Adrian Williams: Two Reviews

Into the 21st Century, by Brian Burrows, Alan Mayne and Paul Newbury. Adamantine Press (1991) ISBN 0 7449 0031 x

The book carries the subtitle A Handbook for a Sustainable Future, and the format is one of short sections with a reading-list and a section of topics for further investigation at the end of every chapter. It was read with particular interest because at least one of the authors (Alan Mayne) is known to have had some contact with systematic ideology.

The first nine chapters cover the usual problems identified by the present-day ecological (‘Green’) movement (population growth, resource shortages, pollution) combined with urban planning problems, resolving human conflicts, and consideration of modern scientific developments. The next six are described as new paradigms and the titles include integrated planning, Gaia, Noosphere and holistic thinking. There is much talk of holistic approaches throughout.

The last six chapters constitute future scenarios as developed through mathematical modelling and conclude with the comforting thought that it is still possible to find an optimistic view of human life on Earth in spite of all the large-scale problems. Finally come 64 pages of annotated bibliography, a page of booklists and an index.

I found no typographical errors and the quality of production is good except for one factor: the index is unreliable in the sense that it misses out lots of things that I expected to find there. This book holds so much information that even 15 pages of index don’t cover everything. When I looked up ‘ideology / ideological’ I found only one reference, while the terms occur several times in the text. Similarly, to take one example, on p. 271 there appear 12 personal names, only two of them indexed. I can see the point of leaving out the Hapsburg Emperor Rudolph II and Frederick V, Elector Palatine, but how does one justify leaving out Galileo, Francis Bacon and Leibnitz while indexing Newton and Descartes?

The interest of this book from the point of view of this review for this journal lies in checking its ideological level. The changes it proposes are such that it cannot be considered epistatic but these do not include classifications of oppressor and oppressed who require revolutionary changes so it is not epidynamic. The general impression given is that the authors want to bring the whole range of modern technology and information processing to bear on the present problems of the world and they provide a large range of ideas and references to that end. The ideological level of the book therefore appears to be parastatic but the general approach of surveying the field, which makes this a handbook, prevents them getting down to the details which would justify the term ‘precision’ being used. On the other hand the book has much talk of evolutionary approaches and holism, so one has to consider the possibility that it could be a protodynamic text in disguise. While checking that let us also consider that it might be a mixture of the two, so well integrated by the three authors that we can’t see the joins.

The easiest way to do a quick check for the protodynamic is to look in the index for words like freedom, equality, human rights, democracy. None of those are in the index but this is already known to be inadequate, so it is necessary to search for them in the text. Sure enough, on p. 149 there is a reference to ‘truly participatory democracy,’ and on p. 162 a reference to ‘true planetary democracy,’ both of them in a chapter on resolving human conflict. It surveys, as in the rest of the book, groups and movements which bear on the issues but the book itself does not argue for equality or demand equality and democracy as prerequisites for success in these problems. It argues for decentralisation and a just society and a cooperative economy different from both capitalism and collectivism yet combining the best features of both.

The approach throughout is that more research and integrated planning will change whatever we have now to a better, sustainable system. That has to be a parastatic message, but why the continual call for holistic theory? There is not enough concentration on the factor of equality to see any protodynamic in the book, so what does it mean to be holistic?

Another example of the call for holism is the review of the work of Teilhard de Chardin in Chapter 13, ‘The Noosphere.’ The book is sympathetic and gives an explanation of de Chardin’s ideas in simple language. Having never understood de Chardin I welcome this, but I wonder if the authors have over-simplified. Since no-one knows how to implement his ideas (indeed, they require further evolutionary development of the human race) one cannot expect these authors to solve everything at once. What they actually propose is the creation of a computerised World Encyclopedia and World Brain (pace H. G. Wells) which is supposed to create ‘something like a common interpretation of reality.’ It is a parastatic approach to de Chardin using present-day technology to implement something corresponding to his ideas at the detailed, parastatic level. As a formulation at that level it cannot be criticised, but I feel sure it isn’t what de Chardin wanted. His work was as near to a perfectly protodynamic formulation of evolution and human development as one could get, but these authors have gone for a practical, limited, parastatic implementation. According to s.i. and any constructivist version of philosophy there is no ‘common interpretation of reality.’ By adding ‘something like a’ to the phrase, the authors have introduced a vagueness which makes it impossible to tell whether they really intend an integration of different ideological levels into a functioning whole or are just using sloppy English.

If these authors keep talking about holistic approaches but don’t produce protodynamic ideas, what is one to make of the book? On p.271 they decry ‘the materialist-mechanist world view’ and ‘the reductionist viewpoint,’ both of which are examples of one side of the parastatic. My view is that this book shows the dialectical nature of the parastatic ideology. That is, it shows both the analytic precision that is commonly used as the hallmark of the parastatic and also the synthetic waffle which is its dialectical opposite. New technology is supported and introduced to achieve measurable gains and at the same time the people who are supposed to benefit need retraining and relocation and their original social structure, which was to be improved, has been destroyed. The authors are strong on technical details and vague on social organisation. They think that continual calls for a holistic viewpoint will get them over objections based on social disruption, and that is not the same thing as the protodynamic ideology, directed as it is to the reform of societies rather than the adjustment of the material world.

For comparison, the dialectical opposite of protodynamic reform is the retrogressive fossilisation of a society which occurs when reformers decide which people need help and which are the progressive forces (social groups) in a society and then give excessively rigid support to those groups. That combination leads to a rigidification of ideas about what methods of production, distribution and consumption are to be used in a society. In other words, the reformers set out to improve the lot of the under-privileged and, in doing so, help to trap these people in jobs which become obsolete. By an outside observer the protodynamic ideology is seen to undervalue other people’s concentration on material factors and concentrate excessively upon social factors.

This book does not show that combination. Rather does it show the parastatic combination in which changes in the technology available to a society are believed to be driving the major changes and providing opportunities for better organisation. Read it if you want to read an up-to-date exposition of what can be done, but also read the paragraph on holism in IC 56 (‘TRANSITION,’ p. 15) to get the flavour of the protodynamic version of holism and balance this parastatic holism.

REVIEW: Angles on Anarchism – From Discussion Bulletin No.55

This seventy-page pamphlet consists mainly of articles taken from Ideological Commentary, a quarterly journal written and published by the author, whose ostensible purpose is to spread his philosophy of ‘systematic ideology.’ In practice, though, he uses a lot of ink to comment on the thinking of libertarians from both the Marxian and Bakuninist traditions; his discovery of a commonplace to DB readers: the fact that the programs of both anarchist and Marxian socialist groups in our political sector all call for social ownership of the means of production, the abolition of the state, and the abolition of the wages system – strikes him as an amazing insight. This isn’t to say that the pamphlet isn’t worth reading, for it is. Walford provides some original and controversial insights. The article In the Beginning alone is worth the price. Published in 1991; [price] from Calabria Press [address].

from Ideological Commentary 58, November 1992.

continue reading Angles on Anarchism by George Walford (1991):
Class Politics; an Exhausted Myth | Anarchy Renamed | Why So Few? | Gnostics as Anarchists of Old | The Two-Sided Anarchist | The Higher the Fewer | The Anarchist Police Force | Even Worse | In the Beginning | The Competitive Co-operators | I. Q. Against Anarchism | Anarchism in Series | Friendly Reason | Anarchist Research | Are They Not Anarchists? | The Trouble With Success | Of Governments and Gardens | The Poll Tax Lesson | Healthy Freedoms | The Conventional Artist | Underground Activity | The Cretan Egoist

Angles on Anarchism now available for the Kindle.