28 August 2007

Tribal versus territorial morality

Extract from my book Letters from Exile:

Essentially, there are two conflicting fields of morality or idealism. The first is old-fashioned territorial morality, of the kind promulgated in public schools and Catholic convents. Then there is neo-tribal morality, antagonistic both to high ability and to any possibilities of psychological development in a centralised or expansive direction. But even before starting to delineate these, I have to establish the extremely agnostic basis on which I operate.

The first stage in my awareness of the existential situation originated when I was about eleven. I had shocking perceptions of the unknowability of the existential situation in which one found oneself, and a realisation that the existential uncertainty was the final term in any enquiry, philosophical or scientific, into the nature of things. This provided me with an extremely strong drive to react to the existential situation in the most purposeful way possible. Although all ascriptions of purpose were arbitrary and ultimately futile, in one sense it was fairly clear how to react to the situation.

I applied this observation, which I came to call the uncertainty principle, to any evaluations which I encountered which seemed to pass without question. The human race had evolved in the way it had, and it ran its affairs in the way it did; it was understandable enough that social groups should favour some kinds of behaviour as desirable, and others not. It was also understandable that people reacted in the ways they did as the resultant outcome of psychological forces, which were determined by evolution as well as their own experience of life and deliberate attempts to act in certain ways. So I was (and still am) a moral relativist. (Modern dictionaries of ethics say you cannot be a moral relativist, because if you really were, you would start to commit crimes. So a moral relativist who does not commit crimes is insincere.)

I suppose that these elements in my position, along with my IQ, account for the exceptionally overt hostility which I aroused. I had a strong motivational drive which was not the result of social influence, and I was rigorously relativistic in my attitude to morality. In the same way that modern ethics denies the possibility of being a moral relativist, so modern psychology asserts that all motivation and personality attributes arise from rewards offered by the individual’s environment.

Incidentally, the fact that statements of this level of unanalytical naivety are made by philosophers and psychologists in an academic context reflects the decline in the average IQ of those holding university positions, and ensures that the decline will continue, since what is required for academic success is sufficient uncriticalness to reproduce and imitate assertions of this kind.

When I was at school I never expressed my morally relativistic views, apart from the most generalised expositions of the existential uncertainty to one of the nuns at my convent (my maths teacher). However, I suppose that people sensed the unacceptability of my psychological position from an absence of the cues which most people give that they are really hooked on social approval or get some sort of emotional feedback out of the prevailing collective evaluations, probably most clearly indicated by moral indignation against nonconformists. Modern social psychology asserts that people derive their values from the group in which they are living, and clearly this is what modern society would like to be the case.

Constant reflection on the existential situation prevented me from acquiring the sort of moral indignation which most people seem to feel about certain things. This was partly the reason why I was soon an object of opprobrium myself, and have remained so ever since. By attempting to provide myself with opportunities which society did not wish me to have, I qualified as a criminal.

Also I never acquired any idea of how society should ideally be. I thought that even if I could think of something that would be better, and provide me with better opportunities for doing research, I certainly did not have the resources to bring about political changes and then do research in one lifetime, so I had better concentrate on making the best use of the social structures as they were to get the necessary opportunities for doing research. Later I came to take a far more negative, and not merely agnostic, view of human psychology, and thought that it would be absolutely impossible to influence it in any positive direction. Its psycho-dynamics were such as to ensure negative outcomes whatever ideals it professed, as with the religion of love (Christianity) which had justified so much torturing and killing.

Another illustration of this was currently being provided by the modern society in which I lived, which called itself compassionate, and which was engaged on a programme designed to convince me of its absolute mercilessness towards me and my parents. When I was thrown out at the end of my education, I formulated this as, ‘There is nothing so bad but that people will make it happen to you, nothing so bad that people will give you any help in averting it.’

People who subscribe to the modern belief in society like to associate ‘ruthlessness’ with acquisitiveness, whether of land-space or money. You could call this projection, in the Freudian sense. There is nothing so ruthless as the agent of the collective who lives for no reward in life but the exercise of power over other people.

Evidently human psychology has a tremendously strong reaction against the potential independence of the individual mind. There is plenty of historical evidence of this in its constant persecution of heretics and nonconformists, both before and after Bruno was burnt to death for saying that the universe was infinite. Persecutory drives are not absent from modern society, but more discreetly expressed, which does not mean less destructively.

Neo-tribal morality is universally dominant in schools (only a bit less so in private schools), in universities, in virtually all published material, and on the television screen. It is almost impossible to meet anyone who does not soon demonstrate allegiance to some aspect of it.

Nietzsche recognised approximately the distinction between territorial and tribal morality in his master/slave moralities, but being influenced by his own social environment, he did not get it quite right. I think it is true to say that he accepted the dichotomy too much on the terms of the tribal (Christian) morality of his time, as that between the expansively selfish and the unassuming compassionate, which is much the way it is perceived by the modern neo-tribal collectivist.

Moral indignation is directed at independence and autonomy, but more overtly at any territory, mental or physical, within which an individual can act independently of social pressures. So of course it is directed at capitalism and commercialism, as representing the possibility of acquisition by an individual of territory which is larger than that which tribal society is prepared freely to grant him. Indignation is also directed at any exercise of individual judgement within that territory. Hence it was inevitable, if my parents insisted on seeking social advice, that I would be taken away from the convent. Convents are second only to parents as objects of anti-authoritarian hatred.

22 August 2007

Language teaching: plus ca change

This is a piece I wrote in 1978 about a BBC language course. Apart from the fact that there is no longer an "East Germany", it could apply equally well today.

Listening to the BBC's Sixth Form German broadcasts, or trying to find something one can bear to listen to, may or may not improve one's German, but certainly gives an insight into the modern mind.

In a programme on the educational adventures of a German girl, great contempt was expressed for old-fashioned language teaching based on unrealistic literary narratives and grammatical rules. (The same programme, incidentally, in which we were given to understand that the offspring of the workers are at a great disadvantage in the West German educational system, but much better treated in East Germany.)

So, plainly, modern language teachers think they have a vastly superior product to purvey. It probably does have the advantage that it repels even the most colossal linguistic voraciousness, unless combined with a devotion to collectivism. Parking meters in West Germany, visits to a sewage farm and an old people's home, town and country planning, social security and the examination system, immigrant workers and juvenile delinquents.

Next term a passage for comprehension is to be broadcast, after which we will be privileged to answer the following questions:
- What have the employers tried to communicate to their work force?
- What are the first three reasons that the employee lists, which make him sad about the state of affairs?

Personally, I'd settle for Goethe any time.

15 August 2007

IQ as an ideological football

Another book to which I am unable to publish a riposte, on a topic on which I have been prevented for decades from expressing my views: IQ: The Brilliant Idea That Failed by Stephen Murdoch (Duckworth, London, 2007).

As usual, this book utilises criticism of IQ tests as an attack on the concept of IQ and other innate intellectual and psychological factors per se, all based on the assumption that the tests will be used by immoral governments, and that we have egalitarian views on the way in which governments should and should not interfere in the lives of individuals, instead of considering the possibility that they should not interfere at all, in which case the accuracy and relevance of IQ tests or other assessments would be, as it should be, beside the point.

It is analogous to the way in which Richard Dawkins considers himself able to eliminate the possibility of anything outside the range of the current human conceptual system having any reality by pointing out that the concept of God held by large populations of people did not prevent them from doing various things to one another of which modern politically correct academics disapprove.

Similarly, also, his new series (The Enemies of Reason) on frauds and deceptions associated with the possibility of conceptual extensions of scientific understanding associated with the ‘paranormal’, to which I could also very well write and publish a book in reply (if I had time – my lack of time arises from lack of status, money and manpower) will actually have no effect at all on the possibilities which he is seeking to discredit.

In fact I have no inclination to ‘believe in’ any of his targets, such as astrology, homeopathy or the Tarot. But I do not rule out, as he does, the possibility that there may sometimes be factors involved which are not known about or understood.

I do not regard most of these things as more than a possible aid to the surfacing of subconscious intuitions, but as that they may sometimes work. Not that I set any great store by subconscious intuitions either; there were plenty of people at the SPR who consulted their higher selves or divine subconsciouses all the time and (apart from anything else) their higher selves never suggested to them that they might help me as a person very much in need of help, instead of hindering and obstructing me as everyone else did, whether they considered themselves to be ‘spiritually advanced’ or ‘socialist atheist intellectual’.

Nevertheless, I do not see any reason to suppose that their openness to the promptings of their own minds had any effects worse than those which arise from openness to the suggestions of counsellors, psychiatrists, educational experts, etc.

12 August 2007

Dawkins: more straw men

Headline and lead from a recent article in the Sunday Times by Peter Millar:
The gullible age
Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion sold a million copies. In a new and hilarious onslaught he pits hard science against astrology, tarot, psychics, homeopathy and other ‘gullibiligy'. The Enemies Of Reason starts on Channel 4 on August 13.

I would have liked to publish a reply to The God Delusion entitled The Social Delusion, but I do not have Richard Dawkins’s social status; in fact I have no salary or financial support apart from what I can make for myself. My book would probably not have been reviewed, and would have been lucky to sell any copies at all.

In ‘The Enemies of Reason’ Richard Dawkins is evidently embarking on attacking another series of straw men which will be taken as proof by many people that there is no possible competition for the worldview of the modern ideology as the sole source of reality. He will not be attacking, I think, anyone funded by public money (i.e. money obtained by the taxation of individuals) or anyone with socially conferred authority as an expert — although there are many in those categories who are as deserving of his strictures as fraudulent mediums, or as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, of whom Dawkins says (quoting Peter Medawar), “He can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he took great pains to deceive himself.”

I would think that latter remark applies to a good many purveyors of supposedly ‘hard-edged’ science in the modern world.

However, unless I get a financial supporter or a Professorship, I am not going to be in a position to reply to Dawkins’s new series in detail, any more than I was to reply to The God Delusion, although I may manage to get a few snippets of what I am thinking onto my blog. Meanwhile, I reproduce below a section from my book The Lost Cause (Introduction, pp.24-25).

The perceived advantage of anomalous monism

Richard Dawkins, in The Selfish Gene, pointing out that human evolution is explicable in terms of the survival of the genes of those who behave in the ways most likely to ensure the presence of their offspring in future societies, wishes nevertheless to ascribe some independent value to ideas about how human societies should be run, and how individual human beings should behave. So he proposes the concept of a 'meme': an idea which, if it is a good one, has a survival value of its own, presumably in the context of human society. The value of the meme is not supposed to depend on selection processes as they apply to biological evolution.

Somewhat similar advantages as a solution to the dilemma of reductionism as described above are probably perceived in the anomalous monism of Donald Davidson, which may account for its influential position in philosophy of mind over recent years. While the mental is always to be regarded as an aspect of the physical, which is primary, the relationship between the mental and the physical is not law-like (i.e. is anomalous). This supposedly permits us to regard ideals of egalitarianism and collectivism, for example, or Richard Dawkins's memes, as possessing an intrinsic value of their own, even though they arise in the minds of individuals as a result of neuronal events.

Thus it seems to be implicitly accepted that such theories as anomalous monism provide an acceptable framework within which ethics about social groups can be regarded as meaningful, while individualist ethics can not. Deterministic reductionism, i.e. the theory that mental events are caused by physical ones, need not in itself have been taken as devaluing mental events, which might include individualistic ethical principles. Nevertheless, I believe it is felt, and I have heard it asserted to be the case by academic philosophers, that anomalous monism permits us to continue to ascribe emotional value loadings to the mental, i.e. to certain psychological attitudes to human interrelationships, while rejecting the mental's claim to onotological status.

Philosophically, the issues concerning morality and determinism continue to be debated. When finality on these issues has been reached, we need not suppose that it will be clearly stated and widely publicised. It is more likely that philosophers will stop discussing such things, and write as if certain conclusions could be taken for granted, rather in the way that materialist monism is the common starting point in the great majority of up-to-date books on philosophy of mind.

In fact, it is not difficult to guess what the final conclusion may be, in fact already is. The individual can have no higher freedom than that of fusion with the collective.

... to be free, people must be able to employ the material resources which they need to give effect to their choices, and this is possible only through collective control over the productive powers of society. All of these suggestions call into question the idea with which we began, of a compromise; between the freedom of the individual and the power of society, since they imply that only as social beings are people capable of exercising freedom in the first place. ('Freedom, political', Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 1991, p.292)

Only collective society retains a numinous soul, but nowadays we do not draw attention to it. We would not bother to give it grandiose names, as earlier writers did, such as sovereign or general will or Hegel's Geist.

08 August 2007

What it means to be an exiled academic

A piece I wrote some years ago

Recently I was interviewed by an undergraduate for Cherwell [the Oxford University student newspaper]. He first told me what I thought, and then told me that, in the light of my other views, I shouldn't think it. I said he was quite right; I didn't think what he said I thought, I actually thought what he said I ought to think. But I have no reason to think he was listening.

When the Cherwell undergraduate came, he asked me how we considered ourselves different from normal academics. I didn't think he would publish the answer, even if I said it, so I didn't. But maybe I ought to write down these things that other people won't publish and publish them myself.

Well, of course, I don't think of myself as different from an academic.

From the time I was about eleven, when I realised that the academic world was where you did theoretical scientific research, I expected to spend my life in the academic world and thought of myself accordingly. The fact that my education was ruined so that I couldn't be a socially accredited academic doesn't change that. One still has the same standards that one would have if one were able to have one's career inside the academic world instead of outside it.

I don't think there is anything in my life that wouldn't be in it if I were having a career in the academic world.

Of course the difference is that as a non-socially accredited academic you are debarred from earning a living, from eligibility for research grants, and from use of laboratory facilities unless you can get enough money to set up a laboratory of your own.

Another difference is that a group of private sector academics is free to do research in areas which, although not explicitly ruled out by the. professed scientific ideal, actually are ruled out by the implicit adherence to a certain ideology of the socially accredited academic world.

If that sounds like an advantage, it may be pointed out that in practice it is likely to be cancelled out by the previously mentioned disadvantages. If you could get the money, you would be free to do research in areas that a socially accredited academic probably wouldn't feel free to work in. But you can't get the money, so everyone is pretty safe really from anything that doesn't support the ideology getting done.

02 August 2007

Myths about grammar schools

The fiction continues that the grammar schools provided a way in which bright working class children could rise in the world. Thinking back over the lives of my parents’ families in East London, I suppose that the time at which the grammar schools were of most use to at least somebody was when my parents got scholarships, and that was before they were state grammar schools. There were 16 scholarships in the Borough, so only a relatively small proportion of the children had them, there were two separate departments for boys and girls, and the school still had the standards and ethos of a private school of that time.

The sort of people who most obviously benefitted from this situation to some extent were my parents’ families, socially displaced people with aristocratic genes and with high IQs. It enabled such people to rise into white-collar but strictly lower middle class jobs, which the upper class would not have touched with a bargepole. My aunts and uncles were as successful as was permitted by their bad start in life, but the ones I knew were nearly all frustrated and complaining of their lives. One uncle, branch manager of an accountancy firm in Chelmsford, groaned wearily to my mother, ‘It is just a case of finding people’s missing halfpennies for them.’

Another uncle became Head of a Department at the Local Authority and won a scholarship in a national competition (for local government employees) to go to university – any one that would take him, but he refused to take it up. My mother, perhaps unrealistically, thought him perverse for not taking it up, but where would it have got him? As he said, he could not be sure that he would get his job back at the Local Authority if he left it, and he had no assurance that he would be able to get any job better than that, however well he did. He would be a mature student and there was no guarantee of an academic career.

I know that the modern unrealistic ideology wishes you to ascribe value to ‘taking’ a degree per se, without considering what you are doing it for, but it seems that my uncle did not, or not sufficiently to set his predictable career at risk.

Quotation from review of a pernicious and tendentious modern book on IQ, to which I am prevented by lack of financial support from providing a riposte:
“The brains of our nation,” Galton proclaimed, “lie in the higher of our classes” – precisely the assumption the 11-plus was designed to challenge. (John Carey in the Sunday Times *)

If the idea of the grammar schools was to show that only poverty prevented the working class from competing on equal terms with the aristocracy, I don’t think they did that.

* from a review (Sunday Times Culture section, 8 July 2007) of IQ: The Brilliant Idea That Failed by Stephen Murdoch.

01 August 2007

Myths about early development

copy of a letter

You once quoted to me the received view that very early indications of precocity are meaningless, because ‘there are all sorts of anomalies in early development’, and I replied, ‘That is what they like to say.’ I do not take any assertions by socially appointed experts on education, IQ, child development, etc. as anything but indications of what the agents of the modern oppressive ideology would like to believe is the case, and there is no reason why that should have anything to do with objective reality.

However, this particular opinion certainly does express what they would like to believe and it is what they already wanted to believe at the inception of the Welfare State and before it, so that all concerned in my education were primarily motivated to prevent any later indication of my real exceptionality arising. If that should happen to leave me with no usable qualification at all with which to earn a living they would be only too pleased; all that mattered was to prevent any evidence arising that my early precocity had not been a flash in the pan but simply a natural expression of my real IQ.

My parents, doing their best to play along with this, had suppressed information about my early life and kept me in a state of suspended animation from 6-11. The reason I nearly got a break and a chance in life at the convent was because one or two people there, unaware of my early history and the significance of my marks in the scholarship exam, were not fully in focus on the need to keep me suppressed. I was in a relatively downtrodden state, having been marking time for five years, and could not at first have appeared too pleased with my life or with myself, being constantly apprehensive of the hostility which I aroused among the girls.

I think the reason it is regarded as so important to reject very early precocity from consideration is that it is actually the most incontrovertible evidence of innate ability. If you are really exceptional at 1 or 2, then you are really exceptional and some explanation should be provided of what has gone wrong if you appear less exceptional at a later age when the environment has had more opportunity to interfere in your life. Of course, a person’s very early circumstances may be so bad that the most exceptional ability has little opportunity to show itself, although it is nonetheless there, but if it does show itself early there can be no doubt of its continuing presence.

I might not wish to have a Department of Education in my independent university if it were not that so much that is actively untrue and pernicious is being promoted, but as it is, it is deplorable that my Department is being suppressed and being prevented from criticising what is being produced by (all?) other Departments in this area.