George Walford: Editorial Notes (42)

REVOLUTION is supported mainly by the working class, but so is reaction and – even more important – so is apathy.

SIR ROBERT MARK, former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, defined a good police force as one that employed fewer criminals than it caught; he noted that the Met did not then meet this criterion. [This remark was withdrawn in Ideological Commentary 44.] ¬†On the other hand there is the sticker said to have been seen on the bumper of an American police car: “When in trouble, call a hippie.”

PROGRESS: “I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which when looked at in the right way, does not become still more complicated.” (Arthur Komberg) [1]

THE PRUDENTIAL spent untold millions buying up estate agencies just before the biggest slump to hit house sales for forty years. It now offers – for a price – to advise the rest of us how to handle what money we have.

POVERTY is perhaps a less tricky concept than freedom, but it still has its queer angles. One definition gives the poor as those receiving less than half the average income, and this means that an increase in the wages of any workers receiving the average income or above increases the numbers of the poor.

RECENT news reports include one that an Australian is claiming the Tichborne baronetcy, extinct since 1968. The odd thing about it is that the report [2] does not mention the previous Tichborne Claimant, who provided a law-court sensation around the turn of the century.

WEAPONS development seems to be taking a new turn with the introduction by the Russians of genetic poisons that do nothing worse than produce violent diarrhoea and uncontrollable weeping, and even those lasting only for a defined time. [3] Won’t be long before the battlefield is safer than the motorway.

SHIRLEY TEMPLE was startled when one of the heads of MGM exposed himself to her; she had thought of him as a producer rather than an exhibitor.

BLASPHEMY indicates not so much freedom from religious inhibitions as a struggle to overcome them. If you doubt that, just try thinking blasphemous thoughts about Zeus or Osiris.

In his Letter to Lord Byron, Auden has one verse noting how refinement has been taking over. It is coming to be thought unhygienic to kiss, vegetarianism is spreading, and as even that becomes intolerable to the new sensitivity we have to expect A Society of Everybody’s Aunts for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants. That was written in 1936, when the rest of us had not begun to conceive of AIDS, or the green movement.

ANDREI Sakharov expresses alarm at the widesprea tendency for even the very young in the USSR to concentrate on their careers, ignoring everything except their individual interests. [4] Seventy years of strenuous efforts to impose collectivist ideas have not noticeably weakened this attitude. In the USSR as elsewhere a minority acknowledge wider responsibilities, Sakharov himself among them, but there is little indication that proposals relying on a general shift in this direction hold out any brighter prospect now than they have done in the past.

JAMES Franck, Nobel prizewinner and atomic physicist, has remarked on the tendency of scientists to select, from the infinite mass of problems facing them, the simple ones which seem likely to be solvable with the intellectual resources already available. This, together with their practice of severer criticising all results obtained, has the effect that the know little but know that little with great certainty. He went on to regret the inability of scientists to apply their principles to political and social problems.

“With the introduction of agriculture, mankind entere upon a long period of meanness, misery and madness from which they are only now being freed by the beneficent operation of the machine.” (Bertrand Russell) [5] Agreeing that the machine is beginning to lift the burdens of labour and scarcity, it still seems a bit hard to blame agriculture alone for their imposition. Several other things arrived together with agriculture among them government, war, taxes and exploitation. While it is doubtless true that these cannot exist without agriculture, neither can agriculture exist without them, and when two (or more) things are consistently found together it is very hard to say which (if either) is responsible for the other.

AMONG the questions which seem to have slid into the background of public discussion recently is that o the mode of thought used by the tribal peoples. Lucien Levy-Bruhl had a good deal to say on the subject. Studying the work of earlier anthropologists he came to the conclusion that these peoples used (one can almost say, suffered from) “pre-logical” reasoning, something he believed our civilisation to have left far behind. Rudolf Arnheim suggests he got it quite the wrong way round, remarking that in reading Levy-Bruhl’s accounts of “those curious ways of dealing with causal and-social relations, one could not help sensing that, far from being confined to the unsophisticated, those modes of thinking were universally human, alive in all of us.” [6]

Notes and References:
[1] Quoted in TLS 29 September 1989
[2] Sunday Times 1 October 1989
[3] Sunday Times 1 October 1989
[4] Quoted in TLS 29 Sept 89
[5] Quoted in Jungk R., 1987, Brighter Than a Thousand Suns; a personal history of the atomic scientists. Penguin, 41.
[6] Quoted in Copi I. M. 1972 Introduction to Logic, London & NY: MacMillan 67

from Ideological Commentary 42, November 1989.