Harold Walsby: The Paradox

The more the ordinary mind takes the opposition between true and false to be fixed, the more it is accustomed to expect either agreement or contradiction with a given philosophical system, and only to see reason for the one or the other in any explanatory statement concerning such a system. It does not conceive the diversity of philosophical systems as the progressive evolution of truth; rather, it sees only contradiction in that variety. The bud disappears when the blossom breaks through, and we might say that the former is refuted by the latter; in the same way, when the fruit comes, the blossom may be explained to be a false form of the plant’s existence, for the fruit appears as its true nature in place of the blossom. These stages are not merely differentiated; they supplant one another as being incompatible with one another. But the ceaseless activity of their own inherent nature makes them at the same time moments of an organic unity, where they not merely do not contradict one another, but where one is as necessary as the other; and this equal necessity of all moments constitutes alone and thereby the life of the whole. But contradiction as between philosophical systems is not wont to be conceived in this way; on the other hand, the mind, perceiving the contradiction does not commonly know how to relieve it or keep it free from its onesidedness, and to recognise in what seems conflicting and inherently antagonistic the presence of mutually necessary moment. – Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind

In taking general stock of the world as it exists today no intelligent being could remain unimpressed by the unique and increasingly important position occupied by science. Again, in making the most, casual comparisons with the past, nothing is more evident than that the direct influence of scientific activity upon our everyday life is growing apace; that, historically speaking, more and more of the world around us is rapidly coming under its control; that great changes in our way of living are being effected by science in ever shorter periods of time. From all sides we are continually being reminded that we live in a scientific age.

Furthermore, we are told, this is but a tithe of what is possible and what is to come – and evidently with some truth, for there is not immediately apparent any comprehensive limit (though we may feel there must be one) to the growth of science on the one hand, or to the rapidity of its development and expansion, on the other.

Yet, strangely enough, this great increase in the mastery of our environment is attended by a most extraordinary and outstanding contradiction. For the application by man of his new power largely results in making life less secure and more hazardous for the great mass of the people.

With this increasing control over our environment, provided for us in the first place by science, we ourselves become more and more like straws raised by the blast of the ever-quickening tempo of scientific and technological development. “It cannot be denied,” said Sir Arthur Eddington, in his New Pathways in Science, “that for a society which has to create scarcity to save its members from starvation, to whom abundance spells disaster, and to whom unlimited energy means unlimited power for war and destruction, there is an ominous cloud in the distance though at present it be no bigger than a man’s hand.”

Moreover, the scientists themselves are not, on the whole, secluded from this unintentional effect of the new forces they have produced; and, in point of fact, as a consequence of it, find their scientific labours in many ways frustrated. The risks and uncertainties arising from the peculiar nature of life in modern society are shared (if not equally, at least to some extent) by the overwhelming majority, especially in wartime. Poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, industrial disease, bodily injury and violent death – to mention some of the worst features – are only too common and too well-known in this vaunted age of science to need any description or emphasis. Those who are not either visited by or exposed to any of these conditions are few indeed.

Are these social evils a necessary consequence of scientific development? Are they, as some suppose, the price we have to pay for too much science?

When we consider the enormous and growing power that science is placing at our disposal; when we think of the innumerable ways, means and methods given us by modern science, whereby we are enabled, with increasing rapidity, to alter and adapt our material environment to our needs, i.e., to produce abundant wealth; when at the same time we realise that the practical use to which these discoveries are put is left mainly to a class of private individuals whose prime aim, in deciding whether to exploit or suppress an invention, is to make as much money for themselves as possible; when, in addition, we realise that the administration of affairs arising out of these conditions is in the hands of men, no doubt well-meaning but with relatively no scientific knowledge or understanding of the real problems they are called upon to solve, and who have been elected to office by largely ignorant, indiscriminating and unscientifically-minded masses – when we reflect upon all this then I think we must conclude that the evil is not too much science but rather too little.

“If, then,” wrote the psychologist McDougall, “we have reason to be profoundly dissatisfied with the state of our civilization, we shall do well to consider whether there is not some radical defect in our knowledge, more especially in the systematically organised part of our knowledge we call Science.” And again: “My thesis is that in order to restore the balance of our civilization, in order to adjust our social, economic and political life to the violent changes which physical science has directly and indirectly produced, we need to have far more knowledge (systematically ordered scientific knowledge) of human nature and of the life of society than we yet have.”

Despite the fact that science is indissolubly bound up with the multifarious techniques of civilised life, it cannot be denied that the organisation of civilised life as a unified whole is more haphazard and governed by expediency than it is scientific. By almost common consent it is ruled inadmissible that science, applied so successfully in our control of material nature, should have anything to say in our frantic efforts to control human nature. Why is it that science and politics have, in practice, so little in common when, from a practical point of view, they have complementary and mutually interpenetrating objects? Politics is the technique of government, of control of human society; science, in its wider sense, is the technique by which human beings master or control their environment. Is not human society part of the human environment? Why then do we keep science and politics in two independent and watertight compartments? Have they really nothing whatever to say about each other?

The widespread, almost universal, assumption is that the general settlement of social problems is purely a question of political opinion or of “practical” politics; on in which science, as such, has and can have no direct part and no say. In the, past scientific and literary men have contributed in no small measure to the maintenance of this attitude by a frequently expressed prejudice that the subject-matter of politics is forever outside the scope of scientific method. It is a long established idea among scientists that it is not the business of science to say how its results shall be socially applied; that the limits of its social uses are solely the responsibility of the layman. Science must not “meddle in politics.” For instance, in his contribution to Science and the Changing World, Sir Oliver Lodge says: “(Machines) are made possible by science, but the responsibility for their use or abuse belongs not to science but to civilisation. If so-called civilisation allows machinery to sap human freedom and enslave mankind, science washes its hands of any such egregious folly.” In recent times, it is true, there has been some awakening on the part of a number – a minority – of scientists and scientific writers, who have urged that science cannot, consistent with its own aims and the best interests of its development, stand by disinterested and aloof from politics. Probably three main external influences have converged to help produce this change. One was the rise of communism in Russia and another the rise of fascism. The sharp contrast provided by Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany in their respective treatments of science and scientists, undoubtedly did much to undermine the conception of a “neutral” science aloof and untouched by political struggles. It showed that, if science is disinterested in the trend of politics, at any rate politics is not disinterested in the trend and fate of science. It showed, in short, that science cannot remain always unaffected by what happens in the political sphere. The third factor was the approach and onset of the Second World War, when science was once again to be put in harness and exploited to the full for the mass destruction of life and property.

The result of these and other influences has been an outcrop of books and pamphlets over a period of the last few years, dealing with the status of science in society – its social function, attitude, frustrations, relations and so forth. Yet, despite these evidences of a growing conviction that science cannot continue altogether outside the sphere of politics, neutral and indifferent to the manner in which its discoveries are applied, the rigid division customarily drawn between the two fields and their mutual exclusiveness in practice, still remain.

In view of the foregoing it would seem pertinent to consider the following question: in what manner and to what extent can science, with any benefit to mankind, enter the domain of politics? After all, it is not much use to assert that science must drop its impartiality and quit being indifferent to the political scene, if nothing is forthcoming to indicate what sort of positive action is to be taken in the matter.

Unfortunately, any implications of a practical kind, in most of the literature dealing with the problem of science and society, appear to be either somewhat obscure or entirely lacking. While most of these writers seem generally agreed on the type of economic changes which are necessary for a more scientifically organised society, they give no indication of how science can help in bringing these economic changes about. That is to say, science can assist the necessary economic and technological reorganisation but it must remain dumb on practical political matters and political theory, on, how this reorganisation can actually be politically effected. The scientifically-minded are merely left to take sides in the chaos of unscientific, controversial political theories, techniques and tactics which characterises modern political life. Thus, in practice, science as such is still effectively barred from participation in politics. There is certainly no evidence of an organised and coherent political theory capable of general, or at least wide, acceptance by men of science. Although there may be among them a higher proportion which tends toward the Left, scientists and scientifically-minded people are, on the whole, almost as divided as the layman when it comes to political theory.

Useful as it is to draw notice to a problem, the time must come when this is not enough. Writers are usually still content to dwell at great length on the negative aspects of the question; that is, they concentrate mainly on drawing attention to the existing social conditions as they relate to, restrict and canalise the development of science and its technological applications. They declare or (more often) imply that the removal of these conditions will allow the full or better utilisation of scientific discovery for the benefit of the whole community. But again little or nothing is said about how those conditions are to be or can be changed. Whatever their respective views may be on this most important topic they are usually left undeclared, though sometimes, the writers concerned assert that this matter can safely be left to the growing understanding and intelligence of the non-scientific masses! As scientists or writers on science, they cannot openly avow their political convictions presumably for fear of compromising their scientific objectivity.

This reluctance to step boldly into the political scene, on the part of those who reject the notion of a neutral science, only serves to underline the lack of science in politics and the crying need for scientific political theory.

If the scientific taboo on politics and the political taboo on science can be broken down at all, if this social barrier between the two can be removed and the way paved towards a scientific control of human society, then – the present writer is firmly convinced – it can only come from a sound theoretical development and application of scientific method to the political subject-matter: that is, to man’s social consciousness. On this view the penetration must be mutual. Science can only become political in so far as politics becomes scientific. It cannot be a one-sided affair; science cannot enter politics with political theory remaining in its present controversial and anarchical condition.

Here, then, when we contemplate the general dearth of scientific understanding of political phenomena and the prevailing ignorance of the laws of political development, we are approaching the main source of the present social barrier between these two great fields of human activity – fields which, as I think can dearly be shown, while formerly so distinct, contain per se no underlying, irreconcilable difference, but rather, are so fundamentally and essentially the same, they are truly but one field with two broad subdivisions.

Meanwhile, in the intervals of peace, with poverty and unemployment on every hand, much-needed wealth is produced only to be destroyed in order to maintain or raise market prices. The abundance, made possible by science, cannot be sold and used. More and more producers are dismissed their jobs and markets contract still further. The unsold wealth goes on piling up while, faced by a dwindling home market, the industrialists of each nation exert pressure upon their governments in the vain endeavour to increase or maintain their exports. Then, in the feverish and desperate struggle for markets at all costs, the governments of the nations come into conflict with one another over technical questions of territory, minorities, resources, colonies, raw materials etc., etc. This conflict eventually leads to open warfare – and, in these days, to modern world war with its mass slaughter and destruction on an ever-increasing scale. “Germany must export” cried Hitler before the Second World War, “or die!”

Continue reading The Domain of Ideologies by Harold Walsby (1947)
Part I Mass Groups and Intellectual Groups
Forward | The Paradox | The Political Groups | The Left Wing and IntellectualismThe Masses and Emotional Suggestibility | Fear of the Group | Political Collectivism | Political Individualism | The “Mass Rationality” Assumption
Part II Ideological Structure and Development
The Ideological FieldDefinition of Ideology | Cognitive Assumptions | The Process of Assumptions | The Absolute Assumption | Identification | Development and Repression | Conclusion | Bibliography | Index