Tom Lehrer on satire

Next in an exhausting list of Things You Kind of Hoped Were Satire but Turned Out to Be True — this, from the academic Sunny Singh:

“I get regular invites to debate on various platforms. I always say no. Because debate is an imperialist capitalist white supremacist cis heteropatriarchal technique that transforms a potential exchange of knowledge into a tool of exclusion & oppression.”

Sunny runs a creative writing course at one of the country’s worst universities (according to the league tables), London Metropolitan.

At least it’s not one of the best universities – yet.

21 thoughts on “Tom Lehrer on satire”

  1. “Because debate is an imperialist capitalist white supremacist cis heteropatriarchal technique that transforms a potential exchange of knowledge into a tool of exclusion & oppression.”

    Isn’t that at least a row or two on a Woke Bullshit Bingo card?

  2. “I get regular invites to debate on various platforms. I always say no. Because debate is an imperialist capitalist white supremacist cis heteropatriarchal technique that transforms a potential exchange of knowledge into a tool of exclusion & oppression.” = my opponent would rip through my shallow position and stitch me up like a kipper.

  3. @DocBud

    I don’t think this is the same criticism that Sunny Singh is reaching for, but I’m not a big fan of Oxford Union style debates as a way of resolving factual issues. Though a debate can be entertaining to watch, and is an art-form of sorts, I don’t think they usually perform well as “exchanges of knowledge”. The skill-set of being a good debater isn’t the same as an investigator of truth. Fanatical Young Earth Creationists are often surprisingly “good” debaters for example. I wouldn’t want to ever have to defend my position against one on-stage – without doing a shedload of debate prep that frankly such a daft opposing view doesn’t deserve, I’d likely get ripped to shreds simply because (a) they’re likely a more experienced debater, having pulled off their tricks many times before, (b) even though a lot of their “facts” are wrong, the fact they have their vast array of “facts” at their finger-tips will make them seem far better-informed (their problem is “not that they don’t know much but that they know so much that isn’t true”).

    The policy debate is an alternative to Oxford Union style debates that focuses, in principle, much more on the substance than the style or underlying principles of an issue, but they seem pretty restricted to North America – never heard of them taking place in the UK. They’re arguably more analytical and issues-focused so perhaps more useful to a prospective policy wonk than an Oxford Union style debate is, but far more boring to watch, and I don’t think even this approach is particularly good for drawing conclusions about the truth of an argument rather than the skill of the team making it.

  4. BlokeInTejasInNormandy

    “Academic”???

    And indeed ‘debates’ are generally nothing to do with arriving at a decision based on presented input. It’s all about winning, as best I can see, or entertainment, and that’s style, and hitting the popular buttons, and… Nothing at all to do with actual reality.

    So avoiding debates because they’re a stitch-up or popularity contest or whatever is OK. But surely one doesn’t need to be as turgid and stereotypically Woke as the loathsome Sunny in rejecting them? Do these people really believe the crap they’re quoted as saying?

    I bet she’d attend if she thought she’d win points or something, though.

  5. @Witchie

    “She” not “he”.

    Here’s the synopsis of her debut novel, “Nani’s book of suicides”: “Sammie, the coke-snuffing international wanderer who moves from a small town childhood in Varanasi to Mexico, is linked inextricably to mythical women like Kunti, Draupudi, Suneeti, Meera and Padmini.”

    Here’s her potted Wikipedia biography: “Sunny Singh was born in Varanasi, India. Her father’s work with the government meant that the family regularly moved, living in various cantonments and outposts including Dehradun, Dibrugarh, Along and Teju. The family also followed her father’s assignments abroad, living in Pakistan, United States and Namibia.

    Singh attended Brandeis University where she majored in English and American Literature. She holds a master’s degree in Spanish Language, Literature and Culture from the Jawaharlal Nehru University and a PhD from the University of Barcelona, Spain.”

    Anyone spot the similarities?

    In case Tim Newman is reading this, and I hope he is, you may be pleasantly surprised that this apparently acclaimed novel has only one Amazon review (four star). Compared to 18 ratings (four star) for your Window on a Burning Man! She also has 20 reviews (4.5 stars) for “Hotel Arcadia” and 4 reviews (3.5 stars) for “Amitabh Bachchan”. So while you may not yet be professor of creative writing just yet, you ain’t doing too shabby.

  6. MBE,

    The positions that these people adopt are so predictable that it really isn’t that difficult to prepare for debates with them.

  7. I find myself fully in agreement with this bint. For similar reasons. There are some debates just aren’t worth having. Exactly how much has been gained by debating climate change, green issues in general, the advantages of diversity, socialism, immigration…? You’re opponents are not playing by the same rules you are. You’re simply talking past each other. Being willing to enter a debate with them validates their position.
    Lions with flamethrowers.

  8. @DocBud

    Yeah you wouldn’t need to do a heck of a lot of factual prepping. Need a bit though. I mean I “know” that rocks are millions of years old, but I wouldn’t off-hand be able to quote a reference that “proves” it, whereas they’ll be able to cite chapter and verse of some obscure (and obviously incorrect) study that “disproves” all conventional geological dating techniques. They’d only have a limited repertoire of such sources, and you could easily look up in advance what they’re going to throw at you and why it’s flawed, though it seems a wasted effort to put in when what you’re debunking is bunkum in the first place.

    Practising the debating technique would probably be a tougher job since they’d be battle-hardened. I still reckon one of their experienced practitioners of the dark arts could make a mug out of me. One of the reasons I have a (very very grudging) respect for politicians, is that for all their evasive non-answers and petty point-scoring, an untrained member of the public – even a smart one, in fact academics often do very poorly in this kind of role – when thrown into the kind of media interviews or parliamentary debates that politicians have to work their way through, would likely make all kinds of amateurish mistakes. Again, that kind of demolition job can still leave you unclear whether the underlying position is correct or not. But could be enough for the electorate to decide not to vote for the guy.

  9. Whether the Oxford Union style debate is the best way of getting to the essence of an issue is moot.

    What does it say about someone who is unwilling to stand up, clearly state their position on a subject, and be willing to defend it against the sling and arrows of an opposing arguement?

    On a related note, Andrew Neil, one of Britain’s foremost political interviewers is leaving the BBC to set up a new , News channel.
    One of the few politicians to dodge an interview with him was Boris Johnson.

  10. MBE,

    I’m blessed with an exceptional retentive memory (after 40 years marriage, even MrsBud concedes my recollections of our life together are correct), this despite me being above 60 years old. I never attend a meeting without being over everything I anticipate will arise, including being able to cite sources. Dealing with these clowns would be a doddle. It is not immediate, but I regularly put people back in their box on LinkedIn, they make some facile comment and I dismiss it with facts. Very occasionally they may try to come back, but they always give up in the end, not infrequently deleting the whole thread.

  11. Dearieme

    “Her father’s work with the government”: how cryptic. India’s version of MI5?

    That probably means her father’s cousin was a junior minister or a civil servant who handed out contracts to his relations.

  12. MBE: I’m not a big fan of Oxford Union style debates as a way of resolving factual issues.

    Well no, because that’s not their purpose any more than it is that of prosecution and defence in a jury trial to establish the truth.

  13. Couldn’t you equally say the position of Creative Writing Professor itself is a product of “ an imperialist capitalist white supremacist cis heteropatriarchal ” system
    As such shouldn’t she quit her job, or maybe that’s a different debate

  14. @TMB

    Well no, because that’s not their purpose any more than it is that of prosecution and defence in a jury trial to establish the truth.

    I agree. Like I said, they’re entertaining, and they exhibit a particular skill. Also good preparation for various things in later life – becoming a barrister or politician probably being one of them. But there are some people who, for whatever reason, take them seriously – Young Earth Creationists being one example.

    @DocBud

    Lucky man on the memory front. I’m at the “one fact in, one fact out” stage. Even with possession of the facts though, I think I’d struggle against someone who’s a master of the dark debating arts. It’s one thing to know your stuff, another to be able to use that knowledge to persuade.

  15. Nice to hear you congratulating yourself, Doc Bud. But how many people do you think you’ve won over to your points of view? Sounds more like you’ve been pissing into a strong gale. If they’ve deleted the thread that isn’t a victory. That’s your opponent conducting a tactical retreat.

  16. “She” not “he”.

    True, but the (probably) better known Sunny Singh is a male Bollywood star. Confusing.

  17. BIS,

    In professional circumstances, I’m trying to persuade colleagues that my recommendations are the better way, for safety and efficiency reasons, and in the most part I’m successful. Where some lefty or greeny is spouting bollocks I have no illusion about being able to change their point of view, getting their misinformation deleted is sufficient.

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