If the ivory tower can’t go to the people, the people should go to the ivory tower

Some of the Left’s best ideas are coming out of universities. But there is a massive disconnect between the people in the street and the people in the ivory towers. This gap can be bridged. Those of us who have left the towers can bridge the gap by explaining ideas from the tower in plain English. Unfortunately, bringing people to the towers is much more difficult.

Taking the ivory tower to the people
The ivory towers of academia are one of a few bastions of powerful left-wing thought. But the Left hasn’t had much luck taking ideas from the tower to the people. As we saw earlier in the year, apologising for male privilege didn’t win many votes for David Cunliffe.

The disconnect between universities and the wider public is a serious problem. The Left is growing strong in the universities, largely thanks to analytical tools from feminist, post-colonial and queer theory. In other words; identity politics. The only problem is that many of these ideas are not widely understood by those outside the ‘ivory bubble’. And they need to be understood, because they matter.

These ideas are cheapened if we reserve them for educated people. We need to include the less educated and the less fluent if we want our ideas to succeed. This requires using plain English and discussing them with good faith. Would you understand hegemony, intersectionality, or discourse if you hadn’t gone to uni? Probably not. Remember that facct when you’re dealing with someone who is working class or a non-native English speaker.

We all need to get a LOT better at engaging with the Left’s natural allies, especially those who aren’t educated. We can do this by cutting back on the indignation and high jargon, and by getting better at explaining. Because explaining is the first step to understanding. And once that starts happening, we stop fighting in arguments, and start winning agreements. Building broad agreement is how we will win the war. Because the Left’s ideas are excellent ideas.

Taking the people to the ivory tower
Taking the ivory tower to the people is challenging (mostly because we prefer to rage at bigots than convert them). So perhaps the wider public should go to the ivory tower, instead? In other words, perhaps the Left should look to greatly enhance the number of people attending university. How, you say? More scholarships are great, but ultimately we should be working towards the abolition of tertiary education fees. Free university for all.

“Madness! It would cost a fortune! It’s simply not realistic”, you say.

Zero tuition fees is very realistic. Germany now has free tertiary education in all of its states. As do Brasil, Spain, France, Italy, and much of  Scandinavia. It’s not an issue of funding, it’s an issue of funding priorities. Do we value one of the best paths out of poverty? Then we should fight for the government to fund it.

Free tertiary education would grant poor and working class people access to the vehicle of upward mobility. It would also pour a diverse wave of people through an institution steeped in left-wing thought, albeit largely culturally white, middle class, and privileging those fluent in English. But campus activism (and the Left in general) would benefit greatly from having a lot more people who aren’t middle class, white, native English speakers.

So let’s take the towers to the people, and the people to the towers. Let’s speak clearly and openly with those different to us. Let’s fight for more scholarships, lower fees, and ultimately free tertiary education.


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