02 May 2011

notepad: psychological reflections from an ignored genius

The purpose of mediocratic ideology is the same as that of Marxist ideology: to make life impossible for genuine intellectuals, i.e. those who might generate real cultural progress. To mask the issue, an ersatz system of high culture has been built up, designed to perpetuate and reinforce the ideology, and to ensure no assistance is given to those whom the system carefully excludes.

on the purpose of society:
Society begins to appear much less unreasonable when one realizes its true function. It is there to help everyone to keep their minds off reality. This follows automatically from the fact that it is an association of sane people, and it has already been shown that sanity arises from the continual insertion of ‘other people’ into any space into which a metaphysical problem might intrude.

It is therefore quite irrelevant to criticize society as though it were there for some other purpose – to keep everyone alive and well-fed in an efficient manner, say. Some degree of inefficiency is essential to create interesting opportunities for emotional reaction. (Of course, criticizing society, though irrelevant, is undeniably of value as an emotional distraction for sane people.)

Incidentally, it should be noticed that ‘keeping everyone alive and well-fed’ is the highest social aim which the sane mind can accept without reservation or discomfort. This is because everyone is capable of eating – and so are animals and plants – so this qualifies magnificently as a ‘real’ piece of ‘real life’. There are other reasons in its favour as well, of course, such as the fact that well-fed people do not usually become more single-minded, purposeful, or interested in metaphysics.

It has been seen that the object of a sane upbringing is increasingly to direct all emotion towards objects which involve other people. Now basically the situation of being finite is an infinitely frustrating one, which would be expected to arouse sensations of desperation and aggression – as indeed it may sometimes be seen to do in very young children. I am aware that I must be careful, in using the word aggression, to state that I do not mean aggression directed towards people. What I mean is an impersonal drive directed against reality – it is difficult to give examples but it may be presumed that geniuses who are at all worthy of the name preserve a small degree of this.

However, since all emotion must be directed towards people, it is obvious that the only form of aggression which a sane person can understand is aggression against people, which is probably better described as sadism or cruelty.

Now it is obvious that the open expression of cruelty towards other people would have a destructive effect upon society, apart from being unprofitable to the human evasion in other ways. So the usual way in which aggression is displaced onto other people is in the form of a desire that they should be limited. This, after all, is very logical. If the true source of your anger is that you are limited yourself, and you wish to displace this anger onto some other person, what could be more natural than that you should wish them to be limited as well.

This desire is usually expressed in the form of a desire for social justice, in one form or another. (‘In this life you have to learn that you can’t have it all your own way.’ ‘Well he can’t expect to be treated as an exception for ever.’ ‘It’s time he learnt to accept his limitations.’ ‘Don’t you think you should try to think more what other people want? We all have to do things we don’t like.’ ‘Why should they have all the advantages.’)

This means that society is not only the chief source of compensation to a sane person, but his chief instrument of revenge against other people. It is useless to point out that there is no need to revenge himself upon them. If he were ever to admit that they were not responsible for his finite predicament, he would have to direct his hatred against the finite predicament itself, and this would be frustrating. It is this frustration that the human evasion exists to evade.

Celia Green, The Human Evasion, pp.34-36
[30 May]

on the anthropomorphic nature of the concept of ‘cause’:
We shall argue that on the macroscopic level of everyday experience a phenomenon, or action, or characteristic, is regarded as ‘causal’ in a given situation if it has a functional role in an explanatory story. In the macroscopic realm of everyday experience there are causal stories, or models, or mechanisms, to account for why things happen as they do. These stories are constructed for the purpose of trying to explain a phenomenon. Certain events, actions, and characteristics are selected out of a total situation to fit into the particular causal story which is intended. For example, an engineer explaining the workings of a steam engine might leave the noise made by the whistle out of his causal story, as it does not form a necessary part of his explanation of how the steam engine works. As far as he is concerned, it is epiphenomenal. This was the example given by T. H. Huxley (1874) when introducing the concept of an epiphenomenon.

Macroscopic causal stories always depend on an arbitrary selection by the observer of what is to be included, based on what appear to him to be meaningful relationships. The elements in the causal story can always themselves be seen as elements of other causal stories, including ones which are seemingly more fundamental and which can be regarded as answering the question ‘why?’ about the part of the supposedly causal sequence to which they relate. If the process of asking ‘why?’ is continued far enough, supposing that we are dealing with physical events, we arrive at the microscopic realm of ultimate physical description. On the macroscopic level, if we pick out something which seems irrelevant to a particular causal story, in the sense that it plays no functional role in it, such as the whistle on a train, we do not question its ontological status, because it is clear that it forms a part of other causal stories which we do not happen to be considering at present.

Causal relations at the macrolevel are invariably probabilistic rather than strictly nomic. In a causal story, a ‘cause’ is an event which has made its ‘effect’ more likely. Even when it is ‘practically certain’ that a cause is sufficient to bring about its effect, it is always possible that some other event may intervene which breaks the connection and prevents the effect. The difficulties which the literature on causation has attempted to address are to a large extent those which arise from the features which are introduced into causation by the ‘contingency’ factor at the macrolevel. In particular, ‘causation’ seems to imply some kind of determination, necessity or compulsion, and it is difficult to account for these concepts in the context of contingent relationships.

We shall refer to the level of the most fundamental physical relations as the ‘micro-nomic’ level or ‘microlevel’ for brevity. On this level, we shall argue, nomic regularity is the only remaining feature of what are to be labelled as ‘causal’ relations. On the micro-nomic level we are less tempted to select parts of the total situation as constituting a causal story which we find particularly meaningful. On this level we have laws which describe the relationships we observe, in the form of mathematical equations. We shall be arguing that on the microlevel, functional roles in causal stories are much less easy to assign. At the level of ultimate physical description every phenomenon has equal causal status as part of the total description. Another way of putting this is that the concept of the cause-effect distinction has become inapplicable. On this level, the question of which parts of the total description may be left out as less functional or less important do not apply. Such concepts as ‘function’, ‘importance’, or ‘causal efficacy’, which may enter into explanatory stories on the macroscopic level, do not arise, except in the context of models or ‘microcausal stories’, which (we shall argue) should be regarded as fictions.

Celia Green, The Lost Cause, pp.36-37
[23 May]

on freedom from interference:
Neo-tribal morality actively rejects territorial morality. Territorial morality accepted the right of the individual to be protected from the hostility of other individuals, and even from the collectivity of individuals called the state. Its prescriptions were almost entirely negative. Now you have no right to regard others as hostile and, in principle, anything goes.

No doubt this mirrors paleo-tribal morality. You would not have much hope of the priest with the sacrificial knife respecting your right to dissent. The legal safeguards against intrusion, imprisonment, unconsidered responses, etc. have all been explicitly eroded, along with who knows how much invisible erosion in the way of beating up, pressure to make false confessions for police convenience, etc. A television programme some twenty years ago said the old safeguards were no longer needed, now the law had become so enlightened and compassionate. So the agents of the collective, entitled to regard themselves as benevolent, may invade individual territories at will.

I said to someone, ‘Once you abandon principles, there is no limit on how far the oppression of individuals might go. Why shouldn’t there be a holocaust? Perhaps not of Jews, but some other section of the population that people disliked.’ ‘But they are British people,’ she said. ‘I know they would always behave decently. I was at school with them.’ (I trust the members of my tribe to behave like members of my tribe.)

I would certainly feel a great deal safer if the protective principles had not been abandoned. One of them was, you were only guilty of a crime you had actually committed. Even if you were known to have thought about something and planned it, you only became guilty by doing it. If you thought better of it at the last moment, you were innocent. Now, as you know, inclinations and interests can incur the penalties of constant interference and supervision (a serious intrusion into your freedom to live your existing life in your own way) or actual incarceration and ‘treatment’.

Territorial morality would seriously inhibit neo-tribal morality, which wishes to invade the individual’s territory at will, to do him good, provide him with ‘treatment’, prevent all sorts of possible mishaps, protect him and others from himself (but not from the agents of the collective). I would prefer living in a society in which territorial morality prevailed. Restraint on presumptuous and unsolicited (at least by me) advice, and restraint on unprincipled ideological interference, would have saved my life, and my parent’s lives, from being ruined by my education.

In the Morte d’Arthur, Sir Bors encounters a damsel (or damsels) who threaten to kill themselves if he will not have sex with them. He refuses, quite correctly, on the grounds that it would be a sin on his part, and his only duty is to preserve himself from sin. It is not his business to prevent other people from committing sins by sinning himself.

I wish the modern world retained some recognition of this sort of principle. In fact the basic moral principle, of respect for the individual’s right to determine his own priorities within the existential situation, is constantly overridden and never even enunciated.

When I recently met some educational experts, I pointed out that an age-limit restriction was depriving a young person’s parents or guardians of the right to evaluate the priorities in his individual life for themselves, or on his behalf. This appeared to irritate them.

Of course the old-fashioned principle was that a person’s liberty should not be restricted unless he was exercising it to damage the liberty of others, but if that is not limited to the simplest kinds of objective physical damage, it loses all its force, even if any reference to it is made. Once you apply it to psychological states, anything goes. Someone taking exams before a certain age is damaging the liberty of others to be free from the jealousy and resentment caused by seeing someone doing something they cannot do themselves.

Celia Green, Letters from Exile, pp.31-32
[16 May]

on the abstract concept of royalty:
The concept of centralisation is closely related to that of kingship; this is more obvious with the higher forms of centralisation, but even in the elementary forms some relationship may be perceived.

Let us therefore consider analytically why the concept of kingship should have any relationship at all with the ability to perceive the fact of existence. If you do perceive the fact of existence, what you perceive is that you are in a position of the ultimate degree of uncertainty. You have not the slightest idea what everything is existing for, nor what you have got to do with it. You do not know what is important about the situation, nor how important it is. If you are to decide what is to be done about the situation, there is no one to consult but yourself; and you do not know how important your decisions are.

Now human psychology in its ordinary state is not prepared to accept the responsibility for being in this situation; consequently it does not perceive at all that it is in this situation. And when I talk about ‘being in’ it, I do not mean verbalising about it, as some existentialists have done. You may of course verbalise about arbitrary decisions, and commitment, and so forth, while remaining entirely within the emotional range of normal psychology.

Now the position of being a king, in its most abstract form, is that you are responsible for deciding about important things, and there is no authority higher than yourself to refer to.

Ordinarily human psychology accepts no responsibility; makes no decisions, has no sense of importance, and believes itself justified in its attitudes by some kind of consensus of social agreement.

(Of course you may say that is too sweeping, and that there are some senses in which people do make decisions, have things they think are important, and so on; but in the sense in which I am meaning these things they certainly do not.)

It must be understood that I am using kingship as an entirely psychological concept; unfortunately, I am afraid it will suggest to people associations with political power, and hence of power over other people. However, these associations have nothing to do with the sense in which I am using the concept. I have already said that it is to be understood in the most abstract form, and the only way that power enters into it is in the sense in which someone making decisions of indefinable importance may be said to have power over the situation (whatever it is) in so far as his decisions are able to affect the situation.

You may say, if all I am talking about is a psychological position of decision-making in the most abstract sense, why should I prefer the concept of kingship to that of, say, presidenthood. After all, the President of the United States has to make important decisions and there is no higher authority to which he can refer; he is put there by the electorate for just that purpose. However, the trouble with a president or any elected or appointed maker of decisions is that he gets into his position by first obtaining the approval of a number, maybe an inordinately large number, of other people. It is not an intrinsic quality of his own that he is this sort of decision-maker.

On the other hand, the idea of royalty contains an implication of inalienable significance. Few people these days have much to say in favour of the idea of aristocracy; but a hereditary upper class in a society has at least this to recommend it: that there are a number of people who may be a bit freer than the rest of feeling that they have got to prove their worth to other people before they can get on to making up their minds about anything or deciding what is to be done about it. So they are somewhat nearer to the existential decision-making position, and likely to be somewhat better at running things in an effective way in practice.

Celia Green, Advice to Clever Children, pp.140-142
[9 May]

“Young people wonder how the adult world can be so boring. The secret is that it is not boring to adults because they have learnt to enjoy simple things like covert malice at one another’s expense. This is why they talk so much about the value of human understanding and sympathy. It has a certain rarity value in their world.”
Celia Green, Advice to Clever Children

“The one thing people are unconditional about is putting other people in the wrong. They will deprive themselves of everything they want rather than miss the opportunity of doing this.”

“Human nature: vindictiveness lightly coated with dishonesty.”
Celia Green, The Decline and Fall of Science

[2 May]

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