Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 11, No. 4. April 7th, 1948
Crooked Thinking Muddled Language — Comment on "The Meeting"
Crooked Thinking Muddled Language
Comment on "The Meeting"
In the words of Mr. Taylor "I am not a Communist, I have never been a Communist, and I am never likely to become one." But I am concerned with two things, and with the connection between them; these are, the use of clear language in political discussion, and the practice of straight political thinking. An excellent example of the neglect of these two habits was provided in the recent special general meeting, and in the activities leading up to it.
Of course the Executive started it all. To hail recent events in Czechoslovakia as a "triumph of democracy" is misleading because of the wealth of meanings attached to the word "democracy," and it was muddled political thinking of the worst doctrinaire type to form any definite opinion about these events at this time. But where the Executive led a multitude followed, and where the Executive was foolish, the multitude committed deliberate sins against clear language and straight thinking.
Next the College was deluged with a series of pamphlets—these obviously the work of political illiterates. An appeal was made to "democratically-minded" students—a phrase so worn by polemical misuse as to indicate none but those who already agree with its users. Communism was, at one time, a "red virus" and at another, a "vile faction." No-one who had the slightest acquaintance with Communism could apply these terms to a body of political and social thought that has always merited and received the serious attention of the best minds of Europe. Journalistic tub-thumpers like Max Eastman have railed in such a way against Communism, and always will; meanwhile, serious thinkers like A. D. Lindsay (see his book of Marx's Capital) have thought about the problem. Where should the students of this college find themselves? With the doyen of the Readers' Digest? or with the Master of Balliol College?
Again, no-one could compare the increase of Russian power to a "virus" unless their minds were blinded by the precepts of representative government, the American way of life, and British fair-play. If one looks at world events with a minimum of prejudice, one must certainly be uneasy at Russian activities, but one cannot fail to see the relevance of American dollar imperialism (e.g., China, Japan, Greece, Turkey and Italy) to these activities. And one will then be chary in apportioning praise and blame.
These two examples alone would have been enough to indicate that in this College crooked political thinking was on the increase, and finding expression in the violent abuse of language which usually accompanies such an event. But there was still the general meeting.
This was probably the largest meeting of students ever assembled in this college. It was certainly the least intelligent to meet in recent years. In the course of the meeting four people took a rational approach to the proceedings. Mr. Kevin O'Brien's level-headedness has, as if by a miracle, been perpetuated. Two other examples were Mr. Dowrick's magnificent chairing of an unruly meeting, and Mr. Taylor's attempt to make a speech. The one was voted out and the other howled down. Of the backers of the no-confidence motion, only Mr. Tallboys showed intelligence. And the rest of the leaders? They gave out a succession of diatribes, studded with phrases like "these Communists must go." "throw out the present Exec." and "we don't want to listen to you;" all this marked with extreme bad taste and political rancour. Finally, on the excuse that political opinions should not be allowed to interfere with administrative ability, they precipitated the College into administrative anarchy on a patently political issue. These were the leaders, and the people behind them were of their kind.
Their characteristic mental attitudes were expressed by two speakers; one evoked the wrath of the City Fathers on our heads, the other could think of nothing but his 32/6. To judge by the faces one saw, they were chiefly incipient small town lawyers and accountants, and, what is worse, people whose political opinions are coloured by an anticipation of the salaries they will receive in these professions. Their political opinions suffered from the inevitable warp given by these preoccupations; their expression of opinion was not even verbal—but restricted to howls, cheers and other automatic responses of political catch-cries. These were the ones who responded to the appeal to "democratically-minded" students: therefore, in their vocabulary, democracy amounts to the voice of a multitude of thoughtless people, evoked by the words of the political riff-raff of the right.
Six years ago the affairs of the College were largely run by "Communists and fellow-travellers," and the administration was pretty efficient. Sometimes their attempts to fit all politics—from the government of the College to the conduct of the war—into the procrustean bed of dialectic were a little ludicrous. But it was an intelligent attempt, and the people who made it did try to convince others by rational argument. Since then the leftist influence has declined, and this seemed all for the good. But nothing of equal intelligence has risen to take its place. If the only alternative to the person who tries to integrate his activities as a student into the affairs of the world is the person whose horizon is bounded by the corpulent figures of the city fathers, and the perpetual memories of the Stud. Ass. fee, it would be better for us to revert to the original emphasis. And meanwhile let all these people maintain their interest in College affairs, and read a little Shakespeare to learn some respect for the language, and a little John Stuart Mill for some ideas on the "tyranny of the majority."
W. H. Oliver.