George Walford: Ideology in Practice

POPULATION: Between 1960 and 1990 the population of Kenya quadrupled, from 6.3m to 25.1m. In the same period the population of Africa (including the North African states) has jumped from 281 to 647m; it is expected to treble, reaching nearly 2,000 million, by 2025. The only serious prospect (it can hardly be called a hope) of these projections not being realised lies in the possibility of an epidemic of AIDS even more serious than that from which Africa already suffers.

These ominous figures come from World Resources 1990-91, p.254. Reporting them in a long article, [1] Paul Kennedy goes on to account for the behaviour that leads to them. He does not ascribe it to ideology – at least, he does not use that word. He says this:

The basic reason why the present demographic boom will not otherwise be halted swiftly is traditional African belief systems concerning fecundity, children, ancestors and the role of women… determined to expand their lineage, regarding childlessness or small families as the work of evil spirits, most Africans seek to have as many children as possible; a woman’s virtue and usefulness are measured by the number of children she can bear… The social attitudes that lead women in North America, Europe and Japan to delay childbearing – education, career ambitions, desire for independence – scarcely exist in African societies.

Standard thinking ascribes the rocketing growth of population to developments in medicine, food supply and sanitation, but when looked at closely, these are seen to do no more than open the possibility of rapid increase, a possibility not always realised. Medicine and public-health arrangements are most highly developed, food most plentifully and reliably available, in the industrial and post-industrial world, yet there the rate of population increase remains well below that of the peasant countries. Whether the population grows or not depends not only upon conditions, and the facilities available, but also upon the assumptions and mental attitudes, the ideology, of the people concerned. [1] NYR 30 July 93)

LOOKING for evidence that their values are becoming more widely accepted, eidodynamics sometimes offer the greater prominence of gays as an example of liberation. People who themselves belong to sexual minorities get a different impression. In April 1993 over a million gays staged a demonstration in Washington. The drag performers calling themselves Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were not included among mainstream events, and their founder Sister Vicious (aka Ken Bunch) complained: ‘When our lesbian and gay leaders call for unity, quite often it’s really a call for conformity.’ (Sunday Times 25 April 93)

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LITTLE Brother: After Newcastle installed police surveillance cameras in the city centre, a poll by a local paper found 96 percent of residents approving. Bournemouth has closed-circuit TV, and the chief engineer claims the cameras are less intrusive than rape, mugging or theft. Bournemouth, Airdrie and Kings Lynn all report substantial drops in the number of offences in the area covered. (Observer 9 May 93, 50)

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UNIVERSITIES now find themselves required to provide evidence of research carried out. They do this by publishing their results, and one consequence has been proliferation in the number of journals appearing: 10,000 in 1951, 70,000 in 1987, 118,500 in 1991. Between 1987 and 1991 the average annual subscription price of a periodical for a library rose by 60% to a ‘staggering’ £190. [2] Some academics clearly resent the pressures leading to these results. Some members of the laity, on the other hand, would feel more confident that academics could safely be left to manage their own affairs if they all showed the ability to spell; the article supplying these figures – in the Times Higher Education Supplement, for God’s sake – gets ‘minuscule’ wrong. [2] THES 26 February, 17.

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PEOPLE who think peasant society offers a better life than modern capitalism may like to consider the view from the other side. These quotations are from Bangladeshi peasants: ‘London is a good, beautiful place. There, all types of food are available. In Bangladesh, nothing is available. In London, everyone is happy.’ ‘In London, everyone is rich and there’s no fighting. Everywhere is clean, too, there’s no mud or dirt like here.’

(Quoted by Katy Gardner, Desh-Bidesh: Sylheti Images of Home and Away, in MAN, Volumne 28 No.3, March 1993).

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PEOPLE who shy away from the sophisticated chemicals now appearing among the ingredients of manufactured foods may like to consider some of the adulterations reported in 1861, in medicine as well as in food:

Tea was found to contain Prussian blue (i.e. ferrocyanide of iron), china clay, sulphate of lime, and blacklead. Coffee: Chicory, wheat, scorched peas and beans, sawdust, baked liver of horses and bullocks, ferruginous earth. The adulterations amounted to not less than one third of the total quantity of alleged coffee tested.

Cocoa: Red and yellow ochre, red lead, vermilion, sulphate of lime, tallow, brickdust, cinnabar, peroxide of iron.

Sugar: Sugar mites (causing ‘grocers’ itch’), sawdust, fungus; ‘the brown sugars of commerce are, in general, in a state unfit for human consumption.’

Tobacco: Salt, saltpetre, various nitrates, Epsom salts, glauber salts, copperas, sandstone.

Drugs: Dr.R.D.Thompson, of St. Thomas’s Hospital, rejected one-third of the drugs examined there. Seven pounds of ‘gentian powder’ contained one pound of the genuine article. [3]

Economic individualism, pursuit of private benefit even at the cost of harming others, is not a recent invention. [3] Hassall A.H. 1861 Adulterations Detected, or Plain Instructions for the Discovery of Frauds in Food and Medicine. London: Longman et al.)

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ALAN Ryan identifies the two great reformers, Kruschev and Gorbachev, as the destroyers of the Soviet Union. They tried to use the Communist Party to liberalize and democratize the system, and this was a function it could not serve. ‘Once the party allowed society to speak for itself, the truth emerged: the regime had no hold on the voluntary allegiance of its subjects.’ [4]

Not quite so. Without some hold on the voluntary allegiance of at least part of its subjects, no government can retain power for seventy years. The Bolshevik regime was two things: it was a regime, and it was Bolshevik. In the first capacity it attracted the allegiance of the very large group identified with domination, being thereby enabled to rule and conduct the Great Patriotic War. In order to retain that allegiance, however, it had to meet the customary expectations of this group, and its failure to do this formed a principal cause of the collapse. In its other, Bolshevik, capacity, it enjoyed the allegiance of a large part, if not the whole, of the comparatively small revolutionary group, and this it still retains. Hence the continuing demonstrations in its favour. [4] TLS 14 Aug 92.

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SYSTEMATIC ideology points out that conservatism favours freedom for economic-material activity but control of political-intellectual life. Our present government privatises the state industries while striving to prevent publication of Spycatcher, imposing a uniform curriculum on the schools and forbidding the media to publicise the IRA.

In the USA the Republican Party comes closest to British conservatism, and Gary Wills shows that it follows the conservative pattern of behaviour: ‘Republicans have for a long time fooled others and fooled themselves with the claim that they are the party that wants “less government.” Of course, they want plenty of government for some things – the military, or the regulation of TV and lawyers. They oppose government action against pollution of the atmosphere, but they want to police the “pollution” of minds by pornography.’ (NYR 24 Sept 92)

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CRAFTINESS: When discussing possible future societies, one based on craft workshops sometimes turns up as a favourite. These institutions offer a good living for a few, and they can add a lot to the enjoyment of life for people with sophisticated tastes, but they hardly constitute a way of running a post-industrial society. They cannot provide road systems, bridges, transportation, long-distance comunications, fuel, sewers, water supplies, raw materials, rubbish disposal, universal education or staple foods. They presuppose a settled society providing the craftsman with security, competent administration, efficient services and reliable supplies. Unable to provide these things, they help to realise a potential that these things open up.

To rely entirely on craft workshops for our manufactures would be to go backwards. We went through that stage in the Middle Ages; it leads to large-scale capitalism and there’s not much point in returning, just to repeat the experience.

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ROWDY misbehaviour and mockery of the establishment by groups of young people often produce (according to the ideology of the speaker) either fears or hopes of imminent revolution. F. G. Bailey sets these disturbances in context, drawing attention to such practices as the Lord of Misrule, Boat Race Night celebrations, university rags, rugby club dinners, carnivals, and (until they became too violent to tolerate) soccer hooligans; ‘a time of the year or a time of life for letting off steam, healthy and necessary.’ These activities act as safety valves, helping to maintain the established order rather than threatening to destroy it.(Bailey F. G. 1991 The Prevalence of Deceit, Ithaca & London: Cornell U. P. 86)

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RECENT reports have stressed the difficulties being experienced in the former Soviet Union as market methods replace the command economy. They confirm that the requirements for successful operation of the market, simple as the system may appear to those familiar with it, are by no means self-evident. Mark Almond speaks of: ‘the immense web of regulation which encompasses markets in the West as well as the unwritten rules which make economic and social life possible.’ He adds that the part played by these features is not appreciated in the ex-communist countries, where ‘capitalism is widely understood as a zero-sum game, to a degree which even the crudest robber baron of the 19th Century would find shocking.’ [5]

Down through history the market has formed part of a syndrome incorporating agriculture, a dominant state, a legal system, a class structure and authoritarian religion. A market society may perhaps be workable without some or all of these; we shall never know for certain until we have done it. But it hardly seems wise to make the experiment with the lives of hundreds of millions at stake. Total safety is not to be had short of death, but the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States, remnant of the USSR) stands a better chance of achieving for its people the degree of security found in the West if it follows the beaten path. [5] Mark Almond, TLS 29 May 1992, 9.

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EVENTS in Russia and associated states have shown the hollowness of the progress apparently made by communism and socialism over the past seventy years; capitalistic attitudes reassert themselves with a speed and spontaneity collectivism never showed.

In other fields, too, the tendency for a mode of social behaviour, once established, to maintain itself alongside later developments, has been demonstrating its strength. Atheists and freethinkers tend to think of religion as on the way out; Salman Rushdie’s experience provides good reason for questioning this and Hinduism, as well as Islam, shows every sign of maintaining its former strength and enthusiasm, perhaps even of growing. India has been a secular state since independence, but recent events there call the continuance of this in question. Hindu extremists have destroyed the Sixteenth-Century Babri Masjid mosque, provoking disorders in which some two thousand people died, and the movement responsible now demands that India should abandon secularism, tolerance and pluralism to become, officially, a Hindu state.

The change might permit greater heterogeneity than at first appears, for Hinduism presents no simple unity. From ancient times it has recognised six systems of philosophy, and in the Fourteenth Century Madhava Acarya wrote a Sanskrit Collection of all Philosophies discussing sixteen schools of religious thought (one of them atheistic) all coexisting beneath the Hindu umbrella. Only recently has Hinduism come to be seen as a single religion, rather than a generic term for the religions found in India; in the early days of the Raj ‘Hindoo Muslims’ and ‘Hindoo Christians’ appeared.

from Ideological Commentary 61, August 1993.