If buttercups buzz’d after the bee,
If boats were on land, churches on sea,
If ponies rode men and if grass ate the cows,
And cats should be chased into holes by the mouse,
If the mamas sold their babies
To the gypsies for half a crown;
If summer were spring and the other way round,
Then all the world would be upside down.
The student union at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies made headlines with their proposal to “de-colonize” their institution. In the brash headlines of the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, it was students demanding to remove Plato and Kant “because they are white.”
The English tabloids aren’t wrong.
After demanding that at least the majority of the philosophers studied come from the Global South, the student manifesto says, “If white philosophers are required, then teach their work from a critical standpoint. For example, acknowledging the colonial context in which so called ‘Enlightenment’ philosophers wrote.” School is much easier for students when they teach the professors and not vice versa.
Unfortunately, the students don’t seem to know anything.
Perhaps it is the students themselves who should have their views “interrogated” and their discourse of power deconstructed. The activist-student is engaged in a power grab. He wishes to delegitimize the power of professors and even the school itself. That is why the activist student defines knowledge itself as a form of malicious participation in an unjust power system. And he does so because this is the only way of dignifying his own ignorance. It is also the only way that he might shame an academic institution into creating a new administrative role for his kind of sloganeering.
In a real sense, the modern student activist is a kind of shallow theologian. He learns a political catechism, he identifies a scapegoat, and he enacts a ritualized sacrifice of a victim-group, in order to redeem himself and give some dint of credibility to his priestcraft.
Schools put up with this for the money. But why do we?