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, September 01, 2010

The obscenity of cake.

There is nothing more obscene than cake, in a world of widespread hunger.

I shall explain the remark. A couple of days ago, I was in one of Kuala Lumpur's many splendid malls. This particular one, is a small, but stylish one, near where we live. As I made my way past its shiny shopfronts, one caught my eye. There, to my left, was an array of multi-coloured, delicately crafted, promisingly textured cakes. Each one was well presented, like some culinary gift, all decorated with little bows, and most inviting to the eye. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, a sense of disgust welled up in me. It was an emotion I had not felt before, on seeing a cake, but in that moment it was very clear: the whole idea, the very conception of a "cake" was an obscenity. Here we live in a world in which millions, indeed billions of people, really do not have enough to eat, to keep themselves well nourished. No doubt millions every year succumb to starvation and the diseases associated with malnutrition, including untold numbers of babies. Yet, there I was, standing before a shop that sold nothing but expensive cakes - a food that had been divorced from the notion of nutrition, and existed in a world of pure pleasure.

Consider that for a moment, please. What kind of world have we built, in which a privileged, relative few, have access to fake foods, that have no real nutritional value, and are made purely to induce pleasurable sensations - whilst multitudinous others go without sufficient food and nutrition to maintain their health and even life. It is both absurd and profoundly obscene.

The eternal purpose of food is to nourish life. Yet, modern man has created foods of no nutritional value, but which serve to entertain and delight: food has become a medium of pleasure, divorced from its primal role of sustaining life.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not some kind of puritanical anti-hedonist. I am quite content with the idea that people should enjoy their lives. However, what I am not content with is that a modest few of humankind should eat empty foods just for pleasure, whilst others die for the lack of basic true foods. That, to me, is an indicator that Man, as a whole, particularly the people of the developed world, have lost any moral sense, that they might once have had.

When the world is viewed, widely and all sides are considered, at once, it can be seen that to create foods without nutritional value, simply to evoke pleasure, when many others are dying for the lack of foods WITH nutritional value, is an unrecognized kind of evil. It is, if you like, a taunting of the impoverished. It is saying: "We have such abundant food and resources, that we can create foods that could never sustain life, and would in fact kill us, if we ate nothing but them, just because of the pleasure they give us."

Cakes mock the very idea of food. They also mock those who could never conceive that foods could exist, that only serve to bring pleasure. They mock those who have no food at all. There is something callous about cake: it offers pleasure, but has no substance. Were one to eat nothing but cake, one would as assuredly "starve" as one who ate nothing at all...and what kind of "food" is that? How can "Mankind" apportion limited resources to creating a food totally unable to sustain life, an "unfood" if you like, whilst millions die for the lack of real food?

Seeing those cakes, taught me something. It showed me another way in which modern man has lost any sense of proportion, lost any understanding of what is meaningful, important or worthy of effort. It is not worthy of Mankind to create dead foods, just so people can feel a momentary pleasure at their "eating". There is something very decadent and sad about a race that would actually do that. Whilst millions die, without real food, millions of others, eat empty foods that, ironically, would kill them, if that was all they ate. There is a madness in that, so common, that everyone fails to see it. I hope, however, that my words might awaken in you, an understanding of the innate obscenity of cake.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 6 and Tiarnan, 4, this month, please go to:

I also write of gifted education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, megasavant, HELP University College, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, Malaysia, IQ, intelligence and creativity.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:06 PM 


Blogger Casandra Ramirez said...

I feel that way every time I have to buy some art supply for school. I walk into a store nearby and get a $6 paper sheet, a $10 pencil or a $20 tube of oil paint and when I walk out there's a homeless man asking for change. If I have money left, I give it to him, but it always makes my heart hurt.
It makes me wonder why there's so many people suffering in the world and how many are suffering because of the rest of us.

5:34 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Casandra,

Please do not begrudge yourself the means to pursue your art. I think art is a very important, indeed, vital expression of it should not be stifled, in any way. So, feel at ease, in purchasing materials for your work - without it, your work could not be - and that would be a loss. So relax on it, please.

On the other hand it is good that you are thinking of the plight of less fortunate others. Perhaps you could unite the two - and use your art as a means of raising funds for those whose plight you most consider needy?

Best wishes.

10:12 PM  
Blogger Slawek Rogulski said...

If my actions do not directly take away from others, should I feel guilty spending the money I gained through my own effort as it pleases me most? I do not think so. If I have a surplus I may choose to give it in charity to those who are in greater need of it than I am. Alternatively I may choose to invest it in research that will deprive some people of much needed sustenance in the near term but may create benefits that will sustain manyfold more people later. Which option is better? I think it is imposible to say. Some of those who will not get sustained in the short term will not go on to produce something that they would have otherwise produced and which would have benefitted as great many people, while the research may prove to be fruitless. Equally, the opposite is possible. Let us speculate that one should be guided to sustain the highest life form first, and possibly at the expense of the lower life forms. So if society or humanity were deemed higher life forms (as it were) than an individual person I would steer my investment towards research for the possible greater good, even at the expense of a few souls in the short term (as long as I am not one of those few souls).

Still to call a cake obscene is a tad too harsh, for I do have a sweet tooth, I must confess.

As for the empty and meaningless pursuits you write about I think it is a natural evolution or progression from having satisfied the basic physical needs. Of course, that spark of of enlightenment that perhaps resides in all of us would have me say that had we a less selfish and more inclusive view we contribute to the satisfying the physical needs of others rather than oblivious to the greater reality of their plight seek only superficial and so very fleeting gratification for ourselves.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Slawek, I think, perhaps, we speak of different things. I am not writing of the apportioning of resources to best benefit Man, in this case. Although, I would say, as a general principle, I think that resources should be distributed for best long term effect on the most people. So, research is a pretty good allocation
of funds.

I consider cake offensive, because it is the invention of a food without nutritional value, for the pure purpose of temporary pleasure, when there are many who have no real food to sustain them. It is a moral affront, if you like...a thumbing the nose at those who have not, by saying we have so much that we can actually deliberately waste food to create nutritional emptiness.

7:30 PM  
Blogger Slawek Rogulski said...

Valentine, I agree that I have gone off on a tangent into resource allocation and the personal freedom to determine that allocation. I was attempting to demonstrate that there is a demand for cake therefore cake exists. That demand is not borne out of nothing. People buying cakes are presumably trying to satisfy some need even if it is not hunger. Are you then questioning the legitimacy of that need in the face of the existence of people dying of starvation? I may equally be justified in questioning the need for space exploration or the search for the "God particle" at CERN. Since man stood on the Moon there have been more starving people in the world, not less (as a proportion of the total population of course).

5:44 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes. Cake exists because there is a demand for it, or more precisely, cake continues to exist, subsequent to its invention, because people like it.

Now, you have used the word "need" to describe this liking for cake. I think that is too strong a choice of word. People "want" cake, but they don't need it. In fact, it has no physical purpose since it has no real nutritional content...thus if the word "need" were truly appropriate it would refer solely to psychological "needs".
People want cake. They don't need it.That want is offensive given that it patronizes an invention of no nutritional value, in a world where others have no real food. Its offense remains whether or not we argue that the cake eater "needs" their cake. I don't think one person's want for something excuses them from having to understand the broader context in which an action is embedded. In the context of world hunger, a "want" for cake is certainly trivial at best.

6:25 PM  

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