Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 25. 6 October 1972

.... and in the Left Corner — ....the Right Winner

page 8

.... and in the Left Corner

....the Right Winner

In their joint article entitled 'Apolitical Science' Salient, 2-8-72), R. Campbell and P. Wilson make the demand for the institution of something called "The Politics of Dessent" into the university curriculum. Although they made it clear who would control the teaching of such a course, they did not specify its objectives.

It is futile accusing the political scientist or the economist of being non-commital, because they are the first to point out the limitations of their positivist approach. But something is wrong somewhere, for it is not obvious which discipline(s) should focus on the need for analytical tools to tackle the Great Why: Why war? Why the draft? Are we destined to follow the law of the ant's nest, where every individual has equality in slavery?

How do we recognise the seeds of totalitarianism?

And what drove Adolf Hitler to proclaim, "The intellect has grown autocratic (!) and has become the disease of life. We are now at the end of the age of reason. People put us down as the enemies of intelligence. We are. But in a much deeper sense than those conceited dolts of bourgeois scientists ever dreamed of." (Quoted in Hermann Rauschning, The Voice of Destruction.

What type of irony is intended by the cartoon around which Campbell and Wilson wrote their article? The idealists march under a banner showing the face of their leader; The activists march in victory, raising aloft the decapitated head of the idealist's leader. This cartoon projects a clear understanding of the basic political issue - perhaps it was lifted from Punch? Which principle stands for Hitler? For Stalin? Mussolini and Mao Tse-Tung? Yourself? In this context it should be asked: What are the implications of Peter Wilson accusing Professor Philpott of being "culpable" of idealism, in Wilson's article entitled, paradoxically, "Demistifying Economics"?

I ask these questions seriously, because anyone who suspects that political action cut-off from ideas is barren thuggery, will be properly indignant if, after sweating through his degree in social science or the humanities, he finds (as Campbell and Wilson put it) that he has not "been given the tools with which to understand and interpret the modern world".

The Scientists (Social) Screen

Why are the social sciences so mystifying to some who seek explanations for the enormity of 20th century brutality? Perhaps part of the mystery is due to the 'smoke-screen of jargon' (See Andre Deutsche's, The Social Sciences as Sorcery - as reviewed in Behaviour Time 25-9-72)

However the problems of the social sciences run deeper than the abstruse language of some of its high priests; The problem has its roots in the evasion of the principle, "Cognition preceeds Communication". Or, more plainly, nothing meaningful is likely to be communicated unless teacher knows what he is talking about. Although this principle seems trivial, it does not seem to be any more obvious to some (especially in politics) than one other well-known axiom: Aristotles first law, the law of Identity, "A thing is what it is".

In trying to comprehend social and political behaviour, it is clear that the first tool one needs is the possession of your own mind and a well-oiled faculty of cognition The process of integrating sensation into perception is, normally (unless inhibited by Schizo/acid/TM etc), an automatic process; But the process by which perception is integrated into cognition is not. This second level of integration depends not only on the choice to engage in the activity of thinking, but also on the integrity of the axioms implicit in one's approach. For instant not even by dint of 'dialectic' logic can one disprove the truth of the law of identity without implicitly assuming it in every word uttered. In this case, Aristotle's three principles of though cannot be disproved, but they can and often are ignored.

Nextly, the social sciences are being retarded in those areas where the almost obsessive efforts to collect data on the most minute behaviouristic details anchors one student's understanding of politics to the significance of marginal voting oscillations, and another's understanding of human psychology to the pecking order of pidgeons in a Skinner Box. Skinnerian psychology's obsession for rats as a guide to human psychology has been appropriately termed, "The ratomorphic approach" (by Arthur Koestler, The Ghost in the Machine 1st chap.). The system is weak to the degree that the concern for detail leads the social scientist to ignore the study of his principles and his objectives. Perhaps the cause of the most competent minds seeking refuge in the physical sciences is their contempt for the arbitrary and futile atmosphere in the humanities, always now under the bleak shadow of existentialism. On the other hand, as the standard of the humanities drifts downward, those who dislike the stiff intellectual competition in subjects like Maths, Physics and Engineering will drift into the humanities. In the long run both parties will be the poorer for their specialisation.

Philosophers Sharpening Pencils

The one discipline not mentioned so far is Philosophy. By reading student newspapers one could hardly be aware of its existence, much less its importance as the backbone (or cancer) of all the rest.

Modern philosophy has failed to nourish the social sciences with confident epistemological and ethical guiding principles; In their scramble after linguistic red— page 9 herrings, positivist detachment and the odd phenomenological fantasy, our philosophers have done worse than to carve themselves a comfortable little castle out of the state education system. By their silent default and 'cognitive defeatism' they have undermined that critical basis necessary' to prevent the social sciences from becoming increasingly dominated by a plethora of hangerson: pop-sociolists emerge (Alvin Toffler?), freedomhating psychologists (see B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity) and perhaps even market-hating 'economists'; By long neglect in ethics and aesthedcs the philosopher has said, in effect, "Who am I to say?" and has abandoned the Arts to justice-fearing moralists (Eric Fromm?) and existence-hating metaphysitions (Sarte).

Photo of Adolf Hitler

Well don't just stand there — negotiate!

Well don't just stand there — negotiate!

If the 16th Century was dominated by the spirit of Enlightenment, then the 20th century is dominated by the spirit of Confusion. (My existence led in confusion's boat, mutineed from stern to bow" - Dylan).

"Science", Hitler said, "is a social phenomenon, and like any other social phenomenon is (to be) limited by the benefit or injury it confers on the community." (Rauschning again). "The ideas," said Keynes, "which civil servants and politicians and even agitators apply to current events are not likely to be the newest. But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil." (Quoted in Samuelson).

Keynes also makes the observation that "madmen in authority are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back."

One rather prominent scribbler in Germany was Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote prophetically "To recognise untruth as a condition of life that is certainly to impugn the traditional ideas of value in a dangerous (effective) manner, and a philosophy which ventures to do so, has thereby alone placed itself beyond good and evil."

"We must be brave enough" said Richard Wagner (having embraced Arthur Schopenhauer's anti-rational mysticism), "to deny our intellect." And Hitler's 'reply', "Whoever wants to understand National Socialism must understand Wagner" (Quoted in Peter Vierek, 'Metapolitics: The Roots of the Nazi Mind.)

With the advent of Munich murders and letter bombs this month, the way of terrorism enters a new and horrible dimension. It would be a good time now, to re-examine Nazi and Fascist ideology and compare it to the rhetoric of Activism (anti-ideology) and Terrorism, in which rationalizing veneer of pseudo-principles is offered in defence of what amounts to systematic intimidation by naked force.

The Common Mans Fascism

Melvin Rader, in, "No Compromise" quotes James Drennen, a prominent British Fascist leader of the period: "Facism is real insurrection - an insurrection of feeling - mutiny of men against the conditions of the modern world. It is completely characteristic of this aspect of Fascism in its early stages, both in Italy and in Germany, that the movement should have grown up without either logical theory behind it or cut and dried program in front of it. The men who built Fascism in Italy and Germany, who are the 'common men', the 'men in the street' leave theories to the intellectuals and programs to the democrats who have betrayed them for a century. The Fascist....... acts, in fact instinctively, and not theoretically."

Does that ring a bell or two in our own context? Now compare Thomas Paine The Rights of Man for a breath of fresh air: "Reason and Ignorance, the opposite to each other, influence the great bulk of mankind. If either of these can be rendered sufficiently extensive in a country, the machinery of government goes easily on. Reason obeys itself. And Ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it... Government in a well-constituted republic requires no belief from man beyond what his reason can give." Paine goes on to talk about the tensions and corruption which ensues when 'Mixed Government' rules.

The criticism that economists and political scientists fail to provide the tools of moral commitment would be more constructively directed at philosophy. It is a matter of urgency that the linguistic and dilettante areas in philosophy should be layed aside until there is more time to spend on it, which is not likely to be this side of the year 2000.

It is significant that in the Philosophy I text (Hospers) the only chapter not included in the syllabus is Chap.9. Ethics. This last chapter has a good summary of the theory of Goodness, value and conduct, perhaps a more useful pursuit than wasting time proving God's non-existence.

With a radical reorientation of the place and purpose of philosophy, perhaps there would be less uncritical acceptance of such phenomena as Peter Wilson et al., who have under-cut any claims they might have to know anything in their appeal to R.Zaner, 'The Way of Phenomenology', who orders us to accept his apparently mystical insight that, "There is no such thing as a 'method', as distinct from what is discovered thereby." This is more of a theory of ignorance than a theory of knowledge, and such irrationality is the fertilizer of Fascism.

It is time to come to grips with this totalitarian mentality, and to realise that New Zealand has no more natural immunity from it than did those jolly aristocrats and boorish Bavarian boozers only three decades ago in Europe.

When a culture loses its head, it does not take too long before the only question left to debate is,

"Who Will be Our Fuhrer?"