The Spike [or Victoria University College Review 1961]
That the West will fall to Communism has been a tenet of Communist faith since Marx first thought — though he was more interested in class than in cultural, economic, and political struggles. That Mao Tse-tung regards the struggle as inevitably a military one is either propaganda on the home front, part of a private battle of wits with Moscow, or indicative of a vast lack of subtlety on his part. The West is going under with great rapidity, particularly on the front where it should be most strong — the moral front. People are capitulating all over the place.
The most spectacular recent capitulation to Communism has been the defection of the Moral Re-Armament movement from its original soul-saving mission to a West-saving mission. If their incredibly obtuse and gobbledegooked pamphlet Ideology and Co-existence (which has been distributed to millions throughout the West) says anything it says 'Communism is the most important thing in the world today; it is promoted by a dedicated band who have stringent moral standards and demands; it is international, inter-racial, and highly organized in both high and low places; it cannot fail unless opposed by equal dedication to an idea; in God we have the only superior idea; join us as we save the West with God.'
All this contrasts most sharply with their original concern for unhappy people — a trait not noticeably present in Communism. The accent has gone from 'We have something better to offer' to 'do this or things will get worse'.
But I didn't intend to talk about the ups and downs of Mra theology. We have had a much better — and noisier — example of moral capitulation to Communism in our midst at Victoria in 1960 in the person of Professor Messel. He wants us to save the West by training more and more, better and better, people like himself. Before we toss the fellow aside, disgusted with his colossal conceit, perhaps we'd better look at what he says, in case he's right.
'The Communists, with their control of production and manpower can — and do — gear themselves to peak production of scientists. The West with its lackadaisical ways cannot manage their efficiency — at the present time if we want more and better scientists we must hold out sufficient bait to attract them. This method can be most effective — New Zealand has a name for exporting and failing to hold brains — but it is not guaranteed to get us the men we want. Business wants brains, the Public Service wants brains, the Professions want brains, the Police Force wants brains; and they all, especially Business, are prepared to pay for them — where is our supply of brains for science to be obtained from ?
The obvious solution is to manpower the brainpower to the places where it is most needed. This the Communists do. This most socialists would like to see done gently. This sort of thing must be done in any tightly controlled or organized economy. But in the West we still have enough knowledge of what our heritage amounts to be able to spot the West-defeating West-defending of Senator McCarthy and his ends justify-the-means-boys and so we are not willing to abolish men's freedom of choice of job in order to save that freedom.
However there is a section of the community who has no choice in the matter of page 10 what they do, and these are the children. Give them a diet of little but science and they won't be able to think of anything else they'd rather do and so will swell the ranks of the scientists, who, remember, are our saviours.'
A caricature of the Messel position, yes — but it may have made the moral issues clearer. Let's assume that we get these scientists — more and better than the Communists can manage — what are they to do? Produce more and better pure research than the Communists? Nice for the researchers, good for prestige : meanwhile the Communists feed the hungry, clothe the naked, cure the sick. That doesn't seem like winning to me. Perhaps the more and better scientists are to help industry and agriculture. We get more and better pop-up toasters for our more and better starch-reduced bread. Meanwhile the Communists feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. Well, that's enough to show that the whole notion is morally unsound.
Apart from these questions there has also raised its head the age-old problem of what Universities are for. I disagree with both the factories-for-saviours (see the Messel-ites) theory and with the factories-for-world-views (see below : 'The Life and Work of the University ') theory. The University should concern itself neither with learning nor teaching but with pushing back the frontiers of knowledge — or some such idea. When a frontier has been pushed back then it is simple considerations of efficiency that demand that others be led onto the new ground so that effort be not wasted in repetition or misdirected struggle. Hence the necessary evil of students. Some will forget the new ground they have covered, some will use it to grow crops of useful and beautiful things, some—and these are the useful ones to the University if it is to continue — will use the ground as a base from which to push those frontiers even further back.
If the University — including its students — regards itself in this light it cannot get all tangled up with drives to save the West, to propagate Communism, educate the masses, educate the élite, or any other noble but stationary endeavour.
It is becoming increasingly hard to educate anybody. One can only teach things that are known and the list of these increases in geometrical progression. Once one has been taught how to read, how to count, how to swim, and perhaps how to recognize moral problems, one's teacher is faced with the problem of what to teach and what to pass by. Decomposition or Equal Additions? French or Chemistry ? Kant or Spinoza ? Crabbe or Cowper? Boolean Algebra or the Theory of Rings? One cannot offer every child, every student, the infinite variety of subjects. Yet breadth and depth are both equally precious.
With the increasing complication of machinery, processes, managerial decisions that automation is bringing with it, new skills are constantly needing to be acquired, new situations taken into account. The best example I know of is in the printing trade where photo-setting, electronic scanning engravers, facsimile tele-engravers, multi-photo-lithography, powderless etching and the web-feed offset have all been perfected in the last few years and all require full apprenticeships to train operators.
To make judgements about how to organize production, allow for new trends, machinery, styles, labour conditions — all of which have no historic precedents, the world is now changing so fast — not only experience but also breadth of vision, wide page 11 knowledge and good taste are needed. People need training in new skills, education for responsible imaginative decision making. And it is not enough to train the young, for the world we can train them for will not be the world they enter, let alone the world five years after they leave school.
We need a new concept, not of what an education is for, for education in New Zealand is fairly level-headed above the letters to editor level (see Parry Report, Parkin Study, School Publications, etc.), but of when to educate. 'All the time' has been the credo of the universities — 'once a scholar, always a scholar'. Discovering new things is so pleasant: it should not be the privilege solely of Varsity types.
But who is to finance sabbatical leave for plumbers? That year off at High School for the street sweeper who wants to get School Cert? The scholarship for the manager who wants to study Comparative Religion? Firms in the States are already running courses in the Foundations of Mathematics for factory hands and their wives, training or rather re-training their tradesmen and operators for quite different jobs, sending managers back to college to get liberal arts degrees — and so on. A little organization like New Zealand could well take heed of the lead given by the big organizations such as General Motors, and others more our own size.
We do not need scientists for the salvation of the West, for the West is not a scientific phenomenon. We need liberality, unrigid thinking, humanity, humility, love of beauty, moral clear-headedness. Even if our bellies are less full and our pop-up toasters don't pop up as well as theirs, these things are what the West is: we must not lose them in an attempt to beat anyone or anything, especially the Communists, for these are the very things that they are lacking. We must keep them so that we can pass them on when they realize their need of them. Perhaps an education system which encourages and expands these ideas and which is available to all men at all times could be New Zealand's most valuable social innovation.