Last weekend the Guardian had an interesting article about the New College for the Humanities, some dodgy knock-off rich-kids proto-university in the UK, land of inequality. Apparently it’s being run by someone left-wing, so we have to take it seriously even though it charges 18,000 pounds a year (twice the cost of Oxford) for a humanities education. For my reader(s) who is not familiar with this issue, the college was set up by A.C Grayling (apparently a lefty, apparently a philosopher). His college has a bunch of famous professors like Richard Dawkins and Niall Ferguson (who lectures precisely two classes a year) and offers the following quality of service:

Every week, [Jamie] goes to 14 hours of lectures and has one hour-long group tutorial, with three students and one tutor, and one hour-long individual tutorial. “We’re expected to do between three and four hours personal study a day. We write a minimum of an essay a week. It is a full-on education. We are being educated actively.”

Let me tell you something, “Jamie”: you’re being ripped off. I did a physics degree, and in first year I had 32 contact hours a week, and at least two assignments. Included in that is my first year English course, so I had to read a novel a week (sometimes Shakespeare) and attend a one hour-long group tutorial, with about 5 students and one tutor. I had three hours of laboratory a week, which (obviously) required special equipment. You can rest assured I didn’t pay 18k pounds a year – actually in 2012 pounds I paid about 1000. Are you sure, “Jamie,” that you’re getting value for money? Incidentally, I was lectured by Paul Davies, so I guess I got famous lecturers for my 1k. What do you think, “Jamie”? Are you doing better for having chosen the New College of the Humanities over some dodgy red-brick or an ex-teacher’s college?

Despite this, the article makes the environment sound fairly good, and certainly it seems like the lecturers and tutors are generally attentive. But the cost keeps being raised, and I can see why – not only is it a lot of money, but there are a lot of people in Britain (i.e. most British people) who really aren’t very wealthy, and for whom 54,000 is completely out of their range (especially since everyone is culturally expected to be up to their eyeballs in housing debt). Now, I’m sympathetic to the argument that poor people choose not to go into debt for education for cultural, rather than financial reasons – they’ll take on huge debt for a dodgy housing investment, that they wouldn’t take on for a reliable education investment, for example – but still, 18000 pounds is pretty damn steep. So I was interested to read AC Grayling’s response to the cost issue. And what did this famous left-wing philosopher say?

“The downside of being educated at someone else’s expense is that you may not value it,” he says. “You may regard it as an entitlement. Unless you are acutely aware of the opportunity that is being offered to you, you may be rather cavalier about it. [You] might not be quite so keen to suck the marrow from it.”

Statements like this leave me simultaneously angry, sick, disappointed and confused. First, let’s make one thing clear: no one in Grayling’s college is being educated at their own expense. No one at the age of 19 – people who have never worked – can afford 18k a year. They’re all being educated at someone else’s expense. Of course, in this case it’s their parents’ expense, but why should that matter? Certainly when I was at university I met a wide variety of people being educated at their parents’ expense, and I can assure you that they were “not quite so keen to suck the marrow from it.” But this was not what Grayling is thinking of when he said this – so much is clear from the context. He was clearly thinking of people being subsidized by the state.

And this is why his statement leaves me angry, sick, disappointed and confused: why is there a difference between the state paying and your own parents paying?

It makes me angry because there are a lot of people out there who are desperate for an education but can’t afford it, and if someone else paid they would snap up the chance. One of my players is from the Dominican Republic, and he finds it amazing that in Japan there are still people who don’t really care about the education they are receiving, because in the Dominican Republic an education is a difficult and precious thing to get and so many people who want it will never get it. Yet somehow Grayling – advanced philosopher that he is – thinks that all those people out there hungering for an education can’t really properly value it because if they did get it would be through someone else’s largesse, thus suddenly their desire is sapped.

It makes me sick because I am one of those people. Abandoned by my parents at 17, with no money and no prospects, I was funded through my education by the state. I appreciated every single fucking minute of it, thank you very much, and I shat all over my private-school educated, parent-funded friends. I fought my way into university, I studied hard, and I loved it. I still remember in first year my private-school-educated “colleagues” openly challenging my high school grades because they didn’t believe a pleb like me could have done so well. Fuck you, you rich fuckers. I beat you every step of the way. Not only was I better than you, but I understood the value of the benefits I was getting from the government. I knew exactly what my “free” education was worth. But here we have some famous, apparently left-wing philosopher recycling this crap about how because the state paid for my education, I didn’t value it? That makes me sick.

It disappoints me because it shows how far the understanding of welfarism and inequality has fallen in the UK – once a beacon of thought on these issues – if supposedly left wing philosophers are spouting this claptrap. What chance have we of addressing the serious inequality issues in the UK if serious educators seriously believe that anyone who is funded by the state to support their education is going to be inherently inferior in attitude to someone who is funded by their parents? What hope for redistributive justice in such an environment?

Finally, it confuses me because, as someone whose parents never helped him out, I can’t understand why receiving fat scads of cash from your parents is okay but getting the same cash from the government is poisonous for your character. I don’t deny the right of parents to pay for their kids’ education, or the fundamental rightness of people supporting their own children, flows of capital through families etc. That’s all fine. But the idea that a person’s character and attitude towards self-improvement (represented, in this instance, by education) should be somehow reduced by being supported by a soix-distant patron, rather than a family member, is just confusing. I mean, it’s all free moolah, right? How come one is character-endangering and one is not? I have never, ever been able to understand this, and I think I’ve never been able to understand it because it is bullshit.

An interesting aspect of our culture is that we make these cultural assertions about how weak and inferior rich kids who receive gifts from their parents really are, but we make policy that benefits those people and encourages that act. So we refer to rich kids as “spoilt princesses,” “trust fund babies,” etc.; but we make policy that is explicitly designed to benefit these people and we make philosophy (apparently) that values their personal achievements more highly, even when those personal achievements were bought not earnt. For example, in Australia everyone can take a university debt; but rich kids’ parents can pay up front, in which case they get a 15% discount. So rich people get exactly the same education as poor people, but pay 15% less for it. So on the one hand society is laughing at these kids for being supported by the mummy bank, but on the other hand society is guaranteeing that those kids and their rich parents pay less for the same product. And then those poor people are meant to thank their all-powerful masters for their beneficence? Or maybe we’re supposed to accept these crumbs of wisdom from people like Grayling, who tells me that even though I paid 20% more than my neighbour for exactly the same product, I value it less because the government, rather than my rich daddy, dropped the money in my lap.

What can I say to this logic? Fuck you, AC Grayling, and your “philosophy.” I didn’t go to your top quality university, but I think I can detect bullshit a lot more easily than you can. But I guess, sitting in your room labeled “Master” after a life of success, you don’t really care how much your bullshit smells to people like me, do you? Is there a word for a philosophy like that?


Video of my kickboxing fight is here, at blogger… WordPress don’t allow it. The first video is very small and hard to see but the second one is clearer.

On Friday night I had my first ever amateur kickboxing fight, in a ring at a summer festival by the beach here in Beppu. I was up against a local pimp, who is the same age as me but perhaps 5 kg heavier, and from the same gym as me. I think he lied about his weight because there is another chap in the gym who is REALLY scary who he would have fought if he were heavier. I was the 7th fight out of 10, in the main bout section of the evening, so my bout had ring girls and fireworks. I even had a boxing/K-1 style entrance with my own song (Shared Creation by Garden of Delight).

The ring girls were supplied by my opponent – he works with them.

Anyway, I lost the fight, due to a combination of a) only doing 4 weeks of half-arsed preparation, including a total of 3 rounds of sparring training 4 weeks ago b) being shorter and lighter than him and c) not really wanting to be there in the first place. I’m not sure why I agreed to do a fight or why I decided to only train twice a week and not do special sparring sessions, knowing I’d be up against it on Friday. But that’s what happens when you aren’t really into the thing in the first place, I suppose! I’ve been kickboxing for 15 years and turned down opportunities like this before, and I think I just felt like I had to do it, so accepted my teacher’s offer of a place in the festival without thinking too much about where I’d be 6 weeks later… then took 2 weeks off, and then started training…

Anyway, the details of the fight go something like this:

2 x 2 minute rounds
1 minute rests
Full protective gear (helmet, shinpads, 12 oz rather than 10 oz gloves)
Maximum of two standing 8 counts
Knees allowed but not to the head
No elbows
i.e. kickboxing rules, though often kickboxing rules don’t allow knees. Incidentally, I’ve seen a “no-knees-to-the-head” bout go wrong, with one woman deliberately kneeing the other in the head and getting a knockout. It’s very easy for that to look like an accident, and the referee has to decide whether to award the match over a mistake – that woman was not popular with the crowd, but I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of a repeat performance by my opponent. In the ring you do rely a bit on your opponent’s good manners, but I think me and my opponent get along okay usually…

Also, the refereeing was conservative, so the ref stopped fights before he allowed anyone to get knocked out – no bloodbaths to be allowed.

Round 1: We started off pretty equal but he signalled his serious intentions early with 3 really savage kicks to my legs, none of which I managed to block. When the third one came in I realised that I had to pick up my game or I was going to be a Technical Knock Out (I’ve seen this a few times at K-1, where a man’s legs give out and the fight is over). Did I mention 3 rounds of sparring 4 weeks ago? I was running primarily on my memory of serious sparring years ago! So I picked that up, and after that his kicks didn’t land. I delivered some vicious blows in return (and oh what a satisfying sound that is) and in the second half of hte round I heard the commentator (our sensei) saying how I am renowned for my strong punching, and realized that I hadn’t really tried any, so I closed in and boxed him into a corner, landing a nice hard right at some point that rocked his head – he didn’t like that, and pushed his way out of the corner with a series of ferocious kicks and punches. For some reason my usually tight guard was loose, and his punches were coming straight down the centre, which doesn’t usually happen to me in sparring at all – I don’t know what I was thinking[1]. I must have tightened up at some point though because I don’t have any facial bruising, though this could be because he moved to hooks, all of which I defended against. I copped him with a few nice hooks actually, he didn’t seem to be able to defend punches at all. But because he was tall, and using front kicks effectively, it was hard to move in and land punches, and everything was happening so fast that I didn’t have time to work out ways around his guard – typically against a taller man you have to work the outside, or duck and weave, and did I mention I only did 3 rounds of sparring preparation, against a shorter man? Also bobbing and weaving is a very bad plan when you’re in a fight where knees are allowed, so one of my two main range-closing tactics was out of whack.

Round 2: So round 1 ended probably with him slightly up on points, but it was a good showing by both sides. Round 2 went pretty much the same way for the first half, with us exchanging heavy leg kicks, and I think all of mine landed actually but I checked most of his. I also got in a good middle kick that slipped half under his guard, but when you have a savage bastard trying to rip your head off you start thinking conservatively about middle kicks. Every time either of us hit each other you could hear it all the way across the beach, I think. I certainly heard it. Unfortunately things took a turn for the worse in the last half of round 2, because at about the 1 minute mark I managed a fairly solid series of boxing combinations, and in his desperation to get away he delivered a vicious knee to my stomach. I took it without being winded, even though it was a few inches from my solar plexus, but it was followed by this tiny moment frozen in time, where we looked at each other and both simultaneously realised that I don’t have any defences against knees. The next 20 or 30 seconds were spent with him trying to get in close enough to land some solid knee strikes, and he succeeded at least twice, and they FUCKING HURT, and I realised that this was not going to keep up, so I had to start backpedalling and trying to hold him off with kicks, while he hunted me down. There was no getting around this – it wasn’t a matter of me doing anything, because I don’t know how to defend against knees (I’ve done maybe 8 rounds of training with knees in the last 10 years), and he knew it, and every time he threw one I was going to cop it. As a sign of how tall he is, today my upper chest is hurting from the knees that landed on my ribs. I managed to get him in a clinch and nearly threw him despite his bigger size, but kubi zumo (neck wrestling) is also not my area of expertise and I only did that out of desperation. So the last 30 seconds of both rounds won him the fight, and the last 30 seconds of round 2 sealed it. I did think about mentioning a no-knees rule when the fights were organised, but didn’t. Oh well, silly me. How was I to know that being kneed in the chest by 75kgs of enraged pimp would hurt?

But, on the bright side, I didn’t suffer any standing 8 counts – maybe the first fight of the night to get through without standing 8s – and I landed some decent blows myself, and I think if I had been fitter and had some more sparring preparation under my belt, I probably would have given him a really solid challenge. Unfortunately, that “I don’t want to be here” feeling that pervaded the last 4 weeks kind of prevented me from putting in a decent showing. I have only myself to blame though – I could have turned up on two of the last 4 sundays for example, and done an hour of decent sparring each day,  and probably would have been a lot tighter on the night. Today my left leg is sore from those missed checks, and my chest aches, but I am otherwise in good nick and feeling very relieved that a busy period of my life and a stressful fight are out of the way.

It was not fun! But it was a good experience that I almost certainly won’t repeat. I don’t recommend it to any of my readers either. Once I figure out my partner’s snazzy phone, I’ll put up some video. It actually looks quite good, though I’m not recognizable in amongst the helmet and the sweat and the flying limbs, but I think I look reasonably professional. I hope my readers wince watching it as much as I did when it happened.

fn1: actually I was mostly thinking nothing. I was nervous and flat before the fight started and then everything was going so fast that I didn’t get to think much at all, bar the crystallized moments of the emergencies. Usually when I spar it takes me a few rounds to get into the groove, and I didn’t have that luxury this time around!