The Dawkins/PZ Protest, 9/6/11

Been a while, ain’t it?

AndromedasWake and I attended a conversation between Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers yesterday. Well, we tried. But we were slightly obstructed by the protesters who forcibly entered the theatre and then hippied up the whole damn shooting match.

Protesters? Oh, yes. You may count upon it.

Members of the Education Activist Network spent about half an hour sitting on the stage and talking nonsense. I gather they’re annoyed with Dawkins for his involvement with AC Grayling’s New College for the Humanities, about which they are disgusted, I tell you.

The gist seems to be a) it costs a lot and b) we can’t afford it therefore it is c) an affront to the laws of God and Man. According to the EAN, education is a “human right”, which I don’t think really follows, but even if it is, how do you quantify exactly how MUCH education is a human right? Is it basic levels of numeracy and literacy? Or is it the kind of suave service Grayling aims to provide?

I had to wonder about these protesters, these predominately young, groomed and foppish types as they flounced around the stage. The purpose seemed mainly to have good hair and pose dramatically, rather than effect any meaningful dialogue. I don’t imagine many involved will have donated all their spare money to educational charities, or devoted their spare time to mentoring and private tutoring. They probably like bursting into rooms and then not making sense.

Let’s dismantle the notion that expensive, private education is somehow bad. Assume that I, over a period of years, create an institute to teach guitar. It takes me a lot of time, money and effort, and is done with the aid of many people. In order to recoup my losses and in order to pay for the highest standards of tutelage, the costs are high. Does anyone have the right to complain? Nope. It’s my college and I can charge what I like. No-one has the right to free or cheap guitar tuition; it’s an exchange of money for a service. Even if education is a human right, is an exceptional education a human right? Grayling et al are trying to create extraordinarily high standards of service; costs will, correspondingly, be high.

Let’s make it even simpler. You go to Greggs (a bakery chain in the UK, not sure if it’s worldwide) and a cake is cheap. Got to Les Cakery de Pierre van de Gateaux, in Richtown, and a cake is expensive. But it will be a damn nice cake. Does anyone protest the fact that some cakes are too expensive for people to afford? Hell no. If a bunch of people decide to set up a private institution to offer a service, and the service is an elite one that cannot be sustained without high fees, how is it the right of poor people to demand the abolishment of same? At least it’s an institution devoted to the dissemination of knowledge, even if everyone can’t afford it. What the EAN are actually trying to do is reduce the number of educational establishments, on the grounds that they can’t afford them even though they have no right to expect to be able to afford them.

There was a Q&A at the end, but it seemed that the remaining protesters (many having been removed by police earlier) didn’t want to rush to the microphones, which you might have thought would be their purpose. Mainly they remained in their seats and heckled rather than taking the chance to directly converse with Dawkins on the subject.

Class act, guys.

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