CONCERNS have been raised about the cancel culture that last week resulted in the renaming of Edinburgh University’s David Hume Building. Understood to be a result of politically correct student activist campaigning, this philistine renaming by the university is better understood as part of a therapeutic form of emotional correctness that is being developed within the academy.

Critics of the rise of therapeutic education have observed that in both schools and universities there is a trend to treat students not as thinking beings but as emotional beings. Here we find educational practices and processes becoming increasingly preoccupied not with the development of knowledge but with the “wellbeing” of students, with how they feel.

One result of this trend is for ideas to be assessed less in their own terms than with reference to the sensitivities of the “vulnerable”.

Trigger warnings, for example, that advise students about potentially upsetting material on courses, are now emerging in Scottish universities as a form of best practice that help to keep students safe. And it is this engagement with feelings of safety, emotional or psychological safety, rather than anything directly political, that helps to explain Edinburgh University’s actions.

If we look at the language used by the university’s Equality and Diversity Committee, we find talk of the “sensitivities” of students whose use of the Hume building could “rightly cause distress”. As managers of emotions, the university administrators were quick to act. Subsequently there are now calls for the David Hume statue to be pulled down.

By engaging students at the level of their feelings, Edinburgh University, as with the academy more generally is further encouraging the politicisation of emotion. With this, we find personal feelings become a cause in their own right and as such rational thought and debate is destroyed and replaced by the validation of narcissistic hysteria.

Hume once argued that generally speaking, “errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous”. Today we find the quasi-religion of diversity and emotionalism that dominate university life is itself becoming profoundly dangerous, a threat not only to the legacy of David Hume but to the Enlightenment project.

Hume stands alongside Kant, Voltaire and Diderot as Enlightenment thinkers who, as author Kenan Malik argues, “cleansed the European mind of medieval superstition and allowed the light of reason to shine upon human problems”. The cancelling of Hume reflects a direct threat to reason and to the academy.

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