31 March 2008

Engineering students

According to the Daily Mail (28 March), over the last 8 years 10 billion pounds of taxpayers’ money has been spent on a campaign of working towards the Government’s target of having 50% of the population between the ages of 18 and 30 in universities, which includes of course ex-polytechnics.

The recruitment campaign is regarded as having failed because the population of university entrants is only 0.6 of a percentage point higher than in 1999.

Ministers had set a 2010 target of 50 per cent of young people entering higher education by the time they are 30. Official figures yesterday revealed that the proportion in 2006/7 was 39.8 per cent – down from 42 per cent in the previous year and only 0.6 percentage points higher than in 1999. …

Conservative universities spokesman David Willetts said: ‘At this pathetic rate of progress it will take a further 118 years to hit the Government’s target. We need to do far better to spread the opportunities for young people. Under this Government we are completely flat-lining.’

Of course, at the same time as encouraging the sections of the population with the lowest IQs and least academic aptitude to go to university, those with above average IQs (referred to as the ‘middle class’) have been increasingly discouraged, and are becoming disillusioned with the prospect of burdening themselves with debt for the sake of worthless ‘degrees’ which employers, including me, do not regard as any guarantee of competence in anything.

So, while the overall number of university entrants has scarcely risen, the proportion of lower IQs to higher IQs almost certainly has, and further attempts to promote ideas such as those expressed by David Willetts may well result in a complete exclusion of those with IQs above 140, or even 130, from university life.

Meanwhile, people with exceptionally high IQs, such as Charles McCreery, Fabian Tassano or I, cannot get even minimal salaries to enable us to contribute to the philosophical ‘discussions’ which go on, let alone pay for the institutional environment that we need to work in.

Even if we had a one-person salary apiece for working in our (socially unrecognised) independent university, it would not pay for the institutional environment that we need to work in, as well as the extra people (the equivalent of research students) to write papers on issues related to our own which we could also make very good use of.

An academic gets a lot out of his residential college with dining hall facilities etc which we have to pay for and work on maintaining for ourselves, so even with salaries we would not be as free to be productive as if we had a socially recognised residential college to live in.

24 March 2008

Hooked on excellence

Joan Bakewell on her grammar school (Stockport High School for Girls):

The school was relentlessly competitive and selective. ... The six houses [named after "significant women of achievement”] competed for a silver cup awarded to "the most deserving house", the winner arrived at by compiling exam results with netball and tennis tournaments, house drama competitions and musical achievements. There were even awards for deportment — for virtually anything that could be marked. We got hooked: it became a way of life. ...

The rules were remorseless, dragooning us in every particular of behaviour. Uniform even meant the same indoor shoes for every pupil; hair-ribbons had to be navy blue. The school hat had to be worn at all times to and from school; girls caught without were in trouble. The heaviest burden was the no-talking rule: no talking on the stairs, in the classroom, in the corridors, in assembly anywhere, in fact, except the playground. We were a silent school, shuffling noiselessly from class to class, to our lunch, to the cloakroom. ...

Among this welter of disapproval conduct marks, detentions and, finally, a severe talking-to by Miss Lambrick [the headmistress] physical chastisement was unnecessary. We were cowed long before things became that bad. The cane in the headmistress’s room was redundant. When a girl got pregnant the worst conceivable crime she was expelled without fuss before she could contaminate the rest of us. (quoted in David Kynaston, Austerity Britain, Bloomsbury 2007, pp. 566-567)

But, as Joan Bakewell says, ‘We got hooked: it became a way of life.’ And, as I observed it at my convent school, it did not seem too bad a way of life. I did not get the impression that most of the girls were suffering very much; children and young people do, I think, quite easily get ‘hooked’ on sets of rules and standards of excellence to apply to every aspect of their lives. Trying to keep all the rules as well as possible even produces a sort of centralisation (to use my own psychological term).

At least so far as my convent was concerned I do not think that ‘disapproval’ was the predominant attitude conveyed, or that the girls were ‘cowed’ in trying to avoid it. I got the impression that they got hooked on ‘being good’ and they felt ashamed and disgraced if they slipped up, but not in such a way that they became identified with being disgraced and gave up on trying to be an admirable rule-keeper.

Joan Bakewell is implicitly critical of her competitive and highly-organised school life, implying that there is some obvious ideal of which it falls short, or which it actively violates. This, I suppose, is an acceptable attitude, probably the only acceptable attitude at present towards any school that makes possible any kind of centralisation.

It may well be that fear of disapproval and punishment was a stronger feature of Joan Bakewell’s situation than it was at my convent, which was originally a fee-paying school, and had become a direct grant school which accepted a certain proportion of pupils with grammar school scholarships. Parents are more likely to pay for their children to attend schools that allow them to feel good about themselves than are agents of the collective acting through ‘education’ authorities.

Centralised psychology depends on distinguishing between what is under your own control and what is not. The reactions and evaluations of other people are not under your control, and it may be helpful in later life to be aware that people can be hostile and will make nasty things happen to you if they can catch you out in breaking one of their rules, which they will be motivated to do. So you need to concentrate on what you can do to help yourself by taking whatever opportunities you can to improve your position.

Schools which convey that anything goes, and that the worst that can be done to you is to be sent home and provided with a tutor at the expense of the taxpayers, may be a bad preparation for adult life.

One frequently hears of people who ruin their lives by incurring terrible penalties, such as imprisonment and the breakdown of their livelihood, as a result of attempting to break the law in flagrant ways with little apparent sense of danger; for example, the hapless couple John and Anne Darwin, who recently attempted to start a new and prosperous life in Panama on the proceeds of the life insurance payments resulting from the husband having pretended to be dead, while really living in a house adjoining his own, in which his wife was still living openly.

18 March 2008

Dalziel and Pascoe

Watching modern television while I use my exercise machine is certainly giving me a feeling for the contemporary landscape. It is no wonder that I feel excluded from it, and that there is no sympathy with my position. It is a very closed world, with few ideas, but those implicitly dogmatic. It is, effectively, a new religion.

As in other series, the characters in the police series Dalziel and Pascoe are role models for ‘getting by’ in ‘real’ life. Clearly you never get identified with being purposeful or intense; you fulfil the requirements of your job, which are often unpleasant and inconvenient, but interspersed with frequent breaks for eating, drinking and sex. Such things are the opium of the people, evidently. You do your own household chores, which also helps to ensure that your mind will never have to pay attention to what it is thinking about for very long at a time.

Dalziel is a senior and very experienced policeman, but still has to do his own fetching and carrying. At one stage, he asks his younger assistant Pascoe where some documents are. ‘In the car,’ says Pascoe. Dalziel looks as if he might like them brought in, but Pascoe says, ‘When did your last slave die?’ Dalziel goes and gets his documentation from the car for himself.

This reminds me of the George Damper cartoon in the Daily Mail in which Mrs Damper refuses to get a refill of George’s glass of water after it has been fouled by a bird. ‘If you want a refill, you will have to get it yourself,’ she says.

If any television character shows signs of minding about anything, other characters, maybe including doctors and psychiatrists, ‘help’ him not to think about it. If some specific reminder of the vulnerability of the finite situation affects him psychologically, e.g. being attacked produces agoraphobia, he is told that it is normal to react to such a specific nasty event. He is only reacting ‘normally’ and should not think he is important or different enough for it to matter whether he is suffering from it, and he should not try to find a solution for himself.

Something unquestionably unacceptable is dismissed as ‘part of life’. Put it behind you, don’t let your feelings get to you, and get back to the normal round of filling in the paperwork for the boss, followed by beer and pot noodles.

Doctors, psychiatrists and hospitals are unquestionably ‘helpful’ and never to be feared for the harm they might do you. A ‘friend’ who is a psychiatrist finds it hurtful that her friend with a problem does not rush to tell her all. ‘But I am trained and certificated and thoroughly qualified in every way!’ she says reproachfully.

14 March 2008

Binge Britain

Daily Mail 14 February 2008:

Another man has been beaten and left for dead after politely asking a gang to stop urinating into his garden. ... Gareth Avery, 48, suffered a broken jaw and cheekbone and deep cuts after being punched and kicked by at least two men and a woman ... [He] was left for dead outside his home in Weston-super-Mare when he tried to protect his house from a gang.

In the last few days alone, 17-year-old Joe Dinsdale was stabbed to death on an estate plagued by drunken youths and Nick Baty, 48, died after a month in a coma following an assault. ... As the toll grew, a police chief urged Britain to "wake up" to the full horrors of binge-drinking.

Ken Jones, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, hit out at the drinks trade for making profits "on the back of this misery". ... Mr Jones castigated parents who are responsible for handing over alcohol to more than half of underage drinkers, and warned it was time for Britain to "wake up" to the grim realities of the binge-drinking epidemic.

As usual, parents and commercial interests are blamed for the consequences of the Oppressive State, including the oppressive educational system. A headline inside the paper reads ‘The real price of booze’. No, this is the real price of socialism. The parents are to a large extent themselves the victims of an educational system that left them with no purpose in life, and no way of getting a ‘buzz’ out of life other than getting drunk and/or beating somebody up.

People in Russian forced labour camps set great store by knocking their minds out with drinks of highly concentrated tea, and many drunks lying in the streets of communist Russian froze to death. Alcoholism was an inevitable side effect of communism in Russia, as it is of egalitarian socialism in Britain.

08 March 2008

Reflection of the month


It is alleged that a wicked judge, sentencing a man who had stolen a loaf, replied to his explanation that he had to live, ‘Je n'en vois pas la nécessité.’ More recently, it is alleged that an ex-servant has said that there would be no servant problem if people stopped wanting servants.

Both remarks, if true, demonstrate the psychological verity (which there are, quite independently of these particular remarks, no grounds whatever for doubting) that human beings have no noticeable awareness of one another’s needs. Not, that is to say, any awareness that expresses itself in a tendency to supply those needs. In a certain sense, however, they may be said to have an awareness. If you should ever find yourself hanging from a precipice by your fingertips and a fellow human being happens by, be careful what you say. If he realised your position he might tread on your fingers.

(from the forthcoming book The Corpse and the Kingdom)