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.)