Tuesday, 10 January 2012


A quick autobiographical thing. I've been thinking for a while that there's one fact that shaped my personality more than any other. It's important to know where people get their intuitions from, so here goes. Almost everything I think has been influenced by just how badly my primary school dealt with the fact that I'm dyslexic.

First, my actual condition. I find writing with a pen physically painful. It's taken many many years to get to the stage where I can write lecture notes legibly. And I would always type if I wanted to write something like this. Second I cannot rote memorise, it's just a very under-developed part of my brain. Third I have the dubious fortune of speaking English. You should be able to conclude from the last two that I cannot spell. Please remember however that I am slightly more intelligent and vastly better read that most people.

My primary school was the worst point in my life. If I could erase every memory I have of that time I would without any regrets. It is really hard to spend 6 years failing. It's really really hard to be told that you've failed a test in a category that means a lot to you, for me failing at school was an insult to my intelligence, the thing about me that matters. It's really hard to be dragged through a spelling test every damned week and to fail it every damned week, and to look back over your exercise book and not see a single page without red ink.

This taught me several things. First, that tests dont matter. That failing every test you do is irrelevant if you're still smart. I've always cared more about reading than about getting a good grade, because if you cant do that anyway you may as well not care about it. And so I've never really cared about getting the right answer on silly exercises, even on really damned important silly exercises. It's not as important as reading a good book. See also, I dont care that other people pass tests, I only care if they're good. This is the reason why I dont care if politicians win elections, what they think and do is vastly more important.

Secondly, everyone in authority is out to get you. Every teenager thinks this, but one who has the experience of 6 years of being hated by teachers for being stupid thinks it more. I was an anarchist for a long time (softened since) and still disrespect and fear authorities of all kinds. Seeing a police officer makes me very very nervous, tempered with just a little anger. Seeing revolutionary mobs attacking and killing the security forces of some dictatorship makes me happy. Sure I later explain that all loss of life is tragic and if it could have been avoided that would have been better. Doesn't change the fact that people in authority being hurt makes me happy.

Third, rules are stupid, learning them is pointless. Do a spelling test in English, go into it knowing some rule about how to spell English words (I before E or something) then try to apply it. Most of the time you will be wrong. You will have hit an "exception", in other words a normal English word. English just doesn't obey such rules. I spent the best part of those 6 years trying to learn the rules. Then I realised I'd do better just guessing each word on its own and forgetting the rules. I refuse to learn or obey rules without understanding and agreeing with them.

A subsection of this: I am very opposed to subjects with arbitrary definitions. I dimly remember biologists having some ridiculous and over-complicated definition of life, I think stupid things like excretion may have been in there. I never learnt it because it didn't sound like a coherent idea. Say "something that reproduces itself with heredity" and I understand how that's a clear idea that we can argue about (bonus point: "life evolves" is a tautology). {Edit: Oh god they've even got a fun little mnemonic: Mrs Gren. Dont be shocked to learn I still haven't actually read what it stands for}

Final point, my writing style. I explain ideas by talking. Always have, because if writing a paragraph takes you a quarter of an hour you either talk your ideas or they die. So, you may have noticed a few of my ... well ok most of my, posts contain little verbal hesitations, (starting a sentence "so" or using ellipses for example). I'm talking this, I'm talking these words right now in my head. So when I type they come out like I talk. Also I learnt very early that polysyllabic Latinate words are easier to spell and have less irregularities that short German ones. Hence my sesquipedalian vocabulary. It's also a signalling thing. If you're handing in two paragraphs of illegible scrawl you've got to do something to convince the motherfuckers you've got a brain. And talking like you're ... well ... a knob, is a fast and easy way to do that.

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