30 November 2006

TV programme on Opus Dei

Saw French television programme on Opus Dei, implicitly very critical of it as a secret and insufficiently left-wing Catholic organisation, with many wealthy entrepreneurs among its members and supporters.

Many of its members were professional people, considering that they were contributing to the work by carrying out for the work of their professions as well as possible and with a respect for other individuals.

The concept of doing things as well as possible seemed to be an important part of it. The ladies who cleaned and made the beds in their hostels were meticulous, plumped up the cushions with care, and made sure the coverlets on the beds were absolutely straight.

This reminded me of the perfectionism with which everything was done at the Catholic convent school which I attended and which was in line with the way I habitually did things myself. My parents had always done things that way as well, being middle-class people with high IQs, and not demoralised (at least not on that level) by their frustrating lives.

Of course I had usually found myself doing things that presented no difficulty in themselves, but I had made them as interesting as possible by doing them perfectly, spacing my work neatly on the page, and so forth.

My first encounter with a different approach was when I was forced to attend the local state school and was vaguely horrified by the apparently deliberate sloppiness with which things were done, so that they were just, but only just, adequate for their purpose. Exam papers, for example, would be blurrily reproduced, not quite indecipherable, and skewed on the page but not actually off it.

The modern person demands that everything they do should be ‘interesting’ or ‘creative’, otherwise disaffection with it will be expressed by doing it inattentively. I don't myself see anything favourable in this attitude. We suffer a lot from this sort of outlook in people who work here, usually very briefly, or who talk about coming.

To a potential worker

(copy of a letter)

Dear Joe,

It would be nice if you would visit us because we want people to know about our situation and our need for people to work with us.

We are a developing and hopefully expanding organisation opposed by the bitterest social hostility; we say we are aiming at being an independent university with several research departments and a publishing company supported by a business empire. I think you need to know this so as not to misinterpret our present embryonic state, which can still do little more than some book publishing and investment. This results from the universal desire that we should be squeezed to death.

Our expansion depends very much on getting to know more people who might come and work with us, and we would like to have people coming as temporary or part-time workers to get to know the situation and spread the word about it among their acquaintances. People need to be unselective about the work they do; it is no use to us if people insist only on doing ‘creative’ or ‘interesting’ things. We need people to be willing to do whatever happens to be useful at the time, especially when they are starting with no knowledge of our office systems.

It is best if people come as voluntary workers, supporting themselves in the first instance, so they can get to know the work. It is only by people coming on a short-term basis that they can get to know about our position realistically, and even if this does not lead to their ever wishing to come permanently, at least they would be in a position to tell other people about our shortage of manpower.

When we say people should be prepared to support themselves in the first instance, this refers to their legal position. We would not want them to be uncomfortable before we could work out if any permanent arrangement was possible, and so long as they were doing a bit of work, would support them ourselves as friends.

We are situated in Cuddesdon, a pleasant village outside Oxford.

Please would you let us know your postal address, as we would like to send you some advertising pens and book leaflets for you to distribute.

28 November 2006

Dawkins and Nietzsche

Dawkins tells us that God is dead, but he is a little late. Nietzsche said this over a century ago, seeing that traditional religious and metaphysical ways of thinking were on the wane - leaving a void that science could not fill, and endangering civilisation.
In the early 1880s, when he wrote Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche arrived at a conception of human life and possibility – and with it, of value and meaning – that he believed could overcome the Schopenhauerian pessimism and nihilism that he saw as outcomes of the collapse of traditional modes of religious and philosophical interpretation. He prophesied a period of nihilism in the aftermath of their decline and fall; but this prospect deeply distressed him. He was convinced of the untenability of the “God hypothesis”, and indeed of all the religious and metaphysical interpretations of the world and ourselves; and yet he was well aware that the very possibility of the affirmation of life was at stake, and required more than the mere abandonment of all such “lies” and “fictions”. He took the basic challenge of philosophy now to be to reinterpret life and the world along more tenable lines that would also overcome nihilism. (Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy)

Civilisation has destroyed itself in giving birth to the new religion of socialist materialism for which Dawkins speaks. Dawkins is, of course, attacking a straw man in criticising those who still entertain an unsophisticated kind of God and a creationist myth.

In reality, Dawkins is attacking something subtler and more profound than Christianity. He is attacking the individualism that still presumes to relate itself to reality rather than to other people, or to society.

An advantage in a life of adversity

(copy of a letter)

As I was saying, and perhaps should write about, the higher level was certainly a great advantage in the life of adversity that confronted me on leaving university. If I had not had a higher level I would have needed essentially the same things and needed to work towards them in the same ways, but it would have been a lot harder if I had still had the deficits and cravings with which I had arrived at Somerville. It was so long then since I had been able to get anything out of life that I needed to get something quickly, in many ways, and could not easily reconcile myself to further unrewarding chores.

I knew that the idea had been that as I was prevented from getting anything I wanted out of life, I would adopt the prevailing worldview as a compensation, but in fact it still presented itself to me as totally unattractive.

When hunger becomes too dominant it detracts from functionality. I suppose, however, that it was an advantage that my deprivations, although severe and painful, were not based on emotional deprivations in early life, as I think most people’s are.

Anyway, I cut other people or society out of my life as a source of significance, because I saw that any wish to derive support from that quarter was being used against me.

By the time I was thrown out without a usable qualification, and with no way of making a career, I was extremely well stoked up emotionally and all the deficits had been filled in. Which was just as well in the circumstances. If it had been otherwise, it is difficult to imagine how I could have been so pragmatic and extraverted in the terrible circumstances in which I found myself.

I was destitute and friendless in the world, my position was shocking. Every social contact was horrifying, and it was easy to imagine a protective reclusiveness. But I had derived from the higher level an assurance that there would be a way ahead and it would lead somewhere. This was where I found myself and I had to see how it might contribute to my return to an academic career. Disgraced and outcast as I was, I met everybody, explored every avenue, became aware of everyone’s attitudes and opinions. And saved money. I had a daily allowance for expenditure and at the end of each day the surplus was carried forward or transferred to permanent savings. My savings represented my freedom of action; one day there might be an opportunity and whether I was free to take it would depend on exactly how much money I had. Every penny counted.

Meanwhile I lived without an identity. I had been cheated out of the social position which I should have had, and now I was dead in the eyes of the world. At the SPR I was surrounded by professors and appalled to find myself - not only without the professorial status that I should have acquired myself, in less hostile society, at about 15 - but without any status or hope at all, being not even on a career track that could lead to a Professorship.

I was shocked and horrified, but I was well stoked up emotionally by the higher level, and I could proceed as purposefully as possible without deriving any feedback or reinforcement from anything I did or from any social reinforcement. That was the difference from when I arrived at Somerville. Having been thrown out, it did not do to think about how I appeared in anyone’s eyes, and I could proceed purposefully without doing so.

I realised for the first time how the despair which I continually rejected was being converted into anger when a member of the SPR Council commented on my dogged weariness and suggested I take a holiday. At least he might refrain from pretending that he cared about what was good for me. If he cared, he would be helping me to get back into the academic career that I should be having, with residential hotel facilities. I sold myself into slavery in the SPR office; I sold my life by the day, having nothing else to sell. Holidays were for Professors, not for slaves.

27 November 2006

What are universities for?

Letter from Professor Andrew Oswald of Warwick University to the Financial Times:

Competition in higher education is an excellent thing, but some of those quoted in your recent articles do not understand universities. A successful university has to make losses. For that reason, it must be supported by philanthropy or taxation.

First, our universities do not exist to discover how to make a quieter car, a brighter lipstick, or even a more informative newspaper. That is what companies are for. Much discussion in the UK over the past decade has suggested how valuable it is for universities to create commercial spin-offs and to license new patents. Such views are wrong.

Second, universities are not high schools for people who are older than 18. They do not exist primarily to educate.

Third, the main role of universities in a society is to find out new ideas and give them away. It is therefore a mistake to tell universities to make money or encourage them to set up private-training arms. Their job is to uncover those things that matter to the emotional prosperity of our world but that intrinsically will not be discovered by commercial organisations.

The carmaker and the lipstick designer both rely on basic chemistry. Yet they would never have paid for the periodic table. Society needs universities, moreover, as centres of wisdom that, when a globe is heating up, or a war is being considered, or a public health service is being designed, can do what they and no commercial organisation can do – to provide answers that are disinterested.

Outstanding universities cannot be for profit. They matter more than that.

In practice, a university exists for the promotion of an ideology. It does not exist so that people can get qualifications that will be of any real use to them, and it does not exist for the advancement of science. It exists as a centre for the dissemination of ideas which will contribute to the 'emotional prosperity of the world' - i.e. the downfall of civilisation and the abolition of individual liberty.

According to Professor Oswald, a university is a 'centre of wisdom' that is totally 'disinterested'. Those concerned in disseminating the wisdom are well provided with salary and status as socially-appointed disseminators of wisdom, and are able to be undistracted by a need to derive any other benefits for themselves or for any other individual from the application of their advice to important arrangements. In other words, they are completely free to accelerate the rush to destruction, on a global basis, of the human race.

’We appeal for £1m 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

The Prozac generation (2)

A survey by Norwich Union Healthcare reveals that GPs have seen a sharp rise in the number of teenagers with mental health problems over the last five years. It is thought that around one in ten now suffers mental illness. (Daily Mail, 17 November 2006)
If one in ten school-victims are now suffering from ‘mental illness’ (as diagnosed by socially appointed oppressors of humanity), I wonder how closely that is correlated with the top 10% of the population in terms of IQ? Of course, IQ is not recognised as a concept, and meaningful statistics are not available, as the ‘educational’ system would not wish to be regarded as responsible for providing the above-average with usable qualifications with which to have a suitable career in adult life.

17 November 2006

The Prozac generation

Daily Mail, 17 November 2006:

Parents are ‘bullying’ GPs into prescribing antidepressants for their children, according to a disturbing survey. Middle-class parents are among the worst culprits, especially those with children under pressure to do well at school. Family doctors also claim that ‘very poor’ NHS services are forcing them to prescribe drugs like Prozac for depressed children when counselling would be better. There is concern that children who are simply unhappy are labelled as depressed – leading to thousands getting drugs which may actually increase the risk of suicide.

The survey, by Norwich Union Healthcare, reveals that GPs have seen a sharp rise in the number of teenagers with mental health problems over the last five years. It is thought that around one in ten now suffers mental illness. The latest NHS guidelines advise doctors not to prescribe most antidepressants in the SSRI group to children, although they may still use Prozac. But the report says over a third of GPs feel under pressure from parents to provide a ‘quick fix’. London GP Dr Sarah Jarvis said:

‘I’ve certainly felt pressurised by parents, particularly those in middle-class families where the children are under pressure to perform academically. These children can put a lot of pressure on themselves, which can manifest itself as depression. They often have parents who are high-flying high achievers, used to being in control. They don’t have time to deal with their children’s problems and they feel guilty….’

My comments

  • It should be illegal for medical doctors or counsellors to have anything to do with children, as these agents of the collective are playing an oppressive and immorally abusive role.

  • Parents of children should not have to interact with immoral oppressors, such as doctors, in order to get ‘prescriptions’, i.e. to get permission to have any chemical resource they want to have.

  • Compulsory education is immoral and oppressive, and should be abolished.

  • Schools run by the state, i.e. financed by freedom which has been confiscated from members of the population, which may include parents of the victims themselves, should be abolished.

  • The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence should be abolished.

  • The NHS and the medical profession should be abolished.

16 November 2006

Censorship and child psychiatry

The censorship is terrible. We just had a very obvious example of it. Obviously it militates invisibly against our books. But in this case Fabian wrote some comments on an article* about child psychiatrists. The article made the psychiatrists sound as barmy and irresponsible as I expect them to be, and this was so obvious that I am not sure what the author of the article intended. Children are getting more psychiatric? Schools are getting better at causing breakdowns in their pupils? More children are being drugged out of their minds? Or perhaps – capitalism and ambitious parents are reducing everyone, children included, to nervous wrecks?

Whatever the author intended, Fabian sent a comment (comments invited and assured of publication so long as on-topic and not abusive). Fabian’s comments were very mild by my standards and certainly not abusive, but suggested that there might be a bias in favour of interpreting anything exceptional as pathological (some of the 'deranged' children were a bit intelligent) and that if psychiatric cases were becoming so frequent among school children, should one not consider that the educational system itself might be at fault?

Fabian’s comment was put on and then removed. This is censorship. There is no possibility in modern society of criticising social authorities or the establishment such as doctors and schools; criticism will be suppressed.

* 'Troubled Children', New York Times 11 Nov 06

14 November 2006

Centralisation and the Nobel Prize

It is very difficult to say anything about higher level psychology without it leading to misinterpretations. For one thing it is very layered.

As I said, I got centralised by accepting that I had lost my destiny, I couldn’t make society give me any of the things of which it had seen fit to deprive me; I didn’t think that I ought to be able to, because other people were not under my control. I could not prevent everyone from being against me if they wanted to be.

There was nobody in my life any more. What mattered to me most was that if I could ever manage to get a Nobel Prize I wouldn’t be able to get anything out of it because I had no respect for the sort of people who awarded it as sources of significance or recognition. But I had to think I wouldn't, in order to be free to go on pursuing it in such hopeless circumstances. I was going to go on for ever pursuing the things that I might once have had easily; I still did not want anything except the open-ended mental landscape that I had once had.

Similarly, however much I had thought that my interests in finiteness were not worth defending, this only made my frustration the more intense at being in exile from academia and from opportunity, and I was appalled at my degradation among the Professors at the Society for Psychical Research in being deprived of the status which I should already have had myself for several years, and being treated as a statusless, young and female secretary. This prevented me absolutely from identifying with my social image in their eyes, or caring what any of them said or thought about me, and I could only apply all the drive I had to working towards reinstatement in a proper Professorship as soon as possible, even if the only ways I had of working towards it were useless in the eyes of society.

I believe the approved method for becoming reconciled to your position is not to think about the important issues, pretend you don’t mind and you haven’t anything against anybody who messed up your life, pursue beauty or intensity or happiness in a vacuum, and interact with lots of people. This is supposed to give you some sort of feeling of belonging or being valued, or something.

13 November 2006

Charles Morgan, forgotten novelist

I think Charles Morgan’s life must have gone wrong somehow, although he was a literary prize winning author. He was a classicist and (I guess, from the social class with which he is familiar) an aristocrat.

In spite of the elation of Sparkenbroke, he seems to have been more identified with the tone of defeated ordinariness characteristic of his other books.

Nevertheless, Sparkenbroke came as a breath of fresh air to me at 14, when I was sinking under the oppression of Woodford High School and both my present wellbeing and future prospects were severely threatened. Here was someone who was getting something out of life, in a hotel environment and free to use his ability. How wonderful. It reminded one that life could be worth living, but provided no solution to getting it back in bad circumstances.

The only other writer I got anything out of was Nietzsche. But he, too, reminded me of an emotional intensity that was desirable, with no suggestion as to how it was to be re-accessed.

I remember a poem out of Sparkenbroke, I suppose written by Morgan himself, which seems a bit more meaningful now than it did then.
Man is a king in exile;
All his greatness
Consists in knowledge
of that kingdom lost,
Which, in degree of quickness,
Is his fate and character on earth.

12 November 2006

On the proposal to raise the school-leaving age

There is a proposal to raise the school-leaving age to 18. How truly terrible. Incarceration, and exposure to social hostility, from 5 to 18!

Yet another blow against the intelligent and driveful. In the case of a person with an IQ of 150, no release from prison until the mental age of 27. Schools are no longer a place that is suitable for the academically inclined, and I would recommend most people, whether academically inclined or not, to leave school at the earliest possible age and concentrate on becoming as rich as possible by business or investment. If he/she builds up a cushion of capital, he can then think about cultural, intellectual or artistic interests. (He could come and join my consortium, even if only temporarily, which might give him some constructive ideas!)

There is, as usual, no consideration for mental age. A person with an IQ of 180 reaches a mental age of 18 when he has a chronological age of 10. It is already the case that many with IQs above average become too disenchanted with the school experience and leave school as soon as they can, rather than staying on to try to get to university. As the school and university experience becomes increasingly trivial and demoralising, so the desire to extend and enforce it becomes stronger in those with the power to legislate for this.

If it were possible to leave school as soon as a certain level of proficiency at reading, writing and arithmetic has been attained, as it was in my grandfather’s day (who had a high IQ and left school at 12), it is easy to imagine that many of the brightest might leave school at about 8 and set about making their way in the world.

Who is to pay for the extra two years of incarceration, by the way? Taxation has already reached a level at which it is difficult to see how more can be squeezed out of the productive population, except by such ingenious measures as:
- fining parents for the misdemeanours of their children, who are being trained at school in discontented rebelliousness against property-owners, or
- fining the parents for failing to force their children to attend the schools when they have no wish to do so.

And who is to say that the ways in which these children want to spend their time would be more damaging than time spent in school?

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position. I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

06 November 2006

More about taking exams

(copy of a letter)

Whenever I meet people I get reminded of things I need to say about my present and past life which might seem to me too obvious to state explicitly. This is useful in a way; I am still trying to squeeze out my autobiography (up to the age of 21) and other books with painful slowness, and one day will try to force them upon the attention of society.

You said “I must have been pleased" about getting a distinction in the mock maths exam when I was 14. A point that escaped everyone’s attention then, and still does, was that it illustrated how realistic was my bitterness at the contrast between the rate at which I could and should have been acquiring qualifications if I had not been caught by an age-limit (so that I could not even quarrel with people to be allowed to take the exams I proposed to take instantly), and the supervised slow-track of sensory deprivation (doing far too few subjects) into which I had been forced against my will.

You said I had "only done schoolwork" in physics and chemistry. That was the cunning of the conspiracy against me (whether conscious or subconscious). If I was never allowed to get any qualifications for real, I could never prove to anyone how close I had been to taking them. You said "I had read the A-level textbooks". Well, actually, only skippily, but I could see they would be no problem – nor would there be with any degree level textbooks I had managed to obtain. Reading them for real when there was a real goal in prospect would take a few weeks for each subject – say a couple of months for the degree-level exams to be really generous – and I did not want to spoil things for myself by doing anything prematurely, i.e. before it was a matter of preparing for a real, public exam as fast and as hard as possible.

Other people with high IQs sometimes do the same thing, however they rationalise it to themselves. Fabian, for example, made jokes in the back row at lessons at his boring and demoralising school, to pass the time as best he could, and did not do any work until the exam was imminent. Then, preparing for the exam was a challenge (in the old-fashioned sense – not the sense in which gifted children are nowadays said to ‘need challenging’ by sadistic teachers) and what got him distinctions on his S-level (scholarship level) papers was a few weeks of really intensive work.

Remember, this is the high-IQ ghetto.

As the decades have passed, things have got worse. Now there is even more conflation of supervised preparation with exam-taking. It is true that in the end I could not overcome the adverse effects of the nightmarish stress of taking only one degree exam, too late in life, in the subject most vulnerable to stress. The exam-taking was the only potentially positive part of the operation, but by then my situation was too bad. What had made it so was the long years of supervised frustration. So of course it is no solution at all to use the stress of the final exam as an excuse for eliminating it altogether and substituting the supervised ‘preparation’ as being what the degree is about. This supervised ‘preparation’ was the bad part of it that finally made it impossible for me to recover sufficiently for the exam-taking part.

Inverting the situation as usual, of course they increasingly want to spare candidates the possibility of stress in the exam by making their degree depend entirely on the supervised preparation, whereas in fact a complete disjunction is required. What is needed is the possibility for taking or retaking the exam without preliminary social interference.

As it was, I knew that the stress had become too great and tried to secure a fail-safe strategy for myself so that I could go on and take another degree immediately in maths or otherwise if I did not do well enough. But everyone wanted it to be a matter of life or death, so that the stress would be as bad as possible, and no one would give me any financial or even moral support in my attempts to set up a fail-safe plan.

So I knew I could count on no support from anyone; but even so I could not have foreseen that the furious hostility and desire to degrade vented upon me would be as bad as it eventually was.

I have known of other people at Somerville who had always done well in exams by coming over inspirational at the last moment, and hoped/expected to be able to do this for their final degree exam, but found that they could not generate the motivation at so late a stage in their lives, and got seconds instead of firsts.

It is easier to work for reward than to avoid punishment, and working to avoid a punishment of unthinkable horror (which is what exile from an academic career was for me) may be totally incapacitating.

05 November 2006

Data rape

Labour faces further accusations of ‘Big Brother’ tactics over claims that the police and security services will be able to access anyone’s medical records. Highly sensitive information on mental illness, abortions, pregnancy, HIV status, drug-taking and alcoholism will be stored on a national NHS computer database from as early as next year. The plans, part of the Government’s troubled £20 billion NHS computer programme, have been condemned as ‘data rape’ by civil liberty campaigners. At present, police can persuade GPs to divulge facts about their patients or insist on a court order. But under the new system, data would be disclosed centrally and anonymously at the touch of a button.

At the moment, 50 million confidential patient files are held on paper by family doctors. These will soon be loaded on to a central computer system called Spine – whether patients agree or not. Dr Richard Vautrey, from the British Medical Association, warned: ‘If patients don’t have confidence in the national IT system and the way the information is revealed, then they will be reluctant to share those details and that will undermine the confidence they have in their GPs.’
(Daily Mail, 2 November 2006)
Does anybody have ‘confidence’ in their GPs now? Well, more fool they. It has always been the case that what you told to your GP in ‘confidence’ would be freely transmitted to any other member of the medical Mafia, only not to people outside it (though even that was no doubt violated). I have been told various things about other people which were allegedly passed on by their doctors.

And, of course, confidentiality towards other doctors was what was most important to you, because if you got fed up with your GP’s refusal to let you have what you wanted, you would want to be able to start completely afresh with another socially authorised oppressor of humanity.

Even if it was pretty certain that he would think in exactly the same way as the GP from whom you wished to release yourself, at least you wanted to be sure that previous interpretations and misinterpretations would not be passed on, but that you could at least start afresh with presenting your own case in the most favourable way to a tabula rasa, even if it was a tabula rasa with the same basically sadistic psychology and motivation, combined with an equally low IQ.

03 November 2006

Developing an observer

(copy of a letter)

Well, if you want to develop a 'soul', or whatever, you could try the following.

Gurdjieff sets great store by developing an ‘observer’; that is, you regard yourself as something that is watching what is going on in your mind. This is probably a prerequisite for centralisation or existential perception. This means you don’t identify with your psychology, it is something you observe. You don’t feel responsible for what you observe in your psychology, because you can’t prevent it from being there. This is often very difficult, because people do feel that their psychology is what they really are, and any part of it which they regret or think other people might disapprove of may give them serious feelings of worthlessness and despair.

There is a lot of social influence in the direction of making people feel that they ought to be able to control what is in their own psychology or to apply some fictitious sticking plaster to cover it up, but this is not helpful. People might eventually get a bit more freedom of choice about what they want to reinforce or manipulate, but that isn’t likely to happen while they are still feeling responsible for what they are observing. More often than not there are things which they are trying to change instead of observing them, and trying to feel differently about. This is both decentralising and deprives you of a lot of emotional energy, although it can be very difficult to get into the right position.

People often feel that their life has been ruined in some way or another and if they see how bad it is and how irrevocable they are afraid it is, they will give up, so it is better not to see it too clearly. Then, of course, one has to cultivate realism, but this is often not obvious because a lot of things are peddled as realistic attitudes which are not. People generally have a lot of value judgements and don’t think that there may be exceptions. E.g. going to school is always a ‘good thing’, doctors are always trustworthy, universities are infallible.

Any value judgements that have a certain amount of social support are likely to be occlusive but one can avoid becoming identified with them by remembering that in any given case there may be a large number of factors which you can’t begin to evaluate, possibly including some inconceivable ones. Of course, in the examples I have given it is not difficult to imagine counter examples; you only have to envisage the possibility of one irresponsible and incompetent doctor. Any value judgements that imply ‘shoulds’ are particularly dubious.