The Thing Which Is Not
WASHINGTON, July 1--After months of vigorous opposition by feminist groups, the American Psychiatric Society announced that its trustees had approved the addition of three new psychic disorders to its official diagnostic manual, but only in an appendix.
The three disorders would describe women with premenstrual syndrome, individuals with "self-defeating" personalities, and people with sadistic personalities.
New York Times, July 3, 1986
For he argued thus: that the use of speech was to make us understand one another, and to receive information of facts; now if any one said the thing which was not, these ends were defeated, because I cannot properly be said to understand him; and I am so far from receiving information that be leaves me worse than in ignorance, for I am led to believe a thing is black when it is white, and short when it is long. And these were all the notions he had concerning that faculty of lying, so perfectly well understood among human creatures.
THE second epigraph, all of our readers are likely to know, is from Gulliver's Travels. It is a happy circumstance for us that the Unspellable horses of the Fourth Voyage don't even have a word for lying. Thus it is that Gulliver's Master has to coin a useful and unsettling phrase that leads us to reflect on some of the things that we ought to mean when we use the word. Unhampered by any superstitious notions of the sanctity of "definitions," the puzzled Houyhnhnm (Ha!) is driven to understand the meaning of a word by actually using his mind, a faculty that a dictionary does not have.
It is an interesting irony that mind seems also noticeably missing in those who put themselves forth as great experts of the mind and its work. Educationists are by no means alone in that world where inventive definition takes the place of understanding. Their very close and kissing cousins, all the practitioners of the unnatural sciences whose names begin with psycho-, have learned how to make handsome livings entirely by defining the thing which is not. It is a stupendously successful way of lying.
We can not resist comparing the busy practitioners of the American Psychiatric Society with their kinfolk in Educationism, especially the sniffers-out of new and hitherto unsuspected "learning disabilities." Both tribes get paid, as it were, "by the piece." Every newly discovered disorder means more profit.
But it is only in loose talk that such intangibles as learning disabilities and disorders of the psyche can be called "discovered." They are only defined, and even those who pronounce themselves competent to define have a strange way of disagreeing as to the presence of the "things" they define, especially when one expert definer is being paid by the defense, and the other by the state. Let us therefore praise calcium and even the dreaded PCB, things which are, for if the experts disagree as to their presence, we know good and damn well that one of those experts is wrong. Experts of the invisible, however, even when disagreeing, can never be accounted "wrong," but only "in disagreement," or, as they themselves prefer, "in honest disagreement," a cozy moral condition unavailable to detectors of calcium and PCB.
Whether of the psycho- subclan or the edu-, they, of course, take comfort in their apparent immunity to exposure as charlatans or liars, but so, too, do the hunters of witches and the casters of horoscopes. All such deal in the grandest possible lie, the granting of reality to the thing which is not, carefully confined to those matters in which there is no possibility whatsoever of refutation by publicly verifiable evidence. That in just such matters there is also no possibility of verification, is a fact that does not discomfort the practitioners of the unnatural sciences.
Any thoughtful mind should be made uncomfortable by propositions that can neither be refuted nor verified, and by the imputation of reality to things that can not exist. Such notions disorder the mind, leading it to imagine that there are such monsters as War and Crime, and that they assault us. But war does not break out; persons choose to fight. Crime does not arise like a foul gas from the sewers; persons choose to commit it. Women, and men too, and little girls and boys, and cats and dogs as well, are from time to time brought into both mental and emotional disorder by virtue of the fact that they are organisms, and thus subject in every part of themselves to chemical processes. Who is, this morning, confident and effective, may, this evening, for one or another of causes beyond our power to count or even to imagine, turn into a "self-defeating personality," who had better have the kind of insurance that covers "mental illness," so that he doesn't have to take hold of himself and shape up.
But there is no germ of Sadism in the water supply to make people cruel, that we may discover it, and name it, and, by a happy coincidence, turn a small profit by becoming experts in its eradication. There is no Black Bat of Premenstrual Syndrome fluttering in the night at the windows of sleeping ladies, that wise and courageous psychiatrists might track it down and slay it in its lair. There is no behavior without a behaver; no deed is done except by a doer. If we ascribe reality to such non-things as sadism and self-defeat, and set ourselves to deal with them, as physicians deal with bacteria, and plumbers with leaks, we encourage in self-defeaters and sadists the illusion that they are helpless victims of powers beyond their control. We encourage also a belief remarkably convenient for all self-styled experts in how other people should live--the belief that our lives must be directed from outside, and that there is no help in us.
Nor is this belief diminished by the fact, obvious even to little children, that teachers are rarely wise, marriage counselors are not happier in marriage than mechanics, psychiatrists are as weird as survivalists, preachers, and preachers of peace, are looking for cheeks to smite, and those who hasten to govern others govern themselves no better than the rest of us. And, no less than the rest of us, every one of the experts in how to live will excuse himself for not living as well as he claims to know how by pointing to the baleful influence of the thing which is not, to something that can never even be suspected to exist unless he exists to embody and express it.
Some professional experts once announced that there were 10,007 demons residing among us. Others said 10,008.
The Fear Of God in Inez Bull
AN alert reader, with a very good memory, noticed something a bit familiar about the cute little jingle with which Inez Bull began her President's Message to the assembled members of Phi Delta Kappa. And sure enough, a little research turned up the original, a cute little jingle by Fannie Steams Davis. Both versions are printed below for your entertainment. Each is amusing in its own way.
Of Fannie Stearns Davis, we have nothing to say; the wild wind of poesie bloweth where it listeth, no doubt. But of Inez Bull, who turns out to be a more intriguing personage than we would have dreamed, and of whose further adventures we intend to keep track, we do have something to say.
Writers, of course, are thieves. Their thievery, however, often has this unusual effect--that their victims are rather enriched by it than impoverished. We have even seen here and there, phrases and whole sentences of ours, and some of them already stolen once by us, put forth as though they were another's. We are delighted, and more inclined to admire the thief's astute judgment than to castigate his morals. After all, what else have we but words, with which to seek out understanding and to discover some tiny hint of an inkling of a truth?
But, as the poet says: Who steals my trash, steals trash. ‘Tis nothing. ‘Twas never mine, nor ‘twill be his, and has been pap to thousands. We, when we steal, contrive, as best we can, to steal bones with some meat still on them, and nourishment still to be found in the gnawing of them. And, of the great writers, it must be said that, while we hardly know who they are or what they mean, they are good health to us, and the sour smack of the dregs in their dusty cups may friend us on a dark and cloudy day. But Fannie Steams Davis? Aw, come on, Inez!
Nevertheless, we are constrained by decency not only to forgive Inez Bull, but to praise her. Book-learning, after all, is only mere book-learning, which any dry pedant may find, and which never made anybody into a sharing and caring, beautiful human being who just loves children, and can really relate. So what if Inez has little? What she does have, in a time when it is rare among us, and almost unheard of in the government school business, is Piety.
Now Piety is like pornography, in a way, and like education too, for that matter. We can no more define it than poor, baffled Euthyphro could when he ran into Socrates on the courthouse steps. But, just as the Federal Porno Seminar was able to say a whole lot about pornography without feeling any need to discover any of its essential attributes, and likewise for education in all those education rap sessions, we find ourselves perfectly competent to understand Piety and instruct you about it.
Now Piety is when you obey the Commandment and steadfastly refuse to take the name of the Lord in vain, even when doing so might bring you some advantage. Surely you have noticed the most intriguing feature of Inez's purification, the replacement of "God"--we can print it because we're not pious--with more reverent forms. It is obvious that Inez knows her audience, and must be therefore a better leader of them than they deserve. She knows of course that they are just a bunch of secular humanists who don't want the "Christmas Vacation" to go away, but who do wish it were called something else. So she is very careful not to expose God to their contempt. And oh, so subtly. Notice the cunning change of "prayers" to "pray'rs." That'll fool ‘em. And how about that cleverly quotation-marked "search"? What a touch!
Well, by golly, we're proud of her, and those Basic Minimum Christianists who are clamoring about schools should be proud of her too. There's a lady who has the Fear of God. She's like one of those Catacomb Christians, steadfastly, but not too rashly, standing up for God. We do hope she gets reelected.
And we're even more proud of her because she obviously knows her trade, and knows that the educationists who read "her" poetry would probably not have read too much of anybody else's.
Exhibit A: The Original
The Painstakingly Pious Redaction of Inez Bull
About as Fer as They Kin Go
The Visable Educatinal Enviorment of Kansas City
There is a need for the Kansas City Missouri schools to attract children back into its schools. These children have left the schools because their parents felt that the Kansas City Schools would not provide a good educational enviornment for their children. ¶ I am interested in the Science and Math magnet school because I feel that I have the interest, expectations, background, and leadership qualities to develop a magnet school that will provide a visable and quality educatinal enviorment that will attract children to that school. I will be able to select and quide a staff into providing an edcational opportunity for the children to grow educationally at a rapid rate. To cause these children to develop the love of learning that will give them the desire to become serious students of Science and Mathematics.
Daly Macgrayne, newly appointed
What you see is sic, absolutely sic. It is Macgrayne's letter of application for an appointment as principal to one of those really nifty new "magnet schools" of Kansas City, where everything will be up-to-date. If you haven't already concluded it, we will be delighted to tell you that he got the job, of course.
There was, somewhat less of course, a bit of a flap in the papers when some reporter got hold of the evidence. But the school board didn't think it was all that big a deal. English is, after all, not easy to spell. And Macgrayne explained that the board had really gotten, some-how or other, only a rough draft that had been left lying around on his desk, or someplace else, maybe. Who knows? These things happen. Anyway, it all worked out for the best, and the Science and Math magnet school will now have a principal who actually admits that he is perfectly capable of causing children to develop a love of learning.
This is not the first time that we have heard about some principal's sad misadventure with a rough draft. It is about the tenth. Those guys seem to have a way of leaving scraps of paper lying around in strange places, perhaps near windows on windy days. Maybe they have treacherous secretaries, or, even worse, secretaries boring from within as undercover agents for the great cause of simple justice.
However, unlike you, and you, and you, and even you, we believe the man. And he leads us, for a moment at least, to admire Iago. There is a little something to be said for the caught culprit who says, "Ask me nothing. What you know, you know." But Iago, of course, had less at stake, and no hope at all of principalship in a magnet school.
Nevertheless, Macgrayne might have done better to pull an Iago, for, as we have often noticed in educationists, his excuse reveals a greater transgression than that with which he is charged.
OK, so it's a rough draft. Is "eviornment" then a mere typo, appearing also as "enviorment," another typo? What can we suspect of an educationist who can not spell in his sleep one of educationism's favorite catchwords? How do you supposes he pronounces it?
"Visable," not only in a rough draft, but especially in a rough draft, is an interesting mistake. It is a member of a numerous family, which includes "definately" and "seperate." Any teacher of composition will recognize those as the typical mistakes of one who in not in the habit of reading, for it is from seeing them often that we learn to spell those words whose sounds give no clue as to what vowel should appear in an unaccented syllable.
English is hard to spell, and mistakes will appear in anybody's writing, and in final drafts as well as rough. But there are mistakes and mistakes, and there is one sort of mistake to be expected from the "serious students" with that "love of learning," and quite another from those who just want to get to the end of the assignment, and whose stored-up fund of language is meager.
And what sort of person are you, if you can consider even your roughest draft, and notice that you have written both "educatinal" and "edcational," and then let them stand? Is the combined work of the mind and hand so little to be respected that some of its errors can be called trifles, unworthy of attention, perhaps, because your ideas are so much more important? Is it a serious student filled with the love of learning who imagines that he can be a Master of the Greater Mysteries without perfect mastery of the Lesser?
And what are Macgrayne's ideas? See if you can find in his rough draft any statement that is not the recitation of some conventional slogan. Would his parroting have become, in a final draft, thoughtful new understandings, grown from rational reflection on the inadequacy of the routine?
And, most important of all, for this would certainly not have been changed in a final draft, what does he himself put forth as his qualification for the job? Nothing but a feeling. "I feel that I have" he says, in effect, all those neat virtues that all educationists feel that they have. Swell. Just the man.
In Kansas City, for all we know, the people buy used cars from dealers who feel real good about all their clunkers.
OUR Assistant Circulation Manager recently met a nice man who said that he had been reading THE UNDERGROUND GRAMMARIAN pretty regularly for six years, but that he had never actually seen an example of what he called "the real thing." He assumed that it existed only in the form of Xeroxed copies. So the ACM gave him a copy of the real thing, requiring of him only that he make a few Xeroxes and pass them out. True, we would like to have enough subscribers so that we could buy badly needed BMW's for every member of the staff, but we are ready to settle for the next best level of success, and to be, as some say we already are, the most frequently Xeroxed sheet in the country. So we here say again what we all too seldom have space to say: Everyone has our permission to copy and to circulate THE UNDERGROUND GRAMMARIAN, or any portion of it, at any time. There.
SOMETIMES our readers surprise us a little. For Summer reading, we urged a book called The Art of Teaching by Gilbert Highet. A few people wrote to say that the book was out of print, and to ask our advice as to how they might find a copy. We were astonished. Surely there are, even on the far side of the Appalachians, libraries, and librarians, and inter-library loans, and even a few sellers of old and useless books.
But when we got over astonishment, we fell straightway into apprehension. We remembered that librarians had been generally replaced by media specialists, and we thought of Mrs. Pullen, who wants to remove from the schools in Great Britain all books more than ten years old, lest children be corrupted by images of the elitist past-children in neat clothing, for example. And it occurred to us that The Art of Teaching, a thoughtful and enlightening meditation by an outstanding teacher, had not been studied and preserved in the schools of "education," as mere reason would have dictated, and that it might not even be allowed in their libraries.
It is nothing, after all, but the record of one man's attempt to understand. It contains neither charts nor tables to reveal, even to schoolteachers, what the latest studies have shown; no accredited government agency funded what educationists call the "preparation" of the book; and neither committee nor task-force of certified professionals has approved its conclusions. And all of the same could be said of the Theatatus or the Gorgias, which is why educationists don't read any of that stuff either.
Well, maybe it is going to be kind of hard to find a copy of The Art of Teaching. OK. Tell you what we're going to do. We have an old paperback in pretty good condition. We'll be happy to lend it out to anyone who wants. All you'll have to do is put on the return postage.
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Neither can his mind be thought to
be in tune, whose words do jarre;