Be Nasty To.
The purpose of this blog is to get people thinking for themselves. It is the most important thing a person can do as an individual. Without being able to think for oneself, it means that the greater part of your life is going to be spent doing things that others tell you to. Which isn’t being the uniquely placed human being, is it?
We all need to work, do a job, and for most of us that means doing as we’re told. That’s fair enough, and we all need to pay our way. I worked for my clients, painted their walls in colours that I truly hated, but it was their house and they wanted to live there and I only had to paint it. They were happy with the result and the result was that I could come home to my flat that is done out with Laura Ashley wallpaper. That I bought twenty five rolls for twenty euros need not detain us here. It’s the boring kind of wallpaper I like.
So what has all this to do with professors? It’s more that the professor is the ultimate authority in our society – putting aside the presidents and royalty. Politicians (at least in the Anglo-Saxon culture) are seen as corrupt and the royalty as leeches. Thus they’re no good as authorities. Professors, though, are another matter altogether. You’ll never see a professor in the news for being corrupt.
But then, I am sure that there are the odd one or two, just as there are corrupt postmen and corrupt train drivers. Not that a train driver can steal his train, the very nature of the job means that his thinking capacities run along very different lines to the mind of the criminal. Professors, in that they have been in the academic world for so long are in a similar position: they know who’s boss and it’s not the students.
Just as an aside, who is it pays the professor? Is it not in part the student? I know for sure that if I treated my clients in the way a professor treats his students, I would have been out of work very quickly indeed!
But the professor is in what one might think of as an exalted position amongst the students, and thus his behaviour is accepted. After all, many of them will dream of becoming professors themselves – only to find themselves on poorly paid one-year contracts for the next two decades. It’s the kind of thing one accepts because one wants to climb the greasy pole to the top.
It is, however, the notion of the professor that is most important here. People who – like the train driver – are not going to think too hard about the life of a professor because they’re trained to check the rails and keep an eye out for the signals that allow them to do this or that. Being a train driver is a job where you really know your place; those in our society who wish for nothing more will join him in ranking a professor at the top. They won’t put their boss in this category because they’ve seen the mess they make. Professors, on the other hand, are remote enough to be thought of as pretty well perfect.
Which is fair enough: professors are not the excitable type and are not the kind who usually go climbing lamp posts in the middle of the night because it’s naughty. Leave that for the first year students who haven’t yet settled down. Professors, in the mind of the citizen is a good bloke.
Imagine now that he isn’t! Imagine now that there was a nasty streak to him. That really would upset the apple cart. People expect professors to be nice because they never get into trouble. This excerpt is from my book, no small amount of which is a psychological teaser. We have an old hand, Stanton, who has a psychological acumen that in the words of the author ‘would make him a professor, if psychology were a recognized science.’ He’s talking to a youngster called Rackham whose own abilities Stanton regards highly. The date is the 18th of April 1891 and the scene is the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam.
“Imagine,” says Stanton to Rackham, “if you want the common man to believe anything – and they will instinctively believe anything that they already believe, if you understand me?”
Stanton pauses and Rackham says, “no.”
Stanton continues, “my point here is that they’ve been brought up to believe anything that a figure of authority says. Not only that but that they are good, nice people, you get me? So imagine a professor, what kind of image does that conjour up for you?”
“Intelligent,” says Rackham, “learned of course, mild mannered?”
“The mild mannered professor,” says Stanton. “Which the dutiful will believe because he’s not only learned, but nice.”
“Yes,” says Rackham, in a way that says he’s cottoned on thus far, but knows there’s a catch.
“What is going to upset them most is if their favourite kind of authority figure suddenly goes feral. That he is the bad apple in the barrel.”
“The professor Moriarty, you mean?”
“I do indeed,” says Stanton. “He would be the perfect figure to fit into the minds of the unwitting – if for the only reason that they’ve done all the hard work for us: they’ll not believe anything they do not already believe, they’re all closed in on themselves. Anything new to them just doesn’t add up. So, with the professor, they find that the very thing they venerate the most is now the thing they most fear. The very foundations of their existence have been shaken.”
And there you have it! Here we have Professor Moriarty no less. Quite why Conan-Doyle chose the name is anyone’s guess. Perhaps he had a dislike for the Irish? Who knows. Whatever, in his book ‘The Final Problem’ this figure appears out of nowhere in the way the poorer kind of malefactor will. At least Dracula was introduced by Bram Stoker. Professor Moriarty entered with a bang, left with a bang four pages later and Conan-Doyle found himself being assaulted in the street for murdering a much revered hero! My own book sets the story straight, only for Conan-Doyle to be hit around the head in a very different setting some eight chapters earlier.
Conan-Doyle’s story doesn’t really have a plot: it’s a boy’s own adventure written by a frustrated boy in the space of an afternoon. Hence all the faux psychological pressure that drives the reader to believe everything that’s been written.
Today, Professor Moriarty ranks alongside Jack the Ripper and Bashar Al-Assad in the mind of the common man. This is mainly because they aren’t in the habit of questioning the headlines any more than they would question their schoolmaster. If the headline says Assad barrel bombed the people who elected him president (1), then barrel bomb them he did. Just as Professor Moriarty is the image of all that is criminal and Jack the Ripper is the image of all that is murderous.
The reality of being a professor is as different from the image of Professor Moriarty as it is possible to get. Professors are nice people, and are nice people because their minds are not formed in a way that leads them to wrongdoing. You can say that of eye surgeons too, but since the journalists haven’t done their homework and read up about Assad, the man is the most evil person on the planet. Not that eye surgeons are any more criminally minded than professors, but since the reader has never been told and is never likely to look, Assad is Bad! It’s a good slogan, and like most slogans, has little need to accord with reality. (2)
So professors and surgeons are nice people. So are pharmacists. Which is why in the mind of the unquestioning reader, they are nice people and it’s easier to see that someone who abuses them really is a nasty person. In the way an eye surgeon is nasty because he drops bombs on people. It’s all too easy, isn’t it? But then, if you’re not asking questions yourself, you are going to invent that kind of story because you know that professors are nice people.
(1) The election was overseen by the United Nations. Not that you’d read this in the news these days… Syria has its problems, as ever, they’re not the ones you get to read about. The realities in Syria are very different to Britain, leave alone Europe. It didn’t have to be turned into a wasteland, though.
(2) See my post, ‘The Wrong Man In The Wrong Place.‘
On a final note, I did write something about an uncle who is also a professor…