30 December 2007

A pattern of interpretation

While watching a programme on the Sci-Fi television channel, I was reminded of the syndrome of slanderous misinterpretation which was applied to me and my parents throughout my ‘education’ and throughout my subsequent life of struggling for survival in the wilderness.

In the programme a beauty queen in her late teens is found dead, and her parents are suspects of having murdered her.

Her parents are middle class and respectable people in a high income bracket, which qualifies them as potential criminals to start with (according to the rules of television drama). My parents were not in a high income bracket, but they were very respectable and responsible middle class people, who played their roles as pillars of the community very well.

A psychic (or psychologically 'knowing') female FBI agent interviews the parents, who are defensive and secretive. Why ever should they not be trusting and open? The mother, however, begins to give some information, but this is of a highly suspicious nature. Her daughter was very precocious, she says, speaking affectionately of her brightness. She had been a successful beauty queen and singer from the age of six. She did not have much time for children of her own age, said the mother, and they had not encouraged her to have too much to do with girls of her own age who would only have been jealous of her. She had had some psychological problems recently, and dropped out on the verge of competing for the greatest prize she had yet competed for, winning which would have been extremely lucrative and set up both herself and her parents.

Later, interviewing a rival beauty queen, the investigator is told that the dead beauty queen had become disaffected and lost interest in what she was doing to prepare for the great contest. You can’t do that in this business, said her rival. You have to be intensely focused on what you are doing all the time.

Her parents did not leave her free to be herself, says the investigator, they wanted to make her into the kind of person they wanted her to be. It was done for them, not for her, says the investigator, wrinkling up her nose.

But she was a beauty queen from the age of six, someone says, inspecting a photograph of a radiantly happy six year old. "But who thinks for themselves at the age of six?" says the investigator. (I can think of some quite long and complicated answers to that, but I will not delay to give them now.)

Before she was murdered, the dropped-out beauty queen was supposed to have found her true self, letting her hair down with a shady boyfriend at a shady and uninhibited night club. She had also taken up piano playing, which you are supposed to think corresponded to something she had really wanted to do all along.

See how relaxed she looks, the investigator says of a photograph taken of her during this drop-out phase. She is really being herself. (This is supposed to be a contrast with the intense and purposeful beauty queen photographs.)

Amazingly enough, this whole scenario of interpretation was applied to me and to my parents both before and after the shocking ruin of all our lives which it produced, and is still producing up until the present day. My own situation differed from that of the dropped-out beauty queen in that my parents had never pushed me into, or supported me in my wish to do, anything competitive or achievement orientated. They had never wanted me to take the School Certificate exam a few years before the usual age, or to become an Oxbridge professor. I am still suffering because I did not take the School Certificate when I was 13 (or, of course, much earlier), and because I do not yet have an Oxbridge Professorship. My aunt in London was still believing (or pretending to believe) that my parents pushed me, and that I really did not want an academic career, in spite of any assertion I could make to the contrary, fifty years after I was thrown out into the wilderness.

"Oh!" she said, with mock surprise, when told that I was still suffering severely from the lack of a Professorship, a salary, a hotel environment and anything else that could make my life worth living. "I thought you got what you wanted."

In my early days at the Society for Psychical Research one of the most horrific features of the situation was that no one I had known in the past approached me to ask how things had gone so badly wrong, and whether they could not help me with re-entering an academic career. My aunt was one of those who did not come near me to enquire.

When my aunt said she thought I got what I wanted, she meant that she liked to think that I did not want to have an academic career and that it must have been my father who was behind the efforts I started to make, immediately after being thrown out, in the direction of finding a way of working towards a Professorship in any area.

Since I had gone to work at the SPR to earn a pittance of money as a degraded dogsbody (to facilitate my return to Oxford as a self-supporting and unofficial DPhil student in theoretical physics), she liked to think that this must mean that ‘parapsychology’ was of overriding interest to me, and that I would deliberately choose to ‘do’ it in poverty rather than do anything else with a salary and status.

This was the way my aunt interpreted the situation. In fact this very distorted interpretation was the only one that was propagated in the local community where I and my aunt had lived in East London, and also within Oxford University. My aunt was hanging onto this way of interpreting my life history and situation, in spite of the fact that I had by that time sent her a number of letters telling her that my parents had never pushed me. I had also told her that I still needed the Professorship (with associated status, salary and hotel environment) that I should have been given over forty years ago. (In fact, more than that, since if I had been left to get on with my education without obstruction and interference, I should have been quite well able to function as a Professor by the age of 15 or so.)

16 December 2007

Reflection of the month

The social contract

The power of society depends on the power of the lie. The power of the lie is very great.

The power of the individual depends on the right of possession and the sanctity of facts.

Neither of these is recognised by society. It is only in a capitalist society that there is a recognition of the individual’s right to the facts. He has a right to the facts about his possessions. Consequently facts are themselves regarded as possessing a certain value. In a socialist society no one has any right to the facts. There is no point in facts at all. The power of the state, which is the sole good, is best safeguarded by there being no facts.

People are subjective, but some people are more subjective than others and those who believe in society are the most subjective of all. This is because they have abandoned to society their right to assess facts for themselves in return for the power that society will give them over other men. The high priests of society are social workers, doctors and psychiatrists. Their function is to convince others that they are being subjective when they criticise society.

(from the forthcoming book The Corpse and the Kingdom)

06 December 2007

The Ten Commandments

One difference between territorial and tribal morality is that, within a territorial system, a certain number of people may freely choose to live according to tribal morality among themselves, but the reverse is not true. You cannot have a small free market society within a communist society, but within a capitalist society it is quite possible for people to set up communes or co-operatives if they wish. Tribal morality depends on making various assumptions, amounting to a belief system, about the psychological motivation of people other than oneself. Territorial morality does not, being almost entirely negative: do not interfere with anyone else’s territory. It is not necessary to have any opinions about the likelihood of people invading one another’s territory with benevolent motives.

Consider how many features of the Ten Commandments are at variance with modern neo-tribal morality. We may suppose that the Commandments represent a fairly primitive form of territorial society, and these principles are enunciated in breaking away from earlier tribal societies, which would not have observed them. A territory is defined within which the individual is not to be interfered with. He owns his life and property; he should not be killed or stolen from.

His property may include oxen and asses, men servants and maid servants, and these are not to be stolen or even coveted. Marriage partners own one another, and they alone have the right to have sex with one another.

Fathers and mothers are to be honoured, presumably to preserve the solidarity of the family unit; in particular, the solidarity of the offspring, that is, with the only two people on whose good will he has any claim. Further, it is immoral to bear false witness against someone else. This falls rather short of the respect for objectivity and contract required for commercial transactions, but perhaps refers to the commonest use of dishonesty in tribal societies. You see how easily, nowadays, fictional slanders of a socially acceptable kind can be used to damage people to whom one feels hostile.

This is only a territory-defining ownership, and falls somewhat short of an abstract recognition of an individual’s right to freedom of decision. Nevertheless, you will see how many features of it are rejected in modern television morality.

(extract from Letters from Exile)