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Published on February 15th, 2012 | by William Dahlgreen
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[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="346" caption="Dr Strangelove, in Stanley Kubric's classic satire."][/caption]
Gove: “Deciding that jobs, or positions of influence, should be allocated on the basis of where you come from, not what you can do, is the sort of thinking we should leave to defenders of the feudal system and discredited Marxists!”
Ebdon: That’s it Dr StrangeGove, I’ve had it. Don’t you know where you come from determines what you can do? You idiot, I’m pressing the “nuclear button”: I forbid institutions from charging fees of £9,000 a year if they fail to widen access.

President Merkin Muffley: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.”

In the closing scene of Stanley Kubrick’s classic satire, “Dr Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”, the US President Merkin Muffley is forced into negotiations with the Soviet’s. After it’s discovered that an incompetent US air-troop has mistakenly launched an all-out nuclear offensive on Russia, and scrambled their radio so the attack can’t be reversed, Muffley asks the Soviet’s to use their own missiles to prevent total annihilation. Unfortunately, the Russian’s already installed a doomsday device, to be triggered if the US attacks. Apocalypse - whoops.

Back in the world of education, but still in the realm of farce, negotiations are just noticeably more successful than in Kubric’s film. The Conservative Party (incompetent US air-troop) have listened to Professor Lesley Ebdon (Russians/‘Marxist’s’) just before (well… after, actually) sending an all-out offensive to annihilate the university education system.

Cameron finally backed down in the battle to prevent Ebdon becoming director of the Office for Fair Access. In a rare, enlightening moment, he remembered he can’t overturn anything anyone else wants to do, realising he has no power to block Vince Cable’s decision to appoint Ebdon.

The Prof’s “nuclear button” is now armed. As director, he can forbid universities from charging the full £9,000 if they don’t accept his access policies, that rightly give special considerations to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Luckily, unlike the Tories’ tendency to push buttons marked ‘do not push’, Ebdon hasn’t forgotten the art of nuclear war: "Hopefully I will never have to press the nuclear button, but once one talks about nuclear buttons, if you then say that you will never press the nuclear button, you do not have a nuclear button, so clearly I would be prepared to do so if people did not agree, but my expectation is that we will be able to agree, through some tough negotiation."

All this frightened Education Secretary Michael Gove, who had accused Ebdon of promoting ‘social engineering’, rather than excellence in universities. He gets confused, see. Like the incompetent US air troop, who thought ‘don’t launch’ meant ‘launch’, Gove thinks ‘social engineering’ means ‘not letting privilege determine everything’.

It’s a pinch off incredible that a successful politician and ex-president of the Oxford Union, who has presumably heard of political philosophy, has overlooked its most elementary lesson. It is not a “discredited Marxist” idea that where you come from and how you were brought up impacts on what you’re able to do. The most basic sense of fairness sniffs out the fact that advantages derived from undeserved factors, like being born into a wealthy family, are no basis for desert. Unfortunately, ‘meritocracy’ hides this fact, not least to Gove.

Perhaps Gove was too busy reading ‘Horse and Hound’ at the back of class to hear about fairness. But at the very least, unlike Muffley, he’s been forced to negotiate with the other side before it’s too late. If only the Tories wouldn’t scramble their radios, there might be a way to go back on annihilating the NHS too.

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Dr StrangeGove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love “Nuclear” Ebdon

Dr Strangelove, in Stanley Kubric's classic satire.

Gove: “Deciding that jobs, or positions of influence, should be allocated on the basis of where you come from, not what you can do, is the sort of thinking we should leave to defenders of the feudal system and discredited Marxists!”
Ebdon: That’s it Dr StrangeGove, I’ve had it. Don’t you know where you come from determines what you can do? You idiot, I’m pressing the “nuclear button”: I forbid institutions from charging fees of £9,000 a year if they fail to widen access.

President Merkin Muffley: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.”

In the closing scene of Stanley Kubrick’s classic satire, “Dr Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”, the US President Merkin Muffley is forced into negotiations with the Soviet’s. After it’s discovered that an incompetent US air-troop has mistakenly launched an all-out nuclear offensive on Russia, and scrambled their radio so the attack can’t be reversed, Muffley asks the Soviet’s to use their own missiles to prevent total annihilation. Unfortunately, the Russian’s already installed a doomsday device, to be triggered if the US attacks. Apocalypse – whoops.

Back in the world of education, but still in the realm of farce, negotiations are just noticeably more successful than in Kubric’s film. The Conservative Party (incompetent US air-troop) have listened to Professor Lesley Ebdon (Russians/‘Marxist’s’) just before (well… after, actually) sending an all-out offensive to annihilate the university education system.

Cameron finally backed down in the battle to prevent Ebdon becoming director of the Office for Fair Access. In a rare, enlightening moment, he remembered he can’t overturn anything anyone else wants to do, realising he has no power to block Vince Cable’s decision to appoint Ebdon.

The Prof’s “nuclear button” is now armed. As director, he can forbid universities from charging the full £9,000 if they don’t accept his access policies, that rightly give special considerations to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Luckily, unlike the Tories’ tendency to push buttons marked ‘do not push’, Ebdon hasn’t forgotten the art of nuclear war: “Hopefully I will never have to press the nuclear button, but once one talks about nuclear buttons, if you then say that you will never press the nuclear button, you do not have a nuclear button, so clearly I would be prepared to do so if people did not agree, but my expectation is that we will be able to agree, through some tough negotiation.”

All this frightened Education Secretary Michael Gove, who had accused Ebdon of promoting ‘social engineering’, rather than excellence in universities. He gets confused, see. Like the incompetent US air troop, who thought ‘don’t launch’ meant ‘launch’, Gove thinks ‘social engineering’ means ‘not letting privilege determine everything’.

It’s a pinch off incredible that a successful politician and ex-president of the Oxford Union, who has presumably heard of political philosophy, has overlooked its most elementary lesson. It is not a “discredited Marxist” idea that where you come from and how you were brought up impacts on what you’re able to do. The most basic sense of fairness sniffs out the fact that advantages derived from undeserved factors, like being born into a wealthy family, are no basis for desert. Unfortunately, ‘meritocracy’ hides this fact, not least to Gove.

Perhaps Gove was too busy reading ‘Horse and Hound’ at the back of class to hear about fairness. But at the very least, unlike Muffley, he’s been forced to negotiate with the other side before it’s too late. If only the Tories wouldn’t scramble their radios, there might be a way to go back on annihilating the NHS too.

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About the Author

William Dahlgreen

Will is a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester, reading for a Master’s degree in Political Theory. A paper he wrote last year was accepted by the Manchester Centre for Political Theory, for a presentation at their conference of world-leading philosophers. He was the youngest and only pre-PhD contributor. During the university funding crisis he ran a Social Sciences Forum where 300 students, staff and members of the public debated and celebrated their subjects with a panel of renowned professors. Will wants to relate the ‘big questions’ of political philosophy to real-world issues. He believes philosophy gets too abstract because it’s isolated from the public, and real-world issues get muddled and full of rhetoric when they’re isolated from philosophy. He feels they ought to be combined and that this is the best way to engage the younger generation – everyone cares about their freedom; too few know that’s what politics is about.



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