30 December 2007

A pattern of interpretation

While watching a programme on the Sci-Fi television channel, I was reminded of the syndrome of slanderous misinterpretation which was applied to me and my parents throughout my ‘education’ and throughout my subsequent life of struggling for survival in the wilderness.

In the programme a beauty queen in her late teens is found dead, and her parents are suspects of having murdered her.

Her parents are middle class and respectable people in a high income bracket, which qualifies them as potential criminals to start with (according to the rules of television drama). My parents were not in a high income bracket, but they were very respectable and responsible middle class people, who played their roles as pillars of the community very well.

A psychic (or psychologically 'knowing') female FBI agent interviews the parents, who are defensive and secretive. Why ever should they not be trusting and open? The mother, however, begins to give some information, but this is of a highly suspicious nature. Her daughter was very precocious, she says, speaking affectionately of her brightness. She had been a successful beauty queen and singer from the age of six. She did not have much time for children of her own age, said the mother, and they had not encouraged her to have too much to do with girls of her own age who would only have been jealous of her. She had had some psychological problems recently, and dropped out on the verge of competing for the greatest prize she had yet competed for, winning which would have been extremely lucrative and set up both herself and her parents.

Later, interviewing a rival beauty queen, the investigator is told that the dead beauty queen had become disaffected and lost interest in what she was doing to prepare for the great contest. You can’t do that in this business, said her rival. You have to be intensely focused on what you are doing all the time.

Her parents did not leave her free to be herself, says the investigator, they wanted to make her into the kind of person they wanted her to be. It was done for them, not for her, says the investigator, wrinkling up her nose.

But she was a beauty queen from the age of six, someone says, inspecting a photograph of a radiantly happy six year old. "But who thinks for themselves at the age of six?" says the investigator. (I can think of some quite long and complicated answers to that, but I will not delay to give them now.)

Before she was murdered, the dropped-out beauty queen was supposed to have found her true self, letting her hair down with a shady boyfriend at a shady and uninhibited night club. She had also taken up piano playing, which you are supposed to think corresponded to something she had really wanted to do all along.

See how relaxed she looks, the investigator says of a photograph taken of her during this drop-out phase. She is really being herself. (This is supposed to be a contrast with the intense and purposeful beauty queen photographs.)

Amazingly enough, this whole scenario of interpretation was applied to me and to my parents both before and after the shocking ruin of all our lives which it produced, and is still producing up until the present day. My own situation differed from that of the dropped-out beauty queen in that my parents had never pushed me into, or supported me in my wish to do, anything competitive or achievement orientated. They had never wanted me to take the School Certificate exam a few years before the usual age, or to become an Oxbridge professor. I am still suffering because I did not take the School Certificate when I was 13 (or, of course, much earlier), and because I do not yet have an Oxbridge Professorship. My aunt in London was still believing (or pretending to believe) that my parents pushed me, and that I really did not want an academic career, in spite of any assertion I could make to the contrary, fifty years after I was thrown out into the wilderness.

"Oh!" she said, with mock surprise, when told that I was still suffering severely from the lack of a Professorship, a salary, a hotel environment and anything else that could make my life worth living. "I thought you got what you wanted."

In my early days at the Society for Psychical Research one of the most horrific features of the situation was that no one I had known in the past approached me to ask how things had gone so badly wrong, and whether they could not help me with re-entering an academic career. My aunt was one of those who did not come near me to enquire.

When my aunt said she thought I got what I wanted, she meant that she liked to think that I did not want to have an academic career and that it must have been my father who was behind the efforts I started to make, immediately after being thrown out, in the direction of finding a way of working towards a Professorship in any area.

Since I had gone to work at the SPR to earn a pittance of money as a degraded dogsbody (to facilitate my return to Oxford as a self-supporting and unofficial DPhil student in theoretical physics), she liked to think that this must mean that ‘parapsychology’ was of overriding interest to me, and that I would deliberately choose to ‘do’ it in poverty rather than do anything else with a salary and status.

This was the way my aunt interpreted the situation. In fact this very distorted interpretation was the only one that was propagated in the local community where I and my aunt had lived in East London, and also within Oxford University. My aunt was hanging onto this way of interpreting my life history and situation, in spite of the fact that I had by that time sent her a number of letters telling her that my parents had never pushed me. I had also told her that I still needed the Professorship (with associated status, salary and hotel environment) that I should have been given over forty years ago. (In fact, more than that, since if I had been left to get on with my education without obstruction and interference, I should have been quite well able to function as a Professor by the age of 15 or so.)

16 December 2007

Reflection of the month

The social contract

The power of society depends on the power of the lie. The power of the lie is very great.

The power of the individual depends on the right of possession and the sanctity of facts.

Neither of these is recognised by society. It is only in a capitalist society that there is a recognition of the individual’s right to the facts. He has a right to the facts about his possessions. Consequently facts are themselves regarded as possessing a certain value. In a socialist society no one has any right to the facts. There is no point in facts at all. The power of the state, which is the sole good, is best safeguarded by there being no facts.

People are subjective, but some people are more subjective than others and those who believe in society are the most subjective of all. This is because they have abandoned to society their right to assess facts for themselves in return for the power that society will give them over other men. The high priests of society are social workers, doctors and psychiatrists. Their function is to convince others that they are being subjective when they criticise society.

(from the forthcoming book The Corpse and the Kingdom)

06 December 2007

The Ten Commandments

One difference between territorial and tribal morality is that, within a territorial system, a certain number of people may freely choose to live according to tribal morality among themselves, but the reverse is not true. You cannot have a small free market society within a communist society, but within a capitalist society it is quite possible for people to set up communes or co-operatives if they wish. Tribal morality depends on making various assumptions, amounting to a belief system, about the psychological motivation of people other than oneself. Territorial morality does not, being almost entirely negative: do not interfere with anyone else’s territory. It is not necessary to have any opinions about the likelihood of people invading one another’s territory with benevolent motives.

Consider how many features of the Ten Commandments are at variance with modern neo-tribal morality. We may suppose that the Commandments represent a fairly primitive form of territorial society, and these principles are enunciated in breaking away from earlier tribal societies, which would not have observed them. A territory is defined within which the individual is not to be interfered with. He owns his life and property; he should not be killed or stolen from.

His property may include oxen and asses, men servants and maid servants, and these are not to be stolen or even coveted. Marriage partners own one another, and they alone have the right to have sex with one another.

Fathers and mothers are to be honoured, presumably to preserve the solidarity of the family unit; in particular, the solidarity of the offspring, that is, with the only two people on whose good will he has any claim. Further, it is immoral to bear false witness against someone else. This falls rather short of the respect for objectivity and contract required for commercial transactions, but perhaps refers to the commonest use of dishonesty in tribal societies. You see how easily, nowadays, fictional slanders of a socially acceptable kind can be used to damage people to whom one feels hostile.

This is only a territory-defining ownership, and falls somewhat short of an abstract recognition of an individual’s right to freedom of decision. Nevertheless, you will see how many features of it are rejected in modern television morality.

(extract from Letters from Exile)

14 November 2007

Truant child's mother is fined

From the Oxford Times of 12 October:

A mother has been given a £1,000 fine – the maximum penalty – for not sending her child to primary school in Abingdon ... after her six-year-old child missed almost 50 per cent of classes between February 19 and July 13 this year.
Barry Armstrong, Oxfordshire County Council’s manager for attendance and welfare said: ’This is not the first time we have brought court proceedings against parents who persistently fail to ensure their child attends school. In previous instances the penalty has been a spell in prison. If we are to continue to raise educational standards, we need the children to be at school. It is as simple as that. The law should be obeyed.’ …
Michael Taylor, headteacher of St Edmund’s Primary School – not the school that the six-year-old was attending – said: ‘I do feel we need to make a stand on this. Children’s education is suffering through absence from school. … I think this fine is just and necessary if we are to send out the right message.’

When we were based in North Oxford, we had various part-time voluntary workers, among them the Japanese wife of a Japanese DPhil student. Her daughter was going to a primary school in Oxford. This Japanese lady was a highly intelligent and very efficient person, and was concerned that her daughter learned very little at school. The little girl seemed to spend most of her time painting pictures, watching videos and going swimming. She was not unhappy, her mother said. Her daughter enjoyed doing all these things; it was just that she was not actually learning very much.

The mother had bought some books for home-teaching parents and made sure her daughter did some sums from them every evening, to make up for what she was not doing at school.

The little Japanese girl about whose life at school we were told was a few years older than the girl whose mother has been fined. It seems even less likely that a six-year-old was missing out on anything much in the way of gainful education when she stayed away from school.

Perhaps, for all one knows to the contrary, the girl was slightly precocious and was learning nothing at school on the days she attended, even if anything was being taught, because she was slightly in advance of her age group. In modern schools, a child would not have to be very remarkable to be in this position.

When I reached the school going age of five, the local primary school entreated my parents not to send me. There would be no way, they said, that they could explain to the other parents how it was that I could already do everything.

11 November 2007

Detective dramas and centralisation

Centralised psychology is territorial psychology; it depends on having a territory within which you are free to act on your own criteria. Socialism is opposed to centralised psychology, or to what one might call individualism. Ultimately the aim of socialism is to deprive the individual of any area within which he is free to know his own mind.

Recently I saw parts of a couple of detective dramas on the television; normally I avoid all television dramas, but I went on watching in order to see how the ideology expressed itself.

The first drama was relatively old-fashioned, it was ‘Cover Her Face’ by P.D. James, supposedly set in the 60s. It was pure class warfare. That is to say, anyone who had any freedom of action, i.e. aristocrats, people of independent means, statusful professionals, etc., was regarded as discredited and to be treated in decentralising ways by the police.

The second drama, part of the Taggart series, was called ‘Double Exposure’ and supposedly depicted modern life. The hero (Jim Taggart) was a working-class police inspector who clearly enjoyed his role of dominating and tormenting everyone with whom he came in contact, particularly middle-class business people, very much as the more middle-class police inspector in the P.D. James drama had done.

Everybody, of every social class, was more or less on tenterhooks about what other people, be it criminals or the police, might think about them, suspect them of, find out about them, or do to them. People who were trying to make money were automatically villains, and doing voluntary work with no pay was a sign of virtue.

It is scarcely possible to think of anyone in this drama who was free from anxiety of social disapproval; Taggart himself was hauled over the coals by a superior for saying the wrong things in the wrong way to the Press.

Not even the working class were nice to one another; they hung one of their number upside down over a motorway in order to extract a confession from him.

The police, enjoying their power to invade and threaten other people’s lives, were the goodies and the only people who seemed to be getting anything positive out of it.

07 November 2007

Reflections on being a philosopher

It is true that few of the best known philosophers had university appointments, but that does not mean that a philosopher (or any other sort of intellectual) can do without one in the modern world. The great revolution has happened, which has virtually destroyed intellectual and cultural activity outside of state-funded universities. All the philosophers I can think of had private incomes of some sort and also had, in effect, a hotel or at least boarding-house environment, which it was then much easier for middle class or upper class people to have regardless of social recognition. (Working class or poor people could be, of course, and occasionally were, supported by the aristocracy.) And, of course, there was not at that time the same social stigma which now leads to the oppression and censorship of those who are having to function outside of socially-recognised academic institutions.

The idea that scientific research and other intellectual activities should be carried out under the auspices of collectivist institutions has arisen along with the idea that what is done in socially-recognised universities should only be done in them. The suppression of scientific and intellectual activities outside of universities has been much more successful than the encouragement of such things within them.

I have been and still am at a great and almost prohibitive disadvantage to those with university appointments in having to finance my own hotel environment from scratch with no means of livelihood. Of course being a woman has made it even harder. Modern ‘feminism’ has not eliminated the advantage which men have of being able to provide themselves with at least a minimal hotel environment by getting a female partner.

* * * * *

Regarding the idea that I am a 'sceptic'. I don’t actually want to advocate philosophical scepticism. If you have been forced into the position of an outsider, as I have, people are always trying to ascribe to you belief systems, whereas in fact you are primarily critical of their belief systems.

Any belief system is occlusive (I mean, it reduces awareness of hard-edged reality). But, of course, if you are trying to get a philosophy DPhil at all you cannot say anything you mean very directly. I would much have preferred to write my thesis as an attack on, say, modern moral philosophy, which is very pernicious and depends on unexamined assumptions that are never questioned. But it would not have got me a DPhil, and even what I did write was too near the bone as an implicit attack on modern philosophy of mind, so that I could very easily not have got the DPhil at all.

So it has got around that I ‘advocate’ philosophical scepticism. It is a bit better than being accused of believing in spiritualism, but not really what I would want to be supposed to be trying to put across.

Anyone working here and having contact with us would become aware of references to the 'existential uncertainty'. Actually this is very integral to my ideas about realism in psychology, but is a little more complicated than simply having a blanket scepticism.

28 October 2007

Hindrances to the progress of research (part 2)

continuing from part one:

The pressures discussed previously are at work within medicine. The fact that, on a certain level, much can be achieved by the application of well-established medical knowledge in relatively underdeveloped parts of the world may help to distract attention from areas of neglect in more innovative fields of research. Much that is obviously useful can be achieved by applying to very large populations simple pieces of knowledge resulting from what was once pioneering research. Because of this, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that it is new advances in knowledge, the significance of which cannot be assessed in advance, that may have the greatest effect on the potentialities open to the human race.

Actually, the consequences of the present trends appear to be somewhat different from what is usually supposed. A very small fraction of research work done in universities is "useful" in any sense, and the standards of it are quite possibly declining, for two reasons. One of these is that what serves to advance a scientist's career is the number of papers he has published, and scientists are thus under pressure to maximize this number with little regard for their content or quality; and the second is that papers that produce socially acceptable results are likely to meet with more social reward than those that do not, regardless of their technical qualities as pieces of work.

The expectation that things will be done well and effectively if they are done by large numbers of people acting together with a minimum of independence depends on somewhat uncynical assumptions about human motivation. If people are put into positions of social authority, their motivation is unquestionable; they are there to do good. If people are socially authorized scientists they are there to do science, and they are supposed to be additive: several scientists will do more science than one scientist. A statistician once remarked to me, attempting to reconcile me to the tedium of discussing a piece of work with a committee, "Discussion is always a good thing. Many heads are sure to be better than one."

In fact, the state may be disposing of colossal funds and resources for research, and deploying millions of people, but it does not follow that what is being done is necessarily advancing knowledge at a greater rate than would be achieved by even a small number of individuals who had some peculiarity of motivation that made them wish to find things out, and who also happened to dispose of financial resources that, while infinitesimal compared with the totality of those wielded by the state, were still large in relation to the capital which it is at all easy for a single individual to acquire in modern circumstances. Nor does it follow that a committee consisting of a dozen people with an average IQ of 150 will wield an effective IQ of 1,800.

What, in fact, are the motives of professional, state-supported scientists and members of directing committees likely to be, and are such people likely to interact constructively or destructively? It is an easy guess that they will be predominantly interested in their own social advancement; they will want to make decisions that will impress other people as the right kind of decisions, and they will want to do or see done the kind of research that other people will reward with higher degrees and similar marks of social favor. If young scientists are too strongly motivated in any other way — by intellectual curiosity, say, or by a desire to seek out fundamental paradoxes in the nature of things — they may well find themselves unable to stay the educational course that leads to life as a socially accredited and salaried research worker.

Some years ago a course of lectures on scientific research was given in Oxford, intended to provide information and preparation for those who might be considering proceeding to do research in the form of a higher degree. As reported to me at the time, the general tenor of these lectures was as follows: "Young people have an idea that when they start doing scientific research they will be breaking new ground and dealing with issues of burning interest. This is not so; they have to realize that research is not like this. What people do in the course of working for a D.Phil. is of practically no interest to anybody. The average number of people who read a scientific doctoral thesis, other than the author's relatives and supervisor, is estimated to be 1.8."

But even if the greater part of modern research really is uninteresting, in every possible sense, a very great deal of it is being done. As already mentioned, what advances someone's career in social terms is the production of papers. Broad and Wade have observed, "The preoccupation with publications has resulted in a veritable ocean of journals and papers. Today, there are at least 6,000 journals in medicine alone. An additional reason for the number of journals is the tremendous increase in the ranks of scientists themselves. It has been estimated that 90 percent of all scientists who ever lived are alive today." (1)

Estimates have been made of what fraction of the research being done is useful, at least in the sense that it is referred to in papers by other scientists. This is not a very high standard of usefulness, and, of course, work that is of poor quality but is ideologically attractive may well be cited frequently; it, then, will qualify as contributing to progress on this criterion. However, even estimates of this kind show that only a tiny fraction of the research papers produced have any influence on the work of other scientists and can thus be regarded as contributing to progress. According to Broad and Wade, "The available evidence indicates that the great majority of research responsible for the advances of science is produced by a small number of scientists. This small elite depends overwhelmingly on the research of other members of the elite, not on that of the wider majority. The pace of scientific advance would not obviously be slowed if this majority did not exist. It might even be enhanced if pursued by a leaner and fitter community of researchers. Perhaps there are too many scientists. Perhaps basic scientific research would be more appropriately supported by private patrons, as economist Milton Friedman has suggested, instead of by the government" (2).

One line of defence that might well be adopted by a proponent of the modern orthodoxy would be to inquire earnestly what scientific or medical research one thought was being neglected, and to require a statement of exactly what beneficial developments might be forthcoming if things were done differently. But, it is essentially the case that what is being neglected is invisible; all that can be done is to point out the presence of a very strong ideology in a position of dominance. From the requirements of the ideology one can, perhaps, indicate certain areas in which it is unlikely that research of a progressive nature will be done, but it is possible only to adumbrate vaguely some of the potentialities that might begin to emerge if it were.

The modern ideology is certainly operative within medicine — including particularly strong ideas on the nature of human beings and in what relationship they should be to society, and these ideas undoubtedly have their effect on the way medicine regards those to whom it is ministering.

It may appear that little is lost by the non-pursuit of research in some of the neglected areas; the findings, if any, could surely not be of great fundamental significance. But it is characteristic of research that one cannot be sure how interesting or significant the findings may be until one has made them, and any ideological restraint upon the extension of knowledge is a serious matter.

In conclusion, let me point out another consequence of a dominant orthodoxy which may also be overlooked. It is that it inhibits research even if the orthodox opinion is actually correct. Only research that may be expected to support it in the crudest and most obvious way is likely to be encouraged; areas that could lead to heresy must be ignored. Now it might sometimes be that research in "heretical" areas leads to an expansion of knowledge and that once it is obtained, it is observed to be compatible with the desired view of the matter after all. But, in general, there is little tendency for researchers to risk being placed under pressure to refine or develop the ideas accepted as correct, and areas of weakness, incoherence, or paradox are passed over in a discreet silence, rather than regarded as promising fields for enlightening investigation.

1. William Broad and Nicholas Wade, Betrayers of the Truth (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982), p.53.
2. ibid, pp.222-223.

24 October 2007

Two kinds of "help"

In the Daily Mail of 24 October 2007, the downtrodden husband in one of the strip cartoons, who represents the formerly centralised male head of the household, querulous at the changes in modern society, finds his wife entertaining a social worker, and says that his generation had no need of social workers. If neighbours were in difficulties, he was always there to lend a hand himself. His wife protests that he has never helped anybody, and he quotes one occasion when he boiled water for an old lady whose kettle had broken down.

Yes, it is true that people probably did not help one another very much, and probably do so even less now that everyone is supposed to be able to get all they ‘need’ from the State.

But then, how much help of that useful, practical kind that people really want to have is provided by social workers? I am under the impression that this is not what social workers think they are there for. They are paid by money taken from tax-payers (thus reducing the amount of freedom available to individuals) in order to reduce people’s freedom still further by assessing whether they are thinking and acting in accordance with the prevailing ideology. If not, perhaps they should be forced to attend parenting classes, have their children taken away from them, or be put in prison for failing to force them to attend school. These are all ways of reducing the freedom of individuals to do what they think is good for them, or in their interests. Doing something for them that they wanted done, such as housework, would have the opposite effect.

It may be true that people did not do as much as they might have done to help one another in practical ways, but it is certainly not the case that the great proliferation of social workers is filling in the massive deficit that there may have been, and may still be, in help of a really useful kind.

The ‘help’ provided by social workers is a different kind of thing altogether.

21 October 2007

Is anger bad?

Copy of a letter to a potential voluntary worker

The reason I queried your saying that anger was something to be worked on to improve yourself (or however you put it) was that anger is regarded as automatically bad and to be eliminated in modern ideological psychology, such as Cognitive Therapy etc. (except when it is anger at capitalists or City fat cats). So that there can be no question of justified resentment of maltreatment by society. So people are liable to point out to me that I sound angry, as if they have noticed a weak point in my position, and this is supposed to invalidate my claims that I need help in securing reparation and reinstatement.

People like to notice the torture and killing carried out in the name of Christianity as if it invalidates the idea of anything with a more extensive worldview (or cosmic view) than that of socialist oppression. But actually exactly the same psychological forces are at work in socialist oppression itself and are causing plenty of torture, killing and generalised suffering, physical as well as psychological.

As in the days of the Catholic inquisitions, harm caused to individuals by the agents of the collective (state or church) is condoned or ignored.

Actually I think — in a theoretical way rather than by direct introspection — that everyone is very angry at the existential situation, but it is frightening to acknowledge this, and it turns into reactiveness or oppressiveness against other people, more or less well wrapped up as knowing better than they do themselves what would be good for them. And so everyone stays wrapped up in a cocoon of social meaningfulness.

I am very used to people telling me that they won’t help me or us, but (or because) they are going to be using all their available time helping some socially acceptable object of compassion, e.g. doing the accounts of a school, so that they wouldn’t have any time for doing ours, who are the victims of the ‘educational’ system, and we ought to be pleased, because we believe in people being helped, don’t we?

The person with a high IQ in modern society is in the position of a heretic in a Christian country with an inquisition. He is guilty of believing in the wrong things and is seen as deserving all that can be done to him.

17 October 2007

Hindrances to the progress of research (part 1)

This is the first half of a paper written some years ago for a collection published by Praeger (Medical Science and the Advancement of World Health, ed. Peter Lanza). The points made appear to be as applicable now as they were then.

We live at a time when the most fundamental ideal of scientific enquiry is being called into question, and indeed explicitly rejected. This cannot fail to have a profound effect on research in all fields, not only the medical. But the effect of the dominant ideological climate may be particularly distinct in relation to medicine since this concerns the nature of human beings and the extent of their dependence on the society around them; these are matters that carry a particularly strong emotional loading from the viewpoint of the prevailing orthodoxy, and this loading sets up stringent requirements for what shall and shall not be done.

But first let us consider what may be the fundamental ideal of science. The Duke of Kent, in his 1981 presidential address to the British Society for the Advancement of Science, asserted, "I say without any equivocation that I consider it the scientist's first and imperative duty to expand the boundaries of knowledge." Similarly, Hans Eysenck stated, "Personally, I would take my stand with Thomas Jefferson: 'There is no truth existing which I fear, or would wish unknown to the whole world'" (1).

Both these assertions were made in the awareness of, and in explicit opposition to, a climate of opinion in which they are no longer widely accepted. It is old-fashioned and naive to talk of an external truth or reality toward an understanding of which the human race is advancing by successive approximations. There is no criterion of reality other than social agreement. Reverence is due only to what is socially desirable.

A central, maybe the central, determinant of contemporary attitudes in all fields of intellectual activity is the modern drive toward eliminating any sense of tension between socially agreed-upon opinion and external reality. The tension is removed by denial, more or less explicit, that there is any such thing as external reality or that it has any right to numinous status if there is. Why does it matter what is true? What is important is what is good. There is even a school of thought in the modern philosophy of science that teaches explicitly that it is impossible to arrive at objectivity in scientific observations; all observations are made in the context of the received ideology of their time and cannot be separated from it.

So we find ourselves in a situation in which one ideal of science is being, with increasing explicitness, replaced by another. The old-fashioned ideal conceived of science as striving to establish the truth, whatever it might turn out to be, whether at variance or not with what human beings would expect or prefer it to be. The new ideal conceives of science as subservient to the requirements of social desirability. This view of the matter depends on the idea that the outcomes of research can be foreseen, the social consequences of it predicted, and a definite opinion formed whether these consequences are desirable.

In fact, immensely useful, practical consequences have often arisen from the disinterested pursuit of knowledge. The Curies studied radium without foreseeing its medical applications; Sir Alexander Fleming discovered the antibiotic properties of penicillin by chance. It is impossible for the consequences of an increment in human knowledge to be accurately foreseen, even by those most directly concerned with it. Twenty years before the first use of atomic power, Einstein and Rutherford expressed their opinion that no practical harnessing of atomic power would ever be possible.

In general, it is certainly possible to argue that the ostensible modern goal of beneficial effects on society as a whole is more likely to be achieved, and to be achieved more effectively, by an adherence to the old-fashioned principles that knowledge is good in itself and that the extension and dissemination of knowledge of all facts without distinction is intrinsically desirable. Nevertheless, it is a somewhat weak position to defend a principle by demonstrating that it may be defended in terms of another principle, as if admitting that the latter is the really important one, and the former can only be justified in terms of it. As Eysenck observes, "According to the scientific ethos, scientists should fearlessly speak the truth; in theory, truth is the supreme god to whom the scientist bows. The position now is departing rather rapidly from this belief" (2). He quotes Carl Sagan as saying, "In a time of trouble, the tendency of society is to constrict the range of accepted ideas. But just the opposite — diversity, heresy — is what is needed if problems are to be solved."

The qualification "in a time of trouble" is unnecessary. Any society has a strong tendency to foster and favour only activities and intellectual productions that support the received ideology of the time, and the notion that individualistic heretics are good for anything is never likely to be applied with much energy. In a society in which the financing of research is largely, indeed almost exclusively, undertaken by the state or by collective entities which are answerable to the prevailing orthodoxy, there will be little opportunity for heresy to take effect.

The modern ideology produces two kinds of pressure, one practical and one moral. The practical one is that there is a constant transfer of freedom of action (or financial power) from individuals to the state. Individuals are heavily taxed, and their ability to pass on by inheritance even such accumulations as they are able to build up in a heavily taxed lifetime is itself subject to heavy taxation. In addition, there is taxation by inflation, and state control over the supply and value of money held in the hands of individuals. This is confiscation as surely as would be open levies on the assets every citizen, but its effects are indirect. The cost makes it less and less likely that any individual or group of individuals can carry out independent research on an adequate scale; the freedom to set up research establishments and to do independent work has thus effectively been confiscated and transferred to the state.

The moral pressure of the modern ideology is simply towards doing what reinforces it. The fact that the beliefs that actually make up the modern ideology are largely implicit, although all-pervasive, makes it more, and not less, dangerous. You will gain social reward and approval by doing research that has results other people will approve of; you will not gain it by doing research that calls into question some important, even if implicit, belief. Even if this were not supported by the financial censorship already described, it would be a powerful force.

1. Hans J. Eysenck, "The Ethics of Science and the Duties of Scientists," British Association for the Advancement of Science, New Issue, No. 1 (August 1975), reprinted in H. B. Gibson, Hans Eysenck: The Man and His Work (London: Peter Owen, 1981).
2. ibid.

Part two of this can be read here.

08 October 2007

Dualistic theories in the modern world

Dualistic theories are extremely unpopular in the modern world. We may remember that dualism, in which the mind may be regarded as to some extent separable from matter, permitted spiritualistic theories and various forms of survivalist religion. Incidentally, or perhaps not so incidentally, they could be interpreted as compatible with a high evaluation of individuality. It was always a problem for theistic religions that it might occur to their members to claim that they had some direct information from God and that they set more store by this than by the authority of the Church. However, in a sense this was not much of a problem, as the Church always seemed willing to wipe out deviancy with the utmost physical cruelty.

This, perhaps, provides us with a clue to the great preference for materialism shown by modern leaders of thought. It has always been by means of the physical that people acting on behalf of the collective have exercised their greatest and most inexorable force on other people as individuals. So, whatever the evidence either way may be said to be, and whether or not anything could be considered as having any real bearing on the question, modern thought rigorously hunts down and rejects any lingering vestiges of dualistic thought.

In one respect this might seem confusing to an outside observer, because it seems clear that the collective wishes individuals to be subordinated to it, and it also wishes to promote egalitarianism. Egalitarianism might seem easier to justify on the assumption that each individual has a non-material component called a soul, and that this is of great importance for reasons which do not depend on social consensus. If you allow for existence of souls, it is perhaps less remarkable that individuals should be regarded as equal in value, without consideration of any other attributes they may have. However, in practice it does not seem to work like that.

Leaders of modern thought are keen on regarding all aspects of the human being as derived from the evolutionary process. This is not surprising, as the theory of evolution is attractive, and it becomes possible to relate the characteristics of living organisms to the coded genetic material with ever-increasing completeness. But justifiable as this concern with evolutionary processes may seem to be, and difficult as it may be to see any justification for entertaining ideas of any non-materialistic elements in the situation, I nevertheless have the impression that the drive towards materialistic explanation is motivated. There is, I think, a positive desire to eliminate any possible remaining vestige of dualism.

Many modern philosophers would not admit that consciousness was a meaningful concept, but among those who do you will easily hear it said that the puzzle of consciousness is: what evolutionary reason can be given for its presence? It would seem that all the functions of a human being could be carried out equally well by a sufficiently complex but unconscious computer. But all features of human beings, it is argued, must have arisen from evolutionary procedures and from nothing else.

Dualists, who may entertain beliefs in a supernaturalist religion, might wish to maintain that consciousness was there because a human being had a soul, or some such thing, but the leaders of modern thought not only reject such ideas, I think one may say that they wish to reject them. A totally materialistic viewpoint is sought after, this being a part of the modern religion.

What is desired to arrive at is a certain psychological, and even political, position which is, however, not quite as much justified by the facts as it is emotionally taken to be. However thoroughly materialistic and reductionist you are, this really tells you nothing about how human beings 'should' conduct their affairs.

01 October 2007

No female geniuses

Copy of a letter to a philosopher

The article by A.N. Wilson in the Daily Mail contains the observation that no women of genius have emerged in the last 30 years, i.e. since they have been ‘given a chance’ as they were not in pre-Welfare State times. This is supposed to prove that they are no good at being geniuses, since the social discrimination of earlier centuries has been removed. But, in fact, I have been rigorously deprived of opportunity throughout my life, and I can point out many areas in which I would have been progressively productive if not kept absolutely inactive by financial deprivation and lack of social status. My chances in life were destroyed by the 1945 Education Act and its consequences, in no way created or improved by it.

Neither Charles’s nor Fabian’s comments on A.N. Wilson’s article have been published in the on-line comments or in the Letters to the Editor. [Update: one now has.]

Fabian and I have often offered articles on various topics to the editor, and received no reply.

The only way I could publish a reply to A.N. Wilson’s article would be to pay for half a page of the Daily Mail and publish an article as an advertising feature. This would cost (as I guess from previous enquiries) at least £5000.

Even if I felt able to do this, I would not be at all surprised if my money was turned down when they knew what I proposed to publish. Criticising the sacred assumptions of the modern ideology and breaking the taboo about complaining of the damage done to your life by properly appointed agents of the collective seems to be regarded as even more reprehensible than pornography.

27 September 2007

How not to advance understanding of OBEs

This is an article which appeared in the Financial Times magazine. It reminds me of how deplorable it is that we continue to be prevented from making any progress in research on out-of-the-body experiences (OBEs), as well as being unable to publicise our criticisms of tendentious work in several other well-established areas, such as philosophy and education. The point about OBEs is that they may very well shed important light on the processes of normal perception, given that they represent a sort of ‘subversion’ of the ordinary organisation of perceptual data. The would-be paranormal association is a red herring, as far as I am concerned.

People (including academics) say, as a knee-jerk reaction, ‘OBEs are very difficult to work on, aren’t they’ (as a way of writing off the possibility of doing so). This is simply not true (at least it is not true of work that might be done by us), but we have never been able to do any work on them. If we could, I am sure developments would be rapid.

We hoped that Charles’s very constricted supervised work on them for his DPhil might have led to less restrictive opportunities, but of course it never did. Nor, of course, did it lead to any academic career progression for Charles in the direction of a Fellowship or a Professorship. (I wanted Charles and Fabian to get Professorships as soon as possible so that they could support my applications, if for no other reason.)

As regards the experience described in the article, it is typical of a certain type of case in which the person turns around and sees himself lying on the ground, unconscious. This particular case could be described as near-death, since the subject was clinically dead for a short time, but exactly similar experiences have been reported with less serious causes, and not ‘near death’.

Several of Charles’s subjects, when he was working at the Department of Experimental Psychology, had OBEs fairly often, and I am sure it would be possible to find out a lot more about them if we were in a position to do so.

23 September 2007

Have some apparatus

Copy of a letter to a philosopher

When I met you I referred to my constant altercations with Rosalind Heywood about the expensiveness of apparatus. People (including journalists before they stopped interviewing us) have always liked to talk about our need for apparatus, as if it was the only thing we were short of, and as if it could be of any use without salaries, a hotel environment and ancillary staff. They apparently liked to think of me being even worse off than I was, actually spending my own impoverished, statusless time taking readings on a piece of experimental equipment! Which is an exceedingly slow way of getting information to process, and I never thought I would be able to do it.

Apparatus was what we were most often offered, either as a gift of other people’s cast-offs or (less often) bought, very cheaply, especially for us, without any offer of even a partial contribution to our running-costs while we used it. I used to call this ‘the treadmill syndrome’.

To go back to the beginning; when I was thrown out at the end of the ruined education, I needed an academic career with professorial status and a hotel environment; I did not want to do experimental work of any kind (i.e. doing work on one piece of equipment myself, in person), although I saw that I might have to do so in working my way back into a university career and, if I had, I would have had to be paid enough (as a minimum) to employ a research assistant.

Being head of a department with several people working with a large number of pieces of apparatus producing several streams of information, in the way Professor Eysenck was, would have been (and still would be) a different matter altogether; that would have been a tolerable possibility, although to make it more than just tolerable, it would need to be on a large enough scale to include residential college (hotel) facilities. That was what I was trying to set up when Rosalind destroyed my hopes of support from Sir George, Salter et al.

Rather than continuing to work as a secretary to Professors nominated by Rosalind, whether in a new organisation under her auspices or at the Society for Psychical Research, I withdrew from the plans for the new organisation, which had now become her organisation with Sir George and Salter dancing to her tune, and resigned from the SPR so that I was clearly dependent on what I could get by appealing for money.

So far as I was concerned, I was not in a position to do anything, but Rosalind put me under pressure to ‘do work’ of a pointless kind, even in such bad circumstances.

I could not point out anything realistic, such as that before I had a hotel environment doing anything would be negative, in no way positive, and my life was bad enough as it was. I knew that whenever I had said anything realistic about what I needed, Rosalind had used it to arouse a storm of hatred and disgust against me. So I confined myself to pointing out that even one of the type of EEG I might use would cost a good deal of money, and that I had nowhere to put it. (I did not say, which was more to the point, that I could not afford a research assistant to work it.) This led to many painful and unrealistic conversations in which Rosalind suggested, for example, that I might put it in my parents’ house in Kidlington (they had moved to Oxford by that time). ‘There is no room large enough’, I said, ‘There is only a box-room’. ‘You could have a smaller model with fewer channels’, she said. ‘It wouldn’t be possible to get it up the stairs’, I said. ‘You could hoist it through a window’, she said. ‘The window isn’t large enough’, I said. ‘You could have an even smaller EEG with fewer channels’, she said. And so on.

I should like to point out that when I was thrown out at the end of the ruined education I had no plans to do research in any field connected with psychical research. I had read Myers’s Human Personality in Somerville Library but at that stage I thought that even if there was anything in any of the supposed phenomena, it was not obvious to me how research on it could be done. I did not feel tempted to repeat the sort of statistical experiment which I had read about, in which some controversial ‘evidence’ for ESP was produced. This did not seem to me to advance matters at all, and doing it would be very labour-intensive.

When I arrived at the SPR I started a plan to set up a research institute of my own, but that was because I needed an institutional and hotel environment. I started doing this before I had any definite views about the likelihood of any of the phenomena being genuine or, if they were, what the best ways of getting to grips with them would be.

My ideas about these things evolved gradually. I was in contact with people who reported various experiences and also had available the past research records of the SPR. Also I had to think how to make the best of the various opportunities which came my way. I would never have thought, myself, of doing a mass ESP experiment, but Cecil King required it and offered access to his publications to do it in. Therefore, to improve the shining hour and make it a bit less futile, I tried to think of a prediction simple enough to be tested in such circumstances and, as it happened, it worked at the level of significance normally required.

16 September 2007

Being "spiritual"

Copy of a letter to a philosopher

You said that some Rosicrucian SS men gave some help to a Buddhist who was also a communist, because he, like them, was a spiritual person, and you wondered what I thought of this story. This is quite difficult to answer, so perhaps it is worth trying.

Basically, I am really just agnostic. People are always trying to get me to endorse some element in the modern ideology as desirable or ‘better’, and although I wrote The Human Evasion very carefully to avoid appearing to be advocating some approach to life, I did nevertheless acquire a sort of fan club (none of whom ever came to work here, either to find out more about my ideas or because I advertised our need for help).

According to this fan club I was supposed to be advocating ‘going with the flow’, which I suppose means following the line of least resistance, giving in to all the social pressures. And, I suppose, general hippie-ish dropping-out. What I am putting on my blog and website now provokes vitriolic reactions, and my ‘fans’ appear to feel let down because I have lowered my standards of wisdom and enlightenment.

I do not have any insight to speak of into what might be called spirituality. I never had an outlook like that and could not have seen how to start acquiring one if I had wanted to; I cannot imagine wanting to.

The person at the Society for Psychical Research who expressed the greatest appreciation of spirituality, wherever it might be found, was Rosalind Heywood [see also here, here, here and here]. She also played routinely on the element in human psychology which had appeared to me most incompatible with centralisation — viz. the belief in society as the source of significance.

When she wanted to influence someone, which was usually to the detriment of someone else, whether me or otherwise, she would always start by flattering the person for the significance which a numinous society had conferred upon them. ('You are/were a great Professor / Ambassador / Colonial Governor etc.')

So I think it is the case that all sorts of spirituality are likely to contain a belief in the significance to be derived from other people/society, even if this is not obvious because they consider themselves to be free and uninhibited by repressive bourgeois standards, or by a belief in capitalism or individualism.

A typical Rosalind anecdote:

While waiting in a corridor at Eton to meet her son, whom she was visiting, she had become aware of the presence of a great and infinitely wise (vaguely angelic) Being who brooded over and guided the Etonian goings-on.

You observe that this story gets in the information that her son was at Eton, as well as demonstrating Rosalind’s belief in the sacred numinousness of statusful social institutions. She had a similar story about waiting to meet an MP in the House of Commons, also presided over by a Being of superhuman wisdom.

12 September 2007

Aphorism of the month

The object of modern science is to make all aspects of reality equally boring, so that no one will be tempted to think about them.

(from The Decline and Fall of Science)

10 September 2007

Tall poppy syndrome

I read an article recently (see below) which purported to demonstrate that there is nowadays in this country a hatred of success. This was done by referring to a game which was played for money. In this game one of the options was to reduce someone else’s winnings, by some sacrifice of your own.

It was found that players often made use of this option. I expect the conclusion that will be drawn from this piece of research is that success should not be permitted because other people dislike it. It has already been stated that research shows that what makes people happy is not what advantages they have themselves, but there being nobody who has more.

(The only form of success to which people have little resistance is that of socially appointed oppressors of humanity, in which case the successful person may enjoy some status and power over others so long as he retains his position, but is unlikely to become rich enough to enjoy any autonomy. He is not going to be free to do anything he wants in any way he could get anything out of, and will always be expected to get his kicks out of frustrating and oppressing other people.)

Actually I have been a victim of the 'tall poppy syndrome' all my life, without having ever been allowed to become a tall poppy. Perceiving that my ability might make it possible for me to become successful, I was scythed down as a precautionary measure. When I was thrown out of the university and started to save money (which I had no tolerable way of earning) to work towards being able to afford the institutional environment which I needed to have, I rapidly became a tall poppy in the eyes of other people, since I became the owner of a small house far more quickly than those who had acceptable careers and salaries, although I was living in it from hand to mouth, with no heating in the winter, since I had no source of income. Hence, I was always perceived as the capitalistic landlord or employer to be fleeced and done down as far as possible.

Similarly, I suppose that the anticipatory tall poppy syndrome has contributed to the fact that funding and career advancement have always been withheld, no matter what efforts I made to demonstrate my ability to make the best possible use of any opportunities or breaks which I might be given. I have always had the impression that the more successful such research as I could do in poverty and exile might be, the more rigorously was withheld any reward which might have permitted me to give any further demonstration of my functionality.

Sometimes, when I have commented on the fact that funding or salaried career advancement (even to carry on work in fields which I had initiated) would preferentially be given, on whatever excuse, to anyone rather than myself, however desperate my need for it might be, people have hastened to ascribe this to cut-throat competition for commercial advantage. There would always be someone who wanted the money or position for themselves. This is in line with the modern idea that the profit motive is the only source of all evil.

However, the tall poppy syndrome (applied in anticipation) provides a much better explanation of the insuperable obstacles to progress which I have encountered in practice. It has certainly appeared to me that people were prepared to exert themselves against me, even though no benefit would accrue to themselves beyond their sadistic enjoyment of my continuing frustration.

(written in 2002)

Extracts from article in Daily Mail, February 13, 2002, written by Tim Utton:

Scientists believe they have proved that we don’t like success and are jealous of self-made millionaires. The researchers discovered that Britons hate ‘winners’ and would happily give up some of their own earnings to damage those who are more successful …Volunteers were tested in an experiment using real cash in which some became richer in a betting game involving choosing numbers at random. Players could anonymously ‘burn away’ the winnings of better-off rivals but forfeited some of their own cash each time they did so. Almost two-thirds destroyed the money of those doing better than them, despite the high cost to their own pocket. Professor Andrew Oswald and colleague Dr Daniel Zizzo, of Oxford University, found that half of all the cash winnings had been deliberately destroyed by envious rivals … “This research shows up for the first time how envious people can be, particularly when they start at an equal level and see others becoming richer.” The research will be seen by some as proof that ‘tall poppy syndrome’ has taken root. The phrase, first coined in Australia in the 1980s, refers to the tendency to scythe down those who are deemed to have got above themselves.

03 September 2007

Thinking for oneself

This is a letter I wrote in 1986 about 'individualism'. Since then, the particular version of individualism discussed here has become considerably more prevalent.

In a recent piece of writing I used the expressing ‘thinking for oneself’, and in the letter to you about Nietzsche there was some reference to 'individualism'. Now this is an area where terminology can be very misleading. The tribal ethic is in many ways very authoritarian and anti-individualistic. Above all it is anti-hierarchical (that is to say it will not tolerate any subsidiary hierarchies coming into being which are not actually determined by the tribe). Nevertheless, it will be asserted by upholders of tribal morality that they believe very much in people ‘thinking for themselves’, being allowed to ‘live their own lives’ and ‘doing their own thing’. This area requires very careful consideration because it is perfectly possible for someone to agree with you on the assumption that what you mean by the verbal forms you use is diametrically opposed to what you do mean.

For example, a fairly standard object of social approval at the time of writing is a person who has been in a convent and left [this was a reference to ex-nun Karen Armstrong]. Characteristically, such a person will say that she was expected to be uncritical of authority in the convent, but then she went (let us say) on a university course and was taught to ‘be critical’ and ‘think for herself’. This made returning to the convent unthinkable, and now she has a happy life ‘making her own decisions’. Actually this probably means being critical of certain ideas being promoted in the convent by reference (probably implicit) to widely accepted but unanalysed assumptions.

‘Thinking for oneself’ has a strong tendency to mean ‘identifying with the implicit assumptions which are fashionable at present and rejecting the ideas of any individual or minority which do not reinforce them’.

I saw this illustrated in the contrast between my convent school and the state grammar school I went to — which was far worse than the convent, so far as I was concerned. But on the ideological level (which was not directly related to how they treated me) the difference was between a very explicit set of beliefs, and one vaguely defined but actually equally emotionally loaded ideology. The nuns would give various reasons why you should believe in God and, having done so, why you should believe he was in favour of certain things and so on. I did not find the reasons convincing, but then the nuns admitted that ultimately it was a question of having faith, and they said (which was after all quite true) that you accepted all sorts of other things on faith in normal life. It seems to me that if you found their arguments convincing enough to accept their system, despite the extent to which it was authoritarian, this would be ‘thinking for oneself’ as much as is usually practiced, if not more.

The state school did not explicitly claim to be authoritarian, but one found oneself under enormous implicit pressure to behave in certain ways which would imply certain beliefs about the moral rightness of certain things. However, it was maximally easy for people to conform to these pressures without ever formulating what assumptions they implied. In fact, the indefiniteness of the situation was such that it would require very considerable intellectual powers to make a start on setting out the underlying assumptions with any clarity. The inconsistencies and weaknesses of the nuns’ positions were relatively open to inspection; those of the state school lay protected by the fact that they were not defined at all.

Incidentally, you keep referring to my speculation about the psychodynamics of human nature — viz. that what makes people able to tolerate their own finiteness is positive appreciation of the finiteness of others. Well, it is a speculation. All that is really open to introspection is that interacting with people, or thinking about them, is what makes it hardest to be aware of the shockingness of the existential situation. People derive security and meaningfulness from other people. But the speculation arises, not from introspection, but because one observes that while people ostensibly set great store by other people, they don’t really seem to mind about them much, at least about what happens to them.

28 August 2007

Tribal versus territorial morality

Extract from my book Letters from Exile:

Essentially, there are two conflicting fields of morality or idealism. The first is old-fashioned territorial morality, of the kind promulgated in public schools and Catholic convents. Then there is neo-tribal morality, antagonistic both to high ability and to any possibilities of psychological development in a centralised or expansive direction. But even before starting to delineate these, I have to establish the extremely agnostic basis on which I operate.

The first stage in my awareness of the existential situation originated when I was about eleven. I had shocking perceptions of the unknowability of the existential situation in which one found oneself, and a realisation that the existential uncertainty was the final term in any enquiry, philosophical or scientific, into the nature of things. This provided me with an extremely strong drive to react to the existential situation in the most purposeful way possible. Although all ascriptions of purpose were arbitrary and ultimately futile, in one sense it was fairly clear how to react to the situation.

I applied this observation, which I came to call the uncertainty principle, to any evaluations which I encountered which seemed to pass without question. The human race had evolved in the way it had, and it ran its affairs in the way it did; it was understandable enough that social groups should favour some kinds of behaviour as desirable, and others not. It was also understandable that people reacted in the ways they did as the resultant outcome of psychological forces, which were determined by evolution as well as their own experience of life and deliberate attempts to act in certain ways. So I was (and still am) a moral relativist. (Modern dictionaries of ethics say you cannot be a moral relativist, because if you really were, you would start to commit crimes. So a moral relativist who does not commit crimes is insincere.)

I suppose that these elements in my position, along with my IQ, account for the exceptionally overt hostility which I aroused. I had a strong motivational drive which was not the result of social influence, and I was rigorously relativistic in my attitude to morality. In the same way that modern ethics denies the possibility of being a moral relativist, so modern psychology asserts that all motivation and personality attributes arise from rewards offered by the individual’s environment.

Incidentally, the fact that statements of this level of unanalytical naivety are made by philosophers and psychologists in an academic context reflects the decline in the average IQ of those holding university positions, and ensures that the decline will continue, since what is required for academic success is sufficient uncriticalness to reproduce and imitate assertions of this kind.

When I was at school I never expressed my morally relativistic views, apart from the most generalised expositions of the existential uncertainty to one of the nuns at my convent (my maths teacher). However, I suppose that people sensed the unacceptability of my psychological position from an absence of the cues which most people give that they are really hooked on social approval or get some sort of emotional feedback out of the prevailing collective evaluations, probably most clearly indicated by moral indignation against nonconformists. Modern social psychology asserts that people derive their values from the group in which they are living, and clearly this is what modern society would like to be the case.

Constant reflection on the existential situation prevented me from acquiring the sort of moral indignation which most people seem to feel about certain things. This was partly the reason why I was soon an object of opprobrium myself, and have remained so ever since. By attempting to provide myself with opportunities which society did not wish me to have, I qualified as a criminal.

Also I never acquired any idea of how society should ideally be. I thought that even if I could think of something that would be better, and provide me with better opportunities for doing research, I certainly did not have the resources to bring about political changes and then do research in one lifetime, so I had better concentrate on making the best use of the social structures as they were to get the necessary opportunities for doing research. Later I came to take a far more negative, and not merely agnostic, view of human psychology, and thought that it would be absolutely impossible to influence it in any positive direction. Its psycho-dynamics were such as to ensure negative outcomes whatever ideals it professed, as with the religion of love (Christianity) which had justified so much torturing and killing.

Another illustration of this was currently being provided by the modern society in which I lived, which called itself compassionate, and which was engaged on a programme designed to convince me of its absolute mercilessness towards me and my parents. When I was thrown out at the end of my education, I formulated this as, ‘There is nothing so bad but that people will make it happen to you, nothing so bad that people will give you any help in averting it.’

People who subscribe to the modern belief in society like to associate ‘ruthlessness’ with acquisitiveness, whether of land-space or money. You could call this projection, in the Freudian sense. There is nothing so ruthless as the agent of the collective who lives for no reward in life but the exercise of power over other people.

Evidently human psychology has a tremendously strong reaction against the potential independence of the individual mind. There is plenty of historical evidence of this in its constant persecution of heretics and nonconformists, both before and after Bruno was burnt to death for saying that the universe was infinite. Persecutory drives are not absent from modern society, but more discreetly expressed, which does not mean less destructively.

Neo-tribal morality is universally dominant in schools (only a bit less so in private schools), in universities, in virtually all published material, and on the television screen. It is almost impossible to meet anyone who does not soon demonstrate allegiance to some aspect of it.

Nietzsche recognised approximately the distinction between territorial and tribal morality in his master/slave moralities, but being influenced by his own social environment, he did not get it quite right. I think it is true to say that he accepted the dichotomy too much on the terms of the tribal (Christian) morality of his time, as that between the expansively selfish and the unassuming compassionate, which is much the way it is perceived by the modern neo-tribal collectivist.

Moral indignation is directed at independence and autonomy, but more overtly at any territory, mental or physical, within which an individual can act independently of social pressures. So of course it is directed at capitalism and commercialism, as representing the possibility of acquisition by an individual of territory which is larger than that which tribal society is prepared freely to grant him. Indignation is also directed at any exercise of individual judgement within that territory. Hence it was inevitable, if my parents insisted on seeking social advice, that I would be taken away from the convent. Convents are second only to parents as objects of anti-authoritarian hatred.

22 August 2007

Language teaching: plus ca change

This is a piece I wrote in 1978 about a BBC language course. Apart from the fact that there is no longer an "East Germany", it could apply equally well today.

Listening to the BBC's Sixth Form German broadcasts, or trying to find something one can bear to listen to, may or may not improve one's German, but certainly gives an insight into the modern mind.

In a programme on the educational adventures of a German girl, great contempt was expressed for old-fashioned language teaching based on unrealistic literary narratives and grammatical rules. (The same programme, incidentally, in which we were given to understand that the offspring of the workers are at a great disadvantage in the West German educational system, but much better treated in East Germany.)

So, plainly, modern language teachers think they have a vastly superior product to purvey. It probably does have the advantage that it repels even the most colossal linguistic voraciousness, unless combined with a devotion to collectivism. Parking meters in West Germany, visits to a sewage farm and an old people's home, town and country planning, social security and the examination system, immigrant workers and juvenile delinquents.

Next term a passage for comprehension is to be broadcast, after which we will be privileged to answer the following questions:
- What have the employers tried to communicate to their work force?
- What are the first three reasons that the employee lists, which make him sad about the state of affairs?

Personally, I'd settle for Goethe any time.

15 August 2007

IQ as an ideological football

Another book to which I am unable to publish a riposte, on a topic on which I have been prevented for decades from expressing my views: IQ: The Brilliant Idea That Failed by Stephen Murdoch (Duckworth, London, 2007).

As usual, this book utilises criticism of IQ tests as an attack on the concept of IQ and other innate intellectual and psychological factors per se, all based on the assumption that the tests will be used by immoral governments, and that we have egalitarian views on the way in which governments should and should not interfere in the lives of individuals, instead of considering the possibility that they should not interfere at all, in which case the accuracy and relevance of IQ tests or other assessments would be, as it should be, beside the point.

It is analogous to the way in which Richard Dawkins considers himself able to eliminate the possibility of anything outside the range of the current human conceptual system having any reality by pointing out that the concept of God held by large populations of people did not prevent them from doing various things to one another of which modern politically correct academics disapprove.

Similarly, also, his new series (The Enemies of Reason) on frauds and deceptions associated with the possibility of conceptual extensions of scientific understanding associated with the ‘paranormal’, to which I could also very well write and publish a book in reply (if I had time – my lack of time arises from lack of status, money and manpower) will actually have no effect at all on the possibilities which he is seeking to discredit.

In fact I have no inclination to ‘believe in’ any of his targets, such as astrology, homeopathy or the Tarot. But I do not rule out, as he does, the possibility that there may sometimes be factors involved which are not known about or understood.

I do not regard most of these things as more than a possible aid to the surfacing of subconscious intuitions, but as that they may sometimes work. Not that I set any great store by subconscious intuitions either; there were plenty of people at the SPR who consulted their higher selves or divine subconsciouses all the time and (apart from anything else) their higher selves never suggested to them that they might help me as a person very much in need of help, instead of hindering and obstructing me as everyone else did, whether they considered themselves to be ‘spiritually advanced’ or ‘socialist atheist intellectual’.

Nevertheless, I do not see any reason to suppose that their openness to the promptings of their own minds had any effects worse than those which arise from openness to the suggestions of counsellors, psychiatrists, educational experts, etc.

12 August 2007

Dawkins: more straw men

Headline and lead from a recent article in the Sunday Times by Peter Millar:
The gullible age
Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion sold a million copies. In a new and hilarious onslaught he pits hard science against astrology, tarot, psychics, homeopathy and other ‘gullibiligy'. The Enemies Of Reason starts on Channel 4 on August 13.

I would have liked to publish a reply to The God Delusion entitled The Social Delusion, but I do not have Richard Dawkins’s social status; in fact I have no salary or financial support apart from what I can make for myself. My book would probably not have been reviewed, and would have been lucky to sell any copies at all.

In ‘The Enemies of Reason’ Richard Dawkins is evidently embarking on attacking another series of straw men which will be taken as proof by many people that there is no possible competition for the worldview of the modern ideology as the sole source of reality. He will not be attacking, I think, anyone funded by public money (i.e. money obtained by the taxation of individuals) or anyone with socially conferred authority as an expert — although there are many in those categories who are as deserving of his strictures as fraudulent mediums, or as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, of whom Dawkins says (quoting Peter Medawar), “He can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he took great pains to deceive himself.”

I would think that latter remark applies to a good many purveyors of supposedly ‘hard-edged’ science in the modern world.

However, unless I get a financial supporter or a Professorship, I am not going to be in a position to reply to Dawkins’s new series in detail, any more than I was to reply to The God Delusion, although I may manage to get a few snippets of what I am thinking onto my blog. Meanwhile, I reproduce below a section from my book The Lost Cause (Introduction, pp.24-25).

The perceived advantage of anomalous monism

Richard Dawkins, in The Selfish Gene, pointing out that human evolution is explicable in terms of the survival of the genes of those who behave in the ways most likely to ensure the presence of their offspring in future societies, wishes nevertheless to ascribe some independent value to ideas about how human societies should be run, and how individual human beings should behave. So he proposes the concept of a 'meme': an idea which, if it is a good one, has a survival value of its own, presumably in the context of human society. The value of the meme is not supposed to depend on selection processes as they apply to biological evolution.

Somewhat similar advantages as a solution to the dilemma of reductionism as described above are probably perceived in the anomalous monism of Donald Davidson, which may account for its influential position in philosophy of mind over recent years. While the mental is always to be regarded as an aspect of the physical, which is primary, the relationship between the mental and the physical is not law-like (i.e. is anomalous). This supposedly permits us to regard ideals of egalitarianism and collectivism, for example, or Richard Dawkins's memes, as possessing an intrinsic value of their own, even though they arise in the minds of individuals as a result of neuronal events.

Thus it seems to be implicitly accepted that such theories as anomalous monism provide an acceptable framework within which ethics about social groups can be regarded as meaningful, while individualist ethics can not. Deterministic reductionism, i.e. the theory that mental events are caused by physical ones, need not in itself have been taken as devaluing mental events, which might include individualistic ethical principles. Nevertheless, I believe it is felt, and I have heard it asserted to be the case by academic philosophers, that anomalous monism permits us to continue to ascribe emotional value loadings to the mental, i.e. to certain psychological attitudes to human interrelationships, while rejecting the mental's claim to onotological status.

Philosophically, the issues concerning morality and determinism continue to be debated. When finality on these issues has been reached, we need not suppose that it will be clearly stated and widely publicised. It is more likely that philosophers will stop discussing such things, and write as if certain conclusions could be taken for granted, rather in the way that materialist monism is the common starting point in the great majority of up-to-date books on philosophy of mind.

In fact, it is not difficult to guess what the final conclusion may be, in fact already is. The individual can have no higher freedom than that of fusion with the collective.

... to be free, people must be able to employ the material resources which they need to give effect to their choices, and this is possible only through collective control over the productive powers of society. All of these suggestions call into question the idea with which we began, of a compromise; between the freedom of the individual and the power of society, since they imply that only as social beings are people capable of exercising freedom in the first place. ('Freedom, political', Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 1991, p.292)

Only collective society retains a numinous soul, but nowadays we do not draw attention to it. We would not bother to give it grandiose names, as earlier writers did, such as sovereign or general will or Hegel's Geist.

08 August 2007

What it means to be an exiled academic

A piece I wrote some years ago

Recently I was interviewed by an undergraduate for Cherwell [the Oxford University student newspaper]. He first told me what I thought, and then told me that, in the light of my other views, I shouldn't think it. I said he was quite right; I didn't think what he said I thought, I actually thought what he said I ought to think. But I have no reason to think he was listening.

When the Cherwell undergraduate came, he asked me how we considered ourselves different from normal academics. I didn't think he would publish the answer, even if I said it, so I didn't. But maybe I ought to write down these things that other people won't publish and publish them myself.

Well, of course, I don't think of myself as different from an academic.

From the time I was about eleven, when I realised that the academic world was where you did theoretical scientific research, I expected to spend my life in the academic world and thought of myself accordingly. The fact that my education was ruined so that I couldn't be a socially accredited academic doesn't change that. One still has the same standards that one would have if one were able to have one's career inside the academic world instead of outside it.

I don't think there is anything in my life that wouldn't be in it if I were having a career in the academic world.

Of course the difference is that as a non-socially accredited academic you are debarred from earning a living, from eligibility for research grants, and from use of laboratory facilities unless you can get enough money to set up a laboratory of your own.

Another difference is that a group of private sector academics is free to do research in areas which, although not explicitly ruled out by the. professed scientific ideal, actually are ruled out by the implicit adherence to a certain ideology of the socially accredited academic world.

If that sounds like an advantage, it may be pointed out that in practice it is likely to be cancelled out by the previously mentioned disadvantages. If you could get the money, you would be free to do research in areas that a socially accredited academic probably wouldn't feel free to work in. But you can't get the money, so everyone is pretty safe really from anything that doesn't support the ideology getting done.

02 August 2007

Myths about grammar schools

The fiction continues that the grammar schools provided a way in which bright working class children could rise in the world. Thinking back over the lives of my parents’ families in East London, I suppose that the time at which the grammar schools were of most use to at least somebody was when my parents got scholarships, and that was before they were state grammar schools. There were 16 scholarships in the Borough, so only a relatively small proportion of the children had them, there were two separate departments for boys and girls, and the school still had the standards and ethos of a private school of that time.

The sort of people who most obviously benefitted from this situation to some extent were my parents’ families, socially displaced people with aristocratic genes and with high IQs. It enabled such people to rise into white-collar but strictly lower middle class jobs, which the upper class would not have touched with a bargepole. My aunts and uncles were as successful as was permitted by their bad start in life, but the ones I knew were nearly all frustrated and complaining of their lives. One uncle, branch manager of an accountancy firm in Chelmsford, groaned wearily to my mother, ‘It is just a case of finding people’s missing halfpennies for them.’

Another uncle became Head of a Department at the Local Authority and won a scholarship in a national competition (for local government employees) to go to university – any one that would take him, but he refused to take it up. My mother, perhaps unrealistically, thought him perverse for not taking it up, but where would it have got him? As he said, he could not be sure that he would get his job back at the Local Authority if he left it, and he had no assurance that he would be able to get any job better than that, however well he did. He would be a mature student and there was no guarantee of an academic career.

I know that the modern unrealistic ideology wishes you to ascribe value to ‘taking’ a degree per se, without considering what you are doing it for, but it seems that my uncle did not, or not sufficiently to set his predictable career at risk.

Quotation from review of a pernicious and tendentious modern book on IQ, to which I am prevented by lack of financial support from providing a riposte:
“The brains of our nation,” Galton proclaimed, “lie in the higher of our classes” – precisely the assumption the 11-plus was designed to challenge. (John Carey in the Sunday Times *)

If the idea of the grammar schools was to show that only poverty prevented the working class from competing on equal terms with the aristocracy, I don’t think they did that.

* from a review (Sunday Times Culture section, 8 July 2007) of IQ: The Brilliant Idea That Failed by Stephen Murdoch.

01 August 2007

Myths about early development

copy of a letter

You once quoted to me the received view that very early indications of precocity are meaningless, because ‘there are all sorts of anomalies in early development’, and I replied, ‘That is what they like to say.’ I do not take any assertions by socially appointed experts on education, IQ, child development, etc. as anything but indications of what the agents of the modern oppressive ideology would like to believe is the case, and there is no reason why that should have anything to do with objective reality.

However, this particular opinion certainly does express what they would like to believe and it is what they already wanted to believe at the inception of the Welfare State and before it, so that all concerned in my education were primarily motivated to prevent any later indication of my real exceptionality arising. If that should happen to leave me with no usable qualification at all with which to earn a living they would be only too pleased; all that mattered was to prevent any evidence arising that my early precocity had not been a flash in the pan but simply a natural expression of my real IQ.

My parents, doing their best to play along with this, had suppressed information about my early life and kept me in a state of suspended animation from 6-11. The reason I nearly got a break and a chance in life at the convent was because one or two people there, unaware of my early history and the significance of my marks in the scholarship exam, were not fully in focus on the need to keep me suppressed. I was in a relatively downtrodden state, having been marking time for five years, and could not at first have appeared too pleased with my life or with myself, being constantly apprehensive of the hostility which I aroused among the girls.

I think the reason it is regarded as so important to reject very early precocity from consideration is that it is actually the most incontrovertible evidence of innate ability. If you are really exceptional at 1 or 2, then you are really exceptional and some explanation should be provided of what has gone wrong if you appear less exceptional at a later age when the environment has had more opportunity to interfere in your life. Of course, a person’s very early circumstances may be so bad that the most exceptional ability has little opportunity to show itself, although it is nonetheless there, but if it does show itself early there can be no doubt of its continuing presence.

I might not wish to have a Department of Education in my independent university if it were not that so much that is actively untrue and pernicious is being promoted, but as it is, it is deplorable that my Department is being suppressed and being prevented from criticising what is being produced by (all?) other Departments in this area.

28 July 2007

The politics of Procrustes

In Antony Flew’s book The Politics of Procrustes (Temple Smith 1981, p.21), he defines some ideas of equality, that is, ‘proposed ideals of how things ought to be.’
Of the three ideals, or sorts of ideals, the first, the most ancient, and the most difficult to define, is sometimes seen as a secular version of something believed to be common to the three great traditions of Mosaic theism. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are popularly presented as teaching the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God, with the apparent consequence that all human souls are of equal value in the eyes of their Creator.

The second ideal is customarily called equality of opportunity, although it would be more apt to call it open competition for scarce opportunities: this was, in the French Revolution of 1789, ‘La carriere ouverte aux talents’.

The third ideal, and the one to which so many of our political intellectuals today profess allegiance, is best characterised as equality of outcome or equality of result.
I have put ‘open competition for scarce opportunities’ in bold to draw attention to it, because I do not think it receives much consideration these days, although it was what I imagined (in 1945), and was told by my father, the Welfare State was intended to bring in.
Consider next a major Harvard contribution to the sociology of education. Towards the end of an extended research report, simply entitled Inequality, Christopher Jencks remarks: ‘The reader should by now have gathered that our primary concern is with equalising the distribution of income’.

[He] insists: ‘Most educators and laymen evidently feel that an individual’s genes are his, and that they entitle him to whatever advantages he can get from them. ... For a thoroughgoing egalitarian, however, inequality that derives from biology ought to be as repulsive as inequality that derives from early socialisation’. (Ibid, pp. 22-23, quoting from C. Jencks et al., Inequality, Allen Lane 1973.)

The report quoted by Flew was written by an American in 1973. So far as this country is concerned, the ‘thoroughgoing egalitarian’ attitude has been practically universal as the religion of modern society from the inception of the Welfare State in 1945, although the underlying beliefs were at that time rarely expressed openly. Nevertheless, at the state school which I attended against my will in 1950, I was explicitly told, not only that advantages in life which resulted from environmental (parental) support and encouragement were unfair, but also that advantages arising from innate ability were unfair and should be prevented.

My father’s IQ was very high for the headmaster of a primary school and the IQ range at this school was below the average for schools in general, so that the difference in ability between himself and his pupils (and the parents of his pupils) was unusually great. No doubt this aroused resentment and a desire to explain it away. The situation was made even worse by the fact that his offspring (me) had a phenomenal IQ, considerably higher even than his own.

Hostility was aroused by the fact that I came top of the county in the grammar school scholarship at the earliest possible age (in the year before it became the 11 plus) with 100% on every paper. This led to agitation among people associated with my father’s school to sue him on the grounds that (as my mother quoted to me several decades later, long after my education had been ruined):

(a) I could not have done it on my own. So he had been killing me with overwork and should be sued for maltreating me.

(b) If he could do it for me, he could and should have done it for their children at his school as well.

These complaints, while not entirely consistent, both express a wish to believe that all differences in educational attainment result from environmental influences and should be eliminated. The wish to believe these things is very strong in modern society and it is clear that the psychological forces which have produced the modern ideology had already been set in motion.

They were no doubt present in the local education authority as well as in the headmistress and teachers of the state school to which I was sent, when it had come to light that the convent school which I had been attending had been too permissive towards me, and had been on the verge of allowing me to start taking public exams a few years before the average age for doing so.

I realise now that when my parents expressed opposition to the idea of my going to university, they were showing their willingness to go along with the plans of the local education authority and the local educational community generally. There must have been strong motivation to demonstrate that my early precocity was nothing but the result of my father’s ‘pushing’ me, and that I was no better suited to go to university than the children at his school. It was unlikely that any of them could be got to university (especially at that time, when ‘dumbing down’ had scarcely started), so equality of outcome would more easily be achieved by preventing me from doing so.

So having got me into a state school where the teachers were pre-warned against me and did their best to make my life a misery, my parents were only selling me the party line when they greeted my complaints about the school, and expressions of an urgent desire to leave it, with arguments on the lines of, ‘If you are so unhappy at school, I can’t think why you say you want to do research. If you were suited to academic pursuits you would not be so unhappy at school. And you say you want to go to university! Don’t think we mind if you don’t. It is perfectly all right by us if you don’t go at all.’

Or, in fact, ‘Despair and die.’ It always reminded me of the ghosts which appeared to Richard III in his dream in Shakespeare’s play.

‘Despair and die.’ This was in general the attitude towards me for many years. At Somerville it was, ‘It doesn’t matter if you can’t do well enough to get a research scholarship. There is no need to change your subject or allow you to improve your circumstances in any way. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get to do research or have an academic career. Research is dull. Just don’t worry about it. Despair and die.’

26 July 2007

Aphorism of the month (July)

I am not concerned that Society should try to do me good; I should only like it to try to do me less harm.

22 July 2007

Einstein "didn't need an academic post"

Before, during and immediately after 1905, [Einstein] was incapable of securing an academic post. In fact, he didn’t need one. He was perfectly able to think while working as a patent clerk in Bern. (From Bryan Appleyard’s comments about Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, Sunday Times, 3 June 2007.)

This sort of attitude is widely held, in fact by now we may say it is the received wisdom. People often tell me that I cannot complain of my position because I have just expressed a criticism of some academic goings-on (which I could not prevent myself from making, with the most passing attention, however stultifying and exhausting my life was being). Therefore, although I have no status, salary or financial support, and have to spend nearly all my time working very hard at investment and administration, I am evidently free to think (they say). So I can’t say I am frustrated (they say). But I do say it, and I go on appealing for workers, money, status and support of every kind. Actually this attitude to Einstein, quoted above, demonstrates the hostility to ability which is the real driving force of the modern ‘egalitarian’ ideology.

I am reminded of a conversation between one of my colleagues and the Master of an Oxford college, which took place at a social gathering. He asked what my colleague was doing now and my colleague said he was writing a book about genius. ‘Oh, there have been a lot of books about that,’ the Master announced, as if there would be nothing more to be said. My colleague said that his book was about how intellectuals were disadvantaged in modern society by the reduction in the number of people with private incomes.

‘It is not a disadvantage to have to earn a living,’ the Master said. ‘It is not possible to do concentrated intellectual work for more than three hours a day. It was no disadvantage to Einstein to have to work in the Patent Office. It did not prevent him from producing Relativity.’

However, as my colleague pointed out, Einstein had complained of being reduced to near-breakdown by working on relativity at the Patent Office, and by the stress and guilt induced by having to shovel his papers away into a drawer whenever anyone entered the room.

The fact that a Master of an Oxford college expresses such views is a clear indication of the hostility of Oxford University, and of the educational and university system generally, to the idea of innate ability and the circumstances it may need to be fully productive.

’We appeal for £1m as initial funding for a social science department in our unrecognised and unsupported independent university. This would enable it to publish analyses of the unexamined assumptions which currently protect from criticism utterances by academics such as those discussed above.’ Charles McCreery, DPhil