28 April 2008

One secret of successful parenting

A book on “parenting” has been written, telling people how to help their child continue to tolerate his or her life in the children’s prison (known as a “school”) and to minimise some of the most obvious damage, physical and psychological, being caused by it. But the assumption seems to be that they should help the child to go on going through this instead of taking him away.

Whether it’s a minor incident or a more serious problem that is upsetting your child, start by tuning into his feelings so you can find out what’s happening ... He may be unusually quiet, aggressive or you might notice bruises ...

If your child hates school: School-related problems often come down to confidence ... Praise your child for packing his school bag, remembering to feed his pet or doing a school project – this will help him build up a repertoire of things he knows he’s good at. (review of
Seven Secrets of Successful Parenting by Karen Doherty and Georgia Coleridge, Daily Mail 24 April 2008)

What parents should do is consider leaving the country, as well as taking the child away from school. Even being educated at home he would, in this country, be potentially liable to assessment and supervision by the local “education” authority.

Unfortunately for me, my parents also felt it was their responsibility to try to kid me along that I should find a way of reconciling myself to the arrangements being imposed on me despite my protests and against my will. I do not blame them for this, but I do blame those who encouraged them to side with the oppressive forces of society against their own offspring.

My parents had themselves grown up in the pre-Welfare-State world of the early decades of the twentieth century. They thought of teachers and people running the educational system as responsible, highly-principled middle-class people with at least moderately high IQs, with whom it was right for parents to cooperate.

They did not realise the world had suffered a sea change in 1945 when the Welfare State came in, and that nothing was as it had been before.

22 April 2008

The corpse and the kingdom

First introductory scenario

You are perceiving things, but the status of your perceptions is entirely indeterminate. You do not know the significance of this situation, or whether it has any. Among the things that you seem to perceive are other people, but you are unable to determine whether they have consciousness, as you seem to yourself to have. Perhaps they are automata. Or perhaps they are just hallucinatory figures in your hallucinatory dream.

Second introductory scenario

What you are perceiving seems to be a physical universe and it seems to be possible to infer certain things about the past history of this universe. It is possible to suppose that your consciousness is a by-product of physical and chemical events in your organism, and that other people are conscious in a similar way to yourself as a result of similar events in their organisms.

The human race, of which you are a part, seems to have been on the planet on which you are living for a very small part of the inferable history of the physical universe. The lifetime of the human race, and the space it occupies, is infinitesimal even in relation to the time and space that the human race is able to infer in the physical universe that surrounds it. It is inferred that there may be millions of other stars as well able to possess life-bearing planets as our sun. It is inferred that previous life-forms on this planet, such as the dinosaurs, occupied it for hundreds of millions of years.

The human race has a strong tendency to believe that what the human race regards as good and valuable is of great importance. What is important to a human being (and in what other sense could the word important have meaning) is to be determined by reference to the local consensus of belief about what is important in the social environment which surrounds that human being.

(from the forthcoming book The Corpse and the Kingdom)

17 April 2008

A world class warfare system

Some comments from a member of the education establishment:

I want to narrow the disparities between people’s attainment, between the highly motivated and the less well motivated, because I want everyone to have a bite at the cherry and a chance to do well ... What I want to ensure is that all universities are really part of a world class system. That means they all have to have resources concentrated on them, right across the board. (Tessa Blackstone, on BBC Radio 4, 26 March 2008, my emphasis)

Here again we find, sixty years after 1945, an overt expression of the motivation that ruined my education, my subsequent life and the lives of my parents (who also had high IQs and a lot of drive and conscientiousness). Also the prevalent social motivation, gaining strength with the passing years and decades, has continued to oppose my attempts to restore myself to a realistic relationship with the society in which I have the misfortune to find myself.

What is being aimed at is not universities being part of a 'world class system', but being part of a ‘class system’, that is, an instrument of class warfare. In effect, Tessa Blackstone is arguing that the greatest possible resources should be devoted to preventing those with higher IQs and strong motivation from achieving more than those with lower IQs and no noticeable motivation at all.

Those who represent the greatest obstruction to the egalitarian outcome are the exceptional; it follows that by far the easiest way to achieve greater equality of outcome is to eliminate the highly able and highly motivated from the picture. Thus, according to exponents of this point of view, those with the highest IQs and the strongest motivation should be thrown right out on the dungheap, and it should be made plain to them they have no place at all in modern society.

12 April 2008


I am giving a seminar in Oxford on the 29th, entitled
"Existential psychology and early Christianity".

Details here.

07 April 2008

Reading is "not natural"

It seems that 2008 is National Reading Year: I wonder whether this is because the disfavouring of the ‘middle class’ that has proceeded apace since the inception of the Welfare State in 1945 has by now had a noticeable effect on the literacy of the population as a whole.

From a review of Proust and the Squid: the Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf (Financial Times Magazine 5 April 2008):

“Reading is not natural,” writes Wolf, a professor of child development: only a few thousand years old, reading is too new to be encoded into our genes. Which means we have to learn it the hard way.

I do not see that you can assume that. The human mind seems to have abilities for dealing with things that cannot in any obvious way have developed by evolution, that is, by natural selection in favour of aptitude for dealing with specific things of that kind.

It is acceptable for writers on child development to write about factors which may have an influence without mentioning innate intellectual ability, correlated with measurable IQ. But this is associated with the fact that it is acceptable, in a particular case, for people to interpret the situation in terms of the only factors which are explicitly taken into account.

As they did in my case. Whether or not reading was ‘encoded in my genes’, whatever was necessary for learning to read, very rapidly and without apparent effort, evidently was. As it was acceptable to interpret this as my parents ‘pushing’ me, it was interpreted in that way and this was considered justification for frustrating and opposing me and for persecuting my parents. This was several decades ago and I am sure that the tendency to adopt such interpretations, and to act on them in interfering in people’s lives, is no less, but almost certainly greater, than it was then.

To quote further from this review,

For some, their problems are a product of their word-poor upbringing: middle-class children have on average heard 32 million more words by the age of five than their less advantaged peers. This makes a difference: the best predictor of how easily a child will learn to read is how often they are read to as a toddler.

Perhaps for some, but for how many? I have known people who, living in the most middle-class and highly educated households, with a constant coming and going of influential and articulate people, remained unable to read until a relatively advanced age and would have been very unlikely to get grammar school scholarships. On the other hand, I have also known people who were deprived of attention as young children in unfavourable circumstances, but learnt to read at an early age and were, or would have been, highly placed in grammar school scholarship exams.

“The best predictor of how easily a child will learn to read is how often they are read to as a toddler.” But the majority of people with high IQs have attentive middle-class mothers, themselves with high IQs, who are likely to read to young children. It is not necessarily true that high IQ children who are read to frequently will learn to read much more easily, or earlier, than children with equally high IQs who are not read to at all.