I have an uncle and aunt in a country of the former Yugoslavia.
They are well-educated professionals (a marine engineer and a paediatrician), and yet they both staunchly believe homosexuality to be an invented, unnatural, purely ‘Western’ phenomenon.
This anecdote will hopefully provide some reference point as to why I am disturbed and yet not surprised by some things I’ve seen around the University of Melbourne.
Things like: HELLAS FOREVER! F*CK THE MONGOLS! accompanied by Neo-Greco swastikas.
While all manner of bullshit is scrawled across many different surfaces university-wide, there is something about this particular rubbish that, owing to the tertiary educational context, says two things.
First, and foremost, that the Greek fascist movement, Golden Dawn, has a sympathiser (or a handful at most) at this educational institution. (Google them if you’ve never come across this group. Although I don’t want to give them any kind of free publicity, I think you are all grown-up enough to detect the bullshit. I don’t expect you’ll be charmed by any of their violent, unsophisticated and holocaust-denying ideology.)
Secondly, it demonstrates that an education—even the best from (apparently) ‘Australia’s No.1 University’ — cannot serve as a cure-all for bigoted and anti-social behaviour like sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and, in this case, chauvinism and racism.
Of these two issues, the second is the more overarching issue as it challenges the typically espoused (though not exclusive) role of education in fashioning upstanding moral citizens, and the broader idea of universities as bastions of higher culture.
This is to say, that if we were to label someone a ‘dumb-fuck, ignorant racist’ it would be our hope that an education might remedy the ‘ignorant racist’ part of the equation. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the very existence of the first point—and also that of my dear, socially-backward Slavic relatives—an education may not do this, and instead create a class of educated, but ever racist, ‘fucks’.
Anti-social sentiment in the form of graffiti is regrettably commonplace almost anywhere you go. Pessimistically, it’s probably going to stay that way as long as there are people with permanent markers and places with no one watching.
As a consequence, I am not going to feign shock and outrage over such graffiti existing at Melbourne Uni. Though my disgust is visceral, it is tempered more cynically than morally.
I want to be clear that the only thing that makes this Golden Dawn graffiti interesting to me is the context in which it appears. It is interesting because more than merely being sporadic or opportunistic—like a crude drawing of a blowjob or a dig at international students à la ‘they took our jawbbbbbbbs’ — the Golden Dawn graffiti has about it a level of implied organisation.
Whether this organisation is real or just aspirational, a call to arms under slogans like ‘blood and honour’ is indicative of an ideology.
And an ideology is built upon an individual’s convictions.
So, what then creates these convictions leading to these ideologies?
I am certain our education system is overall promoting tolerance and revealing the ills of prejudice. But if education is not promoting anti-social behaviour, we can also see from our Golden Dawn example that it is not always successful at eradicating such behaviour either. Thus, it follows that something else is at work here. This behaviour must be either coming from somewhere else, present in the individual before their education, or a combination of both.
I think the answer lies within an individual’s host culture, and it is this cultural aspect that overrides the ability of education to instil more humane values into an individual.
The belief in the supremacy of any individual’s culture (black/white, male/female, gay/straight, Australian/Greek, etc.) comes from the immersive instruction of that culture. The authority that springs from this culture and into the individual is sometimes too powerful for education to erase.
Moreover, if cultural indoctrination dominates one’s views and values, an education, especially one as prestigious as that gained from a tertiary institution, can even (unintentionally) legitimise an individual’s own convictions. The individual’s belief in their bigoted views and values are somehow sanctioned or proven by their intellectual qualifications.
Scary stuff, right?
The conclusion to be drawn from this is simple – you can lead a supremacist to an education, but you can’t make him, or her, think. If you come to university as a close-minded individual, no amount of teaching and tutorials is going to change that.
Case in point – Nikolaos Michaloliakos, the founder of Golden Dawn, a university-educated mathematician, who carried his fascist beliefs both before and after tertiary education.
I’m certainly not suggesting education is ineffective at creating change. Education does not make people racist or sexist. I believe, as does the inspirational survivor of bigotry, Malala Yousafzai, that education is still key in helping overcome intolerance in the world.
Education keeps us from degenerating into troglodytes—dragging our knuckles along the ground with club in hand, following behind the latest exploiter of our base fears and impulses.
So basically what I’m getting at is that sometimes people that come to an education are unable to be persuaded by the principles of logic and reason inherent in education.
Something else that I found written on another desk at the University of Melbourne sums it up:
‘Coming to Melbourne Uni made me stupid’
and the response…
‘Relax, you were probably stupid long before’
For the Golden Dawn zealot of Melbourne University, the belief in the supremacy of their culture is baggage too heavy or precious to give up.
Just as with my uncle and aunt, no amount of evidence or logic can sway them from the convictions. Their prejudice has been set deep into their psyches by their host-culture, perhaps beyond any chance of change.
This is regrettable, but what can you do? They are who they are.
My only fear is that if these types can’t be swayed by an education, won’t listen, don’t reflect, how will they ever wake up to themselves?
How do you reason with these fuckers?