Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Atlantean Myth (Part II): The Gnome's Tale

Of all the Thunderer's lieutenants, the only one that deserved TWO chapters in those annals was the Gnome. Born in a dead old port of brown sugar and silver, the Gnome came from an odd branch of an odd family. He was disposed towards cleverness and impropriety from a young age, a cousin of cousins and a watcher from afar.

The Thunderer came to appreciate this older friend, the one entity who could turn the arguments of thunder upon their heads and make everyone see something new. For that, of course, is the way of the Gnome.

The myth of the Gnome has ever been that he dragged a team of mechanical engineers through the bowels of the Ministry of Education, much as one would drag a claw through the entrails of an enemy, thus killing the spirit of education of the Old Time and placing a new and soulless thing in the body. But it was not so.

Reading the accounts, it is clear that the Gnome brought with him a bunch of young and idealistic demiurges—systems engineers, not mechanics. They found inefficiency and silliness in the body of the beast, and purged it. Unfortunately, it was like trying to cut out a cancer in the bones, while hoping that the body would remain supported. It worked, to a large extent, but the essential nature of education in Atlantis would be changed forever.

It is recorded that the Gnome actually thought (for he never was much good at assessing the responses of human nature) that when he generously created a place for the less intelligent in his scheme of things, that they would be happy to have such a place. It is subsequently recorded that he flew into a rage when the parents of the less intelligent merely worked them harder so that they seemed more intelligent, met all the tests, and were given places for the more intelligent, thus jacking up the level of stress throughout the island. It was as if the Archmage Turing was laughing in his grave.

It is amusing that this should have happened; the Gnome was ever an economist, but he had failed to see how the market worked. When education is seen as a multiplier of wealth, a factor of economic prosperity, then who would want to have less of it? His plan failed while succeeding; in all his speeches concerning the matter, the Gnome laments the examination-driven life.

It was of course the Thunderer, less intelligent but more perceptive, who realised what a great tool the Gnome's 'streaming system' was. You could have a pluralistic society, a multiracial society, whatever... but if the examination system with all its numerical and linguistic biases was seen as a fair gatekeeper, you could forge a nation from that alone. And he did.

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