Just the other day I cycled to the gymnasium as usual for a bout of physical stimulation and later that same day I attended a packed meeting in the nearby Oxford University School of Governance for mental stimulation. This, together with my work as an Oxford guide and slavishly following live music in pubs, etc, etc, forms the pattern of my life whilst residing in this stimulating ‘city of dreaming towers’.
The caricature of an Oxford intellectual has many versions though there is usually a bicycle involved, also a scarf, a gown and a smattering of other-worldliness. At that meeting in the School of Governance there were six academics each presenting their EU funded social science projects. Though professors at the University they were all fairly young, nicely balanced between the sexes, skilled PowerPointers, shockingly articulate and terribly enthusiastic. There were no gowns to be seen, but I did find their projects other-worldly. One presenter stated that the great thing about European Research Council funding was that it allowed you to get on with what you wanted to do: his project was to determine exactly when chickens and pigs and dogs became domesticated. I am not quite sure who needs this data or who in the EU decided to fund this arcane subject or why, but I was equally puzzled by most of the other projects. I am sure that they are of interest to the multinational Oxford teams working on them, I just don’t seem to have the intellect needed to appreciate their importance.
When I first arrived in Oxford I presumed that the academics of the University and the city council would be politically conservative. I was so wrong. The current make-up of Oxford city council is heavily dominated by Labour (35 out of 48) and not a Conservative in sight. Also, during the years spent lurking on the fringes of Oxford academia I could not help but observe its leftward leanings which is seemingly innate and usually assumed. This seems to indicate to me that I am losing my intellectuality, if I ever had any, with the advancing years.
Recently the Adam Smith Institute published a survey showing that this leftward tendency that I have observed in Oxford seems to exist throughout academia – only 12% of academics tend to conservatism! When the report surfaced the media Rottweilers immediately suggested a link with intelligence. Not so, said the survey. The top 5% in intelligence rating in the country are said to be slightly to the right – in common with the population as a whole. Since the latter includes me, the evidence is mounting that I am clearly not an Oxford intellectual even though I ride a bicycle.
What interests, and worries, me is why this strong and unrepresentative bias amongst academics should exist. There are many theories. One is that it is a conspiracy. The left, unable to achieve power through the ballot box, inveigled themselves into institutions, including academia, and then took care to keep conservatives out. However, one insightful friend believes that socialism dominates because the academics are idealists (which squares well with unwordliness, I suppose). Meanwhile a Spanish friend just completing his doctorate in Oxford states quite bluntly that it is simply a pretence. My own view is that it is guilt. Let me explain. Academia is a reasonably well paid and respected occupation and well buffered from the vicissitudes of the economy. Unconsciously aware of this they rationalise their guilt into a desire for a fairer society where everyone could enjoy similar status and stability. Meanwhile, they are well aware of the horrifying results of imposed socialism in Russia, China, etc, so they really wish to maintain the status quo: especially the existence of a conservative government that can be safely criticised from the high cliffs of academia with little fear of the outbreak of revolution they pretend to eschew.
In conclusion you can undoubtedly conclude that I am not an Oxford intellectual and I would be grateful if you would ensure that this blog does not reach any academic in-tray. In the past week or so I have attended lectures on: artificial intelligence, global warming, corruption, populism, Brexit, aging and, of course, the point at which dogs were domesticated. I would be devastated if denied my intellectual stimulation in Oxford. What could I do instead: read the Guardian, rejoin the Labour Party, retire to Stow-on-the-Wold, migrate to the New World, regress to teenage and have my mind reshaped by academics, volunteer for the one way trip to Mars, or simply welcome the onset of dementia?