28 July 2007

The politics of Procrustes

In Antony Flew’s book The Politics of Procrustes (Temple Smith 1981, p.21), he defines some ideas of equality, that is, ‘proposed ideals of how things ought to be.’
Of the three ideals, or sorts of ideals, the first, the most ancient, and the most difficult to define, is sometimes seen as a secular version of something believed to be common to the three great traditions of Mosaic theism. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are popularly presented as teaching the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God, with the apparent consequence that all human souls are of equal value in the eyes of their Creator.

The second ideal is customarily called equality of opportunity, although it would be more apt to call it open competition for scarce opportunities: this was, in the French Revolution of 1789, ‘La carriere ouverte aux talents’.

The third ideal, and the one to which so many of our political intellectuals today profess allegiance, is best characterised as equality of outcome or equality of result.
I have put ‘open competition for scarce opportunities’ in bold to draw attention to it, because I do not think it receives much consideration these days, although it was what I imagined (in 1945), and was told by my father, the Welfare State was intended to bring in.
Consider next a major Harvard contribution to the sociology of education. Towards the end of an extended research report, simply entitled Inequality, Christopher Jencks remarks: ‘The reader should by now have gathered that our primary concern is with equalising the distribution of income’.

[He] insists: ‘Most educators and laymen evidently feel that an individual’s genes are his, and that they entitle him to whatever advantages he can get from them. ... For a thoroughgoing egalitarian, however, inequality that derives from biology ought to be as repulsive as inequality that derives from early socialisation’. (Ibid, pp. 22-23, quoting from C. Jencks et al., Inequality, Allen Lane 1973.)

The report quoted by Flew was written by an American in 1973. So far as this country is concerned, the ‘thoroughgoing egalitarian’ attitude has been practically universal as the religion of modern society from the inception of the Welfare State in 1945, although the underlying beliefs were at that time rarely expressed openly. Nevertheless, at the state school which I attended against my will in 1950, I was explicitly told, not only that advantages in life which resulted from environmental (parental) support and encouragement were unfair, but also that advantages arising from innate ability were unfair and should be prevented.

My father’s IQ was very high for the headmaster of a primary school and the IQ range at this school was below the average for schools in general, so that the difference in ability between himself and his pupils (and the parents of his pupils) was unusually great. No doubt this aroused resentment and a desire to explain it away. The situation was made even worse by the fact that his offspring (me) had a phenomenal IQ, considerably higher even than his own.

Hostility was aroused by the fact that I came top of the county in the grammar school scholarship at the earliest possible age (in the year before it became the 11 plus) with 100% on every paper. This led to agitation among people associated with my father’s school to sue him on the grounds that (as my mother quoted to me several decades later, long after my education had been ruined):

(a) I could not have done it on my own. So he had been killing me with overwork and should be sued for maltreating me.

(b) If he could do it for me, he could and should have done it for their children at his school as well.

These complaints, while not entirely consistent, both express a wish to believe that all differences in educational attainment result from environmental influences and should be eliminated. The wish to believe these things is very strong in modern society and it is clear that the psychological forces which have produced the modern ideology had already been set in motion.

They were no doubt present in the local education authority as well as in the headmistress and teachers of the state school to which I was sent, when it had come to light that the convent school which I had been attending had been too permissive towards me, and had been on the verge of allowing me to start taking public exams a few years before the average age for doing so.

I realise now that when my parents expressed opposition to the idea of my going to university, they were showing their willingness to go along with the plans of the local education authority and the local educational community generally. There must have been strong motivation to demonstrate that my early precocity was nothing but the result of my father’s ‘pushing’ me, and that I was no better suited to go to university than the children at his school. It was unlikely that any of them could be got to university (especially at that time, when ‘dumbing down’ had scarcely started), so equality of outcome would more easily be achieved by preventing me from doing so.

So having got me into a state school where the teachers were pre-warned against me and did their best to make my life a misery, my parents were only selling me the party line when they greeted my complaints about the school, and expressions of an urgent desire to leave it, with arguments on the lines of, ‘If you are so unhappy at school, I can’t think why you say you want to do research. If you were suited to academic pursuits you would not be so unhappy at school. And you say you want to go to university! Don’t think we mind if you don’t. It is perfectly all right by us if you don’t go at all.’

Or, in fact, ‘Despair and die.’ It always reminded me of the ghosts which appeared to Richard III in his dream in Shakespeare’s play.

‘Despair and die.’ This was in general the attitude towards me for many years. At Somerville it was, ‘It doesn’t matter if you can’t do well enough to get a research scholarship. There is no need to change your subject or allow you to improve your circumstances in any way. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get to do research or have an academic career. Research is dull. Just don’t worry about it. Despair and die.’

26 July 2007

Aphorism of the month (July)

I am not concerned that Society should try to do me good; I should only like it to try to do me less harm.

22 July 2007

Einstein "didn't need an academic post"

Before, during and immediately after 1905, [Einstein] was incapable of securing an academic post. In fact, he didn’t need one. He was perfectly able to think while working as a patent clerk in Bern. (From Bryan Appleyard’s comments about Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, Sunday Times, 3 June 2007.)

This sort of attitude is widely held, in fact by now we may say it is the received wisdom. People often tell me that I cannot complain of my position because I have just expressed a criticism of some academic goings-on (which I could not prevent myself from making, with the most passing attention, however stultifying and exhausting my life was being). Therefore, although I have no status, salary or financial support, and have to spend nearly all my time working very hard at investment and administration, I am evidently free to think (they say). So I can’t say I am frustrated (they say). But I do say it, and I go on appealing for workers, money, status and support of every kind. Actually this attitude to Einstein, quoted above, demonstrates the hostility to ability which is the real driving force of the modern ‘egalitarian’ ideology.

I am reminded of a conversation between one of my colleagues and the Master of an Oxford college, which took place at a social gathering. He asked what my colleague was doing now and my colleague said he was writing a book about genius. ‘Oh, there have been a lot of books about that,’ the Master announced, as if there would be nothing more to be said. My colleague said that his book was about how intellectuals were disadvantaged in modern society by the reduction in the number of people with private incomes.

‘It is not a disadvantage to have to earn a living,’ the Master said. ‘It is not possible to do concentrated intellectual work for more than three hours a day. It was no disadvantage to Einstein to have to work in the Patent Office. It did not prevent him from producing Relativity.’

However, as my colleague pointed out, Einstein had complained of being reduced to near-breakdown by working on relativity at the Patent Office, and by the stress and guilt induced by having to shovel his papers away into a drawer whenever anyone entered the room.

The fact that a Master of an Oxford college expresses such views is a clear indication of the hostility of Oxford University, and of the educational and university system generally, to the idea of innate ability and the circumstances it may need to be fully productive.

’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 which currently protect from criticism utterances by academics such as those discussed above.’ Charles McCreery, DPhil

19 July 2007

The Office of "Fair Access"

Apparently there is now an Office of Fair Access (meaning to universities). As usual, ‘fair’ refers to some underlying and unquestionable assumptions, such as that all differences in ability or temperament are the result of environment, and that it is right to try to iron these out, so that equality of outcome is achieved.

How about an ‘Office of Fair Reparation and Reinstatement’ to rectify the positions of those (such as myself) who are left without a qualification with which to enter any career that is possible to them? This is using the word ‘fair’ in a different sense, referring to what is really the case, and not what people who believe in the modern ideology would like to think was the case.

As usual, it is necessary to emphasise what people like to overlook; that a person left without a single usable qualification (that is, of use to them as the sort of person they are) is even debarred from the minimal income that might be derived from so-called ‘social security’. Such a person cannot draw income support because he is not in a position to ‘seek work’ as he is not qualified for any work which he could actually do.

The ‘educational’ system does not admit to any responsibility for providing the individuals subjected to it with qualifications suitable to their career needs, or commensurate with their ability. It cannot do so because innate ability is not supposed to exist, and differences in attainment which arise from, or can be ascribed to, environmental influences are there to be ironed out, in pursuit of equality of outcome.

If differences of ability were admitted, it would not seem too difficult to understand that a person with the most exceptional academic ability might have an absolute need for the most high-flying type of academic career and, in reality, could not have any other.

As it is, this is not understood and it is rigorously excluded from consideration, because the educational system wants to be perfectly free to destroy the prospects in life of the most able.

18 July 2007

Translation into Russian does me no good

The Human Evasion has been translated into Russian and now appears on some website. If my ideas are of ‘interest’ to people even to that extent, why don’t they want to come and find out more about them by working here, or send money commensurate with what is needed to write and publish more of what I have to say? As it is, all the use it will be is that I can improve my reading of Russian by reading it; usually I find it very difficult to find anything to read in Russian that is not as boring and rebarbative as most mediocratic writing being produced in all languages at the present time.

And what good will it do one to be able to read Russian better? No good at all, really. Improving my Russian is only a way of patienter (as the French would say).

Russia is not even an EU country, so that if any Russian speakers did want to come and augment our sadly inadequate workforce they couldn’t, and wealthy Russian-speaking businessmen who might (?) want to give us badly-needed money probably speak and read English anyway.

12 July 2007

Egalitarianism and the female image

While I think that fundamentally what has been against me all my life has been the modern ideology of egalitarianism, with its hatred of innate ability, precocity, and individual autonomy in every form, it is certainly the case that being female and hence at the mercy of female teachers, tutors, headmistresses, college Principals and (at the SPR) Rosalind Heywood, has always made everything as bad as it could possibly be.

Women on the whole are unsympathetic to drive and ambition, especially in other women, and from the age of 14, if not earlier, I have always had at least one woman — and usually two — networking energetically against me.

A friend was saying recently how much this must have increased the opposition against me. ‘Well’, I said, ‘I thought the way was open. There had been one or two women scientists, Marie Curie and Lise Meitner. I did not realise there was anything against ambition. I had read about the lives of a lot of people and it was not illegal to want to work and use one’s ability to get into the right sort of position in life. If anything, it was approved of.’

‘But all the people in the past who had risen in the world by hard work were men. Were there any other women among the figures of the past that you had read about?’ I had to admit that there were not.

As my friend pointed out, women even more than men are expected to demonstrate uncritical submission to, and acceptance of, social evaluations. Although I did nothing to draw attention to it, I was radically sceptical and open-minded in all contexts, expecting it to be sufficient that I behaved as a respectable person in line to become a pillar of society as my parents were, although I would need to aim at a more prestigious level of society than that in which they had been forced to live out their lives as members of socially displaced high-IQ families.

I had not, at 12 or 13, acquired the belief in society that most people have, and I had never identified with the female image. I read boys’ books predominantly, thinking that reading books for girls was exposing one to becoming identified with pernicious psychological influences, even if it was difficult to work out what they were.

I suppose that my lack of identification with the female image also aroused hostility (as did my precocity and drive) although I do not know how it came across to people. I was wearing the same school uniform as the other girls and got on with doing the required work as well as possible. So what was wrong with that?

10 July 2007

Tory tax breaks

Sweeping changes to the tax and benefits system worth more than £3000 a year to some families will be unveiled by the Conservatives today. In a decisive attempt to promote marriage, a transferable tax allowance for married couples would boost incomes by an immediate £1000 a year. This would be topped by additional benefits of up to £2058 for those eligible as part of far-reaching reforms designed to end discrimination against couples in the welfare system. The changes would help both families with children and childless couples caring for elderly relatives. The suggestions come from the Conservative Party’s social justice policy group, chaired by former leader Ian Duncan Smith. (Daily Mail, 10 July 2007)

Where is the justice in that? ('Social justice' = injustice.) The money to benefit couples would have to come from somewhere, so from those who remain single. That would include those who, like me, were left at the end of their ruined education with no usable qualification at all with which to make the sort of career to which they were extremely well suited and needed to have, and so certainly would not have got married until they had built up enough capital to finance an independent academic institution (in my own case) or whatever environment they needed to have in which to lead a functional and fulfilling life (in the case of people with high IQs or otherwise in a similar predicament).

"Standing up for God"

In an article in the Daily Mail (8 July) Peter Lewis, referring to the recent books The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, and God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, asks ‘Won’t anyone stand up for God?’

The fact is that modern society does not believe in the individual; it owns him body and soul. ‘Social constructionism’ tells us that the individual is what society sees fit to make him, and he is nothing else whatever. Any sort of God represents competition to society. There might be something else that evaluated things differently and might also exert some influence on the individual mind. Cognitive psychology forbid that such a thing might be!

And so the few remaining remnants of belief in anything outside the current belief system are attacked on grounds that are wildly irrelevant. For example: there cannot be a God of any kind, because a lot of people who said they believed in a God did a lot of torturing and killing of other people. (“Not, mind you, that we have anything against torturing and killing except when it is useful for blaming Christians, capitalists and other sorts of evil people, but in that case we mind about it a lot, especially when the numbers involved are very large. Christians and capitalists have caused a lot of suffering and death to enormous numbers of people.”)

Actually the resistance to the idea of God, or of some external influence with which an individual might make contact, is closely related to the fear of the individual having internal psychological determinants arising from his genetic constitution or, indeed, his early upbringing, unless they are easily overridden by social pressures, counselling, psychiatric ‘help’, etc.

I was always very sceptical from a philosophical point of view, and aware of the uncertainty inherent in all aspects of the existential situation; at the same time I found it quite easy and sensible to regard myself as a respectable bourgeois intellectual and had no inclination to deviate from the behaviour suitable to such a person.

At my Catholic convent school I was regarded as a materialist and atheist, because I did not believe in God, although I think what they really minded about was that I did not believe in society.

At Oxford I was surrounded by atheistic socialists who despised my drives to live purposefully and to do research, on the grounds that they arose from internal psychological determinants which I had not been told to have. So now I was accused of believing in God. ‘I know Celia,’ sneered a female senior executive at the BBC, atheist socialist and friend of the Principal of Somerville, ‘She doesn’t want to do research for any sensible reason, but because she thinks she is divinely suited to it.’

Belief in God became a widespread accusation against me, so much so that when I set up (if you can call it that) my first tiny apology for an academic institution, I was accused of intending to start a new religion, and letters for and against this view went to and fro among influential people. But the most supportive of them only went so far as to defend me against this allegation and neither gave me, nor suggested giving me, any actual help in my grim situation.

Actually I had set up my incipient university research department and residential college in desperate response to being thrown out at the end of the ruined education with no research scholarship and no way of entering an academic career that could lead to a Professorship. To do that was to give precedence to my desperate needs as internally determined, even though they had not been recognised by society. So I was paying attention to considerations other than those prescribed by society — which is what it is feared a belief in God might lead to.

02 July 2007

Double standards on child abuse

In a recent child abuse case a mother was jailed for standing by while her daughter was raped by members of a paedophile ring.
... it was the ‘grievous breach of trust’ on the part of [the mother] to her child that had stunned the High Court ... (Daily Mail, 23 June 2007)

The judge announced that the mother had had a duty of care, and he said of one of the perpetrators, jailing them as well, ‘You were prepared to take advantage of this young child to satisfy your deviant desires and it is clear from the reports you display no real remorse or understanding of the damage caused to her by your conduct.’

The attitude to abuse perpetrated by agents of the collective is very different. I think that my parents should have considered, and all parents should consider, that they have a duty of care to protect their children from abuse by agents of the collective, most obviously those in the educational system. The educational (including the university) system cannot fail to be abusive, since its agents (official and unofficial) wish to believe that there is no such thing as exceptional ability, so they are necessarily motivated to prevent it from expressing itself.

Of course, I do not wish to blame my parents for failing to protect my interests against an abusive system, since the ideology wishes to blame parents and exonerate the agents of the collective who are the real abusers. I blame the agents of the collective, who should have felt a ‘duty of care’ not to turn my parents against me.

By failing to protect me from the abusive age-limit on taking exams by letting me take the School Certificate when I was 13, my parents exposed me to years of abuse under the auspices of the ‘educational’ system which caused great suffering and the ruin of our lives to three people, i.e. myself and my parents.

None of the agents of the collective (official or unofficial) who contributed to the ruin of our lives has every shown any sign of ‘real remorse or understanding of the damage caused’ by their conduct.

However, people’s attitude to abuse by the educational system is quite different from their attitude to abuse by child rapists.

I arouse hostility if I ‘whinge’ and express my need for help (real help, not ‘help’) to retrieve my position, and there is no tendency at all to wish those who contributed to my ruin to ‘pay for’ their crimes, even by imprisonment let alone by doing anything that would help me work towards alleviation of my position.