The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What one would most give to another.

I asked a class of students, once, what they would most like to give to another. The answers were many and various - indeed, some were sweet and thoughtful, even surprising. However, it is to the answer of the Russian student to whom I have referred before (she of the brand buying obsession), that I shall turn.

The Russian girl, who so loves branded goods, didn't wait to answer the question in writing: she shouted it out across the classroom, seemingly unaware of how people would respond to her stance.

"Give?", she began, scornfully, "Never! I never like to give...only to take, take, take. Especially from men. I take and receive presents from them, only - but I never give." (She paused here in consideration of her own words). "I think a lot of girls do like this."

Even though I had come to expect something empty-headed from her, her words perturbed me. They were spoken with such passion, that they gave me the creeps. Here, for sure, was one who liked to use others.

I wonder at people like her. How common are they? Is this a typical way of thinking and viewing the world, among some nationalities, today? Is it all about "me, me, me!"? I rather hope not. I hope that my Russian student is an aberration and that she is wrong in her opinion that "a lot of girls do like this".

However, if she is right, then men would be wise not to place much faith in the women they meet, nowadays. The Russian student's attitude leads directly to a breakdown in the relationship between the sexes - for what faith can the man have in the woman if her sole interest is the material goods he can give her? That would be a relationship based on the transfer of goods and not a relationship based on love or any emotion of either substance or endurance.

In a way, I shudder at the thought of a world filled with people like this Russian girl: a more soul-less, empty, life-destroying world would be hard to imagine. Here is a girl who gives nothing to others, who seeks to take as much as she can and who wishes to milk the men she meets for all the material goods she can get from them. I see for her either a lonely future (as people realize what she is and stay well away) or a whorish one - for such is her core attitude.

Attitudes like this Russian girl's are the inevitable end product of a materialist society. If life is measured by the goods one accumulates, then it makes sense to be a taker and not a giver. He or she who takes, will achieve a relative accumulation of material goods, over one who is generous and gives as much as they receive. It seems that she has imbibed too well, the material philosophy of our age.

To me, this girl represents an Archtype of all that is undesirable in the modern age. She brings emotional poverty and material greed together in one unending quest for branded goods at the expense of any man she meets. She sees life and human relationships as a means to rob another of their wealth and find gratification in the piling up of branded symbols of the age.

The most urgent question posed by her most ugly of ugly attitudes is this: how common are people like her? Is it right for modern man to be on guard against such exploitative personalities? (Of course, there could be cases of men like this, too).

As a final comment, I would like to note that, unlike every other student in the room, she never wore the same clothes in the several months that I taught her. Every day was a fashion parade with her - with each outfit carefully thought out, sometimes in the most elaborate manner. Truly, someone, somewhere was spending an awful lot of money in keeping this particular Material Girl, materially happy. It was quite unnerving, in a way, especially since she was in a classroom with others who almost always wore the same clothes and could barely afford their school fees. The contrast could not have been more discomfiting. She never seemed to notice, however.

What did the other students think of her? Well, sometimes they smiled or laughed at her expense. Perhaps there is hope for this world, after all...

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 6:11 PM 


Blogger thoughtfulape said...

I fundamentally disagree that a consumer-oriented society MUST breed a society of 'takers' Trade and markets are the lifeblood of any prosperous society. How is all this consumption to be funded if not through satisfying the wants of your fellow human beings? Trade makes all of us better off.
As the economist Adam Smith famously said.

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own neccessities but of their advantages."

The fact is that in a free society people, even if driven exclusively by selfish motives MUST assiduously devote themselves to the needs of others if they are to prosper.

Endless taking without contributing anything in return is not a succesful strategy even if you care nothing for the welfare of others.

I actually believe this girls attitude is in many ways a specifically Russian one. For decades, communism in Russia taught people to disconnect inputs (The things they did to cater to the needs of others) from outputs (the rewards reaped by themselves) Only an economically free society harnesses the self-interest of the individuals in it towards socially productive ends.
Incidentally have met many Russian and eastern European women both in London and Tokyo and I am tediously familiar with the type you describe. I find them obnoxious and boring.
BUT even in her case, is she really getting her economic free lunch? I imagine this girl is fairly physically attractive. Women who can afford to flaunt such a self-absorbed attitude usually are. If some guy out there thinks that bankrolling her lavish lifestyle in return for having a her as a girlfriend is a good deal, then who am I to argue?
Despite her ostentatiously selfish attitude she is only able to behave in this manner because she DOES have something to trade which someone else values. If he is happy with his status symbol girlfriend and she is happy the with Cartier watches and Jimmy Choo shoes he provides then who is the loser in this equation?

Personally I would never want to waste my time with such a shallow person but, to each his own!

It is an oft overlooked fact that socially beneficial outcomes often arise out of selfish motives. Henry Ford manufactured the first mass produced motor car, not out of some noble desire to better the lot of his fellow man but out of a desire for personal enrichment. Nevertheless the development of his Model T cars were a boon to middle income families and raised the quality of life enjoyed by middle and lower income families tremendously.
Self-interest not altruism is generally the most potent force driving improvements in the general welfare of mankind.

By the way Valentine, my name is Jerome. Even when I disagree reading the posts here is always enjoyable! Feel free to peruse my own blog sometime at

11:54 PM  
Blogger thoughtfulape said...

On reviewing my last post I realize I misspelled that blog address. The correct address is
Apologies for any inconvenience!


11:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Valentine

When did this happen?
The Russian's reaction is unfortunate. However, she could have been the product of the communist system where there was a breakdown in morals and scarcity of goods. While not every1 responded in the same way, a great many did. Likewise you see the same behaviour in many Chinese PRC. Law of the jungle stuff. While it is not "right", it is certainly "understandable".

PS: There are generous Russians\Chinese too.


10:34 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...


You have taken the standard view of self-interest that is common in the financial markets...however, such a view is deeply flawed. I am aware of Adam Smith's doctrine, but it has problems.

Mr Greenspan himself has recently changed his view of self-interest and its effects on the marketplace. He thought that self-interest would move the banks and other financial institutions to act sensibly to protect their shareholders and the banks themselves from rash acts in the market. What actually happened is that selfish people, acting for short term financial personal gain, ruined their institutions on a massive scale, throughout the financial system. Mr. Greenspan has admitted that he was wrong in his view.

Self-interest leads to CEOs persuading their boards to give them hundreds of millions of dollars in salary and bonuses (look at the earnings of the Head of failed Lehman Brothers) - to the detriment of their banks and the shareholders. Self-interest leads leaders of a certain nation to pay themselves millions of dollars in salaries - way more than similar people in other countries. This can't really be in the interests of the national pocket (good people could be found for less in almost any society).

Self-interest leads people to do things which personally benefit them even if it harms a great many others. If there is a course of action that leads to personal benefit at the expense of others, the self-interested will take it to the detriment of society. This is why we have criminals: they see their self-interest as all important and do not take the effect on others into consideration.

So self-interest is the foundation of corporate crime, corporate misdeed and corporate abuse of power and financial rewards - it is also at the root of all crime.

I don't think it is right to think of self-interest as a kind of panacea for all social ills: it is at the root of many social ills.

Sure, certain positive things can arise from self-interest - but you have ignored the many, many negative things that can and do arise too. It is the negative things which are so destructive in our society. Self-interest destroys more often than it creates and so it should neither be eulogized nor encouraged. It needs to be controlled in careful ways that squash the negative side and aid the positive.

Thanks for your comment.

12:04 AM  

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