Three Indicted Occupations

When I was a youngster, some friends and I amused ourselves by making lists of the professions that we thought should never to be allowed to have children: the Big Three were always teachers, priests and shrinks. Some added military officers as a fourth, while others vehemently disagreed and reported that “army brats” seemed to them to be well enough adjusted. Indeed, the problem may not be mere professional authoritarianism, but something more subtle and insidious.

I think I remember Dr Johnson remarking that being for many years a schoolmaster made a man unfit for the company of his fellow-adults; the implication was that he had forgotten how to converse intelligently, or else that he could no longer address his peers appropriately, but must needs always be lecturing, hectoring and exhorting. For the average schoolmaster is professionally convinced that information cannot possibly ascend an age gradient, or even ascend from anywhere to himself. If such a man cannot speak to his peers except from a great height, how much more incapable must he be of speaking to his own children except from an even greater height?

The priest shares the teacher’s occupational hazard of being an authority figure for designated inferiors for so long that he comes to believe in his own infallibility. He suffers the further temptation to borrow the mantle of divine authority even when it is his own domestic axe that he is grinding. Fundamentalists in particular are suspiciously fond of the verses about obedience and submission, and suspiciously oblivious to the verses about not discouraging one’s children. To rebel, oppose or even respectfully disagree, therefore, a pastor’s brat must be prepared to defy the very will of God.

The psychotherapist does exactly the same thing, but under the aegis of science; and so for many people more credibly and therefore dangerously. The operating assumption is that he can see right through you, and that whatever pops out of his mouth is the fruit of immense psychological wisdom. There is nothing more infuriating than someone forever telling you, whether affectionately or with lofty condescension, why you are as you are. Just as bad is his remaining silent but with an air that he could tell you if only you were capable of hearing it. Especially when the reason for your behaviour is never their fault. Ordinary paternal harrumphing about “insolence” and “bad” children can thus be made infinitely more sophisticated. Worse still, the mental health profession has developed the truly appalling doctrine that “hostility” to themselves is in itself a symptom or even a form of mental disorder; yet not even the Inquisition believed that an aversion to red-hot pincers was an infallible sign of heresy.

Common to all three professions is not only that they assume themselves on the top of the information gradient, but also that they have an important position to keep up in the world, and finally that an awful lot of people would consequently love to see them taken down a peg or two. A rich and reliable source of schadenfreude is, therefore, watching the children of such ‘wiser-than-thou’ professionals make monkeys out of their parents. The teacher, the pastor and the psychotherapist, therefore, all live in constant terror that their children will do something to destroy their reputation, and are thus ten times more obsessed than ordinary middle-class parents – who in turn are ten times more obsessed than they ought to be – about what every detail of their children’s deportment will do to their social credit. Their children are thus ten times more likely to feel that they exist solely as status technologies.

Posted on January 13, 2010 at 11:14 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink

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