Beginner: one in a receptive state, a mere receiver.

Sooner or later (sooner rather than later) he will mis-receive. This only happens when we offend the great god Glitch.

Sooner or later the Beginner will cease to receive. For this there is no cure.

Sooner or later he will begin to do more than receive: he will re-act. This is the end of the beginning.

The time between glitches, and before reaction, is paradisiac. Would that it could last! How great the fall from beginner-1 (not-yet-begunner) to beginner-2 (have-just-begunner)! Would there were no such thing as really beginning!

You are a beginner. That is, you are not yet a beginner, but a beginner-to-be, any moment now. That moment will arrive as soon as I stop talking. As long as I keep talking, there's a chance we may miss the moment. If ever there's an awkward pause, don't worry: I expect I'll think of something to say.

The proof that you are a beginner is that it is I who am beginning.

It was all very well for God. He didn't have anyone else to consider. All our attempts to create or alter must fight for a toehold on the smooth self-healing cliff of what exists already.

What can be achieved, in pedagogy, psychiatry, politics unless we first shake something loose? -- jiggle, plastify, or disconcert?


Before the beginning, the committal to paper, are a number of assumptions which might be specified first, except that to do so would delay the real beginning intolerably. Instead they must be left to emerge -- be reconstructed out of -- what follows. Similarly, in Subject + Predicate, `Subject' doesn't straightforwardly state "all and only" the portion of reality being focussed on: it wards against ambiguities, but only the likelier ones, and only to the extent of the writer's skill in anticipating them and in weighing their likelihood. Unambiguity is not a state of grace but a matter of economics -- weighing case by case the cost of over-specification (for some readers) against the penalty for under-comprehension (by others).

Michel Leiris: "Ce passage -- qu'une re-lecture même rapide suffit é me montrer litigieux, à tout le moins assez alambiqué et non exempt de ces trucs grâce auxquels les incertitudes de la pensée sont masquées par le clinquant des mots et ce qui tend à n'être qu'évidence verbale substituée à l'évidence des idées -- a pour but d'introduire un fragment de chanson, que j'hésite à produire parce que le charme dont il est, dans ma pensée, revêtu est un peu trop particulier et personnel pour que je puisse livrer d'emblée son unique vers, sans une de ces préparations qui tendent à jeter entre l'émotion intime de l'auteur et la conscience du lecteur un pont, ou plutôt à créer entre eux deux l'indispensable milieu conducteur où le courant a quelque chance de s'établir, le train d'ondes de se propager issu de ce petit caillou apparemment froid et inerte qui gît dans quelque recoin, à tous caché, de la tête ou du coeur de l'auteur. Car, pour celui qui écrit, toute la question est là: faire passer dans la tête ou dans le coeur d'autrui les concrétions -- jusqu-là valables seulement pour lui -- déposées, par le présent ou le passé de sa vie, au fond de sa propre tête ou de son propre coeur; communiquer, pour valoriser; faire circuler, pour que la chose ainsi lancée aux autres vous revienne un peu plus prestigieuse, tels ces boucliers des Indiens du Nord-Ouest américain qui se trouvent doués d'une valeur d'autant plus grande qu'ils ont fait l'objet de nombreux échanges cérémoniels. Or, même l'échange le plus vulgaire ne peut s'opérer sans un minimum de cérémonie. D'où, ces parades de l'écriture, appels du pied, bombements de torse, ces artifices en rien moins naturels que celui du paon qui fait la roue et que les multiples manèges divers de la cour amoureuse."


The word would be wasted if used of a proposition with no consequences. `I believe that p' includes accepting those consequences of believing p which I have considered. I can also afford to concede that there may (indeed must, if the belief is worth holding) be further consequences which I havn't yet worked out, but which (such is the strength of my belief) I commit myself to accepting beforehand. This leaves room for me to choke down some unexpected consequences by claiming that my interpretation of p is not changed thereby but merely refined.

Alain: "J'ai l'honneur de ne pas croire à ce que je sais."

Alain, again: "La peur est un mouvement animal bien redoutable. Et qui nous apporte quoi? une croyance tout de suite. La peur est tyranniquement affirmative. Je crains le loup, je le vois, je me sauve à toutes jambes; plus je cours, plus je crois; ma fuite vaut preuve. Il y a de ce mouvement dans tout dogmatique. Il affirme, il s'engage, il court. Il se jette sur les idées de tout son poids, comme le chien sur le lièvre. Cette violence fait l'orateur, espèce dangereuse, trop admirée. Etre ému, crier, croire, tout cela est animal."


Of explanations for the fact that belief-complexes can, with the best of initial intentions, go to the bad, two seem too good to be true. First, the guilt-laden, which sees atrocity-proneness as an inevitable consequence of some essential feature of the belief-complex itself; and second the guilt-free, which sees atrocity-proneness as entirely attributable to the inescapable constraints of unenlightened times. Such attempts to maximise or minimise blame seem self-reinforcing, blind to all the differences concealed under one label, the similarities concealed under two.

With less precipitancy in allocating blame, it becomes obvious enough that, for example, the same belief-complex can have entailments differing, in one context or another, as chalk from cheese.

Is this so surprising, after all ? As Mill remarks, "There is no principle whatever which being conjoined with a sufficient number of sufficiently important errors of fact" [we could add, or auxiliary assumptions] "will not lead to immoral consequences." The fact that, in association with different auxiliary assumptions or different `facts', a given Xism can produce chalk or cheese is insufficient to either condemn or confirm it outright. It does, however, make certain demands on the purveyors. For instance, that they exhibit something less than 100% satisfaction with their own Xism, on the sole ground that it is now producing mostly what they declare to be cheese; and something less than 100% condemnation of a competing Xism which happens to be passing through a chalky time. Mill was neither condemning principles which had led to immoral consequences, nor praising those which hadn't, but deprecating immoderation in the commitment to every entailment. He could hardly have chosen a line less likely to get support from any quarter.

His words also suggest a further possibility. In proceeding from a principle to its consequences, we can never be sure that we have not introduced auxiliary assumptions which, even if articulated, will have been scrutinized less carefully than the starting proposition. The first question isn't `True-or-False?' nor even `Contaminated or not?', but rather `Contaminated by what ?'


DNB: "John Borthwick Gilchrist (1759-1841) was allowed by the East India Company a salary of [sterling]200 a year, besides [sterling]150 more for a lecture room on condition that he should teach the students `Hindoostanee' without charging them more than three guineas each. He declined to accept the three guineas, but of his own authority made a regulation that students should be admitted to attend his class only on producing a receipt from his publishers proving the purchase of what he or the latter considered an adequate quantity of textbooks. These cost from [sterling]10 to [sterling]15. The only books on the subject were his, e. g. Grammar of the Hindoostanee language,1796. To him is due the elaboration of the vernacular as an official speech."

Borrowed judgments

George Eliot: "The habit of expressing borrowed judgments stupefies the sensibilities, which are the only foundation of genuine judgments. On this subject, as on so many others, it is difficult to strike the balance between the educational needs of passivity or receptivity, and independent selection. We should learn nothing without the tendency to implicit acceptance; but there must clearly be a limit to such mental submission, else we should come to a stand-still. In a reasoned self-restraining deference there is as much energy as in rebellion; but among the less capable, one must admit that the superior energy is on the side of the rebels."

Charles Lamb: "Credulity is the man's weakness, but the child's strength."


Once we shared an understanding of agricultural processes, which provided illuminating metaphors like aftermath, hotbed, gleaning. Now we labour to reconstruct what those processes must have been, from what it is an effort to feel as metaphors any longer. Even more thoroughly lost is any sense of time-differences within those globally forgotten skills. We know `of course' that to broadcast is older than 2LO; but how many would raise an eyebrow to see it in Chaucer, or Shakespeare, or Dr Johnson? Yet OED's first example is Arthur Young, 1813, twenty-one years after its first example of seed-drill; no need for a word as long as there is no alternative.

Kierkegaard: "If someone wanting to speak had a speaking-trumpet so strong that it could be heard throughout the whole country, he would soon create the impression that he was not a single person (but something more -- for example, the voice of the age, etc., an abstraction) and that he was not talking to an individual or to individual human beings but to the whole world (the race, etc., an abstraction). Thus with the invention of printing and especially its growth. Communication is as if through an enormous trumpet, ergo -- yes, even if it is the shouting of prosit, the communicator becomes self-important and has a fantastic notion of who he is talking to."


Aphorisms, credal articles, formulas, principles, scientific laws, ‹ we think of these as distilling, encapsulating, quintessentializing. But that can't be the whole story. These metaphors might be appropriate if all I had to do to reconstitute full significance was just add water. But all we have on tap is a murkier liquid, seething with the protozoa of one person's experience. The 'full significance' reconstituted thereby is (to say the least) unlikely to be quite the same as yours, or yesterday's. In French even dilution is unnecessary, for the essence of the matter is also a perfume, requiring no more than to be uncorked: J.-B. Say: "On sait l'économie politique, lorsque les mots valeur, production, capitaux, revenus, et les autres, réveillent dans l'esprit la totalité des idées et des rapports qu'ils comprennent. Chaque mot est, pour ainsi dire, une provision d'idées comprimées, qu'on a la faculté de pouvoir développer au besoin; semblable à ces essences réduites à un très petit volume, dand le but de loger dans un flacon étroit et de les transporter aisément, mais qui sont susceptibles de s'étendre et de parfumer des espaces considérables et une foule d'objets variés." Have there been cases when a few bullets have led to real changes in the organization's culture ? If so, it cannot have worked by mere reiteration, but by constantly varied glosses, i. e. different reconstitutions of the distillation. So the keynote on day one is Look, this is a promising bullet which will fulfil its promise to the extent that it lends itself to many more illustrations than I had bargained for. The rhetoric of the bullet is effective to the extent that it is complemented from the start with antidote/anecdote ‹ to the extent, that is, that it shows its hand. But if all we aspire to are short-term effects (of the duration of a Hawthorne effect), then a steady supply of new bullets seems to have worked so far.


Elijah Jordan: "The destiny of mankind rests on the outcome of the struggle between the teaching profession, which represents mind and culture, and the businessman."

Someone attempting to deprive the word `businesslike' of its smug aura has a choice of models, from Adam Smith to R. H. Tawney, Veblen to Mencken.

If Adam Smith had tried a prosaic style, says Galbraith: `businessmen would then have defended themselves, not without indignation. As the men of influence and admitted respectability, their views would have prevailed; Smith would have been dismissed as anti-business. Or, more likely, he would have been ignored.'

The alternative is far more effective: `People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.'

Galbraith comments: "Though the tendency is wholly innocent and convivial, the impulse to wickedness is overpowering. Neither anger nor reproach is in order; only sorrow at the inability to resist an improper penny."

There is something of the same alternative in R. H. Tawney: "Few persons who have dabbled at all in the history of Companies can have wholly escaped a certain cynicism on the subject. The spokesmen of some of these famous organisations are insolent when prosperous, tearful when depressed, and masters at all times of a fluent and effortless mendacity which makes the first duty of the student a determined incredulity."

What Smith and Tawney are doing is meeting one rhetoric with another, which gives an odd symmetry to the debate. The conviviality and wickedness in the businessmen's conspiracy is echoed by that between Galbraith and us fans of his. Similarly, in the Tawney case, not all the fluency, effortlessness and insolence are on one side.

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