Let no one say that I didn’t give Jeremy Griffith and his theory of the Human Condition a fair chance. I don’t think I’ve ever looked quite so deeply into any single document or theory, or spent as much time looking up background information, checking claims and looking at alternative viewpoints as I did on the subject of the World Transformation Movement (originally known as the Foundation for Humanity’s Adulthood). As well as reading the entire Expanded Transcript of the Introductory Video, including the ‘testimonials’ by several members of the organisation, I also read an extensive ‘Critical investigation’ of the theory on the site of Australian commentator Peter Minogue, and made long detours into Wikipedia and The Skeptic’s Dictionary on such varied subjects as homeopathy, acupuncture and Atlantis.
I was totally fascinated from the moment I came across Griffith and his theory. He’s certainly an interesting character, and his theory basically claims to be the explanation of ‘the Human Condition’ and the answer to all the world’s problems. My initial reaction was one of scepticism – this was ‘obviously’ too good to be true – but my second was to realise that my first wasn’t entirely logical: what if someone really did come up with the answer to all the world’s problems, and everyone ignored it because it was ‘obviously’ too good to be true? If it really was too good to be true then I’d soon find out… Even though in the end I wasn’t at all convinced by this theory, looking into it was a very worthwhile experience and I wouldn’t hesitate to describe the Expanded Transcript as a ‘unique and fascinating document’.
I suppose what most grabbed my attention initially was Griffith’s claim that his ideas are totally rational and scientific, that they stand up to critical investigation and require no belief:
Unfortunately this proved to be very far from the truth…
First a word about the style of this document, which occasionally made me wonder whether Griffith wasn’t actually going out of his way to make sure he’s not going to be taken seriously by the ‘scientific establishment’, nor in fact by any thinking person who isn’t prepared to make a great effort to look for the content beyond the form. As well as having a tendency to endlessly repeat himself, and to use screaming capitals whenever he talks about the “TRANSFORMED FREE WAY OF LIVING, LIFEFORCE STATE” and suchlike, he’s also guilty of blatantly false etymology by using words like “al-true-istic”. Perhaps most annoying of all is his habit of using incredibly long and unwieldy adjectival phrases such as “that insecure, selfpreoccupied with proving our self worth, resigned state of denial”. To be fair, this is a transcript of a spoken text, and Griffith does admit somewhere that he can’t write. And last but not least, he often tries to back up his arguments by quoting from the corny lyrics of old pop songs. I had to keep on reminding myself that all this said nothing about the truth or otherwise of what he was saying, but I don’t think most people are that patient. On the plus side, at the end of page 174 there’s a good description of how, as Max Planck said, ‘science progresses funeral by funeral’, and on page 96 onwards he provides a fascinating look at his childhood in Australia.
Griffith is certainly no idiot, and is very much aware of some facts which the ‘average person’ either has never thought about, or sees but refuses to admit. The main basis of his theory is the idea that something went drastically wrong with humans at about the time that individual consciousness developed, and that they left a previously idyllic, child-like state and entered the world of conflict and competition. Things have not ceased to worsen as humans have travelled ever further from their ‘natural’ state, leading to the current situation whereby the human race is on the point of destroying not only itself but much of the rest of life on the planet. This is the story of the Garden of Eden, and one which is found in many myths in many different cultures, and to me it seems more than likely that there’s some basis of truth behind these myths. It’s another question entirely, however, whether this ‘expulsion from the garden’ should be related to the development of individual consciousness (the consciousness – or illusion – of the self as a separate entity, unconnected to other conscious beings), to the development of a sense of time (the ability to remember past events and plan for the future, and by implication to be aware of the fact that one is going to die), or perhaps to the development of civilisation and the change from living in small groups where everyone knew everyone else to larger and more anonymous societies. These myths could even be seen simply as metaphors for the experience of birth (being expelled from the womb), or for leaving childhood and entering the adult world. Griffith, however, has no doubt whatsoever about the literal fact “that our distant, pre-conscious Australopithecine ancestors lived in an utterly cooperative, loving, harmonious, peaceful state”. He emphasises the ‘truth’ that humans once lived “in a cooperative harmonious state — a paradisal, Golden, Garden of Eden, innocent state from which we have departed” and condemns various thinkers (e.g. Erich Neumann, p.71) for denying this ‘truth’. He’d have to come up with some very convincing evidence to prove all this but he doesn’t, which means, as far as I’m concerned, that on this first point at least, his theory requires belief.
The second major point of the theory is one which is entirely metaphysical, i.e. not something which could ever be proved or disproved, and it is that there is a ‘purpose’ or ‘meaning’ to existence, above or outside of human consciousness, a ‘Meaning of Life’, a reason why we’re here:
You can find a metaphysical idea like this one more or less useful, and accept or reject it accordingly, but for Griffith it’s a scientifically proven fact. He sees evolution as a conscious, intelligent process whereby “integrative meaning” or Negative Entropy, personified by humans as God, is actively developing “larger wholes”, “ever more and ever greater order of matter on Earth” (p.175 etc.);
Unless I’m much mistaken he contradicts himself at one point and describes evolution as a ‘random’ natural process, but this is very much an exception:
He starts out from the most basic level, that of thermodynamics:
Knowing nothing whatsoever about ‘Negative Entropy’, having never heard of the ‘Second Path of the Second Law of Thermodynamics’ and having no way to judge whether there was even the slightest scientific basis for all this, I did some on-line research on the matter. The only non-mathematical definition I could find [in some lecture notes by Dr. John Cassano at the University of Colorado, Boulder, which are no longer available on line] was “The second part of the second law of thermodynamics states: the entropy of the universe increases as a result of irreversible transformations”. Not quite the same thing! The point that Griffith is making, however, is quite reasonable in general terms. The Earth is an open system with energy coming in from outside, and basic inorganic chemicals do seem to have integrated to form complex organic chemicals, simple organisms, then complex organisms. There’s a big difference, however, between describing a tendency in nature and deciding it’s “the meaning of existence” and our purpose in being here…
On the other hand, I wonder how useful this view of evolution really is. Griffith sees evolutionary progress as being towards entities which are bigger and longer-lived: “more stable/enduring (in time) and more ordered/complex/larger (in space)”. However, natural selection frequently selects smaller and shorter-lived varieties, because they are stronger (in a given situation, i.e. in relation to their environment). Insects have done a lot better in evolutionary terms than dinosaurs, in spite of being much smaller and much shorter-lived! Is it not simpler and more useful to say that in the struggle between different individuals and groups, and between them and their environment, the stronger inevitably win? And I say inevitably simply because that’s what we mean by the word ‘stronger’. The winner of a fight may be the smaller and physically weaker specimen, and its victory might be explained by greater mental powers, or better adaption to or knowledge of its environment. A smaller and less well-equipped army may beat a larger army with better weapons, and the explanation may be found in tactical skills, bravery or motivation. In any struggle, however, the winning side is always the stronger one, no matter what the detailed meaning of stronger might be in any given case. Here we have a simpler view of the evolutionary process, and one which it would be difficult to deny. Is this what Nietzsche meant with his ‘will to power’? The victory of the strong over the weak as a cosmic force driving evolution forwards? But yet again, for Nietzsche as much as for Griffith, there’s a big difference between describing a tendency in nature and deciding it’s “the meaning of existence” or using it to promote or justify any particular human action…
Much of what Griffith says is intelligent, well thought out and very reasonable:
All very true, up to the last few words at least. Starting from the emerging conscious mind’s ability to remember past events, he ends up with a description of the scientific method, the ultimate refinement of a system for comparing predictions with outcomes, i.e. theories with experimental evidence. But what evidence is there for his claim that “all experience” has a “meaning”, other than whatever meaning “the conscious mind” decides to give it? In my opinion it’s at least as useful to see “meaning” as being just as much a function of “the conscious mind” as everything else he’s been talking about. He sees “the meaning of existence”, which “is to develop the order of matter”, as being responsible for the development of the conscious mind, whereas I’d put things the other way round: “meaning” is a product of “the conscious mind”, and cannot exist without it. I wouldn’t deny that my way of looking at things is just one of various possibilities, and is no more proveable than Griffith’s viewpoint, but there again I’m not basing a world-changing movement on the truth of my ideas!
On this second point, as on the first, the theory turns out to be basically a religious one, i.e. one which requires belief:
In other words, as in all religions, mankind has to find out ‘the truth’, something which exists independently of himself, and then (“obviously”, for Jeremy Griffith!), to live by it. We have to find out what the rules are, and then live by them.
For some reason Griffith puts great emphasis on his claim that the whole question of the human condition has been too painful to confront for any but a handful of exceptional people. Much of what he claims has always been impossible for humans to admit, however, has actually always been general knowledge, at the very least as a part of the collective consciousness in the form of myths or ideals to be aimed at. As Griffith himself points out, the idea that our distant, pre-conscious ancestors lived in a harmonious and peaceful state can be seen in many myths, e.g. that of the Garden of Eden. Selflessness and altruism, while not typical human behaviour in practice, have always been held up as an ideal, and all societies have recognised the need for “parts of the developing wholes to consider the welfare of the larger whole over their own”.
On page 95 he says: “Unless you were exceptionally well nurtured in your childhood and thus free of upset, the issue of the human condition has been an impossible subject to go near.” I’ve long thought that anyone with any amount of intelligence can see that ‘the human condition’ is a problem – an interesting one (perhaps even the only really interesting problem) and one which urgently needs to be solved. In other words there’s something drastically wrong with the human race and the societies it has created. Was I then “exceptionally well nurtured in [my] childhood and thus free of upset”? I’d find that very difficult to believe!
Has Griffith never read Colin Wilson’s The Outsider, which lists a long string of well-known writers, philosophers and artists who’ve devoted their lives to confronting the question of the human condition? I’m sure he’s right in saying that ‘the average person’ gives up looking for answers to life’s difficult questions at a fairly early age and just gets on with ‘making the best of it’, but there’s never been any shortage of exceptions to this rule, and they’ve been widely read and studied.
The further I went into this theory, the more dubious and over-simplified it appeared to me. Griffith talks a lot about the difference between an ‘unconscious’ instinctual self, based on hereditary memory, and a ‘conscious’ intellectual self based on individual causal memory, but he says nothing at all about the different types of thinking of which this ‘conscious’ intellectual self is capable, ranging from emotionally biased, association-based thinking at one extreme to dispassionate, logical thinking at the other. He talks about biological/gene-based ‘survival of the fittest’, but not about its social/historical equivalent. For instance, a lot is said about various theories which try to explain ‘moral sentiments’ using biology, genetics and strategies to transmit genes, but not about the fact that societies, tribes and groups are in constant conflict, and that cultural and technological differences influence which groups thrive and survive. It seems very likely to me that that second type of ‘survival of the fittest’ has played a much greater role in human development, certainly since humans started living in larger groups and developing ‘civilisation’, than has its biological equivalent. He sees it as a problem that a gene which promotes selflessness will not be transmitted, as a selfless individual is less likely to survive and mate. However, a group containing selfless individuals who cooperate with one another will tend to triumph over a non-cooperative rival group – and a successful group provides better mating and breeding conditions for its members. Not every individual with a ‘selfless’ gene will sacrifice himself while young and therefore not breed! Having worked all that out for myself, I was reassured to find out that there’s plenty of solid scientific support for the viewpoint that the development of selflessness and altruism can be adequately explained by the concepts inclusive fitness and kin selection. And last but not least, he’s constantly using the word alienation, without ever making any attempt to define it.
Another important part of his theory is the idea that humans developed their “moral conscience”, their selfless, altruistic behaviour, which was responsible for the growth of the “utterly cooperative, loving, harmonious, peaceful state” he believes once existed, by the process of “nurturing”. This comes about because a mother instinctively looks after her young, the instinct having developed via normal evolution and selection (offspring which are better cared for being more likely to survive and pass on the mother’s genes). To the child, however, her behaviour appears to be totally selfless and altruistic, and the child tends to copy this behaviour and become selfless and altruistic himself, a process Griffith calls “love-indoctrination”. An original idea (at least, I’ve never come across it anywhere else), but it sounds a bit far-fetched to me. Would this learned altruism accumulate across generations? Is he trying to introduce a Lamarckian element into his evolution? When he moves on to talk about today’s world and everything that’s gone wrong since we developed individual consciousness, he goes to great lengths to point out how much damage insufficient nurturing can do. As well as making many statements which would be obvious to almost anyone, he also goes so far as to blame autism entirely on mothers who, consciously or even unconsciously, don’t love their children enough. That sounds extremely dubious to me, but he’s managed to find at least one respectable-looking psychiatrist who’s of the same opinion.
Whatever may be true or false, useful or useless in his theory, Griffith’s way of presenting and defending it leaves a lot to be desired – and that’s putting it very mildly indeed. He’s always coming out with very dubious statements justified only by his own intuition, or what he believes to be obvious to anyone honest enough to listen to their conscience. On page 90, for instance, we find the following highly dubious and totally unscientific statements:
He’s also constantly making dubious claims about people in the past foretelling the coming of the knowledge he’s now revealing, e.g. on page 116:
In other words, Toffler didn’t know about Griffith’s explanation of the human condition, and he didn’t realise he was offering evidence in support of it, but Griffith finds one of Toffler’s concepts useful and so claims he was “intuitively anticipating” it!
Griffith often complains about the way he’s been treated by the ‘scientific establishment’, but doesn’t seem to be aware of the extreme arrogance with which he presents his ideas. Any biology, or any other science, which doesn’t conform to his ideas is not just mistaken or limited, but rather “dishonest” or even “outrageously deceitful”. He describes Edward O. Wilson, for instance, as “clearly the absolute lord of lying”. As far as Griffith is concerned, his propositions are so obviously true that anyone who denies them is just being dishonest! On page 214 he states: “Once someone is given this information there is only one outcome in the end and that is that they take up the TRANSFORMED STATE”.
It gets even worse when Griffith moves away from biological theory and metaphysical speculation, and starts telling us about what his ideas lead him to believe in the fields of politics, religion, and life in general. His view of politics and history is simplistic in the extreme, and his view of the English over-positive to say the least. On pages 128-129 he tells us that Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin came to power because “the proportion of power addicts in a country increased to a certain critical point”. But on the other hand… “The reason England has so often in the history of Europe been able to defeat tyrants in Europe (and elsewhere) can be put down to its island isolation, which meant it was still free enough of power addicts, still sound enough, still sheltered enough from all the upset in the world, to stand against those tyrants who had taken over control of countries on the continent where, by inference, the critical point of too many power addicts in the population had been reached.” And (quoting one of his heroes Sir James Darling) “England has ‘an unbeaten record in the history of civilization’”!
He goes on (p.129-130) to share an interesting view of world history with us:
I much prefer my own explanation, in which these ‘great civilisations’ were simply in competition with other groups which happened to be stronger. The ‘decadence’ in question generally comes down to a lack of courage, physical strength and practical organisation, when the opposition had no shortage of these qualities. These ‘great civilisations’ may well have been ‘great’ in all kinds of other ways, perhaps they produced great artists and philosophers, perhaps the people were relatively happy, but when it comes to a war none of that counts for very much. They lost out in the battle of the ‘survival of the fittest’, the winners of which are only necessarily better in one way, i.e. they’re better at surviving! In other words Griffith makes the mistake a lot of people make regarding biological evolution, that of regarding the surviving species or societies as ‘better’ than those which don’t survive.
He also has some unusual ideas about sex, and about the relationship between men and women, who are presented as such drastically different stereotypes that they might almost be two different species:
Somehow I wasn’t the least bit surprised to read that in his book A Species in Denial he describes homosexuality as a ‘corrupted state of sexuality’.
He has an ‘interesting’ view of autism, i.e. that it’s all the fault of the mother, who doesn’t love her child sufficiently (p.130 onwards) and an equally ‘interesting’ view of Islamic art and culture:
His interpretation of Ralph Steadman’s drawing ‘The Lizard Lounge’ as supporting his theory (p.152) was so ‘interesting’ that I seriously wonder whether he’s actually read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Whenever Griffith draws political conclusions from his philosophy, they invariably turn out to be pretty right-wing ones:
Wikipedia has the following to say about John Howard: “In his own words he was an ‘economic radical’ [i.e. a free-market supporter] and a social conservative.” “In his social agenda, Howard promoted the traditional family […] and opposed multiculturalism”.
Neither was Griffith’s great inspiration Sir Laurens van der Post exactly what I’d call progressive:
Margaret Thatcher, it turns out, was a neighbour and a personal friend of van der Post, who helped her with advice while she was in office…
Griffith also has a totally unrealistic and in my opinion a much too positive view of religion. On page 198 onwards he compares the different “mechanisms we developed for managing our upset”: “Self-Discipline”, “Imposed Discipline”, “Religion” and “Pseudo Idealistic Causes”, which developed in that order. He regards religion as being a great advance over the first two:
He doesn’t seem to realise that much of religion is actually a subtle form of “Imposed Discipline”: if you aren’t good you’ll go to Hell. And further…
He can’t be serious! Does Griffith see religious people as a potential source of converts, and is trying to avoid hurting their feelings too much? Later on he does criticise certain forms of religion, e.g. those that “emphasised worship, adoration and ceremony, such as Catholicism, or the more euphoric Evangelical varieties of Christianity”, “religious groups that focused on simple dogmatic obedience to the teachings of one of the religions […] more fundamentalist and literalist”, “a religion like Buddhism that avoided focusing on acknowledging your corrupted condition and instead focused on extinguishing the mental trauma of your human condition through meditation”, but he sees these things as having developed as a response to “a problem with religion” which arose “during the last 200 years”. Tell that to the victims of the Inquisition!
He much prefers religion to “Pseudo Idealistic Causes like communism or socialism, politically correct postmodernism, environmentalism, feminism, multiculturalism, aboriginalism, etc, etc” (p.201). Note that he isn’t simply saying that these movements are just attempts to treat the symptoms of the problem rather than the cause, or that they are insufficient measures which are doomed to fail in the long term. No, he finds them intrinsically undesirable and is convinced not only that they make society worse, but that they’re the greatest danger to mankind. On pages 205-207 we find a lot of heavily and extremely subjectively interpreted quotes (i.e. more interpretation than quote) from the book of Daniel, showing that the terms ‘right-wing’ and ‘left-wing’ are exactly equivalent to ‘good’ and ‘bad’. He admits that the right did make mistakes occasionally (e.g. putting children to work in coalmines) but sees left-wing do-gooders as the main danger to the human race – Daniel saw it all coming and described such people as “the ‘abomination that causes desolation’”!
On page 208 Griffith provides a sort of summing-up:
And I would sum up his theory as a mixture of exaggeration, dubious science, stating the obvious, a hidden religious philosophy (i.e. one based on belief in something higher than humans), and the political views of a grumpy old conservative!
In spite of all my criticism, I wouldn’t deny that Griffith has thought long and hard about the problems facing the human race and has come up with quite a few useful insights. It’s just a pity that he falls into the trap that religious people fall into, i.e. that of succumbing to the universal human desire to know the whole truth and to know it now – and if there are gaps in our knowledge just to fill them in with whatever happens to look like it might fit. One thing I’ve learned from this whole exercise is that an amazing amount of work has been and is still being done, by intelligent and well-intentioned people, on exactly the sort of problems Griffith is concerned with, even if it’s generally restricted to much more specialised areas of investigation. Maybe Griffith could make a more useful contribution to this work if he were to cooperate with these people rather than just claiming he knows all the answers and calling anyone who thinks otherwise a liar. Maybe he should read Khalil Gibran:
Or as Albert Camus may or may not have said “There is no Truth, only (relative) truths”.
At the end of the transcript are several ‘testimonies’ from WTM members. I was very much struck by the similarities between these and what you might expect to hear from enthusiastic ‘born again’ Christians or Scientologists. By the time I read them I’d already decided that Jeremy Griffith’s theory left a lot to be desired, and it amazed me that many of these people had spent 10 or 20 years in the movement and seemed totally convinced that the answer to all the world’s problems had been found. ‘The Information’ need only be accepted and ’embraced’ by an individual for him to be ‘born again’ as a totally new person. This is really a sort of religious conversion: the truth will set you free. And even if you aren’t convinced at first, if your intellect rebels and insists on finding logical loopholes in the theory, you only need to keep at it until you’ve convinced yourself:
I got the distinct impression that most of these people were unusually miserable in their old lives, and that their involvement in the WTM had given them a circle of friends and a purpose to their lives, perhaps for the first time ever:
These are people who were desperately searching for ‘meaning’, a universal human tendency which we really need to get beyond:
‘The Information’ is personified, the Word is made flesh:
This, just like meditation or a religious conversion, can certainly be very beneficial on an individual level for some people. The idea is that this individual level improvement will cause such dramatic improvements at the level of societies that all the problems of the world will suddenly be solved:
Even supposing that Jeremy Griffith’s theory were 100% correct, I’m still not convinced that it could ever have the dramatically positive effects on society that are claimed for it. OK, those individuals who accept ‘The Information’ will be happier and better adjusted, but a happy and well-adjusted person or group is not necessarily stronger than a miserable and desperate person or group, meaning that there’s no reason to suppose that this idea can save the world as long as people and groups are competing. Maybe we need a world government first…
After reading the transcript I went through the extensive ‘Critical investigation’ of the theory on the site of Australian commentator Peter Minogue. He makes some interesting points here and there, but the best part of the site as far as I’m concerned is the page devoted to his own personal explanation for the Human Condition, which is intelligent, succinctly presented, and at least as useful as the WTM version!
And now for a slight digression…
While looking into this theory I did a lot of reading about related topics, mostly in Wikipedia and The Skeptic’s Dictionary. That meant I was constantly jumping from one extreme to the other, from ‘alternative’ to ‘establishment’, from the view that there’s much more in the world than science will ever be able to explain, to the opposing view that anything that doesn’t stand the tests of reason and scientific investigation is just superstition, quackery and mumbo-jumbo. A very interesting experience, which occasionally had me questioning things I’d always unthinkingly accepted. For instance, I’d always been under the impression that there was a fair bit of evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture and homeopathy, and that even if science couldn’t (yet) explain how they work, neither could it deny that they appeared to do so. I now discovered that if The Skeptic’s Dictionary is to be believed (and it certainly gives the impression of being fair and trustworthy) then there’s no reliable evidence whatsoever that either work better than can be explained by placebo and ‘false placebo’ effects. I’d never even heard of ‘false placebo’ effects: not even the placebo effect can be taken at face value these days! This swerve into ultra-naturalistic regions, enlightening though it was, eventually left me feeling that this view of the world leaves out something important, i.e. subjectivity. The scientific method can by definition only tell us about the objective world, i.e. those facts which ultimately can be agreed on by everyone who takes the trouble to verify them, while the subjective world is the one most people spend most of their time in. If someone subjectively feels sick, goes to an acupuncturist and subjectively feels better, how relevant to him is the fact that acupuncture doesn’t work objectively? If a whole society believes in magic or astrology, and magicians and astrologers do their work, produce results and get paid for it by their satisfied customers, how relevant is it that a team of scientists from outside wouldn’t find any statistically significant results in a well-designed experiment? Most of the ‘reality’ which we experience in our everyday lives is created by our minds from a basis of original (objective) data which are as meaningless in themselves as the patterns of stars, planets and energy flows in space – as meaningless as the ones and zeroes on a disk would be without software to interpret them. The subjective world can’t be measured in the way the objective world can be, but in the end it’s the world in which we spend most of our time and the only one we can directly experience.
Let me make it clear that as far as I’m concerned, our powers of observation and reasoning (and specifically the scientific method which they have led us to develop) are the best tools at our disposal for understanding and dealing with the world. I am also absolutely certain that technology based on objective, scientifically demonstrated facts does tend to work a lot better than that which preceded it – and a lot better than that which many people would wish to promote as an alternative to it. I still think, however, that the people behind The Skeptic’s Dictionary, and everyone else who dismisses offhand anything which isn’t ‘objective’, are disregarding an important aspect of life. What’s really important in the end is that people are honest and keep an open mind, and although both sides of the argument have often been guilty of just the opposite, those who are most honest and have the most open minds will always be those who think critically and are sceptical of anything they haven’t seen with their own eyes (and of much which they have). If that wasn’t so then science would never have made the progress that is has done, even if most of that progress has been made ‘funeral by funeral’!
N.B. The Expanded Transcript of the Introductory Video which I read in 2010 is no longer available, but was incorporated in 2011 as the Main Introduction in the book Freedom: Expanded.
|author||Jeremy Griffith / World Transformation Movement|
of the Introductory Video
|read||02/10/2010 – 03/11/2010|
|download / read online||Freedom: Expanded|