That’s funny

My title this morning comes from Sir Alexander Fleming, and is one of several of that gentleman’s sayings which appeal to me. It might be taken as the Scots equivalent to, “Eureka!” It was what he uttered the morning he noticed that some fungus had killed off one of the staphylococci colonies he had left on a bench in his notoriously messy lab, when he went on holiday. (The others were unharmed.) Within the month he had isolated the “mould juice” that is known to us today as Penicillin.

As he recalled much later, “I wasn’t planning to revolutionize medicine that morning.” But so it goes.

That discovery was made in September, 1928. It would have been useful in the Great War, when Fleming served as a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps, and battled the idiots (field surgeons) over their counter-productive treatments for sepsis, but ah well.

As luck wouldn’t have it, Fleming had unknowingly repeated the work of a certain Ernest Duchesne, whose brilliant thesis long before the War had been ignored by the Pasteur Institute in Paris, because he was young and a nobody. Some millions of deaths might have been averted, but there ye go.

We live in a culture of “research” and “planning.” I’m not against honest research (which is rare), but mortally opposed to “planning.” The best it can ever achieve is defeat, when its ham-fist efforts fail to prevent some beauty, truth, or good from emerging. Countless billions, yanked from the taxpayers’ pockets, and collected through highly professional, tear-jerking campaigns, are spent “trying to find a cure” for this or that. When and if it comes, it is invariably the product of some nerd somewhere, with a messy lab.

Should it be noticed at all, more billions will be spent appropriating the credit to obtain rentier status, or more likely, suppressing it for giving “false hope.” The regulators will be called in, as the police are to a crime scene.

For from the “planning” point of view, the little nerd has endangered billions of dollars in funding, and thus the livelihoods of innumerable bureaucratic drudges. That is, after all, why they retain the China Wall of lawyers: to prevent unplanned events from happening. But glory glory, sometimes they happen anyway.

We could go through my mental file of similar stories from the scientific trenches, then wander more generally afield through the corridors of modern “education.” But not inside my daily word allotment.

I think of Benson Snyder, the psychiatrist once in charge of hand-holding (“human relations”) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. About the time I was coming of age he wrote a saucy tome, entitled, The Hidden Curriculum (1970). It told what it takes to get ahead in places like MIT: the kind of institutional gamesmanship which, far from encouraging learning, drives the genuinely talented away, and makes the world safe for the credentialled.

I think of beloved old J. M. Cameron, who took me up as friend, mentoree, and “unregistered student” at Saint Michael’s College, back in those days. I once asked him directly, after he had been driven out by mandatory retirement, if there was anything all his best students had in common. He answered directly, “They were all self-taught.” In subsequent conversation I received a few mould-juicy anecdotes about how unwelcome they were in the universities, and how quickly most dropped out.

I think the reason our universities were so easily captured by the Leftist filth, was that they had already become institutes of planning; as opposed to education, which is risky and hard and in the fullest Platonic sense, personal.