1970s >> 1978 >> no-884-april-1978

Natural and Supernatural

While many industries are suffering from the present slump, and their workers live in fear of the sack or short time, one business has never known better days: that is, the large contemporary industry dealing with ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night. It includes religion, and also much else besides. It has often proved its usefulness to the state, which means to the rulers of the state. For the more the ruling class can persuade the workers that they have a great time coming, if they can only wait till they’re dead, the less time they will spend thinking about the system which keeps their exploiters rich, or planning to end it. The more their attention is taken up with mysticism and occult tales and supernatural forces, the less energy they will have to learn about the natural forces here and now, which the members of the ruling class will continue to own and control for their own benefit at the workers’ expense. A valuable weapon in this ruling-class campaign is a book just published, Natural and Supernatural, by Brian Inglis (Hodder and Stoughton, £9.95). This first volume speaks up manfully on behalf of spooks of various kinds, plus crafty dodges like alchemy and religious miracles, in the centuries up to 1914. (And very effective alchemy was, too—not in transmuting base metals into gold, of course, but in transmuting the true believers’ money into the pockets of the alchemists.) Volume two will bring us up to date (if that’s the right phrase).

 

Gnomes Rule — OK?
Bernard Levin,The Times columnist, and a friend of Mr. Inglis, sees how vital it is to inculcate a spirit of credulity among the workers, and he went so far as to produce a column vindicating the book two weeks before it was published (The Times, 6.1.78). To defend a book as yet unpublished, from attacks as yet unmade, in reviews as yet unwritten, requires unusual skills, but Mr. Levin was equal to the occasion. Exercising simultaneously the gifts of clairvoyance and prophecy, he claimed to know what would be said by reviewers as yet unchosen, and he produced at least one argument to confute it (plus some abuse of the phantom army of projected assailants—no one who refused to accept supernatural happenings after reading Mr. Inglis’s book could be “fully sane”, he said in his temperate and judicious way.) This was the argument: the fact that some people reject telepathy and the rest of it “seems to me to go far towards demonstrating the validity of the very argument it rejects”. So there you are. If you reject the belief that cows catch an illness because elves have fired prehistoric flint arrow-heads at them (the disease was called “elf-shot” 150 years ago—it still is, according to current dictionaries—and the poor cow was “cured” by bleeding it), if you are unable to accept that leprechauns cause this disease, you are merely confirming that it does happen.

 

Mr. Levin gave his testimony for the magical powers of, for example, Uri Geller, and illustrated his article by a picture of the wizard in person, holding some shop-soiled cutlery, and looking inscrutable. Geller is an unfortunate choice as an example of uncanny doings and psychic powers. His pretensions to be anything other than a clever conjurer have long been exploded, both by impartial investigators from outside show-business, and, even more effectively, by equally clever fellow-conjurers who are indignant at the way Geller has hogged the publicity by magical claims for tricks no better than their own (see past issues of the New Scientist and of the American periodical The Zetetic, and also The Magic of Uri, by “Randi”, Ballantine Books, 65p).

 

All aboard for Paradise
Fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with Levin, Geller, and Inglis, in this spiritual onslaught with so much material significance, are the progenitors of the heterogeneous religious sects which have sprung up in the last decade or two and have proved so successful in promoting the prosperity of their originators and the other-worldly passivity of the workers they have converted. Not only have the leaders of the old-established religions deserved well of the capitalist class; so have such men as the Rev. Sun Myung Moon (his name alone must be worth a mint in the religious game) with his various productive schemes staffed by low-paid devotees; the well-built little guru who runs the Divine Light mission, in the intervals of seeing the world in great comfort with highly congenial companions; and Lafayette Ron Hubbard, last heard of cruising in his yacht while his Scientology Church spreads the gospel and organizes the contributions. All of them take full advantage of the mind-shattering boredom in which most workers (inevitably under capitalism) are forced to spend their working lives, a boredom which provides fertile soil for the growth of miracle men.

 

Another in the same line of business is Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (or Veririchi, as unkind critics have called him). His international H.Q. is in Switzerland, and he runs Transcendental Meditation. He has discovered (The Times, 4.1.78) that when one per cent of the people of a town or city meditate transcendentally (and if you don’t know what that is, only £60—for six lessons— stands between you and your finding out), the cumulative effects “will wipe away its urban deprivation, and give it invincibility, peace of mind, prosperity”, and so on; “illness, crime, and accidents, decrease sharply”. This has already been proved (no doubt it depends on your standards of proof) in towns as far apart as Cleveland, Ohio, and Glossop, Derbyshire, to name but two. The same experiment is at this moment being made in Hackney. So now it’s up to 1,925 inhabitants of that hitherto lack-lustre locality, that’s one per cent of the population, if they’ve counted right, to do their stuff. If you’ve been to Hackney recently, to see a place in the process of being transformed by the power of thought, you may well have come to the conclusion that the Maharishi’s thinkers have a lot of hard meditating still to do. Poverty, and crime, and urban deprivation, are not easy to shift; but if the transcendental meditators think they have shifted them (as in Cleveland, Ohio, and Glossop, Derbyshire) it will do the ruling class no harm, will it?

 

Flights of fancyEven more to the point, on the subject of Mr. Inglis’s second volume; only last year the Maharishi discovered that transcendental meditation enables its practitioners to fly. It’s a real bonus: one crossing to New York under your own steam, and you’ve already paid for your introductory lessons. The faithful practise flying every morning in the front room of the terraced house which spearheads the campaign to transform Hackney; but they modestly declined to demonstrate their powers when a journalist called. “We are not very good at it yet; still a bit unstable in the air.” So New York is out, for the moment. Still, even a few quick flights to the factory or office would avoid those rush-hour journeys, not to mention saving the fare. These revelations are not to be laughed at: the more people laugh and refuse to believe these stories, the more (by Mr. Levin’s argument) it proves that the meditators do fly.

Anyway, Brian Inglis could spread himself on that in his second volume. He might like to hear of another uncanny case of paranormal powers, if he has not already written it up. A couple of years ago Patrick Moore was appearing on Pete Murray’s Radio 2 morning show. He told his listeners that while he was speaking the planet Pluto would pass directly behind Jupiter, thus increasing their gravitational pull, so that here on earth people could jump in the air and experience a floating sensation. Minutes later, “the BBC switchboard was jammed with calls from people claiming the ‘experiment’ had worked. A woman holding a coffee morning said she and her eleven guests left the ground and floated round the room” (Sun, 2.4.76). Another man “said he hit his head on the ceiling”. Patrick Moore thought he was hoaxing people on April Fools’ Day (Jupiter and Pluto could play hide-and-seek all day, and it wouldn’t affect the earth’s gravitation), but there is obviously more to it than that. These witnesses who thought they could fly because P. Moore told them they could on the radio must surely reinforce those other witnesses who thought their spoons were bent because U. Geller told them so on the radio. Or are we to accept the apparent deductions that sometimes people want to believe something so much that they succeed in convincing themselves it really is true? To help divert the workers from the economic and political realities the magical powers of Moore and Geller and the rest have an important part to play, however much scoffers and cynics may sneer. After all, the more people laugh and refuse to believe it, the more . . . Where have we heard that argument before?

Without question, Mr. Inglis is doing a great job for the ruling class. We can only hope he never bumps his head on the ceiling.

Alwyn Edgar