25 June 2008

Ideology in a horoscope

What do you give the person who has everything? If you really care you will try to arrange for them to experience what it is like to have nothing. But what if you are a benign universe trying to help a Cancerian who feels overwhelmed by options? How about a challenge to which they cannot rise: or the experience of being powerless in a crucial situation. What you are being obliged to learn is precious beyond measure.
(from Jonathan Cainer’s horoscopes,
Daily Mail 21 June 2008.)

This extract from a horoscope expresses a prevalent tendency in the official and widely understood psychological system of the Oppressive Society.

When I was 13 you could say that I had ‘everything’. I was fully functional and on a high energy level. An equally perfect life lay ahead of me, indefinitely into the future, so long as I got on with taking degrees and other qualifications as fast as I could. My past life lay behind me, dull and regrettable.

But, I thought, I should not blame myself for not having realised how to live. It was just an existential fact that I had not known enough about the world and about the exam system in particular. Don’t look back, I said to myself, just get on with it now.

I had not reckoned on the obstructions. As my aunt put it, decades later, I was ‘too happy’. There were too many people who wanted me to ‘experience what it was like to have nothing’, to be placed in positions in which I could not be motivated, faced with ‘challenges to which I could not rise’, and ‘powerless in a crucial situation’. And so in the end I would be thrown out destitute, to experience permanently ‘what it is like to have nothing’.

Nowadays it is argued that children being educated at home may miss out on the "failures that might be thought essential rites of passage" which a ‘school’ is supposed to provide. (Financial Times Magazine 21/22 June 2008, article ‘A class apart’ by Rob Blackhurst.)

According to Margaret Sutherland of Glasgow University, gifted pupils are not being allowed to fail, and this has emotional consequences. “To be constantly told that you have done well means these children are not being challenged.” (BBC News, 9 August 2005.)

On a website called Gifted Exchange, there is another example of this way of thinking.

Charles Murray [in an article called 'Aztecs vs. Greeks'] calls for the gifted to be given a challenging, classical education. He further states that we need to encourage gifted kids not to become just smart but wise. 'The encouragement of wisdom requires a special kind of education. It requires first of all recognition of one’s own intellectual limits and fallibilities – in a word, humility. This is perhaps the most conspicuously missing part of today’s education of the gifted. Many high-IQ students, especially those who avoid serious science and math, go from kindergarten through an advanced degree without ever having a teacher who is dissatisfied with their best work and without ever taking a course that forces them to say to themselves, “I can’t do this.” Humility requires that the gifted learn what it feels like to hit an intellectual wall just as all of their less talented peers do, and that can come only from a curriculum and pedagogy designed especially for them.'

Observe that both Margaret Sutherland and Charles Murray are relying on a teacher-pupil relationship to place the victim in the position of being unable to satisfy a mentor, when this may be unnecessary or actually damaging to working directly for the exam. I was perfectly well able to take exams without teachers and needed only sample papers and textbooks. But I was constantly forced into positions of supervised ‘preparation’ in which I was doing work which I could not be motivated to do in order (as I knew) that the teacher/tutor could have the opportunity to make me feel inadequate.

The editor of the Gifted Exchange site, Laura Vanderkam, agrees with Charles Murray and says:

If anyone reads Aztecs vs. Greeks and decides to push for education that holds gifted kids’ feet to the fire, intellectually, then I’ll be happy.

This is just an incitement to those who are running the lives of gifted children to humiliate and frustrate them. Educators and other people in a position of power over children do not need any incitement.

Once the link of direct payment by an individual has been broken, there is nothing to prevent something being provided which is quite different from what he might have paid for. Probably most parents would be unlikely to pay for an ‘education’ which was explicitly aimed at making their child fail. Nor can the situation be remedied by verbal rationalisations. Whatever statements of intention are made for PR purposes, the motivation of those in power will determine what happens, and what reason is there to think that the motivation of educators is benevolent? No solution is possible that involves telling people with the power to run other people’s lives what their attitudes should be. The only possible remedy is to abolish state-financed schools and universities.

’We appeal for £2m as initial funding for a social science department in our unrecognised and unsupported independent university. This would enable it to publish analyses of the unexamined assumptions underlying current discussion of the philosophy of education.’ Charles McCreery, DPhil

24 June 2008

Institutionalised opposition

copy of a letter

Further to my previous comments, even if I had not taken up the grammar school scholarship at 10 and had simply worked straight away for degrees, there would still have been the incalculable and ever-present risk of notice being taken of me by the local ‘education’ authority. So far as I can gather, in the 1945 Education Act, local authorities were given powers of inspection and interference over the ‘education’ of everyone, whether at private or state schools, or at home. This would have been a time-bomb for me which might have blown up at any time.

What I found so disgusting at the time (when I was 16) was that I was not only no longer in receipt of a grammar school scholarship but was past school-leaving age, so I do not see that they had any right at all to enquire into my affairs or to discuss them with my father.

Now, not only is the school-leaving age higher than it was then, but it is being proposed that until the age of 18 the local authority should have the power to make everyone do something approved of by them, some kind of officially recognised ‘training’, etc.

This is an absolutely terrible idea, and only compete abolition of the concept of compulsory education, including the concept of the powers (explicit and implicit) of local education authorities could restore an acceptable situation.

As could be seen in my case, they had, even at so early a stage in the development of the Oppressive State, no scruples about uninvited invasion into the life of someone over whom they had no official jurisdiction.

In fact it may very well have been the unprincipled Mother Mary Angela, the nun who taught maths, who set them onto me when I was on the verge of making a bid for freedom. I remember how she reacted when I told her of my plans to get on with taking degrees as fast as possible. Very similar, really, to Sir George Joy’s reaction when I said that if he prevaricated any longer about the Coombe-Tennants buying a house for me I would buy one myself, although a smaller one than they had been planning to buy for me. ‘You can’t do that,’ he said, with something like fear or apprehension, and Mother Mary Angela said something similar on being told that I could get on with taking degrees straight away.

‘Oh but I can,’ I said joyfully to Mother Mary Angela. ‘I have gone into all the regulations and I am perfectly well qualified.’ I knew she wanted to oppose me in everything I wanted but I still had not realised how dangerous it might be to let her have any information about my intentions. In fact, of course, tremendous and widespread opposition arose which obliterated my joyful hopes and condemned me to yet another year of supervised ‘preparation’ for a distant qualification.

Similarly, I suppose that Sir George feared my setting up in Oxford because, on however small a scale I was able to operate, the Oxford location would be sufficient to attract some publicity and hence the possibility of financial support. So the campaign to starve me out began, and when the King money provided partial alleviation for me, Professor Sir Alister Hardy had to be mobilised to stand in my light. Which, of course, he did very effectively, although he had no idea what to do and his ‘projects’ were only superficial and mechanical imitations of mine. I had used punched cards so he would use punched cards – or rather his employees would, when he had some. (Computers were still cumbrous and not easily available.)

It does appear (from my experience of life) that when ability is combined with drive and a strong sense of direction, it arouses opposition. So, paradoxically, although the attacks on my father which obstructed my plans always took the form of allegations that he was pushing me, they were very likely instigated by those who had the clearest perceptions of the fact that he was not doing so, such as my aunt and Mother Mary Angela. Mother Mary Angela clearly disliked the fact that I had found a way to start taking degrees, and probably all the more because it was so clearly my own autonomous idea, into researching which I had put a lot of initiative.

It is possible to imagine a hypothetical society in which my drive and independence would have aroused admiration and support, but clearly this is not a society in which I have ever lived.


I am giving a seminar in Oxford on the 26th, entitled
"Should pensioners revolt against means-testing?".

Details here.

23 June 2008

Seeking supporters

Copy of a letter to someone I managed to speak to (rare event)

Further to our conversation of yesterday, I thought I would like to send you a complimentary copy of my most recent book, which I hope you will accept as a gift.

If you were able to make our presence known about it would be very helpful. We are looking for supporters of every kind. We cannot really be functional in any way as an academic institution without substantial capital endowment, and it is no use our approaching billionaires etc without independent people to represent our case to them. (I have plenty of negative experience of doing so.) The only time I ever got any money I had an ex-Colonial Governor to put my case to Cecil Harmsworth King, chairman of the IPC group.

We would also like people to move nearby to give us, and one another, moral support in protesting against the infringements of liberty which have already been going on for a long time on an exponential basis.

With best wishes, etc.

21 June 2008

Preliminary scenario 1

Each individual finds himself involved in a strange and complicated story. He cannot remember exactly how it began. If he believes what the other people in the story tell him, he is going to die, which means perhaps that he will cease being conscious of anything again. The environment in which he finds himself is one of staggering complexity. The universe of astronomy surrounds his planet, leading to no edge, but to abysses of unimaginable mathematical paradox. The earth under his feet is supposedly made of particles, the studies of which lead to no final definition of their ultimate types and characteristics, but to abysses of unimaginable mathematical paradox.

Probably there is in his home a box with a flat front which shows moving coloured pictures of his world, impressing upon him the intolerable multifariousness of all the forms of life that have ever crawled or swum or flown in the darkest and deepest, hottest and coldest, wettest and driest crevices of his planet. Again, no precise limit can be set upon their numbers, though vague estimates can be made of the number of unclassified insects of a certain type that probably remain to be found and labelled in the basin of the Amazon.

There seem to be other people in this story with him, but there is a great difference between himself and them. He is conscious of his own feelings, but only by implication and inference of theirs. Are they conscious of themselves as he is conscious of himself? If he talks to them about this they usually discourage him from thinking of such an absurd idea (but he may have read about dreams in which figures in the dream argue vigorously and mockingly with the dreamer about whether they are real). Is his the only consciousness? What is the point of all this, and does the point of it have anything at all to do with him? Is the whole universe a casual uncaused appearance, a sudden shocking bauble emerging from unbeing?

Why should it? Why should it not? What could cause such a thing? Of course his ideas of caused and uncaused break down; as usual at the edge of things his thought is mocked by the unimaginable.

Perhaps the universe is just a material thing and his consciousness only an accidental byproduct. That is to say the universe is nothing but this turbulence of forces, ultimately based upon unimaginable mathematical relationships. The turbulence has happened to produce living forms — that is, patterns of matter that are able to generate further similar patterns — and those which are of some complexity seem to themselves to be conscious. But the semblance of consciousness has no more reality than the electromagnetic field of a machine; it will stop being there when the machine stops, and the mechanical mathematical universe will go on indifferently.

Is all this his dream and will he ever awaken? Are all the people and perhaps the animals dreaming too, and is this a communal hallucination in which they are all caught? Or is he the dream, as some have suggested, of a magician or a god? If so, what are the intentions of the dreamer?

(from the forthcoming book The Corpse and the Kingdom)

15 June 2008

Confiscating the freedom of some, in order to appropriate the freedom of others

The driving force of socialism is not to provide benefits for anyone, but to destroy individual freedom. By taxation, the state deprives individuals of freedom of action, reducing the territory within which they are able to decide for themselves how to run their affairs, and using the money from taxpayers to buy areas of freedom from other individuals.

This was very clearly shown by the way in which, at 16, I was forced to spend a very damaging year at London University instead of being left alone to take an external London degree (or degrees) with correspondence courses before going to Oxford or Cambridge.

My plans were all made — so far as they could be without some assistance in arranging the practical work that formed part of the courses in physics and chemistry — and my father had expressed willingness to pay for the correspondence courses in question.

I was offered a tutor, apparently spontaneously, by the local authority. I had made no application to them, although it is possible that a treacherous teacher at my Ursuline convent school had done so, which was beyond her rights, since I had left school and was no longer in receipt of a scholarship which might be regarded (and had been regarded) as making it other people’s business to make (and prohibit) decisions and arrangements about my affairs.

This led to an interview which left me with a clear perception that this was nothing I wanted anything to do with. But, as I now realise, the whole thing was motivated by a ravening desire to regain oppressive control of my life, from which I considered myself lucky to have escaped. My plans were aimed at helping myself, so far as was now possible, to recover from the seriously bad effects of the last three years (since being prevented from taking the School Certificate exam — usually for 16-year-olds — at 13).

The local ‘educational’ community stormed, and my father withdrew his support for my plans, making instead, and without consulting me, appalling arrangements for me to go to a college of London University. I had both a state scholarship and a County Major scholarship. The state scholarship was to be kept until I went to Oxford. So now my father, being unwilling to support me against determined opposition by people in positions of ostensible authority, applied for me to be allowed to use the County Major Scholarship to go to London University. If only they had refused! Then I could not have gone, and would have been able to revert to my former plan.

But in fact the education committee was willing to pay (with taxpayers’ money) for me to be forced to do what I did not want to do, losing my self-determination by having inflicted upon me a most horrific year, all the more damaging because it came after three previous years in which I had had no control over my life.

A member of the committee was quoted to me as saying (ironically and hypocritically), as they agreed to buy my life for a year, ‘We wouldn’t stand in her way’.

In fact it would have been better for me if I had never taken up the grammar school scholarship in the first place (aged 10) but had worked on my own to take degrees as soon as possible.

In saying that my father was not willing to support me I do not mean to be critical of him. Who would have been willing directly to oppose socially appointed authorities? It is by no means commonly done and would be extremely difficult to do. My father, for all his aristocratic genes, had been brought up as a poor boy in East Ham, suffering from every sort of neglect and insecurity. I do blame those who used their socially conferred positions of influence to pressurise him into withdrawing his support for my plans, inflicting irreparable damage on my prospects in life, reparation for which should still be regarded as due to me.

05 June 2008

How to provoke hostility

At the last seminar I got six people, but I am afraid this may be only because the title ‘Gnosticism and Existential psychology’ contained no hint that I might be critical of modern Existentialists, such as Sartre, who are identified with the rejection of capitalism and bourgeois morality, i.e. they are identified with the destruction of civilisation by socialism.

However, I have improved my technique by making an initial exposition of my real reason for giving the seminar, to make people aware of the position of my independent university in a hostile society, and its needs for workers and supporters of all kinds. This arouses overt hostility, and some go away very quickly, but the eventual outcome from my point of view is certainly no worse than hoping I may get to talk to someone realistically at the end.

In our position, provoking the hostility to express itself openly has to be regarded as a positive achievement.

One man came early and heard the whole of this preliminary exposition. He was very hostile to the possibility that having a high IQ might mean that a person needed particular opportunities and circumstances to use it, and also that they might contribute anything useful to society which other, less intelligent people could not. He quoted the example of his great uncle (probably now dead) saying that although this uncle had a high IQ, he had not used it for anything better than creating crossword puzzles for some broadsheet newspaper, and that he hadn’t been capable of anything more even if he had had better circumstances. So this meant that having a high IQ could not ever mean that you might need better circumstances to enable you to do all the things that you were capable of, and that it could not mean that I actually needed anything more (such as a hotel environment) than I already had. He then claimed that people in general are not hostile to those with high IQs; they are just indifferent.

This man was about to waste his time (and taxpayers’ money) in Oxford starting a Masters degree in 'psychodynamics and neurolinguistics'.

He stayed a fairly long time, and when he left, he said, ‘I am off to find somebody I can do good to,’ in a rather reactive way. I replied, ‘I need someone to do good for me’. Of course he didn’t respond.

I contrasted the Gnostics with modern Existentialist philosophers, making the point that Gnosticism had been a form of Existentialism that did not lead to materialistic socialism. As I was doing so, it occurred to me that this illustrates the extreme hostility to any form of potentially centralised existential psychology that is aroused in ‘normal’ psychology. The Gnostics and the Cathars were always subject to persecution, torture and death by other Christians, and their documents suppressed, to such an extent that information about the content of the Gnostic gospels can only be gathered from what is quoted in the polemical writings of other Christians (the Gospel of Thomas being the sole exception), and information about the beliefs of the Cathars only from the records of the various inquisitions of their replies, or supposed replies, under torture.