Wednesday 30 September 2015

Conquest's Third Law

Of Robert Conquest's three 'Laws'...
  1. Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.
  2. Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.
  3. The simplest way to explain the behaviour of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.
The one which I used to find hardest to agree with was the Third.
(Note: I can't find any authoritative internet provenance for these Laws - but they have been posted on numerous blogs.)

But I have come to realize that the Third Law is correct - so long as we notice that it refers specifically to a bureaucracy - and not to every type of organization.

Indeed, the point at which Conquest's Third Law is noticed to become true can be taken at the point when an organization actually becomes 'a bureaucracy'.  

The point is that any bureaucracy shares more in common with other bureaucracies than it shares with its former or historical self before it became a bureaucracy.

In other words, every bureaucracy usually begins life as an organization with a distinctive, sometimes unique, ostensible function - it's 'bumper sticker' role, or 'what it says on the tin' - but when it becomes a bureaucracy it starts behaving as if it was aiming and structuring-itself to do everything-except its ostensible function.

I have experienced for myself two types of organization crossing that line and becoming bureaucracies - the National Health Service - which shed its professional domination and became a bureaucracy in the early 1990s - quite suddenly as a result of intentional legislation; and the British university system which lagged by just a few years and changed less abruptly, but crossed the line in the late 1990s.

Take the example of universities. Leaving aside the research function ; universities used to function mainly to pursue educational goals. They would try to admit those students who had the best educational qualifications and who would do best in examinations, and beyond - within the educational domain.

I am not at this point trying to defend the way that universities used to function: they were very imperfect institutions! But simply to note that - within the limits of human incompetence, the survival need for income, idleness, corruption and bad luck - they operated to pursue what they considered to be educational goals.

But now universities are bureaucracies, and Conquest's Third Law applies; so that - overall and on average, they have become organizations that pursue everything-but educational goals. This may sound far fetched but it is true! The educational function is now treated as a constraint rather than as the aim.

As a constraint, this means that universities more-or-less have to pretend to do educational things; but they do as little as possible of this, and what little they do (if you know what is really going-on, in actual practice) is mostly a matter of appearance rather than substance.

This can be seen in the number of things which British universities now do, and which they state to be aims, that they did not used to do - and this corresponds to the deployment of resources (money and time) including manpower: affirmative action/ inclusion/ multiculturalism/ sexual revolution across all activities (such that this is perhaps the single major aim) - and activities now including 'engagement' with the local community, sustainability and other green issues, active and frequent publicity via the mass media, internal advertising (propaganda directed to faculty and students about the success and excellence of the institution), programmes of new building and environmental enhancement.

When it comes to teaching, the activity is redefined in terms of a multitude of things which are not actually teaching - matters such as the structure and organization of courses; the procedures for approving and monitoring courses; the aims and objectives of courses; achieving uniformity across courses; gathering feedback and responding to feedback on courses; the use of visual and audio-visual aids, internet and new technologies in courses; educational research and auditing of courses; and the allocation of teaching awards and prizes to people who teach little or not-at-all, and whose contribution has been administration of teaching 'innovation' in teaching subjects or methods, or research into teaching; schemes and notions for improving teaching of neglected or oppressed groups such as women or people who cannot speak well the language in which instruction is given...

The point is that all this new and extra effort, all the extra personnel and resources concerned with 'teaching' are directed at pretty much everything-except actual... teaching (teaching being that inter-human activity that goes on, or is supposed to go-on, in the classroom). 

And therefore: de facto, the bureaucratic emphasis on 'teaching' is at-the-expense-of real teaching.

The same applies mutatis mutandis in all bureaucracies.

In a nutshell; just as bureaucracy is parasitic upon organizations, so bureaucrats make all organizations into generic bureaucracies of a primarily bureaucratic nature; thus bureaucracies are intrinsically organizations that are parasitic upon their ostensible function

And this is the explanation of Conquest's Third Law. 

Esoteric knowledge - speculations on its nature

Let us assume that there is such a thing as 'esoteric knowledge' - in particular correct information that is accessible via... well, perhaps we could call it supernatural means.

In other words, not by being told it by other people, nor reading it in a book, nor reasoning it out, nor any other of the other usual, accepted, ways of gaining knowledge.

I am talking about the kind of claims, which have occurred in almost all cultures throughout history, and indeed still do occur even in the modern West, that there are sources of knowledge which may become accessible during trances, dreams, by divination etc.

The claimed source of such knowledge may be personal or abstract - personal would be when the esoteric knowledge comes from a supernatural person - a spirit, god, angel, demon or God for example.

The provenance of personally-given information is easily understood - but abstract information less so.

By abstract I mean when the knowledge is supposed to have come from a record or chronicle which is to be found out-with normal reality - for example the 'Akashic' records of theosophy and anthroposophy - which is conceptualized as an account of spiritual realities to be found on the astral plane of existence.

This concept led me to speculate on what properties such a record might have - if it were real.

1. It seems plausible that there might indeed be some kind of spiritual record of all significant knowledge - indeed, most religious people would believe this - although mostly they would assume that such knowledge was in the 'memory' of the gods or God.

2. If such a record was not in personal and private memory, but was more like an annal or chronicle that could be consulted by many people, then it would seem that - since hardly anybody can read it - such a record is not meant to be universally read; at least not as a matter of routine.

3. I would expect that any such record, if accessed, would be difficult to understand and easy to misunderstand - since this is the case with other forms of record, such as multi-volume encyclopaedias or ancient archives of newspapers. Understanding needs contextual knowledge.

4. Such a record would have to be extraordinarily vast and of widely varying comprehensibility - which would presumably mean some parts of it were more accessible than others.

5. Since most people cannot (or cannot consciously) access abstract esoteric records for most of the time, the ability to link to the would presumably be via some sort of sympathy, resonance, special motivation or brooding desire - which would inevitably be specific.

6. Perhaps, access to abstract records is difficult because it is personally controlled (by some higher power, or the laws established by a higher power) - and would only be allowed to somebody judged worthy. The usual situation in a large library is that access is restricted; a given person is allowed access to a specific part of the record only.

7. There is no convincing evidence that I know of where someone has learned by esoteric means anything which is implausibly beyond their interest and competence - except when the person or persons are plausibly prophets or divinely inspired, when there are what seem to be miracles of knowledge, just as there are miracles of healing. Usually the knowledge is very specific, or a matter of filling in gaps; but in some instances more extensive texts have been produced.

8. Overall, if it is accepted that valid knowledge is available via esoteric routes, then it can be seen that such knowledge is not exempted from the constraints of ordinary, mundane knowledge. In other words even if the source it eternal and truthful, the transcription and translation and interpretation of that source can be wrong, can contain errors - is to some extent susceptible to the intrinsic selectivity and bias of the reader; and any further readers of that reader.

Esoteric knowledge can be no more infallible than any other type of knowledge; indeed, since its form is usually reported as very different from mundane knowledge, then esoteric knowledge may be especially prone to error and misunderstanding - reporting esoteric knowledge might be less like translating a foreign language, and more like trying to describe an orchestral symphony by making small clay models; or summarizing a philosophical treatise by dancing.

This would explain why there is often a convergence of basic simple ideas between apparently valid sources of esoteric knowledge, but great differences in detail (and the more detail, the more differences).

Alternatively, it could be argued that everybody accesses eternal abstract esoteric records all of the time (which form some kind of collective unconscious, perhaps; which are perhaps even that which binds conscious beings in unity through Time); but most people are mostly simply unaware of doing so; they do not realise it is happening (because they do not need to know, so long as it just happens) - maybe because such access is like a physiological process (analogous to digestion, of immunity) that just happens unconsciously.

Or maybe access occurs during sleep, and we are aware of it then: but afterwards it is forgotten.

Or, maybe accessing the records is so alien a process to waking consciousness and reason, that we can't make any sense of it  - but just live-by the results.  

If one of the above, then people who claim to access these records may, in fact, simply be becoming more-aware of something - some process - which happens to almost everybody pretty much all of the time.

It could be like a life-support-system undetectably plumbed into us - but only a handful of people have ever noticed.

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Modern culture refusing to grow-up

Continuing from yesterday's post:

If Final Participation is accepted as the goal, then it is clear that this has only been achieved sporadically and temporarily - and also clear that there is no discernible cultural trend towards this goal.

Indeed, my feeling is that the West is considerably further back from the goal of Final Participation than it was forty years ago - we are going in the wrong direction: and since the evolution of consciousness is analogous to the development of an individual, this means that culturally we are refusing to grow-up.

In other words, the West is therefore stuck in adolescence, refusing to move on to adulthood - and in terms of adolescence the West is more immature now than it was forty years ago.

I don't suppose this is controversial - indeed it is blazingly obvious as one looks around that we live in a culture in which perpetual adolescence is the ideal: young adults, the middle aged even the elderly all and increasingly feel, behave and try (harder and harder) to look-like teenagers - and are proud of doing so.

The only general cultural alternative, for those who recognize that adolescence is properly a transitional stage and not a resting place, and that overall adolescence is (by far) the worst, most miserable and selfish, phase of a normal person's life; is a return to childhood: to aim at the immersive state of original participation.

This return to childhood has more, and less, healthy possibilities - the more healthy include an interest in childlike and magical things, reminiscence and nostalgia, an interest in the ethnic and tribal life and the religions of hunter gatherers, The dark side includes attempting to destroy self-consciousness, self-awareness and purpose by the deployment of intoxication, drugs, sex, and immersion in the mass media.

My impression is that every generation or so, the West has been brought to some kind of decision-point - at which there is a more-or-less inarticulate awareness of The Problem of Consciousness - and there is a more-or-less discernible path ahead towards the evolution of consciousness... or the possibility of refusing to take that path and continuing along the path of more of the same.

I think I have experienced two such times - in the late sixties and early seventies, and then much more weakly around 1990. Both nascent spiritual developments were stamped out by renewed materialism, renewed consumerism, renewed focus on luxuries and distractions (and progression of the sexual revolution) - most recently with the advent of the internet and personal media.

The reason for refusal is, I think, the mass abandonment of Christianity and the prevalent combination of indifference and hostility to Christianity. Despite vague hopes that Christianity would be replaced by some other religion, or spirituality, none of this has happened and instead people are left without any context for the evolution of consciousness; because the evolution of consciousness cannot be regarded as the primary goal or purpose, but only makes sense in religious terms - indeed it only makes sense in terms of Christianity (defined in some broad bu objective sense); since Christ was what made it possible.

The centrality of Christ is a common insight to all the deepest thinkers on this subject of the evolution of consciousness. If this can be grasped as a fact, then perhaps the next time our culture is given a choice for the future, there may be a better change that we will go forward towards maturity instead of refusing to grow-up.

Monday 28 September 2015

Just exactly how are we supposed to achieve the next stage in evolution of Consciousness - Final Participation?

The scheme of the evolution of human consciousness, goes something like this:

1. A child-like state of immersion in the world, the world experienced as alive, conscious, purposive - from which the self is not clearly differentiated - there is little or nothing in the way of self-awareness, conscience, individuality, 'ego'. The 'gods' are very close, frequently experienced, involved in life, our task is simply to discern the will of the gods and the patterns of the world and to fit to it, smoothly, seamlessly.

2. The adolescent-analogous stage of differentiation of the self, of self-awareness, self-consciousness - and also the being cut-off from the rest of reality, which is experienced as remote; often as non-living/ dead, purposeless, random - all meaning being located in the subjective self- and/or a qualitatively remote and utterly un-like God.

This phase was supposed to have been achieved by the ancient Hebrews, with their one personal supreme God and rejection of the (minor) gods; and by the Ancient Greeks with their philosophical concept of one abstract god as the explanation for creation, the first cause, and encompassing everything eternally.

3. The future and final adult and mature stage in which we retain the self, self-awareness, conscience, a personal identity... but move back into an active relationship with the world - all else again becoming conceptualized and experienced as alive, purposive, conscious (to various degrees and in various ways).

So we are no longer 'immersed' in everything, but neither are we trapped, alone inside our consciousness - instead be are participating and related to 'everything'.


The idea from Rudolf Steiner and Owen Barfield is that Jesus Christ - coming after the Ancient Hebrews and Greeks, made possible this final participation - for Himself, and for everyone... if they choose it.

So final participation is what we are 'meant' to do: if we agree with this analysis, and choose to take this as our goal; then how do we set about achieving this?

A few things can perhaps be said:

1. The first, vital and most important step is to understand what it is that is being aimed-at, and making the inner choice that this is what we want.

(In other words, we need the right metaphysical system, a correct basic understanding of the fundamental structure and nature of reality.)

2. Since we are talking about relationships, our destiny is individual, personal - each person is meant to be somewhat different and distinctive (because that is the nature of relationships) - this suggests that we are significantly different to begin-with, and in at least some respects each is intended to have a distinctive path. (What is meant for us is unique overall, and in a specific aspect may not be meant for all others; and vice versa).

We should expect to find and use some general guidance, that is indeed applicable to all; but also some specific and personal destiny - applicable only to ourselves. We will share some of the path, and other parts of the path we will tread alone.

3. To embark on this quest, it seems necessary to have a belief in the ultimate power of individual discernment. We must, that is, believe that the situation of Life has been set-up such that we are equipped with inner guidance that can - over time - lead us to the truth.

On the one hand, it seems obvious that we cannot possibly (and are therefore not intended to) use personal discernment for each and every choice; but on the other hand, we cannot accept authoritative guidance (for example from scripture, the church leadership, tradition, reason or whatever) without some valid discernment about which of the innumerable self-styled, claimed sources of 'authority' are genuine (overall, and in any particular instance).

Therefore we need to assume that we have some kind of reliable 'inner guidance system', some personal revelation at some level of analysis, that will - if properly deployed, and in-the-end - enable us to discern good from evil, truth from dishonesty, beauty from corruption and so on.

I envisage this as God-within-us, an inner divinity - albeit partial - which is a direct consequence of us being Children of God. Often this works by our personal guidance informing us (cumulatively, over time) which are, and which are not, valid sources of knowledge, authority, inspiration etc.

4. There is no single organized or institutional group, no religion or denomination, within which an individual can pursue Final Participation or the development of consciousness in himself, and to make this as widely as possible available for others. But some are better suited to this than others - which are actively antagonistic.

The same applies to methods or paths: there is no single one, necessary to all. Meditation may help some, harm others; a particular Christian practice or tradition (rules of life, confession, regular Eucharist, group improvised prayer etc.) may help some, many or most people - but not everybody; and will harm some people overall, maybe including you.

(This does not apply to the Commandments and other definitions of basic sin and virtue - some behaviours are bad and need to be repented.)

Also, some groups are better suited to any specific person than others (in terms of the dispositions, strengths and weaknesses of each specific person).

5. In the end, spiritual progression towards Final Participation of consciousness is something which each person must chisel-out for himself: knowing where he wants to end-up; proceeding by the best authority he can recognise (plus trial and error and repentance); and learning to detect and read-off his divinely installed inner guidance system.

Sunday 27 September 2015

Mindfulness and bureaucracy

Several of the big British bureaucracies - the National Health Service, and the State education department - have got hold of a notion they called 'mindfulness' (which they claim comes from Buddhism) which is now is being officially promoted... by the usual network of committees, recommendations, protocols and quality-monitoring methods.

(If only the ancient Buddhist monks had known about modern Managerial and accountancy methods... If only they could have recognized that modern officials would be able to reduce mindfulness to a set of processes... Think how much they might have achieved!) 

For example, mindfulness has been added to the compulsory school curriculum in some places, 'taught' by advisers and experts, evaluated by the same kind of systems as evaluate the teaching of mathematics and history...

This has happened before with 'Quality'.

In other words, we can see here a precisely analogous process of getting a complex concept, making it into a word, then making that word into... well, pretty much whatever the bureaucracy happens to want at that particular time.

As always, we must ignore the high minded introductory spiel (always ignore what managers say), and the assertions that mindfulness is a good thing... and see what it boils down to in practice.

Are there bullet points about doing mindfulness? Checklists? Who is telling us to do mindfulness - are they the kind of people who might know something - or anything - about the subject?

Do they in the slightest degree behave mind-fully or show any evidence of actually caring about actual mindfulness?

(How would the mindfulness-managers react if someone began being mindful while attending (or giving) a lecture or committee on the subject? - or mindfully filled in a form being used for external evaluations? - or became mindful instead of preparing a Power Point Presentation for the clients? - or experienced an intense and prolonged episode of mindfulness during a Personal Review and Staff Development session?)

Saturday 26 September 2015

Understanding and accepting the human condition by the thought experiment of imagining ourselves as the Creator

The ideas of William Arkle are based upon his imaginative identification with, intuitive understanding of, and (I believe) direct mystical revelation concerning the purpose of God, the Creator in manifesting this world. All his work is an exploration of this theme, in its many ramifications.


I have edited the following from a little, self-published booklet called Equations of Being: notes on the nature of love - originating from Arkle's home in Backwell (the village in Somerset, England where I spent all my school years) - which seems to date from about 1980. 


I would advise copy, pasting and printing-out the excerpt below; if you want to get the most from it. 




By trying to put ourselves in the position of the Creator whose nature is love and spiritedness, we may be able to draw conclusions which help us to understand and accept the situation on Earth as we find it at the present time. 


We may come to realise that the difficulties of life, while often painful, are also extremely valuable if we can view them as a part of the process of making us into real and responsible individual spirits who can become companions of the endless life in which the Creative Source wishes us to meet Him.

I wish to suggest that we put ourselves in the position of this Creative Source, the God of what we love, and begin to see things from the position we would be in if we were about to make the plans for this scheme of manifestation of which our worlds are a part.



When we put ourselves in the position of this Creator, it is then that we have to look more closely at the nature of love, and try to understand the principles which it contains. Unless we can do this we cannot begin our designing, for we will not be clear about what we are trying to achieve.


We might, for instance, try to design a scheme which would be like a continuous, perfect, summer holiday situation. We would begin with the idea of ease and happiness in mind. We would find that our schemes did not contain responsibility or difficulty. 


I think we would find that our plans would take for granted that it was easy to include other people in our perfect world; but we would make up a perfect and easy world where everyone was like ourselves; and where all the things that really mattered to us were simply put into the picture, ready made.


All our schemes would contain other people, for none of us would want to be lonely, and all of us would sooner or later begin to realise that other people were an integral part of all that we enjoyed about ourselves.

But we would rapidly discover that a sort of mythical ‘deckchair on golden deserted sands’ situation was a trap. A little would be pleasant, but only because it is what we are most short of in our experience of life as it is on Earth. Even if we allowed ourselves a companion, or even a family, we would find that there was still a lot wrong. The family who sat about with us would soon get restless - as we would.




So we would want to explore a bit, go for a walk, see something new. We may go for a swim. Swimming and short walks, on a perfect beach in perfect weather, with all our loved ones about us; such might be a beginning...


But the walks would have to get longer and the swimming would have to include diving. The diving would lead to exploring the seabed and the walks would become voyages of discovery. We would wish to feel that family or friends were on the sands for us to come back to, but we would want to feel free to explore, we would want to feel free to experiment with different sorts of walking and swimming, different combinations of walking, swimming and sitting in the sun...


We would wish to talk to our companions, we would wish to enjoy their company. We would wish to laugh and have a bit of fun. And we would need for them to be real in their own right, so that the laughter and fun was real and full of surprise and the unexpected. 


(Because if we had programmed the other people to be just like ourselves, we would find it very difficult to keep up the pretence of enjoying their company, their fun and their affection. For pretence it would have to be, since we were merely entertaining ourself in other guises.)




If we looked into the matter further, we would discover, if we play with this problem, that whatever form we take and whatever environment we take it in there are certain basic requirements which stem from the nature of love itself. 


Our sense of loving to explore and experiment is as real as our love of basking in sunny happiness. And our sense of love needs other people to do these things with. We require fun and delight with other people's company, and these other people need to be just as real as we are. 


So, a big problem is that any idea of existence requires us to people our world with beings who are different from ourselves, who most certainly must not have been programmed or brainwashed by us in any way. In fact we find that other people who are as real and independent as we are, is something we cannot do without.


So we face this situation that when we start the scheme off, we have to accept that other people might wish to do things that did not appeal to us. We would have to learn to accept one another’s different approaches and the fact that although we may have designed the scheme, we would have to give to others the same rights as we have. We would have to hand over the control and outcome to other people.




Against this argument is the realisation that a creative scheme has to ensure that the freedom which is allowed to the other individuals who live in it is handed to them gradually as their responsibility grows and is able to bear it safely. 

Because although we need to give to our friends, those with whom we wish to live in our designed creation, the freedom and independence which makes them real to us and therefore makes the experience of their company completely valid; we would not wish to reach a stage at which we ourselves were over-ruled by them.


So, when we begin to imagine ways of bringing our companions into our creative scheme in such a way that we can give to them their own reality, and give it to them in such a way that we do not dominate them, we realise what a subtle thing this process will have to be...


Such companions will eventually have to be given the same creative reality as ourself, the creator, but they will begin their lives in a condition of great potentiality - a potentiality which will be entirely unrealised by them.


So our scheme of creation will have to be largely educational to start with; before our friends will have grown-up enough to enter into its delightful creative purpose with their own unique individual ways of looking at things and doing things, and with the responsibility which will ensure that their desire is to enhance all things and not to destroy or diminish.




We will need to help our friends to come to themselves gradually, and take the gift of their own reality upon themselves deliberately, by their own choices.


We will have to discover ways of showing them why the good and the beautiful qualities are considered by us, the creator, to be good and beautiful. And the only way we can do this, is by giving them a taste of the opposite qualities in order that they can knowingly say to themselves: ‘I have experienced beautiful and good attitudes which seek to enhance all things; and I have experienced ugly and evil attitudes which seek to diminish and enslave all things, and I chose the good and the beautiful and will always resist the opposite’. 

This is our world. 



In conclusion, when each of us, now, is considering our situation in life, we need to consider whether we would prefer to be given a very full and thorough education, in which difficulties acted upon us to strengthen all our characteristics which we feel to be valuable - because this is the situation of our actual world.  


Or would we have preferred an easy form of education in which we could obtain a token reality for ourselves in circumstances which required little effort on our part?


Or, again, would we have preferred to have been created with all our individuality ready-made and programmed into us? In which case we would not need education, for we would simply respond with the conditioning already at work in our nature, effortless and automatic and not within our power to change. 


In the long run I think we realise that the difficult and thorough way - the way of our actual lives in this world - was what we most wanted; because, above all, we wish to be real.


We want to be valuably real, and we do not want to be artificially valuable. 



Friday 25 September 2015

What is success in life?

"Nothing can take the place of home in rearing and teaching children, and no other success can compensate for failure in the home

That statement, from a President of the CJCLDS - and often quoted since, is an example of the unique Christian perspective of Mormonism.

My conviction is that the statement is empirically true, and a nearly-always applicable generalization.

What a difference it would make to the world, if human life (including political life, law, work, education and so on) was organized on this basis! - on the assumption that this is the condition towards which we ought to be striving!

Thursday 24 September 2015

What is Intuition? Excerpt from The Genius Famine (my forthcoming book)

From Edward Dutton & Bruce G Charlton. The Genius Famine - why we need geniuses, why they're dying out, and why we must rescue them. University of Buckingham Press - in the press.

From the Chapter - The Creative Triad

What is intuition?

We could approach intuition by stating that intuition is the mode of thought of the private soul/ the real self/ inner consciousness - that is to say the most profound, the most secret, fundamental mode of thought. Intuition can be contrasted with two (lower, subordinated) modes of thinking: passions versus reason; the body v the brain; gut-feelings v head-knowledge; instinct v logic. These two modes are not absolutely distinct, but we think they can usefully be distinguished.

So, what is the thought mode of intuition? It is not by instinct nor by logic - but by something of both, and more. Therefore, intuition is a mode of thinking which simultaneously uses emotion and logic but operating in a context of (for example) motivation, purpose, meaning and relationships. In a nutshell, intuition uses all possible modes of thinking; and this is why it intuition leads to a greater feeling of sureness, of certainty, than other and more partial forms of thought.

The result of intuition is therefore an evaluation which is uniquely convincing because it is validated by the full range of positive responses. It is an insight that satisfies both logic and reason, and also ‘feels’ right. By contrast, if we use only (for example) logic, or only emotions, to evaluate something; then the evaluation will be incomplete, and evaluation in one sub-mode may be contradicted by evaluation in another sub-mode - as when logic and emotions reach different conclusions, point in different directions, contradict one-another – and we feel confused or torn because our head and our heart are in conflict.

Only the evaluations of intuition are fully satisfying, fully convincing, and harmonious. Only the evaluations of intuition mobilize the whole range of thought modes. Thus intuition is the most powerful mode of thought, and the only mode of thought capable of mobilizing the fullest degree of motivation. Intuition is what makes us care most about ideas: it is what engages us with creativity. This is why intuition is necessary to the highest levels of creativity, to the greatest attainments of genius.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

I see no grounds for hope in the Perennial Philosophy because it has been thoroughly tried - and has failed

I used to be, pretty much, an adherent of the Perennial Philosophy; and even since I became a Christian I am not hostile to it. But I see no hope in it.

The reason is simply that it has been around for generations, but never gets any further; also I see no evidence that it has any significant tendency to strengthen and improve its adherents - whom seem to just as susceptible to the pathologies of modernity as is anyone else (and indeed among the leadership of Perennial Philosophy, the standards of behaviour - when judged by traditional values - are, on average, perhaps lower that the population average).

I have returned to this matter through my current project of reading Jeremy Naydler, and seeing that he teaches at the Temenos Academy, which is perhaps the most prestigious of Perennial Philosophy organizations - since it is actively supported by many establishment figures including HRH The Prince of Wales (presumably our future King).

What is the Perennial Philosophy? Here is a video self-explaining:

My own pragmatic definition is that the movement was (historically) set-up by, and continues to attract, disaffected ex-Christians and intellectuals who have positive views about most religions, spirituality, and selected aspects of some actual churches; but not about what they term 'fundamentalist' Christian churches. The PP is thus, pretty much, the intellectual wing of the New Age movement.

The basic idea of the PP is that all world religions (properly understood) share a core body of beliefs, and this core is true and the most important aspect of them, and these core truths can-be and ought-to-be the basis of the highest and best kind of religion/ spirituality.

I personally agree that all real religions share core truths - but I do not agree that what is shared is necessarily the most important thing - and especially not for these times. I certainly do not agree that the shared core it is the best kind of religion/ spirituality - and in practical terms I think it has been empirically proven by experience that these shared core things are not a sufficient basis for a strong and good lived religion/ spirituality.

In sum, the Perennial Philosophy seems too weak, too feeble, too diffuse and easily dispersible to be the core of a human life. And indeed, adherents do not behave as if the PP is the core of their lives; rather, they fit it into other priorities.

So, Perennialists tend to be positive (in a semi-detached way) about Eastern religions generally (especially Buddhism, but also some aspects of Hinduism such as the Bhagavad Gita - although not the caste system! - and especially keen on Taoism; also Sufism, sometimes Kabbalism, and the mystical traditions of Christianity; such as Eastern Orthodoxy, the meditative tradition of monasticism in the Roman Catholic Church, Gnosticism, Neo-Platonism.. and many types of ancient paganism, animism, totemism and... have I missed anything?

Among Christian churches PP-ers do not seem to like Protestants generally and Lutherans, Calvinists, Methodists, Baptists or modern conservative evangelicals or Pentecostalists in particular... in sum they show no interest in the currently growing parts of mainstream Christianity. And they are either bored-by, or hostile-to, newer and thriving churches such as Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists.

As so often, there is a cleavage line around the sexual revolution. Perennial Philosophy advocates are almost all advocates of, and adherents to, one or more aspect of the sexual revolution, and the expansion of sexual relationships beyond religious concepts of marriage. This is very obvious among both leaders and followers - and the PP environment is often sexualized; with multiple marriages, cohabitations, affairs and the rest of it - in line with mainstream modern secular life.

Furthermore, in their political views they are Leftist - often the ultra-idealistic Leftism of Anarchism, Deep-Green ecology, Voluntary Simplicity etc. They may or may not support mainstream Left parties (often they do - but some ultra-Leftists do not); but they never support 'Right wing' parties - even by the insipid mainstream standards of mainstream politics whereby what would have been hardline Leftism two generations ago is now supposed to be far Right!

In general, the PP adherents never, in their analyses, regard the problems of the modern world as a consequence of Leftism - despite the close temporal correlation; but almost always as a consequence of something described as Right Wing - whether capitalism, libertarianism, industrialization, patriarchy, racism, colonialism etc.

In terms of their lifestyle, Perennial Philosophy advocates have adopted most of the post-sixties markers of New Left modernity - 'alternative'/ bohemian styles of grooming and clothing, ponytails and ear-rings for men, body piercings and tattoos with increasing popularity, green consumerism, a focus on Africa and a pro-ethnic stance, alternative- and psycho-therapies, Fair Trade products and vegetarianism, an interest in 'renewable' resources, 'organic' horticulture and farming, Anthropogenic Global Warming and so on, and so forth.

My point is that the Perennial Philosophy has been around for an awfully long time now - at least three generations of significant visibility (since, say, the Beat Generation of the 1950s), yet there is no evidence that it makes any significant difference to the lives of its adherents - they do not stand-out against the currents of our time in any way which would lead to significant problems for them.

On all the litmus test issues of our time - the kind of things that could get you sacked or made a public pariah - i.e. the issues of Political Correctness - the Perennial Philosophers are all comfortably on the side of the secular mainstream.

This must be either a terribly lucky coincidence! - or else demonstrates that the PP has no real backbone, no capacity to en-courage and strengthen its leaders or followers in face of adversity; but is merely a weathervane for mainstream secular Leftism.

On the one hand I still read and enjoy, and am not much worried about the Perennial Philosophy; on the other hand I don't expect anything substantive from it. Despite its hostility, it is no real threat to real Christianity. No doubt, as a half-way house it is sometimes a distraction from potentially better things; yet it may also be a stepping stone to better things (as it was for me).

So while I am not hostile, and I often find much to interest me in the work of Perennial Philosophy advocates - for instance, there are often good diagnoses of the deep problems of modernity even when the prescription and treatment-plan is usually worthless or just more of the same-old - I cannot be optimistic or enthusiastic about the future of the movement.

I see not the slightest evidence that the PP can be a real religion; and on the contrary I do see a recurrent pattern of hopes leading nowhere.

In sum; the Perennial Philosophy is at best an intellectual activity - part of the History of Ideas, more typically a feel-good Lefty lifestyle; but it is not a thing capable of deeply-motivating, nor of powerfully-inspiring, its adherents.

Mostly Harmless.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Warding-off the evil eye of the mass media

In the ancient world there was a belief that written words or symbols, or pictures or statues, or words spoken in a particular way, had objective power for good or ill - a potentially immense power.

I think this is correct, and I feel it strongly from the mass media, whose activities feel so much like an evil spell, or a curse. That, I suspect, is precisely what they are. How else could a single picture, a video clip, a phrase, do so much harm?

From time to time this seems undeniable - like the recent deceit-full and irrelevant usage of a three-year old drowned boy to destroy the resistance of Western societies to their annihilation by mass population migration. As I read the headlines of that 'story' I felt a vast and transfixing malice approaching: the evil eye being directed directly at me - and no doubt tens of millions of others felt the same.

It was instantly clear that we were catapulted beyond the realms of argument - we were all just about to be hit with the strangling chains of a double bind. It was a case of: embrace the narrative instantly, or be destroyed by concentrated hatred.

How to respond? By warding-off the demonic assault: by an instant prayer - fired-off like a crossbow bolt, by crossing oneself, by making a sign (whether overt or secret) to repel the shock-wave.

This seems to me the only valid response, and indeed the best response - because it self-signals our recognition of what is going-on, and unambiguously shows our attacker (by supernatural routes) that we know what is going-on, and demonstrates our faith that we are perfectly safe from such satanic attacks - safe, that is, unless we yield, capitulate to the jinx, invite the vampire through the door and into our own house...

I intend to do this more and more - and I think it is more and more necessary; because the mass media cannot be altogether avoided, and they have henchmen everywhere.

When the curse is launched at you, there is always a moment of awareness before impact; and that is when you can respond with a shield charm. Train yourself not to be drawn into an argument which is pre-rigged for you to lose. But ask for divine help. And if you are seen to do so - then so much the better.  

Our defences are, indeed, impenetrable - so long as we actually deploy them.

Monday 21 September 2015

The purposive evolution of complexity - the major problem of natural selection theory. Fields and forces, or the gods and angels?

By far the greatest weakness, indeed not merely a weakness but a vast and decisive flaw, in the explanatory power of the theory of natural selection is the inability satisfactorily to explain the evolution of complexity.

This is either something you see, or you don't see. The advantages of complexity are clear enough - complexity enables efficiency  but as complexity increases so does the interdependence of parts and the probability that things will go wrong.

People who think for any length of time about natural selection will sooner or later gravitate to this problem, and will realize that the big problem is not the origin of life, or the origin of complexity - but the sustaining of life and of increased complexity in face of the tendency of natural selection top subvert it by enhancement of the short-termism and selfishness of component parts.

Pure natural selection would dismantle complexity as fast as it evolved complexity - to maintain complexity, to maintain the cohesion of complexity - cooperation, organization, interdependence etc; there must be something else at work.

In a nutshell - teleology, purposiveness, cannot be eliminated from biology. It may be hidden, it may be denied - but it is really there.

But what is that something else generates that purposiveness - what kind of a thing is it?


A one level, this is the problem for which group selection is posited as the answer; because that is the most obvious aspect.

The 'group' may be the cell - which is a group of specialized component organelles (mitochondria, centrioles, chloroplasts etc) and other structures such as the cell membrane, vacuoles, endoplasmic reticulum... - each with a degree of autonomy and the potential for 'selfish' exploitation of the cell as an environment. Another group is the group of cells in a multicellular organism which must be made to cooperate - and not simply evolving by natural selection to become cancers and other neoplasm which turn parasite and live-off the organism by exploiting it. And the same applies in relation to individuals compared with the group in the society of social animals - what keeps the individual fulfilling its cooperative function, and maintains the coordination of individuals, instead of becoming a free rider.

The abstract reality of group selection is easy enough to accept -but where and what is this thing which has a purpose and imposes coordination? If it is just a part of the lower level entity, then the problem is not solved - somehow, that which imposes group selection must be situated outwith that which is group selected...


Most biologists who have thought through to this point have reached to physics or mathematics to explain the elaboration and sustaining of complexity. This idea comes from Aristotle via Thomas Aquinas.

For example, Rupert Sheldrake explains it in terms of fields - morphic resonance fields, which organize matter into certain forms (which can themselves evolve) in a fashion analogous to magnetic fields. This could be regarded as a geometrical theory of complexity. Or there are those who focus on archetypal forms, into which biology will spontaneously fall. D'Arcy Thomson seemed to be of this school, and CH Waddington was the most powerful advocate of the twentieth century. More recently, the mathematics of chaos have been used to generate these explanations - as in the work of Stuart Kauffman or Brian Goodwin.

Another (much less formal, more philosophical) version of this is the Life Force - which drives biology upward, towards higher forms, perhaps towards greater consciousness of itself - this had currency from various literary authors such as Bernard Shaw - who wrote popular plays about it, Teilhard de Chardin; and there were similar ideas in mainstream Germanic philosophy.

My point is that there is one class of physical science explanations of complexity, which have as the bottom line either a geometrical concept of forms, or else some equations.

These teleological explanations are regarded as fringe science by mainstream biologists - and are in practice completely ignored because they cannot be integrated with natural selection theory.

However, they do have some status among non-biologists, and as popular scientists - for example, Waddington was the King-maker of mid-twentieth century biology; and Kauffman used to edit the prestigious Journal of Theoretical Biology.


But the other type of teleological explanation is much older and currently has zero/ negative status as being not merely not-biology but regarded as pseudo-scientific nonsense: that is to regard the agents sustaining of higher complexity as personifications - in other words as gods and angels.

By this kind of explanation, there is some kind of very large and functionally-specialized hierarchy of spiritual beings that are responsible for the maintaining the fragile complexity of biological phenomena.

Yet, such explanations are, in principle, more biological than those dependent on physics and mathematics. In essence, the personified model of complex organization is explicitly cognitive and purposive: complexity increases because that is what the ruling entities want.

 So, whereas the teleology of fields and forces is an 'as if' phenomenon (the idea being that things just gravitate towards already existent forms or evolve in-line-with fundamental law-like equations). In other words, fields and forces are abstract, and carry no transcendental imperative - they 'just are' and whether you or I fit in with them or not makes no difference.

Fields and forces are nothing to do with the meaning or purpose of your life or my life; the concept is that they just happen to be the way that things are - overall and in the long term.

But if the evolution of complexity really is driven by entities (such as gods or angels) - and if, further, these entities have some kind of personal relationship with us - then there is a possible basis for using the word 'ought' in relation to evolution. It is no just something that 'happens'; instead evolution is something that is being done by personal agency - and is (to some significant extent) being done to us, and/ or on our behalf.


If we take Owen Barfield's description of the evolution of human consciousness - from an Original Participation when we were immersed in nature, via a detached and objective consciousness of the Self - when we perceive our-selves as separate from nature, and aiming at a Final Participation in which we are in a relationship with nature - then we can see a possible parallel, and a possible implication that we will at some point return to a personalized conceptualization of forces acting within biology.

On this basis, I would predict that there will be a return of the gods and angels to displace physics-mathematical models as an explanation for the teleological aspects of biology.

There may be scientific advantages to this - there certainly appear to be disadvantages, at least from the mainstream biological perspective!

But, in the end, it is a question of reality. Are there, or are there not, personal entities at work in such matters as the evolution of complexity or consciousness?

If we decide (on whatever grounds) that there are entities at work in driving evolution in particular directions and sustaining certain forms; then that is how we ought to understand such matters - and we should think this way whether it is, or even if it is not, biologically-fruitful to do so.

Which young people have led 'a sheltered life'? Religious missionaries or normal college kids?


Sunday 20 September 2015

Transcending (not deleting) Leftism

The diagnosis is that Leftism is (almost) everywhere by now, such that it is the water in which we swim - not least because its basis is in the modern mass media which is everywhere and is the water in which we swim.

A few years ago I wrote Thought Prison which analyzed political correctness (or the New Left, the post-sixties Left of identity politics, group preferences and quotas and the sexual revolution); and traced it back at least to the Great Schism when catholic Christianity divided between East and West.

My interpretation was that the only way to be rid of this cancer was to revert to the pre-modern condition. Another interpretation is that this cannot be done, so the West is doomed.

A further possibility, which has been creeping-up on me for two years or more, is that Leftism is so pervasive that it cannot (even in principle) be deleted, there can be no re-set, because since Leftism is by now almost everywhere and what is more deeply interwoven (including into much of the best and most effective art and thought) so that to try and delete it would be like trying to excise a cancer which has already metastasised all over the body.

If we successfully cut out the Leftism/ cancer- what remained would probably not be viable and would certainly not be desirable.

Is there some other possibility? Maybe.

My idea came from the Mormon Restoration in relation to preceding Christianity. The basis of this is the Mormon belief that from about 100 AD onwards, Christianity underwent a 'Great Apostasy'. As a term, this sounds a lot more negative and damning than it is actually interpreted by Mormons.

The way the idea works in practice, is the assumption that Christianity took a wrong turn after the death or disappearance of the Apostles. For example, it lost some vital doctrines (such as pre-mortal existence) and gained some false emphases and unhelpful metaphysics.

This was not self-correcting; so there needed to be a new prophet chosen by God (i.e. Joseph Smith) who would lead a Restoration that provided recovered/ new scriptures (e.g. The Book of Mormon) and doctrinal clarification (e.g. the Doctrines and Covenants); together with a re-booted priesthood and a church organization suited to the needs of these 'latter days'.

But Mormonism does not reject the previous 1700 years of Christianity - is not hostile to pre-Mormon Christians - does not try to delete it from consciousness or usage - does not try to restart Christianity on the basis of the 'primitive church': quite the opposite.

Of all the serious Christian denominations of which I am aware, Mormons are by far the most positive about other denominations; and up to the very highest level will quote and learn from and revere good counsel from any source and any point in Christian history (and, indeed, from outside of Christianity). This has always been the case from Joseph Smith onwards, and is not a matter of theory - this is a very warm-hearted and spontaneous thing.

In sum, from a Mormon perspective, the Restoration was necessary, but that does not mean that everything which went before could or should be discarded - rather pre-Mormon Christianity (and other modern Christian churches) is subject to addition, subtraction and a different emphasis: but it is not by any means deleted, rather it is willingly, actively and happily used - but selectively.

In a word pre-Mormon Christianity is transcended; or in another word re-framed; or re-interpreted and built-upon what went before.

By analogy, I think it may and should be possible to do the same with Leftism.

Perhaps it is possible not to fight Leftism head-on, in an 'us or them', all or nothing battle unto death; but for Leftism to repent; and for post-Leftism to re-frame, re-interpret, transcend and build-upon Leftism - pick it up and take it in a very different direction (recognizing that it was in error).

After all, this is what we personally do as individuals when we become Christians. No matter how deeply sinful or misguided our lives have been; we do not try to delete our pre-Christian lives; instead we repent what needs repenting, and start from where we happen to be.

That this is possible is core Christian doctrine. Christ came to save sinners; and takes us exactly as we are now: we are saved by accepting Christ; not post-dated until after some micro-surgical process of totally-deleting all our many and deep and ramifying sins.

From that point, we are Christians,but the creative and joyful work begins of embarking on a life of becoming more Christ-like, a life of theosis: striving to become ever-better Sons and Daughters of God. 

Where we in the West happen to be, is inside a state of extremely comprehensive and multi-generational Leftism - which is anti-Good (that is: evil), deeply sin-full.

We need to repent, and start afresh; but this will be by building-upon the good of the past,starting immediately, and without supposing that we can first extirpate the evils of the past.  

We must, in The secular Leftist West culture, acknowledge that we were wrong; we must start living as best we can in light of what is right - but this is (or should be) an essentially positive and creative agenda: just like becoming a new Christian.

Saturday 19 September 2015

When time stands still - animated perspectives

I was half-watching a not-very-good superhero movie on TV called X-men Days of the Future; when suddenly there was a scene of absolutely thrilling beauty which combined virtuoso special effects, script, acting, music to lift everything to a higher level.

The idea - as you probably gather - is that there is a switch of time perspective and back.

We see things from the perspective first of the majority of the people, then from the perspective of the featured character (the one with goggles and headphones) - and then back again to how the majority see things.

The featured character is the superhero Quicksilver, who can move so fast that the rest of the world seems to him extremely slow.

My guess is that the above scene was suggested by the comedy cartoon Over the Hedge, which I watched with my kids when it came-out. In the scene below there had been a big build-up to the squirrel Hammy being given an energy drink - and we, the audience, had been psyched from previous scenes to expect him to move extremely fast.

But instead:

(There is also a metaphysical, theological interest in all this if we substitute supernatural for superhero; which is maybe why these scenes seem so fascinating and moving.)

Friday 18 September 2015

The English 'Pyramid' - Silbury Hill

There are some striking parallels and contrasts between the civilization of Ancient Egypt and that of Neolithic England - one being the comparison between Silbury Hill (which I visited for the first time this summer - above) -

Which is the about 100 feet high and nearly 5000 years old and took about 18 million man hours to construct; and was originally probably a conical, stepped, white-ish coloured, flat-topped chalky mound.

(Note Silbury is not unique - there is a nearby and contemporary 'sister' mound in the grounds of Marlborough College

Up until very recently (and stimulated by listening to an audiobook of Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles teen fantasy books with my family, whilst on car journeys), I never had much interest in the ancient Egyptian culture or religion; but I have found a superb guide in Jeremy Naydler's Temple of the Cosmos (1996) which convincingly gives a phenomenological reconstruction of what religious life was probably like in that strange and wonderful civilization.

Yes, for all the marvels of that most enduring, cohesive and stunningly-well-documented of known high civilizations - its writing, formal and finished art and statuary, refined technology, magic, architecture and all the rest... my heart is with the contemporary English civilization in all its rough-hewn and blurred and partial remnants.

I envisage Neolithic, megalithic England as a kind of twin but polar equivalent of Egypt - standing in comparison and contrast - the two places and spiritual worlds known to each other and drawing on the same roots - but emerging very differently due to the different soil, climate, and peoples.

While Egypt had extreme and (mostly) predictable seasons, and a stark contrast between the Nile and the Desert regions, and clear air and skies and the sun, moon and stars always dazzlingly visible -- England has its skies dominated and blurred by clouds, mists, rain; multiple tiny streams, rivers, ponds and lakes; hills, forests and bogs; wholly un-predictable weather and little seasonality and its earth being earthy rather and sandy or silty.

My inference is that the English religion would have been less celestial and fiery than Egypt's, and more cloudy and wet! Less of a contrast and circularity about its stories, and more gradually transformative and modulatory...

Well, you get the idea...

Could group selection mechanisms offer realistic hope of delaying, or escaping-from, Mouse Utopia?

Thursday 17 September 2015

Mouse Utopia from mutational meltdown foreseen by Science Fiction - Spacemaster by James H Schmitz in 1965

Thanks to Adam Greenwood for discovering this science fiction short story called Spacemaster, published in 1965 by James H Schmitz - which very clearly foresees a Mouse Utopia scenario of mutation accumulation, meltdown and extinction of humans, due to insufficient natural selection.

But, added to what he had been shown from Vinence's incredible ship, there had been enough he understood to present the story of the genetic collapse of Man -- or Spacemaster's version of it. It was not too implausible. The death seed of multitudinous abnormal genes had been planted in the race before it set out to explore and inhabit the galaxy, and with the expansion their rate of development increased. For another long time, improving medical skills maintained the appearance of a balance; it had become very much less easy for civilized Man to die even under a heavy genetic burden. But since he continued to give short shrift to any government audacious enough to make the attempt of regulating his breeding preferences, that burden also continued to grow. A point regularly came where medical knowledge, great as it might be, was suddenly shown to be no longer capable of the human repair work needed now to keep some specific civilization on its feet. The lethal genes, the innumerable minor mutations, had established at last a subnormal population, chronically sick and beginning to decrease rapidly in numbers. Spacemaster's charts indicated that this period, once entered, was not prolonged. When there were simply not enough healthy minds and bodies left to attend to the requirements of existence, the final descent became catastrophically swift and was irreversible. On Liot, Haddan had been living through the last years of such a period, modified only by Spacemaster's intervention. Spacemaster, with its supermachines and superscience, had come into existence as an organization almost too late to act as more than humanity's undertakers. Liot had been the last of all islands of galactic civilization. In less than fifteen centuries, the race had gone everywhere from its peak of achievement and expansion to near-extinction.

Chapter 6 Spacemaster from

What we most need *now* - Warm-hearted honesty

I fell to thinking about what would be the most useful and beneficial cultural first step, and (as has happened before) I came up with honesty.

At present, escape from our death-course is thwarted at every step by dishonesty. In a culture of dishonesty nothing can be relied upon, no person can be relied on, no institution can be relied on, contracts cannot be relied on - trying to understand anything is like gazing through murk: even worse, gazing through murk onto which are projected distortions and false inventions.

It can't be done.

Even the age old solution of retreat from public culture into one's own judgement based on experience and God-given common sense has been thwarted by decades of subversion of experience ('anecdote', 'biased'. 'self-serving') and common sense ('arbitrary', 'authoritarian', 'ultimately subjective').

So a restoration of the habit of truth would seem to be an absolute essential - I mean an ethic that people will not lie, will not mislead, but will instead try to be as honest as they can all of the time and about everything. This was not rare when I was younger - it is extremely rare now.

Yet honesty alone is not enough - the phrase 'brutal honesty' comes to mind. Decontextualized honesty is often aggressive and demoralizing - because honesty is ultimately a means to an end; and lacking a good end, honesty becomes a means to a bad end - which is exactly why honesty has become so rare.

In a world without religion there are no 'ends', so no reason to be honest except expediency, which is precisely the current situation: people are just as honest as they need to be in the circumstances, and abandon honesty when it leads to problems.

The typical self-proclaimed 'truth-speaker' nowadays is often a hard-hearted individual, full of pride and inflated ego at his ability to see-through the murk; despising the dupes who fall for the lies. He regards truth as brutal because for him truth leads to despair - but he embraces despair; and defeats it and energizes himself by building a solid core of steely pride fuelled by his admiration of his own courage in embracing despair.

Not a good person, not a good situation, not something which would lead to desirable outcomes...

So we must be truthful but warm-hearted - or rather, we must be warm-hearted and then truthful. That seems like the only way to avoid honesty leading us badly astray. Not to use honesty like a sledge hammer or a scalpel, but inflexibly and in a quietly insistent fashion to be absolutely honest about everything, while opening our hearts and feeling the consequences - both good and bad.