10 October 2006

Why people didn't want me to do science

(copy of a letter)

You once asked why everyone was so opposed to my doing science (and also you might have asked why they were so opposed to my getting qualifications in several subjects as an earlier age than other people). Well, of course, the opposition was expressed by everyone talking as if it was a foregone conclusion that it was out of the question, I mean, never mentioning it as a possibility. I think this is approved technique for agents of the ideology. They are supposed to listen to what the victim has to say, reinforce whatever is in line with the approved interpretations, and then go on talking as if he had never said the unacceptable bits. This avoids ‘confrontation’, is not supposed to be ‘forcing’ the right attitudes upon him, but is expected to ‘help’ him (eventually) to adopt the right outlook on his position in society.

Well, one explanation of why everyone was so opposed to my doing science:

That wicked woman at the Glasgow University Department of Educational Studies, speaking about gifted children, said, ‘If they do everything easily, they are never challenged’. I did everything easily, and expected to go on doing so. This was a perfectly realistic expectation. I could see very easily what was needed for taking degrees in sciences, languages, and anything else except maths, where I was not provided with the right textbooks, which possibly did not exist.

Mother Mary Angela expressed an attitude very similar to that of the wicked woman at Glasgow. It was supposed to be bad for me that I could do everything I tried to do easily and without effort; at least without the sort of struggling effort that is needed to do things against the grain, in circumstances in which motivation is impossible.

Supposing it was considered essential that I should be ‘challenged’, and that the moral (or social) desirability of this overwhelmed any consideration of whether I might eventually be left with no usable qualification at all, there was only one way of bringing this about. I had to be made to do maths against my will on a ridiculously protracted timescale, in circumstances that I would never have chosen or continued to tolerate as a free agent, and prevented from getting qualifications in anything else to alleviate my position.

You seemed to agree that ‘you don’t have to be the greatest mathematician ever to do physics or chemistry’, so I suppose that is steering me in the direction of thinking that I am really inadequate at maths but I can still do physics or chemistry for my own ‘interest’, as an academic outcast living in constriction and degradation. Doing things for ‘interest’ is the socially approved compensation for an outcast. I do not accept that anything that happened shed the slightest light on how ‘good’ I was at maths, since it only shed light on how badly I could be made to perform, after several years of a war of attrition, at work set by hostile tutors with whom I did not wish to have anything to do. If I had been a free agent, even if only in that one respect, I would have preferred to dispense with tutorials and take my chance on preparing myself for the final degree examination.