05 June 2008

How to provoke hostility

At the last seminar I got six people, but I am afraid this may be only because the title ‘Gnosticism and Existential psychology’ contained no hint that I might be critical of modern Existentialists, such as Sartre, who are identified with the rejection of capitalism and bourgeois morality, i.e. they are identified with the destruction of civilisation by socialism.

However, I have improved my technique by making an initial exposition of my real reason for giving the seminar, to make people aware of the position of my independent university in a hostile society, and its needs for workers and supporters of all kinds. This arouses overt hostility, and some go away very quickly, but the eventual outcome from my point of view is certainly no worse than hoping I may get to talk to someone realistically at the end.

In our position, provoking the hostility to express itself openly has to be regarded as a positive achievement.

One man came early and heard the whole of this preliminary exposition. He was very hostile to the possibility that having a high IQ might mean that a person needed particular opportunities and circumstances to use it, and also that they might contribute anything useful to society which other, less intelligent people could not. He quoted the example of his great uncle (probably now dead) saying that although this uncle had a high IQ, he had not used it for anything better than creating crossword puzzles for some broadsheet newspaper, and that he hadn’t been capable of anything more even if he had had better circumstances. So this meant that having a high IQ could not ever mean that you might need better circumstances to enable you to do all the things that you were capable of, and that it could not mean that I actually needed anything more (such as a hotel environment) than I already had. He then claimed that people in general are not hostile to those with high IQs; they are just indifferent.

This man was about to waste his time (and taxpayers’ money) in Oxford starting a Masters degree in 'psychodynamics and neurolinguistics'.

He stayed a fairly long time, and when he left, he said, ‘I am off to find somebody I can do good to,’ in a rather reactive way. I replied, ‘I need someone to do good for me’. Of course he didn’t respond.

I contrasted the Gnostics with modern Existentialist philosophers, making the point that Gnosticism had been a form of Existentialism that did not lead to materialistic socialism. As I was doing so, it occurred to me that this illustrates the extreme hostility to any form of potentially centralised existential psychology that is aroused in ‘normal’ psychology. The Gnostics and the Cathars were always subject to persecution, torture and death by other Christians, and their documents suppressed, to such an extent that information about the content of the Gnostic gospels can only be gathered from what is quoted in the polemical writings of other Christians (the Gospel of Thomas being the sole exception), and information about the beliefs of the Cathars only from the records of the various inquisitions of their replies, or supposed replies, under torture.