Tuesday 10 October 2017

School for Snowflakes

I don't really use the term "snowflake" very often. Its use as a way of suppressing free speech makes it pretty meaningless. And if we're going to use it for "people who are unnecessarily offended by things that aren't really offensive" then, let's face it, Donald Trump is the Snowflake-in-Chief.

But I'm going to make an exception for the committee of Balliol College JCR that was responsible for effectively no-platforming the Christian Union at their Freshers' Fair.

Freshers' Fair, for the people that aren't familiar with this monstrosity, is where 2nd and 3rd year students arrange stalls in a hall in the hope of identifying the 1st years that are worth sleeping with. While the 1st years, imaginations full of Morse and Lewis, are looking for free drinks and prepared to lie about having an interest in yoga, Tai Chi or - heaven help us - wargaming.

Freddie Potts, JCR vice-chair - told the CU, "We recognise the wonderful advantages in having CU representatives at the freshers’ fair, but are concerned that there is potential for harm to freshers who are already struggling to feel welcome in Oxford.”

That's right. There is potential for harm to freshers in Oxford. The University where practically every college was set up for a religious purpose. There is a very real danger that they might come across religion. When almost every college has a chapel. Presumably that particular JCR committee is running round the colleges late at night, taping over the word "Chapel" wherever they find it on a wall. Trying to persuade people that Pusey House is a hall of residence. Stealthily removing Keble College Chapel brick by brick would also be possible, but then we're all in favour of that.

But where do we stop if "Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging"? What about football: a sport that has been involved in both sexual abuse and sexism? With a terrible history of racism and homophobia? A sport that, at the top level in this country, is pretty much bankrolled by sponsorship from the gambling industry? A sport where people are dying to build the World Cup stadiums of a country that blatantly bought the competition?  Have Balliol banned their football team?

What about political societies - always popular in universities. Have Labour been banned because of Stalin's purges? The Conservatives because of Mrs Thatcher's relationship to Gen Pinochet? The Liberals because of Cyril Smith?

What about the Science Fiction Society? An form of literature and entertainment that gave us Battleship Earth and Sting in Dune? Surely they should be banned from a three-mile radius of Carfax?

Do Balliol have a Wine Society? The consumption of alcohol has caused millions of deaths through history. And predominantly among the sort of people that use alcohol as a way to try and improve their reality. The marginalised, in other words.

Balliol has produced three UK Prime Ministers: Asquith,  Macmillan, and  Heath. I've got to say that's not a great track record. And I speak as an alumna of Brasenose. Given Asquith's taking the Empire into WW1, and Heath's record in abolishing Rutland - and MacMillan's just being useless -  I reckon the best thing to do is to ban Balliol College from Balliol College, for its record in killing the working class and wrecking our counties.

Thinking about it, I suspect this isn't actually about oppressed minorities at all. The people who banned the CU just don't like Christianity, do they?

You know, it strikes me that we need to consider what education is for. Balliol was founded by John de Balliol and the Bishop of Durham. All Souls Oxford was founded so the forty clergymen who were the inmates could pray for the souls of the dead. These were establishments that were intended not just to educate but to do good with an indefinite - indeed eternal - timescale.

Freddie Potts's view of education is that we keep people from anything that might upset them so they can be lawyers, politicians or accountants for 40 years and then they die. Not quite so grand.

On this basis, why should we waste our time with education? For 40 years of improved wages in the hope you might pay your loan back? Doesn't exactly concur with the great ambitions of the founders. Let the snowflake JCR Freshers' Fair Sub-Committee of Balliol get out and mine coal. It's a proper living and you don't end up in debt.


  1. I see on Twitter that even Richard Dawkins agrees with you on this point, whatever next! :) "Snowflakes" seems perfectly apt to me.

    1. We were members of the same department at the same time. We can agree on some things!

  2. I wonder if those who were against the CU at the Freshers Fairs have had bad experiences at either Church or at the hand of Christians. I can see that the CU should make a complaint under the Equal Opportunities legislation because they're being denied the right to profess their faith. This no doubt breaches the Equality Act in terms of Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Association etc. If they threaten to do so, those being so obstructive might just back down, or be shamed in the media.

  3. I disagree, it is inimical to label the beautiful snowflake a term of abuse, it is again taking something precious and individual and reducing it to something much less than itself that becomes a mass term for people whose views you do not support . Do not be taken in, language is powerful, we are all consumers now, once we were citizens and owned things corporately, now we are just recipients of the production of others, doomed to tread our wheels to give others our money. Of course, this was a powerful misjudgement but that is nothing to do with the wonderful snowflake, a tiny icon of God at work in the world.

    1. I think the boat has sailed on the use of "snowflake".

  4. Keble College chapel has been recognised as a masterpiece of high Victorian architecture for many decades, Ruskin notwithstanding. You should go inside and try the acoustic. It is a marvellous place, both inside and out.

    1. I've been there.

      Would you like to buy an oddly red-coloured brick?

  5. I was at Keble. There were stories of a Keble Brick society where basic membership was a red college brick, a white brick was next level, and black ones were elite members. College mythology had it that the society lost its momentum when some building work produced a large pile of bricks including all 3 colours.

  6. I haven't read about this beyond the headlines; I aleady have to take these tablets for my blood-pressure, you see.

    It's only the word "Christian" that shakes their prams, I've noticed. Polly Toynbee, Christ-basher-in-chief, once wrote a moving article on an evening spent with some Hindus celebrating Diwali; she was fulsome about their expression of faith. When asked when she proposed to spend time with a Christian family at Eastertide and describe their expression of faith, she did not deign to reply.

    One can only hope that three years at University may teach some, at least, of these children to look a little further than the back row of the Fourth Form.


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