George Walford: To Start You Thinking

Margaret Chisman, Opening the Mind’s Eye; Exercises in Truth, Beauty and Goodness. London, Institute for Social Inventions, 1988, wrappers, pp 40, illus., £2.50

A series of 59 exercises which ‘will give social permission to explore, discover and discuss various outlooks, ways of life, belief systems, mores, morality and aesthetics.’ To give one (slightly abridged) example:

Football hooliganism, vandalism, riots and extreme racialism are examples of the misplaced expression of strong emotions. Imagine that the government has decided to remedy this by setting up a Ministry of the Emotions; and that you have been appointed as the Senior Adviser. Give details of your proposals.

That indicates the approach taken throughout, the emphasis laid on things held to be wrong with existing society. Some of them are linked with social tendencies (‘the false standards set by our culture and by advertisers’) but it is not suggested that they may all derive from one common root (such as private ownership, or authoritarianism) which will need treatment if they are to be resolved. The book tends to encourage, if not single-issue campaigning, certainly a treat-each-issue-independently approach. These features locate the work around the centre of the ideological range, which means that unlike the more integrated (and usually more aggressive) approaches, it enjoys the prospect of a sizeable pool of potential readers.

On at least one point Opening the Mind’s Eye is ahead of IC. Under the heading “Charity is not Enough” it maintains that although charitable donations may help the sufferers in the short term, and doubtless do the givers good, there is a risk that they may make long-term solutions more difficult. That was obviously in preparation well before IC32 made the same point in ‘Charity Perpetuates Poverty.’

No reviewer worth his space fails to take issue with the author on at least one point, and it seems to us that the present work is perhaps a little over-ready to identify its author’s views with Truth (it sometimes uses the capital). The Introduction asserts that to claim one’s own ideology or religion as the whole truth is infantile, that the modern mode is one of blatant materialism, and that for truth, beauty and goodness to have an important place in our lives social change is necessary. Not everybody will accept those statements as self-evidently true, and neither will all football hooligans, rioters and extreme racialists agree that these expressions of their emotions are misplaced. Indeed, much of the trouble in the world can be linked with the presence of differing views on these issues.

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Honourable performance of duty is more truly just than rigid enforcement of right.

There are not many statements of that brevity which hit off with comparable precision a major distinction between the domination (epistatic, conservative) ideology and the precision (parastatic, liberal) one. It comes from Ruskin, quoted by J. Morris in Heaven’s Command p. 379.

SYSTEMATIC IDEOLOGY in a sentence: There’s no highbrow in any lowbrow, but a lot of lowbrow in every highbrow.

from Ideological Commentary 34, July 1988.