That hideous strength

By Archie Lacey

There are a number of flaws to granting people permission to make observations and judgements on others as a matter of course. These are: subjectivity, bias, prejudice, narrowed perception, assumption of deficit and acceptance of received benchmarks of behaviour and rights.

All of these are, very often, aspects of the observer’s mindset that the observer is not even aware of having. The added complication is that observers often think they are behaving or acting in a manner that is opposite to each of these flaws – especially if they have tools such as checklists or standards descriptors. This compounds each flaw and entrenches it further.

However, the greatest danger is what C. S. Lewis described as “the inner ring”. He made great use of this in his book, “That Hideous Strength.” (A truly wonderful read if you ever get a chance. It is the third of a trilogy and by far the best despite the preceding novel having one of the best chapters I have ever read!).

Lewis contends that people who want to be accepted by a group take on board the mores of the group. The pressure to do this is the hideous strength he refers to. However, it doesn’t just stop at mere lip service to the group’s mores. The hideous strength is irresistible. It reshapes our plastic minds so that we no longer see the mores as belonging to the group but as being what we actually believe. They become part of us and they shape our attitudes to others. We are absorbed and become part of the group and the group view becomes our view. The strength of this flows from our need to be accepted and loved as a child – when we first learned that to be loved by a parent we had to behave in ways that were acceptable – what Hoffman refers to as negative love.

We end up with a situation where everyone bleats “four legs good, two legs bad, ” without any question as to why. In fact the formulation of the question is impossible as we have brought the new view into ourselves and see the world through new eyes. No one is immune to this. The only inoculation available to most is an awareness to our own vulnerability to being sucked in – an acceptance that our subconscious desires will force us to seek to belong and to be accepted.

There is another shield to the hideous strength and that is a strong belief system. A belief system that has a well-defined set of mores against which everything else is measured. In atheistic societies you will often see individuals who stand out like a sore thumb due to their fundamental beliefs. They will refuse to be drawn into believing or accepting something that is out with or contrary to their system of beliefs. They are very resistant to the need to conform because they have already internalised a set of values against which everything is judged.

Most professionals believe that they are acting objectively when assessing a situation. However, what they are doing is comparing a situation with their own standards and norms. These standards and norms are almost always derived from the group mores that is prevalent at the time.

In the case of GIRFEC, the prescription of standards has a devastating effect on the ability of an observer to think independently. Firstly, the perception of the observer is narrowed to see only those things that are to be evaluated, the standards that need to be met, the benchmarks that everything must measure up to. It is the mental prison of the checklist. However, the mere existence of a checklist automatically implies a presumption of deficit. Each and every observed situation is effectively deemed as unacceptable until the checklist is fully complied with. The observer is forced into a situation where they are compelled to look for flaws.

In a previous post I talked about the lack of objectivity in an observer. This is very true of all of us due to our own past history, beliefs and prejudices. However, these become magnified when the lens of authority is applied. When we are asked to view something that we already find odd due to it being different from our own experience by an authority that has given us tablets of stone by which we can judge others then our prejudices run the dangerous path of becoming certainties.

I am aware, having come to this quite recently, that GIRFEC is a concern for all families. I am now aware that this can and may affect my family adversely. However, my family is part of the normal strata even though I could not describe any of mine being part of the norm! We are, nevertheless, insulated by our membership of the norm despite any differences we may have.

However, it is those who live their lives according to practices that deviate from the norm that have the most to fear. I use the word deviate instead of its synonym diverge quite deliberately. While they essentially mean the same thing, the danger is that those who deviate are perceived as deviants in the pejorative meaning of that word.

Those who electively home educate are making a bold divergence (so not going to use deviate). They have made a very valid choice of path. But it is different. It is not the norm. The members of the norm will view the path with distrust, distaste and derision.

In paradigm legal systems, the accused are judged by their peers. However, what happens when all your judges are not members of your peer group but are alien to it and even hostile to it?

[Discussion on this forum thread


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