George Walford: What’s Wrong with S.I.? (59)

IC56 bore on its cover a stepped pyramid, IC57 a straight-sided one; the change indicates recovery, if not from an error then at least from an imbalance. It also illustrates the importance, when theorising, of striving to formulate assumptions, bringing them out where they can be seen and criticized.

The stepped pyramid suggests that each major ideology forms a monolithic block, with a sudden jump across a sharp and rigid division to the next one in the series. This conception does possess some validity; for the hypothesis of a structure of ideologies to have value each of them must be in some sense a coherent whole firmly distinct from its neighbours, for otherwise the ‘structure’ deliquesces. It is also true, however, that each major ideology forms part of one continuous developmental process. Probably no formulation will ever comprehend the full depth and extent of ideological relationships, and certainly no diagram can do so, but of the two pyramids the smooth-sided one, used by Walsby in his Domain of Ideologies (he notes that a hyperbolic curve would be more accurate than the straight-line figure) is the less inadequate, and the comparison directs attention towards features of ideological development which have not always received sufficient attention.

Although speaking of the development of the ideological system, and sometimes stressing that nothing about it is permanently fixed (see for example the first paragraph of The Ideological Pyramid, p. 3 above) writings on the subject have tended to speak as if this development consisted almost entirely of successive transitions from one ideology to another; they have had little to say about changes within any one major ideology. Yet the greater part of ideological movement lies here, transitions between major ideologies being, at least from one viewpoint, little more than consequences of developing tensions within the earlier one of the two.

Look, for example, at the ideology of expediency. Its roots extend back beyond the first humans; Walsby traced the assumptive process back as far as the amoeba, and its presence among the higher animals leaps to the eye; every dog that snarls at another shows itself to be assuming that the potential aggressor really is where it appears to be. Where assumptions appear, influencing action without the intrusion of any more sophisticated ideology, we have expediency. This condition extends from the amoeba up to the stage immediately preceding agriculture and the state, and within this range come achievements that make the wonders of modern science look small: tools, and tools for making tools, the use of fire, the development of organised communal life and, above all these, the unfolding of the possibilities of speech, facilitating progress in every field.

Since all speech follows grammatical rules its expedient quality may be questioned, but it appears in the variations in grammar from one language to another. Science deals in universals, English atoms behaving in the same way as Chinese ones, but the most exhaustive knowledge of the English language leaves the student unable to speak Chinese and there is no way of reasoning from one grammar to the other. The speakers of each language adopt whatever rules they find most helpful, and when irregularity offers greater convenience than adherence to the rule irregularity becomes correct grammar; ‘I run, he runs,’ but ‘I am, he is,’ and the theoreticians just have to accept it. The artificial languages, for all their claimed advantages (precision prominent among them), have aroused no widespread interest, and the same holds for Basic English. With rare exceptions for specialised purposes people persist in talking as they find most convenient in the short term. No human community is known to have been without a grammatical language; the advance from the means of communication possessed by animals to the speech of foragers took place within the expedient ideology.

Similarly with other activities. It took hundreds of thousands of years to acquire the knowledge, skill and understanding of materials that enabled the transition from the first rough products of the Old Stone Age to the polished stone axes of the New and that development, too, took place within the confines of expediency. With ideologies as with human beings, birth catches the attention, yet it comes as hardly more than the finishing touch to the long pregnancy which preceded it.

The smooth-sided pyramid carries a stronger implication of development continuing between emergences, making it the more adequate representation.

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ENERGY wastage, with its environmental effects, has worsened over the past two years as a result of government economies on counter-measures. Previously it had been diminishing, about half as much fuel now being used for every £1,000 of Gross Domestic Product as in 1950.
Since all speech follows grammatica

from Ideological Commentary 59, February 1993.