Social Science Association: Science and Social Problems

Science and Social Problems

… a new stop in knowledge …

The Main Problem

The growing permeation by science of our everyday lives provides a subject for considerable comment and speculation. Whether it be welcomed or decried, whether its constructive or destructive results be stressed, it none the less is a fact which claims the attention of those who – in one way or another – interest themselves in the progress of modern society.

Its impact in recent years has been greater than ever, especially during the war. This circumstance brings to light a curious paradox – a paradox with terrible consequences for millions of men, women and children.

Throughout its history – and particularly during the last 100 years or so – scientific discovery has been used to make possible a greater and greater output of society’s wealth; it has been used to increase man’s control over his environment. Yet with this increase in environmental control have come bigger and more devastating wars. Let us put the paradox in this way: the development of science brings an increasing (extensive and intensive) control of environment; under the present social order this in turn results in greater accumulations of wealth, mainly in the form of unsold commodities; this brings slump conditions with a social environment – which none desires – of poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, etc., for millions throughout the world; the resulting widespread discontent is largely canalised into channels which ultimately foster the international competition for political control of, and access to, the world’s markets and sources of cheap raw materials; quarrels over these in the form of colonies or territory – despite other pretexts – ultimately produce the horrific environment of modern world war, which the vast majority of people (though they fear war, and earnestly wish to avoid it) are compelled willy-nilly to support and maintain, both morally and actively. Wherein lies the paradox? In this: that man’s increasing control of his environment produces an environment which he least desires.

The Economic Solution “In Vacuo

Now, if this were the whole social problem, to be settled by simply prescribing the appropriate economic solution, it would be a comparatively easy matter for any scientifically-minded person (with a knowledge of the economic structure and development of society) to deal with. The answer to the problem would be: Simply transform the present national system of private ownership of means of social production (land, factories, mines, transport etc.) into an international or world system of common ownership and democratic control of those means. Thus all wealth would be produced for use and not for sale or profit. There would be no necessity for money, or other universal means of exchange, since all personal needs would be produced in abundance and distributed. In other words, everyone would have unrestricted and equal access to the wealth produced. There would therefore be no poverty, no crime, no unemployment, no malnutrition, no economic competition, no wars, no prostitution – in fact, none of the social evils arising out of the present system, which bars the overwhelming majority from free access to wealth. The wage-system would go – together with many other things like the armed forces, police, lawyers, judges, prisons, salesmen, advertising, cashiers, banks, stocks and shares, national frontiers, politics, political leadership, state machinery and so on.

But unfortunately the problem is not quite so simple as it may seem, though it is true that for over 100 years a small minority of intellectuals in the most advanced countries has strenuously advocated just the solution we have broadly outlined above. And this brings us to the real crux of the problem: (1) it is obvious this solution takes for granted, and rests upon the assumption, that it is inevitable or possible for everybody (or at least the huge majority) in human society to be dominated in their beliefs and behaviour by objective reason and logic, to adopt a rational, scientific attitude to social life – in other words to rid themselves of their unwarrantable ideological assumptions (an emotional attachment to which, even after exposure, is so characteristic of the non-scientific approach); (2) today, after a century or more of strenuous, active propaganda and discussion of this solution – though its advocates have increased by a comparative few – the broad mass of people show little or no interest in it; [1] nor, indeed, does a detailed study of political and ideological development provide any sign or evidence that the assumption contained in the solution has any fact to support it or any objective justification whatever; on the other hand, there is much conclusive factual evidence to the contrary.

The Unwarrantable Assumption

Thus it turns out that the assumption is an unwarrantable one. For though it is true that the number of those who have adopted it has increased and will go on increasing, the evidence shows that the masses who occupy the lower, non-scientific ideological layers are increasing at a much greater rate, and moreover will go on increasing at a greater rate. This process produces an increasing differentiation of the ideological field – increasing differentiation being one of the most fundamental characteristics of evolution. It is significant that the intellectual minority referred to – despite the basic position this assumption occupies in their views and outlook, and notwithstanding the lack of evidence for it – make little or no study and profess no special knowledge of ideological development. The fact is, of course, they have become emotionally attached to the assumption, and in spite of continual frustration find it hard and even mentally painful to relinquish it. They cling desperately and tenaciously to it, just as, indeed, the masses cling tenaciously to their assumptions.

How did this particular assumption arise? How did it come to be included in, and to underlie, the outlook of this intellectual minority? The study of ideologies shows that these fundamental assumptions do not spring up suddenly, out of the blue so to speak, but gradually develop and pass through stages of evolution, during which they undergo great changes of form; so that when we compare two widely separated stages in the evolution of an ideological layer, or similarly separated stages in the ideological development of the individual – the last recapitulates the first – we find the two sets of underlying assumptions so different as to appear mutually to exclude each other. The answer to our question, then – how did this particular assumption arise? – is that it gradually evolved out of other and more primitive assumptions.

Now it can be shown that a similar assumption is implied in the outlook of a wider group of people outside of the small group we have mentioned – though in the case of this wider group the assumption is more hidden, is not so clearly developed and differentiated as with the latter. This is due to the fact that the assumption is in a slightly earlier stage of ideological evolution. In general it can be said that the assumption tends to underlie the social outlook of those people who have developed or approached that type of scientific attitude which is largely limited to the influence and success of the physico-chemico-biological sciences.

Light on the Paradox

We are now in a position to throw some light on the paradox introduced at the beginning of this discussion.

During the past 150 years, as is well known, the sciences of matter, the mechanical, physical, chemical and biological sciences, have progressed – under social and economic pressure – at an unprecedented rate. On the other hand, the sciences of mind, of human nature and affairs, have lagged lamentably far behind. However, as we have asserted earlier in this paper, the development of science brings an increasing control of environment. This great progress of only some of the sciences has meant, then, a one-sided development: a rapidly increasing control over our material environment but precious little over our human or mental environment – knowledge and mastery over material nature; ignorance and impotence with human nature.

As C. K. Ogden writes in “The A.B.C. of Psychology“:

The most mysterious thing in the universe to man is at present himself, his own mind and nature… Nowadays his tendency is to conceive himself as far as possible in terms of his knowledge of the outer world… so civilisation as a whole, diminished and frustrated by that epitome of psychological failure. Armageddon, is still evading the cosmic issue. Vaguely apprehensive that the old solutions in their traditional form can no longer be squared with the facts, we either wistfully amplify the intellectual carminatives of the past, or strive to accommodate some morbific phantom which we conjure up to screen us from the abyss. But we must dare to be wise, and the way to wisdom lies through knowledge of ourselves.

Thus we can now see how the paradox arises: man’s increasing control over his immediate material environment, and the lack of scientific control of his human and social environment, produces the environment of war, poverty, unemployment, etc., etc. Why, we may ask, if there is such a crying social need for their development have the sciences of the mind and society, of psychology and especially of ideology, failed to progress like the other sciences? One important reason is that, as we have seen, a false assumption concerning the human mind and its ideological evolution tends to underlie the social outlook of those people who develop an interest in science. It is but another aspect of our paradox and we can phrase it this way: those who have developed scientific ideas about matter and its evolution tend at the same time to have developed unscientific ideas (or assumptions) about ideas and their evolution. The result is for the scientific intellectual to produce or accept a technical economic solution for our social problems “in vacuo,” divorced and apart from the ideological limitations of the broad masses of people – through whom, in democratic society, any proposed economic reorganisation must be brought into being, and without whose support and approval economic reorganisation, however “scientific” economically, remains an academic curiosity.

Formation of the S.S.A.

It was along these original lines of thought that Harold Walsby was led when, in 1935, he began a systematic study of ideologies and ideological development. After some years of hard work and patient research his investigations were eventually to lead to his discovery of the Demos [2] and the mechanisms of its development. It was in 1941 that Walsby, realising the practical political and social implications of his discoveries and theories, started a series of informal discussions and lectures to a number of scientifically minded people, who studied these new developments with a view to their eventual propagation and their inclusion as part of a theoretical basis for a scientific political movement. Thus it came about in October, 1944, that a number of these people undertook the foundation of the Social Science Association for the primarily educational purpose of:

(a) promoting a study of the mass by politically-minded scientific workers and thinkers;

(b) publicising science among the masses, particularly the idea (stated in simple, popular form) of organised social science in political control.

For, if this “invasion” by science of politics is to be effective and practical, a mutual – if not equal – understanding and sympathy must be achieved between science and the mass of people. This interdependence is not unrecognised by others. For instance, at the 1943 Conference of the Association of Scientific Workers, Sir Robert Watson-Watt (its president and the inventor of radiolocation) spoke of the task of “the education of our masters, the public, in the things we might do for them were we permitted”; and Dr. D. S. Evans affirmed: “It thus becomes our duty to go to the people at large, through the media of the press, the radio, and the film, to point out what science can do for them in the reconstruction and improvement of our civilisation.”

Membership and Structure

There are two kinds of membership of the S.S.A.: ordinary or Associate members and full, active or Fellow members.

Associate members do not have to commit themselves beyond the acceptance of the broad principle supporting the application of scientific method to social problems. Associate membership is open to all who care to join and the subscription is five shillings yearly.

Fellow members, on the other hand, are required to demonstrate – either by written paper or verbal address – a certain standard of scientific comprehension of social and political problems. Decisions of the Association are taken by vote of the Executive Committee, democratically elected from these members. This ensures that the control of the S.S.A. remains in the hands of those who fully understand its object and purposes. Except in special circumstances, decided by the E.C., the yearly subscription for Fellow members is not less than five pounds, payable quarterly, half-yearly or annually.

How You Can Help

If you wish to assist the S.S.A. in its work the best way to start is by becoming an Associate member yourself, by reading and talking about our literature, and by persuading others to do the same. The five-shilling yearly subscription for Associate membership entitles you to free copies of all publications in the Social Science Series (sent post free) and admittance to all meetings, lectures, etc., of the Association. Those with special knowledge or abilities (particularly those who can write, lecture, organise, etc.), who are willing to take a more active part, either as Associate members or Fellow members are invited to communicate with the Secretary; and the S.S.A. will also be grateful to those who can forward books, pamphlets, cuttings and quotations dealing with science, politics and related subjects.

If you are interested write at once to the Secretary, Social Science Association, [address], from whom further copies of this paper may be obtained (3s. per dozen, post free)

[1] For example, the Communist Manifesto written in 1848 by Marx and Engels soon became a famous document and, since nearly a century ago, has probably sold in millions throughout the world. Yet how many people have accepted its contents and implication? An infinitesimal few – and the position in Russia is no exception, as recent events tend to show.

[2] The Demos is Walsby’s term for the whole hierarchic system and organic unity of the differentiated, interacting ideological layers which together constitute the mental aspect of society; or the social mind. Many writers on social psychology before Walsby have suspected or accepted the existence of the social or group mind, but none has been able to give any detailed account of its interrelations, its structure or the mode of its growth and evolution.

circa 1944