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60. Preponderance of the small (II)

Updated: Dec 18, 2020



The dreams began about two months ago. I am back at school and I am sitting exams. It is the end of my schooling, the point, around seventeen, when everything seems on the line. Looking back, of course, very little was on the line. But, at the time, after over a decade of school, exams and so on seemed very important—almost everything in life. There is no surprise there. I have met people who are still very proud of their exam results, even into their thirties. They smirk at me and talk of their degrees in “political science”, as if this were the equivalent of studying under Einstein. They say the word science with an oily accent; they say it to tell me that they are superior. I have seen some men capitalise the word, much in the way Muslims write “Peace be upon Him” after Muhammad’s name. Holy science, holy examinations. These men have never left the examination hall.

As I say, it is difficult to blame them. We start at six or seven with little miniature tests of spelling and arithmetic and the tests go on until we are in our thirties or forties—never stop, to look at the annual assessments at work. If a person goes in for a PhD then it is even more severe. We live for the grade, apparently. And yet, as I hear, the grades, as with our currency, are worth less and less every year. The grinning creep who boasted about political science was insecure, you know that. He knows that this is a scientific and technological world and that he did not make the grade. He stalled at quadratic equations and broke the test tubes and fell asleep when the talk turned to mass and energy. So now, in an open office, he tries to impress by talking about this political science.

I decided many years ago, as an undergraduate, that this political science business was American and stupid—an obvious attempt to peacock a subject that was about reading old books. I went to university to do that and I did it—though this messed with those precious exams, somewhat. Yes, my little political scientist was a dead man: a man waiting for the next exam and a grade and a pat on the head from the teacher. This is another way of saying that this specimen was no man.

There is no point deceiving yourself; if you cannot make the grade in science or technology, just forget about pretending that what you do is science. Political science: real politicians know about schmoozing and cocaine and compromising emails. There is no science to that, and you will learn more about politics—more about how power works—by serving as a caddy in a golf club than you will ever learn from a graph or a lecture on political science.

I was telling you about my dreams. My dreams started as sheer anxiety that I had missed those exams, and every time I woke up I felt relief: I sat those years ago, and I passed and everything is fine. Well, not exactly fine. l am alive, anyway. Now the dreams take on a new quality, I talk to another boy about whether the exams are coming because I have decided not to sit them. “I’m leaving now. I’m going. I’m sixteen and they can’t keep in school.” This dream still has a nightmarish quality, so the other boy cannot tell me whether the exams are coming up. I think this dream is a breakthrough. I have cracked the mental prison that the state and schools built around me. Take me back to being sixteen and—no longer needing the stamp “good boy” from the system and the teachers—I would take off, light out for the territory and never come back.

What is a school but a device that teaches dependence? A device that teaches a boy to fear his own gut and judgement?

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