25 January 2016

Oxford and Cecil Rhodes

Oriel College’s Rhodes Building,
with statue of Cecil Rhodes
Speaking at the ceremony to swear in Professor Louise Richardson as [Oxford University’s] new vice-chancellor, Lord Patten of Barnes made a thinly-disguised attack on the campaign to remove the statue [of Cecil Rhodes] from Oriel College, which students say promotes racism.

… Chancellor Patten said: ‘Our history is not a blank page on which we can write our own version of what it should have been, according to our contemporary views and prejudices. We work, study and sleep in great buildings, many of which were constructed with the proceeds of activities that would be rightly condemned today.’ …

Cecil Rhodes died in 1902 and left two per cent of his fortune to Oriel College, which funded a new building on High Street. But students have demanded the college’s statue of him be removed, describing the former mining magnate and politician in South Africa as a ‘racist and murderous colonialist’.
(Oxford Times, 14 January 2016)
Lord Patten of Barnes refers to certain activities, presumably including those of Cecil Rhodes, as being ‘rightly condemned today’.

The activities of Cecil Rhodes were in accordance with the ideology and laws of their time. Lord Patten seems to be implying that they would not be in accordance with the ideology and laws of the present time. His comments suggest a belief that the current ideology and laws are more ‘right’ than those of a century ago.

Many things happening in the world today are in accordance with the prevailing ideology of their environment. It often seems to be considered inappropriate to condemn such things, possibly on account of egalitarian principles.

At some future time, attitudes might have changed in such a way that Chancellor Patten could be condemned for having condemned the activities of Cecil Rhodes.

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.

15 January 2016

Rudyard Kipling: heredity and exceptionality

There was a feast by the blazing campfires in front of the lines of picketed elephants, and Little Toomai was the hero of it all.

And the big brown elephant catchers, the trackers and drivers and ropers, and the men who know all the secrets of breaking the wildest elephants, passed him from one to the other …

Machua Appa, the head of all the drivers of all the Keddahs* … leaped to his feet, with Little Toomai held high in the air above his head, and shouted: ‘Listen, my brothers. Listen, too, you my lords in the lines there [addressing the elephants], for I, Machua Appa, am speaking! This little one shall no more be called Little Toomai, but Toomai of the Elephants, as his great-grandfather was called before him.

What never man has seen he has seen through the long night, and the favour of the elephant-folk and of the Gods of the Jungles is with him. He shall become a great tracker. He shall become greater than I, even I, Machua Appa! … Aihai! my lords in the chains,’ — he whirled up the line of pickets — ‘here is the little one that has seen your dances in your hidden places — the sight that never man saw! … Make your salute to Toomai of the Elephants! … Aihai!’

And at that last wild yell the whole line flung up their trunks till the tips touched their foreheads, and broke out into the full salute — the crashing trumpet-peal that only the Viceroy of India hears …

But it was all for the sake of Little Toomai, who had seen what never man had seen before — the dance of the elephants at night and alone in the heart of the Garo hills!
Rudyard Kipling’s story ‘Toomai of the Elephants’, from which the above extract is taken, was originally published in 1893, and then reprinted in The Jungle Book published in 1894. It provides an illustration of the fact that ideas of heredity and exceptionality were current, and generally accepted, at the end of the nineteenth century.

* Keddah = enclosure to trap wild elephants

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.

04 January 2016

Mensa: debasing the idea of ‘genius’

The parents of a child genius with an IQ similar to Einstein’s have said she is ‘perfectly ordinary’. Ophelia Spracklen, 12, scored a stunning 157 on her Mensa test – only three points lower than Einstein and Stephen Hawking.

More than 121,000 people worldwide are members of Mensa, an elite society that boasts some of the smartest brains on the planet. Its tests gauge Intelligence Quotient, or IQ, using problem-solving tests. ... Ophelia’s results put her into the genius category of 145 to 159.

... Chief executive of Mensa John Stevenage said Ophelia’s score put her in the top one per cent of the population.
(Oxford Times, 31 December 2015)
They appear still further to have debased the concept of ‘genius’. Havelock Ellis defined it by reference to a person having an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography. More recently, it has been defined by performance in socially recognised IQ tests.

When my IQ was tested in 1945, I was told that it was 180. At that time, I was given to understand that there was a population of people with an IQ between 180 and 200, and also a population of people with IQs over 200 who were ‘geniuses’. Now, it appears, a testable IQ of over 145 qualifies its possessor to be described as a ‘genius’. This seems to imply that about 1% of the population of this country are geniuses.

In my school days in the 1940s, I used to think that an IQ of 140 or more would usually enable you to be top of your class in a grammar school.

Using the new definition, it would seem that these days, one is never more than a mile away from a ‘genius’.