

    1. You should be abjectly terrified of absolutely everything.
    2. If you don’t like something (a dissenting opinion, an edgy tee-shirt, someone’s haircut, etc.), shriek like a loon about it until it goes away.
    3. Your personal opinions and feelings are the only ones that matter. Everyone who disagrees is a horrible bigot who wants to touch you inappropriately.
    4. There is no room for debate. Debate is for Nazis who want to occupy your safe space like the Third Reich occupied Poland. There are only “feelings”. Respect the feelings!

    • +1000 Wensleydale – not just the universities, it’s the secondary and primary schools too now.

      In the US, a 5yo was being labeled sex offenders for hugging and a kiss on cheek,, while in NZ a school principal expelled a kid for similar and was actually eventually sanctioned themselves.

      That’s what neoliberalism seems to be creating aka mass movement of intolerance, stupidity, paper pushing, flawed process following without any initiative or critical thinking and report writing that is creating victims not stopping them.

      What is even weirder is that the wokies and neoliberalism are putting heavy penalties on children and the disabled while the adults who are rapists and get off because the wokies like to show compassion to adult rapists (see all the rapists allowed to stay in NZ rather than being deported for compassionate reasons by Jacinada, ILG and the Natz)! It’s nuts!

  8. ” important institutions of capitalist society, had to demonstrate the superiority of capitalist values ”

    And now, in capitalist societies the proliferation of those values has arrived at the expense of other, more humane, more deeply seated values that once directed our decisions and actions. For example, money and wealth-acquisition now mean far more to many people than any concern for the wellbeing of others, and arrogance is often respected over a more empathic approach.

  9. In centuries past the locus of Truth was the Church (and its teachings), and it was the centre of community life. With the Enlightenment however, the human spirit was exalted (too far IMO) and the sovereignty of the individual became the paramount virtue of the intelligentsia.

    Personal autonomy was turbocharged in the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and spirituality became centred on the Self, “I AM TRUTH”, “Your truth is not my truth”, “Be true to Your Self”. But we are too small and socially needy, so we seek validation by comparison/rivalry with peers – exacerbated by social media. The ideal is autonomy but the end result is conformity, seeking approval from others, tolerance seen as highest virtue.

    Relationships without a centre, between two self oriented individuals, are inherently unstable. No locus of truth makes it easy to lie to one another and to yourself. We cover up our fears and sorrows by telling ourselves “it’s ok” when things are really not OK. We have the mistaken belief that our feelings are the source of truth.

    The solution? It’s laid out in 12-step programmes, like Alcoholics Anonymous
    1 – admit we have a problem
    2 – realise we need a Power greater than ourselves (external locus of Truth)
    3 – humble ourselves before that Power and submit our Selves to it (God)
    4 – 12 (take steps to face the Truth, change our behaviour, remedy our wrongs)

  10. My first year at Auckland was 1990 – also the first year that fees rose from the nominal hundred bucks.

    I distinctly remember how much more serious about studying the 1991 intake was compared to the year before. My student hostel, which was a lively place through 1990 and the first term of 1991, suddenly lost it’s spark in the second term of 1991 when all the first year students retired to their rooms and focused on study – to the exclusion of almost everything else. The change was literally that stark and I remember wandering around the hostel common rooms at the start of term 2 wondering where everyone had gone.
    The quality of capping week stunts declined dramatically over the 5 years as well. We went from multiple stunts each year, including someone hanging themselves and a picnic table from the Grafton Rd over bridge, and the engineering students painting a zebra crossing across Symonds St to just a single, quite lame stunt in my final year. Everyone got real serious real quick.

    • Judging by the house party in Dunedin that actually led to the poor students death, it sounds like partying has come back, but maybe more of the students are stupider and drunker aka accidentally managing to crush someone to death and have multiple injuries, at an overattended party?

      • There’s a difference between drunken partying and having a lively culture. Students will always get drunk and do stupid stuff – in fact there is probably more of a need to let off steam these days. What has been lost is the space between study and stupid the space where culture creativity and politics happened.

  11. I thought universities were to hone one’s mind to gain knowledge in a specific field of one’s choosing? Do you want an eye surgeon going at you with just a passing, and vague interest in eye what’s-it’s?
    The other and vital thing I imagined Universities were for was to socialise.
    Get pissed, stoned etc? Get laid? ( Have sexual connections ) etc. A place to allow the precious young to cautiously approach other precious young in a relatively safe environment whilst enjoying the company of erudite adult teacher/lecturers who went through the same stages in life so who better to impart knowledge and wisdom to the mighty power of the young mind?
    But no.
    It’s clear to me now that universities are where free thinking is intercepted and derailed.
    How do I know that?
    Well, look around? You will know your own mind so what do you see?
    Morons on control.
    Morons in control of your lives because those morons see your lives as more important to them than to you.
    Universities are not for learning and experiencing. Universities are where you leave your awesome selves behind and hatch into the likes of most of our politicians who merely serve the very riche.
    The measure of an actual university, in my mind at least, would be one where being taught was free to those whom passed basic tests.
    Tie own shoe laces?
    Off you go to University then.

    There’s nothing quite as dangerous as an arsehole educated beyond their intelligence.

    • Noel, that would be around the time that a charismatic young man with fiery eyes and long thick black curly hair would draw the crowds as he mobilised students for the next protest. (His hair’s no longer long, thick or ebony, as he enters his 9th term as mayor of our southern city. Still got that quiet charisma though 🙂

  12. When I was at Uni in the UK in the 1970’s I quickly found that the arts students were the best at pool and table football. This was because, once they’d gotten over last nights hangover, they had the rest of the day to practice. Meanwhile most of us in the STEM fields did a minimum 60hr week to scrape a pass.

    Since they had so much free time, those same arty types tended to dominate the students union and were the ones perpetually organizing sit-ins and demos for whatever was their cause célèbre of the week. None of which the engineering &science faculties attended. We were too busy learning a profession while they were playing at being Marxist.

    Eventually I got around to wondering how those poor, mentally deficient arty types would scrape a living once they’d left university. So imagine my shock when I found they were all vastly better off than I was. They were all the offspring of middle to upper class who would slot into daddy’s brokerage or agency once they’d had their fun at uni.

    It was true then and it’s true now. Those protesting are the comfortably off, playing at revolution.

  13. The decline and fall of capitalism: from making useful stuff to making useless stuff up (and making stuff-ups too, cf Peter Dyer’s Rottenomics).

  14. This article is the most incisive exploration I’ve seen so far of the non-intuitive relationship of woke identity politics with neoliberalism. From what I’ve seen at NZ universities recently, this article describes pretty much what is happening. But although the alleged difference between humanities and STEM faculties is broadly true, STEM subjects aren’t quite as immune to the virus as the author seems to think – Dame Salmond and company are seeing to that.

  15. In the stem subjects 2+2=4 highlights your own Eurocentric way of looking at the world and total disregard for the mathematics of indigenous cultures.

    Every culture has a rich history of mathematics but westerners unfortunately only recognise their own understanding of mathematics which they appropriated from others anyway.

    Depending on what base you are operating under 2+2 does not always equal 4.

    • Trey I’d be interested in seeing examples of indigenous mathematics in which 2 + 2 does not equal 4. In Māori culture 2 + 2 appears to equal 4, at least if I’m to believe the examples I’ve seen in Māori language classes.

  16. Binary system and quartenary system or base 4 spring to mind where 2+2 does not equal 4.

    Western mathematics is based upon a white priveleged view of mathematics whereby Western notions of mathematics are seen as superior over that of other cultures so in schools students are never shown examples of algebraic patterning and geometry present in Samoan Siapo or Cook Island Tivaeavae.

    This has led to disparity in achievement results for indigenous students worldwide as their mathematical knowledge is ignored.

    It is why so much is made of Pascals triangle when in reality this was appropriated from work done centuries before hand in China, India and Persia.

    The work being done by researchers in culturally responsive mathematics and ethnomathematics is starting to challenge this thinking. Gutstein, Frankenstein, Rubel, Ladson-Billings would be good starting points if you wanted to learn more.

    From a NZ perspective Professor Roberta Hunter leads the field in terms of culturally responsive mathematics and her research forms the basis of the Ministry of Educations Best Evidence Synthesis into effectice teaching in mathematics and is highly regarded worldwide.

    • The Polynesian languages that I’m aware of seem to use the same base-10 system that we are most familiar with in the west. So why would anyone buy your suggestion that imposition of “western mathematics” explains the low marks of some indigenous students? Māori and other indigenous peoples have enough real problems to deal with without “critical theorists” inventing imaginary problems like this one.

      You seem to be conflating culturally relevant pedagogy (e.g. using examples that people can relate to) with the material itself. Mathematics itself is universal, and some Māori have excelled in this domain, like this guy

          • You asked for examples of when 2+2 does not equal 4 and I provided them. If you still believe maths is universal then next time you are in America pop into a hardware store and ask for 3m of timber or to a green grocer and ask for 2 kilos of potatoes and see how you get on

    • Trey: “Binary system and quartenary system or base 4 spring to mind where 2+2 does not equal 4.”

      You do know that binary doesn’t use the number 2, right?

      “Western mathematics is based upon a white priveleged view of mathematics whereby Western notions of mathematics are seen as superior over that of other cultures…”

      I read out your comment to the engineers in this household; they laughed like drains, especially the one who doesn’t speak English as a first language. They wish it to be known that mathematics lies at the heart of everything; it’s culture neutral, taught the same way wherever you go in the world.

      “This has led to disparity in achievement results for indigenous students worldwide as their mathematical knowledge is ignored.”

      Failure to succeed in education – mathematics or other subjects – has nothing to do with skin colour, and everything to do with class. In NZ, class is broadly-defined by income levels; this is true in many other countries as well. In working-class communities, there often isn’t an expectation that children will study math and science, or go on to higher education. It doesn’t in any way relate to intelligence.

      “From a NZ perspective Professor Roberta Hunter leads the field….”

      Yeah, I remember when her ideas hit the education sector: it finally drove an old friend out of teaching. That person said to me: “Inquiry-based learning! What the fuck do these people think I’ve been doing the past 40 years!” Said old friend wasn’t given to swearing, but their fury at what was happening was palpable. I’m guessing that other teachers felt similarly.

      I’ve read quite a bit about Hunter and her views regarding Pacific children’s failures in math and ways to improve the stats. It seems to me a bit patronising, to suggest – as she seems to – that they can’t get to grips with abstract concepts.

      In this country, ever since the first settlers arrived, we’ve had waves of migration from non-western countries. The children of these migrants have by and large done well in our education system, including in math and science. I’m very sceptical that Pacific and Maori children are somehow distinctively different: that’s implausible.

      I note your reference above to “white privilege” and “white fragility”. This is most unfortunate on your part. If you yourself are white, it makes you sound Uriah Heep-ish (the Dickensian fellow, not the music band). If you re brown, it comes across as resentment: an unlovely emotion. You’d do well to abandon references to skin colour; instead, employ ethnically neutral terms, such as those to be found in mathematics.

  17. Hate it, condemnation really, though I feel coy about my repetition, why did only Corbyn and Sanders come through — we’d be at sea otherwise? — why do only 2 individuals who are absolutely right come through?! Contradiction?!

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