Orthodoxy. A Study in the Moulding of the Social Mind

The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.—COMMUNIST MANIFESTO.


Most people think that they know what is meant by “orthodoxy,” yet perhaps very few indeed really understand its full significance. Orthodoxy may be defined as that general concoction of opinions, doctrines, and ideas accepted as correct by the majority of the people in a community. What accords not with these ideas—what is not orthodox—is not “respectable” ; carried far enough, is “heretical” ; and carried to extremes, is “treasonable.”

We Socialists, at least in matters social or appertaining to social conditions, have succeeded very largely in disentangling ourselves from the tentacles of “accepted truth,” yet even more than they who are still enmeshed in its toils do we recognise the immense social significance and consequences of orthodox belief.

For the benefit, therefore, of those “sons of labour,” yet, alas! millions in number, whose eyes are still blinded and brains benumbed by ideas alien to their interests, this brief contribution is made to expose a little of the reality behind the sham.

The working class are a very respectable lot. We bemoan it, but that doesn’t make it any the less a fact. To make sure of a good start we become very respectable early on in life, our initiation into orthodoxy commencing almost as soon as we are able to imbibe ideas at all. We catch the first germs of it from our already very often deeply infected parents, partly by heredity but mainly by inoculation. When our brains are plastic and innocent of experience we are taught with tender words and fondlings the fantastic mythology and crude magic of the ancient Hebrews. We are told of the wonderful exploits of the Jews’ Messiah—a sort of ancient Mahdi—and by a trick in mental gymnastics we are taught to see, like Hamlet, in our “mind’s eye,” the ghostly triple entente where three are one and one is three.

All unconscious of the fact that they are prejudicing their child’s chance of logical reasoning, the parents insist upon the acceptance of these barbaric conceptions as inviolable truths.

We are early taught the art of invoking the aid of the “powers unseen,” and by playing upon the inborn fear of the unknown generally the groundwork is laid for that depth of superstition which accompanies many a man and woman all through their subsequent life. The period is a critical one, for the youthful mind, having had little or no experience by which to test the truth of what it is taught, absorbs ideas readily enough without question, on the authority of its parental tutors, whom it trusts and loves. Perhaps not always is the inculcation of religious thought carried quite so far in pre­school days as in the above, or on quite the same lines ; but it matters little, for the process of orthodoxising the infant mind is zealously continued throughout the subsequent years of school life. Here, although religious ideas are still persistently embedded and cultivated, soon other and more solid material is touched upon as the process expands to embrace wider and wider fields.

The modern school for the children of the workers resembles in one respect the modern factory. The factory turns out a product indistinguishable from its countless fellows, in a stereotyped mould with clocklike regularity. In the school we have a systematic routine which effectively retards rather than develops the incipient individuality of the future worker. It is to a nicety calculated to hatch out in the bulk a proletarian of the most approved type— industrially efficient, but on all things respecting his economic, social and political status, an ignoramus, with patriotism oozing from every pore, and abundant respect for the existing order of things, national tradition, and for the established authority of the powers that be— spiritual and temporal.

This condition of what might not inappropriately be termed a variety of psychic paralysis is procured largely by the judicious administration of a doping mixture dignified with the title of “history,” but which anyone acquainted with the real stuff recognises at a glance as an impudent fraud, as even Herbert Spencer admitted.

The very chapter headings of the so-called history books used in the schools are significant of the character of the material therein. Each chapter, as a rule, deals with the reign of a particular monarch, and into these “reigns,” together with larger periods comprising several of them, called a “house” or “dynasty,” the history is divided.

These periods bear no necessary relation whatever to the actual development of the society in question, and from this point of view are mere arbitrary divisions. Here is the key to an understanding of these travesties of history : they are only intended to represent the ruling-class view, and consequently they dwell almost entirely upon the doinga of the ruling classes and their puppets and flunkeya, representing them always in the most favourable light possible, and only then dealing with the superficial and showy manifestations of movements, the real nature of which is never disclosed.

Exaggerated and undue prominence is given to the activities and influence of what are called “great men,” who are referred to as “makers of history.” Where the lower stratum, the working population, does interfere and rudely interrupt the serene contentment of the rulers, as for instance in England in the Peasants’ Revolt, in France to some extent in the Great Revolution, or later in the Commune of Paris, and in Germany in the Peasants’ War, it is either totally ignored in these “histories,” or reviled and slandered with lying statements about “anarchy” and the “requirements of order.” The lesson is thus pointed home to the worker’s child—never rebel ; always “wait and see.”

It is therefore easily understood why at school, our “histories’ are comprised almost entirely of records of ghastly wars (with the ghastliness left out), court murders, marriages, divorces and plots, embellished here and there with wood-cuts of what seem often enough to have been wood heads.

Of the actual social and intellectual life of the people in each epoch, of the various classes and their mode of living, of their countless struggles, petty and great, which make up the bulk of political history, of the changes in the forms of property and wealth, together with the changes in its production and the manner of its distribution, and, in fact, of everything which would predominate in a history worthy of the name, practically no mention is made in these “elementary histories” used to “educate” the young. Were this matter brought to the notice of the authors of those volumes, they would doubtless reply with a superior smile that “those things” would be too “deep,” too difficult and “philosophic” to be comprehended by the scholars, even if they did not deny, as they might do, that they are the real subjects of history. Yet the workers’ children are supposed to be vastly interested and absorbed in the petty squabbles between court and court, in the monotonous repetition about countless bloody wars, and in the theiving and murdering exploits of Drake and the other buccaneers ; but to understand the living conditions and struggles of the working people in the past—that, forsooth, is beyond them. Still, as we shall see later, there is a vastly different reason why the proletarian children are thus dosed with this concoction of misrepresented and “adapted” history.

The positive outcome of this kind of instruction is to instil into the child a great deal of national pride and bombast by constantly harping upon the immense superiority over that of the foreigner of “our” courage, “our” soldiers, “our” glorious constitution, and “our” great Empire. Its negative outcome is, of course, a vacant ignorance qf the real facts of history and of social evolution.

This is emphasised inasmuch as practically no information is given regarding the structure of modern society by teaching even the rudiments of social science. A few worn out and exploded maxims of the so-called political economy of the professional “economists” being in all probability all that is attempted. Of natural science, if any is taught at all, it consists only of that which will not directly contradict the cosmic ideas incorporated in the current religious dogmas, and thus little or no reference is made to the wider generalisations concerning the “origin of things” which modern science has arrived at.

To sum up the above, we can see how the school routine contrives, to shut out from the mind of the worker’s child any real knowledge other than that of a purely utilitarian character, such as of mathematics, writing, drawing, and the like, and only, as a rule, a smattering of these, which are intended as a preparation for his or her future occupation of working for a living, and “incidentally,” for a master. To emphasise and add point to the argument the following is given as a rough sketch, of course, abbreviated, of the vague ideas on matters social, walked off with by the majority of children in this country upon leaving school; and with a little alteration in the wording substantially the same matter would serve to describe the ideas concerning this subject with which the children of any modern nation are equipped.

The British Nation is the foremost and most civilised on earth. We are the inheritors of a great Empire of free States established by the combined efforts of our soldiers—the bravest in the world, our sailors—the finest seamen that ever existed, our statesmen—among the wisest of all time, and last but not least, God Almighty. Throughout this glorious Empire our continued endeavour has been to educate and Christianise the heathen savage (such, at least, as have not thought fit to die off) in order to shower on them the blessings of our civilisation. The same great forces which built up our Empire have given us command of the seas, which is a good thing for the people in the world (if they only knew it), for in any other hands it would be intolerable. But we exercise it with firm but benevolent justice.

At home after a hard fight with autocracy we have succeeded in establishing the rule of the people, and it is our proudest boast that Britons never shall be slaves. Of course, there are still some class distinctions, but only those remain which are necessary and natural—necessary to provide an incentive to industry and to ensure its proper management ; natural because based upon natural differences in ability. The intelligent and thrifty have accumulated capital— the great agent of industrial progress—and thus receive a reward in the shape of profits derived therefrom. On the other hand are the working classes who, while no doubt deserving in many ways, are not capable of such mental effort as the upper classes are. They perform the manual labour, as distinct from the more refined and important mental labour of those above them. Still, the more intelligent of the workers can, by being thrifty and dutiful, ascend into the capitalist class themselves, for equality of opportunity for all exists to-day, as it never did in the past. In fact, at no previous period have the people in general been so well off, for the inherent democracy of the British mind, with its love of fair play, guarantees to every grade their fair share of the social wealth, so that harmony between class and class prevails, except where friction is caused by the vicious work of self-seeking agitators. We have, indeed, at last reached the true ideal of social organisation, and when one or two little mistakes have been rectified we may look forward to an indefinite perpetuation of the existing form of society, ; bringing with it ever-increasing culture and happiness to all mankind.

That last mouthful sounds like the finish up of a school “History of England,” doesn’t it? What an awful strain upon a fellow’s conscience penning such a pack of lies is ; but one has to suffer something for the good of the cause.

However, a careful scrutiny of the above will fail to disclose an idea that will stand the test of intelligent criticism, and the task confronting us now is to make clear the reason why we are taught such nonsense.

Why is it that what is supposed to be a system of education is not made really such by a genuine attempt to teach the truth as far as it is known ? Let us see what would result from such a course.

Suppose that every child was taught that all wealth is produced by the application of human labour-power to natural material, and that the fraudulent nature of the so-called directive ability of the capitalist was exposed, would not this be a condemnation of present-day society, where the many that labour are poor and the few idlers rich ? And would not the working-class child grow up discontented with its conditions of life and with the form of society ?

Were the children of the workers taught in their history lessons of the hopeless, grinding slavery and poverty underlying all our vaunted civilisation and all the “glory and grandeur” of the world’s Empires, the ferocious revenge of the ruling classes against all assaults upon their power, the brutal manner in which our peasant forefathers were robbed of their lands—the source of their livelihood—and herded into the factories in the early days of the present system, is it not obvious that such a course of education would fan the flames of revolt against the existing social order ?

By reversing the order of reasoning it is made abundantly clear that the whole set of orthodox superstitions taught to us in the schools are linked by one guiding thread, the desire to assure contentment with the things that are and subservience to the powers that be.

This is, of course, a most excellent arrangement for those who profit by the continuance of the present form of society—those to whom is held out all the prosperity in material and intellectual goods which this age of titanic wonders has conjured into existence—the capitalist class. But it is hardly so excellent for the working class, who are thus unconsciously made agents in the perpetuation of their present miserable condition of poverty and economic servitude.

The fact that such precautions are taken to assure contentment with the present condition of things is in itself pregnant with significance of the nature of the system which makes revolt against it such a possibility as to require to be carefully guarded against. Wherever the few, forming a small class, live parasitically at the expense of the many, this possibility always exists, and whenever the moral and ideal agents of social stability fail to prevent an outbreak of revolt on the part of the oppressed, the physical power in the hands of the State, if its control is not seized by the revolting class, is always used to stamp out the spark before it becomes a devouring conflagration.

Under feudalism, which preceded the present system, the workers’ minds were held in the paralysing grasp of Papal Christianity, then in the heyday of its power, and were steeped in the greatest depths of superstitious ignorance. As industry, followed by commerce and international communication developed, there came a revival of the sciences and arts, under the patronage of the new and rising “aristocracy of trade”—the bourgeoisie. When the application of science to industry had made an intelligent and efficient working class more of a necessity than it had been in tbe feudal period, the capitalists, now politically supreme, after many misgivings and heart-tremblings, made the bold experiment of imparting to the proletariat such a mental training as would better fit them for the more intricate technical and directive requirements of the new productive forces, and of commercial intercourse.

The scheme worked well, greatly to the surprise of the old-fashioned pessimistic members of the bourgeoisie, who had uttered grave warnings to their class as to the results of this “dangerous, suicidal” policy. But the representatives of the ruling class knew their cards. It was not intended that the workers should be taught too much ; only what was “good” for them, and, of course, they, the masters, were to be the judges of that.

Naturally a dead stop could not be made when the “efficiency” course was finished, for the worker’s mental appetite had been whetted and he had the rather dangerous faculty now of reading. So a further step was taken, and we hare seen the result. In addition to the directly industrially useful information, the workers have been given a distorted impression, a psuedo-knowledge, of the society in which they work. They are led to imagine that they know something of the world outside their little individual circle, whereas their minds, in reality, are only stocked with a conglomeration of false notions and conceptions, tricked out in the garb of wisdom, but, in the last analysis, only very thinly covering the skeleton they are woven around—tie sordid interests of the capitalist class.

Verily our masters have been wise in their generation ; they have gone one better than ever their feudal or antique compeers did. Whilst in former slave systems the subject class for the most part only passively acquiesced in its slavery, to-day the spectacle presents iteelf of an oppressed dags actively upholding the system which ensures its continued enslavement. An enfranchised working class has become quite “safe.” As election day comes round the well-rewarded representatives of the interests of capital dangle before the eyes of the working electorate, reforms and palliating patches of every type. The proletarians, soaked in the slough of orthodoxy, unable as yet to conceive of any social conditions save those existing, readily swallow the bait and return to the seats of government the hypocritical lying agents of their task-masters.

And so the game goes merrily on. For yet another season are the capitalists and their lackeys enabled to sweat and grind, bluff and blind, the patient multitude, by whose brains and sinews are reared those giant achievements of power and luxury which to the parasites alone it is given to enjoy.

(To be continued.)


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