1. Family Background
2. Leaving School
3. Beauty Without Cruelty
4. Early Studies
5. The Professor of German
6. New Age Reverse
7. India and Doing Philosophy
8. Sectarian Authority Figures
9. Second Renunciation
10. Cambridge Library Phase
11. The Brain Question
12. Citizen Philosophy
13. Scotland and the Findhorn Foundation
14. Dispute with the New Age
15. Internet Problems and Wikipedia
16. Citizen Initiative
17. Global Warming
1. Family Background
My paternal forbears were Irish Catholic working class. The ancestral memories of my paternal grandfather were pooled in resentments against the British rule in Ireland. He was heir to stark reminiscences of oppression and injustice. His family had been peasant farmers for generations, knowing little else but hard work. His father fled from the poverty to live in Yorkshire, where my grandfather was born.
That family was one of the many who departed from their home country. Affluent people today can scarcely imagine the situation that existed in Ireland during the nineteenth century. A searing memory for many emigres was the Great Famine of 1845-52, in which a million Irish died. About one third of the population were then dependent upon the potato for survival, and that crucial crop caught blight.
While Victorian England grew prosperous, the subject Irish people reaped a poverty that is almost unbelievable. A basic problem was the system of landlordism created by British rule. There were other aspects of the oppression in occurrence since the time of Cromwell. During the eighteenth century, British proscriptions against Irish Catholics were severe. The victims were then prevented from gaining education. During the "reformed" nineteenth century, the afflicted majority still comprised about 80 per cent of the Irish population, and were mainly illiterate tenant serfs.
"Views of the Irish as racially inferior, and for this reason significantly responsible for their circumstances, gained purchase in Great Britain during and immediately after the famine" (Great Famine, accessed 03/02/2011).
Survivors of the famine migrated to England and other countries, and in large numbers. One immediate problem was how to educate themselves, a prospect preferably not to be accomplished in accordance with British colonial standards. In some directions, self-taught education became an ideal. In practice however, very few could achieve this, and most illiterate Irish needed tuition, even in British schools.
My Irish grandfather worked in a British iron foundry and joined the British navy, in which he served during the First World War. After the war, he found that poverty was still impossible to avoid. Living in Middlesbrough, like many others (both English and Irish) he discovered that employment was scarce. Soup queues and allotments were a common resort of the depressed working class during the 1920s and 1930s. He grew vegetables to sustain his family. He had numerous mouths to feed during a lengthy period of unemployment.
His wife was another Roman Catholic, this time of mixed Irish and Scottish descent. A complication was that "Paddy" became very disillusioned with religion, and developed a conflict with the local priests. Like many others of his background, he was illiterate, but during his thirties he taught himself to read and write. He was then able to read the Bible extensively. His conclusion was negative, and to the consternation of his wife and friends, he became a marxist radical. He was now reading the Das Kapital of Karl Marx (in translation), and this he regarded as his new bible.
My Irish grandfather loathed the upper class and detested aristocracy. He said the British government had betrayed the working men who had been conscripted in the 1914-18 war against Germany, leaving so many in a dire economic predicament of unemployment, while the privileged members of society lived in surfeit and luxury. He was one of those who joined the "hunger marches" to London, the largest of which occurred in 1932, becoming known as the National Hunger March. About three thousand marchers moved down from the northern counties and other areas in protest at their plight. The men were not actually starving, but they were in need, and the general disconsolate mood induced by hopeless circumstances was a tragic factor. See Socialism and Sociology.
A communist-inspired organisation, known after 1929 as the National Unemployed Workers Movement, was the primary agent in these marches and other more localised activities. In October 1932, the marchers arrived at Hyde Park, intending to present a petition (with a million signatures) to Parliament. Yet they were constantly harassed by the police under orders from the government of Earl Stanley Baldwin. Those in power depicted the marchers as criminals. A crowd of some 100,000 welcomed the marchers, but 70,000 police launched a violent assault, and confiscated the petition, now rendered useless. Thousands were injured, and the strife continued for days.
Paddy's other serious confrontation occurred with the local Roman Catholic priests. He made no secret of his changed views, and was bold in declaring what he believed. The prestigious priests had no sympathy with poverty or dissidents. One of their leaders was so wrathful that he visited the home of my grandfather and enacted a ceremony of excommunication, cursing all inmates of the house. My grandmother was still a loyal Catholic, but her feelings did not count. This event occurred in the early 1930s.
My father was born in 1924, and lost his chances of education when he was obliged to work in a steel foundry to assist the family income. The Second World War started, and after Japan entered that conflict, he was old enough to volunteer for military service, along with many others influenced by the new patriotic spirit (furthered by the media then existing). The working class had survived the afflicted interim to save the nation once again. In retrospect, my father viewed his conscription as a term in hell. He was sent to Burma as a member of the air force, and acquired war memories that could make the hearer flinch if he chose to divulge details. Very often, he just wanted to forget.
When he got back to England and became a civilian again in the late 1940s, he entered the employment of my maternal grandfather, who lived in Cambridge. My English grandfather was also working class, but had gained a substantial degree of economic success, effectively becoming a version of middle class prosperity. He had started his career as a plumber with a handcart, in the simple way that tradesmen lived in the 1920s and 30s. Thrifty and abstemious, he became an employer of labourers and plasterers, who built the houses he planned. My father became his foreman, but later achieved independence, building his own houses in Cambridgeshire.
My English grandfather was not religious, unlike his wife (of middle class origin, she was consigned to an orphanage and became a committed Christian). One of his ancestors was a coachman to the Duke of Connaught, so closely associated with Queen Victoria. His early handcart was a less resplendent mode of travel. Later in his life, he acquired some of the much desired new motor vehicles, including a lorry used by his employees. In contrast, my father could never afford a lorry, although he eventually became successful as an independent builder, after much hard work.
I was born in 1950, while my parents still lived in the Cambridge home of my English grandfather. There were workshops attached to the house, where employees laboured. The smell of blowlamps, copper pipes, putty, paint, and timber was much in evidence. I was only three years old when I started to watch the workmen; on one occasion I became a nuisance, and a workman cheerfully threatened to paint my nose red. I retreated in dismay, and complained to my amused grandfather.
My father was more manually skilled than many other artisans. He was a bricklayer, plasterer, carpenter, plumber, and roofer. He occasionally took an interest in the contents of local Cambridge museums, and once took me on an excursion to the stately home at Audley End. I was about thirteen at that time, and noticed his responses to the impressive property, which dated back to the Jacobean era (and with some later decorations). My father was offput by the splendour, and disliked the associations of aristocracy. He identified with the working men who had constructed the grand house. I remember him gazing up at the ornate ceilings with astonishment. He himself had created many ceilings, though of the standard contemporary type devoid of the lavish ornament favoured in earlier centuries. He emphasised that the craftsmen involved would have received too little in payment for their work. Details of their lives had vanished; only the lords and status owners were commemorated.
In later years, I made a study of antique crafts. There was such a clear division between how the employers lived, and how the artisans lived. The output of craftsmen so often becomes an economic fetish of the wealthy, as it does today from America to China. The recent preference for minimalism is also supported by leisured wealth. The web memo On Art and Craftsmanship (2008) is a brief indicator of my own views.
2. Leaving School
Because of my father's building projects, my family moved house repeatedly, and I attended several schools in my early years. I learned to read at the age of seven, when many others in my class were still struggling. From that date I developed a strong habit of independent reading in leisure hours. I was surprised to find that my friends did not follow the same pattern. My literary diet varied from the Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs to Homer and Greek mythology. At school, I found essays quite easy to accomplish, and frequently obtained high marks in English classes.
I attended Arbury junior school for two years, and there passed the eleven-plus examination. Only a handful of children graduated that year in the school, and my friends did not. Those acquaintances were now allocated to "secondary" schools, considered inferior in the educational system. Yet my transition to a new "status" grammar school involved much homework, some of which I considered needless.
During the early 1960s, I attended one of the best grammar schools in Cambridge (officially ranked as the third in priority after the "County" and the more elite Perse). Unhappily, I found that I learned more through homework than from the class tutors. The science teachers were monotonously boring, in the general estimation of the pupils, and the maths master was a bullying tyrant feared by some pupils. The English literature teacher was occasionally known to sit immobile through an entire class (his head placed on his desk), with an alcoholic hangover from the night before; otherwise, he relied heavily on pupils (including myself) reading aloud passages from Dickens.
The highlight of the week was the history teacher, who contributed enlivening accounts of some events in India, as part of the otherwise formal course in eighteenth century British political history. In my own private reading at this period, I studied a book on the Indian Mutiny, and started to ask myself critical questions about this event, which was still generally viewed from the British perspective.
I was keen on learning French, achieving a place in the top three class results. However, a decision was taken by the headmaster to limit this aspect of the curriculum, the sciences being considered a priority. After the first few years, I was no longer able to take French lessons, and anomalously, was given more woodwork lessons. No other languages were available. Even French was becoming rare in British schools by that time. German was even more difficult to find, and Latin was a dead language outside the universities.
Science was taught in a manner that left me asking dissident questions. Physics and chemistry were administered in a form that I considered to be punishment. I sometimes achieved good marks in physics, though I could not feel much interest in the course. There was no relation to humanity, or to history. At a later period in my life, I discovered a subject known as the history of science, which really did interest me. However, this study was not taught at grammar schools.
As for biology, I reacted to some classes in which the focus was an unpleasant confrontation with the dissected bodies of rats. I was an early convert to the anti-vivisection campaign, then relatively obscure and confined to literature that was difficult to obtain. Biology and medical science have been major predators in the laboratory abuse and torture of animals, a widespread phenomenon. See Animal Ethics, Animal Rights, Anti-Vivisection.
The maths master was a particular problem. He had transferred from an elite public school, and was accustomed to total subservience. He made no allowance for pupils who could not understand the tuition, and discouraged questions by his overbearing attitude. Boys in my class were scared to ask him a question, his readiness to belittle "backwardness" being all too obvious. His rather menacing attitude towards other studies was expressed in his unofficial celebration of mathematics as the leading subject in the school curriculum. The sciences could be tolerated as being of practical use. However, English was only just acceptable, in that everyone had to learn at least some language. Yet history was despised. I was shocked when he strongly implied that history was no use at all. The bullying paragon of mathematics was probably the most unpopular teacher in the school.
I contracted chronic eyestrain, to such an extent that I had to stop reading for more than very brief periods. My new spectacles did not alleviate the problem. I was obliged to see a psychologist recommended by the school, as this was the only means of avoiding compulsory attendance. The eminent psychiatrist related to the Freudian category, and after a circuitous method of analysis, he eventually diagnosed me as suffering from strong reactions to the erratic school curriculum. He was in sympathy, and advised my transition to a different school, perceiving that my wish was to cease school altogether. I was still fourteen, but when I became fifteen, I would legitimately be able to leave school at the close of the summer term.
So I briefly transferred to another school, of less repute than the former, but with a headmaster noted for progressive ideas and sympathy with pupils. This was a mixed school, with both girls and boys in the classes, unlike the all-male componency of the grammar school. The new school was much preferable to the earlier one, and my eyestrain eased. None of the teachers I encountered there were tyrannical like the former maths master, and nor lax like the former English tutor. I found that religious education was here taken seriously, unlike the nil status afforded elsewhere. I was easily able to write essays on the New Testament, the problem being that I did not agree with orthodox Biblical exegesis.
I remained unhappy with the general curriculum, and also the markedly non-intellectual aptitude of many pupils, who were prone to numerous juvenile distractions. I became irritated by the trivial conversations occurring between classes. Pop music, television, and parties were the sole horizons of my classmates. I realised by now that I was inwardly committed to moving in a different educational direction, one in which I could find autonomy.
In 1965, I left school at the age of fifteen, still in conflict with the curriculum, and before taking any GCE exams. Two years later, the emerging new fad for drugs was to claim many victims amongst schoolchildren who were influenced by pop stars and "parties." I was fortunately immune to that fad, having escaped the media promoting it (which indirectly included lax schoolmasters susceptible to cannabis).
Over the years, I learned the extent to which teachers in art colleges (and elsewhere) were advocating promiscuity. This neo-hippy trend went largely unquestioned by the victims. When I eventually recontacted a former friend (two years younger than me), he told me of his sexual exploits during the late 1960s. I was amazed to discover that he could not remember all his girlfriends. His numerical assessment of his sexual encounters at that period was about seventy. He had no conception of any moral deficit, although he did concede an excessive promiscuity in his instance. He favoured psychedelic art, and believed that other forms of art were inferior and outdated. Yet he was not a drug addict, but instead one of the many young men influenced by contemporary cliche and presumed "progressiveness."
From the late 1960s onward, British society lost connection with earlier codes of restraint. Delinquent fashions easily overcame what was now considered to be hopelessly outdated. There was an escalation in one-parent families, pornography, and sordid occultism. Aleister Crowley became elevated to the status of an anti-cultural hero. The truth was rarely welcome.
Meanwhile, in 1965 I had been reading avidly at home about the history of India, and was not content with the British colonial phase. I discovered that native Indian religion and philosophy had an interest of their own. However, the details could not be learned at a British grammar school. I also grasped that the Islamic heritage was far more complex than the events of annexation by the British Raj. During the next two years, I became familiar with Vedanta (and Hinduism), Buddhism, and Sufism. I was fascinated by both Sanskrit and Arabic-Persian vocabularies. I also gave some attention to Christian mysticism, and started to read Plato at the age of sixteen.
My parents had warned me that if I ceased school, my career prospects would be limited. I did not wish to go back to conventional education, and decided that I would take the route which afforded more of the studies I wanted rather than any curtailment of those.
I believed that one must renounce career securities in the pursuit of what was more instructive. It is difficult to convey the immediacy of this belief, although much easier to describe my reasoning that, as I had learned how homework could overcome the deficiencies in the class mode of teaching at school, then I could similarly apply "homework" to subjects missing from the school curriculum. I had often gained first place in the class results for English and History, but the ethnocentric nature of those subjects did not inspire me to further commitments. Shakespeare and Dickens are still not my favourite authors, and British political history requires social history as a complement, to say the least.
My tendency to "renunciation" requires clarification. From certain sources I acquired the theme "Be in the world but not of the world." This was chiefly associated with Sufism. In my case, no religious affiliation was existent. The means of rendering this guideline efficient required due thought. On visits to London, I encountered both Buddhist and Vedanta monks, and I could have joined the latter, but this was not my route. However, I sympathised with the monks, understanding why they chose the lifestyle they did.
I did not at first register my commitment in terms of the philosophical life. There were various other associations which I worked through. Eventually I grasped that the strongest link to my own ethnic and social environment was the obscured event of Greek philosophy, and the pursuit of a wisdom since devalued by diverse sceptics. However, I did not opt for the elevation of Greek and Roman culture that is often found in academic commentaries, and continued to study various traditions in combination. In fact, I was a strong critic of the Roman Empire, and acutely averse to some of the social customs in Greece (e.g., slavery). I did not agree with the tendency of Edward Gibbon to glorify Rome, and was more interested in the contrasting Egyptian phenomenon signified by the Desert Fathers.
One feature of my early "renunciation" was a belief that distractions can interfere with a quest for reality. My conclusion was that an experiential application is involved in the quest, and not just the theoretical/study angle. The factor of distraction is, moreover, extensive. For instance, there is currently a field of expression concerning "inner experiences," which in my view are subjective in too many cases, and accordingly deceptive. There is so much "new age" nonsense written on this subject that silence is obligatory here.
3. Beauty Without Cruelty
Living in Cambridge, I heard unpleasant things about what happened to animals in some laboratories. Students of biology were taught to dissect animals, and I wanted nothing to do with any such career. I obtained some anti-vivisection literature, and was horrified at some of the pictures and descriptions I found. Yet only a minority of people took the trouble to investigate such matters at that time. The evil convenience of abused animals generally passed unnoticed, carefully concealed by science and commerce.
In those days, it was more difficult to find out exactly what happened in university laboratories. However, the commercial sector had been exposed by informed persons, and details were available to those who sought hard enough. The cosmetics industry was a predatory racket, using animals to test products in disgraceful conditions of abuse and suffering.
My mother gained contact with Lady Muriel Dowding (1908-1993), who had inaugurated some years previously a rival form of manufacture that did not involve any animal testing. The name given to this innovation was Beauty Without Cruelty (BWC). That project (originally a charity) was then just a small British company, engaged in an almost hopeless struggle against giant rivals who controlled the media. My mother was a convert to this project, and in 1966 opened a shop in Cambridge to promote the Beauty Without Cruelty cosmetics. A very big problem was communicating relevant details to the public.
I opted to assist my mother with the new shop, and in so doing, gained a close-up view of public responses, which were frequently incredulous. The subject of natural cosmetics was so new to most people that some mocked the name "beauty without cruelty," assuming that this was just another commercial gimmick, of the type associated with more well known brand names. The general incomprehension was daunting. The consumers were led to believe that the established brands were impeccably justified by national and global advertising.
I came to my own conclusions as a result of due observations. The public were helpless consumers, unable to see that they were the constant target of commercial predators, a situation assisted by politicians concerned only with salary, and whose deceptive catchphrases were "science" and "progress." The influential and affluent Royal Society still endorsed animal torture.
My mother had acquired a large double-fronted shop in Lensfield Road, which she called the Cambridge Health Centre. The economics of this situation dictated a compromised agenda, mixing the cosmetics with health foods, which were more saleable. A minority of people understood health foods, but here again, so many did not. Brown bread and barbados sugar could not compete with the junk foods like white bread and white sugar sold by the giant firms. Learning what those commercial agencies did, with their refining and additives, caused me to permanently avoid their products. Now I ate and sold honeycomb, "live" yoghurt, fruit juices, dried fruits, sea salt, and many other related products.
A setback for our shop was the competition from a well-established health foods store in the city centre, far more accessible than our outlying location, and with far more capital. The wealthy rival did not sell natural cosmetics. My mother had to close after a year or so, not being able to attract sufficient custom in such a difficult enterprise.
A few years later, health foods became a craze, but natural cosmetics almost floundered. A rejuvenation occurred, and the alternative cosmetics gradually became better known, if to a much lesser extent than health foods. BWC gained a branch in India during the 1970s, and eventually became one of the most successful brands in Britain during the 1980s; further success was achieved in America. My mother was one of those who were twenty years in advance of the BWC ascendancy. In 1973, an initial public breakthrough occurred on the subject of cosmetics animal testing, achieved by BUAV. However, animal testing was not banned in Britain until 1997-8. See The Cosmetic Pain.
BWC has been described as the first animal rights movement, occurring well before the "animal liberation" drive that became popular in the wake of Peter Singer's famous book of 1975. BWC was certainly the first movement to oppose the cruelties inflicted upon animals by the luxury trades purveying furs and skins, cosmetics and perfumes. Lady Dowding also revealed the largely unknown use of animal ingredients in cosmetics, for instance, whale oil in lipsticks. Furthermore, for many years she chaired the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) in Britain, and became President of that significant body, founded in 1875. On behalf of NAVS, she led demonstrations and presented petitions to Parliament.
There are now extensive listings available of natural cosmetics. Even today however, there is still a widespread ignorance about animal testing for cosmetics (including soap) and many household products sold by unscrupulous capitalist giants. Innumerable animals have suffered and died while the millionaires became ever more wealthy. Names like Procter and Gamble are nauseating to the critics of billionaire industries who sell without conscience (the P & G brands include Ariel, Daz, Fairy, and Max Factor). Never buy the products of torture.
My early analysis of the food and cosmetics industries also extended to the clothing and fashion industry. At her shop, my mother stocked BWC handbags; imitation leather, and so forth, and for low prices. Today, the tycoons of fashion sell so many shoddy goods for high prices; the consumers never seem to tire of superfluity. Just go to a charity shop and buy secondhand.
4. Early Studies
At the age of seventeen, I read Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy. To me, this book of Russell was very disappointing in many respects, though forming my basic introduction to modern Western philosophy. I also read at that time the Principia Ethica of G. E. Moore and the Enneads of Plotinus, which I obtained in the MacKenna translation.
Plotinus impressed me for his evident commitment to philosophy; however, I did not view the Enneads as being a comprehensive guide. In contrast, I did not believe that Russell was a genuine philosopher, and certainly not in the Plotinian sense. Bertrand Russell was a skilled mathematician, a lucid writer, and a famous sceptic. Yet he was not a wise man or even a prudent one, as his private life demonstrated.
My first real introduction to science occurred when I looked through an astronomer's telescope one night at the age of eighteen. I had spent four years at grammar school with relative indifference to the rote lecturing on physics, chemistry, and biology. Astronomy did not figure in those peremptory classes. Yet now, via the telescope of an amateur astronomer acquaintance, I began to understand something more tangible about matters which pedagogues had obscured. Subsequently, I studied science in a way that linked with philosophy, or rather citizen philosophy, as I did not follow any academic curriculum.
I started to read Western philosophy more intensively at the age of nineteen, especially Kant and Hegel, though in some respects preferring Leibniz and Schopenhauer. However, Leibniz was a difficult subject, and I was not sure how to interpret some of his themes as represented in readily available books on this figure. I found the British empirical tradition far less appealing; however, I did study John Locke with some interest. I always wanted to know how the diverse philosophers had lived, and was not content merely to read their works.
In another direction, I read some books of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the academic commentator on Vedanta and Hinduism. At a time when I had little money to spend on books, I borrowed from my grandmother Radhakrishnan's Indian Philosophy. I wrote out substantial portions of this well known text as part of my early independent syllabus. I was fascinated by many of the arguments, and found this a welcome respite from Leibniz and Locke. Much later, I read S. N. Dasgupta's multi-volume epic on Indian philosophy, and also many other academic works on Hinduism.
I was never a Kantian. Nevertheless, I early read every page of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (in translation). I had to create an improvised lexicon of the antiquated words and difficult terminology. The elaborate reasoning involved did not convince me that the metaphysical realm was unknowable. Kant's famous theme of the phenomenal and noumenal appeared to me as being very much an opinion rather than a reality.
Another book I read throughout was Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. I was not a convert, and merely found the contents interesting. Later, I grew more critical when becoming familiar with the overall context. The output of Hegel is notoriously difficult to read. German Idealism requires the study of background details. Hegel's "pantheistic" version of Christianity is so abstract that different interpretations have arisen amongst academic analysts.
Nor did I believe that Schopenhauer had achieved the perfect philosophy, despite his familiarity with Buddhism and Hinduism in the versions known to him. However, Schopenhauer was in a different category to the academic professors Kant and Hegel. Though he graduated at university, he opted for an independent career of private study and writing, a role facilitated by his inheritance from a wealthy mercantile family. Schopenhauer was indeed fortunate in this respect. His lifestyle reflected the leisured characteristics of the affluent middle and upper classes; there was no manual or artisan work in his schedule.
As a citizen of a different background, I believed that some manual work was necessary for purposes of "grounding" an active intellectual orientation, which can easily become too abstract and impractical. The essential "renunciation" involved an extension in the experience of ordinary life situations, without status role, and without succumbing to the peculiarities of contemporary thinking. I particularly disliked newspapers, and likewise avoided television. Such characteristics are seldom understood in the affluent society. There is no room for distractions in a seven day week version of "doing philosophy," to re-deploy an academic phrase. Defective politics, crime, fashion, and sordid entertainment are not the most commendable or healthy diet.
I continued to study Eastern philosophies in an independent manner, and composed a preliminary manuscript (at the age of nineteen) on Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sufism. This reflected my enthusiasm for what had supposedly been superseded by Hegelian Idealism. Many years later (and after gaining further extensive data), I destroyed the inchoate manuscript when I concluded that some details were unreliable, and because of the sources to which I was restricted at the time of composition. Getting to grips with the history of those Eastern traditions is not easy, despite the rather fluent portrayals often found. I always wanted the history, not just the doctrinal exercises that survived to view; yet some parties have glorified the doctrine while neglecting the history, an unrealistic option creating so many confusions, and visible in large quantities of commercial literature.
I early visited the Vedanta Centre and the Buddhist Society, both in London, and afterwards the specialised library at Downing College, which included many books on Buddhism. The study of Buddhism, in my case, escaped the sectarian confines and gave attention to all the main geographical zones involved. That meant not merely India and Ceylon, but also South-East Asia, Central Asia, Tibet, China, and Japan. Public libraries did not hold all the books I wanted.
In the ethnographic sense, Buddhism is a bigger study than Hinduism; the popular Western interest in both of these subjects tended very much to ignore the analytical contributions of specialist scholars. Fortunately, I early grasped that this exclusion was a mistake, an attitude which I later adapted to a similar study of the Islamic Sufism countries, the sweep here meaning basically from India to medieval Spain.
"As a result of my earlier experiences with sectarian psychologies, I had formed a habit of a critical approach to available materials. This critical attitude did not prevent me from experiencing various empathies with subject matter, but it did preclude conversion to sectarian agendas" (Shepherd, Pointed Observations, 2005, p. 45).
During my teens I became familiar with several of the now well known Eastern mystics such as Shirdi Sai Baba, Upasni Maharaj, Hazrat Babajan, Meher Baba, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Vivekananda, and Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar (only in later years did I read Aurobindo Ghose, and with some reservations). At an early age I commenced to write biographies for my own instruction, and in this way came to grapple with problems posed by variant accounts and standard interpretations. The first of these "private manuscripts" concerned Sheriar Mundegar Irani, who in later years was a subject of my book From Oppression to Freedom.
Another early manuscript concerned Hazrat Babajan (d.1931), a very unusual figure and the subject of two books I later wrote. This elderly female faqir was at the margins of Sufism, a male-dominated tradition. She eventually lived at Poona (Pune), a city closely associated with the British Raj. Her outdoor life under a tree is better documented than her early years; this demanding lifestyle of renunciation contrasts with that of many modern gurus, including the controversial Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (d.1990), associated with the Poona of a later era.
Also strongly identified with Poona is Meher Baba (d.1969), of Zoroastrian birth, a complex and disciplined figure reduced by Western devotees (in the 1960s) to the sloganism of "Don't worry be happy." The erratic career of Pete Townshend, who in 1976 created Meher Baba Oceanic, is one symptom of deficiency demonstrated by the Meher Baba movement.
Study of mysticism and religion led me to investigate the life of Mahatma Gandhi when I was nineteen. This was long before the well known film which celebrated confrontation between the British Raj and the Indian independence movement. Afterwards, I gave attention to the history of Europe and America. Later, and in a very different direction, I developed an interest in ancient Mesopotamia, which became an ingredient of my subsequent (unpublished) manuscript Ancient Cultures in Flux, referred to in some of my early books. Indeed, archaeology gained favour with me, and I believed that this subject should have been taught at grammar school.
My first serious encounter with archaeology surfaced in the English class at grammar school, when the rather lazy teacher conveniently gave his pupils a project: any subject of their wish to investigate (in their leisure time) and give a talk about, as clearly as possible. This meant that he could just sit and watch the talks. I was determined to get away from anything British, and chose the pyramids of ancient Egypt, having already read (at my own volition) several works by archaeologists that I obtained from the school library and a public library. The talk I gave (at the age of fourteen) did actually interest the class, who asked an unusual number of questions. Of course, there are still many questions about Old Kingdom Egypt, although the academic record has improved since I first read this subject.
5. The Professor of German
At the age of 23, I was temporarily in the employment of Professor Joseph Peter Stern (1920-91), who lived in Cambridge, and who taught German at London University. Born at Prague, he was an expert on German literature, with strong interests in philosophy. He would courteously invite me to his study on occasion, as he knew of my own interest in philosophy. He made plain that he was not very amenable to the Eastern religions, and we talked mainly about Kant, Wittgenstein, and Nietzsche. These were his favoured topics, not mine.
I agreed that Kant was exceptional for certain formulations (though I was not a Kantian), and consented to read more of Wittgenstein, who was becoming almost legendary in Cambridge. I was resistant to Nietzsche, whose books I found objectionable for certain doctrines often disputed. However, Professor Stern was an expert on Nietzsche, whom he read in fastidious German, and so I decided to listen rather than argue. He freely acknowledged the non-democratic aspect of Nietzsche, and also other drawbacks. This seemed to confirm my own diagnosis; I remained cautious about the controversial advocate of "will to power." Yet Professor Stern tended to validate some aspects of Nietzsche.
The irony in this situation was pronounced; the Professor himself was very democratic. He did not reflect in his own thinking the disconcerting "strong against the weak" psychology of Nietzsche. Indeed, I will always remember Professor Stern with affection for his democratic latitude. When I entered his study, he treated me as an equal, not as an employee. I remember the long shelves of books in his study, a room which had a very attractive view of the extensive garden. He would sometimes ask me questions, as though he really wanted to know what I thought about a particular subject. Yet I was a nobody, with no status whatever. He responded to my intellectual activity, not to my social background. Not everybody in his position would bother to do that.
I concluded that the Professor desired a citizen reaction, as a change from his discussions with academic colleagues. He sometimes hinted that academics did not get everything right, and that on some points there was such scope for disagreement that the ultimate answer was strangely elusive.
Professor Stern was very critical of Hitler and also Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), whom he viewed as abetting the intellectual validation for the rise of Nazism. He was also critical of Karl Jaspers, Freud, and C. G. Jung in what he deemed a tragic neglect of liberal principles in the face of Nazism. He did associate Nietzsche with Nazi ideology in certain respects; he was critical of some Nietzschean themes and conceded a strong link with the Fascism of Mussolini. His knowledge of the literary background was acute. He later contributed books on these subjects (and in 1987 appeared in the BBC television series on Western philosophers that was arranged by Bryan Magee; see Magee, The Great Philosophers, Oxford 1988, pp. 232ff.). See also Stern, Hitler: The Fuhrer and the People (University of California Press, 1975; rev. edn, 1992); idem, A Study of Nietzsche (Cambridge University Press, 1979).
There was a humorous episode in 1973 when I mentioned that I had undertaken some independent meditation. Professor Stern reacted with courteous aversion, considering this interest to be anti-rational. More to the point, he clearly associated meditation with the recent popular enthusiasm for TM (Transcendental Meditation). I had to explain the difference in my case, and to assure him that I viewed TM in much the same light that he did. I was a critic of TM and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
In Cambridge at that period, there were many sectarian manifestations, with diverse undergraduates and the local Technical College being conspicuous in some of the enthusiasms. In a road adjoining my home, there was a house displaying the auspices of Guru Maharaji (later Prem Rawat), and the Hare Krishna trend was well known on Cambridge streets. TM was advertised in the local newspapers, and I once attended a public talk just to find out what the Transcendentalists were saying, and with the consequence that I did not attend a second time.
My interest in Eastern religions predated the popular fads which started in 1967, and in England largely because of the trend typified by the Beatles in their attraction to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. That phase of "hip" meditation caused many confusions, and I should clarify the situation here from my own angle of experience.
6. New Age Reverse
I left school in 1965. In Britain, there was virtually no interest in Oriental religion at that time save amongst academic scholars. The trigger for the popular craze was the 1967 "summer of love," a hippy indulgence centred in California. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (d. 2008) gained celebrity at that time. In Britain, during 1967 the superstars John Lennon and George Harrison became vocal supporters of Transcendental Meditation (TM). The following year, the Beatles visited the Maharishi at Rishikesh, increasingly a tourist scenario of commercial significance. A strong degree of disillusionment followed.
I was totally removed from these developments. I had been a fan of the Beatles at the age of thirteen, but when I was fourteen, I ceased all interest in pop music, which to me represented a schoolboy distraction. I had actually seen the Beatles in concert at Cambridge, when they appeared at the Regal cinema while I was still at school. The music was almost completely obscured by the frenzied screaming of the females in the audience. This teenage hysteria had become notorious at pop music concerts by 1964.
The phenomenon of 1960s beat music is associated with a British working class activity (although some of the performers came from a middle class background, e. g., Mick Jagger). The routine cinema venues soon became replaced by high profile gigs, and in terms of a big money attraction via the spread of this nascent "rock" music in America.
The early Beatles became pervasively popular in Britain by 1964. Beatlemania became a national indulgence, and was even endorsed by many of the older generation. The clean-cut, amiable image sported suits and ties. Subsequent developments proved disconcerting to critics. The Beatles were soon influenced by Bob Dylan, the American celebrity who had become addicted to marijuana (cannabis). In 1964, the Beatles fell victim to the Dylan drug habit (Howard Sounes, Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan, New York 2001, pp. 161-2). However, this was not obvious to many fans at the time. Afterwards, John Lennon (1940-1980) became an intensive LSD user during 1966, and later became addicted to heroin. "The times they are a changin' " was a well known Dylan theme, though transpiring to have an underside of danger and disastrous recklessness.
Lennon was reportedly earning about £100,000 a month in 1967, when he advocated TM. See Wikipedia Lennon (accessed 23/08/2010). Some working class people, such as my father, reacted strongly to the amount of money that certain pop stars were acquiring. The monetary figures were high even when substantially understated.
The popular trends were glorified by undiscerning commentators. In contrast, I was strongly critical. I had formerly reacted to the British Empire mentality and the conventional straitjacket of education, but the "new age" of supposed "progress" was far worse in too many respects. This conclusion arose not merely because numerous pop music icons became drug victims. Nor merely because the famous Woodstock concert in 1969 gained the repute of being an LSD event attended by the most unrealistic conceptions of social evolution.
The American "new age," beginning in hippy California, was the death of public health in many directions. In Britain, promiscuity became rife, and law and order suffered hitherto unknown breaches. A new breed of adolescent gained notoriety for an aversion to customary civilities. In 1967-8 many of these newcomers were observed to neglect the convention of saying "thank you" in elementary social exchanges. The new liberated humanity considered themselves to be set free from cumbersome conventions. Why should they express thanks for anything, when all was theirs by right ? Everything should be freely available, and everybody should be able to do just what they wanted. That was the basic gist of their attitude. Free love became a new convention, and one parent families mushroomed. In just a few years, too many British streets became dangerous after dark.
There are different versions of how the violence started. In 1969, the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont (in California) became notorious as a scene of violence. The Californian Hells Angels were hired as a security factor, but numerous fights occurred on that occasion; alcohol, LSD, and amephetamines were closely involved.
In Britain, some people blamed the mounting problem of social aggression on the skinhead population, an explanation which others said was reductionist. I can speak here from my own experience. In 1973, I found myself under attack one night from a group of six thugs, none of whom were skinheads, and all with hair over their collars. I was physically fit, having taken up a basic course in judo, and so forth; I dodged the first assault, and then decided to run from the rest of the pack, who were unable to keep pace. Discretion is the better part of valour in some situations.
That pack of thugs had been drinking alcohol, but many molesters were also users of various drugs, including the underestimated amphetamines. Later, when the "punk" craze arrived in the late 70s, the bad example of Sid Vicious became notorious. The Sex Pistols guitarist gained a reputation for violence, and overdosed on heroin in 1979. He is known to have cut graffiti on his chest with a razor. Knives menacingly appeared in London pubs at this period, and violence became an accompaniment to pervasive burglaries and muggings in the provinces. Cambridge streets of the 1980s became a milieu of fear for too many people of all ages.
I never took LSD or amphetamines, and disliked the smell of cannabis that I sometimes encountered in public places. In 1973, for several months, I attended a number of "rock" concerts in Cambridge, endeavouring to ascertain what was in occurrence. The music was very loud, and the audience were perhaps predominantly teenagers. The decibel level could be painful; some "bands" (of musicians) were more exhibitionist than others. There was indeed a mood of raw excitement created by the guitar and drum voltage, but my conclusion was that this music risked a dead end without sublimating factors.
At the Corn Exchange, there was no screaming as in the Beatles concert a decade earlier, and the audio amplification system was far more acute. The audience could clearly hear the performance, which might be deafening. Males in the standing audience were subject to impromptu dances. The performers varied from Wishbone Ash and Genesis to early exemplars of the "heavy metal" trend. Some artistes did attempt to make their lyrics more meaningful than rivals. Others relied upon the sensation of noise level and a rather provocative form of shock effect. However, there was nothing comparable to the subsequent mood of defiance associated with the Sex Pistols.
Some forms of fashionable ideology were objectionable. One of my friends in Cambridge, who was averse to drugs, had fallen prey to the notion that psychedelic and related contemporary art was the height of aesthetic perfection. This meant, to him and many others, that earlier forms of art were simply old hat to be dismissed. My attempts to persuade him differently were to no avail. He did not read much, preferring television, and was deceived by the contemporary "progressive" slogans. The "progressives" were frequently domineering; they knew better than anyone else what counted most. Their fashionable sense of values was all the proof they needed.
During the 1970s, British art colleges became notorious venues for cannabis and promiscuity. Pornography escalated to record levels, but all such developments were generally pardoned as progressive by the new wave of indulgents. In matters of "mysticism," the occult vogue for Aleister Crowley was too often a reminder of the extreme confusions which had become ascendant. Backward novelists were praised for depraved fiction, including the four letter word variety.
"By the end of that critical decade [the 1960s], pornographic films were being imported into Britain from Scandinavia which depicted young girls having intercourse with donkeys and dogs. That is Crowleyan taste, or rather perverse taste" (Shepherd, Pointed Observations, 2005, p. 110). The triumph of bad taste was an inseparable component of the Aquarian new age.
American cinema increasingly opted for bad language and violence, and British television gradually followed the damaging example. The unrestrained appetites of affluent hedonists should meet with resistance from those who exercise the unfashionable intellect. Standards of media decency, serving to restrain crime, were initially undermined by the late 1960s wave of subcortical barbarians.
7. India and Doing Philosophy
The British attitude to India underwent changes from the late 1960s, primarily because of the alternative vogue associated with the Beatles. This development was not uniform, and many of the older generation were puzzled by enthusiasms. I was in a different category, being one of the younger generation, but not identifying myself with the fashionable reception of Eastern religion. I had been studying that subject of religion (and Indian philosophy) for longer than the new wave of enthusiasts, and in quite a different way. This factor was difficult to convey in some interchanges, and most of the time I never actually attempted to do so.
From 1967 onwards, a large number of young British tourists travelled to India, along with those from other countries. All sorts of notions and beliefs were attendant upon these expeditions and pilgrimages. Some visitors drove to famous places in a jeep, while the more hardy ones travelled on foot. Sometimes a two week holiday, and sometimes a sojourn of a year or more. A proportion of the visitors came back disillusioned, while others became fervent supporters of diverse gurus and/or doctrines.
Many of these people did not appear to read much about the historical and religious background of the country they were visiting. They took their cues primarily from acquaintances with similar inclinations, from pop stars and other celebrities like Richard Alpert, and not least from television. Some were influenced by the controversial Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, but without understanding very much about meditation. Others were influenced by the popular American book Be Here Now, a fantasy which declared "the Transformation: Dr. Richard Alpert, Ph.D into Baba Ram Dass." That overture of the drugs lobby gained many reprints and many victims of superficial Western Hinduism.
During the early 1970s, I happened to encounter one of my former acquaintances in Cambridge, whom I had not seen for several years. He told me that he had decided to make the journey to India, believing that "it must be very peaceful out there," unlike England. I tried to introduce a note of caution into this romantic theory, but rather unsuccessfully. He was convinced that he must be right. He appeared to have read virtually nothing about India, and had taken all his directions from the popular media. I doubt whether he knew the difference between Buddhism and Hinduism. Some while later, I heard from others that he had indeed made a trip to India, but had encountered problems and much regretted the difficulties he experienced.
Some visitors to India were in the habit of taking drugs, a factor which may have blunted their sensitivities or prevented due perceptions of what was occurring. Details emerged that Richard Alpert (alias Ram Dass) had travelled to the desired country in 1967 with a supply of LSD pills, contacting one of the more doubtful gurus, and subsequently becoming a teacher of Yoga and "present-centredness," a theme evident in his book Be Here Now (Shepherd, Minds and Sociocultures Vol. 1, 1996, pp. 63-4). The Now could be a very disconcerting phenomenon. I preferred the historical past, and the realistic present.
A very critical assessor of the Asiatic scene was my father, an atheist who eventually admitted a more relaxed agnostic identity. A hard-working builder and beer drinker, he reacted strongly to the contemporary drug culture. He said that the younger generation were too often seeking an escape route from the realities of life. My father could be relied upon to give a gloomy picture of India. He had been a volunteer in the RAF during the Second World War, being posted to Burma in the struggle against the Japanese. He travelled across India in circumstances of illness induced by the climate, and had searing war memories. He had seen many corpses (British, Burmese, and Japanese), together with other grim situations, and all this left him with nightmares for several years afterwards.
My father depicted India adversely in terms of the heat, the flies, the disease, the snakes, the poverty, and the superstition. He could not understand why there was so much new interest in Hinduism. He regarded the Beatles as commercial and superfluous superstars who had too much spare time to indulge their imagination. He understood well enough the pre-war situations in northern England; he was reared in Yorkshire poverty at Middlesbrough, while the increasingly super-rich Beatles came from Liverpool.
When a young boy, my father was present when his own father (my grandfather) was subjected to a ritual excommunication by an irate Roman Catholic priest, who cursed the house and inmates (including several children). This act of severity occurred despite the fact that his mother (my grandmother) was a loyal Roman Catholic. The female did not count; she was cursed as well. My grandfather was a very independent and self-taught Irishman who had become a marxist under the pressures of poverty (). My father never forgot that episode of the 1930s, and himself inclined strongly to marxism; however, he was not an activist and merely held private views.
In his later years, at one period my father read a few books on Indian saints, and conceded that he had ignored some dimensions of Indian religion, which he did not profess to understand. He could be refreshingly honest in his disclosures, contrasting with the tendency elsewhere to assume knowledge. Yet he had allowed his temper to upset his domestic life, berating my mother for her religious views (she had become a follower of Meher Baba in 1962). That attitude created grounds for a divorce. Ironically, my father acknowledged that Meher Baba (1894-1969) was the only contemporary Eastern mystic to make an open dismissal of LSD, the others appearing lazy in this respect.
With the divorce, there was danger of an estrangement between myself and my father, who moved to London. I had been considered (by him) a threat to his outlook, as I had supported my mother. I therefore made efforts to bridge the gap between my own temperament and his, even visiting public houses in his company, despite my strong aversion to those places (an aversion for which he had resented me). My father insisted that it was necessary for me to see "how the other half [of the population] live," meaning the working class. He tended to think of my "half" as intellectual.
However, I was working class in basic ways, taking manual jobs in addition to working at Cambridge bookshops. Indeed, when I met Professor J. P. Stern (), it was in the capacity of a gardener. He had a spendid house and garden in Newnham, and I was employed to maintain the garden. He seemed very surprised to learn of my interest in philosophy and religion. I believe that he associated me in certain ways with Wittgenstein, even though I tended to resist the latter on some ideological grounds. Many academic philosophers could not easily come to terms with aspects of Wittgenstein's early career, in which he lived outside academe and worked (though briefly) as an assistant gardener with the monks at Hutteldorf, near Vienna. Yet Professor Stern admired that trajectory. His wife was an academic translator, and said that she did not believe I would remain a gardener. Her intuition, or reasoning, was quite soon proven correct.
The more immediate matter here relates to a philosophical issue evoked in my conversations with Professor Stern. He was a supporter of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), and he soon grasped that I was cool in my reception of this work. In contrast, a fair number of Cambridge academics and undergraduates were becoming enthusiastic about that early treatise of the "language philosophy" exponent.
I am prepared to credit Wittgenstein with a degree of originality, plus the influence of Schopenhauer, but my criticism was (and is) that his way of "doing philosophy" is constricting, and ultimately evasive. So much of the subsequent academic talk he inspired about "language and reality" has ignored the metaphysics often implied by the vague term "reality," and also the social issues that enveloped modernity.
Professor Stern deemed the conceptualism of "Eastern religions" to be irrelevant; he and his colleagues also veered well away from discussion of such pressing social matters as drug ingestion. He was brilliant in the field of German literature, and commendably tackled Nazism. Yet he would not venture into other areas, including the contemporary. Of course, he was circumscribed by his specialist discipline, which was German literature rather than philosophy.
India did not exist in the predominantly Eurocentric world of the philosophy professors, apart from scathing references to Transcendental Meditation in private conversation. China was a communist country of no effective interest. I remember once mentioning Zen Buddhism to Professor Stern; he dismissed that subject as being irrational. This seemed ironic in that he was committed to expounding Nietzsche, the anti-rationalist whose mood of anarchy and "will to power" can be strongly disputed (however, Stern's version was not typical of Nietzsche commentators, and he was in some respects a critic).
Citizen philosophy can, in my case at least, press for a different way of "doing philosophy," one that can hope to encompass more subjects rather than less subjects, and one in which the boundaries are not defined by European "language and logic." The format of philosophy does not have to be restricted by "linguistic" aphorisms or by Nietzschean themes, and nor even by Kantian categories.
See further Philosophy, Richard Tarnas, and Postmodernism.
8. Sectarian Authority Figures
My youthful interest in Meher Baba rapidly became one of ascertaining the facts of occurrence. Such a pursuit was difficult to find in milieux governed by devotional sentiment, and also by the dogmatism and opinion of diverse authority figures. I remain independent of all movements and sects.
In the early 1970s, I visited the Meher Baba Association in London, curious to learn about the situation of Pete Townshend, who was giving a low profile talk about his recent visit to India. Townshend was a "rock" megastar, the energetic guitarist of The Who. In 1968, he had surprised many people by his professed allegiance to Meher Baba (1894-1969), whom he had never met.
In his London talk, given to the very small audience who turned up for the occasion, Townshend eulogised the tomb of Meher Baba at Meherabad, the ashram in Maharashtra that had commenced in the early 1920s. Using a film projector, he showed scenes of Meherabad, and talked very enthusiastically of his pilgrimage. I concluded that he was genuine in this interest. I did not ask for his autograph, and there was no personal encounter. I merely observed the event, though I stood quite close to him. I do not remember there being more than about twenty people present, and perhaps less.
Yet I remained wary of Pete Townshend's background. He had a reputation for former drug usage and onstage violence, frequently smashing his guitar, a gimmick to which he attached artistic significance. However, he was unusually articulate for a rock musician, as I found on the sole occasion that I saw him. There were no four letter words of the type which so often accompanied "music celebrity" expression, and to which I was averse.
At a later date, in 1977, my mother (Jean Shepherd, alias Kate Thomas) gained a private meeting with Townshend in London, to discuss matters relating to former years. She was less reserved than myself, and was prepared to believe that Townshend could resolve some outstanding misconceptions on the part of devotees. She had been a follower of Meher Baba during the 1960s, and was still sympathetic towards that deceased figure (without being a devotee). She had recently visited Meher Baba Oceanic, the new centre at Twickenham established by Townshend in 1976.
A prominent visiting devotee from India, namely Adi K. Irani (alias Adi Senior), met her for the first time at Oceanic, but afterwards proved to be biased by his former mistaken assumptions about 1960s events relating to her (a confusion in which she was partly identified with another woman, an old acquaintance of hers). This authority figure received adulation from the other guests at Oceanic. However, his mode of speech did not impress my mother, who wrote much later: "Adi Snr was like some high priest, zealous for converts to the faith and highly disapproving of the slightest departures from the orthodox thought of the surviving mandali [ashram devotees]" (Thomas, The Destiny Challenge, Forres 1992, p. 714).
The same apostle from India tried to have her banned from Oceanic after the occasion mentioned above, although she had not said anything against him. She accordingly contacted another senior authority figure, namely Meher Baba's brother Adi S. Irani (known as Adi Jnr). The latter was resident in London and knew far more about her than the dogmatic visitor. Adi Jnr intervened on her behalf, but unfortunately he was now an invalid, and the impact of his disclosures appears to have been muted in effect. Certainly, Townshend ignored the informed party, and instead supported the inflexible Adi Snr, who was prominently active at an international level amongst devotees in these final years of his life.
At the private meeting with my mother, Townshend was something of an ogre, rejecting her early autobiographical record of 1960s events, and maintaining that she should be banned from his new centre. Townshend was himself now an authority figure in this movement, being lionised by young British and American devotees, discernibly because he was a rock celebrity. He tipped the scales in the Adi Snr versus Adi Jnr issue. "He [Townshend] concluded that my reconnection with the movement was undesirable, and that he would have to ban me from other than the briefest of visits to his Centre, which he did. Needless to say, I made no attempt to go there again" (ibid., p. 715).
Townshend was rather emphatic on that occasion about his cordon against supposedly undesirable influences. "He said he had trouble enough on his hands already" (ibid.) He spoke of problems caused by ex-drug addict devotees who attended Oceanic, people who were subject to hallucinations. His rationale of the confrontation was that he had to shield the hallucinators from any further trouble. Yet my mother had no drug problem whatever, never having resorted to drugs; she was a mystical type whose experiences and outlook did not converge with the rather narrow orthodoxy upheld by Townshend. She had been opposed to drug use years before Townshend's decision in 1968 to cease taking marijuana (earlier, he had ingested LSD several times). She was also opposed to the intake of alcohol, herself being a teetotaller. There are some who think that she set a much better example, both in the 1960s and later, than the Oceanic authority figure (for instance, in the Grof controversy, she has made a point that LSD hallucinations do not equate with spiritual experiences).
Not long after the episode of suppression in 1977, Pete Townshend relapsed into drug problems, following the death of the eccentric Who drummer Keith Moon, who in 1978 killed himself with "a potent sedative used both to curb his appetite for alcohol and control the epileptic fits the drummer experienced during his various institutionalised dry-outs" (Geoffrey Giuliano, Behind Blue Eyes: A Life of Pete Townshend, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1996, p. 174). Townshend was then consuming excessive alcohol (in the form of brandy). During 1980-81, he resorted to cocaine, and also became an addict of heroin. He is reported to have said in his more lucid moments that "I'm very heavily into Meher Baba, but I also drink like a fish; I'm not the most honest person in the world" (ibid., pp. 189-90).
In London, Townshend supplied about fifty hangers-on with cocaine (ibid., p. 188), and added amphetamine to his unhealthy diet. Amyl nitrate and cannabis were supplements. His activity at nightclubs included an episode in which he stopped breathing; in hospital, he had to be connected to a life-support system (ibid., p. 195). In early 1982, his rehabilitation in America broke the lethal pattern of addiction, and several years of psychotherapy followed. Townshend emerged to mount an anti-drug crusade in the mid-1980s, even liaising with the British Conservative party and turning round on his earlier theme of ("My Generation") rebellion. Townshend said at this time: "It's only by becoming part of the establishment [that] you can actually do anything" (ibid., p. 222).
Meanwhile, he had receded completely from the Meher Baba movement, and Meher Baba Oceanic had ceased to function. Many people thought that Pete Townshend no longer credited his spiritual hero. However, there is some evidence to the contrary. Wikipedia Townshend (accessed 03/01/2013) states that "his discipleship continues to the current day." The same article asserts: "His stardom quickly made him the world's most notable follower of [Meher] Baba." In 1970, as a consequence of Meher Baba's inspiration, Townshend declared himself "opposed to the use of all psychedelic drugs, making him one of the first rock stars with counterculture credibility to turn against their use" (ibid.)
As a commentator with no countercultural orientation, I can here note my affiliation to the Meher Baba movement during the years 1965-66, when I was in the mid-teens. Being then familiar with Meher Baba's anti-drug message, this was, however, a secondary feature for my own psychological landscape, as I never used drugs and felt no inclination to do so. Further, the anti-drug emphasis of Meher Baba amounted to only a fraction of his varied communications, which in general were never assimilated.
I grew out of the "devotee" phase in a recognition of the difference between Meher Baba and authoritarian devotees who claimed to speak for him. The growth of "Meher Baba Centres" never meant anything to me, especially in view of the figurehead's own rather critical remarks on that subject. I never visited Oceanic or Meherabad. To repeat: I remain independent of all movements and sects.
Authority figures often transpire to be less authoritative than they believe. Adi K. Irani became invested with great importance in the eyes of devotees, because of his role as secretary to Meher Baba. However, the latter openly stated in 1954 that "advice you can have from Adi, but not as from Baba through Adi" (Shepherd, Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal, 1988, p. 53). The figurehead clearly recognised that the secretary was not infallible, and obviously wished to distance himself from third party exegesis.
"I have not understood what work you are doing for me" is another statement from Meher Baba's repudiation of "Baba Centre" activity in 1954 (ibid., p. 52). At this time he made clear to devotees that he wanted all the new "Baba Centres" in Andhra to be dissolved. What he would have said about the posthumous Meher Baba Oceanic in London, is anybody's guess. Certainly, his austere code of living in India did not equate with the route to self-destruction that was demonstrated by Pete Townshend in the permissive London nightclub scene.
See further Pete Townshend, Rock Star and Meher Baba Devotee.
9. Second Renunciation
My occupation as a gardener transited into a sole trader business activity during the mid-1970s. I became part of the antiques trade, which initially involved much hard work and graduating from a small van to a Luton van. I operated as a wholesale merchant without a shop, but earned enough to be completely independent. One advantage of this phase was that it enabled me to give only a part-time attention to the business activity, while other days of the working week I devoted to study and writing. This contrasted with the orientation of other dealers, who viewed their business as a compulsory full-time career, with profit as the sole objective.
A disadvantage was the transient nature of the demand for merchandise, which could vary with the particular market involved, and even the season of year. I sold furniture, mainly of the Victorian variety, and which very often became an export commodity, being in more demand abroad than in England. Eventually I grew exasperated with the fluctuations, and decided to terminate my business. I sold my Luton van successfully in Bury St. Edmunds, and came back to my home in Cambridge via the railway. On the return journey, I grasped to what extent I had committed myself in this “second renunciation.” For instance, I did not have a car, and thereafter walked everywhere or used public transport.
The decision to retreat was made in 1977. I continued my private studies, interspersed with occasional visits to London museums, as I now had a sideline project in the study of arts and crafts. I was content to live very simply, on the funds I had saved from my ex-business, and in the hope that somehow I would be able to survive in the pursuit of my intellectual interests.
A relative suggested to me that, in view of my studious temperament, I might obtain an academic qualification, in order to make my life easier. I declined the prospect. For one thing, this recourse would have involved a narrowing down of my independent syllabus to the straitjacket of official career requirements. I regarded the official career mode in the same way I viewed the compulsive business activity of the dealers. The ultimate ends were the same: a comfortable and secure career. In my perspective, the career role was a subtraction, amounting to a distraction.
In Cambridge there were several large bookshops, to which I was no stranger (I had formerly worked as an assistant in two of them). Heffers of Trinity Street expanded at this time to become a major university bookshop, but nevertheless continued to sell some of the trivia found elsewhere, meaning commercial novels and “fad” literature. I disliked especially the burgeoning “alternative” genre which included promotion of such topics as therapy, occultism, and almost anything bizarre.
As a consequence of the commercial “new age” trends, extensive confusions were in evidence by that time. I still do not believe that "workshop" sessions produce "transformation." I still do not believe in the Jungian archetypes, and nor in many other supports for a superficial "spirituality." Some consumers were content to watch videos featuring new age celebrities expounding the presumed arcana. A tendency of contemporary commerce is to fog blanket the attention of customers, to provide clientele for the latest gimmick, craze, or lunacy.
Philosophy is an unpopular subject, and therefore deserves some credence, even though innovations might be legitimate. In 1977, then as now, I was unable to see that academic philosophy had improved thinking habits of the majority. Bertrand Russell’s fashionable (and hedonistic) liberalism was only one of the prototypal new age drawbacks. In strong reaction to such trends, I resolved to focus in areas that are customarily considered too difficult or too obscure by new age indexing, and which are treated as no man’s land by academic philosophy.
The history of Western philosophy is long and involved, and extends into the Islamic sector, now so unwelcome to mentalities which work by association of ideas (i.e., current religious fundamentalism, originating in relatively recent times). Selecting the Islamic sector as a priority, I attempted a map of what had actually happened over the centuries, at first in the traditions of “Sufism,” which is a blanket term for diverse phenomena (two separate manuscripts were the eventual outcome, the second being Sufis, Batinis, Scientists and Philosophers of the Early Islamic Era). By 1980, I had moved into anthropology and archaeology, and commenced a study of ancient civilisations, including Mesopotamia and Egypt. The third manuscript involved was entitled Ancient Cultures in Flux, and rapidly assimilated more events and cultures than originally anticipated.
The uncertainties prevailing about many aspects of ancient life were substantial. The phrase “whether or not” frequently occurred in my third manuscript, meaning whether or not this particular event actually happened, or which interpretation was correct. How far could such matters be resolved? With such an interest in varied subjects, by a combination of circumstances, I found myself continuing my citizen researches on the premises of Cambridge University Library, which certainly had enough books and journals to sustain my interest for a number of years.
The Ancient Cultures ms was the original location of some basic data later incorporated in my book Minds and Sociocultures Vol. One (1995). This volume was subtitled Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions. Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, and Jainism are still living religions, and hence my decision to detach these from the “dead religions” encompassed in the parent manuscript.
In the (1994) Preface to Minds and Sociocultures, I commented:
“I could hope that the present work might at least contribute to the recognition that not all non-professionals are unstudious clods helplessly moulded by the video boom and commercial novelism, trends which flourish in deteriorating socioculture.... My non-academic philosophy includes the role of a revisionism which jettisons any assumption of being incapable of error. The aim is to constantly improve one's existing level of performance and knowledge.... [the present book] merely represents the attempt of a philosophical man in the street to compress within one volume what cannot generally be found in such compact form.... I have no credentials, and do not aspire to importance, for which I am unsuited” (p. vii).
That book was annotated, and comprised a thousand pages. The lengthy introduction afforded a critique of various contemporary theories and trends, including the new age counterculture.
10. Cambridge Library Phase
In 1980, I formulated a programme of study that was more intensive than my earlier readings. I was now interested in social science, in addition to philosophy and world religion. This project took me into a 12 year phase of private research at CUL (Cambridge University Library), initially assisted by Dr. Robert Thouless, a Fellow of Corpus Christi College who had come to know of my interests, and who supplied me with a reference. Dr. Thouless (a psychologist) thought my study schedule was unusual, and was concerned that I lacked funding.
My unofficial and independent research project encompassed philosophy, history of religion, psychology, anthropology, sociology, archaeology, and the history of science. My incentive was confronted and encouraged by the vast number of books and learned journals available at CUL. Surprises were in store from the start. The history of religion gained substantial detail. I had read a fair number of basic works, but the scholastic background was now overpowering. For every book I had read in earlier years, there were now so many more. Plus the journals, which were a necessary commitment. I accumulated notebooks by the dozen, eventually totalling over seventy. Nevertheless, many areas of sparse information and questioning remained.
The archives on philosophy similarly revealed extensive data generally beyond public reach, including the debates and disagreements which attend the academic discussions. Though perhaps the biggest surprises were in the direction of science, where well known themes were endlessly argued and contradicted by the experts. At first I was dizzy with all the variations, but afterwards I became accustomed to tracking the minefield.
One of the many philosophers I studied in CUL was Spinoza. I had not formerly been able to locate the more detailed academic studies of Spinoza, and certainly not at journal level. However, I am still not a Spinozan (or Spinozist) in any strict sense of the word, recognising some limitations in the approach of Spinoza, and being critical of the enigmatic aspect of his writings which has prompted such divergent interpretations (e.g., the "atheist" versus "pantheist" inflections).
Getting various figures into due context is not easy, as with (Friar) Roger Bacon, Eriugena, Farabi, Ibn Rushd, Suhrawardi Maqtul, Descartes, Plotinus, and Plato. Aristotle basically amounted to an archive of the sciences, with some metaphysics; I found his political theory very disconcerting in some respects. The early Neoplatonists varied substantially.
There were also yet other philosophical traditions in prospect. I had formerly made a preliminary acquaintance with Chinese philosophy, but CUL holdings quite eclipsed my early studies. There were many shelves of books in the Chinese and Japanese languages, though fortunately for me, there were also numerous English and French publications bearing on this Far Eastern heritage. Confucius, Mencius, and many other ancients gained fresh profile, as did neo-Confucians such as Chu Hsi. Of course, the study of Chinese Buddhism was also an advantage, and Taoism was no stranger on those extensive shelves.
In my citizen perspective, the focus had to include Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Islamic, and other mentation heritages, not just the British and American acquisitions in analytical philosophy.
There were other dimensions to my studies. In 1984 I wrote Meaning in Anthropos. The sub-title was: Anthropography as an interdisciplinary science of culture. This manuscript was self-published seven years later. I was here concerned to counter various intellectual trends, including the cultural materialism of Marvin Harris and the philosophical relativism of Paul Feyerabend. My citizen projection of anthropography was a strong commitment, encompassing the social sciences, philosophy, and the history of religions.
11. The Brain Question
Scientific extensions are always advisable in philosophy. The problem is finding out which version of science is accurate or viable. To give one illustration here. During the 1970s, at citizen level I encountered some available books on brain studies, varying from Robert Ornstein's The Psychology of Consciousness (1972) to the materialist verdict of Colin Blakemore entitled Mechanics of the Mind (1977). There were obviously differences of opinion amongst academics about brain function.
Transiting to CUL, I found that the brain debates were interminable, and initially required learning a new terminology converging with the substance of medical dictionaries. Anglo-American neuroscience jargon was on the increase. Very briefly, cognitivist and other theories about the brain left scope for prodigious disagreement in scientific journals. That was nearly thirty years ago, and the situation is rather more complex today. The subject has caused much confusion at both academic and public level. My option is to abstain from the confusion.
Dubious brain lore exists in commercial media. For instance, there are technological allurements of how the brain creates God. The subject of hemispheric synchronisation is currently so facile that virtually anything can be sold in capitalist countries by entrepreneurs.
"Altered states" and "alien abduction" fantasies became a part of "neuromagnetics." The computer can be elevated to a key control position, which may be bad news for independent minds. An alternative is the malaise of "technoshamanism." Other reductionists promote psychedelic experiences, which remain at the 1960s level of LSD obsession. See Grof transpersonalism and the Bache controversy. Some psychedelic enthusiasts portray themselves as mystics, while some disillusioned psychedelic subjects become atheists railing at all forms of religion. One strongly suspects that "God" has nothing to do with the numerous contemporary states of acute mental subjectivity.
The "self-help and enlightenment" trend has favoured short-cut options, e. g., "yogatronics," resorting to a CD and headphones. Of this alluring sidetrack, one American commentator says that "you may not become immediately enlightened, but hemispheric synchronisation helps with a whole host of problems." Others conclude that big business tends to create an excess of problems rather than solving them. Observers have noted several commercial companies recently promoting "self-regulation technology," exhibiting elaborately trademarked auspices. The dustbin is the best place for so much exploitive technology.
12. Citizen Philosophy
After nearly three years spent at CUL (Cambridge University Library), I managed to self-publish a book relating to the history of science. One of the persons who read this work (Psychology in Science, 1983) was Professor Glen Schaefer, a Canadian physicist working in Britain. Having strong interests in ecology, he was also an expert on bird flight. He worked at Cranfield University, establishing the department of Ecological Physics. He pioneered the use of vertical radar for tracking insect pests such as desert locusts, and also researched alternatives to chemical crop spraying.
Professor Schaefer liked my book, and offered to arrange a Ph.D syllabus on the basis of content. I grasped that he was quite serious, and pointed out that I had no academic background. He waved this factor aside, saying he had many international contacts, and could easily arrange something for me that would make me an academic. I then objected that I would have to cease my interdisciplinary project for the purposes he was urging, and so declined the offer, as courteously as I could.
The benevolent academic was surprised, and warned that I would encounter financial difficulties if I did not adjust my project in a more advantageous economic context. I emphasised that my book was self-published, and he said this factor just did not matter. What mattered instead was the content, and the commitment demonstrated. I had used annotations, and cited serious works and journals not generally available. "You can build on that in an academic vocation, and get paid for it," he stressed.
I remained an interdisciplinary private researcher at CUL. Funding was indeed a problem, as the professor had rightly said. Many years later, I emerged with the publishing logo of Citizen Initiative, and in 2005 described myself in print as a "citizen philosopher." Let me here apply some of the reasoning underlying that brief description, which was made twenty-five years after entering CUL, and twelve years after terminating my library phase.
I do not claim to be a scholar. I chose not to be an academic, or an academic philosopher. A citizen who is interested in philosophy, and who studies that subject (with extensions, and some published output) for 25 years and more, could conceivably be called a citizen philosopher. No status is implied by that description, but rather the reverse.
Neither deductive or inductive method, and nor the diverse combinations, is necessarily dependent upon an academic degree in philosophy. Strangely enough, modern Western philosophy was founded by citizen philosophers, especially Descartes, whose project (exhibiting some drawbacks) ran counter to the prevailing academic curriculum of his time.
In the twentieth century, philosophy tended very much to be identified with the academic sector. The subject was almost exclusively tied to an academic profession, admitting very few points of contact with the population at large. See also Aspects of Citizen Philosophy.
My intellectual tendency has always been universalist. My cultivation of philosophy never did amount to the confining "European Enlightenment" paradigm which arose in the eighteenth century. The phase of modern Western philosophy has not arrived at all the answers.
Some of the ancient Greek philosophers (including Plato) are now associated by critics with a form of ideological elitism. The class system in Greece was quite pronounced, and may be considered a serious drawback. See Aristotle and the Class System in Britain. Yet the well known critics of Plato are academics, themselves a major elite factor in current society. The modern insignia of elitism range from the credentials of Earl Bertrand Russell to Sir Karl Popper. "Greek philosophers belonged to, or were employed by, the landowning class" (Russell, History of Western Philosophy, 1946, p. 198).
Many years ago, in Cambridge I sometimes watched the decorous academic ceremonies in which the young initiates were given decorative hats and gowns as an emblem of their new prestige, and also as a sign of distinction from the town. The gap between the gown and town is still vast; the gulf is indeed so great that much of the academic talk about democracy is meaningless.
13. Scotland and the Findhorn Foundation
While still researching at CUL (though now more relaxedly), I moved to the far north of Scotland in 1989, escaping the congested urban conditions in Cambridge. Accommodation was made available to me by a relative, and I found myself in the village of Findhorn, from where I moved to Forres. I settled in this area because of the scenery and outdoor activities, but some others came because of the Findhorn Foundation. Many things about that organisation disconcerted me, and I declined to become a member, remaining completely isolated from Foundation activities. The local Scots were often very critical of the Foundation, notably including Sir Michael Joughin (d. 1996).
In 1991, my mother (Jean Shepherd, alias Kate Thomas) acquired a large house in Forres, known as Clunybank (subsequently a hotel). This dwelling was set on Cluny Hill. I was able to live at this property, which became the base for my expeditions to the Munro mountains in the Highlands. I liked the solitude and the arduous exercise afforded by those locations, not to mention the challenges sometimes encountered.
I remained aloof from the Findhorn Foundation. I heard a great deal about events in that organisation, my mother having become an associate member and thereafter meeting with problems. We were neighbours to the Cluny Hill College nearby (later renamed Findhorn Foundation College). This was not a conventional college, but a place devoted to alternative therapy and related activities such as "channelling." The priorities were alien to me, and the firsthand reports I heard were not favourable. Yet the Findhorn Foundation maintained a glowing promotionalism, presenting their agenda in terms of a spiritual community and flawless spiritual education. Their courses and workshops were notoriously expensive, and the content could evoke strong criticism.
My mother made objections to a controversial therapy that was being sold at the Foundation, and which created traumas and other setbacks amongst some clients. This was the Holotropic Breathwork "workshop" launched at Esalen (in California) by Grof Transpersonal Training Inc. The favoured charge became £415. The Foundation director Craig Gibsone chose to patronise this creation of Stanislav Grof, himself becoming a practitioner in lucrative Holotropic "workshops."
The Foundation management proved dictatorial, lacking all sense of democracy or ethics. Any criticism was regarded as a punishable offence. All errors were elaborately covered up, thus preserving the client donations and workshop income. Foundation "history" is artificial, and based on exclusion of unwanted details. These tactics are part of "new age spirituality."
After several years, the Holotropic workshops were suspended, the reluctant management being obliged to heed a cautionary recommendation of the Scottish Charities Office in 1993, after a medical report had been commissioned. Edinburgh University gave a warning about the Breathwork "therapy," which amounted to hyperventilation, capable of producing very unpleasant symptoms of stress. Even then, Gibsone and others continued the Breathwork in private sessions, nurturing a mood of defiance.
The leader of Cluny Hill College was a therapy fan and a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba. Eric Franciscus spread defamation of my mother, without even bothering to meet her. That defamation was perpetuated by the Foundation management, and assisted by the trustees who took no due action after complaint. There followed the almost incredible episode when the new Foundation director (Judy McAllister) engaged with a solicitor to offset any membership, even though membership was a well known fact. The purpose was to prevent my mother from gaining a fair hearing within the Foundation.
The Foundation tactic was here extremely questionable. My mother had been a member who was expelled without due explanation, but in the new and improvised Foundation scenario there was no membership, so she could not have been expelled. On that pretext, her complaint was dismissed as superfluous. This revealing ploy was recorded in a dissident book by Stephen Castro (Hypocrisy and Dissent within the Findhorn Foundation, Forres 1996, chapter 7).
Meanwhile, the BBC were deceived by Findhorn Foundation promotionalism, and made an error in relation to my mother that amounted to a form of intimidation. I happen to know because the derisive BBC camera team visited Clunybank while I was living there. When informed of this problem (by me), the BBC management adopted an evasive attitude, seeking to offset any blame. As a consequence, the "official" story of the Foundation is a travesty of the facts. The media is a hopeless guide to events in this direction (the BBC did get to grips with Sathya Sai Baba in The Secret Swami documentary, which I found impressive, but they botched what should have been the "secret Findhorn" revelation).
In a law court procedure of 2012, the Foundation party asserted their reliance upon income earned from "alternative lifestyle courses" for overseas clients. They were awarded relief by Lord Stewart, a matter that is more than slightly controversial.
Perhaps the kindest thing a critic can say about Foundation courses and workshops is that these are not as exorbitant as some other events in this category. Certain activities in America and Hawaii have staggered investigators. Consider one of the reports to hand. A workshop on "sex magick" (a practice associated with Aleister Crowley) was part of an event for which clients paid 5,000 dollars. Several hundred people attended. The scene is described in terms of a huge hotel auditorium in Hawaii, complete with a "massive sound system and several video cameras." The week-long event was arranged by an entrepreneur described as a "New Age Self-Help Guru." This man conducted a multi-day "spiritual warrior" workshop in Arizona, the price being between 9,000 and 10,000 dollars. This workshop culminated in a "sweat lodge," in which 64 clients participated.
"Two hours after the sweat began, paramedics were called. Two people were dead. Nineteen were hospitalised, 'suffering from burns, dehydration, respiratory arrest, kidney failure or elevated body temperature.' " (Occult and New Age Workshops)
The vogue for "shamanist" sweat lodges is known to have caused other deaths and injuries, variously associated with dehydration, smoke inhalation, and poor construction of the lodge. Underlying health problems can easily become aggravated by participation in such events. Holotropic Breathwork was another unwise practice, producing drastic symptoms that were ignored and covered up at the Findhorn Foundation. Private sweat lodges were popular at one Foundation venue in Forres while I was living in that town, the venue (Newbold House) being considered a lunatic asylum by local Scottish inhabitants. The BBC folly of patronage served to mask all the excesses.
I have never forgotten the episode when the distressed ex-partner of a Foundation official arrived at Clunybank desperate to see my mother; when I opened the front door, this victim of mistreatment looked to me like the survivor from a concentration camp.
The fact is that my mother was able to comfort victims of the "spiritual community" excesses, varying from hyperventilation casualties to the discarded sexual partner. She was rewarded for these mercies by constant harassment and defamation from officious representatives of "unconditional love" and "love myself," two of the preferred New Age slogans. At one stage of this drama, I wished to enlist police support against the Foundation, but my relative was not in agreement, saying this resort would make things worse.
At the end of the 1990s, my mother became ill from hostilities generated by the Findhorn Foundation staff. I strongly advised her to go back to England, and myself departed from Forres in 1998, the year before she did. By that time, aided by Pierre Weil (and indirectly by the negligent BBC), the Foundation management had secured NGO status, despite their severe economic crisis involving a heavy debt. Scottish locals were baffled as to how they achieved this status, and the concerned politician Dr. Winifred Ewing MSP was unable to evoke a response from the relevant UN office in America that dispensed the upgrade.
Moving back to England, I chose to reside in Dorset, grateful to be far away from the New Age. The setting was now a rented house in the secluded grounds of a country estate possessing seventy acres. I missed the mountains, but there were consolations. My lifestyle here included a workshop of the Old Age variety, devoted to the care and repair of antique furniture and other artefacts from the past. This activity was not advertised and not open to the public, unlike the New Age workshops which can cause damage to clients. Traditional crafts were high on my agenda at this period. Those crafts were dying in the avalanche of shoddy manufacture and contemporary fads. A decade later, British antiques in wood became celebrated as a "green" commodity. Yet plastic and chrome are preferred by the contemporary tastes in "progress."
14. Dispute with the New Age
One point I have to make here is that I am not anti-academic, unlike some "new age" writers in Western countries whose themes are markedly anti-establishment. My dispute has not generally been with establishment academics, but with the alternative factions often called "new age." The claim of being "holistic" has often been made in those directions. I do not believe that the interests designated are truly holistic, and for reasons I have explained and indicated elsewhere at some length. The true holistic paradigm will attempt a more thorough research than the nominal parties have done, and without the complicating trends to "new age workshop" entrepreneurialism that are so obvious to observers.
My resistance to "new age" trends goes back to a published disagreement with the academic philosopher Paul Feyerabend (d.1994), the "against method" exponent who was influenced by Californian alternative ideas of the 1960s. In Psychology in Science (1983), I closed with a support of method against the relativism of Feyerabend, who argued for alternative medicine and voodoo in the same context as science. Relativism gave further scope to entrepreneurs in therapy and occultism. Moving very much in the opposite direction, I formulated philosophical anthropography.
The fate of a dissident relative has served to justify a critical angle with the trends under discussion here. See Kate Thomas and the Findhorn Foundation and Letter to Robert Walter MP (2009). See also Findhorn Foundation. Direct and firsthand information has contradicted what elsewhere passes as "spiritual education."
My mother moved to Moray and witnessed what occurred in the Findhorn Foundation. She found a hierarchy of American, Canadian, and German "focalisers" favouring commercial therapy "workshops" at high prices, along with an accompanying sales drive in "shamanism" and "channelling." A major attraction was Grof holotropic breathwork, meaning hyperventilation, and considered dangerous by medical authorities. The focalisers crushed all opposition to their lucrative strategies, while continually gaining donations as a consequence of disputed charity status. Dissidents were unwelcome; they were the victims of suppression. My mother became a major target for vindictive tactics involved in new age "unconditional love." I happen to know about these matters because I was also in the vicinity as a resident of Forres during the 1990s. I declined to join the Findhorn Foundation. Their glowing promotionalism was totally unreliable ().
In 2005, I penned the Letter of Complaint to David Lorimer. An alternative organisation called the Scientific and Medical Network (SMN) was here involved. The SMN demonstrated the same form of evasion associated with the Findhorn Foundation. See also The Issue of Critical Faculties. The psychedelic problem has been pardoned and obscured by so-called "new world values" preached by Lorimer and others. See Lorimer and New World Values.
In related quarters, the subject of "integral studies" and Ken Wilber has afforded some scope for disagreement. See, e.g., Integral Studies, Ken Wilber and Integralism, and Integral Theory. Wilber's promotion of the Integral Institute has met with extensive criticism from ex-supporters like Frank Visser, who maintains a website to this effect. The activity of Wilber has included endorsement of a controversial American guru.
Also associated with integral studies is the academic philosopher Richard Tarnas; his promotion of LSD psychotherapy and astrology has evoked disagreement. Tarnas has long been a colleague of Stanislav Grof, likewise connected with the California Institute of Integral Studies. Grof was the innovator of psychedelic and holotropic "therapies" which have been considered dangerous by critics.
15. Internet Problems and Wikipedia
For many years I was resistant to being featured on the web, disliking most aspects of the internet scene, and preferring an authorial low profile. Some friends eventually persuaded me that this attitude was a drawback in disseminating information. I capitulated to the persuasion in 2007, launching the Citizen Initiative website which opposed various "new age" activities. Some notice was taken of this contribution, and so my friends were doubtless correct. In more general directions, I still maintain that I was justified in my earlier diagnosis of the web malaise. The web so often confuses citizens, presenting a kaleidoscope of unmonitored materials.
Windows and Google are renowned for their capitalist procedures. Computer manufacture has rather speedily changed model specifics to obvious commercial advantage. Other factors also change suspiciously for convenience. Google Search name listings no longer reveal the bulk or length of entries. A trite feature comprising only a few paragraphs can easily score in ascendancy over a lengthy article with annotations (some of my own web articles are quite lengthy; see my bibliography). Such drawbacks invite criticism. The 10k versus 200k issue is just one of the glaring deficiencies in evidence.
Not long ago, a British policeman was blinded when shot in the face by a murderer; a nascent fan club for the murderer subsequently occurred in web dimensions. In general, there is too much decadent cinema and novelism glorifying criminals; the internet provides numerous ads for wrongthinking. Trolls make the situation even worse.
I discovered that sectarian animosities are a substantial hazard on the web, and that Wikipedia is a harbour for such activities (see the article Wikipedia Issues). On a Wikipedia user page, a sectarian blogger (SSS108, alias Equalizer) repudiated my publishing project known as Citizen Initiative, dismissing this as being of no relevance, due to some reported criticisms found in one book of mine to a controversial Indian guru (Sathya Sai Baba), criticisms that were expressed by discontented ex-devotees. The American blogger was an apologist for the guru. Yet there is reason to assert that citizen publishing initiatives are valid in the current commercial climate dominated by big business and deficient web transmission.
The pseudonymous troll had not read any of my books, but proscribed them via a strongly visible Wikipedia User page, and solely because an appendice in one of those books was favourable to his ex-devotee opponent in sectarian issues. SSS108 was subsequently banned from Wikipedia in 2007 because of his activist editing. However, nothing was done for several years about the offensive User page that still showed on Google, and which influenced Wikipedia editors (and others) unfamiliar with the context.
The vindictive cult apologist was resistant to protests, and later resorted to the jibe that I was not an academic and had left school at the age of fifteen; in such ways, he tried to destroy my reputation as a writer. SSS108 was not an academic, nor an author, and had no credentials or study history; he did employ several web pseudonyms such as Equalizer and joe108. See Internet Terrorist. His real name was Gerald Joe Moreno. He gained the reputation of a cyberstalker and extremist blogger.
I should perhaps add that my book Minds and Sociocultures (1995) was a thousand pages in length. The sub-title was Zoroastrianism and the Indian Religions. A basic investigation revealed that no similar annotated book on Zoroastrianism and the Indian religions was composed by a non-academic citizen during the 1990s, and nor even during the 1980s. Furthermore, not even during the 1970s, when publishing costs were lower. Nor has there been any sequel to date, insofar as I am aware.
Wikipedia has become notorious for the activities of many trolls on discussion pages, for vandalised articles, and also for the arbitrary nature of some deletionist procedures conducted by "administrators." The criteria for notability have frequently been argued on Wikipedia. Some pseudonymous Wikipedia editors maintained that I lacked notability in relation to the Kevin R. D. Shepherd article created in 2009. However, sectarian affiliations were in evidence amongst the opposition (and also the tangible influence of Equalizer/Moreno blogs).
The hostile editors were diversely related to the movements representing Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Adi Da Samraj, and Meher Baba. That means three guru platforms alongside the SSS108 lobby for Sathya Sai Baba. Such interests attach to certain Wikipedia articles on religion and transpersonal psychology (the Adi Da supporter was also partial to Stanislav Grof). I was a critic of Adi Da, Rajneesh, Grof, and some devotee tendencies to dogma in the Meher Baba movement. I was therefore a target for elimination. Wikipedia "neutral point of view" is a very suspect component of the web.
A Wikipedia article about my output was subsequently deleted by pseudonymous administrators with no obvious interest in philosophy or religion. In the Wikipedia milieu, anthropography is of less relevance than favoured Wikipedia articles like Egg and chips or the more violent subject Clockwork Orange (a controversial Warner Brothers movie). See further Wikipedia Anomalies and Wikipedia Misinformation. One of those administrators (Smartse) afterwards launched a Noticeboard campaign against me, using the mistaken pretext or suggestion that I am a New Age writer/publisher. In reality, I am a strong critic of the New Age, as is well known. A contrasting detail is that Wikipedia manager Jimmy Wales deleted the influential User page of SSS108 (alias Gerald Joe Moreno) in 2012. His action against misrepresentation was ignored by those Wikipedia militants concealing their identity.
I do not claim notability, being merely a citizen who has avoided career prospects. However, real name writers are not necessarily inferior to the pseudonymous variety, especially if the latter are heavily disposed to sectarian agendas and misrepresentations. People who do not accept due scrutiny of their real name personal identity should not be invested with any role as judges of publishing standard, cultural value, and public relevance (and such abilities are implied by the Google status attaching to Wikipedia). See further Wikipedia Anomalies Sequel. Some critical sources are spotlighted at Criticisms of Wikipedia.
The website Wikipediocracy presents strong adverse reflections upon Wikipedia editorship and administration. Many Wikipedia administrators are reported to be teenagers. Numerous other complaints against Wikipedia are visible on the web.
The Wikipedia management is evidently aware of problems. A significant Risk disclaimer (accessed 06/04/2013) includes the warning:
"USE WIKIPEDIA AT YOUR OWN RISK. PLEASE BE AWARE THAT ANY INFORMATION YOU MAY FIND IN WIKIPEDIA MAY BE INACCURATE, MISLEADING, DANGEROUS, ADDICTIVE, UNETHICAL OR ILLEGAL."
16. Citizen Initiative
In 2004-5, I self-published three books under the logo of Citizen Initiative. A total of over a thousand pages was involved here. These were hardback editions featuring good quality paper. All three books were annotated, with Philosophical Critiques and Appraisals having over 800 notes. There were no author images. I was interested to observe the reactions, which were diverse. Briefly, the aim was to show that citizens can be literate, that research can be undertaken by the unprivileged, and that self-publishing can rise above the novelistic level to which it so often gravitates. I am not a novelist, and dislike science fiction, which has achieved an influence contributing to widespread fantasy.
"The incentive on the part of citizens to dispute or query official and public matters, and to extend educational horizons, might be described as a democratic prerogative. That incentive may involve supplying information frequently neglected" (Pointed Observations, 2005, page 343).
The same book of mine gave information about philosophers, religious traditions, alternative therapy, the countercultural "workshop" commerce, the drugs problem, and ecology. One aspect of ecology is global warming, a subject currently prone to denials and reductionism.
17. Global Warming
The situation in ecology has frequently been misrepresented. A recent facile argument implied that a cold winter means global warming must be a myth. The confusions are almost unbelievable.
During the 1980s, there were people in Britain who admitted an ignorance of what the word ecology signified. One citizen actually told me that he had never heard of the word. Fortunately, I had registered this word during the 1970s, though I did not begin to study the subject in any depth until I started my project at Cambridge University Library in 1981. In addition, Professor Glen Schaefer relayed to me, in the early 1980s, various discoveries familiar to him in his research role as an ecological physicist; his contacts extended from China to America. He said that some of the resistances encountered were formidable, especially in his own part of the world (meaning America and Canada).
Global warming was being discussed by scientists during the 1970s, and was predicted to increase substantially by 2000. In my first book, as a commentator on the Club of Rome outlook, I mentioned that "such an alteration is theoretically sufficient to reduce the ice masses at the poles - with the consequence, remorselessly enough, of raising the level of the oceans and creating climatic disturbances at all latitudes" (Psychology in Science, 1983, p. 153).
In America, the political debates obstructed prudent action. The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 was ignored by politicians and oil economists in a country creating the strongest degree of climate pollution in the world. The cost of regulating "greenhouse gases" was the major stumbling block. Many years passed before the American media gave a changing view, reflecting an improved information. In 2006, California became the first state in America to impose limits on carbon dioxide emissions. Yet opposition to the theme of man-made (anthropogenic) global warming remained strong. Scientific findings and estimates were greeted with jeers by hostile bloggers.
For over thirty years I have been observing the apathies in political action, and the confusion afflicting the public mind. I am sometimes asked what my current position is with regard to climate change. I have not changed course from my earlier comments. The denials of anthropogenic (man-made) global warming did not impress me. For criticism of sceptics, see RealClimate. A relevant book is Erik Conway and Naomi Oreskes, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2010).
Greenland and Antarctica are key subjects for assessment. The current flow of glaciers into the sea is a contributor to the rise of sea level. The pace of glacier-melt is far more crucial than the political and commercial agendas which seek to explain away problems in ecology. By 2007, important discoveries revealed that summer ice on the Arctic Ocean was shrinking too quickly, and exposing seas formerly anticipated to remain ice-bound for further decades. Satellite surveillance has confirmed global warming.
Scientific investigations by both American and British teams profiled the ecological importance of Antarctica. In January 2009, Reuters reported that American scientists had reviewed satellite and weather records for that continent, which is bigger than the United States. The results showed that freezing temperatures had risen by about 0.5 Celsius since the 1950s. This study disproved the popular idea that Antarctica is cooling. The "cooling" myth was favoured by sceptics of man-made global warming. Antarctica is home to ninety per cent of the ice on this planet. An intensive thawing action would be devastating.
West Antarctica "will eventually melt if warming like this continues" said a representative of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. A 3 degree Celsius rise in temperature could precipitate a wide melt. Greenland is also very vulnerable. West Antarctica, combined with Greenland, hold enough potential ice-melt to to raise sea levels by 14 metres. "Even losing a fraction of both would cause a few metres [of increased sea level] this century, with disastrous consequences" said a director of climate change research at the University of Adelaide (Australia).
Substantial Antarctic ice-melt would be sufficient to threaten coastal cities from Beijing to London, not to mention Pacific islands. The situation is already grave. Since the 1990s, ten ice sheets on the Antarctic Peninsula have receded or collapsed. The Wilkins ice-sheet is now also on the verge of collapse, "held in place by a sliver of ice 500 metres wide compared to 100 km in the 1950s." There is the further consideration that the total ice mass of Antarctica contains sufficient frozen water to raise world sea levels by 57 metres (187 feet) or more. In such an eventuality, there could be more than one Atlantis.
The danger from warming seas is extensive, with melting Antarctica ice sheets being estimated to have produced about 10% of a general rise in global sea-level in recent decades. See Antarctica may heat up dramatically. Important data was published by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), featuring BAS and international experts. See Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment (Cambridge, 2009). SCAR is closely linked to the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge (England). The lengthy SCAR report confirmed the conclusions of climate scientist Professor Stefan Rahmstorf, working at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (Germany); the average global rise in sea-level by the end of the century was here proposed at approximately 1.4 metres, exceeding the IPCC prediction of 2007, which had been based on more limited data.
A sceptical British citizen contacted me in 2008 with a list of sources designed to prove that global warming is not man-made. He was not a web rowdy, and believed in decorum and literacy instead of blog curses. At the top of his approved list appeared the controversial book by Danish academic Bjorn Lomborg entitled The Skeptical Environmentalist (2001). I remained unpersuaded by the contention of the list-maker, who cited one other book (by a politician), one DVD, and three misleading websites. There are many other books on ecology and warming, together with numerous detailed academic articles, plus websites of a more authoritative kind. The DVD was dismissed in scientific circles as being mistaken and unreliable.
Lomborg gained repute as a severe sceptic, becoming notorious for attacking climate scientists, citizen campaigners, and the media, alleging that global warming was an exaggerated issue, and asserting that funding was best diverted elsewhere. His book aroused much controversy and rebuttal, but was disastrously influential in misleading an international readership.
The widely declared failure of the Copenhagen summit meeting (in 2009), on global warming, was symptomatic of political failures to confront climate change. That conference was accompanied by a significant report from 26 international climate scientists entitled The Copenhagen Diagnosis (2009). There were doubtless some politicians who did not really want to see the contents. One verdict was that by 2020 the industrial nations must reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide by around 40% below 1990 levels to achieve any realistic chance of avoiding dangerous repercussions. In the absence of sufficient mitigation, the high danger warming threshold of 2 degrees Celsius could be crossed as early as 2040. Deep emission cuts are imperative due to recent emission increases.
The Diagnosis emphasised that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass at an increasing rate, and already contributing to the rise of sea level. Arctic sea ice is also melting much faster than formerly assessed. Without a substantial reduction in greenhouse gases, global warming could contribute as high as 7 Celsius by 2100. Sea level rose more than 5 centimetres in 15 years, about 80% higher than the tentative IPCC predictions from 2001.
Some readers know that I am critical of "non-accountable bureaucratic" trends in ecology such as those involved in CIFAL Findhorn (e. g., see my Second Letter to Tony Blair PM). That drawback does not affect my support for the exposition of climate scientists, who are not the bureaucrats condoning commercial activities in sustainability, alternative therapy, and pop-mysticism.
See also my web article Climate Change Complexities (2010) and the item Climate Change Problems (2011).
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
Copyright © 2016 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved. Page uploaded May 2010, last modified February 2016.