The Best Thing I Read This Week Is …

Doris Lessing

… from the preface to 2007 edition of The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing in 1971:

From the very beginning the child is trained to think in this way:  always in terms of comparison, of success, and of failure.  It is a weeding-out system:  the weaker get discouraged and fall out; a system designed to produce a few winners who are always in competition with each other.  It is my belief — though this is not the place to develop this — that the talents every child has, regardless of his official ‘IQ’, could stay with him through life, to enrich him and everybody else, if these talents were not regarded as commodities with a value in the success-stakes.

The other thing taught from the start is to distrust one’s own judgement.  Children are taught submission to authority, how to search for other people’s opinions and decisions, and how to quote and comply.

As in the political sphere, the child is taught that he is free, a democrat, with a free will and a free mind, lives in a free country, makes his own decisions.  At the same time he is a prisoner of the assumptions and dogmas of his time, which he does not question, because he has never been told they exist.  By the time a young person has reached the age when he has to choose (we still take it for granted that a choice is inevitable) between the arts and the sciences, he often chooses the arts because he feels that here is humanity, freedom, choice.  He does not know that he is already moulded by a system:  he does not know that the choice itself is the result of a false dichotomy rooted in the heart of our culture.  Those who do sense this, and who don’t wish to subject themselves to further moulding, tend to leave, in a half-unconscious, instinctive attempt to find work where they won’t be divided against themselves.  With all our institutions, from the police force to academia, from medicine to politics, we give little attention to the people who leave — that process of elimination that goes on all the time and which excludes, very early, those likely to be original and reforming, leaving those attracted to a thing because that is what they are already like.  A young policeman leaves the Force saying he doesn’t like what he has to do.  A young teacher leaves teaching, her idealism snubbed.  This social mechanism goes almost unnoticed — yet it is as powerful as any in keeping our institutions rigid and oppressive.

{…}

It may be that there is no other way of educating people.  Possibly, but I don’t believe it. In the meantime it would be a help at least to describe things properly, to call things by their right names.  Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this:

‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated.  We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination.  We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture.  The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be.  You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors.  It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others, will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgement.  Those that stay must remember, always and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.’

{…}

There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag — and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement.  Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty — and vice-versa.  Don’t read a book out of its right time for you.

{…}

… (Read) your way from one sympathy to another … (Learn) to follow your own intuitive feeling about what you need…

This is from the preface.  I was already blown away and I hadn’t even begun the novel.

MM

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