George Walford: The Future of S.I.

Systematic ideology has now been around for over half a century. Those critically accepting the theory have not become a large and powerful group and do not seem likely to do so. When examining the (A-) SPGB IC points out that nearly everybody who has heard its case has rejected it, and there is no good reason to expect others to respond differently; the only reasonable conclusion from the evidence is that the Party and its supporters will remain a tiny minority. This is even more true of those identified with s.i; these constitute the smallest of the main-sequence ideological groups. One might have thought that nothing could be smaller than the (A-) SPGB, but s.i. has proven otherwise.

In order to see that this is likely to be an enduring condition one has only to look at the course of ideological development. Each successive major ideology has come to be accepted by a smaller, number of people than its predecessor. With the ideology of ideologies the progressively dwindling numbers approach effective zero.

But worried readers may relax; it does not follow that s.i. is doomed to remain as ineffective as “socialism”: The frustrations afflicting the “socialists” arise from the repudiation that plays so large a part in their ideology, and in s.i. this is replaced by acceptance. There is nothing here corresponding to the “socialists” declaration of war on all other political parties, or their condemnation of existing society. Instead of repudiating the greater part of intentional human activity s.i. accepts it all (some parts of it more readily than others). Other ideologies are not seen as contradicting or opposing the ideology of ideologies but as developing and exemplifying it in their particular fields of activity; it is, after all, the ideology of ideologies, it would be nothing without all the others.

The progressive diminution of numbers along the range carries another consequence. It does not make sense to talk of an ideology without a group accepting it, and there can hardly be a group smaller than that formed by those knowingly accepting s.i. If the pattern of development holds there cannot well be any more major ideologies still to emerge, and that pattern has subsisted since the beginning of humanity, it may reach back even into the animal kingdom; we have no good reason for expecting it to change. It looks very much as though the system of sets of assuinptions, ideas, beliefs and so on, constituting the ideological structure of society, has reached maturity.

The obvious parallel is with the human anatomy, particularly the skeleton and the neural system (including the brain); beyond a certain point further development is not to be expected. What can be done after that is to extend the use of the available structure. There are no inherent limits to the acquisition of either knowledge or physical skills, [1] and nothing to suggest that the capacities of the ideological structure have been fully exploited. Rather does it seem that we have barely begun to explore them.

[1] The Sunday Times Colour Supplement, 3 March 1991, reports an entertainer able to swallow flour, drink a glass of water, and regurgitate the flour unwetted.

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ORTHODOX thinking has physical science at the cutting edge of intellectual advance, the humanities bumbling along behind; advanced political thinkers like to associate their movements with science rather than literary criticism. Systematic ideology, on the contrary, suggests that the connection of science is rather with liberalism, near the middle of the range; it links the humanities with reform and revolution.

Letters in the TLS have been discussing whether “tenured radicals” (i.e. reformers and revolutionaries) dominate humanities departments in American universities; the latest contribution (15 March) lists Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, Yale, Michigan, Duke, Princeton and Texas as institutions in which they do. That leaves the question open for many faculties, but the interesting thing is that nobody – in this correspondence at least – has even suggested that the reformers and revolutionaries might be in control of science departments.

ENTHUSIASM sometimes overcomes intelligence, the current instance being a leaflet, Welcome Home! issued by the North American Bioregional Congress, 1985. It declares that “Bioregionalism recognizes, nurtures, sustains and celebrates our local connections with” (among other things) “Native Traditions, Indigenous Systems of Production and Trade.”

North American native traditions include lynching, negro slavery and brutal suppression of strikes; its indigenous systems of production and trade include mass production, big business and nuclear power – they began there as much as anywhere. It seems unlikely that the Bioregional Congress meant to approve these activities; more probably they recognised “native,” “tradition” and “indigenous” as current buzz-words and used them without further thought.

from Ideological Commentary 51, May 1991.