Friday, October 26, 2012

BA humbug, Mr Swan

Only someone with an arts degree would try the sort of stunts Wayne Swan has attempted.

The Treasurer, with his Bachelor of Arts (Hons) from the University of Queensland, has decided that tax increases are to be officially called ''budget savings''.

The much-admired French literary theorists Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault would have been proud of the country's Treasurer.  For Derrida and Foucault the meaning of a word is entirely subjective, so it is irrelevant that 99 per cent of adult speakers of the English language in Australia understand ''budget savings'' and ''higher taxes'' as two entirely different things.

As anyone who has studied English literature at a university would know, Swan's own personal definition of ''budget savings'' is no less valid than anyone else's definition of ''budget savings''.

Only someone with an arts degree would implement something like the mining tax that has wrecked Australia's international reputation as a stable investment destination yet hasn't raised a cent of revenue.

And only someone with an arts degree and who has no experience of business would establish a ''Business Tax Working Group'' that had on it a representative of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.  It's no wonder it broke up in acrimony on Wednesday.

This story of Wayne Swan is typical of the contribution that arts graduates have been making to this country since the 1960s.  The editors of the Macquarie Dictionary  are probably arts graduates, too.  Only people who were once arts students would change the accepted definition of ''misogyny'' to suit the political purposes of a Labor prime minister.

Most arts and humanities courses as taught in Australia's universities these days are a waste of the students' time and a waste of taxpayer funds.  The Marxist-inspired theories of knowledge, language and learning that together go under the name of ''critical theory'' have infected every aspect of the humanities.  Students now endure deciphering sentences like this one from Derrida:  ''But because me and myself, as you no doubt are well aware ... are going to die, my relation — and yours too — to the event of this text ... is that of a structurally posthumous necessity.''

On average arts graduates earn less than other university graduates and have less chance of finding a job.  Last year 76 per cent of all university graduates with a bachelor degree who wanted a full-time job had found one within four months of finishing their course.  The comparable figure for arts graduates was 64 per cent.

Students are turning their backs on the humanities as they realise what they're being taught doesn't broaden their minds and doesn't prepare them for employment.  A law degree is now what an arts degree once was.  At least law requires students to write coherent sentences.  Thirty years ago Australia had 12 law schools.  Now it has 30.  Not all of this growth in law can be attributed, though, to the decline in the quality of arts degrees.  Once upon a time if a young person wanted to change the world, they aspired to be a democratically elected politician.  Today to change the world you become a lawyer.

In response to dropping enrolments, universities across the country are cutting subjects and staff in arts faculties.  In Melbourne's The Age  last week, the cuts to arts faculties were described as a threat to the health of our democracy.  If arts faculties were doing what they once did, namely introducing students to the greatest thinking of Western civilisation, such criticism might be valid.  But that's not what they do any more.  Now arts faculties teach about structurally posthumous necessities.

The health of Australian democracy should not be measured by the number of students enrolled in gender studies.

In his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding  published in 1748, David Hume described the work of a certain species of philosopher.  What he said could apply to the academics in the humanities in Australia in 2012.

''Though their speculations seem abstract, and even unintelligible to common readers, they aim at the approbation of the learned and the wise;  and think themselves sufficiently compensated for the labour of their whole lives, if they can discover some hidden truths, which may contribute to the instruction of posterity.''

The pity is that the majority who teach humanities at Australian universities are a long way from discovering any hidden truths or making a contribution to the instruction of posterity.

Instead arts faculties produce treasurers like Wayne Swan.

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