13 April 2014

Invitation to members of the Oxford and Cambridge Club

My colleague, Dr Charles McCreery, has been a member of the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London for a
Oxford and Cambridge Club
at dusk
number of years, the membership of which is confined to graduates of the two universities, Oxford and Cambridge.

Charles recently spent the night there after attending a launch party in the City for Hugo Williams, a contemporary of Charles at Eton, whose latest book of poems, I Knew the Bride, has just been published by Faber & Faber.

We would like to issue an open invitation to any member of the Oxford and Cambridge Club to consider moving to Cuddesdon or nearby, either immediately or on their retirement, and becoming associated, in any way that appealed to them, with the work of Oxford Forum.

They might consider investing in a property, either in Cuddesdon or nearby, for use at the weekends or for living in permanently if they were retired.

The village of Cuddesdon is within 3 miles of the M40 to London, and 20 minutes from the Haddenham & Thame railway station which is only 50 minutes by fast train to Marylebone station.

Cuddesdon is on a hill, 3 miles outside the Oxford ring road, so has clean air and good views to the Chilterns, ten miles away.

There is an ancient church in the village, and an Anglican theological college, Ripon College, which can provide conference facilities and accommodation. The village pub, The Bat & Ball, is notable for its excellent and reasonably priced food, and has overnight accommodation.

07 April 2014

Emotional abuse – by teachers and social workers

It seems the government is planning to update the law on child abuse to include ‘emotional cruelty’ as an imprisonable offence.
Changes to the child neglect laws will make ‘emotional cruelty’ a crime for the first time, alongside physical or sexual abuse.
The Government will introduce the change in the Queen’s Speech in early June to enforce the protection of children’s emotional, social and behavioural well-being.
Parents found guilty under the law change could face up to 10 years in prison, the maximum term in child neglect cases.
The change will update existing laws in England and Wales which only allow an adult responsible for a child to be prosecuted if they have deliberately assaulted, abandoned or exposed a child to suffering or injury to their health.
The new offence would make it a crime to do anything that deliberately harmed a child’s ‘physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development’.
This could include deliberately ignoring a child, or not showing them any love, over prolonged periods, damaging a child’s emotional development.
(Daily Telegraph, 30 March 2014)
It is of course ludicrously vague to define a crime in this way. The existing reference to physical health is vague enough, and results in such appalling instances as children being snatched from parents because of supposed risk of obesity, exposure to cigarette smoke, or refusal to let surgeons perform operations of dubious value. The mind boggles at the various ways a definition of emotional harm might be interpreted by zealous and ideologically motivated police or social workers.

We may assume that, whatever suffering a child may be undergoing at home, the intervention into the family and the coercive break-up, involving forced separation of parent from child, is liable to be highly traumatic and cause long-term psychological damage to the child. This aspect of intervention is surely obvious, but is rarely mentioned in such discussions. Nor is the damaging psychological effect on parents discussed.

The analysis being offered in support of the proposed change is highly asymmetric. There is no suggestion that social workers themselves might face prosecution under the new law if their actions damaged the child’s psychological well-being; or that their actions are already doing so in many cases, and that they would therefore have to modify their behaviour if the new law came in.

It seems likely that, after an initial period, a law as vague as this would come to be used to express all manner of disagreement with parental behaviour, and as an excuse for agents of the collective to behave in a destructive manner; not merely in ways which fit with the current image of preventing psychological cruelty, such as deliberate humiliation.

There are many parental practices with which ‘expert’ views on child rearing disagree. Why should all these not also be conveniently classified, in due course, as ‘cruel’? Particularly in a climate where activists such as the Child Action Group (apparently the main driving force behind the current proposal) are constantly pressing for change, in the direction of more activities being recognised as things the legal system should prevent.

For example, it is commonly held to be good for children that they be ‘allowed to fail’. Rather like the phrase ‘emotional cruelty’, this can be interpreted in an almost infinite number of ways. The American Enterprise Institute, describing the book Real Education by Charles Murray (author of The Bell Curve), says that the aim for educating America’s elite should be ‘not to pamper them, but to hold their feet to the fire’. Oxford High School for Girls was recently said to have introduced tests in which it is impossible to score 100 per cent, in order that the girls ‘understand it is acceptable not to be “little Miss Perfect”.’

I would myself regard educational policies such as these as abusive and damaging. Yet ironically, with a law as vague as the one proposed, parents could conceivably be accused of abuse if they fail to adopt such policies themselves. Once it is seen as acceptable for the legal system to adjudicate on the psychological aspects of parenting, one might easily find that nebulous concepts such as ‘allowed to fail’ are being used to attack individual parents’ approaches to child rearing, and hence to break up families.

The idea of blaming parents (but not agents of the collective) for emotional abuse is only making explicit what has been going on, in practice, since the onset of the Oppressive (‘Welfare’) State in 1945.

My parents were accused at various times of ‘not letting me’ meet enough people, or have enough social life; of ‘pushing’ me to get on with taking exams fast, which was actually what I wanted to do, and suffered from being prevented from doing; not compelling me to join the Girl Guides, and so on.

The pressure placed on them – to force me to become a different person, and appear reconciled to arrangements made against my will – successfully ruined my prospects in life and their lives as well, since my father’s health broke down and he was forced to retire early on a breakdown allowance. There was no law at the time of the kind now proposed, or perhaps I might have been taken into care, which would no doubt have been extremely damaging both to my parents and to myself.

I would certainly describe as emotional abuse – or, indeed, as persecution – the pressures placed on my parents, and on myself, by agents of the collective. I would also describe the attitudes of the schools and education authorities involved as sadistic and abusive.

My unfunded independent university, which could be publishing analyses of the complex issues involved in the area of social policy, has been effectively censored and suppressed for decades. Meanwhile, misleading and tendentious material on the topic continues to pour out from socially recognised sources.

‘We appeal for £5m as initial funding for a social science department in our unrecognised and unsupported independent university. This would enable it to publish analyses of the unexamined assumptions underlying current discussion of issues in education and social policy.’
Charles McCreery, DPhil

27 March 2014

Correlation is not causation

Articles in the media commenting on education tend not to make clear the distinction between correlation and causation.

For example, a recent Daily Mail article reports on a study (by France’s National Institute for Demographic Studies) which was published in the European Sociological Review. The article states:
Comprehensive schools prevent pupils from poor backgrounds achieving their potential, a study has claimed.
Researchers compared reading standards in countries which have retained grammar schools with those which have phased them out, such as the UK.
They found that family wealth played next to no part in a child’s achievements when they were taught according to ability. But a disadvantaged background was more likely to count against youngsters in countries that shun selective education.
Presumably one is meant to think it is a good thing if a child’s achievement shows no correlation with family wealth. However, this would only reflect meritocracy if there were no correlation between parental success and offspring ability, which seems doubtful.

The fact that the presence of selection in a state educational system tends to go with low correlation between parental wealth and offspring achievement does not necessarily mean that selection generates more meritocracy. There may be other reasons, not to do with the absence of grammar schools, why in the UK the clever children of poorer parents do worse than expected.

* * *

William Alfred Green,
father of Celia Green
My father took the grammar school scholarship exam in the early 1900s. The population of Newham, where he lived, was about 400,000 then, which suggests a population of several thousand in his age group (by year). Of those taking the scholarship exam for Newham in the same year as him, twenty passed, and he came top. (My mother, also living in Newham, won a grammar school scholarship too.)

My father’s home circumstances were not propitious. His ostensible parents neglected him, there were few or no books in the house, and he appears not to have been a native English speaker, having come to England from Poland at about the age of eight. In spite of these bad circumstances, he gained the top scholarship.

In his case, parental neglect, lack of books in the home, and attendance at a low-grade primary school (from which he played truant) were associated with success in the scholarship. There were other factors, such as his very high intelligence and drive, but these factors are genetic and thus unlikely to be taken into account when modern ‘experts’ study school and exam performance. Academic studies tend to focus on the family and school environments, presumably because these factors are more amenable to social engineering.

My father’s success at achieving a grammar school place, in a fiercely selective system, was not sufficient to prevent his being handicapped by his unfavourable background. His ambitions were frustrated, and he ended up in the relatively lowly position of state primary school headmaster.

His deprived background and/or his exceptional abiltity were always against him. Very high ability can be enough to arouse hostility and opposition in other people and make life very difficult for the possessor of it.


Another example, from today’s Daily Mail (28 March).

A study (by the Higher Education Funding Council) claims to have found a link between type of school attended and class of degree awarded, with state school students doing better at university than those from private schools with the same A-level grades. Allegedly, this implies that the ability of private school pupils achieving a given level of A-level success is lower, and hence that private schools must be better at ‘pushing’ their pupils – supposedly justifying a ‘contextual’ admission policy, i.e. having a lower entrance requirement for state school students.

But interpreting the correlation in this way assumes that degrees are somehow more reflective of ability than A-levels.

I do not myself see that success in a modern degree course need have much correlation with ability at all. A study carried out on Oxford psychology students some decades ago ostensibly showed that class of degree was negatively correlated with IQ.

My unfunded independent university, which could be publishing analyses of the complex issues involved in the area of educational policy, has been effectively censored and suppressed for decades. Meanwhile, misleading and tendentious material on the topic continues to pour out from socially recognised sources.

‘We appeal for £5m as initial funding for a social science department in our unrecognised and unsupported independent university. This would enable it to publish analyses of the unexamined assumptions underlying current discussion of educational issues.’
Charles McCreery, DPhil

06 February 2014

There’s no such thing as a free lunch box

Teachers and social workers should tell people that they are bad parents and to stop failing their children, the head of Ofsted has warned.

Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw told MPs that, as a former head teacher, he ‘saw the result of children being brought up badly by their parents’ and would routinely tell parents when they were failing. He also said communities should play more of a role in supporting problem families, referring to the ‘old phrase “a child is brought up by the village”...’

‘These families need to know that they can’t go on treating their children like this, they can’t go on behaving in this manner and they’ve got to hit the targets that are being set by social workers,’ he said. (Daily Mail, 23 January 2014)
Socialism is not compatible with freedom. He who pays the piper calls the tune, even if he is paying with public money (no, taxpayers’ money). If you accept something that is supposed to be a benefit from the state, it will not come without strings attached, and there is no limit to the areas of your life that may come under state control.

The following is a description of an invasion of liberty. Such invasion is still regarded as sufficiently extreme to be described as ‘a step too far’ or ‘unnecessarily officious’.
A six-year-old boy who went to school with a bag of Mini Cheddars in his packed lunch has been suspended for four days after teachers said it contravened its healthy eating policy. Riley Pearson, from Colnbrook, near Slough, was excluded from Colnbrook C of E Primary School after teachers discovered the snack and called in his parents.

After a meeting with headmaster Jeremy Meek, they were sent a letter telling them Riley would be excluded from Wednesday until Monday because he had been ‘continuously breaking school rules’ ... (Daily Mail, 31 January 2014)
There is no reason why a given pupil should benefit from the imposition of current dietary ideals. Even if the resulting distortion of diet, compared to what would be privately chosen, has some kind of physical benefit on average for pupils attending state schools, it may well have a negative net effect in any individual case.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
There is no reason why state education should necessarily benefit any particular pupil, even if benefits the average (which may be doubted). Again, a policy of enforcing attendance should be regarded as unacceptable. Parents may have valid reasons for wishing to exclude their offspring from such institutions, or to minimise the amount of time they spend there. John Stuart Mill’s father, for example, kept him away from school, in order to avoid ‘the contagion of vulgar modes of thought and feeling’. (*)

Riley Pearson has now been expelled, and his younger brother has been banned from Colnbrook pre-school. (Daily Mail, 5 February 2014)

* The Autobiography of John Stuart Mill, 1873, p.35.

‘There are many examples of abandonment of principles which could be subjected to critical analysis if Oxford Forum were provided with adequate funding. We appeal for such funding to enable us to write and publish analyses of issues which are currently being ignored in favour of the usual pro-collectivist arguments.’
Charles McCreery, DPhil

26 January 2014

Near-death experiences: more obfuscation

This was first published in September. I am re-posting it in connection with an article about a new book on near-death experiences which appeared in Saturday’s Daily Mail. This, as usual, muddies the waters by perpetuating the confusion that the phenomena are either ‘genuine’, in the sense of providing evidence of the afterlife or the paranormal, or, if not ‘genuine’ in this sense, are to be dismissed.
The author of the book, Penny Sartori, appears to have some connection with the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre, currently based in Lampeter but originally part of the University of Oxford. The Centre was set up shortly after we published our initial pioneering research on out-of-the-body experiences, and cleverly succeeded in drawing away any publicity and research funds we might have got, including about OBEs, and getting them for itself. It may well have been set up expressly for this purpose. It certainly never carried out, as far as I am aware, any actual research on OBEs.
The present obsession with near-death experiences, and the false dichotomy that these kinds of phenomena must be either (a) real (meaning paranormal), or (b) dismissable, is to be deplored. It contributes to our being blocked from receiving any funding for research that would actually advance understanding of the phenomena.

There has recently been some more interest in near-death experiences, including a large number of hits on the posts about them on my blog. This is always very irritating, as there is no sign of response to our appeals for funding.

A number of areas of research, on which quite a lot of money is being spent throughout the world, were initiated by us. In some of the cases it could be claimed that the research now being done might have developed independently of our drawing attention to it, as the information was there, although ignored (e.g. the development of distorted interpretations of early forms of Gnostic Christianity).

However, there was no concept of near-death experiences until it arose out of nominal research on out-of-the-body experiences (OBEs). This in turn had developed (with some delay) following the publication of our first book [1] on OBEs, which made these appear as a type of experience that had sufficiently consistent characteristics to justify academic recognition. Our work provided much less justification for relating OBEs to the question of ‘proving’ survival than did the previous associations with spiritualistic beliefs.

The new and spurious category of near-death experiences arose from there being some cases reported of OBEs in hospitals. Eventually the concept of near-death experiences replaced that of OBEs in popular attention, so that the question of ‘proving’ survival or otherwise once again became the issue predominantly associated with such experiences.

However, the resulting association of OBE-type experiences with the idea of extreme states is likely to be highly misleading. In one study conducted by Professor Ian Stevenson [2] of the University of Virginia, for example, it appeared that only about half of the subjects of supposed near-death experiences were in any sense near to death.

My colleague Charles McCreery carried out an experiment, as part of his doctoral research at the Department of Experimental Psychology in Oxford, in which subjects attempted to induce OBEs in the laboratory. He found that two of his subjects reported subjective phenomena similar to those of so-called near-death experiences. Both subjects referred to ‘tunnels’, and one of them also described having the impression of ‘being on elastic going towards a tiny white light in [the] distance’. Neither of these subjects showed any sign of being near death. The one who reported the white light in the distance was a young female graduate student aged twenty-six. [3]

1. Green, C. (1968). Out-of-the-body Experiences. Institute of Psychophysical Research.
2. Stevenson, I. (1987). Personal communication to Charles McCreery.
3. McCreery, C. and Claridge, G. (1996). ‘A study of hallucination in normal subjects – I. Self-report data’. Personality and Individual Differences, Vol 21, no. 5, pp. 739-747.

‘We are appealing for £200,000 to assist my colleague Dr Charles McCreery in completing the work for his book on out-of-the-body experiences, then publishing it and publicising it. He has received no funding during the writing of this book, which is based on the research he carried out for his Oxford DPhil on out-of-the-body experiences. The book includes the results of both experimental work and extensive analyses of case material.
Dr McCreery’s book is a rigorously scientific analysis of out-of-the-body experiences, with discussions of the philosophical implications of these and related phenomena. It deserves to be completed, published and widely advertised. Those who claim that they want to advance human knowledge should provide us with the financial support required to enable this to happen.’
Dr Celia Green

more about modern ‘research’

10 January 2014

The morality of Professor C D Broad

text of a letter to an academic

Throughout my life my problems have all arisen from the same cause: the hostility of the increasingly dominant socialist ideology to exceptional ability, in fact to anything that may be regarded as ‘superiority’.

Dame Janet Vaughan, the Principal of Somerville College, was a rabid atheist egalitarian socialist and very hostile to me. Practically the first thing you were told about her on arriving at Somerville was that she was an atheist. At that time (in the early 1950s) this was slightly shocking, and it was certainly unusual for a person in a position of responsibility to assert it so ostentatiously. I remember a mature middle-class lady, not an undergraduate, sounding as if it was regrettable, saying that she thought it was nicer to know that the Principals of colleges were Christians, presumably because she thought this might guarantee their benevolence towards their students.

Dame Janet was very avant-garde. To that extent that you can say that my problems in life were made worse by my being a woman, because probably at that time the Masters of most men’s colleges were officially Christian and more old-fashioned in outlook. The head of a men’s college would probably have been a bit more tolerant towards someone arriving at their college with a need to do things in a way that could alleviate, rather than exacerbate, the problems which arose from their previous maltreatment by the educational system.

C.D. Broad
The attitudes of society in this country have been getting worse all the time throughout my life, both before and after I arrived at Somerville. One of the influential academics on the circuit of the Society for Psychical Research was Professor C.D. Broad, who managed to prevent any financial relief getting to me through the siege blockade.

Of course, you may say, as no doubt they all hoped that I would say: I have no hope at all, since all these people are part of the same monolithic academic system, so I should give up and do something else.

But in fact my internal determinants were and are too strong, and I could only go on aiming at the same sort of life doing the same sort of things, because what had made me aware of my need for that in the first place had been my internal determinants, rather than the fact that there seemed to be a straightforward and effortless way of getting it. So if it now appeared that the way to it was not open, but firmly blocked, I still could not give up trying to get it.

I am still working towards the life I need, one in which I have a socially statusful and well-salaried academic position, which would provide me with the hotel environment and intellectual activity which I need for my well-being.

When Sally Adams and Margaret Eastman (both Oxford graduates) joined my research organisation, I was hopeful that one or other of them would be eligible for the Perrott Studentship associated with Trinity College Cambridge, which I had held some time earlier. It seemed likely such an application would be successful since there appeared to be no other possible candidates wanting to do research in this area. We could certainly have done with the money.

I was shocked when the Electors decided to award the studentship to Professor Broad (himself one of the Electors), apparently without even advertising it, for the purpose of writing and delivering some lectures on the subject – later published in book form as Lectures on Psychical Research. As far as I am aware, the conditions of the Studentship stipulated that the money should be applied to original research likely to further knowledge about putative paranormal phenomena, but Broad’s lectures were in the nature of philosophical musings.

Although I never saw the Trust Deed myself, I was certainly under the impression that the Perrott Studentship was intended to support people who could not support themselves, thereby making it possible for them to do research.

Although this cannot be proved, I would not be surprised if the award to Broad was made to ensure that the only official British source of finance for the subject would not be available to me. Professor Broad certainly did not need the (relatively meagre) amount of money doled out, being already well set-up and provided with a college environment.

Broad was a ‘moral philosopher’. Perhaps that means that, like other moral philosophers, his work was really aimed at destroying capitalism (and with it any possibility of individual freedom) and at promoting some version of global communism.

‘The philosophy department of my unrecognised university would, if financed to do so, be publishing criticisms of current work in moral philosophy, pointing out its unexamined assumptions and implications.’ Celia Green, DPhil

‘We hereby apply for financial support on a scale at least adequate for one active and fully financed research department. We make this appeal to all universities, corporations and individuals who consider themselves to be in a position to give support to socially recognised academic establishments.’ Charles McCreery, DPhil

06 January 2014

The retrospective pensions swindle

In view of the current debate about the possible cutting of benefits to pensioners, I thought it worthwhile re-posting this piece from 2010.

I have a book entitled The Great Pensions Swindle* which, 40 years ago, made some useful points about the likely unreliability of state pensions. The following, however, is unrealistic:

The breaking point is not postponable indefinitely. The resistance to periodic increases in ‘social insurance’ contributions will begin all the sooner when the ‘contributors’ realise they are paying not insurance contributions but an income tax. (p.128)

In fact, no significant realisation arose that ‘National Insurance’ contributions were just a form of income tax, which increased the Government’s current spending money. Otherwise the book anticipates very much what has happened. What happens when a future generation decides it prefers to spend its money on what is fashionable at the time (overseas ‘aid’, social workers, ‘universities’, etc.) rather than providing a former generation with the pension it thought it was paying for? The pensions are ‘too expensive’; they are suddenly means-tested, and paid at ever later ages.

Not least, let it be clearly understood that ‘right’ (to the pension) and ‘contract’ are two more good words that have been made misnomers. A ‘right’ to a pension that a man acquires by saving for it is unambiguous. The ‘right’ a man has to an income when he can no longer work is of a different kind. The word has been re-defined to mean a moral right or claim on society. But transfers of income from one age-group, or class, or generation, to another represent decisions by one group, or class, or generation, to help another in time of need. No group, or class, or generation has a ‘right’ in any absolute sense. ...

In civilised parlance ‘contract’ means a voluntary agreement between two parties each of whom thinks it will gain. There is no such voluntary agreement between the generations on pensions. Indeed, there can hardly be one since future generations cannot be consulted; and if they could they would hardly agree since the terms are loaded against them. (pp.129-130)

* * *

Retrospective legislation has become increasingly frequent, and by now no one seems to remember that there was ever anything against it. It used to be said that the individual had a right to know what was legally open to him (in taxation, etc.) so that he could plan his affairs to secure the best outcome in view of his own interests and priorities, as he conceived them to be.

The recent changes in the ages at which state pensions become payable is really an egregious example of retrospective legislation, and directly affects people in as bad a position as we are. If a company which offered pension schemes were suddenly to announce that all its pensions were to be paid two years later, those who had been paying into the schemes might well wish to sue it for breach of contract. When the government does the same thing, no legal redress is available. This has happened recently and seems likely to happen more, so that my junior colleagues’ pensions recede as one approaches them. The age at which one of them will start receiving her pension was first shifted from 60 to 62, and then again to 64. Another’s pension was shifted from 65 to 67, and seems likely to be further delayed to the age of 68.

Thus the state has already deprived us, who are trying to build up towards an adequate academic institutional environment, of seven years’ pension money, i.e. £35K at today’s pension rate.

I have previously pointed out how means-testing of pensions retrospectively reduces the benefit received in return for contributions paid. This means nearly two thousand pounds per person per year. The proposed tax of £20K towards the cost of state ‘nursing care’, whether such care is received or not, was first proposed as a tax on estates on death, but is now suggested as a capital levy to be paid by every pensioner on reaching retirement age. If that were made retrospective, so that it applied to myself as well as to my colleagues, that would represent an additional confiscation of £80K.

‘There are several other examples of abandonment of principles, and I should be able to write about them at length because they are extremely serious, though no one else appears to recognise this. If Oxford Forum were provided with adequate funding, we could be writing and publishing analyses on this issue of a kind currently ignored in favour of the usual pro-collectivist arguments.’ Celia Green, DPhil

‘We hereby apply for financial support on a scale at least adequate for one active and fully financed research department. We make this appeal to all universities, corporations and individuals who consider themselves to be in a position to give support to socially recognised academic establishments.’
Charles McCreery, DPhil

* Arthur Seldon, The Great Pensions Swindle, Tom Stacey Books, London, 1970.

04 January 2014

Killing bright rat babies

The late Professor Hans Eysenck once told me about an experiment in which a population of rats was divided into ‘bright’ and ‘dull’ on some criterion for rat intelligence. The rat offspring were then switched to different parents, in such a way that the bright rats were given the offspring of the dull rats to bring up, and vice versa. It was found that the bright rats brought up the dull rat babies successfully, while the dull rats killed the bright rat babies which they were given.

As Richard Dawkins points out in The Selfish Gene, natural selection encourages forms of behaviour which secure favourable conditions for the descendants of the individual in subsequent generations. So it looks as if it may be advantageous for the survival of a rat if the number of rats in the population it has to compete with, which are descended from parents cleverer than its own, is minimised.

The experiment suggests it may have become programmed into the genetic constitution of rats that they should kill, if possible, young rats which are cleverer than themselves. On the other hand, it appears rats have no programming to kill young rats which are less clever than themselves, presumably because their presence in future populations would pose no serious threat to their own offspring.

If natural selection has favoured such behaviour in rats to the point of modifying their genotype, we may speculate that it is even more likely to be present in the human constitution, since the range of opportunities present in human society, and the ways in which advantage may be taken of them, are even more varied, and offer greater potential advantages to those able to make use of them, than the variety of circumstances which may be made use of by rats of differing abilities.

Someone who becomes aware of this experiment may well be shocked by the result, and protest that it could not possibly be applied to humans. Professor Eysenck himself seemed to have resistance to the implication. He told me that anti-high-IQ behaviour would only prove adaptive for people in more developed societies, and thus could not have had time to modify the human genotype. His argument was that only in developed societies, with extensive business and finance activities, would having a higher IQ give the owner a sufficient advantage, to motivate other people to be hostile to him, or even kill him. This argument did not, however, make much sense to me, given that rats can scarcely be said to have ‘developed societies’ in this sense.

If there is a tendency in humans corresponding to the desire of rats to kill young rats cleverer than their own offspring, it would certainly help to explain the way the education system has developed as society has become progressively democratised. In spite of occasional nods to the supposed special needs of the ‘gifted’, the system is clearly geared (and increasingly so) to promoting the interests of the low-IQ population, and to making life well-nigh impossible for those of exceptional ability.

There is evidently a resistance to considering the possibility that the average human being may have hostile (potentially to the point of murderous) attitudes, whether conscious or not, to individuals of exceptional ability. Professor Eysenck told me that the results of this experiment became unavailable soon after it had been carried out – though he didn’t explain why – so it may be that they have never been published.

‘We appeal for £5m as initial funding for a social science department in our unrecognised and unsupported independent university. This would enable it to publish analyses of the unexamined assumptions underlying current discussion of the philosophy of education.’ Charles McCreery, DPhil

29 December 2013

A cruel pretence

There is a cruel pretence that the outcast professor (me) is not suffering from being deprived of an institutional (i.e. hotel) environment and social recognition as a leading intellectual, that is to say as a person with a salaried and prestigious professorship.

When I was thrown out fifty years ago I accepted that there was a brick wall in front of me and that all I could do was scrape at it, trying to make a tunnel through it. Everyone promoted the fiction that I was being ‘free to follow my interests’. This was the worst possible slander of someone in my terrible position, because it represented me as not needing help in the form of money and people, or needing support for my attempts to get such help.

How do you suppose it feels, after fifty years of totally unrewarding toil in bad circumstances, trying to work towards an institutional (hotel) environment and an Oxbridge professorship, to be told by a philosopher at Somerville College that, if I got back onto a salaried career track which could lead to a professorship, I would be ‘less free’! It feels like the most violent possible rejection of all that constitutes one’s individuality. The worst insult possible, to add to grievous injury. And she (the philosopher), and many others at Somerville, have slandered and even libelled me in this terrible way.

There should be recognition of this as a criminal act with a legal penalty. Suitable redress would be that she should be condemned to come and work in my incipient and downtrodden independent university, doing whatever she can most usefully do, probably helping with the domestic and menial necessities which arise from the lack of staff from which I am always suffering grievously. Also she should forfeit her assets to contribute towards the funding that I need to build up the capital endowment of my university, which is still too painfully squeezed for me to be able to make use of my ability to do anything.

In fact, of course, the negative consequences to her and the other dons at Somerville from slandering and libelling me in this way are nil. Instead, they are able to go on enjoying their advantages, and no doubt talk about helping the ‘underprivileged’ – while doing nothing to alleviate the bad condition of someone for whose downfall they were in part responsible.

This is an edited version of the text of a letter to an academic, first posted in 2007.

’People of any age are invited to come to Cuddesdon, near Oxford, initially as voluntary workers. They are expected to have enough money of their own to pay for accommodation near here, but would be able to use our canteen facilities. While here, they could gain information about topics and points of view suppressed in the modern world, as well as giving badly needed help to our organisation. From this initial association a permanent, full- or part-time career could develop.’ Celia Green, DPhil

‘We hereby apply for financial support on a scale at least adequate for one active and fully financed research department. We make this appeal to all universities, corporations and individuals who consider themselves to be in a position to give support to socially recognised academic establishments.’ Charles McCreery, DPhil

09 December 2013

The dubious value of ‘education’

Recent statements by Michael Gove (the Education Secretary) and Andrew Hamilton (Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University), among others, seem to accept the usual assumption that assessments and appointments made by agents of the collective at all levels of the ‘educational’ system are meaningful and objective, and that working for a qualification within the system is a positive advantage to all who are allowed to do so – so that receiving a grant (for example) is automatically of value to the individual receiving it.

Referring to the special type of tuition offered by Oxford, Professor Hamilton says that
Excellence in most walks of life does not come cheap ... unless we can offer the best we can’t expect to get the best.
implying that more attention from teachers (via the tutorial system) is bound to mean a better product for recipients.

Yet having to have work assessed by tutors in a one-to-one interaction is not necessarily something which recipients are going to benefit from, let alone enjoy.

Michael Gove is highly critical of some recent negative comments made by Simon Cowell about the supposed pointlessness of school. Gove claims the future belongs to
... those who work hard, enjoy the best education and pursue the most rigorous qualifications.
The truthfulness of this statement may be limited to the fact that the future belongs to those who are able to avoid being subjected to state education.

Actually, Simon Cowell makes a perfectly good point by implying that for some, school is largely an irrelevance, and they would be better off leaving it as soon as possible, to get on with what they really want to do. Unfortunately, recent legislation – which Mr Gove allowed to pass unchallenged – means non-academic types like Mr Cowell are no longer able to leave school at the age of 16, but must endure a further two years (or otherwise go on an approved ‘training’ course), by which time a vital part of their youthful energy and optimism may have been exhausted.

* * *

In any individual case, working for an examination under the auspices of an official institution may well be less efficient than working alone, and may indeed lead to a negative outcome.

What is referred to loosely as ‘education’ is not simply the opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills, but usually involves the acceptance of a power-relation in which you give other people the right to make judgements and decisions about you. If you are lucky, these people may choose not to act against your interests – this is obviously more likely if there is a financial incentive, i.e. you (or your parents) are paying them, or their employer, directly.

If you are not so lucky, their actions may undermine or annul your own efforts, so that the package labelled as ‘education’ ends up being a net negative as far as you are concerned.

Yet discussions of ‘education’ invariably proceed as if any resources devoted to something falling under that heading automatically lead to an increase in benefit for would-be learners.

* * *

In my own case, accepting a grammar school scholarship meant that I would spend many years having my life run by people who had no reason to wish me well and who, in retrospect, may be supposed to have been motivated by wishing to prevent my ability from expressing itself in any way that would lead me into the sort of university career to which I was highly suited, and which I badly needed to have.

Apart from any more subjective adverse effects, one very significant negative factor was in my being pressured for years to take a degree in mathematics. There were many subjects in which, working on my own, I could have obtained a first class result easily, but if I had been working on my own, I would never have considered maths as a possible degree subject. As a result, I was thrown out at the end of the ruined education with no usable qualification at all.

When I was ten or eleven, my father had my IQ tested by an educational psychologist who was employed by a local educational authority. He said that he had never tested a child like it before and never expected to do so again. In this he was expressing the previous ideology according to which people could be more or less exceptional, and the likelihood of their being good at anything academic was predominantly determined by a general factor in their IQ (Spearman’s g factor). There was also an idea that their IQ determined their suitability for various occupations. This psychologist told my father, with evident satisfaction, that his own (the psychologist’s) IQ was 140 and that in those days this was regarded as ‘a professor’s IQ’.

It was general knowledge at the time, and for at least a decade afterwards, that in a population of 50 million, there would be about 500 people with IQs over 180, as mine was said to be.

* * *

I have still not regained an acceptable social position. The egalitarian ideology which dominated my years at school and university was in force, and increasingly so, throughout the society within which I had to attempt to make my way, both within and outside of the university system.

I am still appealing for moral and financial support from associates of every kind, to enable me to become functional as soon as possible.

’We appeal for £5m as initial funding for a social science department in our unrecognised and unsupported independent university. This would enable it to publish analyses of the unexamined assumptions underlying current discussion of the philosophy of education.’
Charles McCreery, DPhil