09 December 2014

Eight high-achieving siblings, from a poor home

Celia Green with
one of her uncles,
Leonard Green
It was not only the case that my father came top of the grammar school scholarship, in spite of living in an impoverished home with very little reading matter. It was also the case that each of his seven siblings similarly got grammar school scholarships, at a time when there were only twenty of them available per year in the borough, and that every one of them became successful and respectable in spite of their ostensibly disadvantaged early life. They all became headmasters, or entered similar professions.

The modern ideology likes to assert that if there is a correlation on a large scale between deprivation in early life and lack of success later, the relatively deprived should, by means of intervention, be enabled to ‘catch up’ during their time at school.

In fact it is unlikely that my father and his siblings seemed to be in any way ‘behind’ when they first went to school. They had, for example, probably learnt to read before they went to school, in spite of the lack of books in the house in which they were living.

On a large scale, there may be a correlation between lack of books in the home and lack of success in exams at a later age. However, there are many factors which affect the situation, and a sub-population, such as my father’s family, may occur in which the correlation does not apply at all.

In the case of my father’s family, which had aristocratic East European antecedents, genetic factors would appear to have prevailed over environmental ones.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position. I need people to provide moral support both for fundraising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

05 December 2014

Self-important academics

Researchers found that many parents ‘overvalue’ their children and believe them to be more special and entitled than others.

These parents are more likely to be conceited and self-important themselves, according to Dutch academics ...
(Daily Mail, 3 December 2014)
The ideology recently explicitly expressed by Dutch academics* (themselves agents of the collective) was present, although much less explicitly and universally, three quarters of a century ago when I was born in London in 1935. In retrospect it is easy to see that my father was habitually accused of believing me to be exceptional, or of ‘wanting to me to be a genius’, and as I was in fact precocious it was scarcely possible for him to say anything about my interests or achievements without arousing attacks on himself. Agents of the collective such as the Dutch academics referred to above, are, by virtue of being agents of the collective, regarded as an infallible source of value judgments.

The theory that some parents have a tendency to ‘overvalue’ their children, and that they should be corrected for doing this, had a deleterious effect on my education, and on the lives of my parents and myself. It was used to justify much of the hostility against me which resulted in my being prevented from doing things I wanted to do, such as take exams young.

* E. Brummelman et al, ‘My Child Is God’s Gift to Humanity: Development and Validation of the Parental Overvaluation Scale (POS)’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2014.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position. I need people to provide moral support both for fundraising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

28 November 2014

A fellow undergraduate

Maria Casares (1922-1996),
star of Cocteau’s Orphée
When I was an undergraduate at Somerville College, Oxford, in the early 1950s, there was a fellow undergraduate called Tresca Davis. She had a strikingly self-possessed manner which made it difficult for people to become familiar with her, and her strong resemblance to Maria Casares, the film actress whose father Santiago Casares Quiroga had been Prime Minister of Spain, was often remarked upon. We spoke a lot to each other for several terms, and you could say we were friends.

We lost touch completely a few years after I left college, and I have never heard from Tresca since. I was thinking of her recently, and looked her up on Google, via which I learnt that she had donated money to Somerville College recently, in 2010-11. (The Somerville College Report for Donors of that financial period does not say how much any of the donors contributed.) Her name is now Tresca Winteringham.

Tresca is likely to have known decades ago that I was attempting to set up a research institute in an attempt to remedy my position. If she knew that I was still appealing for funding at the time she made her donation to Somerville, she might have considered making a donation to me instead of, or as well as, making one to Somerville.

My education, paid for by the State, left me with no source of income and no way of working my way back into an academic career. Tresca had not been exposed to State education, having attended St Paul’s Girls’ School, a prestigious private school in London, where contacts with wealthy families could be made.

One might have expected that college friends would be sympathetic to the needs of their friends (a friend in need is a friend indeed). However, Tresca donated to a socially recognised institution but not to mine. Nor have any other of my college friends helped me in my attempt to remedy my destitute position, which I found shocking.

There were a good many people at Somerville who were aware of my impoverished position relative to theirs, but who gave me no financial or other help in response to my appeals, although they probably did make donations to socially approved organisations such as Somerville College or Oxfam.

People seem to think that if someone cannot get support from a socially recognised source, they should not receive any at all.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position. I need people to provide moral support both for fundraising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

20 November 2014

Cheese-paring the winter fuel allowance

The government is always cheese-paring towards those of pensionable age.

The population of people of pensionable age is likely to have a higher average IQ than the population at large, because people with below-average genetic endowment, or dysfunctional ways of running their lives, are less likely to reach pensionable age.

The winter fuel allowance (now called ‘winter fuel payment’) is a sop that has been brought in to reconcile people to the fact that pensions had ‘withered on the vine’ to a much greater extent than previous governmental statements had led them to expect. Even the maximum winter fuel payment (£300 per annum to a person of 80 or over living on their own) is scarcely commensurate with the difference between state pensions now and what might have been expected. Moreover, the fuel payments are allocated in a way that may make the recipient worse off, rather than better off.

At present, a person who reaches pensionable age receives £200 per annum winter fuel allowance, but he has to be careful about having any other person living in, or even visiting, his house. Another person might realise that he is getting the fuel allowance, and this might make them less careful in their use of his electricity and gas. This may be an unconscious reaction, but some of the time may not be. I have had lodgers who left boilers running in an overheated house while they were out, apparently because they liked the idea of increasing the houseowner’s bills. Since this happened to me, it seems probable that similar situations occur elsewhere.

If another person living in the same house, whether or not related to the first person, also reaches pensionable age, the fuel payment of the first person is reduced by 50% (i.e. if he had been receiving £200 per annum, this is reduced to £100 per annum), and the second person qualifying will receive only half of one person’s full fuel allowance (i.e. he will also receive £100 per annum).

Even in the case of a married couple, living in the same house will be disadvantageous. However careful and cooperative they are, fuel for two elderly people is almost certain to cost more than that for one elderly person, yet the overall allowance will be the same as for one person.

Being married, incidentally, does not guarantee that the two people concerned are on particularly good terms, and either of them might be a particularly careless and wasteful person, even if with no malice towards the other.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position. I need people to provide moral support both for fundraising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

05 November 2014

Oxford admission interview: underlying motivation

Will Durant (1885-1981),
author of
Outlines of Philosophy
When I applied to Somerville College, Oxford for my undergraduate degree, I took the entrance examination in maths. I was then called up for an interview although, as I later realised, it was with the candidates who might be accepted as commoners but not as scholars.

Actually the interviews were very brief and only consisted of meeting the Principal. People went to her office at an appointed time and stood in a short queue outside the door. On entry, one walked across her large room and took one’s place on a sofa facing another sofa on which the Principal was sitting. The interview consisted only of reviewing the most basic facts about one. Somewhat on the lines of: ‘So your name is XYZ, and you are applying in such a subject. You went to such and such a school from a certain date to a more recent date. Your hobbies are so and so. You play such and such games. Well, goodbye. We will be considering your application and will let you know very soon.’

All that such an interview could be said to show was that the candidate did not become completely inarticulate, or fall to the floor in a faint, in intimidating circumstances. I would not myself think that those who passed such a test would necessarily be the most suited to academic studies.

Although Somerville did not seem to be finding out anything much about me, I was, so far as I know, the only person from this first interview who was, a week or so later, invited to go to Somerville again, this time with people who were being considered as potential scholarship candidates. So far as I could find out, none of the people I was now with had attended any previous interview at Oxford.

On the second visit I was not interviewed by anyone specialising in maths, who might have been a future tutor. This may have been because the college’s leading maths tutor had been absent from Oxford for a year or so, supposedly in consequence of her need to recover from the tragic death of her husband. Instead I was interviewed by some sort of senior tutor, as were the other people who were being considered for scholarships.

It is difficult to believe that reports about my educational past contained no hint of my predominant preference for physics, or of the fact that I had taken the entrance exam to Somerville in maths only because I had been forced against my will into spending a year doing first-year maths at Queen Mary College, London.

The senior tutor said in the interview that I had written about philosophy in my entrance exam papers, so would I like to change to philosophy instead of maths? No, I said, because I wanted to do research in physics, for which philosophy would not be regarded as a preparation.

The senior tutor took no interest in what had led up to my taking the entrance exam in maths, rather than in the subject in which I said I wanted to make a career. Apart from whatever may have been said in reports to Somerville from my local education authority, I had made no secret of my position, and had spoken about it freely to fellow candidates.

My wishing to do research in physics was disregarded. Although reference was made to the content of my essay papers in the entrance examination, it seems unlikely that a senior academic would not realise, as I did myself, that being good at old-fashioned philosophy did not make it particularly likely that one could be successful in a modern university philosophy course. So proposing that I should change to such a subject was tantamount to steering me in the direction of a degree course which would leave me with no way ahead into a university career in any subject, let alone in the one which I wanted to have.

There was no sense in which my essays had revealed what interested me, so that I might wish to pursue it further, whether or not it led to a university appointment. I had read Will Durant’s Outlines of Philosophy, and some other books, as a deliberate preparation for the essay papers. University applicants were advised by their schools to prepare for the essay papers by taking an interest in current affairs, reading broadsheets and so on. I found these things uninteresting, so I had concentrated instead on classical philosophy.

* * *

It seems likely, in retrospect, that the senior academics involved in admissions to Oxford were motivated to steer me in a direction which could not lead to the sort of career which I said I wanted to have, but might well leave me exiled for life from the academic world with no usable qualifications.

This, in fact, they succeeded in doing by leaving me working for a degree in maths, which had never been my choice, and at what was for me an unnaturally late age, while refusing to consider anything I could say about the difficulties to which this gave rise, or conceding any of the changes in arrangements which I said would be of help to me.

* * *

When I ask my associates why people seem to be so irritated, and made angry, by my attempting to bring to light the motivation underlying the way I have been treated at crucial stages of my life, they may suggest either that the irritated people were once themselves treated badly but suppressed any analysis or complaint about it, or that the irritated people feel that they themselves would also act in the relevant ways towards anyone who happened to be in their power.

However, it is practically impossible to reach the point of realising that there is anything to complain of in what is happening to one; I certainly did not, at least not at the time. It was only in retrospect, as one noted constantly recurring elements in the ways people reacted, that one started to draw inferences about possible underlying motivation.

It seemed to me that the underlying motivation, although virtually universal, was too subconscious for people to talk to one another about it. I do not suppose that Dame Janet (the Principal) said to the other Somerville dons, ‘as we want to make her uncertain whether her maths is good enough, let us call her up for interview with the common entrants in the first place, and only after that with those who are in the running for scholarship.’

People do not consider the motivation of agents of the collective involved in education, such as teachers or tutors, or if they do, they seldom see it as grounds for complaint or rectification. A case in point is that of Christine Fulcher’s maltreatment by her primary school headmaster. I was present at a conversation with her uncle about this in which he seemed to accept that the headmaster’s treatment of her had been unjustified. ‘But why did he do that?’ he asked, as if her account of what had happened could not be admitted unless accompanied by an acceptable explanation. ‘He did not like girls, and when I was no longer there to come top of the form, his own son did so’, Christine suggested.

Her uncle seemed to find a dislike of girls an acceptable explanation, and to think that it contributed what is nowadays called ‘closure’ to the situation. If you have ‘closure’, you accept that the situation was the way it was, and give up on attempts to rectify it.

It seemed that a dislike of girls was an acceptable motive to ascribe to someone, even if it had resulted in ruining a particular girl’s academic career and prospects. Neither Christine’s uncle, nor anyone else, seems to have considered the possibility that Christine’s headmaster was specifically motivated to ruin her life.

Of my associates, several, as well as myself, entered university at what was, for them, an unnaturally late age. I was feeling very bad when I applied to Somerville College much later than I felt I should have done, on account of the age restrictions against my taking of exams, so I thought that I had no chance of a scholarship and was applying merely to get into Oxford, which it was necessary for me to do. When I was awarded a scholarship, in fact the top scholarship, I felt that I was only getting what I should have got at a much earlier age, which was a relief, but solved no problems.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position. I need people to provide moral support both for fundraising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

23 October 2014

IQ tests and ‘near-genius’

copy of a letter to an academic

People were always implying that I believed things about my IQ, and that this influenced me in wanting to take more subjects than other people and/or to take exams in them at an earlier age.

It should be pointed out that ideas about IQ and genius were not in my mind or my environment at all, until statements about them were explicitly made by the psychologist who volunteered to do an IQ test on me in an apparently casual way when I was ten. This was just after I had taken the grammar school scholarship exam in Essex – and before my parents and I were told by the Reverend Mother, at a preliminary interview, that I had come top of the county with a 100% score on every paper.

A few days after my taking the test, my father transmitted the following information: my IQ was 180 which supposedly meant I was ‘near-genius’. The IQ of a child was said to be loosely equivalent to mental age* divided by chronological age, which implied that a ten-year-old with an IQ of 140 would have a mental age of fourteen, and that at the age of ten my own mental age was eighteen.

‘Genius’ was defined as having an IQ score of 200 or over. My IQ was 180, and that was allegedly ‘near-genius’. In fact, the cut-off value for the test I took was 180, so that it was impossible to get a reported value above this, but I did not realise this until some years later.

Such statements would not be made nowadays, but at that time they were transmitted to me (via my father) by the educational psychologist, employed by the local education authority, who had administered the test.

One wonders what could have been the motivation of the local council in allowing him to make such definite assertions.

In fact, I developed a view of the situation, as perhaps I was supposed to, in which there was a considerable population of people with IQs between 180 and 200, and even a considerable population of people with IQs over 200. So I felt there was nothing remarkable in the IQ that I had.

I did not think that they might have understated my IQ until decades later, when I read in C.W. Valentine’s The Normal Child and some of his Abnormalities – which had not been published at the time I took the test – that a girl who could read a primer fluently at the age of two (as I could myself) was said to have a possible IQ of 300, since reading implied a mental age of at least six or seven.

* The term ‘intelligence quotient’ was originally coined by German psychologist William Stern to express this relationship between mental age and chronological age.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position. I need people to provide moral support both for fundraising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

21 October 2014

Crisis at the convent

The motto of the
Ursuline convent schools
I want to write about my interview with my father, after he had been summoned to see the Reverend Mother in connection with her concerns about me. First I have to explain what happened.

I have always found it difficult to write about the constant disagreements throughout my education, because they were always rationalised and contradictory. But I think that the underlying forces which affected my position are clear, in retrospect, from the situation which arose when I was fourteen (after I had been prevented from taking the School Certificate exam at thirteen, and thus locked into years of delay before I could take any exams at all).

The ostensible cause of this particular crisis was that I was supposed to have said that I did not believe in God.

Actually Mother Mary Angela (the maths nun), finding it impossible to change my views on what I wanted to do in life, had brought matters to a head by peering at me and saying, ‘Do you believe in God?’ Even then I had not said that I did not, but had said, ‘Oh yes.’

I had always assumed that I would never be asked such a thing, because in the convent environment, saying that one did not believe in God would be too shocking. However, I knew that the tone of my voice was not likely to carry conviction. In fact, Mother Mary Angela reacted as if I had said the opposite.

I do not think her doing so was justified, as people (so far as I could see) often said things they did not mean very much, or meant very vaguely, this being accepted socially at face value. In most cases of people who said they believed in God, or were assumed to do so, I had little idea what they might mean by this. Retrospectively, or perhaps even at the time, I had more of an idea what Mother Veronica (the nun who habitually wore a beatific expression) might mean by professing belief in God. Mother Veronica always seemed to be maintaining a continuous awareness of some kind of presence external to her own mind.

Of course I had not said anything about such things to the other girls, although they knew that I was not actually a Catholic. I remember at least one occasion on which one of them, a grammar school scholarship girl a few years older than me, became very angry that she was unable to convert me to Catholicism on the spot.

One of the things that makes it difficult to write about the conflicts in my education, and made it difficult to understand them at the time, was that they had little or no relationship to reality, but were about fictitious states of affairs. In fact these fictitious problems were a cover for people’s real anxieties about me, which seemed to have more to do with a fear that I might do something radical, or unpredictable, on an intellectual level.

Of course, by the time this conversation with Mother Mary Angela took place, I had already been in the same form as two girls, Jane* and Sarah, who were notorious for their rejection of Catholicism, and presumably any form of Christianity. But I do not remember any expression of disbelief in God as such, and even if there had been, I would not have joined forces with it.

I thought of my own position as agnostic, on account of my awareness of the uncertainty inherent in the existential situation, and this ruled out disbelief in God (or in anything else), as well as belief.

Even if it was known that I talked a lot to Jane, I certainly did not talk about my rejection of Catholicism, whereas I think she did like to assert it frequently. It was known that I did not believe in Catholicism, since my parents always passed me off as ‘Church of England’, but I had no interest in expressing this disbelief.

With hindsight, the crisis regarding my alleged lack of belief in God seems to me to have been a cover for a crisis regarding some other aspect or aspects of my personality. The maths nun, Mother Mary Angela, was already aware that I had drives and ambitions of which she disapproved. What she and others may have been really afraid of was my analyticalness, my ability to see through society. They were afraid of my having any social success, and thus of having a chance to use these capacities to get on in life, and also to influence other people.

* Names have been changed.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position. I need people to provide moral support both for fundraising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

14 October 2014

Wasted talent

Writing about Christine Fulcher has reminded me of how difficult it is, and always has been, to say anything about our position.

In Christine’s case, she was clearly IQ-ful enough to have become an academic, even a professor.

It was a reflection on the educational system that, as her school life ended, she was not attracted by the possibility of making a university career in any subject, and not even interested in the idea of going to university at all, as she did not see how it could lead to a life that she could get anything out of. She went to university because her father put her under pressure, regarding it as disgraceful not to do so.

What would she tell her children (he argued) if she turned down the opportunity to go to university? She was told she should follow the example of her mother, who had been to college.

When Christine came to work with me in my independent and unrecognised academic establishment, a sympathetic family might have thought that it was a shame she had no easier way of making a suitable career, and they might naturally have thought that she needed support more than her brothers, or anyone else who was able to have a career that was salaried in the normal way.

But instead of this, they took care to discriminate against her, so that all financial support which might have come her way was cut off, and subsidies to her siblings were correspondingly increased.

Also they discouraged rich relatives and friends from subsidising her, whereas her brothers did receive subsidies (such as wedding presents etc.) from such people. Her family’s treatment of Christine discouraged her from socialising with them. This then gave them a (spurious) excuse to be even meaner to her.

Christine’s suitability for academic pursuits was shown by the fact that she naturally gravitated to subjects which only people with a ‘superior’ IQ are said to be able to do well. That is, sciences and languages – to which I myself was attracted.

Christine had wanted a career in science, but she did not pass her Chemistry O-level, having had mumps shortly before the exam. She wanted to retake it, but was discouraged from doing so by her school, and by her parents making unnecessary difficulties about it.

Christine could read French and German well by the time she left school, although merely attending the lessons provided in those subjects would certainly have been insufficient to produce this result. By the time I met her, she was widely read in the classics of French and German literature.

Many of those with the greatest aptitude for academic pursuits are thrown out by the system – whether at university or earlier – and the waste of their abilities is ignored. They are supposed not to mind, and indeed supposed not to exist except as rejects.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position and that of Christine Fulcher. I need people to provide moral support both for fundraising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

08 October 2014

Books are better than blogs

text of a letter to an academic

I do not think that my blog is a good way of attracting potential associates. We need to publish and distribute hardback books.

I do not know how we would attract anyone like Christine Fulcher into reading my blog.

Christine Fulcher
of Oxford Forum
When Christine was in her late teens, she was interested in helping a genius. But if someone searched the web using the word ‘genius’, they would get thousands of hits, many of them about Einstein, some about Leonardo da Vinci and other geniuses, but they probably would not find my blog. Christine was not interested in parapsychology, nor particularly in mysticism or gnosticism, and would not have thought of looking for blogs about the problems of high-IQ people, although she is one herself.

So I do not know what keywords I would have to use to attract people like her who might be interested in helping a genius, and who are not necessarily aware that they have the problems that high-IQ people tend to have foisted on them.

In fact, the best way of attracting someone like Christine to come and become an associate would be by having plenty of our books on the shelves of university libraries, and on the shelves of bookshops in general.

There is a phenomenon in economics known as ‘framing’, in which the same cultural product can receive quite different reactions depending on the context. A famous violinist can give a performance at Carnegie Hall in which seats sell for $100, but if the same violinist gives his performance for free on a subway, few people take any interest. A famous professor like Richard Dawkins can write books which are published by a respected publisher and sell in the tens of thousands. If he was unknown, the text of those books, if available for free on the web, might only attract a few hundred readers.

Christine found my book The Human Evasion in the philosophy section of Heffers Bookshop at the University of East Anglia. The title attracted her, and my ideas rang a bell with her. By the time she had read something in the book to the effect that a genius might need help, she was determined to come and see me. After about six weeks, she had already corresponded with me, and she was ringing at the door of 118 Banbury Road. At that time, our books were published by Hamish Hamilton, and their reps were taking them round to bookshops automatically, along with all other current Hamish Hamilton publications.

For any chance of attracting people who are as interested and potentially long-term as Christine, we need to be publishing new books, reissuing all our old books in large quantities, sending thousands of free copies to university libraries in this country and worldwide, and promoting the books to bookshops so that they stock them, probably especially in university towns. For this we need hundreds of thousands of pounds, but any smaller contribution would certainly be welcome.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position. I need people to provide moral support both for fundraising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

06 October 2014

Modern students

Recently we have been making contact with various undergraduates. The impression most of them give is that they are determined to make things as easy as possible for themselves at university, without trying to make their work interesting, or to do as well as possible at it. Certainly of recent decades I have heard and read statements that might have been thought shocking before the onset of the Welfare State.

For example, one fairly well-off, upper-middle-class pre-undergraduate, who had expressed an interest in becoming associated with us, refused to consider working for us before college or during the vacs, although we said how badly we were in need of extra manpower. He said he could not take on either employment or voluntary work until he had got the full benefit of three full-time years at university. The attraction of which, according to him, was that he would not have to do much work while there. Presumably it was to be taken as understood that he would be able to spend most of his time having ‘fun’, as he and his contemporaries would call it. From what one hears, this would seem to include plenty of social life and getting drunk.

Nor, apparently, do students mind much about having to leave college with large loans, built up by not paying the fees themselves. Another pre-undergraduate was quoted in an article as saying that he did not mind about the debt which he would incur by going to university, because he would not have to start repaying it until he was earning above a certain level. This suggested the possibility that repayment could be avoided indefinitely by taking care to earn little or nothing.

I hear or read of many modern graduates and university dropouts who are disaffected by the difficulty of getting started on a career in the modern world. They are, however, not attracted by the possibility of becoming associated with us, where they could share in our sense of purpose and direction. In a way this is not surprising, as they have become identified with the avoidance of effort, intensity, and purpose.

Throughout my life there has been an almost universal rejection of my need to live with the maximum of intensity and purposiveness, and an unwillingness to accept that my life could be damaged by being deprived of the possibility of such things.

The modern educational system opposes purposiveness and favours its opposite. It has succeeded in creating, on a wide scale, what might previously have been described as ‘demoralised laziness’.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position. I need people to provide moral support both for fundraising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.