Jam Today at Last!
Consider the experiment published this
month in the Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology by Timothy Wilson of the
University of Virginia and University of Pittsburgh researcher Jonathan
Schooler. The two chose five brands of strawberry jam that varied widely
in quality. In a Consumer
Reports taste test, jam experts had ranked the five 1st, 11th,
24th, 32nd, and 44th.
In the experiment, one group tasted each
of the jams and ranked them immediately. Its ratings corresponded quite
closely to those of the experts. The thinking group, however, was another
story. Forced to write down their reasons for liking and disliking each
brand, their preferences bore no resemblance to those of the experts
or their peers in the control group.
In other words, it is not simply that
thinking leads to decisions we may later regret. It also appears that
thinking too much can lead to choices that by an objective standard
can be called bad or wrong.
Malcolm Gladwell, Washington
TOTALLY awesome. Oh,
how we would just love to sit down and chat with some of those jam experts.
How we would love to attend a trial where one jam expert was testifying
against another. What profound satisfaction we will feel when the Democrat's
National Committee comes up with a canny consultant broccoli expert, and
when the internecine warfare between Tastes Better and Less Filling is
put to rest at last according to perfectly objective standards.
All of that comes from an article in a publication
whose name we can not give you. All we have is a photocopy. It was accompanied
by another photo-copy, a column in The
Daily Record of Wooster, Ohio, by one David Lewellen, who is,
alas, something of a thinker, and who gave some thought to the findings
displayed above. He may well have read the same stirring report that we
read, and he pulled out of it the most revealing "conclusion of the
expert experimenters: it appears that thinking impairs only people who
are not experts." Yeah.
In another "experiment" conducted
by Wilson and Schooler (it really does need those quotation marks), students
were shown five posters and asked to chose the one they would like to
take home. The posters showed either animals or impressionist paintings,
although we are not told whether any of the impressionist paintings showed
any animals, or whether any of the pictures of animals conveyed, all inadvertently
perhaps, any impressions.
Half of the "large group" just
picked a poster and went home. The other half were required to write down
the reasons for their choices. The poor suckers of the second half turned
out to be more likely to choose animals. That tells you something, eh?
And there's worse to come.
Three weeks later the students came back
to report how things were going with their posters, and what do you think
modern science discovered? "The thinkers were far less happy with
their posters than those who chose without articulating their reasons.
They wished they had chosen differently."
This one little event seems to show that
nothing of any importance has been changed in American educationism at
least since 1976 when we first started to consider it, and probably not
since 1913 when a committee of teachers union members met to cook up The
Cardinal Principles of Education, a manifesto of armed ignorance
which brought the schools out of a quaint and stodgy traditionalism which
unaccountably had some good effects, and into the cuckoo land of the good
old Affective Domain.
First, be not misled, The "findings"
of Schooler & Wilson are in no sense at all "scientific."
Imagine, for instance, the sad plight of the poster choosers.
Here they stand, poor kids, dragged in to
play one of those silly games that the sosh-psych people use for padding
out the vitas. A free poster. Big deal. Not one rock star. Impressionists,
for God's sake, and animals. Well, what the hell, pick one and go home.
Don't forget, this guy gives out grades. But wait, what now? I have to
explain why I want one of these dumb posters? I have to write
it out? What the hell, let's scribble something down we're out
Teachers rarely know what they really want,
but students almost always know what their teachers want. And the rabbits
know a lot about the snakes.
Wilson & Schooler will bring no consequences
in the practice of science. The meteorologists and chemists will not be
crippled in their labors by the fear that they may someday be made "less
happy" for having figured something out. Nor, for that matter, will
auto mechanics or Maytag repairmen.
But those who will find comfort and joy
in this sort of "research" are the manipulators not of devices
but of persons, the politicians, the preachers, the sellers and persuaders,
in all of which groups can be included the educationists.
All such folk will think
to learn from Wilson & Schooler what they already imagine that they
know: that reaction is more to be prized than reflection. And, now confirmed
yet again in that belief by the "science" in the "experiments"
of posters and jam, and confronted by recent revelations that schools
are even worse than the most gloomy of us had thought, they will know
exactly what to do. New programs? And, of course, more money. And, at
last, (sigh), back to the good old Affective Domain*
of gut reaction and sentiment, and out of the trap they had unwittingly
devised for themselves in all that "critical thinking" stuff
that we paid them for in another of their big reformations.
The term "critical thinking" was
itself the result of a failure of thinking. It is not easy to define "thinking,"
and even the school people were uncomfortably aware of that. When the
educationist says: I think we ought to teach the children to think, even
a dull-witted teacher, if given a little help, can see that those two
thinks may have very different meanings. For all we know, the first
may be exactly the same as the think in: I think I'd like to have
that cute panda poster. It might also be something like believe,
or suppose, or even feel. If the second were the same
as the first, then even educationists could come to see after a while
that children needed no instruction whatsoever in such inward actions,
and that, indeed, such supposed ways of thinking were perfectly natural
to children. To some, it may even have occurred that believing, supposing,
and feeling might be, if not exactly the opposites of thinking,
at the very least not the same as thinking, and, at the worst,
perhaps even contrary to thinking.
(They needed Aristotle, of course, but he
is not admitted into their company; the teacher-trainees never read him,
lest they fall into irrelevance. It was he who gave us a shocking but
wonderfully useful definition of "children," with the help of
which we might make productive new discoveries in education, which is,
after all, the bringing of children out of childhood. Thus Aristotle:
Children--and madman, too, alas--are those who are governed by appetite.
What would happen, do you suppose, believe, or think, if we were to design
education as a liberation from appetite?)
So at last they came up with critical
thinking, distinguished from mere thinking in that it was, well, critical,
you know. They didn't put it this way, because they're not too good at
figuring out what they mean, but they obviously did sense (aha! another
substitute for thinking) that critical thinking ended up with something
that was not in the "thinker" until after the thinking
had been done, and the mere thinking was a way of declaring what
was already in the thinker. And thus it was that they ended up, for awhile,
trying to teach logic as though that were thinking. They did know,
after all, that logic reached conclusions, which made it seem comfortably
similar to Dewey's notion of thinking as "problem-solving activity."
It did not occur to them, apparently that
logic was also uncomfortably like problem-solving in that it could
reach only those conclusions already implicit in its givens, and the teaching
of it was, in any case, no fun at all. As far as we know, logic is no
part of the standard curriculum in any of the public schools.
The term "critical thinking" made
the school people feel pretty good for awhile; it suggested a technical
proficiency not unlike that of the sciences, and implied, in those who
said they could teach it, an expertise for which schoolteachers have in
general not been celebrated. But there was a problem; it was that word,
critical, which the school people in the Affective Domain construe as
meaning something very like hostile. You can hardly blame them;
any truly critical consideration of what they do in the schools must end
by being, at the least, not flattering. There is worse. If school children
were brought into the habit of critical thinking, might they not become
critical? Might they not, by logic alone, notice incoherence and in consistencies
in their schooling? Might they nor begin to question some of the supposed
social truths and goods which are preached to them as worthy and feelings?
There is, after all, nothing more galling in any teacher's class than
the smartass who makes sense.
For whatever reasons, the school people
have obviously repented their passion for critical thinking. We hear no
more of it, And Wilson & Schooler are preparing the ground
for those educationists who may someday have to defend, against the inexpert
multitudes of the laymen who never have been able to understand
what the schools are doing, the abandonment of thinking in the schools,
Aha, they will say, that's where you're wrong! We now know, as our studies
have shown, what thinking really is, and how niftily and correctly most
children can do it, if only they leave their minds alone and go with the
flow. Trust us, We are the experts, the ones who can think without damage,
and we don't intend to injure these innocent children.
It's never a good idea
to say of any thing that "it all boils down to this," but in
these pages we once had occasion to quote a line from Georges
Bernanos that tempts us to say that it all boils down to this: The
modern world can be best understood as a vast, unwitting conspiracy against
the inner life.
Well, we're not so sure about the "unwitting"
part. We wonder this: Do these Wilsons and Schoolers truly know
what they are doing? Have they figured out why, for instance, they have
come up with such grotesque parodies of science as the jam and poster
experiments? We know that they have an agenda, but do they know that they
have an agenda?
The lesson of these "experiments"
is unambiguous: Unless you are an expert, a jam expert, for instance,
or a thinking expert, like us, you will do best just to go with the flow.
Hey, whatever turns you on, turns you on, right? An inexpert attempt to
distinguish between the better and the worse is worse than useless; it
is all too likely to make you unhappy. And, presumably, if you do want
to eat the "best" jam, just listen to the experts.
The only jam expert we can quote is the
loony queen in one of those Alice books. "Jam yesterday," she
explained, "and jam tomorrow, but never jam today." Wilson &
Schooler have shown us a mournful new meaning in her words. We have
promoted her, and we join her now in literary matrimony with that broody
intellectual academic in some novel of Sartre, the one who looks out of
a window and muses that "nothing ever happens while we live."
We do not truly have our lives; they happen
in an instant, in a tiny moment in which there is time for nothing but
reaction. It is only when the moment is gone, and gone forever, that we
can have it in some strange way that is not exactly the real having. We
can hold it in the mind, but not it exactly, only an interpretation of
it, a consideration, a remembrance of things past. Our lives are actually
a form of literature, tales that are told, and that may be told either
well or badly, instructively or destructively, told by an idiot full of
sound and fury and signifying nothing, or told by a controlling and considering
consciousness, And if yesterday's jam is bitter on the tongue, we may
be able to understand why that had to be so, and even to take thought
for the jam of tomorrow. Today, in this moment, all we can do is gobble
it down, like children, and react. Aristotle was right; the children are
those who want their jam right now, and imagine, too, that they can have
it. Which is to say that they think, and who can blame them, that this
is life, this moment, this reaction, this thrill, this experience.
It's all that counts, Yesterday's jam has lost its savor; it is as though
it had never been. And tomorrow's jam is a dream.
The life that we can have is an inner
life, the life that we can discover, and even design in reflection; reflection
is a brooding on the strange and troubling hints of meaning in what ought
to be meaningless, the random and mechanical flow of moments; meaning
is pursued through attention to language.
There is much to be wondered about the shenanigans
of the Wilsons and Schoolers, and much about the fact that there are such
folk among us. What are they up to? What can they gain by trying to "prove"
by "science" that "thinking," except in the case of
"experts," will put us in peril of being "less happy"
than we would have been without it?
Bernanos, of course, can not be right. All
conspiracy theories are bunk, no? So we'll find some other way to explain
Wilson & Schooler. Just be patient, OK?
What a Very Singularly
Deep Young Man Department
WE have just gotten
around to opening some of the mail from last January. In it we find an
announcement, passed on by an old friend, from one (looks like) Joe Beuler,
at the Art Momentum Studios in Gainesville, Georgia, where the sheriff
probably used to worry about this sort of thing, but doesn't any more.
Joe, apparently with some other likeminded
(that word will seem strange) individuals (come to think of it, that word
will also seem strange), is working with combinational theories
of art processed as a state of being, thus creating art that coordinates
the process of molecular awareness with the concept of reason and scale
perception. And this he refers to as an imprintsial pattern. And why not?
"Each imprintsial pattern is accompanied
with its conceptional mode of thought idea that is bordered with patterns
that help set the photographed process for further referral by the individual
that has chosen to work with it in order to mobilize his state of Beingness.
Much of this work will also move in the form of books....The harmonics
of life that focus its momentum from the before of its intent can move
into place the harmony of events that create the exactness of want and
desire without the forceptual requirement of change without recognition
of monumental flow."
Joe's collaborators "are a team of
professionals who have skills in art, biology, teaching, writing, medicine,
psychology, color, and sound," and if you're having trouble with
all of that it's probably because you assume that "forceptual"
must mean "having the nature, shape, or quality of a pair of forceps."
Well, we were about to award Joe the What
a Very Singularly Deep Young Man Prize for 1991 without even considering
other candidates, A natural, no? But behold! Now comes word of a promising
new contender, probably not quite as young a young man, but still a young
man, and that's for sure.
We have just had news of him from Thomas
W. Hazlett, who teaches economics at the University
of California in Davis, and who writes a regular column for Reason,
and who has quite a mouth on him. We do enjoy him.
"By the time you read this, you will
have already missed the opening lecture of Professor Thomas
Hayden's new course offering at Santa Monica (junior) College, ‘The
Environment and Spirituality.' The idea sprang from the cosmic experience
Mr. Hayden gained while jetting to and from the Amazon Rain Forest, whereupon
he racked up a New Consciousness of shrubbery and beaucoup frequent flier
miles. His plan, according to The New York Times, is to
teach a ‘new earth-oriented religion.' He will begin with the Bible. ‘We
need to see nature as having a sacred quality,' solemnly intones Professor
of Spirituality Hayden, ‘so we revere it and are in awe of it. That forms
the barrier to greed and exploitation and overuse.'"
If "Professor of Spirituality Hayden"
has not yet rung your bell, here's a clue from Hazlett: "Let us not
be so grotesque as to point out that the globe-floating Tom's ex-wife
consumed most of the free world's known silicon deposits." There.
Now you recognize him.
So, obviously, we're going to have to wait
on that VSDYM Prize. We have a lot of pals out around Santa Monica, and,
sooner or later, one of them will get hold of an interesting document,
even some lecture notes, maybe. After all, Santa Monica (junior) College
is a public institution.
(That (junior) is just the sort of thing
that makes us love Hazlett. Now there's a man who knows how to write.)
Lear, come to think of, lives somewhere out there, and he and the
Professor of Spirituality clearly have interests in common as to what
"we need to see," we, presumably, not including such
as Tom Hayden, who must already see. So, hey, there may even be a video.
IN a strangely related
matter, we read of the rescue by one Elizabeth
Sackler, a rich lady, of three ceremonial masks put up for sale at
auction by Sotheby's. Two of the masks are Hopi, and the third may or
may not be Navaho.
But perhaps "rescue" is not the
right word. Some Hopi objected to the auction as a "source of pain
and outrage," saying that it would be a sacrilege to "place
monetary value on them," which deed, of course, must be done by one
who would sell them, i.e., take money for them. A fascinating moral
dilemma, If one who sells, sins, what can we say of one who buys? Ms Sackler
"returned" them, if that is the right word, since it is very
unlikely that she handed them over to those from whom they were taken,
but in order to do that, she did have to "place monetary value on
them," thirty-nine grand, in fact. It's like the old problem of selling
of your stock in South Africa; you get to be virtuous by inveigling some
poor sucker into the vice of buying the tainted goods. But, aha, you say,
I did it for a good cause, and so too did Elizabeth Sackler! Sure. And
there's a good old-fashioned name for that argument.
Somehow, such things seemed much clearer
in the old days, when bounders and scoundrels of the East India Company
used to pinch the rubies out of the idol's eyes, only to be troubled later
by the rumours of mysterious dark-skinned strangers seen lurking on the
heath or asking questions at the pub. Dacoits, no doubt of it, dacoits!
Now those guys knew what they meant by "sacrilege." They were
not about to solicit some rich lady--not even the bounder's charming young
fiancée, however much that might improve the plot--to restore the
sacred jewelry to its "rightful owners," of whose exact identity
they were also perfectly sure. Furthermore, they knew exactly what to
do with those rubies once they got them back.
All of that is to say that the murderous
but pious Dacoits knew what they meant by their words. They knew what
they meant by "sacred." Whether they were "correct"
in the meaning they gave the word is not to the point; there is no thing
in the world by which to test. And their condition was certainly not the
condition that might conceivably arise in those who would say, with the
Professor of Spirituality, that "we need to see the idol's eye as
having sacred quality."
That expression, to see something as,
is remarkably common in the screeds of educationists and sociologists.
It is a way not exactly of lying, but of leaving the impression of having
spoken the truth without actually having to do so. He who says that the
childhood years can be seen as formative (one of their favorite words),
does not have to commit himself to the proposition that they are formative.
It is a gutless way of talking. He who talks that way can never be shown
wrong--all he said was that they can be seen as,--and has the further
luxury, by the same logic, of excusing himself from having to say what
There is a sad and ironical cowardice in
Hayden's words. Had he returned from the spooky rain forests of Brazil
to proclaim that nature is sacred, that he did stand in awe of
it, and that he did revere it, we would have been given to some
thoughtful brooding at least, and would have waited with interest to see
whether his subsequent behavior might testify as to the meaning of those
But he comes back instead with a tired educationistic
platitude: We need to see nature as sacred, and I will give them
instruction in that trick. Such instruction can be really nothing other
that a program of preachments, which is all the more transparent since
the preacher himself admits that the piety he intends to inculcate is
for the sake not of the virtue of pious, who see the earth as sacred,
but for the castigation of evildoers, the sinners of greed and exploitation
and overuse. Not only in myth and fable, but even in many documented cases,
we hear of one who saw a great light and who saw in its glow how wrong
he had been, and who went forth to live otherwise; now, in this post-modern
age, the work of the great light is wonderfully changed, and those who
see it realize how right they have been, and go forth to make sure that
everyone else will live as they do.
Please store up these ruminations in memory,
for they will serve as a preface to an essay in the next issue. We will
introduce you (very probably for the first time, for he is little known)
to the work and thought of a strange genius, a man who "identified
defective use of language with a defective moral and metaphysical outlook,"
and for whom "linguistic obtuseness was equated with intellectual
or ethical obtuseness." And we'll tell you who said that about him.
Intimations of Possibility
Psyche Papers--Number Three
The point is that if there were evidence,
this would in fact destroy the whole business. Anything that I normally
call evidence wouldn't in the slightest influence me.
Suppose, for instance, we knew people
who foresaw the future; make forecasts for years and years ahead; and
they described some sort of a Judgment Day. Queerly enough, even if
there were such a thing, and even if it were more convincing than I
have described, belief in this happening wouldn't be at all a religious
Suppose that I would have to forego all
pleasures because of such a forecast. If I do so and so, someone will
put me in fires in a thousand years, etc. I wouldn't budge. The best
scientific evidence is just nothing.
A religious belief might fly in the face
of such a forecast, and say "No. There it will break down."
As it were, the belief as formulated on
the evidence can only be the last result--in which a number of ways of
thinking and acting crystallize and come together.
A man would fight for his life not to
be dragged into the fire. No induction. Terror. That is, as it were,
part of the substance of the belief.
That is partly why you don't get in religious
controversies, the form of controversy where one person is sure of the
thing, and the other says: "Well, possibly."
You might be surprised that there haven't
been opposed to those who believe in the Resurrection those who say
SINCE the beginning
of these Psyche Papers, I have had numerous letters from our readers,
and one (why only one?) cancellation of subscription from the library
of a college operated by a religious organization. All of them, including
the cancellation, have been fruitful, and anyone who had read them all
would notice, here and there in this work, points and considerations that
would never have been made without the contributions of many other minds.
There is some interesting lesson in this
fact. It is not exactly that we learn from each other, for no one can
really learn anything except in and by himself; it seems better to say
that we learn because of each other, and, indeed, that if there
were no others, there could be no learning at all. In this there is a
mystery, for we know not how to account for the first beginning of all
learning, and it is one of the mysteries shown forth in the story of Psyche
and Eros. After a long journey, we will return to it.
The readers' letters often recommend certain
readings, and I always do them. The passage above comes from one of them,
and its occasional incoherencies are not to be attributed to Ludwig Wittgenstein,
whose work it is, sort of. Somewhere around 1938 Wittgenstein
gave a series of lectures "on religious belief," and some of
his students took notes. A compilation of notes by three of the students
can be found in a little paperback called Wittgenstein:
Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief.
They have done, I am sure, the best they could, but the book still stands
as a warning to teachers that only those words that they now wish they
hadn't spoken will be remembered accurately.
Nevertheless, the book
is very valuable, rich in provocative hints.
There are several of them in the quoted passage. One of them arises from
the useful and all too unusual observation that belief ought not to be
understood as one thing. We should know that better than we do, for it
is not only religionists, but also scientists who say, and have no choice
but to say, that they "believe" this or that rather than that
they "know" this or that. The scientists tend to be a little
more careful than the religionists in making that distinction, and the
pseudo-scientists, the sociologists, educationists, psychologists, economists,
and all the various tribes of -ists, a lot less careful. Plato, however,
seems to have made it most rigidly, when he divided all the ways of trying
to understand into the progressively more valuable families of dream,
belief, knowledge, and dialectic, calling science a way of belief. (Hume
seems to have done so as well, when he argued that a million black crows
do not licence us to know that the next one will be black, or something
like that. I have much forgotten Hume.)
The most intriguing hint of the passage
is found in the last question. The quarrels between the believers of A
and the believers of notA are well-known to us, and so too the quarrels
between believers and non-believers, and, if we think about it for a while,
it does seem to us surprising that there has not arisen in the context
of any belief system whatever some third party, those who say "Well,
I suspect, of course, that they are out
there, crouching in muddy shell-holes in No-man's Land between the ignorant
armies, keeping their heads down. Some of them, I suspect, are reading
Later in the notes we find this: "If
you ask me whether or not I believe in a Judgment Day, in the sense in
which religious people have belief in it, I wouldn't say: ‘No. I don't
believe there will be such a thing.' It would seem to me utterly crazy
to say this.... I can't say. I can't contradict that person." And
this: "If you say ‘Do you believe the opposite?'--you can call it
believing the opposite, but it is entirely different from what we would
normally call believing the opposite."
Perhaps Wittgenstein was being tactful;
perhaps the note taker left something out, who knows, but if Wittgenstein
thinks that he would have to be utterly crazy to say No, I don't believe,
then he must also find him utterly crazy who says Yes, I do believe.
I wouldn't object to the characterization.
Certainly, in our time, the most noticeable effect of religious belief
in our time is bitter conflict between religionists who suppose that they
"believe the opposite" of what other religionists believe. The
conflict, although so far somewhat less violent, is no less bitter between
the religionists and the anti-religionists, another pairing of believers
of the opposite. If it seems to you too strong to think of all such combatants
as utterly crazy, imagine yourself standing in the street between the
Pro- and Anti- abortion demonstrators and saying "Well, possibly"
when asked if abortion is murder. You might perhaps be a bit safer than
you would be in saying "Well, possibly" as to God's disposition
of the real estate between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but maybe
not. Better not to do either.
We have forgotten, and forgotten long, long
ago, what "religion" means, and why it has been everywhere and
always an element of human culture and a preoccupation of human persons.
It is best thought of, it seems to me, as a kind of suspicion, and worst
thought of as a kind of knowledge.
It is a suspicion about invisible connections,
the ties and links referred to in the stem of the word that we use, the
lig in religion, and in ligature as well, and even in relic in
a slightly different form. In the scrutiny of language, as Voltaire pointed
out, the consonants count for very little, and the vowels for nothing
at all; "relic" and "religious" are the same word,
and the relic itself, even a plastic swizzle suck, can be construed as
the knot in the tie that binds, which is why you still have that swizzle
When one of our ancient mothers began to
suspect that the motions of the sun had something to do with the barley,
and then to wonder whether there might be something else that, in the
same mysterious fashion, had to do with the motions of the sun itself,
she was thinking religiously. But, and a very big but it is, she was also
thinking scientifically. This is one dear way to understand what we mean
by science; it is a uniquely and universal human enterprise that begins
with suspicions of invisible connections and remarkably often seems to
find them, so that we are brought to that condition in which we can have
And when it occurs to the hunter, as seems
always and everywhere to be the case, that there is some just price to
be paid for the killing of the deer, he is suspecting a connection. Was
he a better or a worse man, a smarter or a stupider man, than our hunters,
because he thought it meet and right to ask forgiveness and seek reconciliation
with his prey? In this case, the suspicion is not exactly of the same
sort, not a suspicion like the one that makes science.
The suspicion of the link between the sun
and the barley will lead to what can be seen; it is "invisible"
only for a while. It will be seen. But the suspicion of kinship with the
earth and the beasts and all life will never be confirmed as the heat
of the sun will be shown to bring forth the green plants.
The same is true of
other suspicions that all peoples seem to have had. Such little things
(are they little?) as the utterly unaccountable fact that there seems
to be something wrong about lying and something right about truthfulness
have always given pause, provoked wonder and suspicion.**
We, of course, have been taught that all such notions of right and wrong
come from social conditioning, and have mightily labored, as you know,
to provide such conditioning as a form of "education." This
teaching permits us to see moral issues as political issues, and the "values"
of the people as, at least potentially, something that we can shape and
control. We seem not to be doing it very well, but we will, of course,
try harder, and seek funding for new programs. We have to conclude, out
of our superior knowledge, that the superstitious ancients tried to behave
well only out of their fear of the gods, which we do not intend to invoke.
It never occurs to us that it might well have been the other way around,
that the unenlightened savages were led to thinking about the fear of
the gods by the simple fact that they had it in them to want to do the
right thing, and that they seemed to know what it was.
Some of you will remember
the issue in which we awarded Norman Lear, a well-known television producer,
a prize for his suspicions, the First Faltering Footsteps Award. It was
because of an address he had given, in which he boasted of the great and
indubitable achievements of the liberal movements of our age, but lamented
that that same movement seemed to have had the effect of destroying what
he called some "spiritual" component of our lives and, most
especially, of the rearing of our young, the whole enterprise that we
call "education." What he really wanted, although he didn't
put it this way, was that the children would come to look upon the forests,
the whales, the wretched of the earth, the starving, all folk of other
colors, etc. and etc., as sacred; but he found himself living
in a world that he had helped to bring about in which the word "sacred"
could no longer be used without raising cries of outrage and constitutional
jitters from millions of other Norman Lears, not yet reconstituted. And
all he could think of as remedy was to encourage the representatives of
various churches and sects to come up with some way of bringing the spiritual
into respectability without offending either the liberal establishment,
a hard job, or each other, an impossible job. His message was not warmly
received by the religion functionaries to whom he spoke.
Here is Lear's problem. He wants to say
this, and he wants to be believed: Let us care for the Earth, and for
each other, and for all that lives. Let us come to see that all these
things are, uh, well, special, hmm, valuable, you know.
(He can't really say "sacred." He sort of thinks he knows what
it might mean, but it's, well, let's admit it, it's controversial.) So
he imagines, what else, poor man, that what's needed is persuasion, and
maybe role-modeling, so that children, and many others, would come to
believe (realize? know?) that the whales and the trees and the poor are
what another age might have called sacred. He imagines that the manipulation
of sentiments combined with sweet preachments will bring about in the
young exactly what Socrates would have called "piety," another
word that Lear can not use, for it is now tainted both with sectarian
implications and with, let's be honest, suggestions of the mechanical
ritualism of traditionalists or of the unseemly public protestations of
the fundamentalist faithful. We have seen more than enough of electrical
evangelists raising their misty eyes to heaven, and of weirdos holding
up slogans at football games. It wouldn't be so bad if we could be sure
that all such were cunning charlatans, but some of them really seem to
be just jerks.
Nor can Lear make his appeal to piety in
the sense of the word to be found not in the practices of some sect but
in Antigone, for instance. It's too bad, for he would find some
useful strength in the idea there, but the young people he has in mind
seem no more able to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest such works
than their teachers are.
The preaching and persuasion, of course,
are not without effect. We do see frequent displays of cute little children
holding up for the camera crayoned posters on behalf of the whales and
the earth. But if Lear does not consider this sufficient effect, he is
right. It is rather a case of what Socrates called Right Belief, a condition
both praised and condemned by its name.
Right belief is a very interesting idea.
The Greeks were aware, as we are, that there is, perhaps in almost everyone,
a push toward goodness. Without some special reason to be otherwise, we
will treat each other with decency and kindness, if the price is not too
high. In general, if not always in particulars, we prefer and intend to
tell the truth rather than a lie. And so forth. There are many examples
in every daily life. In other words, although we may often discover some
reason to do otherwise, we are inclined to do the right thing, and we
have some pretty good idea what that is. Whence this Right Belief arises,
we do not know. Surely, in the individual, it comes in part from social
example and the suggestions of lore, but the origin of the impulse out
of which flow those examples and suggestions is misty, and the cause of
the ground in which they so readily take root is unclear.
Nevertheless, in many cultures the mere
existence and prevalence of Right Belief seems to have been enough to
engender a satisfactory ethic which seems not to have required curricula
and special preachments to children about the sanctity of the earth, but
only stories. But Socrates thought to see a perilous weakness in Right
Belief; he thought it weak not because it was wrong--far from it, but because
it was belief, only belief.
All belief stands on shaky ground. In the
time of Socrates, as in ours, there were skilled practitioners of that
art by which those who believed A could be cleverly brought to believe
B instead, and thereafter, if necessary, C. And life itself will often
have the same effect. In the most ardent believer in such things as the
sanctity of the earth, and particularly in one for whom the sanctity of
the earth is a very fuzzy notion, one new appetite, one new fear, one
new glimmer of self-interest, will put a possibly fatal crack in the edifice
of Right Belief. Thus it was that Socrates tried again and again to put
Right Belief to the test of Reason, not at all to prove it wrong, but
to transform it from belief into Knowledge, so that we might "know"
that truth is better than the lie as surely as we know the equality of
the angles where the line intersect.
In this, I would say, Socrates failed. Read
the little dialog called Euthyphro.
It is precisely about the quality that Lear wants in us all. Piety. Euthyphro
is a self-proclaimed expert in piety, and he offers to instruct Socrates.
What follows is both funny and sad. We are left where we probably should
be left after all such considerations, however expert and thorough--in
uncertainty, a condition from which two paths lead, one into cynicism,
and the other into suspicion. And both paths run both ways.
Consider now what is suggested by the story
of Psyche and Eros, and by the religious context of which it is so much
a part. It is surely no sermon on certainty; it is an awakening unto suspicion.
Where the education of the educationists,
even as it might be mitigated by Lear, says: Look at us and listen to
us, the education of Psyche and Eros says: Look into yourself; consider
and consider again all your suspicions; see for what it is the path that
you are walking; think of the palace where you live, the invisible powers
that serve you, the darkness that hides the better meaning of your pleasures
and joy. Consider the fruit that you must bear, and the destiny that may
be rightly yours.
And as to the world, that Earth that gave
you life and nourished you, behold and regard the life that shares her
with you. Be mindful of the ants, and all the tiny, mighty powers; listen
to the reeds, who know, as well as their cousins the oaks, that all life
must ride on the tides and the currents that flow through all the world.
When the eagle falls out the sky and offers you help, take it: when the
contriver by Nature's example of all human devising, mind itself, shows
you the path, walk it, even to Hell.
All that, which would
arouse, even in the very young, deep and nagging suspicions of connections,
will not provide a curriculum, of course, and it isn't democratic.
It serves neither this nor that social agenda, unless we can understand,
as perhaps we ought to understand, that there is only one social agenda
for children of the same mother, all of one blood, and that all our lives
and destinies are tied together in one great pattern. That does sound
like a conclusion (conviction? realization? belief?) that would bring
about just what Lear would like to see, but it can be reached only by
one who is free of sectarian ideologies, free to say, Well, possibly.
Among those who heard him, there were probably
no sayers of "Well, possibly." Their responses showed them just
what you would expect--protectors of dogma and doctrine, and conservators
of the system. And the same would have been true at the educationist convention.
All such folk have their suspicions, of course, but they are suspicions
of threats to their own practices and beliefs, suspicions of possible
offense to their own sensibilities. The religionists and the anti-religionists,
the ones who believe the opposite, surely are different from each other,
but not in any important way.
It is a sadness of our time that we can
not easily imagine how to live without joining one or the other of these
gangs. The story of Psyche and Eros comes from a time when there were
no such gangs, when Herodotus, for instance, could say of the Parthians
or the Egyptians, or any other group he mentioned, not that they were
unbelievers or heretics, or that they were wrong and stood in need of
correction, but that they worshipped the same divinities as the Greeks
under different names, and that their practices, however remarkable to
a respectable Greek gentleman, had dearly the same laudable intentions
as those of the Greeks--to acknowledge and honor some invisible connection.
Even Herodotus, fussy, pedestrian, and skeptical,
could see that the gods and goddesses were metaphors, and it was for seeing
just that that Socrates was hauled into court. But the invisible can not
become visible, and metaphor is all that we can see of what can not be
old Greeks apparently understood "chaos" as the unimaginable
opposite of cosmos, order--not just a mess, but even worse. In a mess things
are surely either bigger or smaller than other things, to the right or
to the left of them, older or newer, and so forth forever. In chaos, those
very attributes are not to be found. We know all about it.
On the first day of June, we began extensive
enlargement, renovation and refurbishment of the Underground Grammarian
Megacomplex. Workmen were everywhere, engaged mostly in the distribution
of sawdust, plaster dust, and work dust in general. The office was inaccessible
for almost six weeks. When we got back into it, it turned out that, in
spite of shrouds of garbage bags and drop cloths, both computers were
disabled in one way or another by some form of dust. Our decrepit old
typesetter, who hasn't done a lick of work since 1985, but who still hangs
around muttering like Bartleby, mentioned the fact that the printing press
was still just as effective as the day it was born in 1934, but nobody
listens to him anymore.
Well, we didn't much worry. We sent them
out for repairs and got busy with painting the barn and filling it up
with stuff, constructing fences, gates and paths, digging countless holes
in the new beds and filling them up with stuff, and so on and on.
We suspect you know how it is. And Fall itself had fallen before we even
made a start on the Fall issue. And that's why this issue is late.
For the next one, there will be some different reasons.
Full Circulation Manager has taken early retirement from the nearby state
mental institution in which he has been one of the keepers for what seems
a very long time. They made him an offer he couldn't refuse. For now,
he continues to supervise a few encounters, but only those of the sort
that none of his colleagues has ever practiced. that is to say that he
can not yet be accounted a recovering academic, but he is tapering off.
He had thought that this would give him more time for other things, but
that has not yet been shown. Maybe later.
will find it instructive to read Erich Neumann's Amor
and Psyche, from Pantheon. It has been around for a long time,
but few seem to know it. It is subtitled "The Psychic Development
of the Feminine," and it is, we think, wrong in some very interesting
ways. Of course, Neumann was a psychoanalyst, and he applies very limited
(we say) meanings to the terms psyche and psychic, but he was a brilliant
chap and worth reading even if you disagree. And he certainly knew where
to go looking for some light. Some of his thought will be at issue in
the next installment of the Psyche Papers, which will be about "Psyche
in the Darkness," or something like that.
R. Mitchell, Assistant Circulation Manager
Post Office Box 203
Glassboro, New Jersey 08028
Four issues a year. Subscription: Persons
in USA or Canada, $15US;
Persons elsewhere, $20. No more libraries! Other non-personal entities,
Neither can his mind be thought to
be in tune, whose words do jarre;
nor his reason in frame, whose sentence is preposterous.
* The making of Cardinal Principles
and the coming of the Affective Domain are among the disasters described
in The Graves of Academe,
a book by our FCM. For some reason, we have recently had more requests
than usual from people who want help in finding a copy of that book, which
has been out of print for some time. It was published first by Little,
Brown, and thereafter re-printed as a fancy paperback by Simon & Schuster,
and that's all the help we can give to people who want to read it, aside,
of course from suggesting that they do business with one of those old-book
search outfits. back
There are no quotation marks
because this is not a quotation, but a paraphrase as best we can remember
it. Nor do we know its source in Bernanos. We wish we did. There are probably
no more widely-read readers than our readers, and we are hoping that one
of them can give us the source. We would like to read the rest of the
Bernanos's best know work, and around here his only
known work, is The
Diary of a Country Priest (1937), in which the quotation is not
to be found. This little book is well worth reading; it's not what you
Wittgenstein is always provocative.
Read anything by him. I am still waiting for a copy of his commentary
on Frazier's Golden Bough, another reader's suggestion, but I know
that it will cause something interesting in this project. I do wish that
we had also some consideration from him of such things as political and
pedagogical belief. The little volume at issue here does include comments
on Freud which are, in effect, an examination of psychological belief.
Those of you who have the time would find it fascinating to compare this
section with Hanna
Arendt's comments on the idea of the unconscious in The
Life of the Mind. back
** Here is an intriguing new book: The
Death of the Soul: from Decartes to the Computer, by William Barrett,
from Doubleday Anchor Books. Starting on page 93 you will find a provocative
consideration of Kant's argument that what troubles us about lying is
really nothing but the inherent logical contradiction of the deed: I say
A while meaning, and knowing that I mean, not A. It is my reason that
This is a book well worth your time and attention.
It is, although Barrett doesn't use this word, about suspicions. It provides
also interesting discussions of that new academic frenzy that has bewildered
so many of us-deconstructionism. In the Epilogue Barrett announces that
he is coming "to a halt, not a termination-for the questions involved
here will occupy us in a later work." That makes me nervous. I'm pretty
sure that I first read Barrett in the early fifties, and I do hope that
he is in good health. Do I pray for that? Well, possibly. back
Lear called me up. He was
talkative and enthusiastic. He wanted to read the piece and other stuff
from this sheet. He was going to go and speak likewise to some annual
convention of the NEA, or maybe the AFT. I forget which. I suggested that
he might think again about that. He hinted that he had a new TV series
coming along, and that it would renovate the spiritual. I sent him some
stuff, warning that it probably wouldn't be what he wanted. And it wasn't.
Thinking of those ants that
helped Psyche, about whom there will be more later, puts me in mind, strangely,
of the first essay in The
Lives of A Cell, Lewis
Thomas' first book, which most of you have probably read. It was about
the mitochondria. It was simply astonishing. It revealed vast new worlds,
and connecting paths beyond counting. Go and read it again. I am trying
to imagine some sort of curriculum in which children would look back and
forth awhile from Thomas' mitochondria to Psyche's ants. back