11 January 2015 A Celebration
11 January 2015 A Celebration
Amazing day for me. Quite unexpectedly (my incredible wife Sue had marvellously kept it a secret from me) I was given a festschrift, taking the form of a special issue of Self & Society (Vol 42 Nos 3 & 4). Old friends from various decades of my life had been alerted, again by the amazing Sue, and a big circle of them joined to celebrate the event. It was lovely to see so many faces from the past, thanks to Sue. It was a wonderful issue, containing all sorts of stuff by me and about me. Actually they gave me some copies to distribute, so anyone reading this can give me their mailing address, and I will send them one.
One of the articles, by Sue Rowan, reminded me of two events from the past. In 1950 or so I met Harold Walsby, who became my mentor for about five years. He was versed in the philosophy of Hegel, especially as modified by the British philosophers F S Johnson and Francis Sedlak. We were out in his car, and he asked me what my fundamental beliefs were – things I could not doubt were true. As I brought out each one he demonstrated to me convincingly that it was self-contradictory, and therefore could not be fundamental. Eventually I was left with nothing. All my most basic beliefs had been laid waste, shown to be inadequate and false. ( learned later that this was a technique taken from the Madkhyamika school of Buddhism). He then asked me to take for granted Nothing. And he showed that once Nothing was granted, Being followed from that, because this Nothing was. It had Being, the Being of Nothing. So Being and Nothing were one and the same. Yet they were not the same, because they had two different names. So what was true was the movement of Being into Nothing and Nothing into Being, indefinitely. But that brought into being a new category, Becoming. And so, by carrying on like that, all the categories of logic came into being, one after another. He told me that Marx was the only political writer who did justice to the dialectical logic of Hegel, and that I should join the SPGB (the Socialist Party of Great Britain). This is a small party of pure Marxists, where you have to pass an exam to join, and another exam if you want to be a party speaker. Both of these I did, and actually became the editor of the internal journal of the Party. But later four of us (John Macgregor, Stan Parker and Frank Terry were the others) became so critical of the official Party line that we got thrown out of the Party. We thought of starting a new party of our own, but then decided that we actually knew very little about society, and joined the Diploma in Sociology course of London University for the next four years. I did well at that, and was encouraged to go on for a degree, which I did. In 1959 I took five examinations: A level Logic and English Literature (I had omitted to take A levels earlier), the Diploma exam in Philosophy, the final Diploma exam in Sociology and an entrance exam for Birkbeck College, where I joined the degree course in Psychology and Philosophy. I studied that – a ghastly experience involving rats in cages and English philosophers – and by the time I finished I had four children, so I went into consumer research. I also kept on studying Hegel for the next fifty years or so, reading the Smaller and the Larger Logic, the Phenomenology of Spirit, the Philosophy of Religion, the Philosophy of Right, the Philosophy of Aesthetics and also the works of Sedlak, Wallace, and other British Hegelians. I have never written about all this before. (Walsby wrote a master work called ‘The Domain of Ideologies’, which is now featured on a website called GWIEP. This was my introduction to the idea of levels of consciousness, which later became so much a part of my own work. At one point I shared a room with Peter Rollings – who later changed his name to Shepherd – a great scholar of the Walsbian persuasion) also featured on GWIEP.
The other event it reminded me of was my involvement in what William West (p.37) names the West London Theatre Group, who put on performances of the Great and Glorious Ghetto Show (or some such title) in which I played the part of Mr Busy Bigness, complete with top hat. We regarded ourselves as representing street theatre, which was quite popular at the time, which I suppose was early Seventies. We went round various venues, some indoors and so out in the street. At one of these, held in a youth centre hall, my wallet was stolen. This led to me signing up to a credit card recovery insurance scheme, which I have kept up ever since, and has been a great saviour on two or three occasions.
There is so much more, and much deeper and more interesting, stuff in this issue of the journal, and I was extremely chuffed to receive it. I think I did not express this enough at the time, and I am sorry if anyone was disappointed at my low-key response, but really it was one of the highlights of my life so far.