PSI Circular Number One (January 1979)

Coming Attractions
PSI Open Meeting: Friday Jan 12 at [address] for 8.00. COLIN FRY, Co-Ordinator of the Environment Information Group, will speak on AN APPROACH TO THE SYSTEMATIC ANALYSIS OF ECOLOGICAL IDEOLOGY.

Mensa Think-In: On Thursday 8 February at 8.00 pm George Walford will speak at the National Liberal Club, [address] on THE POWER OF IDEOLOGY. Admission to this is 40p. Not sure whether it is an “all welcome” or “MENSA members only.” Ask one of our MENSA people: Alan Mayne, Margaret Chisman, Charles Sprague.

Modern Maimonides
One of the more interesting books to be issued in paperback recently is “A Guide for the Perplexed” by the late E. F. Schumacher, already well-known as the author of “Small is Beautiful.” (Dr. Schumacher does not say whether his use of the usual English version of Maimonides’ title is intentional.) An account of the book, with notes on the author, will be found in HOLON No. 2 (ask Alan Mayne). It is best to read that account as well as the book itself.  Here we offer only a few disconnected comments.

The book is religion in, if one may say so, an orthodoxly unorthodox way.  The highest endeavour is “strenuously and patiently to keep in mind straining and stretching towards the highest things, to Levels of Being above my own.”  (p. 156)  The book does not give much direct information about these higher Levels of Being, it is not a “guide” in the sense of one who accompanies the traveller but rather as a finger-post is a guide, sending him on alone.  It is strongly, sometimes bitterly, opposed to the excessive claims which it alleges (without much direct evidence) are made by material science.  It sometimes seems to suggest to suggest that materialistic science has led man to regress from a higher condition he enjoyed in earlier times: “It has destroyed all faiths that pull mankind up and has substituted a faith that pulls mankind down.” (p. 135)  Yet the religious leaders of former times did not believe that people then were on a generally high religious level; their constant complaint, from times long before materialistic science was thought of, was of disregard for spiritual things: “Eyes and they see not, ears and they hear not.”  That was said long before science became a prominent influence.

This repudiation of the mechanistic, parastatic ideology, together with the insistence on the need for self-awareness and personal effort to achieve understanding, locates the book in the eidodynamic.  It is difficult to be more specific.  The general effect is that it tries to convey apprehension of wholeness with no specific conception of its nature, and that would tend to link it with the protodynamic.  But there are occasional indications of dialectical thinking: “How can opposites cease to be opposites when a ‘higher force’ is present?” (p. 146)  There are also passages which seem, by comparison with the rest of the book, almost naive.  On page 28 Dr. Schumacher scorns the idea that two plus tow might ever equal anything but four.  Did he ever try adding two heaps of sand to two heaps of sand?

On another occasion Dr. Schumacher can come very close to what PSI is saying: “Societies need stability and change, tradition and innovation; public interest and private interest; planning and laissez-faire; order and freedom; growth and decay; everywhere society’s health depends on the simultaneous pursuit of mutually opposed activities or aims.” (p. 147)  One is left with the impression that Dr. Schumacher has been even less successful than most of us who struggle with these things at getting his assumptions sorted out and integrated.  This may have been because he has more to sort out, a richer mind, than most of us.

Conservative Conservationists
Systematic ideology indicates that the ecological movement is eidodynamic.  This being so, one expects to find the Conservatives (eidostatic) not supporting it, but there is a Conservative Ecological Group and it has issued statements by Conservative MPs in support of its work. (Issued with them are statements by representatives of the Group)  It looks as though we are wrong, as though a significant proportion of Conservative MPs do support the ecological movement.  But when we look at what they actually say in these statements that impression quickly disappears.

Ian Lloyd MP is concerned to play down the ecological movement: “I do not believe that it can ever become the issue… (we are threatened by) disasters far more immediate and overwhelming than those in the scenarios suggested by the prophets of environmental collapse.”  And he thinks ecologically sound procedures may be compatible with an open market – i.e., a system under which everybody is free to produce and consume whatever he chooses.

The Rt. Hon. Peter Walker, MBE MP, believes that supporting the ecological movement means demanding more motorways.  He complains: “The programme to by-pass our historic towns with proper roads has been deferred.”

Not one of the seven MPs who contribute regards population control as important or empasises a need to reduce consumption.  Their general approach is something like this: “Well, yes, we shall have to be careful, and we must certainly stop using capital as income, the way those Labour people are doing.  But provided we are thrifty and the people are sensible – as they always are – we shall get through all right.  We shall be able to carry on much as we have been doing.”

These CEG papers support the classification of the ecological movement as eidodynamic, ideologically cognate with the Left rather than the Right.  The only puzzle is that the CEG should have thought them worth issuing, and the obvious explanation is that these were the best statements they could get, that other Conservative MPs are even less inclined to support the ecological movement.

It is perhaps not wholly without significance that the people who contribute to these papers as representatives of the CEG are not MPs.  It seems to be those Conservatives who do not support the ecological movement with any great enthusiasm or understanding who win the approval of Conservative Selection Committees and Conservative voters; it seems to be they who best represent the Conservative Party.

Note: The above comments are based on a very inadequate sample of the work of CEG.  Do you have any evidence, concerning relations between the ecological movement and any one of the main parties, that tends to confirm or contradict what has been suggested here?

Notes for Speakers
In discussion questions and comments from all angles.  It is often necessary to fend off those that would distract attention from the theme one is trying to develop, and these notes are intended to provide ready ammunition for that purpose.

1. Q: What practical use is it?

This is one of the most common.  The answer is to point out that action which is in the full sense practical is successful action.  In social affairs this cannot be done by instinct; it needs correct theory, and this is what we are trying to provide.

But if the question is asked in such a way that a put-down is called for then this answer can be adapted, with varying degrees as required.  The first is to point out that the implied distinction, between a wooly-minded theoretical speaker and a down-to-earth practical questioner, does not in fact exist. By his question the questioner has shown himself to be concerned with understanding, the theory.

A bit sharper: I wish you had told me we were going in for practice this evening; I’d have brought my pick-axe and overalls.

If the questioner is being really hostile: Just round the corner there’s a hole in the road.  If you really are concerned with practice you ought to be round there filling it in, not sitting here arguing with me.

2. Q: Is the theory of systematic ideology influenced by Hegel (Freud, Marx… )?

A: Yes, very much so.  Also by (Freud, Marx, Hegel, Adam Smith, Aristotle… ).

The Future
There is material in hand for the next issue of this CIRCULAR (Most of it from Margaret Chisman), but contributions are needed for following ones.  The shorter the better.

Project for Systematic Ideology