Sunday, 30 January 2011

Throwing Ideas... with Stephen Fry and Hosni Mubarak



Britain's jack-of-all-intellectual-trades, Stephen Fry, was this week presented with an honorary doctorate from the University of Sussex, receiving his fourth such accolade amidst fierce mutual congratulation. As Fry praised the Sussex establishment that he "couldn't be prouder" to have been made a part of, the Sussex establishment duly fell about itself in rapture at their proximity to Fry.

With the ceremonial shenanigans now over, both parties return to their normal business, which Fry described, in the case of Sussex, to be "showing us how the world could be." True to this mandate, Sussex maintain a policy of winding-down research in political economy, linguistics, and a highly-regarded chemistry department, and have instead started focussing their energies towards courses called 'international business studies'. The university also presses ahead with policies to reduce its student support services, whilst building houses all over the village of Falmer, in order to let them to undergraduates at inflated prices.

Fry, meanwhile, returns to his work of reading other people's stories for audiobooks, writing about his love of the iphone, and posting his every second thought on Twitter. When not busy with such pastimes and part-time social do-gooding, Fry lends his voice to banks, insurance companies, multinational breweries, telephone companies and numerous other business interests prepared to pay for it.

All of which, of course, goes without saying in a world of corporate endorsements and the need for institutions of higher education to balance their books.

However, what caught my attention was one sentence from Fry's graduation speech, in which he urged that, "we can change the world not by throwing stones but by throwing ideas."

This entertained me on three levels. The first being the fact that Sussex University and Stephen Fry seem to have entered into some sort of shared amnesia, one that mistakes warm sentiments about reason and learning for a belief that they are bettering the world, and not actually partaking in some of its most socially negligent pastimes.

It also entertained me for the fact that Stephen Fry, as a homosexual and avowed atheist, would not be such a respected member of society were it not that many before him were of a mind to try and change society's regressive tendencies. Indeed, stones have often been thrown to show that people actually believed in their ideas as more than just word formations.

Finally, it entertained me in its similarity to the words of embattled Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, in his televised address this week. With approximately one hundred protesters having been killed during demonstrations against the de-facto dictator of thirty years, Mubarak declared that,

"It is not by setting fire and by attacking private and public property that we achieve the aspirations of Egypt and its sons, but they will be achieved through dialogue, awareness and effort."

All of which is just heart-warming from a man who rules his country under emergency law, has arrested, outlawed and disappeared his political opposition, confiscating their assets and subjecting them to strict censorship. Of particular interest to Fry, a vocal proponent of gay activism, will be Mubarak's systematic persecution of homosexuals, a political strategy designed to appease Islamic opponents to his rule.

With the sons of Egypt still on the streets and throwing stones and other articles in demands for a fairer society, along with Stephen Fry and Hosni Mubarak, I urge them to get back inside, obey their curfews, and start "throwing ideas" at their most reasonable and dialogue-loving despot, who will certainly bow before progressive reasoning if only we can throw enough ideas at him.

Or perhaps there is a grey area on Fry's stone/idea-throwing continuum. Perhaps nations with lots of sand, Arabic and poverty are expected to throw stones, whereas nations with iphones, zebra crossings, and frappuccinos have reached a pinnacle at which now all that remains to be thrown are ideas.

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