Charlotte Gill’s Podcasts Review 5) Matt Chorley with Katharine Birbalsingh, Peter Whittle with Matt Ridley

24 Nov

Every fortnight, ConservativeHome will compile a handful of podcast recommendations – content that has been published in the weeks preceding – for its readers. Although these will mainly focus on podcasts for conservative listeners, we will try to include other options – should they be particularly interesting. Sometimes this feature will contain other types of media.

Title: CATCH UP
Host: Matt Chorley
Episode: An Interview with Social Mobility Commissioner Katharine Birbalsingh

Duration: 30 minutes
Published: November 22
Link: Here

What’s it about?

In this interview, Matt Chorley sits down with Katharine Birbalsingh, the founder and headmistress of Michaela Community School, and more recently appointed the Government’s new Social Mobility Commissioner, to discuss a range of educational issues. From whether her school is too strict, to what she aims to change in her new position, Birbalsingh is characteristically compelling and unapologetic in her worldview.

Some teaser quotes:
  • (On making sure the Government listens to her on the Social Mobility Commissioner) – “I’m not in the business of being ignored. I don’t waste my time. I think I need to be quite selective and interesting about the things we choose to put forward.”
  • “We can all go on all day about how terrible Boris Johnson is. I just explained how one of my kids corrected him. But I don’t think that’s going to come to any use.”
  • “I think we could right now, with no more money in the education system, we could make things better, simply with different ideas.”
Verdict:

A fun insight into what’s next for the Government’s social mobility strategy.

Title: So What You’re Saying Is… (New Culture Forum)
Host: Peter Whittle
Episode: Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19 – Matt Ridley

Duration: 50:34 minutes
Published: November 20

What’s it about?

In this conversation with Peter Whittle, Matt Ridley introduces some of the topics from his brave new book, Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19, co-authored by Dr Alina Chan, a genetic engineering expert. Ridley exposes some of the complacency the West has had around how the pandemic started, taking listeners through the various inconsistencies that haven’t yet been explained.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “The World Health Organization became very beholden to China over the last few years. Dr Tedros, the Director General, was elected with Chinese support and China basically went around Africa saying “if you support this guy, we’ll give you more subsidies”.
  • (On whether his book has been dangerous to write) – “Yes it is… It is very clear that the wolf warrior diplomacy that the Chinese state operates is one that involves cyber attacks, denigration, criticism of people who say unwelcome things about what’s going on in China.”
  • “The ecological explanation for pandemics, which is very, very fashionable among a certain kind of environmentalist activist, simply don’t make much sense.”
Verdict:

A wake-up call as to how much the media and politicians have buried their heads in the sand about the origins of Covid.

Title: Triggernometry
Host: Konstantin Kisin and Francis Foster
Episode: Viral: Kathleen Stock – Hounded Out for Trans Views

Duration: 1:07:53 hours
Published: November 21

What’s it about?

Readers of my podcast review may know that Kathleen Stock, the former Professor of Philosophy at Sussex University, featured in the last feature of these series. It felt fitting to put another of her interviews in a) in the same week that JK Rowling posted about receiving death threats for holding “gender critical” views (aka believing sex and gender are different things), but b) also because it is simply very interesting too. In the chat, Stock elaborates on her ordeal at the hands of activists, who hounded her after she expressed (perfectly common sense) arguments on gender identity.

Some teaser quotes:
  • (On gender ideology) – “I just think it shows how susceptible to flashy-sounding ultimately mad ideas human beings can be in the right circumstances… I think it’s sociologically interesting how so many of us seem to have gone along with this, despite the obvious, terrible consequences for children, for gay women, for women in sport and so on.”
  • “Alongside extreme trans activism goes this cult-like structure which says ‘anyone who disagrees with us is a hater'”.
  • “There’s nothing academic about this; there’s something pretty primitive about this. It’s like ‘get that heretical figure out of our environment’.”
Verdict:

An interview that shocks as much as captivates.

Charlotte Gill’s Podcasts Review 3) Julie Bindel with Kathleen Stock, Christopher Hope with Matt Hancock

10 Nov

Every fortnight, ConservativeHome will compile a handful of podcast recommendations – content that has been published in the weeks preceding – for its readers. Although these will mainly focus on podcasts for conservative listeners, we will try to include other options – should they be particularly interesting. Sometimes this feature will contain other types of media.

Title: UnHerd
Host: Julie Bindel
Episode: Kathleen Stock: I won’t be silenced

Duration: 49:29 minutes
Published: November 3

What’s it about?

It’s been a hellish few weeks for Kathleen Stock, who was hounded out of Sussex University, where she was a professor of philosophy, for the crime of believing sex and gender are different things. During the course of this interview, she sits down with Julie Bindel to discuss the events at the university, from students’ campaign of intimidation against her, to her ultimate departure. Stock, as always, is intelligent, measured and full of common sense, during the exchange.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “All these posters, all the way along the length of the tunnel, had my name on them: “Fire Kathleen Stock,” “Kathleen Stock’s a transphobe,” “We’re not paying our fees for the transphobia of Kathleen Stock”.
  • “Gender identity theory is egregiously false: it’s terrible philosophy. I cannot emphasise that enough. It sits on this bed of pseudo-philosophy coming out of poststructuralism; it’s a bad interpretation of poststructuralism… It would fail a first year essay.”
  • “I can see why they had a vested interest in shutting me down. And my God, they went for it. And they still do.”
Verdict:

A must-see for conservative readers and anyone with concerns about the direction of travel in regards to gender identity theory. It will leave you under no doubt that cancel culture poses a huge threat to the West, contrary to the claims of some of the Left.

Title: Chopper’s Politics
Host: Christopher Hope
Episode: Matt Hancock on trolling, Tony Blair and ‘Tory scum’

What’s it about?

Last week Matt Hancock made the headlines, after he revealed he had been taking tips from Tony Blair about how handle vitriol on social media. The scoop came from this interview with Christopher Hope, where Hancock and Rupa Huq from the Labour Party introduce their new initiative, which aims to start a dialogue on the abuse MPs face.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “I do think there has to be a way of tackling anonymous abuse because freedom of speech – which I believe in very strongly – and freedom of the press is not freedom to abuse; it is freedom to discuss, and have a discourse, which by its nature you need to know who you’re talking to for the value of that.”
  • “The way libel operates doesn’t work any more, because online, you may only have a few hundred followers and that could still be incredibly damaging and poisonous to the way that discussion happens.”
  • “If we don’t put a stop to this decline and debasement, then politics itself – and therefore democracy itself – is at risk.”
Verdict:

A light-hearted dive into more serious issues. You sense how much Hancock has missed being in the thick of things.

Title: UnHerd
Host: Freddie Sayers
Episode: Covid doctor: no UK lockdown this Christmas

Duration: 27:36 minutes
Published: November 8

What’s it about?

Since the Coronavirus crisis began, ConservativeHome has been delighted to have Dr Raghib Ali, a clinical epidemiologist from Cambridge University, offer his expertise to the site. Frequently Ali contributes Twitter threads to bust myths about Covid and lockdowns, more recently against those who “assume that more restrictions are the answer“, in a post that went viral. In this interview, Sayers quizzes Ali on the possibility of another lockdown at Christmas, as well as whether booster jabs have been rushed through.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “I don’t think we’re going to have any new restrictions between now and Christmas.”
  • “The mask mandate has been maintained in Wales and Scotland, and hasn’t been shown to be particularly effective. If you look at their case rates and hospitalisation rates and death rates since July 19th, when we diverged, they really haven’t been very different to England.”
  • Often, interventions are brought in – multiple interventions are bought in at the same time, or we’re released at the same time. And it’s hard to figure out which one has been the main cause of falling cases or rising cases.”
Verdict:

As always, a measured and in-depth perspective on Covid from a world expert.

The appalling treatment of Kathleen Stock shows new laws alone can’t guarantee free speech

14 Oct

This week, a ghastly row has erupted at Sussex University. I call it a “row”, but what happened is, in fact, the latest example of bullying, intolerance and intimidation masquerading as social justice. Professor Kathleen Stock, a Professor of Philosophy at the institution, was targeted for her views on gender identity – to the point where she now has to worry about her own safety.

Stock, like most of the population, believes that biological sex should not be conflated with gender; a position which formed the basis of her well received Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism. Like other feminist thinkers, such as Helen Joyce and Abigail Shrier, she has found herself at the forefront of a new genre of literature, which reasserts common sense – in a world where it has become controversial. 

Indeed, Stock’s perfectly conventional take on things have become heresy among some students. With Salem-style hysteria, those at Sussex deemed her a transphobe and erected posters on campus, calling for the university to fire her. One group called “Anti Terf Sussex” described Stock “one of this wretched island’s most prominent transphobes”. Such are the ferocity of threats against her that police have had to ensure that if Stock calls 999, an officer will be immediately sent to her home.

As many will know, this is not an “atypical” university event; for years, a dangerous contagion has gripped Western academic institutions, whereby young, faux liberals – Fiberals, as I call them – point the finger at anyone who blasphemes against their orthodoxy. That they have so much time for witch hunts speaks volumes about declining teaching standards, as well as the lack of purpose the young have in greater society.

All was not lost, though. In the wake of Stock’s treatment, Sussex University did something quite extraordinary: it defended its own staff. Adam Tickell, Vice-Chancellor at the institution, said that officials would look into “activity on our campus which appears to have been designed to attack Kathleen Stock for exercising her academic freedoms“, in a statement which infuriated her critics.

One could read into Tickell’s statement in a number of ways. The optimist might say that administrators have finally found a backbone. Government insiders, on the other hand, may view it as a sign that the proposed Free Speech Bill, which aims to “strengthen the legal duties on higher education providers in England to protect freedom of speech”, has landed. Universities increasingly know they have to step up their efforts when it comes to defending academics.

 

Sadly, neither Tickell’s address or the Free Speech Bill has stopped unions throwing their weight around. Sussex UCU soon released a statement asking “management to take a clear and strong stance against transphobia at Sussex.” The covert suggestion in all this is that Stock needs to be dealt with. She later Tweeted that UCU had “effectively ended [her] career at Sussex University”.

I confess I have not read Material Girls – though it is next on my list – but in interviews I have found Stock to be measured, compelling and brave; her arguments completely watertight and fair in regards to balancing the rights of different groups. As with so many of these “culture wars”, the mob often seems to invent its own enemy. It projects false sentiment and characteristics onto dissidents – so as to dehumanise them and render their arguments unworthy of being listened to.

What does the Government do about this? Stock’s treatment certainly gives more urgency to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, whose critics often dismiss it as unnecessary (we on the Right are, of course, inventing a culture war). But perhaps the strongest intervention came from Liz Truss, who Tweeted in support of Stock, as well as Baroness Falkner of Margravine, Head of the Human Rights Commission, who condemned the attacks.

Ultimately we cannot legislate our way out of these censorious incidents, but we must do more as a society to speak out against Fiberals. It is the most simple way, yet one that pains politicians (would most of the Cabinet get involved in the Sussex University debacle?). Being weak on these matters has a permeative effect. The Sussex University debacle is, first, emblematic of our failing further education system, but also symptomatic of a wider societal sickness that cannot continue.

Radical: A University lesson from the Kathleen Stock fracas. It’s harder to support her if you’re a younger academic.

19 Jan

Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. She is co-founder of Radical. She and Victoria Hewson, her co-founder, alternate authorship of this fortnightly column on trans, sex and gender issues.

Regular readers of this column will know that the two of us who write it have some differences of opinion. Since one of us is a classical liberal (me), and the other a classic conservative (Victoria), you might not be surprised to learn we disagree about the honours system. One of our many points of agreement, however – regardless of whether the UK should have such a system – is that there are few people in public life more deserving of public gratitude than Kathleen Stock.

Professor Stock was awarded an OBE in December for ‘services to higher education and academic freedom’. Over the past decade, she has written and spoken at increasing length about sex and gender, emphasising her concerns about the rise of ‘gender-identity’ activism. She has approached this as a trained philosopher – writing analytically about complex matters in a clear and coherent manner.

I, for one, find her approach comes as a sharp relief, amid the sea of stream-of-consciousness ‘arguments’ from ‘authority’ that make up most of the contemporary writing on these matters. And I challenge anyone to read her relevant public philosophy and fail to understand exactly what she’s saying. Now, being clear is, of course, insufficient in itself. But it’s hard to stress quite how rare it is, today – not just in public writing about sex and gender, but, sadly, in academic writing more generally.

One reason Stock focuses on the area of sex and gender (having previously written mostly about aesthetics) is evident from something she wrote last weekend:

“People such as me are going to carry on thinking and writing about [the risks of uncritically assuming gender identity to be more important than biological sex] even if many of our colleagues would prefer us to shut up. I’m afraid we can’t afford to stop. The costs to the public are too large to do otherwise.”

Two salient points to take from this are that –

a) Stock believes that if she and others stop doing the kind of thing she’s doing, serious harms will ensue; and

b) that there are many people who want her and those others to stop.

The first point relates to the substance of arguments she makes: about the risks ‘natal’ women face if ‘natal’ men who self-identify as women are permitted general access to women-only spaces;* the societal importance of acknowledging biological truth; and the requirement to respect obligations of care towards children who aren’t capable of consenting to taking life-changing drugs of the type prescribed by the Gender Identity Development Service.

The second point relates specifically to the appalling treatment Stock constantly faces at the hands of others within academia. Regular readers will be unsurprised to learn she needs extra security on campus. Beyond that, just consider the past few weeks.

After the OBE announcement, many professional philosophers denigrated Stock on social media. They claimed she’s a weak philosopher, whose work is unworthy of public honour, and even – in one notable case – that it’s totally lacking in value. Learning, however, that the OBE hadn’t been awarded for the philosophical merit of Stock’s corpus, but for her embodiment of commitment to free speech, her opponents turned to character assassination.

Hundreds of academics signed a public letter stating their dismay at the OBE, on the implicit grounds that Stock is transphobic. Whilst this un-evidenced and defamatory specific accusation isn’t directly put into words, the letter is entitled ‘Open Letter Concerning Transphobia in Philosophy’, and includes claims such as: “[d]iscourse like that Stock is producing and amplifying contributes to […] harms” against trans people.

That the letter included a serious substantive error (it stated that Stock opposed the GRA, rather than particular reforms to it) seemed of little concern to its organisers. Indeed, they stuck with the letter’s original uncorrected text for some time, preferring to present exactly what their initial signatories had agreed to (see the first attempt at an erratum), over removing untruths about Stock’s views.

This was actually helpful: it showcased the lack of value these people place in truth. This is unsurprising, of course, since dangerous truth-denying post-modernist roots lie beneath many of the ‘arguments’ that Stock’s work counters.

The letter’s organisers have now added a correction, however – in parenthesis, asterisked to an updated erratum. Even post-modernists understand the costs of being seen not to care about truth, it seems. (Of course, many of the signatories are not signed-up post-modernists. But I’d bet all of them believed signing would bring personal career benefits over costs.)

One particularly badly-thought-through take making the rounds these past couple of days explicates the matter further. Apparently, because Stock has an academic book coming out, because she’s given prestigious lectures (amid angry petitions), because she’s been able to reveal her struggles in the national press, and because she’s been awarded an OBE (suddenly of interest to philosophers all over the world..), therefore, they claim, she’s not ‘being silenced’.

Now, current obsession with the term ‘silencing’ is surely generally unhelpful. Attacks on free speech aren’t limited to instances of literal gagging. In a liberal democracy, it’s required that all members of society are able to speak out about whatever they want. Yes, certain conditions are typically placed on this, such as that constituted by J.S. Mill’s famous ‘harm principle’. But just because someone is able to speak publicly in certain privileged ways – indeed, even if they were able to shout directly into everyone’s ears, via some clever new technology – doesn’t mean their freedom of speech is not unjustifiably at risk.

Such risk can come from many places – not only from within the formal apparatus of the state, but from other institutions, groups, and individuals. A liberal democratic society must model an environment of deliberation, equally open to every member. We all have responsibilities, here. But foremost among the institutions expected to help maintain this environment are educational establishments. Within those, if you’re lucky, you’ll find some philosophers.

Philosophers are people committed to searching out truth. They understand the value of formal argument, and practise it. Not to denigrate or otherwise harm others, but to try to reach truths, by fully testing differing positions, which involve obviously firm things like scientific facts, and less obvious but nonetheless equally firm things like values and principles. We need these people badly. We need them, not least, to help us find our way through important but difficult and emotive debates.

So you should be pleased to hear of a second public letter. Entitled ‘Open Letter Concerning Academic Freedom’, its academic signatories state their consternation at the ‘public vilification’ the anti-Stock letter represents.

But, beyond concerns about the value of public letters, there’s something else worth considering. Although it’s cheering to note that many more philosophical ‘big hitters’ signed up to the second letter than the first, that doesn’t mean all’s well.

Successful older academics can say pretty much whatever they like, as long as they provide decent reasons – certainly without fear of career cost. But junior scholars don’t have that luxury. Telling a twenty-something graduate student ‘hey, don’t worry, you’re on the side of some of the most famous living philosophers!’ doesn’t mean much. Not when they know that their peers – and the academic administrators they depend on for preferment – are watching for any ‘misstep’, fingers on the screenshot buttons. Academic freedom? Doesn’t sound like it to me.

—-

*Stock doesn’t use the term ‘natal’ like this, anymore. I think that’s generally a good call, but I’m using it here for clarity in the context of a limited word count.