Volume Fifteen, Number Three............Fall 1991

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 Post

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 of here.

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? Here's clarification:

"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." That's wrong.

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.)

And Norman 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.

And furthermore…

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 is right.

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 terms.

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 belief.

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 "Well, possibly."

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, possibly."

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 this sheet.

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 stick.

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 newer suspicions.

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 seen.

Brief Notes

1 THE 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.

1 THE 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.

1 YOU 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.

The Underground

R. Mitchell, Assistant Circulation Manager
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Glassboro, New Jersey 08028

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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 piece.
    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 think. back

‡ 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 grumbles.
    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. back

‡‡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

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