02 March 2010

Linking precocity to criminality

Hatred of exceptional ability is fundamental to the modern ideology. I just saw a television drama (an Inspector Lynley story, ‘A Traitor to Memory’) which seemed to express this in inverted form.

Any drive to use exceptional ability, or to protect it in another person, is associated with criminal attitudes towards others and willingness to do them the greatest possible harm.

In this episode, a murder happens to someone vaguely associated with a successful violin player. He himself, his parents and his personal assistant are all clearly unsympathetic characters. His personal assistant, formerly a violin player himself, gave up on his own career to become first teacher and then personal assistant to his ‘beloved prodigy’ – as the politically correct working class female detective expresses it sneeringly.

‘I was a good musician but Gideon is a great one’, says the contemptible and criminal PA. ‘A talent such as that occurs once in a century.’

It transpires that the violinist killed his disabled little sister (who had Down’s syndrome) because the strain of supporting both a highly talented offspring and a dysfunctional one was too much for his parents, who had told him they could not afford to pay for him to go to the prestigious school of music.

‘But I had to go there,’ he says. ‘I was born to be a musician.’

Everyone around Gideon then went on treating him (inappropriately, you are evidently supposed to think) like an exception who must be shielded from his own actions. They wished to protect the prodigy, by taking the blame for the murder of his sister themselves, or by bribing an innocent person to do so. Gideon must be protected from knowing about anything that might be painful to him, so one person after another gets killed to prevent them from saying the wrong thing to him.

All this is most implausible, but it does illustrate the fundamental hatred of exceptional ability and of the drive to get into a position to use it to the full, a drive which I had and still have.

Propaganda such is this is evidently very effective at determining people’s attitudes. It is not necessary to say explicitly, ‘People with exceptional ability should be prevented from using it to get into the sort of career to which they are suited and which they need to have.’

If anyone precocious or successful in any way at an early age is always presented as depraved and criminal, as well as anyone who seems to wish to support them in their ambitions, putting across the idea that criminality is associated with any precocious person as well as with anyone who shows sympathy with any precocious person, everyone gets the point and the association of ideas is firmly fixed in their mind. It does not seem to require any particular level of IQ to be influenced by the association of ideas that is intended, although being analytical and critical about it seems to require not only a high IQ but unusual independence of mind.

This association of criminality with precocity and with the support of precocity was apparently well in place at the onset of the Welfare State in 1945, and it makes it easier to understand why I was treated as a criminal, and why my father was as well when he tried to gain acceptance for my proposals for the taking of exams. It would have been a much better strategy for him to leave me alone as quietly as possible to get on with whatever I wanted to do, if he had been cynical enough to adopt it, although no doubt it could not have gone on for long without arousing violent antagonism.