Horseshoe theory in political science asserts that the far left and far right, instead of being polar opposites on the political spectrum, are closer to each other than they are to the centre. In the past year or so, although I’ve been getting more involved in political discussion, I’ve also started distancing myself from the left. In most arenas of public debate, it’s often those shouting the loudest and/or most shocking things that receive the most attention and I’ve come to believe that currently, the radical left is this voice.
In the public sphere of UK higher education, increasingly clearly this is shown to be the case. In particular, I think that the NUS is embarrassing us all as representing what will be the future of UK intelligentsia. While I don’t wish for this to be any in-depth sort of explanation, or some would call it a justification, of my political views, I think it’s probably important to precede my complaints by saying that I am a libertarian at heart.
I’m definitely not the first to realise and vocalise my disapproval of the bizarre requests at the recent NUS Women’s Conference for delegates to use “Jazz Hands” rather than clapping as it may “trigger” anxiety for some people but it still baffles me. Of course, I’m only an undergraduate, but at no point while learning about clinical psychology, specifically anxiety disorders, did I come across evidence that clapping can trigger anxiety, even for people with severe diagnoses. Moreover, if someone genuinely has such disorders, then they would probably struggle with everyday life, never mind attending conferences. I initially wondered whether this was actually some sort of expert trolling, satirising the extreme lefts pandering to the wishes of any potentially oppressed minority but other examples of NUS decisions make it clear that this was all too real.
Another example of strange NUS decisions, that are blatantly anti-freedom, again from the Women’s Conference, was the passed motion to encourage student unions across the country to ban cross-dressing. As if this wasn’t pathetic enough, the NUS has in the past, voted against the condemnation of ISIS on the grounds that to do so would be “Islamophobic” and voted against commemoration of the Holocaust because it would be “Eurocentric” or “Colonialist”. Slightly less offensive, but every bit as bizarre, the aforementioned Women’s Conference resolved to “eradicate the appropriation of black women by white gay men” and at the NUS LGBT+ Conference, trans people condemned the actions of “cis” delegates for not passing a motion that was essentially “positive action” benefiting trans people, despite it being approved at, of course, the Trans Conference.
These kinds of incidents are frankly embarrassing and it’s no wonder that higher education is increasingly being criticised for its left-wing bias. The NUS is supposed to represent the entire student body and with campaigns such as the current anti-Lib-Dem one “#liarliar”, I am becoming more certain that they have become too autonomous, representing only their own interests. Some students from Oxford are now countering this with their own anti-NUS campaign, believing that “#liarliar” is actually a Labour party campaign.
It seems that the NUS believes that to increase the rights of minority groups, we take away the rights of the majority but this is not the case. These kinds of actions only lead to the same marginalisation, discontent and tension between groups instead of cohesion and solidarity. These kinds of actions are exactly the kind of fuel for far right advocates to manipulate into conspiratorial propaganda and, admittedly, I also see it as a method of social engineering against free agency.
For anyone else that is left baffled by the current state of affairs within our institution, I’d encourage you to read David Marmet’s excellent article “Why I am no longer a ‘brain-dead liberal’” and to those that think the NUS’s actions to ban certain behaviour or speech, remember Chomsky’s words: “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all”.
Editor’s note: This post was originally produced as an opinion piece for TheKnowledge. More importantly, it may come across as in conflict with my other political views as I say I am distancing myself from the left but I like to play devil’s advocate in my pieces for the student newspaper in the hopes that it will get people politically engaged and thinking critically about the contradictions inherent in any of my arguments. I stand by much of this piece, but it should be clear from the majority of my posts, dear reader, that I am a rampant far-leftist. Additionally, the Chomsky quote doesn’t literally mean all expression as some uses of language are forms of violence used to oppress- these should be stopped.