R G Collingwood on the rise of fake news

R G Collingwood (1889-1943) was an English philosopher and historian who was obsessed with the rise of communism and state socialism while the sciences were making giant strides. This is a review of a collection of his political essays.

A recurring motif in Collingwood’s later writing is the presence of sinister and destructive forces beneath the surface of civilised life. In his autobiography he sketched a theory of ‘encapsulation’ to explain the persistence of undesirable attitudes (such as the glorification of violence) despite vigorous attempts to eliminate them. He argued that attempts at censorship or repression are likely to induce in children a fascination with the ‘unacceptable’ impulses and so they survive in a particularly dangerous subconscious form…One of his central propositions concerns the overwhelming importance of Christianity as the cradle of Western civilisation. In his opinion the mainstream of Christianity provided the framework of metaphysical ideas which made possible the emergence of modern science and liberal democracy as well.

His deepest exploration of the “dark forces” occurs in An Essay on Metaphysics and especially in a chapter titled “The Propaganda of Irrationalism” on the loss of respect for the truth among academics.

He was concerned with the process that he saw (some decades ago) in courses where the critical faculties of students are systematically destroyed. He first asks us to picture a civilisation where respect for truth is a powerful belief and systematic thinking is prized in intellectual and practical pursuits. Each feature of this civilisation would have characteristics derived from that prevailing habit of mind.

Religion would be predominantly a worship of truth…Philosophy would be predominantly an exposition not merely of the nature of thought, action & etc. but of scientific thought and orderly (principled, thought-out) action, with special attention to method and to the problem of establishing standards by which on reflection truth can be distinguished from falsehood. Politics would be predominantly the attempt to build up a common life by the methods of reason (free discussion, public criticism). Education would be predominantly a method for inducing habits of orderly and systematic thinking. And so on.

And suppose that now within this same civilisation a movement grew up hostile to these fundamental principles…an epidemic disease: a kind of epidemic withering of belief in the importance of truth and in the obligation to think and act in a systematic and methodical way. Such an irrationalist epidemic infecting religion would turn it from a worship of truth to a worship of emotion and a cultivation of certain emotional states…Infecting politics it would substitute for the ideal of orderly thinking in that field the ideal of tangled, immediate, emotional thinking; for the idea of a political thinker as a political leader the idea of a leader focussing and personifying the mass emotions of his community’.

This movement of thought would need to proceed by stealth because the healthy tissues of thought would strongly resist any open attack on the springs of rationality and scientific thinking.

Let a sufficient number of men whose intellectual respectability is vouched for by their academic position pay sufficient lip-service to the ideals of scientific method, and they will be allowed to teach by example whatever kind of anti-science they like, even if this involves a hardly disguised breach with all the accepted canons of scientific method.

The ease with which this can be done will be much greater if it is done in an academic society where scientific specialisation is so taken for granted that no one dare criticise the work of a man in another faculty. In that case all that is necessary to ensure immunity for the irrationalist agents is that they should put forward their propaganda under the pretence that it is itself a special science, which therefore other scientists will understand that they must not criticise.

Collingwood was concerned about the impact of psychology at that time (pre-1940). Later many other fields possibly led by sociology went down the same track to perform the function he described.

This entry was posted in Cultural Issues, Rafe. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to R G Collingwood on the rise of fake news

  1. Roger

    One of his central propositions concerns the overwhelming importance of Christianity as the cradle of Western civilisation. In his opinion the mainstream of Christianity provided the framework of metaphysical ideas which made possible the emergence of modern science and liberal democracy as well.

    That is not mere opinion, it is demonstrable fact.

    Numerous contemporary scholars have filled out the picture Collingwood had in mind.

    If I weren’t watching the rugby I’d list them, so let me just mention the name of Stanley Jaki.

  2. Rafe Champion

    Go Eels!
    Get a wriggle on!!

  3. Targeting the reasoning brain…
    In her May 23rd essay, http://invisibleserfscollar.com/fracturing-the-personal-and-social-failsafes-and-omitting-the-most-pertinent-parts-of-the-plans/ Robin Eubanks on emotions ostensibly as motivation in education, but intentionally to lock in experiences at a deep level. Here’s sociologist Anthony Giddens’ telling us‘that behavioral scientists know that what guides
    and motivates behavior is not what is actually true, but what is personally and emotionally believed to be true.’

    Robin Eubanks refers to ‘ the organized media juggernaut hyping emotion as the key to learning. On April 27, 2016 Education Week wrote a story called “Emotions Help Steer Students’ Learning, Studies Find: Scholar sees passion as mind’s rudder” which hyped the work of Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and her new book Emotions, Learning, and the Brain. Here’s the lead quote that should probably be read with a reminder that one of the definitions of using cybernetics in education is to create a steerable keel with a student’s mind and personality. One that is locked in neurally that the student is largely unaware of. Happening in Oz K-12 values education too.

  4. egg_

    Last Chance To See Cuba
    Premiere
    Two years since Cuba announced the most sweeping and radical economic reforms the country has seen in decades, Simon Reeve heads to the Caribbean island to look at how economic liberalisation is taking hold of communist Cuba. From ending state rationing to cutting one million public-sector jobs, one of the last communist bastions in the world has begun rolling back the state on an unprecedented scale. Simon meets ordinary Cubans whose lives are being transformed.

    News
    2012

    Take heed, Aunty.

  5. Bruce of Newcastle

    That is all so prophetic it gives me shivers up my spine.
    The abandonment of truth in science is especially sad for me a scientist. The rise of emotion in politics – which is the basis of identity politics – is scary. The riots in Louisiana yesterday are an example: a perp is shot by a police officer, who is found not guilty of murder, but the left howls at the injustice of justice.

  6. Peter

    In that case all that is necessary to ensure immunity for the irrationalist agents is that they should put forward their propaganda under the pretence that it is itself a special science, which therefore other scientists will understand that they must not criticise

    Climate science

  7. Empire GTHO Phase III

    And suppose that now within this same civilisation a movement grew up hostile to these fundamental principles…an epidemic disease: a kind of epidemic withering of belief in the importance of truth and in the obligation to think and act in a systematic and methodical way.

    Thy name is leftism.

    The single greatest tragedy of the second half of the 20th century, was the abandonment of emotional self control as a social virtue.

    The “stiff upper lip” is widely ridiculed, but the principle of consigning one’s emotions exclusively to the private sphere is an underrated but essential element of successful societies.

    Feelz is for fuckwits and fuckwits fuck successful societies.

    Exhibit A: Benjamin Law. This week’s front runner in a list that probably extends to Exhibit ZZZ.

  8. Rafe Champion

    I can still remember 1981 1982 1983 and 1986:)

  9. True Aussie

    Defund all universities now. Encourage homeschooling too. Its no coincidence that both universities and public schools are for third rate minds who cannot handle the real world.

  10. JohnA

    beththeserf #2499570, posted on September 16, 2017, at 10:30 pm

    Targeting the reasoning brain…
    In her May 23rd essay, http://invisibleserfscollar.com/fracturing-the-personal-and-social-failsafes-and-omitting-the-most-pertinent-parts-of-the-plans/ Robin Eubanks on emotions ostensibly as motivation in education, but intentionally to lock in experiences at a deep level.

    Beththeserf this reminds me of techniques promulgated by Frank Herbert in his Dune series (“implanters” using the power of sex and the emotions thus generated) and Isaac Asimov in his Foundation series (the science of “mentalics” as a superior governing principle to physics and with the power to influence weaker minds – a better-written concept than “the Force” of Star Wars infamy, and thus more dangerous in actual practice).

  11. one old bruce

    What sinister melodramatic claptrap.

    Must ‘truth’ always do battle with Satan then?

    Wouldn’t that mean that there are two ‘truths’? A good one and a bad one?

    The real problem then is that Manichean Protestant hysteria which underpins liberal modernity itself, and keeps breaking through with each purge of unbelievers: you liberals bring this on yourselves. Read Alasdaire MacIntyre to understand why.

  12. Rafe Champion

    Possibly related to Manichean Protestant hysteria is the problem that Paul Craig Roberts described as “a land mine at the very basis of Western thought”.

    “The 18th century Enlightenment had two results that combined to produce a destructive formula. On the one hand, Christian moral fervor was secularised, which produced demands for the moral perfectibility of society. On the other hand, modern science called into question the reality of moral motives.”

    These tendencies might appear to be contradictory but they have not balanced each other. Instead they have produced an explosive mixture of moral indignation and moral relativism or scepticism. The first leads to attacks on traditional mores and institutions while the second pre-empts any defences that might be offered.

  13. one old bruce

    I probably have no argument with Collingwo0d but only with the selective quoting, Rafe. And the whole dark mood of conspiracy straw-clutching when we try to embrace American politics.

    As Catholics living in what was then an Anglican society in Australia, we have lived the problem of your ‘truth’ and ‘rationality’. (Indeed I now know the same tension went on between High and Low Anglicanism, but that was hidden from us).

    We knew that your ‘truth’ was different to ours. But we accepted our secondary position, because you kept the peace. You had the power. I respect power, not ‘truth’. So do most of the world’s people. Jews hade their own truth, but in medieval times they moved to places where strong powers had created peace, like Europe and even India. We Catholics did the same after Cromwell. If your truth underpins your power, well and good, as far as that goes. But the power’s the thing.

    MacIntyre doesn’t say that at all. What I like is how he contrasts incongruities, actual examples of incommensurable paradigms. His conclusions, apart from a retro embrace of Aristotle, seem to peter out in equivocation. So my conclusions are not his.

    Without power, what is there? We are all suffering now because the British were defeated in Singapore in 1942. The powerful British Empire was a wonderful thing, where free thought and liberal experiment flourished (I’m sure Collngwood agreed). When that empire was lost, so was its ‘truth’.

  14. Rafe Champion

    Not a bad piece if I do say so myself. The last paragraph resonates with the situation at present.

    “The debate on the republic [and SSM] threatens to unite various groups who are dedicated to further erosion of the liberal order, and also to a radical revision of the national identity. These three books have grappled with the national identity in their various ways, and all the authors could learn a great deal from a paper by Chandran Kukathas. In “Multiculturalism and the Idea of an Australian Identify” he has challenged some of the errors and confusions of thought which adhere to the concepts of national character and identity. He suggests that a common history and a set of legal and political institutions should be used to specify our national identity. This approach unhooks the quest for national identity from the sectarian, coercive and collectivist tendencies which have caused, and daily continue to cause, so much ruin and suffering around the world. If this liberal vision can be effectively promulgated in the republican debate then it may turn out to be worthwhile.”

  15. Nerblnob

    The real issue with “fake news” isn’t about the facts but about the “news”.
    Hysteria about trivia while ignoring the big stories.

  16. Brian

    A current example of using our feelings rather than truth is the way so many “conservatives” are supporting or advising their yes vote on the issue of unnatural marriage.
    The mind engaging with truth ought to be saying – “hang on. Why would we normalise a practise which if everyone followed it would mean the extinction of the human race in a single generation?”
    We have become so used to the idea of using the human body in ways it was not designed to be used, that for many people the whole issue carries no interest to them. They will vote yes because other people are telling them it needs to happen to make them feel happy and safe, and to them it is a non-issue, so why not? For most, it is a feelings issue, not a truth issue. The direction of our society is not even thought about.
    Those pushing this issue though, have a clear idea of the direction they want us to head in. Although I suspect they will also be taken by surprise with the unintended consequences.
    As another part of this acting by feelings rather than truth consider the selling mantra “I should be able to marry the person that I love”. This is the same marketing slogan that will be used [and is even now] as the justification for polygamy, incest and paedophilia.
    But this ignores the heart of true marriage. While the emotion of love is often and we would think preferable in those desiring marriage, it is not essential. The real meaning of marriage is a covenant whereby 2 individuals resolve to become a single unit which we call a family. And true married love is primarily a choice and not an emotion. Learning to love is the outworking of a solid lifetime commitment. It is something that develops as we shift from shallow emotion to a solid understanding of the love and its actions that a marriage requires.
    How do they get away with such a shallow slogan then? It is because a long time ago, our society trashed the concept of true marriage. And having hollowed out the meaning of marriage, we see the fruit in the numerous single parent homes and dysfunctional children in our schools and on our streets.
    Far from being a solemn covenant for life, it becomes a romantic holiday spot until we are tired of it and want to move on. So for many “conservatives” who are not thinking through the trajectory of our society, they see changing the definition of marriage to include sexual relationships contrary to the design of the body and consequently sterile as no big deal.

  17. Just Interested

    It has been the march of sociology through the liberal arts faculties (sic) at universities that has led to today’s malaise

Comments are closed.