Letter comparing my education to The Blair Witch Project
I can't go far in expressing anything about my education or present position without feeling that I need to correct a multiplicity of false assumptions and misinterpretations that commonly arise.
People are always keen to make it into something about my father, so he becomes the villain, even if it is for acting on the side of social forces. I saw The Blair Witch Project recently and it struck me as very like my education (after being prevented from taking the School Certificate) and adult life (after being thrown out). Always struggling to get out of the wood, but with the sense of unseen forces that are all ensuring that everything will go wrong and nothing one attempts will have any positive outcome. My parents were in the role of members of the group who had already met the witch and been driven out of their minds, so that there was constant ongoing conflict with them and trying to control their crazy behaviour.
In any account of the situation, they feature prominently in the reportable incidents, but the brooding force of destruction that really designed and guided the situation remained largely invisible.
My situation can be, and could at any time in the last forty years, have been immediately relieved by money. As I thought when I was thrown out at the end, I can get myself living circumstances equivalent to those enjoyed by a professor, which I should be being, by getting the money to pay for them by any legal means. It is not illegal for people to give money to other people, if they recognise that they have been unfairly disadvantaged in life and are being prevented from being happy and productive only by lack of money, which, in more normal circumstances, they would be able to derive from their professorial salary.
But the fact that there is no explicit advocacy of noticing the deprivations of the grievously and unjustly outcast academic, and no social approval of the possibility of giving them money to get them back into a normal position (as there is of contributing to the relief of starvation in Africa, for example), actually means that people feel justified in acting as if it was wrong to exercise their freedom to give money to such people, who should only get financial advantage from sources designated as being for the purpose of carrying out such activities as they would carry out if they were in a normal career. Since they are deprived of their rightful career, they are regarded as ineligible for support from official sources and so can never work their way back into a position in which they have any normal relationship to society. They remain beggars and outcasts. The social forces inexorably bar every way to progress towards a better position.
It is never stated, but surely obvious, that it is very likely that the most exceptionally able and achievement-oriented will find themselves cruelly sidelined from society in adult life, in view of the hostility to the ideas of innate ability and precocious achievement which are frequently expressed. Professor Michael Howe, a psychologist at Exeter University, author of Genius Explained, which asserts that there is no such thing as genius (i.e. innate ability), selecting Stevenson as one person that he might be prepared to regard as a genius, regards his lack of early exceptionality as a positive factor. In the Scientific American recently, an article on intelligence pointed out that the correlation between measurable I.Q. and academic success breaks down at the higher levels. There is nothing difficult to understand about that, and there is no need to invoke peculiar weaknesses of personality, supposedly found to be highly correlated with remarkably high I.Q.s, to account for it.
The educational system is geared to maximise the success of a certain I.Q. level, and is reasonably appropriate to the rate of development of that sort of person. Above the acceptable range the individual is dependent on exceptions being made for him to provide the sort of opportunities he needs to have, which it would be impossible for someone with an I.Q. of 150 or less to make any use of. But instead of permissiveness on the part of those who are responsible for his education, he is far more likely to encounter, not merely obstructionism and absolute refusal to concede more than the prescribed average, but active hostility which will stop at nothing to invade every area of his life.
So you may well find a person who has been subjected to the standard educational process, not merely disabled career wise, and with the life of his family ruined, as mine was, but also psychologically unfunctional, as I was not. Many are rendered unfunctional, and no doubt this may be used to support the idea of innate psychological defects correlated with innate ability. In this context, the idea of the innate in acceptable, since it implies that absolutely insuperable factors led to their downfall and permanent exile. There is, on this assumption, no point in raising the question of whether their fatal defects might not have been activated if they had encountered less active maltreatment.
Many cruel and bloodboiling things were said to me during the first months and even years after I had been thrown out, by people who were well enough off to have given me some of the money I so desperately needed, and did not give me any. One of them was, ' The fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves', meaning that it was all my fault that it had gone wrong. But I had had no control over the process; after not taking the School Certificate, every arrangement imposed on me had been against my will and constantly protested against. At least at first, before depression gained the upper hand and all my energy went into an internal rejection of despair.
Well, yes, the fault was in my stars, that I was born too low down the social scale. I said that I could only have had a real chance in life if my parents had been prepared to incur social disapproval to let me have what I wanted. If I had been born at a level of society at which fee-paying schools were automatic, that would have been less necessary. Probably I would not have had a wonderful time ( I don't know of a fee-paying girls' school that is any good at letting people do things younger than average), but I would not have been left absolutely careerless and outcast at the end. No fee-paying school could have been quite so irresponsible and destructive as a state one.
Anger is not a thing to sympathise with in the modern world. Decades ago an 'angry young man' was an acceptable concept, but that was because he was supposed to be angry at an individualistic, not fully collective, society. Now objective anger at the harm done by social entities is impossible, because social entities cannot be criticised.
I was talking to someone from Mensa some years ago (they neither published his article about me nor allowed me to write one, nor let me give them a lecture, because I would have said too many of the wrong things). He was not at all interested in the practical consequences of my ruined education and how they might be remedied but when I told him about being prevented from taking exams, made out that I was angry at my father. ' Anger is what comes across when you talk about it', he said cleverly.
Well, yes, it is true that my life has been characterised by an underlying anger and desperation ever since. But he wanted to make it into an anger at a particular person for a one-off deprivation, like not going to one particular ball. It was the unshiftable permanence of the consequences that led to the increasing anger; that by being deprived of an opportunity to do something in the best possible way to gain great advantages and continuing opportunity, I was placed in a position in which there would be no opportunity to anything advantageous ever again. From here on I would have to struggle with almost impossible circumstances to do things in a way that could be nothing but drudgery, for minimal rewards at best, or the avoidance of even worse punishment. No effort which I could make in these circumstances would ever improve my position in the eyes of society sufficiently to be rewarded with any real advantage or opportunity towards breaking out of my downtrodden and disadvantaged position.
Actually I don't feel angry at my father, he was a fellow victim who had been driven out of his mind by what happened to him before I was born. I feel something worse than anger against those who used him as their tool against me and left him a broken invalid at the end.
As I said, I was not psychologically damaged at the end of my education, when I was thrown out. And actually that is a remarkable statement. Most people with high I.Q.s, whose careers are ruined, probably are very severely affected by what they have been forced to go through. The fact that I was not depended on the extraordinary psychological discoveries I had made. It will be a terrible thing if I die without having integrated them into the fabric of science, whatever revolutionary effects on the fabric of science that may produce. Therefore everyone should send me as much money as they can. At least they should if the advancement of science means anything to anybody. I know that in general it does not, the oppression of the individual is the only objective of any interest.