19 July 2011

The Tavistock Clinic

copy of a letter

It is certainly not the case (as people have often assumed) that we did not want people to have outside careers. Charles McCreery was very dubious and critical of what was going on in modern psychiatry and experimental psychology and therefore was not much attracted by either, but the penniless dropout option was even worse and he certainly never considered it.

I had set up the Institute as a way of getting back into a recognised academic career for myself in which so far I had failed.

This made it all the more desirable that new associates should have the best careers they could, so as eventually to lend their support as statusful academics to my applications for re-entry.

Everything depended on getting enough money for an adequate institutional environment. Certainly the objective of our fund-raising was to set up a research institute large enough for research to be carried on within it with adequate living circumstances for intellectuals, the research being of a kind that would constitute a claim on recognition by socially authorised academia. If we had got adequately set up, it seemed a possibility that Charles might work with us doing research, instead of (at least in the first instance) having a salaried career outside. Then one would have been considering how we could aim the work we were doing at getting a D.Sc for each of us to stake a claim to university status as a senior level.

Professor H.H. Price, however, had been unhelpful when I talked to him about what qualified for a D.Sc. Work had to be published in the official journals; but could it be, if one did not have a university appointment? He did not say. And he offered no help in obtaining either funding for the research or a university appointment.

Everything depended on how well we could get set up financially, as the enemy realised, blocking every attempt to raise money, and slandering Charles so that he would be disinherited.

Our lives were made so difficult that, in spite of the lack of money, Charles did not pursue possibilities at either the Tavistock Clinic or the Department of Experimental Psychology. Due to the constant hostility, the merest physical survival became a problem.

Then of course we could be (and were) represented as preferring to live in poverty instead of having normal careers. If we had been well enough set up to do research in adequate circumstances, Charles might have preferred doing that to what was open to him either as a clinical psychologist or doing a D.Phil at the Department. But nothing could have been worse than what happened; all ways ahead blocked, impoverished and besieged. Well, I suppose what would have been even worse would have been if they had been able to pin something on one of us, so that we were at their mercy as criminal wrongdoers. I am sure they would have liked to.

As it was, they could only pretend that we had deliberately chosen our position as impoverished outcasts, on account of some weird ‘interests’.

Somerville College, of course, represented me as ‘free to follow my interests’, and Charles’s family placed similar interpretations on him.

Forty years later, we are still essentially facing the same problems. We are seeking to restore our rightful positions in mainstream academia, as well as seeking funding for our institution, but are still blocked by the hostility of modern society to genuine ability, and to genuine independence and real impartiality. Of course, the hostility takes the form of the spurious theory that anything worth supporting is already going on inside universities, and anything outside should be stigmatised.